The Long Diagonal
This exercise incorporates more straight lines then any of the other patterns. These lines give you an opportunity to work on straightness, riding with focus, speed control, and flexion.
Ride this exercise in both directions at all three gaits. When you and your horse get really good at riding this pattern you can add ground poles, single jumps, or even gymnastic grids across the diagonal. A variation of the long diagonal pattern is the short diagonal pattern which is basically the same. The only difference being once you turn though the corner travel straight for three or four strides before riding down the diagonal. Both patterns will improve your steering, straightness, and focus.
To Ride the Pattern:
- Start on the long side of the arena traveling toward the corner, looking where you want to go.
- When you get to the corner bend your horse around it using your aids for turning.
- Travel down the short side and bend your horse around your next corner.
- In the middle of your turn look across the arena to the opposite corner and start going toward it, making a diagonal line through the center of your arena.
- When you reach the corner at the end of your diagonal, bend your horse through the turn and continue down the short side.
- If your horse drifts across the diagonal during the pattern, circle him in the opposite direction that he drifted in. Complete the circle then go straight back on the diagonal and finish your pattern. If your horse is anticipating turning one way turn him the opposite way to keep him balanced and listening.
- When you ride your turns make sure that your horse doesn’t cut the corners. If he does cut the corners ride him closer to the rail, trying to go deep into the corners. Also, when you finish riding the pattern let him stop and rest in the corners. This way he will think of the corners as a good place and will go deeper into them expecting to rest.
Spiral circles are a great exercise for impulsive horses that want to speed around and not listen to slow down cues. The smaller circles make it hard for your horse to go anywhere very fast, and the horse will eventually catch on that he isn’t going to go anywhere, and will slow down on his own without having to pull on him.
To Begin the Lesson:
- Use a cone or barrel to mark the center of the circle to help make your circles evenly round.
- Ride a big circle that covers about half your arena.
- Travel all the way around the circle then begin to slowly spiral in. Make an entire circle every time you spiral in.
- The aids to spiral in are much like the aids for turning they are just slighter. You want to look where you want to go, use your outside leg in the middle of your horse to push his body over, your outside rein keeps a soft contact. Use your inside hand to bend your horse’s neck slightly, and your inside leg at the girth to create bend in his body.
- Your outside leg cue should be stronger than any other cue as it pushes the horse over onto the smaller circle.
- Keep spiraling in until you make a tight circle.
- If your horse is rushing, keep him on the small circle until he starts to slow down and relaxes then start to spiral back out.
To spiral out, use pressure with your inside leg to push your horse out. Keep a small amount of pressure on the inside rein to keep bend in his neck. Keep your outside leg behind the girth, using pressure only when you need to speed him up. And have soft contact on your outside rein, using an opening rein to steer him over if he ignores your leg.
- If at any time the horse starts to speed up while you are spiraling out, keep him on the same sized circle until he slows down before spiraling out again. You may even have to bend him on a smaller circle until he slows down, before returning to the circle you were on, and then spiraling out.
- If the horse starts leaning to the inside or outside of the circle make a circle in the opposite direction until he stops leaning as described in the previous two articles.
Practice these patterns in as many variations as you can think of. They can be useful for any discipline or level of rider. That’s why patterns are such a great learning tool.