As someone who works full-time in Digital Marketing, my favourite thing in the world to do is learn a new strategy, test and iterate. Again and again. I soak up new schooling tips like a sponge, and ask way too many questions during my lessons. Here are my favourite schooling tips I have learned over the years:
- Think of bend like a clock – you cannot ask a horse to go from 11 to 3 immediately, it is difficult. Start by asking them to move, one number at a time, for a few strides, then allow them back to their ‘comfy spot’ for a rest and reward.
- Do not wait for the final result to reward – reward each of the steps along the way. For example, when first teaching a horse to work in an outline, offer the inside rein as a reward when he softens even in the slightest. He will want to please and try to do this again for you.
- Never underestimate the power of a walk break – use walk breaks frequently throughout your session, both to reward and reflect. If a horse has done something well, let him take a walk and relax. Equally, if he is getting frustrated or something is not working, walk on a long rein, relax, and try again.
- Don’t be afraid to simplify – if something is not working, break it down into smaller steps. Work backwards from your main goal and offer the horse a reward for each mini-step he takes towards the final goal. Or go back to something he is good at to re-establish his confidence, and try again.
- Straightness is not tested on the outside track – to truly test if your horse is straight (and to work on straightness issues), do more work on the inside track, where the horse does not have a rail to hang onto.
- Shallow loops & outside bend are your friend when working on straightness – on your horse’s weak rein particularly. On the rein where your horse is ‘banana-shaped’ (the rein he falls out through the shoulder on) use lots of shallow loops & outside bend to encourage even-ness.
Leg yield into canter helps to encourage a correct strike off as it pushes the horse’s weight onto his outside hind.
- It’s OK not to be ‘test perfect’ when schooling – if your horse comes ‘up’ in the contact in his transitions, don’t be afraid to put him slightly deeper just before the transition to ensure you don’t lose the frame in the transition. It’s not a test frame but it teaches the horse to stay round in his transitions. You’re not being marked at home!
- Too deep can be corrected with ‘forward’ – if on the other hand your horse goes too deep, and behind the vertical, try an upwards transition (either within the pace or between paces) to bring him back ‘up’ again. It might not look pretty, but he’ll get the idea and you can polish up the final picture over time. Paddy can get deep in trot so I put him up into canter every time he goes too deep on me. We canter a few strides, and back to trot again.
- You can never do enough transitions – in fact Carl Hester says you should aim for 200 in a session! Mix it up by doing transitions between and within paces. My favourite exercise is to work on a 20m circle and do half in one pace and half in another, eventually being able to shorten it to 2-3 strides of each pace (either within the same pace or different paces).
- Free walk to medium walk transitions often result in ‘jogging’ because the horse anticipates the next movement is going to be trot or canter – as this is typically what we do when we pick them up after a break. Practice picking your horse up into medium walk and going back to free walk every now and again so he doesn’t anticipate.
- Day one teaches, day two affirms – I read somewhere that you should teach something on the first day, repeat on the second day to affirm and establish, and then take a break from that schooling session the next day with something completely different (e.g. a hack). This teaches and establishes confidence but doesn’t drill, and I find this works well for Paddy.
- Stop going large – you should not make it all the way around your school without having done some sort of exercise, shape or transition, unless you are in fact schooling in a 20mx20m school and you can only work on a circle. Even then, you are capable of transitions and should use them. Going large teaches the horse nothing but to hang onto the rail and doesn’t give them a job to do.
- Never underestimate the power of poles – poles can be used to enhance or improve a pace, to develop topline, encourage a stretch, establish rhythm, and give the horse confidence jumping. Use poles as much as you want – there is no limit to what you can do with them! You can start here for some inspiration.
- Have a plan, but be flexible – I am guilty of doing two things, either I get on with zero plan for my session and trot aimlessly large around the school, or I go in with a fixed plan and don’t deviate. I have learned that the goalposts sometimes need to move, but you do need goalposts. Have a plan for what you want to work on or achieve (e.g improve our halt, stay round in the canter transition), have a few exercises that will help with this goal, but ride what you get, and be flexible enough to pick a new goal if things are not working – e.g “today we will just focus on transitions because he is tanking me around the arena”.
Hope you found those useful, if you have any ‘top tips’ for schooling that you have and want to share, add them in the comments below! I may do a Part Two if there are enough!