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  1. The square pole exercise.

     An exercise to increase rider awareness of the horses shoulders.

     As you can see from the picture, there are 4 jumping poles placed end to end on a square.



    The rider begins by simply walking around the square noting which rein/leg aid they use to get round the square as closely as possible without touching a pole. More often than not the rider will pull the horse around the corners with the inside rein, perhaps using a little outside leg, but mostly the rein. This encourages the horse to simply place his head and neck around the corner while the outside shoulder drifts the opposite direction, what we term “falling out through the shoulder”. Although to the rider the horse has gone where they want as the head and neck are in the desired direction. 


    This picture gives you a birds eye view of what happens when the horse “falls out through the shoulder”, note the body is straight, yet the neck has gone in the riders rein direction, however if you take away the horses neck and focus just on the body, you can see how the horse will be going the opposite way to his neck. 



    To ride a correct turn the rider needs to use the outside aids to “push” the horse around the corner, by placing the outside rein against the Horses neck and applying gentle pressure, along with the riders outside leg behind the girth, the horse should move away from these two pressure points, while the riders inside leg at the girth and a guiding (not pulling) inside rein aid helps create a “uniform bend” around the turn, similar to riding a pirouette. 

    Once the horse understands this question, and is happy to step around the pole ends in walk, I ask the rider to grow the square and develop the trot work using exactly the same method, and once the trot is established we look at canter, but not until the walk and trot are established. 


    The size of square will vary for the ability of horse and rider, for an advanced horse and rider they should be able to work around the poles on a small scale, whereas lower level riders will be working on a larger scale under close supervision.


    Rider very often forget the importance of controlling the shoulders, especially on circles, so once control has been established using the square, the circles should be much easier to maintain by riding the outside of the Horses body, rather than just the inside. 


    The video below shows one of my riders beginning canter work around the square, note she has made a clear “turn” around a corner and how she applies her outside aids on each turn, she has developed the canter to be able to keep his shoulders exactly where she wants them, to the naked eye she looks like she is riding a circle, but you can see the square is there just on a larger scale, and at the level he is currently working at, a definitive “turn”isn’t quite within reach just yet as he hasn’t the muscle to “sit” enough to push around the turn,  but with more training he will be able to soon enough. 

    Riding a square to develop shoulder control. from Sharon Johnson on Vimeo.


    There are lots of exercises to develop shoulder control, this one is one of many I use, but the poles make a useful aid as the rider has something to focus on to manoeuvre around. 


    Feel free to comment and ask questions if you want more clarification or on line help via email or messenger. 


    Sharon x

  2. Introducing my sponsored rider, Sam Giles…

    In June this year I was renewing my membership with Recommended Equestrians, while speaking with Diana, the founder of Recommended, she told me about their partner, LegUp For Talent, which is a sponsorship based programme for grassroots riders who have talent but not necessarily the backing they deserve.

    At first I was a bit sceptical as I have sponsored riders in the past but for various reasons it didn’t work out. However, Diana assured me that the benefits would be far more assured with this programme, so I delved further…

    You can read all about the programme here

    Diana went through the members who were seeking sponsorship and came across Sam, when her name was mentioned I had a distinct feeling it may be fate, I had actually worked with Sam many moons ago when I was working at a riding school nearby… spooky!!

    What had always struck me about Sam was not only her sense of humour, but her will to succeed despite being riddled with rheumatoid arthritis, which has affected her since the age of 4yrs old, being wheelchair bound for a long time, but Sam being Sam wasn’t going to be beaten and proved Doctors wrong and worked in racing, studs, riding schools, showjumping, eventing and livery yards!

    In the paragraph below, Sam introduces herself, with details of her current rides and how she feels about being sponsored:

    “Hi I'm Sam Giles and I am privileged to be Sharon Johnson's sponsored rider. I'm 30 (but if anyone asks please tell them I'm 29!) I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when I was 4 and it affects most of the joints in my body so i am in constant pain and can find some aspects of riding a bit of a challenge, I did however manage to work in the equine industry for a number of years before the arthritis got worse and have worked in racing, studs, riding schools, showjumping, eventing and livery yards. My current horse is amber a 5yo ex racehorse who I bought as a 2yo straight out of racing, she was working at novice level (dressage) and had just started jumping when she injured herself in the field so when Sharon signed me up as her rider I was unsure if I would ever be able to ride her again however I was riding a young Spanish horse that I was kindly given the ride on by a good friend, poor Sharon probably wondered what an earth she had got herself into as my horse was uncertain and then I discovered I will need more surgery soon so I will be out of action for a few months. Fortunately, sooty has made good progress and amber is back in light work and I have with Sharon's help relocated my core muscles so once my surgery is out of the way we can kick on and get back out to some competitions and hopefully get to the ROR championships! I cannot thank Sharon enough for this opportunity and with Sharon’s extensive knowledge of the equine and human body I'm sure myself and amber will be better than ever.”


    As you can see, she is one determined woman, who I felt deserved this opportunity.

    Since signing on the dotted line, we have had several sessions with sooty who is coming along nicely, and recently Amber (who is “affectionately” called Moo(!).)  has returned to work so while Sam is out of action I shall be taking up the reins – pardon the pun(!) – and helping with her return.

     Sam has a page on Facebook which she updates weekly with her goings on, visit it here, and don’t forget to hit the “Like” button on the following pages:

    Sam Giles: Facebook

    Leg up for talent

    Sharon Johnson Equestrian


    Below are a few pictures of Sooty and Amber aka Moo!



    Amber above.


     Sooty above, taken at his first ever competition.