I’ll describe this exercise, then provide trouble-shooting information (because you’ll be working to develop collection and steering).
As you work on this exercise, remember to “ask” for what you want with enough authority to command your horse’s attention to get results, but not so vigorously that you cause him to worry. Scaring him only makes things worse: he’ll become defensive, raise his head, and stiffen his jaw. This stiffness will travel throughout his body, resulting in the exact opposite of what you want, which is being light with supple responsiveness.
Set markers at each corner of an imaginary baseball diamond, at least 90 feet square. Your goal is to trot around the diamond while keeping your horse straight between your reins and legs, bending through the corners, and moving forward with energy and control.
Keep your horse on a relatively loose rein as much as possible. Start at home base, then trot in a straight line toward first base, using both legs in neutral position or just behind it to drive your horse forward. As you approach first base, use light backward pressure on both reins to slow him a bit while driving with your seat to encourage collection. Use your inside (direct) rein and inside leg at neutral position to guide him through a tidy turn, supporting with your outside (indirect) rein and leg as necessary. Then align him and go straight toward second base while encouraging him forward. Continue in this manner around the diamond. Be sure to work in both directions.
When you can go around with your horse balanced and steering easily, keeping a steady speed (not speeding up when the reins are loose) and staying straight on the straightaways, try it at a lope, again being sure to work in both directions.
Overcorrection: A Great Tool for Fixing What Keeps Going Wrong
In order to make an impression on a horse that persistently misbehaves or misunderstands your cues, you may need to overcorrect him. In Fig.A We see the example of a horse (3) that continually drifts out on the Baseball Diamond as he rounds “first base” (perhaps because he is drawn by a magnet). Over-correct his inappropriate action by immediately tipping his nose to the left with your direct rein, applying your indirect rein and outside leg at or just behind the cinch, and turning him 45 degrees away from the magnet while keeping his body fairly straight beneath you (4 & 5). Cut straight across the diamond, going from first base to third, skipping second entirely (6).
If your initial overcorrection of the horse’s undesired action does not succeed, further up the ante (fig.B). Using my first example: when the horse continues to drift out on the Baseball Diamond as he rounds first base, stop (3), and instead of turning him 45 degrees as in your previous overcorrection, this time use your indirect rein and outside leg more aggressively to turn a full 360 degrees before again cutting straight across to third base (4-8).The extra work will teach the horse to take the “easy” route—straight and on track—the next time around the Baseball Diamond.
Using varying degrees of overcorrection gets results because the horse learns that he has to work harder if he veers off track. It also helps get him “between the reins.” Repeat the over-corrective measure until the horse properly performs the desired maneuver.
Sandy Collier’s successful horse show record is reflective of her dedication, talent, and integrity as a horse trainer. She was the first and only woman horse trainer to win the prestigious NRCHA World Champion Snaffle Bit Futurity. In 2011, Sandy was inducted into The Cowgirl Hall of Fame. Learn more at SandyCollier.com.
This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 9, Issue 1