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Horseback Riding and Training: The Square Exercise


Ellison is a professional horse trainer and riding instructor. She runs a summer camp program and offers kids a safe introduction to horses.

What Does the Square Exercise Work On?

A few things! The square exercise works to get your horse to respect your outside leg. It also works on turning your whole body by looking where you're going and using your hands as a unit to move the horse's shoulders where you want them to move.

Why Is This Important?

I emphasize to my riders that we have to ride the whole horse. You can't just ride the head. We have to ride the whole horse to keep them straight or to make them bend! Never forget the horse's motor is in the back! If you don't ride the whole horse, you aren't controlling the motor. To me, that is a pretty big thing!

I teach my riders that there is a time that using your hands together as a unit is the best way to control the shoulders and front end. Sometimes we need to use our hands independent of each other to accomplish other things. This exercise is a good all-around exercise that touches on these things. You can use it with any level rider and find benefits.

What Do You Need?

All you need to do this exercise is traffic cones or something else to mark out a square inside your riding arena. You can use jump standards, barrels, whatever you have. I just want you to have a focal point to focus on as you go around, to help get you looking where you are going. Not to mention, turning with your whole body.

How Do You Do It?

After you have your horse warmed up and as responsive to your leg as possible, go ahead and start to walk him around the square. Make sure you have correct hand position (straight line, elbow, hand to bit). Make sure your hands are not in your lap.
The reins need to be the same length and your hands need to be out in front of your body, with your elbows bent and rested at your sides. If you have trouble with keeping your hands still, you can even try to lightly touch your elbows to your body and hold them there to help them not move around too much.

Now you are walking around the square, as you approach the first cone (let's say you are going to the left), I want you to look to the left, turn your whole body to the left. Then you are going to bring both hands to the left while you apply your outside leg. Think about you want to guide the horse around the square by pushing with your outside leg, rather than pulling with your inside rein.

Each time you get to a cone on the square, you are going to repeat this process, encouraging your horse to respect your outside leg (move off of it). By turning your whole body, you probably don't realize it, but you are changing your seat bones in the saddle and encouraging your horse to turn. The beginning step to turning your whole body is turning and looking where you are going (to the next cone on the square).

The Steps

Turn your head and look to the left; turn your whole body to the left in the saddle as well.

Since you moved your whole body, your horse should already be feeling your outside leg more. The next step is to push with your outside leg.

Lastly, take both hands, up and to the left (to the inside), moving the shoulders around to the left as your horse turns:

  1. Look/turn your whole body.
  2. Press and hold your outside leg to push the horse around the turn.
  3. Both hands to the inside to bring the shoulders around.

Straight Lines Between the Cones

We want our lines between the cones to be straight. If we are using our inside hand too much, it is going to cause the horse's hind end to swing out and then we will have to correct our straightness, just in time to turn again. The goal is to ride a square around the cones, encouraging you to use your hands together to control the shoulders. Reminding you of the basics of looking where you are going and turning your whole body.

Push your horse around the figure of the square with your outside leg, rather than pulling him around it with your inside rein. You will know you are making the turns correctly as it gets easier and easier to stay straight in between the cones.

Little Hints

Some horses will want to drop their inside shoulder into the turn. In other words, you will feel them leaning in and sort of down. If your horse is one of these horses, we have a solution. You will do everything the same with this exercise, except for one thing: You will lift your left hand ever so slightly higher than your right. So your left hand will be at the horse's withers, but slightly higher than the right hand. Also, you will focus on lifting your inside shoulder and stretching your inside leg down long as you turn.

If you carry a crop for this exercise, I would suggest you carry it in your outside hand if you have to use it to help you. Hopefully, you tap your horse with it on the outside and he will move his haunches in the direction we want them to go!

The Wrap Up

Obviously, I want you to do this in both directions. Take note of which way is easier or harder.

When you are doing it right, it should feel as if you are pushing your horse around the outside of the square rather than pulling him around the inside. It should also feel as if you are lifting his shoulders up and in to make the turns.

Your horse should feel a lot straighter and more connected. A lot of times, I see my riders riding a bit crooked and uncentered which leaves them with their horse's head way too far to the inside and the haunches swinging out as if the horse is disconnected in the middle. Get good at the square exercise and you shouldn't get that feeling of your horse's front end and back end being disconnected nearly as often.

All in all, this is a good exercise to practice keeping your horse straight, balanced, and listening to your outside leg. It is a good reminder for us riders too that we have to ride the whole horse and not just the head. You can ride a good square just pulling your horse around it with your inside hand.

It's harder than it looks—try it! It will be good for you and your horse!

© 2018 Ellison Hartley


Nothing to plug in or turn on and the Equicizer is virtually maintenance free! The Equicizer has a spring balanced mechanism that is easily activated and controlled by the rider’s level of effort and fitness. Riders can use the correct riding seat and leg muscles that virtually bring the Equicizer to life! When in motion, the Equicizer simulates a real horse’ movement, allowing riders to exercise, stretch and practice technique and improve body posture and positioning, fitness and confidence in a safe, controlled manner.

The secret to this mechanical horse’s ability to improve your strength, balance and coordination is that you, the rider, make it go! Now you can improve your position, suppleness, flexibility, core strength and fitness, while doing ‘perfect practice’ in your tack room or the comfort of your own home. Use any standard size saddle, with or without stirrups, or ride bareback! Riders can use their hips, or “core” seat and leg muscles to initiate the walk, trot, or canter motion. This exercise works all those horse riding muscles in your legs, abdomen, back, everywhere!


