Tight Turns, Big Benefits

Try this quick exercise to boost your control while encouraging forward motion.

With this exercise, found in 50 Arena Exercises and Patterns, you can school tight turns. The goal is to ride a small volte inside a square. (A volte is a dressage maneuver in which a horse executes a small circle.) Your horse learns to move diligently forward while making tight turns, and to step up with his hindquarters. For Western riders, this exercise is an integral part of trail courses. You’ll need several ground poles to create the square, plus one cone or other similar marker

Setting Up

Position the ground poles to create a three-sided box, with each side 18 feet long (see diagram 1). Place a cone in the middle of the box.

How Does This Exercise Work?

(1) At a forward-moving walk, ride straight into the three-sided box and attempt a partial circle to the right, turning evenly around the cone (diagram 1). Wait to begin your turn until your horse’s last hind foot crosses the open side. Ride with minimal bend, and exit the square at the open side as shown.

Heads Up! Move straight ahead as you enter the open side of the square. Only begin to position your horse when you begin your turn. Ride straight ahead as you exit the square on the open side.

(2) Once you’re solid with three poles, add the fourth pole and remove the cone. Riding straight ahead, enter the square by riding over a ground pole. Turn and ride straight out over the same ground pole (diagram 2).

Heads Up! Don’t fold at your hips. Instead, lift high through your breastbone.

(3) Then, still tracking right, ride straight into the square, and begin turning as before. Turn as in diagram 3. After one full circle, exit the square on the opposite side (diagram 3).

(4) Or ride one-and-a-half circles, then exit over the same pole over which you entered (diagram 4). Once you’ve mastered this exercise in one direction, reverse all cues to practice it in the opposite direction.

Heads Up! Make sure your horse
never loses his forward movement—his impulsion will get him through the drill—and be sure to follow the turn with your upper body.

What Is the Horse Learning?

⇒ Coordination.

⇒ To step up with his hindquarters.

⇒ How to complete tight turns with correct positioning.

What Is the Rider Learning?

⇒ Proactive, forward-thinking riding. 

⇒ Directional planning.

⇒ How to ride tight turns.

What to Do If…?

Your horse hits the ground poles: As you cross the ground poles, keep your hands almost lying on your horse’s withers. Your reins stay long, so you don’t disturb the horse with them. Lift your breastbone, and follow through with your hips to avoid blocking your horse. Drive him over the poles with a quiet stride. If he trips anyway, practice walking over the poles separately from this exercise. Praise your horse when he doesn’t trip. If your horse catches his last hind foot on the pole, count his steps as he crosses, so you know all four feet are within the square before you begin your turn.

Your horse gets slow during the turn, or completely stops: Drive with your legs. If this doesn’t do the trick, go back to (1) and the first stage of the exercise. If need be, enlarge the partial square to create a larger circle, then make the turn smaller, bit by bit. ↔

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