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Lately, I’ve had a vehicle handling problem. I can’t for the life of me seem to turn left without fishtailing—wildly. The rear end skids to one side and I over correct it while steering in the opposite direction. I stop breathing as the front end bobs left, then right and finally straightens out. With things seemingly under control, I can finally relax and breathe a sigh of relief. Whew! A spin out has been narrowly averted. We continue straight for a few more seconds.

But wait [dope slap]—we totally missed our turn!

Huh. Let’s do that again.

I canter down the long side, reducing engine power as we ride deeply into the corner. Straighten out for a few seconds, down shift and ride into another deep corner.

Prepare to circle left NOW!

Uh-oh, I can feel the rear end starting to skid.  I’m losing control!
Fishtailing ensues.

I’m informed that I need to use more outside rein in order to turn left. Yeah, right. You’re telling me that I need more right rein in order to turn left? That doesn’t make sense. Left = left, right = right. Right? I mean left. I’m soo confused.

That’s right. To go left use the right. Let’s put it to the test. Do everything you did before. Coming into the circle though, I want you to only use your inside rein. You shouldn’t be able to turn. This will show you how much outside rein you need.

Okay, I accept your challenge!

I drop my outside rein coming out of the final corner, plant my inside leg and­­…TURN LEFT!

Good for you! That shouldn’t have happened but good for you. You had him in the outside rein. That’s why you were able to turn.

Outside rein?! I didn’t have no stinkin’ outside rein.

Maybe it’s not a steering issue after all. Yeah, I think maybe the alignment is slightly out of whack. Hmm, know of any good mechanics?


Uh, I think we missed our turn.


Back there. I signaled for a left turn.

No, you didn’t.

Did too. I signaled left and you continued straight.

Oh. I looked left.

But I wanted to turn left!

Why didn’t you say so?

I did!  I weighed my left seat bone, positioned my right leg behind the girth, asked for flexion on the left rein and… Oh. I didn’t have enough outside rein to turn you, huh?

Like I said before, I looked left.

Darn outside rein! It’s all your fault that I can’t steer Rusty. Making me look like a fool.
Rubbernecking? Check.
Steering? Sometimes. Sigh. As long as we stay at a walk/trot.

Outside rein
Outside rein
Outside rein!

Pre-ride preparation It’s always wise to prepare for your lesson. As you may have noticed I have issues with circles. So, I prepared by watching a Jane Savoie video. I think it helped.

The buzzers At the barn everyone was in full show prep mode cleaning tack, bathing, braiding, and buzzing whiskers. The mare I usually ride was on a leadline (she’s broken crossties a few times) while the instructor prepared to buzz her whiskers. They were a little concerned about the mare’s reaction to buzzing so I figured why not distract her with massage. It worked. She was more relaxed. As another reward the kids took her outside to graze. When it was time for me to tack up for my lesson I went outside to find them. I had to laugh when the kids turned around and started walking toward me because Buttons spotted me and kicked into a trot. I think she likes me.

Desensitizing continues We always walk around the entire ring before we mount. At the scary center door I stopped and encouraged the mare to put her head outside and look in both directions. I pointed out the stall cleaner and the kids in the hallway. The stall cleaner nodded his approval to me. I lead her a little further away and circled back to the door so that we were approaching from the left side. I did the same thing.

Let the fun begin We had some really beautiful moments. I had her nicely rounded up during the trot and canter. Toward the end of the lesson we were focused on trot and canter circles at E. That’s where the spooky door resides. I’m not quite quick enough with my aids to keep her totally spook free and on the path of travel. She still shies a smidge to the inside but one step further away on the path of travel and she’s round again. If she shied off more then a step I circled her back and approached the door again. What fun! Actually it was a great lesson. I loved it.

We ended up with an audience. A few of the kids, parents and instructors were gathered at the door near C to watch. We even received compliments for our beautiful moments. Wish I had a camera. Only drawback was that I was exhausted and for the first time I was asking if my hour was up.

