I saw a rather exciting canter portion of a Training Level ride in a show a couple weeks ago, a situation that I witness fairly often. But what really caught my eye was when I saw the same rider later in the day. This was a young person on a Haffie, a pony with nice gaits and a rider who looked like she had a secure, steady position and good hands.
Unfortunately, after nice trot and walk portions, the canter was off to the races. She got nowhere near the corners. Forget bend. Forget balance. Mostly 4s, ouch. I thought at the time that she should probably stay with walk/trot tests at shows and work in a big area at home (25 meters wide or larger) until her canter gained the strength and balance she needed for a 20-meter-wide ring. I was wrong.
At the end of the day, I saw the same rider cantering in an open field next to the parking area. Someone was doing a video of her. The backdrop was beautiful, with green grass, leafy trees (it was Florida!) and a scenic lake. Her canter was balanced and steady, nicely connected, with correct bend, and it appeared she was riding in a space no bigger than a dressage ring. The big difference? There were no corners to contend with.
I indeed see riders who can’t deal well with corners in dressage tests, but golly, there are a LOT of them. It’s a basic. Some trainers I know insist on fairly sophisticated corners even at Training Level. I feel that the depth of corner that a rider shows, at least at Training Level, could depend on a variety of factors, including the horse’s strength and training and the texture of the footing. The corner made by a horse still finding his balance might be different on wet grass than it would be on blue stone.
There’s a rule of thumb about corners that we all hear, where the arc of your corner should be the same arc as the smallest circle you would make in that test. Thus, in First Level for example, your corner at the trot would be the arc of a 10-meter circle, and your corner at the canter would be the arc of a 15-meter circle. That’s just a rough guideline, though. At Training Level, while you ride 20-meter circles at the trot, you also make something close to a 10-meter half-circle at the end of the test when you turn down the center line from the long side. The arc of an 18-meter circle would probably suffice for corners at the canter, at least to start.
A lot of riders will practice the movements of a test at home but don’t really give any thought about the corners that come before or after the heart of a movement. Corners are where you find the balance needed to really succeed in the movements that follow. It’s useful to practice just corners at home sometimes. One strategy is to ride around the ring and do a circle in each corner. Then, when you only have to make the arc of a circle, one quarter of the pie, so to speak, it becomes much easier.
Another strategy for a rider who finds it hard to just hang a right or left in the corners is to learn to leg yield on a circle. Then she can ride the corner as the arc of a fairly large circle but deepen closer to the rail by using a leg yield. The bend then stays correct and the balance is easier to find.
In the case of the young lady with the Haffie, maybe setting a couple “corners” in her riding field at home with jump rails, so she can learn corners without feeling confined, might help her gain confidence.