What are some good exercises to help my horse stay light between my aids? When I can get her there, everything is so easy, but I’m not always successful at getting her there. She usually starts off behind the leg, and when I do get her in front of my leg, she tends to get too fresh or on edge. Not relaxed. When she’s truly between the aids, she’s light and relaxed.
First of all, it’s important to know all horses take different amounts of time to warm-up. Horses that tend to start behind the leg may need to walk for 15 minutes, then trot on a long rein for 5 or 10 minutes before asking them to go to work. During the warm-up phase, you can ask for leg-yields, some shoulders-fore, walk-halt transitions, turn on the forehand, etc. to get her listening and physically loosening up.
My favorite exercise to work on self-carriage, and truly having a horse between the aids, is to work over poles or small cavelltti. The easiest is to set two poles 72’ apart in a straight line. At a working canter, you should be able to canter 6 even strides in between without pushing or pulling. Set the pace in the turn, then allow your horse to canter in over the first pole. If she speeds up, correct her with two direct reins, and when she slows, give. If she slows down close your leg, and when you get a reaction, relax your leg. Repeat this exercise in both directions until she can stay the same speed on light contact of hand and leg.
In all flatwork, you must understand if you are holding instead of feeling with your hands or legs. The goal is for the horse to stay between the aids on supportive contact of leg and hand. Not active.
The next more difficult exercise would be 3 poles set at 50’ apart. These should be four strides to four strides at a working canter 12mph. Practice both ways.
The most difficult exercise is to set 3 or 4 rails in a circle spaced out enough to be 5-7 strides apart at a working canter. This is more challenging because you have to mind the track (lateral balance) as well as the longitudinal balance.
It is critical that you are aware of and good at explaining the concept to your horse–”Stay between my aids and I’ll support you instead of nag you!”