Make Daily Rides More Fun and Improve Your Horse’s Response to the Aids with This Simple Exercise

Incorporating simple traffic cones or ground poles in your daily training and riding lessons not only provides visual interest and physical guidelines for your horse as he moves around the ring, it also gives you a means of developing accuracy in your schooling figures and transitions. In TRAINING AND RIDING WITH CONES AND POLES, trainer Sigrid Schope provides over 40 exercises that will help improve your horse’s movement and response to our aids, as well as your own overall riding experience. This weekend, try this simple exercise:

The Four-Leaf Clover

You need four traffic cones, available from many supply or hardware stores. You can also use four empty buckets in place of cones—remove the handles and place them upside down.

The four-leaf clover is a great way to gymnasticize your horse and keep things interesting in the arena, using voltes (small circles of 6, 8, or 10 meters in diameter) in a simple pattern. The cones will serve as center-points, around which voltes will be ridden. This makes daily schooling of circles and changes of direction more fun, providing a point of reference to help you ride a more perfect figure and increasing the horse’s attention to your subtle aids.

  1. In one half of your riding area or arena, place your four cones in a square shape, with equal distances between each. My recommended distance between the cones is between 20 and 30 feet (6 to 9 meters) or 8 to 12 giant steps.
  2. Begin the exercise by riding from what would be the letter “C” on the short side of a dressage arena up to the centerline (see diagram). Focus on the first cone to your right, and ride a volte around it. A correct seat and position are important when riding this exercise. Use your inside rein (inside the circle) to position your horse on the bending line, and weight your inside seat bone. Bring your inside shoulder a little back and your outside shoulder a little forward. Encourage your horse forward with your inside leg at the girth. The outside leg “guards” just behind the girth, preventing the hindquarters from swinging out.
  3. As soon as you are back on the centerline, change the bend and make a left volte around the first cone to your left.
  4. Return to the centerline and ride a few strides straight ahead until you are across from the second cone to your right.
  5. Repeat the pattern you just rode, completing a volte to the right, returning to the centerline to change the bend, and riding a volte around the final cone to your left.
  6. Finish the four-leaf clover by walking or trotting straight ahead on the centerline at X in a straight line.

Begin by completing the four-leaf clover at the walk, move on to the trot when the walk seems easy, and try the exercise at the canter when you are very confident in your horse’s focus and your own riding ability.

It is important in this exercise to prepare your horse at the right time for a change of bend. Think about your weight and leg aids; stay erect in the saddle. Try to ensure that the horse doesn’t fall out over his shoulder or swing his haunches to the outside.

The four-leaf clover looks easier than it is! It takes a lot of concentration on the part of horse and rider to complete this exercise well. And as you increase speed or gait, you must be more precise about the timing of your aids.

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Get more great exercises using cones and poles in TRAINING AND RIDING WITH CONES AND POLES, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

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