Confidence on a horse is all about feeling in control. When you can trust that you direct when and where and how fast your horse moves, and that you can transition downward anytime you choose, you can feel like a confident, effective rider.
[READ MORE WITH MICHELLE: Hula-Hoop Lope]
Unfortunately, it’s easy for us to fool ourselves on this point. We can assume that we are controlling our horse quite precisely, but if we’re not actually measuring our results, we don’t really know whether we are or not.
This exercise answers that question for you. It makes use of cones to mark exactly where your transitions must occur. With a clear visual target to gauge by, you can learn whether or not you’re nailing your transitions and, if not, use the cones to refine your cueing and improve your control.
Boosting your confidence by fine-tuning your control isn’t the only benefit of this exercise. Faithfully practicing it will also improve your horsemanship. You’ll be forced to think in the saddle, processing more quickly what you need to do in order to make the transition happen at the cone.
Obviously, this exercise will also sharpen your horse’s responsiveness. He’ll learn that when you say “now,” you really do mean now. And the cone patterns that involve turning will tune up your horse’s steering, as well.
Finally, this exercise in all its variations is just plain fun. It’s like a game that blasts boredom out of your practice sessions. Add another rider, and it can become an entertaining competition.
Setting It Up
You’ll need four plastic training cones (more if you want to ride several patterns consecutively) and a safe area with good footing in which to set them up.
Arrange the cones in one or more of the patterns shown, placing them at least 75 feet apart to start. (As you and your horse become more proficient, you can increase the challenge by placing the cones a bit closer together.)
The Straight Line
We’ll start with the straight-line pattern. Warm your horse up as you normally would, then plan exactly what you intend to do at each cone. For example, you might plan to approach the first cone at a walk, then trot when you reach the first cone, walk again at the second, lope at the third, and stop at the fourth.
Your goal is for the transition to be complete when your horse’s shoulder comes level with the cone (see diagrams). To achieve this, be thinking about the transition at least a horse’s length away from the cone. Apply your cues when your horse’s nose reaches the cone, so that he can respond by the time his shoulder reaches the cone.
Depending on your and your horse’s level of proficiency, in the beginning, you may need to adjust the point at which you apply your cues in order to allow more reaction time.
The Turn Patterns
For the square and zigzag patterns, your goal is the same—plan so that your horse executes the transition when his shoulder reaches the cone. Only now you’ll be turning after the transition to head towards the next cone.
Be sure to incorporate a variety of transitions—up and down in speed, changing gaits, even stopping. If there’s a specific transition you struggle with, practice it more often.
When you get good with the square pattern, you can mix it up by cutting diagonally across the square to create new and more challenging cloverleaf patterns.
Let creativity—and fun!—be your guide.