Improve Your Legs

Developing a stable, educated leg is key to rider progress. By fine-tuning the placement and timing of your leg aids and teaching your horse to respond more promptly to them, you can reduce the need to apply the aid as hard or as often—and can achieve more accurate, polished performances.

Problem: Leg in front of or behind your body. Ideally, your leg should be positioned directly underneath your body. If it swings backward, your upper body will fall forward. If you do that enough, you’ll eventually fall off your horse! And because a leg aid applied behind the girth has other specific purposes, such as a cue to pick up the canter or to move your horse’s hindquarters sideways, you may unintentionally give him conflicting signals.

If your legs swing forward, your upper body will fall backward. Your legs also will come off your horse’s sides, which may make him worry about when they might return suddenly. Horses are much happier if they feel constant, light leg contact and don’t have to anticipate surprise aids. With your upper body behind the motion, you also may unconsciously tell your horse to slow down. Even on a hot, nervous horse, it’s important to always convey the message to move forward. Your backwardtipped upper body may have the opposite effect if your seat is pushing into the saddle, too. This creates a driving seat, which we will discuss in more detail later.

To influence your horse effectively, you cannot allow your upper body to tip in front of or behind the motion. The following three fixes will help you stabilize your legs in the correct position while simultaneously improving your upper-body control.

Fix 7: First check your stirrup length. In general, when your feet are out of the stirrups and your legs hang down your horse’s sides relaxed, the bars of the stirrups should hit your ankle. This ideal length may vary somewhat from person to person. If your leg tends to slip in front of you, your stirrups may be too long. If it slips backward, they may be too short. If you’re a Junior, remember that your stirrup length will change as you grow, so check it frequently.


7 polework exercises to keep your horse interested

If you’re unable to get your horse out and about at the moment, here are some polework exercises for horses used by successful riders, that should help keep your horse or pony happy and fresh in their work at home.

Eventer Coral Keen’s key polework exercises for horses

The diagram above demonstrates five-star eventer Coral Keen’s favourite polework exercise. Here’s why she like it:

  • It helps get the horse and rider thinking/reacting quickly
  • Helps the combination work on their transitions between trot and canter in a straight line and direct
  • It helps promote straightness through the poles and before and after them too
  • Allows you to work on distance variations between the two single poles and being able to change the gears in the canter without losing straightness
  • Pole work increases activity in the hindleg and gets the horse working through their back
  • You have to look up and plan ahead as it comes up fairly quickly
  • Shows up weaknesses that normal flatwork wouldn’t necessarily highlight

Eventer Kate Honey’s favourite polework exercises

Kate, who is another five-star event rider, shares a couple of her favourite exercises using poles to improve horse and rider:

Poles on the long side — don’t put them on a set distance but ride what you feel and then see if you can lengthen and shorten the canter stride. It is also a great one for getting a feel of counting strides and learning about your horse’s stride.

Four poles (clock exercise) — this is a surprisingly hard exercise and gives you a real feel for if you are controlling the outside shoulder. It can be ridden in trot or canter and you can then increase the difficulty by working from the outside into the centre of the poles.

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Showjumper Scott Dollemore’s pole exercises

Scott, who is one of showjumping yard TW Stable’s riders, shares some pole exercises for horses ranging between just broken to those six years old and over.

Suitable for all horses, including those that are young and weak

Use poles to work on accuracy in the arena. Just set up a single pole anywhere in the arena. Make sure you ride straight lines and make sure you ride to a specific point — usually the middle of the pole. This will help teach you horse to keep straight between the hand and leg and has the added benefit of improving their general flatwork

Suitable for horses slightly further along in their training

Use canter poles to work on rhythm and having an even canter stride. Place two poles on a five/six stride distance and canter through them. This will help relaxation when it comes to jumping as this will help teach your horse to keep an even stride between the two poles.

Polework exercises for more established horses

Increase difficulty to the second exercise by adding and removing strides down the distance. Adding and removing strides will help with collection and ride ability when it comes to then jumping in the ring. When you and your horse have mastered this, add another pole onto the line so that you have to canter over three poles with four/five strides between each distance in a straight line. This adds just another level of difficulty to the exercise and ensures that you can keep a steady rhythm between two distances. You can even up the difficultly by adding in dog legs.

Another useful pole exercise for horses you can try is to put four poles out on a 20m circle so that you have to canter over them to ride the circle. You can make this four, five, or even six strides, depending on how big your arena is or how difficult you want to make it for your horse. This exercise will help develop your horse’s canter by making sure he is stepping under properly with the inside hind leg, helping with impulsion and ensuring your horse can keep the same canter rhythm around a corner.


How to Get Into Shape for Horseback Riding

Last Updated: October 14, 2020 References Approved

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The best way to get in great shape and become a good rider is to ride. Having strong muscles is half of it, but training your brain and eyes and having balance and body control while on a moving object is also important. If you don't get this experience regularly, you will not be in the best possible shape for riding. The following are several exercises you can use on a daily basis to help stretch, strengthen, and tone the muscle groups you use during riding.


Watch the video: HOW TO LIZARD CRAWL. WALK . animal movement flow (July 2021).