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Western Dressage – How to correctly ride a corner. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

February 26, 2018

This is our third year collaborating on writing articles on Western dressage, and we appreciate all the feedback we’ve been getting. Some of the readers asked us to write more about simple exercises that they can do with their horses. So in this month’s issue, we would like to explain a very basic movement: how to correctly ride a corner.

A corner is not just a way to get from one maneuver to another, but can be very useful in rebalancing the horse in preparation for the next maneuver. A well-ridden corner will do just that!

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Jacklyn Hegberg riding Maverick through a corner – Photo by Lisa Wieben

Each corner you ride in the dressage ring can be defined as the arc of a circle, which is one of the various arena (or school) figures. Riding arena figures correctly helps develop lateral flexibility, suppleness, balance and straightness in your horse. Straightness means that a horse is straight on straight lines and bent on bending lines, with his poll through to the tail on the line of travel. Riding arena figures accurately will also help your horse become ambidextrous, meaning he can bend as easily to the right as he does to the left (bend refers to the horse’s lateral bend through the ribcage). Furthermore, riding arena figures develops obedience and responsiveness to the rider’s aids and helps assess both your horse’s training level as well as your own skill level.

Depending on the level of your horse, the arc of the corner may be that of a 10-metre, or in higher levels that of an 8-metre, circle. If your horse struggles with small circles and loses impulsion, rhythm, and/or balance, only go as deep into the corner as your horse can manage.

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Jacklyn Hegberg riding Maverick through a corner – Photo by Lisa Wieben

We like the following exercise to help the horse and rider learn how to properly ride corners:

– Begin in the walk.

– Ride a 10-metre circle in a corner.

– Proceed to the next corner. You can use the long sides of the arena for some transitions (e.g. walk to halt, walk to trot, trot to halt, etc.), but make sure you are back in a relaxed, but forward walk before each corner.

– Repeat the exercise in the opposite direction.

– Using cones to mark the circles will give you a better idea of the arc that you need to ride. Cones will also help the horse with a visual line of travel.

– If your horse is evenly bent on each circle, go large and omit the circles.

– If your horse maintains the bend in each corner repeat the same exercise at a jog.

– If the horse struggles with the smaller circles in the jog, discontinue the corner exercise and take the horse onto a 20-metre circle for the jog work. You can spiral this circle down to find the the size your horse is still comfortable with in the jog. As the horse develops more suppleness the smaller circles will become easier.

Rider aids/positioning

When riding your horse through a corner, he should be bending into the direction of the corner, with his body equally bent through his entire body from poll to tail, and his inside hind leg more engaged. The following are the aids for riding a corner to the left:

– Half-halt your horse (using your outside rein) before you reach the corner to let him know that something is changing as well as to rebalance him.

– Draw your left hip back slightly and allow your right hip to move forward.

– Inside (left) leg directly under your body, asking your horse to bend the rib cage as well as to maintain the activity.

– Outside (right) leg can be moved slightly back to prevent the horse’s hindquarters from swinging out.

– Gently ask for flexion to the inside with your inside (left) rein. This rein should remain slightly off the neck and you should just see your horse’s inside eye and nostril.

– Outside (right) rein supports the bend and is kept steady in order to limit the degree of bend in the horse’s neck. The outside rein also helps in turning your horse’s shoulders in and will be closer to the neck. The deeper you ride into the corner, the more the outside rein will be needed to turn the horse’s shoulders and maintain bend. The outside rein also helps maintain the horse’s rhythm.

– It is important to remember that while riding a corner, always turn your body from your centre (core), while your eyes are tracing the line of the corner a few strides ahead of the horse toward the next reference point.

In order to bend and turn a horse correctly, we need both inside and outside aids to work together, with your inside aids bending the horse and your outside aids supporting and turning him. The horse’s hind legs should be on the same track as his front legs, and he should be bending around your inside leg.

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How to set up cones for riding a corner properly – Photo by Lisa Wieben

One of the biggest mistakes we see is the horse cutting the corner. The rider, instead of bending the horse through the corner, tries to pull the horse into the corner with the outside rein as the horse is trying to avoid going into the corner. This causes the horse to counter-bend, tilting his head to the outside, and dropping the inside shoulder into the corner. To correct this go back to basics and work on the bend in the walk and keep the circle size appropriate to the horse.

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This is a good example of the horse’s inside hind leg stepping under. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

We will be bringing you more exercises to help you develop your horse’s rhythm, suppleness, and flexibility. Until next time enjoy the ride!

This article is the 23rd in a series of articles on Western dressage and is a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz. The articles appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis.

Lisa Wieben is a versatile and exceptional riding coach, balancing her skills as a Level 2 Centered Riding Instructor, Equine Canada Western Competition Coach, and Irwin Insights Level 4 Master Certified Trainer. Currently specializing in Western and English Dressage, she trains youth, adult amateurs, and professionals as well as coaching a local 4H group at her facility near Bowden/Olds, AB. Through dressage and foundational training she helps riders of all disciplines create stronger partnerships with their horses. Also, as a Hanna Somatic Instructor and Practitioner in Training, Lisa works with riders, in class or privately, learning movement exercises that target specific muscle issues in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and overuse. Her approach, using Dressage, Centered Riding, Irwin Insights principles, and Somatics, all come together to develop a balanced rider and a balanced horse. http://www.mountainviewtrainingstables.com.

Birgit Stutz is an Irwin Insights Level 4 Master Certified Trainer and offers horse training, riding lessons in the English and Western disciplines, horsemanship clinics, mentorship programs, intensive horsemanship courses, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, as well as working student programs at Falling Star Ranch Academy of Foundational Horsemanship in Dunster, BC. Birgit’s passion is to help humans have a better relationship with their horses through understanding of equine psychology and body language, biomechanics, as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage. http://www.fallingstarranch.ca.

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