Square Dance: A Riding Exercise to Improve Straightness and Tracking Up

In riding and horse training, there’s huge value in having a large number of different and interesting schooling exercises at the ready. Variety keeps both you and your horse tuned in during the lesson, as well as willing to re-enter the arena the next day. In addition, the addition of ground poles and cones provide visual markers to encourage form, shape, and accuracy in your movements and transitions.

In her book 50 Best Arena Exercises and Patterns, Ann Katrin Querbach names the “Double Square” with ground poles as a great activity for both beginner and advanced riders. This exercise emphasizes how to ride a round volte, and then in the straight-aheads, you can check whether your horse will travel straight and whether he is tracking up actively with his hind end.

What You Need

4 ground poles, approximately 10 feet (3 m) in length; 4 ground poles, approximately 6.5 feet (2 m) in length; 1 cone.

Setting Up

Position the four shorter ground poles so that they form a closed square. Leaving 3 feet (1 m) in between, position the four longer ground poles parallel to the shorter ones to make a larger square. Leave open space in the corners. Position the cone outside the squares, on a diagonal from the corner, with enough room that you can ride a volte around the cone. You will form a figure eight when you ride a volte around the small square in one direction, then change direction and ride a volte around the cone (see diagram).

What You Do
  • Ride a volte around the small square but within the larger square. Ride at a marching walk. The inside rein positions the horse and the inside leg drives him forward. The outside leg lies in a guarding position on the horse’s side. Together with the outside rein, the outside leg sets a boundary for the horse on the outside, preventing him from stepping to the outside of the larger square. Your weight is on the inside seat bone. Look where you’re going, toward the next quarter of the volte. The smaller the circle, the more important it is for you to look ahead.
  • Using the ground poles as visual boundaries to your right and left, practice straightness by riding between two of them where they make a right angle. As you ride straight ahead, sit up tall and distribute your weight evenly over both seat bones. Drive from both legs to frame the horse. You should have an even contact on both reins. If your horse wavers from the line of travel, do not correct him with the reins. Instead, use both calves to strongly drive him forward to the reins. By doing so, present your horse with a clear line of travel. If the horse is stepping up actively behind, it is easier for him to stay straight.
  • Change rein and ride a volte around the cone. Then go back inside the square—you’re riding a figure eight. (You can also ride multiple circles around the cone and then go back to the circle within the square, and vice versa.) Pay careful attention to the change of rein in this exercise. Before you reposition your horse, you should ride several steps straight ahead.
  • You can add challenge and interest to this exercise by adding three more cones at each of the open corners of the larger square, and exiting the volte around the small square at different times and places to change rein and circle around one of the cones.
What Is Your Horse Learning?
  • To move forward and straight, meaning that the forehand and hindquarters are not wavering from his line of travel.
  • Bending and positioning.
  • To take more weight onto his hindquarters.
  • Responsiveness to the rider’s aids.
  • Correct tracking-up.
  • To change between bending and straight lines.
What Are You Learning?
  • To correctly ride the volte.
  • To train your gaze to divide the volte into quarters.
  • Refinement of the aids.
  • Correct bending and positioning in the turn.
  • How to ride a straight line without positioning the horse.
  • To change from positioning on a bending line to riding a straight line without positioning.
  • To frame the horse.
What If Your Horse…

Barges through the outside shoulder?

  • Often, the outside regulating (guarding) rein is missing. Take more contact on your outside rein and apply your outside leg more strongly.

Always barges to the left, no matter which direction you’re traveling?

  • If a horse always tips to one side, he is likely asymmetrical. Work hard on gymnasticizing him on both sides.

Has trouble changing flexion so quickly?

  • Ride your voltes around the cone twice in the same direction, without straightening the horse immediately after the first time around. Do your best to prepare your horse for the upcoming change of direction (which will be moving straight ahead). Don’t get too set on correct positioning and bend at first. Instead, make sure the voltes are round and don’t become egg-shaped.

Wobbles during the change of direction?

  • Make sure you’re riding a few steps going straight ahead before you attempt positioning in the new direction.



This excerpt from 50 Best Arena Exercises and Patterns by Ann Katrin Querbach is reprinted by permission from Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com).


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