Winter Schooling Tips

Sian SchoolingA horse that is working in a good rhythm will always take even steps in all three of his paces. Before you decide what exercises to do with your horse next, listen to his footfalls to see if he is in a good rhythm and working evenly.


If the footfalls are uneven then there are a number of questions you should ask yourself: 
-          Is he simply being lazy?
-          Is he nervous or tense and tending to hurry as a result of this?
-          Are you pushing the horse out of balance?
-          Is he sound in all four feet? If not, he could have an underlying problem.
-          If your horse is young or very green then he could be unbalanced until this improves.

Always be confident in your riding - there is no point in working on improving your horse until you feel relaxed and confident enough to do the work.

Warming up
When I get on my Pony I always have a plan in my mind of what I want to improve or work on that day. As a child, I was told there was no point in riding unless my horse was listening to me. Without his attention I may as well sit on and let him do exactly what he wants.

I was taught to do lots of walk to trot transitions, and then halt to trot. If I get on and Ceaser feels like his mind is elsewhere I will spend about 10 minutes on each rein doing this. Usually I will do it at every letter around the arena to really get him listening. Not only does it get his attention, but it also gets them feeling very light off your legs and a lot lighter in front.

Ride plenty of transitions between paces, always ensuring the horse stays forward in to your aids and responds immediately. Dressage superstar, Carl Hester believes that you can never do too many transitions.

Sian Schooling2Suppleness
Another thing I have always noticed whilst watching various individuals at my livery yard is that people rarely use the whole of the arena. Most will trot, canter and do transitions around the outside but seem scared to introduce circles of different sizes in the middle.

I like to add variety and will very rarely use the outside track. Why not introduce circles in to your daily ride and other exercises? Don't be afraid to ride serpentines; both three and four loops. Do a range of circle sizes at different places in the arena.

One exercise I like to do is to get Ceaser working on a 20 metre circle and whilst leg yielding, slowly making my circle smaller and smaller until we are riding a 5 metre circle. Use your outside leg to push him in to make the circle smaller but be careful not to over emphasise the inside rein. You want to encourage him to work off your leg and listen to what you're asking without yanking the reins. Now, without stopping I then slow make my circle bigger until we are riding a 20 metre circle again. You must now use your inside leg to push him back out without pulling too much on the outside rein. However if your horse isn't listening then just ask and remind him by slightly lifting your chosen rein higher and reminding him what you want. Remember to repeat this on both reins though and not just one as this can be a good exercise to get your horse bending more.

Once he gets the hang of this then trot a 15 metre circle, then leg-yield out to 20 metres and back again. Be careful for your horse trying to escape through a shoulder or his hindquarters - keep him straight!

Another good exercise is to do circles in each corner of the arena. I always choose to do a 10 metre circle in each corner of the arena and on both reins.

Sian Schooling3Be careful not to overbend
I remember watching someone ride and their way of getting the horse working in an outline was to put their hands half way down the horse's neck and so far apart you could fit a bus in between them!  This is a big no, don't do it! How many dressage riders do you see riding like this? None!

Firstly, sit up and relax. If your horse is difficult to get working in an outline or refuses to, then start working on a circle and asking him to slightly bend around your leg. To do this lift your inside rein and open it slightly. Ensure you keep your outside rein in the correct place so you're not opening both reins and simply asking him to come down.

Remember to keep your elbows bent and hands in a nice position. Ensure your back is straight and heels are down. Always think of there being a straight line from your head, down to your heels.

On the forehand
A young, green or untrained horse's balance tends to be "on the forehand", but with simple training you can help him achieve horizontal balance. If I am riding a horse that is on the forehand a little then I ensure I have my heels down and my hands a little higher. Having this balance is not only important in order for the horse to cope with the more advanced dressage movements, but can improve his show jumping and will make him a lot more sure-footed when out hacking too!

Down the long sides of the arena, ask your horse to shorten and lengthen his strides. I usually ask Ceaser to lengthen down the long side and then shorten across the short sides.

As you approach corners, think of riding forward into the corner, asking for more impulsion. If you don't, your horse will then use the corner to slow down and come out of it lacking even more energy. This is extra important if you want to pick up extra marks in a dressage test.

Sian Schooling4Introducing canter
Once you have worked on trotting exercises you can introduce the canter. One thing that really annoys me is to see people always cantering in corners. What happens when you come to riding somewhere differently like the beach or in a field? You will not be able to canter in a specific corner. Get your horse used to cantering in different places, like down the long side or over X. Don't be afraid to test the waters and do something out of the ordinary - your horse will enjoy doing a different exercise!

Start simple by cantering the whole of the arena, and then try circling at A, then at C. Once I have done this I start to introduce various sizes of circles around the arena. One of my favourites to finish off with is cantering a figure of eight in a 20 metre circle.

To begin with, try cantering a simple figure of eight in the whole of the arena. Upon hitting X ask for a simple change of leg, either through trot or walk. It may not feel nice the first time you do it but after a few tries it will feel better.

Rest him once he has worked hard!
This should keep you going until my next update. Once your horse has done enough ensure you praise him for working hard and let him relax. I would rather Ceaser do 20 minutes of good work than an hour of something not so good!

To find out more about Sian, check out her blog:

Written by Sian Lovatt at 15:00, 12 November 2012


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