Take away The outside rein is the end all be all of riding. I need to work more on sponging the left rein when it’s the outside. I have a tendency to cling instead of rewarding with the release. That just makes the mare stronger and escalates a fight.

Update I forgot to mention that during cool out I enlisted the help of a few kids and an instructor. Every time we passed the door I stopped her and they feed her treats. I know that I’m creating another type of problem but I’d rather have her wanting to stop at the door instead of spook at the door.

Sometimes I find myself twisted up like a pretzel while riding. You’ve been there remember? No? Well let me jump start your memory. You’re trying to make yet another dreaded perfect 20-meter circle. On the open side instead of looping around your horse strolls on down the rail. Your perfect circle has just become a fish hook. OK possibly a keyhole if you were able to pull off a last minute save.

The twist In essence my rib cage has collapsed to the inside, my weight has shifted to the outside stirrup, the outside rein may’ve crossed the withers, my inside leg has turned out and drifting toward the horse’s shoulder and my eyes are looking maybe steps ahead of me.

In response the horse has bulged out or fallen in. When I collapse on the inside, my weight is in the outside stirrup causing the horse to step in that direction to balance himself (think of a leg yield).  My outside rein crosses the withers and no longer contains his outside shoulder and my outside leg isn’t there either. My inside leg has turned out and rotated my hip. I just opened the door and the horse strolled through it. Oh, yeah and my eyes pointed him there.

Now it’s time to shout. To fix my collapsed rib cage I need to remember to step into my inside stirrup. Not a lot. Just a little. Enough to elongate that side (and keep my bra strap up). Keep my weight centered over the saddle. Forget about the curve and ride straight. Then remember to keep my elbows near my hips. Think glued there. No better yet rubber cement. Then I’ll remember to keep them elastic not stiff. My inside leg should turn in to indicate the bend. Keep my eyes looking a half circle ahead of us. The horse will follow my eyes.

Eureka! I had a great lesson applying these techniques. I found that I had to think of leg yielding or maintaining straightness on the quarterline instead of thinking about circles. The more I think about circles the more stressed out I get. The more I over think them and become a contortion artist. I had great changes of bend on a figure eight too. My instructor didn’t really harp on touching points so something must’ve been right. Oh, and I had the ring to myself.

Flipping through the April issue of Practical Horseman I ran across the “Dressage for Jumpers” article by Sandra Oliynyk. Olympian Robert Dover says, “…It’s the planning. Riding a perfect circle is one of the hardest things to do.” He recalled the first time he worked with former US dressage coach Col. Bengt Ljungquist and rode through a corner. “An hour-and-a-half later, I was sweating like a pig and still not doing it right.”

That says it all! If an Olympian says it’s hard then I guess it isn’t all in my head.

Yesterday’s lesson was better. I had the ring all to myself for the entire lesson. We trotted 20 meter circles and figure eights. I had a few great change of reins and a few moments where I felt a wonderful response while using my inside leg to outside rein.

Then everything went downhill and I’d go too far into the corner. Again, and again, and need I say…again. (Maybe my trainer’s a magnet because that’s where she was standing.) It seemed that every time she spoke my concentration went out the window. I would find myself making a correction to my position or aid only to find her saying it out loud. I think I need her to let me try first, then correct.

In the center circle I was riding an egg instead of a perfect circle, as usual, sigh. My trainer called me on it constantly. I think it ramped up my anxiety each time. I was on the verge of tears when she came out and placed markers on the circle for me. Then I continued, swearing under my breathe the whole time.

Looking ahead about half way around the circle does help but I still found the mare falling out. Of course I was collapsing on the inside, which increased the falling out. It was helpful to think of riding from touching point to touching point as a leg yield. Also if I remembered to keep my elbows glued to my hips it was easier to keep her light in my hands and in the outside rein.

Keep at it and don’t quit yet.

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