It is true that we regularly deliberate about the evils of overusing the inside rein.
It is also true that we constantly discuss the importance of the horse responding to your outside aids and how they regulate the impulsion, speed and bend of the horse.
But there is a time that it is perfectly fine, or almost advisable, for you to allow the horse to drift to the outside.
When It's OK To Let Your Horse Drift Out
Have you ever found yourself heading into an ever-decreasing spiral after a sudden sideways step to the inside? Maybe your horse spooked momentarily and did an exit-stage-left - at which point, you fell into the turn with him and almost encouraged the turn to become a tighter-tighter circle that left you unseated and both of you confused.
Or maybe you were indicating a mild turn or heading into a corner, but your horse misinterpreted your aids into thinking that he should drop the inside shoulder and "fall in", thereby reducing the arc of the circle you were intending to follow.
Or your efforts to create an inside bend were met with a braced jaw and heavy weight on the rein.
In any case, you felt a stiffness on the inside aids. You knew that just going with the flow was not conducive to maintaining balance, but you went along because there was seemingly not much else that could be done.
Letting the horse escape ever so slightly to the outside might be just what you need in those moments.
Although we do go on and on about keeping strong outside rein and leg aids, a brief softening of the outside aids might be just the ticket to allow your horse to shift his weight from the inside to the outside. Use a corresponding inside leg to support the horse's rib cage, and you might find him stepping away from the inside leg, softening on the inside rein and balancing more to the outside (which would then begin to even out his balance).
If you dressage readers think that this sounds suspiciously like a leg yield, you'd be right!
The difference here is that you'd be doing a leg yield on a turn or circle, not just on a straight line.
Similar to the straight leg yield, the legs should cross and the body moves to the outside. However, in the drift-out, you might actually encourage the horse to take a deeper bend through the body. After all, you are on a turn or a circle, and a bend is necessary to allow the horse's inside hind leg to come deeper underneath the body. During a turn, the leg can support the horse's balance better and successfully counteract the force of gravity.
It is always better to begin the aids before the horse has fully committed his weight to the inside.
1. Start with your inside leg and seat. In the rhythm of the gait, apply pressure with your leg (can be the thigh and calf) at the girth. Use your seat to push forward toward the front of the saddle.
2. Maintain or if possible, soften the pressure on the inside rein. Be sure you are not pulling back.
3. Soften (but do not completely release) the outside rein and leg aids.
4. Encourage or allow the horse to step to the outside, crossing the legs within the rhythm of the gait.
5. Do this for two to four strides. You might need to repeat this exercise several times to benefit from it. However, it is not necessary to drift out for too many steps in a row, as it is a correction and not a way of going.
You know you're on the right track if your horse increases the depth of his bend with less effort.
He might lighten up on the inside rein. His rib cage might actually shift back in alignment with the body and certainly, the leaning pressure on your inside leg will be alleviated.
You might notice that the outside rein "fills up" with the bend of the neck and that there is a place for your outside leg to lie comfortably against.
You will probably feel the shift of the weight to the outside. Maybe your own seat will feel more evenly balanced over the center of the horse.
Once you get good at drifting out, you will find a bend quicker and with less effort. You might want to explore the same idea in all the gaits, including the canter.
As with any correction, too much of a good thing might not make it great. Too much drifting out will result in the horse not responding to the outside aids, becoming crooked to the outside.
(In that case, you could try a counter-bend and drift in! The exact same principles would apply in the opposite way. But this can be a topic for another day.)
Have you ever intentionally allowed your horse to drift out? Let us know how it worked out.
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If you enjoyed the above article, you might also like:
6 Ways to Unleash the Power of Your Riding Seat: As you become more subtle in the aiding process, you will begin to discover just how powerful the seat can be in guiding the horse without disturbing and interfering in his movement.
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?
Riding Straight Through the Turn: Although it sounds like an oxymoron, travelling straight through a turn is essential in maintaining the balance of the horse.
Stepping Out of Rein Lameness: Often, problems caused by riding can be fixed with riding. It is just a matter of knowing what to do in order to counteract the problems.
Drawing A Circle (In Sand): Regardless of where you position the circle in the arena, it should be evenly spaced and round.