Does your horse’s attention wander while you work him' Or does he seem not to listen to your aids' Do you seem unable to persuade him to come onto the bit and into a round frame'
Maybe the problem is you. Perhaps you’re not using your aids effectively. Or perhaps you’re really not doing anything more than sitting happily on your horse’s back — maybe that’s why he’s ignoring you.
Either way, here’s an exercise to help you both pay attention, as it basically forces riders to use and to coordinate their leg, seat and hand aids, and even their eyes. It will also require the horse to pay attention and to bend his neck and body and to use his hindquarters, thus encouraging him to go in a rounder and softer frame.
And the best part is that it’s a simple exercise that doesn’t require any special equipment. You don’t even have to do it in a ring, although it will be easier there.
It’s the 10-meter circle, done repeatedly, in both directions, at the trot and at the canter.
If your ring has dressage letters, make a 10-meter circle at the three main letters on the two long sides (M-B-F and H-E-K) and at A and C. If you don’t have letters, make or use any kind of marker to tell you to do a circle every 20 to 25 meters.
You don’t even need a rectangular dressage arena. The arena’s shape doesn’t matter — as long as you do the circles repeatedly, roughly the same distance apart, as you circumnavigate the ring. The key is to be doing something — the rider using his or her aids, the horse bending and using his back and hindquarters — instead of just wandering around the ring.
Perform six, eight or 10 circles to the left, concentrating on maintaining a forward, powerful tempo while bending the horse to the left, then change rein or do a half-circle to change direction and do the same thing to the right. Then, depending on your own and your horse’s fitness, walk to take a break and do it again or go forward to the canter and repeat the exercise.
You can add other exercises or transitions between the circles to increase the exercise’s effectiveness. Halt, walk or trot a few steps between each circle, promptly resuming the trot or canter before the next circle. You could also come out of each circle in shoulder-fore or shoulder-in. If you change direction by going across the diagonal, lengthen the stride, then use the 10-meter circle at the next letter to resume the working gait.
Two important tips to keep in mind: Be sure your driving aids are maintaining a forward, consistent, energetic tempo to encourage the horse to push with his hindquarters, and be sure to use your outside leg and hand aids to keep the horse from overbending or drifting.