In our last Palm Partnership Training Tips, “Basics of Balance”, I described tools to help establish correct balance of your horse, which will help maximize his athleticism.
In this week’s column “How to Put Your Horse in Balance Through Proper Bending”, I will review the key points, continued by an exercise to help train your horse to bend correctly! Controlling your horse’s balance is a very important step in your riding skills. With your horse’s performance, it is crucial that he is balanced in self-carriage while riding on a curve at any gait. This training will help improve problems you may encounter controlling your horse on any curve or turn and the exercise will help you ride with more control and enjoyment.
When a horse has a proper bend in his body, his entire body is bent from the poll to the dock, not just the head and neck. When a horse is balanced, he will have this proper bend and will be relaxed, easier to steer, and will maintain the same speed. Therefore, the relationship between bending and balance is:
No bend = No balance
Bending Aids Sequence
First, the active aids are used to achieve the correct bend and balance. The inside leg is used to bend the horse’s body; while an inside open or indirect (neck rein) is used to flex the horse’s head in the direction of travel.
Secondly, the supporting aids are applied. The outside leg keeps the horse’s hips from swinging out, and the outside rein against the neck either indirect or neck rein keeps the shoulder from going out. This indirect rein prevents the head from flexing too far inward and also keeps the neck from bending.
Remember, as you are bending your horse, you have to ask him to turn! Your outside, supporting aids are always your turning aids as your horse moves away from the pressure of your outside leg and rein aid. Don’t forget to support your horse’s bend with your inside leg and rein as you turn with your outside aids. This is how you will achieve correct riding on a curve. Your horse will respond with lightness and smoothness while turning and he will be more willing to turn because he is balanced.
This first exercise is an excellent one to practice on your own at home. You will need eight pairs of cones to use as a visual for a circle. The cones in each pair should be set 6’apart, with one cone placed in the middle of the circle. The diameter of the circle should be 70’ maximum. Here’s any easy tip to measure the circle without a tape measure:
Start at the middle cone and walk large steps. Go 12 large steps and place a cone (approximately 36’) then walk two large steps and place a second cone (approximately 6’). This is your first quarter of the circle. Continue with the other three quarters of the circle. Finally, make sure your quarter lines up with the quarter on the opposing side of the circle.
The goal of this exercise is to ride the curve of the circle consistently while maintaining the proper bend as described above. Keep your horse on the track of the circle. You must keep looking ahead and staying directly in the middle of each pair of cones. Let’s begin to the right at the walk to first get the feel of what you are asking for from your horse. At the walk, you have time to feel what you are doing, but make sure your horse stays forward at this gait. I suggest working at an extended walk, which always helps
controlling your horse’s body position. Also, let the cones be a great guideline to keep our eyes looking ahead to the next quarter of the circle. You will learn to feel more clearly how you are executing your aids and how your horse is responding to them.
Using Your Aids
Use your active, inside aids to bend the body. The right leg behind the girth will curve the body slightly in a right bend, while the open rein will flex the head inward. If your horse wants to move or turn inward with the open rein, then use an indirect or neck rein to ask the horse to flex the head inward, just enough so you see the right eye. The indirect rein against the neck of your horse will naturally encourage your horse to yield to the pressure and move outward with the assistance of your right leg aid. If you pull back with your rein instead of the rein action moving sideways, you will feel tension in your inside rein. Because of this, there will not be a bend of the neck; thus, your horse will resist and not stay on the center track.
Using your active aids will be followed by using your outside aids to support the bend. Your left leg will be slightly further back than your right, to keep the hips slightly inward and create a bend from the withers to the tail, and your left rein will prevent the shoulders from going out or the head from turning too much to the inside.
Once the correct bend and balance is achieved at the walk, move to the trot. If your horse is wiggly on the circle, go to the trot and then back to the walk. Control the bend through the upward or downward transitions. If you can stay on the middle track of this exercise, you are controlling the correct bend at all times! Your horse will be easy to steer, will be relaxed, and will be able to maintain a consistent speed through this exercise. When you
are ready to change directions to the left, the same aids sequence will apply to the left. The inside leg and rein aid are the bending aids, and the outside leg and rein aids support the bend.
To change directions, change through the middle of any quarter of the circle, and change to the opposite side of the circle. If you make sure you have time to get your horse straight and stay close to the center cone of the circle, your change of direction will be balanced! Continue this exercise in both directions.
Remember not to do more than three circles in each direction because your horse can become bored with drilling circle work. After you complete two sets of circles in each direction, go practice something else and then return to the exercise, or leave it alone for the day’s training if you were pleased with the performance. This particular exercise is very good to do three or four times a week until you condition your horse to be strong with his bending and balance in each direction. Don’t forget that all horses have an easy side and a hard side. Work more on the hard side to get them as equal as possible. By suppling and strengthening muscle, you will achieve evenness and a strong balance for your horse!
Key Point from this Exercise
Remember that to achieve a proper bend and balance from your horse in figures like these on a curve, both legs and both hands must be active every stride! Your horse will truly love these consistent guidelines to stay balanced! Have fun!