I want to share an exercise that we worked on at my lesson today. The goal was to establish correct contact on the outside rein. Barbara likes these types of exercises because usually the horse learns what to do before the human, so the human can learn feel.
Set out 4 cones as in the picture. Start walking forward with your elbows glued into your side and your hands taking an outside feel of the bit. As you go around the first cone, move your hands to the inside by turning your body to the inside. Keep your inside (left in the picture below) calf pulsing, so the horse steps forward and over with his inside hind leg. As you cross the diagonal, widen your hands to keep the horse’s head and neck straight (this is very important and not easy). Then switch your legs so you’re now pulsing with your right leg and the horse reaches with his right (new inside) hind leg. As you go around the next cone, again move your hands to the inside by turning your body. The lines around the outside of the cones can be slightly curved and you should keep your hands looking in. Don’t get too close to the cones for the turns. Repeat many times, and change directions, and then try at the trot.
The hardest thing for me was keeping contact with the bit as we came around the turn and crossed the diagonal, especially changing to right bend. When I lost contact, I couldn’t turn him because he just escaped through his outside shoulder. I never did get it at the walk (we ended up leaving the ring a few times). At the trot, PJ was going more forward and I sort of got it. We also used the exercise to pick up the canter. After making a turn around a cone, he was positioned correctly (if I did the exercise correctly) to pick up the canter. I just needed to give my inside rein, sit, and ask.
Problems I had were keeping equal contact across the diagonal and getting him to move off my leg. It manifested by not being able to turn – at all. Mastering this exercise is key to getting correct contact. I’m going to need to practice this a lot.