Tack n' Talk

Online Equestrian Resource

Building a Better Equine Athlete (2)

EXERCISE TWO – The loop line

Have you ever noticed how your horse loves to hug the rail?  If you let go of the reins  and let your horse go wherever he wants, more than likely it will be the rail.  So, when you constantly ride the rail not only are you reinforcing his desire to hug the rail, but chances are that your horse is also not only not paying attention to you but also has a great likelihood of being  crooked as well.  Why would your horse be crooked on the rail…well it is because his hindquarters are wider than his forehand and when his outside fore and his outside hind are glued to the rail, his inside hind is farther into the arena than his inside fore, which means his spine is slightly curved in and yes, you guessed it…he’s not straight.

A horse is wider in his hips than in his shoulders. For the horse to be straight, you must always center his shoulders directly in front of his hips.

This leads us to my next exercise the loop line. Loop your horse back and forth in shallow serpentines around the arena asking your horse to bend evenly throughout his whole body.  In order to perform the loop line effectively, you will need to use a little more weight on your inside seat bone and some pressure from your outside leg to perform this exercise. Just as you did in exercise 1, ride your horse in a loose rein at a walk so you can focus on what you are doing and coordinate your timing so that the switch from one inside seat bone and outside leg to the other is smooth and gentle.  Also pay attention to your horse’s balance as he goes from one soft curve to the next.

So let’s pick up an energetic walk remembering that  no matter what gait your are in the quality of the gait is the most important element of any exercise you perform. Always check your position.  Are you sitting tall in the saddle with your shoulders and hips perpendicular across the track you are on and is your weight evenly distributed on both your seat bones.  Remember your classic straight line posture from your elbow to your hand to your bit.

The early stages of this exercise will be performed at the quarter line to rail.  At the quarter line, ask your horse to start a serpentine by making a shallow loop to the right.   Keep your shoulders square and level as you gently shift and sit a bit deeper on the inside right.  Drop your weight all the way down through your seat bone through your thigh and lower leg into your heel.  Remember that this is a very gentle shift in weight and it should not be obvious at all to anyone who is watching you ride this exercise.  Your horse should respond by looking and bending evenly around to the right.  Have you ever gone roller skating and wanted to move to the right?  What did you do?  To change direction slightly, you shifted your balance slightly to move in that direction, nothing more than a slight shift in balance otherwise you probably would hit the floor.  This is exactly what you want to do riding the loop line, a gentle shift in weight…remember the fly.

As you shift your weight and balance, bring your outside leg slightly back from the hip to where it is just a little bit behind the girth.  Ask your horse to follow your shift and curve around to the right by pressing and softening your left leg in time with his walk rhythm. Your horse should respond by looking and bending evenly around to the right, from his head to his tail.  If he keeps walking straight, help him understand what you want with your inside rein.  Hold a slight inside rein contact until he starts to turn and bend to the right then immediately soften your hand and return once again to your loose rein.  What I mean by slight inside rein contact is just that… squeeze your fingers on the rein and rotate your wrist just enough to point your knuckles toward your outside hip.  Do not cross over the wither or pull your horse’s nose in the direction you want him to go.   The goal of this exercise is to do this serpentine with as little rein as possible.  You want your horse to learn that when you change your balance through your seat bone, he needs to change the bend in his body. Eventually, you will be able to do this exercise without any rein at all just a shift in seat pressure will be the message to your horse.

Do not start your next loop without asking your horse to get straight for several strides. Asking your horse to go from one bend to the other without going straight will not only upset and confuse him but will be a very easy way to unbalance him as well.  Once you are sitting evenly in your saddle and your horse feels straight ask him to bend and turn to the left.  Shift your weight to the left seat bone, bring your right leg back from your hip and start pressing him around rhythmically to his walk.  Continue with the serpentine…right – straight – left – straight – right – straight – left.

A bit about leg pressure, don’t clamp your leg on your horse’s side and keep it there as constant pressure. Very quickly your horse will ignore the leg pressure because it’s always there.  Instead, you need to use your leg as intermittent pressure and always in rhythm.  Your leg is a communication tool. I remember watching a movie about a Mores Code operator and her ability to communicate through a series of dots and dashes and always within a rhythm.   Just think of your leg as that a series of dots and dashes communicating with your horse and sometimes your leg contact will be longer than other times providing messages to your horse that he will understand.

By doing this exercise, you will learn to quietly change position and reapply pressure.  This exercise is a very useful one that will provide future rewards when you want to go into smooth transitions from a shoulder-in to haunches-in, and eventually to flying changes.

Good luck with this exercise, Larissa.

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1 Comment»

  e3w7yg wrote @

Very good.I enjoyed this clear, thorough article a lot. Thanks, Larissa.


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