SCHOOLING TIPS - Exercises to help your horse become supple, balanced and prevent boredom.

The aim of schooling your horse is to develop suppleness, balance, confidence and obedience. The basics of stop, go, turn and respond when asked is required whether hacking, jumping or even competing in a dressage arena. 

HA1172Bob Atkins
The Scales of Training should be the basis of all training regardless of discipline and are set out below.

And eventually, Collection

The following, if ridden correctly, will help add value to your horse's training.
* Have a clear plan of what you would like to achieve. However, remember things don't always go according to plan and you may need to modify your session to deal with what you are presented with. If an exercise does not bring about an improvement, it is either the wrong exercise or it is not being ridden correctly. If something is not working change it.

* Incorporate lots of changes of rein and relevant exercises to help your horse become supple and balanced and prevent boredom.  IMPORTANT! In order for any exercise to be of benefit it must be ridden correctly. It is no different to us going to the gym, you are shown how to use a piece of equipment to develop certain muscles. If you then just do your own thing and do not follow instructions you will minimise the benefits.

HA1251Bob AtkinsAbove: When you have lessons take notes of things to work on and your habits that you need to be aware of so you can work on these before your next supervised session. 
* Don't forget to keep checking out our exercises under Flatwork Riding, Exercises (Click to read more). Your trainer should make sure you are clear on areas which require work and provide you with specific exercises to work on at home. Be creative!

Transitions - the key to success!
Transitions are probably the most important element of your schooling session. Again, unless ridden correctly, off the hind leg not the hand, they are of little value.   Preparation is key to ensure a smooth, obedient and balanced transition. The aim of the transition is to develop more engagement allowing the horse to execute your next command with effortless ease. You can never do too many transitions.  
Keep checking our Riding section for articles on transitions. This will cover, progressive, acute and half transitions. Apparently Carl Hester reckons you should do 100 transitions in a session - that is how important they are.

Have you ever watched top riders and wondered how they make it look so easy, no kicking, pulling or shouting? Their horses are responsive to the lightest aids. We should all be striving for this when training our horses. Think in terms of to him rather than SHOUTING!!! Continue to shout and he will switch off and stop listening, this in turn means you have to shout louder, and so it continues. How do we correct this? You've guessed, TRANSITIONS and lots of them! If you use a schooling whip to back up your leg aids, your timing must be spot on and it should never be used in anger. Don't forget to reward, no matter how small an improvement your horse offers.
balanced seat

The importance of position!
Check your position, it can and will have a huge impact on how your horse is able to move. As an example, take weight aids; they are not visible but can get the horse to execute a flying change as if by magic. Your head is heavy in relation to the rest of your body; it therefore has to have an impact if not square on your shoulders. A nodding head‚ not only makes you look as though you should be in the back of a car, it is also makes life difficult for your horse. Sitting crooked or an uneven contact down both reins will also have an impact on the way your horse goes.  The list is endless.
If you are lucky enough to have mirrors, don't forget to keep glancing and checking out how you are sitting, whether your horse is straight etc. Get a friend to video you from the front, side and riding away from them. It is amazing what you will see but never feel. Your horse will often compensate, allowing us to carry on oblivious to the potential damage or difficulties we are causing our horses.
 (Image Beverly Jacoba Equine)
Are you clear and consistent with your aids? Are you hindering and making it difficult or impossible for him to do as you ask?
Horses are born stiffer on one side than the other. This is no different to us having a preference to left or right hand. Discover which is his stiffer side and do appropriate exercises to help even him up. It is important you do not over work the stiff side, but build it up gradually, otherwise you will cause tension and resistance.

Clear benefits
Dressage is simply a name for flatwork which will benefit all horses across all disciplines. So, ok they do work inside white boards, look rather splendid and go on to do some really fancy work, but the foundation work is exactly the same. You can see what appears to be a very average horse, when ridden correctly, be transformed into a very pleasing picture. If worked correctly your horse stands more chance of longevity and will be more comfortable in himself and a pleasure to ride. It is not only the dressage horse who needs to extend or collect. Think about riding into a large fence; you most definitely need your horse to be obedient and react by either lengthening or shortening his stride so he meets and jumps it safely without wasting time and energy. Dressage or flatwork schooling really does go across all disciplines.

HA0317Bob AtkinsHacks out can also incorporate work to help your horse's suppleness.
You don't have to be in a school to practise getting your horse supple, obedient and balanced. Mix it up while out hacking. Use hills to help develop a medium or even extended trot. Make it fun whilst teaching him this new lesson without the restrictions of short sides and the end of the school looming too quickly.

Whist riding on a quiet track leg yield across and back. The one thing you have out hacking you don't have in a school, is space. If it goes wrong you have plenty of time to correct and ask again. Lastly, remember to praise and reward him when he does something correct or tries for you.

For more imformative flatwork and schooling tips for you and your horse click here