Spiralling in and out
Spiralling in and out is a great exercise and one of my favourite. It is useful for every horse at every level in every discipline. It is a very effective way to get a horse laterally supple and to teach a horse to leg yield. It will also help your horse to learn to balance himself. The exercise can be done at any gait, but it should be practiced at a walk first.
Start out on a 20-metre circle at the walk in one direction, then switch to the other direction after completing the spiral exercise in the first direction. The goal is to spiral your horse into a 15-metre circle and then back out to a 20-metre circle. At the beginning, you don’t want to spiral in to too small of a circle as your horse won’t be able to stay balanced. As your horse’s training progresses and he is able to collect more, you can spiral in to a much smaller circle, all the way into a turn on the forehand or a turn on the haunches.
For ease of explanation, we will start with a circle to the left. On the out-beat (the horse’s barrel, or mid-section, swings to the right), turn your core (belly button) to the left and twist your seat to the left by bringing your right hip forward while keeping your shoulders square to the horse’s body. At the same time apply pressure with your inside (left) leg at the girth to bend the horse. On the in-beat (the horse’s barrel swings to the left), use your outside upper (right) leg to move the horse’s shoulders in. If your horse is still green and not very supple yet, you may also have to use your outside lower leg slightly ahead of the girth to turn your horse’s shoulders in. Your inside (left) rein has soft contact with the horse’s mouth and is open to maintain your horse’s left bend, not to pull your horse’s head to the left. Your outside (right) rein controls the horse’s shoulder and neck and keeps it balanced as well as regulating the amount of flexion in the horse’s neck to the inside. In other words, the outside rein controls the size of the circle by changing how much give or take you have on the outside rein (the give and take comes from your outside shoulder). Add a half-halt with your outside rein in timing with the out-beat to make the circle smaller.
Once you have spiralled your horse in to a 15-metre circle, start spiralling out. This is the beginning of a leg yield. Release the half-halt on your outside (right) rein and open the outside rein to the side, while keeping the inside (left) rein open as well to maintain left bend. Release pressure from your outside (right) leg (without taking the leg off the horse), straighten your core, then use your inside (left) leg at the girth on the out-beat to bend and push the horse back out to a 20-metre circle.
Spiralling in is more difficult for most horses as the horse has to put more weight over his inside hind leg and at the same time hold his inside bend. The tighter the circle, the more collection is required from your horse.
Make sure you don’t lose impulsion while spiralling in and out. Keep your seat swinging in rhythm with your horse’s movement (your hips should be swinging left and forward as the horse’s barrel swings left, and right and forward as the horse’s barrel swings right). Spiralling out is the first step of leg yielding as it is much easier to teach a horse to leg yield on a circle than going straight.
Once you and your horse have mastered the spiral exercise at the walk, increase the difficulty by doing the exercise at a trot or jog and eventually at a canter or lope.
To spiral in at the lope or canter, the inside leg cues at the girth for bend while the outside lower leg cues behind the girth for forward on the downbeat. The outside upper leg turns the shoulders in on the upbeat.
Spiralling in to a turn on the forehand is a great way to lower a horse’s head when he’s inverted. Spiraling in to a turn on the haunches helps bring a horse that is heavy on the forehand back on to the haunches by rocking its weight back and to bring the horse’s head up when he is behind the bit.