Humans have a preferred dominant side by nature – either left or right, which leads to us subconsciously favoring one side. A few years ago when my first horse, Little Bea, was taking her first strides of canter she found it far much easier to canter on one rein than the other. Lisa Morris, my instructor at the time, said this was perfectly normal because horses, like humans, favor one side.
After a discussion of the difficulties of teaching things on the “wrong” side I then went home and attempted to learn to eat with chopsticks left handed. Not an easy task as I was very adept at using them right handed.
I knew the principals and techniques but I just had this amazingly frustrating lack of co-ordination and dexterity when using my left hand. After many weeks of practicing I managed to eat my Singapore style noodles left handed.
It was very obvious that unless I had given myself this challenge I would have continued to eat in a way that came naturally to me, with my chop sticks in my right hand.
With this in mind I started considering how much time I spent schooling my horse on each rein. Counting times round the school as I rode just seemed to add in yet another thing I had to think about and keep track of while riding.
Not to be beaten and after thinking about this problem for a bit longer I stumbled upon the idea that by schooling using figure of 8s and using variations on the shape I would complete a figure and would have spent and equal amount of time on each rein. With this in mind I came up with 4 basic shapes to use in my schooling – a classic figure 8 made from two 20m circles, a digital figure 8 from two 20m squares, two 20m diamonds and finally a half 20m circle followed by changing rein on the long diagonal.
Once I had decided on these patterns I then started varying how I rode them. I found that the square and diamond figure 8s lent themselves best to work in walk and trot as they gave me good opportunities to ride well in to the corners and to practice riding transitions on straight lines.
The other two figures I found worked well in canter, with the 8 made from two 20m circles I would change my canter lead over X by transitioning to trot for one or two strides and then strike off on the new canter lead.
My horse and I also had fun with a game we played where we would canter the first 20m circle and then transition from canter to halt at X, then ask for a couple of steps of reinback before transitioning directly back to canter on the new rein.
Mixing these patterns around and throwing in plenty of transitions gives you an easy choice of what to do in a schooling session with out worrying about whether or not you are working one rein more than the other. You can also add in trotting poles as well to give you something different to try.
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