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.
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.
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