Riders sometimes complain that riding in a ring can become too boring. If you're bored, your horse is certain to be bored too. But there are literally hundreds of exercises you can do with your horse if you are creative enough. Here is a list of just a few ideas to keep ring riding fresh and interesting for both you and your horse.
1. Ask for more "go" and stay for the ride! Don't let go of the reins but also don't pull (and maybe half-halt if your horse loses balance a bit to the forehand) and don't get left behind.
2. Try a "loop": coming out of the corner, head on a diagonal line toward the 1/4 line, then head back into the next corner. This will require your horse to go from one bend to another and back, all along one length of the ring.
3. Try a loop in the canter - this introduces a counter-canter - what fun! Stay fairly straight in the counter canter - don't bend too far to the inside.
4. Count a certain number of strides per transition. For example, aim for 5 walk strides, 10 canter strides and then 8 trot strides. Go back to the walk and try it all again.
5. Try a figure 8 or two: one way is to use the diagonals and ends of the arena. The 8 should cross exactly over "x" (the middle of the ring). Another way is to make the 8 look like two balls attached in the middle (like a snowman), with the circles being more in the center of the ring, off the rails. This one is more challenging for the horse - one circle tends to be larger than the other, and the change through the short center tends to be more difficult.
6. Do a figure 8 with canter on one circle and trot on the other. Transition right in the middle of the 8.
7. Play with transitions: canter - to halt - to back up 5 strides - to canter.
8. Ride right into the corner of the ring and maintain the strength of your stride whether in walk, trot or canter. Keep a true bend as you enter the corner, and increase impulsion as you exit.
9. Do 4 circles as you go around the ring at A, E, C and B (dressage ring letters), one a little larger or smaller than the others. Be really picky about exact size and shape of each circle, and maintain a bend corresponding to the size of the
10 . Play with the canter-trot to increase impulsion and get the horse to reach further underneath with the hind end.
11. Try the not-canter to improve your transitions from trot to canter.
12. Do a circle at A. After completing the circle, head into the corner with a good bend, straighten up to come out, and fly through the diagonal in a lengthen or medium trot. Finish by doing a circle in the opposite direction at C. When your horse gets good at the bend changes, add an additional variable of changing gaits at each circle.
13. Circle at A, lengthen across the diagonal, come off the short end at the 3/4 line and leg-yield to the rail.
14. Do a 3-loop serpentine and work on correct bend to bend with a true straight line in the middle.
15. Play with the serpentine: maintain all as in #14, but change gaits from loop to loop.
16. Accordion your horse: on a large 20m circle, get the horse to stretch down and out with the neck (with light contact on the reins), then come up and shorter in the neck (engage the hind end to raise the neck), then stretch down and out again. This can be very difficult as there is variation in the balance of the horse, as well as in the length of the back and neck. Be sure to use many half-halts to maintain balance through the changes of body posture.
Well, you get the idea. I'm sure you can think of other fun exercises you can work into your regular ring ride. Be creative, decide what you want to do and build your ride into a series of exercises that develop from one to the other. Challenge yourself and your horse and you will never again be bored by the four walls that surround you!
Do you have any other interesting exercises? Share them in the comments below!
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More reading here:
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From a Whisper to a Scream: How Loud Should Our Aids Really Be? Should we be “loud” in our aids, or should we be working as softly as we can in hopes that our horse can respond to lighter and more refined aids?
Do You Make This Timing Mistake When Riding Your Horse? Have you ever given your horse an aid and got nothing in return? There could be one other variable that you might not have considered…
Secrets to a Great Turn (a.k.a. Shift Out to Turn In): Can you tell if your horse uses his hind end before taking the first step in the new direction, or does he feel stiff and awkward, almost like he’s leaving his legs behind the movement?
Don’t Mistake the Halt For a Stop! Don’t do it! Don’t mistake the halt for a stop. They are two entirely different maneuvers.