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Introduction to Schooling

Why School?

Whether you are having your first riding lesson, or preparing to take your horse into a dressage test you will be riding similar exercises in the school.


Trotting poles

Trotting poles are important to improve the riders balance and in preparation for jumping.  The aim is to trot over the poles at a steady speed and to encourage your horse to take even strides.  Poles are usually one or two strides apart.  Placing poles before a fence can help a novice horse or rider time take off on the correct stride.


Impulsion is important in any school exercise.  Impulsion describes the energy with which your horse is moving.  A horse which is stepping out well with his hindquarters under him will perform the exercises better, a sluggish horse or pony will have difficulty in keeping the correct degree of bend, and may well lean in or out of the circle.  Concentration on both the part of horse and rider will also help the circle be more rounded, and of the correct size.

As your riding improves you will find your exercises improve, as you will be able to control the impulsion of the horse, and keep his concentration on what you are asking him to do - not on what the horse in front is doing!

Practicing trotting poles in the indoor school at Limebrook Farm
Once you have mastered the poles in trot, they can be moved further apart to become canter poles, which again helps your balance.

Canter poles are a good preparation for jumping.
Rider practicing trot poles

Beginning Lateral Work

If you are a new rider then lateral work might sound a bit daunting at first.  But putting it simply it is just getting the horse to respond to pressure and to move in the direction you want him to.  As a foal the horse's mother will push him where she wants him to go, and so he grows up knowing a gentle nudge means 'move over'.  This is very lucky for us. 

In the stable it is useful to use you hand to move him over when grooming, or back when he's standing at the door of the stable.  Very useful - if he wasn't programmed to respond to this pressure getting nearly half a ton of horse flesh to move would be quite difficult!

It's the same principle when riding.  Leg Yielding is an early and useful exercise to learn for both you and the horse.  Simply it means that you use one leg to 'push' your horse sideways.  This can be useful out hacking, if he's too far into the centre of the road and a car is approaching, or to position him to open a gate.  And this is one of the principles of schooling - you are training your horse to respond to you correctly in a number of situations. 

For your first leg yield come down the three quarter line keeping your horse's body straight.  Gently apply pressure with the inside leg.  He should reward you by moving sideways.  At first he'll try to turn and move diagonally towards the fence, so straighten him up and try again.  After some practice he should be keeping his body straight, whilst stepping sideways to end up parallel with the fence.  Once you have perfected this, try leg yielding from the fence to the three quarter line - or leg yielding part way in from the fence, and then changing direction to leg yield out again.  Leg yielding can be done in walk, trot and eventually canter. 
The next lateral exercises are Shoulder In and Shoulder Fore (which is sometimes introduced first).  When leg yielding you attempt to keep the horse straight.  With shoulder in you are asking for a bend from the horse, whilst continuing to walk in a straight line.  At first it is best to start this on a circle - from one end of the school start a 15 metre circle.  When you are about a quarter of the way round the circle use you inside leg to push the horse over so he starts to move towards the opposite end of the school.  Keep the bend, but keep the horse heading straight.  Shoulder fore is a less drastic bend which can be developed into shoulder in as you and your horse become more balanced and supple.
As you master these exercises you can move on to Haunches in (also know as travers) -different to the previous exercises as this time the horse actually looks in the direction of travel).  Here we need his forelegs on the track, but his hindlegs off the track with a bend through the ribs.   Haunches out (renvers) is the same in reverse - this time it's the hindlegs which stay on the track. 

Moving on from these exercises are the Half Pass and Pirouette but it is important that you don't try to move on too fast as it will confuse your horse. 

Other pages you might like:

School Etiquette
Figures of Eight

Exercises are important - for the rider it teaches proper use of the aids (that is, the instructions you give to your horse), and helps you balance.  For the horse it helps him to use his muscles properly and to become fit.

A well trained horse and rider will move together and bend properly round a circle, and will be able to progress in a perfectly straight line across the arena.  Before moving on to more complicated exercises, in your early lessons simple bends (circles) will be introduced, along with walking down the centre or three quarter line.  Later, both will be combined into the serpentine exercise which practices half circles and straight lines.

Circle exercises are the basis for figures of eight, and prepare you for shallow bends.