GOING Gaited
When the going gets rough... go gaited!
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Photo of Ivory Pal by Cheri Prill   Tennessee Walking Horse  Issue August 2010
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To be a valid gymnastic, corners must be ridden as deep as possible without loosing the cadence and the length of the stride. A walk corner will be ridden so deep as the rider’s boot may touch the wall no further than 5 feet before and after the apex of the turn. The bigger the stride, the lesser the collection of the horse and the greater the speed, the further away one has to ride from the actual corner. 

I have mentionned before that Nuno paid great attention to corners and considered that “it was in corners that horses are trained”. Last week I had a young horse in a lesson that spooked violently when he approached the right corner furthest away from the arena’s door (placed in the middle of the short side). The rider had assumed that it was due to some white marks on the kicking board. I first lunged him at a closer and close r distance from the scary corner, then worked him in hand until I could get him right in there. I used the rein for right flexion and the endostick both for relaxation (tap on the back fast) and for engagement (tap on the hind leg and the belly in rhythm with the step I was looking for. Once he could stand in the corner, bent and head down, I made him pass that corner both forward and backward a few times untill the flexion went right through his body and the relaxation was obvious. The next day, the rider called me to say that the spooking had completely disappeared Ând the horse was completely different to ride (meaning a lot better).

I have encountered a number of horses in my career whose problems of submission were completely resolved by a gymanstic session in the right corner (that is the side with the least flexion in the shoulder/neck area). Naturally, we did also teh left corner, but it was less influential. I did not know Endotapping at the time, so relaxation took a lot longer than it takes me now, but the idea was the same.

The first time this problem and its solution was brought to my attention was when I was a young assistant in Alter (Portuguese National Stud). I was riding a young horse who would spook in the right corner where the man in charge of keeping the arena clean was standing with his shovel. The horse started to spook close to the corner and progressively went spooking further and further away from it. I told my teacher (Dom Jose Athayde) that the horse must have an eye problem. He remained silent and looked at me with an amused look on his face. 3 days into this comedy, Â He called me when I was riding this young horse, attached a lunge to a cavesson and started to lunge me in the corner, asking me to bend the horse right and use my whip on his shoulder. Once the horse went into it properly, we went on the large outdoor arena and he lunged me around and near all spooky places (water jump, etc.). Naturally, the horse gained impulsion, started to respect my whip and my right leg, both reinforced by the lunge whip’s authority and quit spooking all together. When we were done, Jose said to me with a twinkle: “You horse’s eyesight is now fully restored because I am a very good ophtalmologist with my lunge whip”. I never forgot from that day that spooking is a lack of impulsion and that corners is where it is cured.

As an aside, I teach corners by telling the rider to look to the outside before the corner and use the inside leg, then to look inside at once in the middle of the corner and use the outside leg for an instant, then again the inside leg for straightness. This method, reinforced by the use of one or two whips to direct the horse’s nose, teaches the horses to go deep in the corner, bend through it and pass the corner without ever shortening their stride, giving the gymnastic all the value it can provide. It is important to keep the weight on the outside stirrup throughout, so the horse stays upright, one of the condition of the true bend in the middle of the back.

A more complete explanation of the specifics of corners, bend and turns is [can be in order) to clarify this issue.

The 6m radius for a corner may suit a horse in a big working trot with suspension (what passes nowadays for collected trot), but it was never used for the smaller arenas used by the classical masters. These buildings had much less span than our modern arenas (Newcastle’s arena at Bolsover Castle was 10m or 12m wide, Nuno Oliveria was 12m wide, SRS arena is 17m). All the recent masters who rode Iberian horse types that were well trained to boot, rode the short side as a straight line and rode the corner on one track.

La Gueriniere’s “square” was ridden with 2 track movements as/for an increase in difficulty and for suppling value, but his diagrams for “doublers” (turns on the center line) and for changes of hands, clearly show that he wanted the horse deeply bent in the corner and ridden on a very short radius. He shows the hind feet parallel to the long wall and the front feet nearly parallel to the short wall (then parallel to the wall in the next stride, half a horse length ahead). Same goes for the Marialva diagrams drawn a few decennies later.

Even our modern dressage tests require a turn on the centre line that creates in effect a 10m arena and therefore 2 turns with a maximum 5m radius. GP riders riding their horses in collected trot or even collected canter do not treat a turn on the center line as a 10m half circles (which would be 2 corners of *5* meter radius) but do a couple of straight strides on the half of the short side they have to cover after turning the corner and before turning the center line.

Trained horses can also turn on the first quarter line (I saw a little jumper mare do that yesterday repeatedly to get to her fence, without her quarters falling in or out of the turn). That would be a 5m DIAMETER, therefore a 2.5m radius, quite a difference with the radius advocated for the self proclaimed: “classical corner”. So much for the 6m radius quarter volte.

The point of training the horse in corners (90 degree turn) is quite different from doing a volte (360 degree turn) or even a double volte (720 degree turn). Corners require the horse to bend over 2 strides while a volte of the same size may require 10 or 12 strides and a double volte twice that amount. There are 2 different difficulties here: obtaining a degree of bend and sustaining it for a full (or double) circle. The progression is similar to any other movement: we start with 1/4 pirouettes before we do full or double pirouettes, we do 2 stride of piaffe before we piaffe eventually for 5 minutes like a [highly] trained horse in the pillars. A deep corner is a very brief moment of bending that is not sustained for more than 1 or 2 strides, yet permits the rider to achieve quite a bend for a short time (resembling the natural movement of a horse bending to scratch himself).  read more.
JP Giacomini