While I want the horse to always move from the inside leg toward the outside rein, I also want to be able to control and contain that energy with the outside rein as opposed to letting the horse slip through it. The inside aids ask the horse to fill the outside rein like a balloon filling with air. This is easy to picture and execute during a turn or a circle, but this also must be maintained on straight lines, which are considerably more challenging. One of my favorite exercises to keep the outside rein inflated on the straight line is work on the second track.
The Second Track
The second track is defined as a line one-horse-width distance from and parallel to the rail, which is the regular track immediately next to the fence of the arena. When you ride on the second track versus the rail you simply use the second track as your wall instead of going all the way to the rail. Once you find your distance from the wall, keep the same marker, between the horse’s ears such as a tree, a fence post or pylon, to ride straight. When you work on the second track you can easily gauge whether the horse is connecting to the outside rein or falling through it and returning to the track.
You can employ riding on the second track to improve straightness in the horse and evaluate the effectiveness and acceptance of the aids. This work forces the rider to be more responsible for both sides of the horse.
How to Ride the Second Track
The first step is to look up and find your point of reference for the second track. Too often, the rider is staring down as if all the mysteries of life are written on the horse’s neck. You can’t maintain any line of travel if you’re not looking up to your mark between the horse’s ears. Failing to do this robs you of a critical tool in evaluating connection and straightness.
To ride onto the second track, a rider must first make a balanced corner to go from the short side to her desired line and employ the turning aids, which include:
• Inside flexion at the poll initiated with the inside rein
• Greater weight on the rider’s inside seat bone
• The rider’s inside hip forward to be parallel to the horse’s inside hip
• The turning aids given from the outside rein and, as necessary, the outside knee closing toward the horse.
Then, after you turn onto the second track, straighten the horse with the outside rein while taking care to not overpower the inside aids that keep the horse elastically connected into the outside rein. To do this, imagine the outside rein as a bungee cord and keep positive tension and an elastic connection. Your weight is still slightly on the inside seat bone with your inside leg at the girth and outside leg behind the girth acting as a guard to prevent the haunches from drifting out to the rail. At the same time, the inside rein is keeping the flexion and the outside rein is straightening the shoulders and receiving the “filling air” put into it by the inside aids.
Often a horse or rider will come through a corner, onto the long side of the arena and then bounce off the rail, drifting away for a few strides until the rider manages to get the horse back to the rail. This is a sign that the flow of energy isn’t going to the outside rein well. This work on the second track will help you keep the correct feeling on the outside rein. It forces the rider to prepare earlier for the bending in the corner and the straightening after the corner. The rider uses the inside leg to outside rein to bend the horse and keep a better connection as she arrives straight on the long side to avoid the bounce out of the corner.
Use at All Levels
Ride Transitions: For horses and riders of all experience levels, simple transitions on the second track are a great way to evaluate acceptance of the outside rein and straightness. After a horse and rider have successfully maintained a desire to stay connected and through to the outside rein in transitions on a large circle, the same can be done on the second track. Keeping a horse reliably connected and through to the outside rein in transitions on the second track can often be quite challenging.
When you give the half halt to prepare the downward transition, the horse may want to push the haunches in or out to avoid the longitudinal challenge of having to shorten the frame and take weight back to the haunches. The outside leg behind the girth can be more active to prevent the haunches from escaping toward the wall and the rider’s weight on the inside can prevent the horse from trying to fall in. Horses in upward transitions often want to rush rather than engage the hind legs. An effective half halt is key. Hold the line of travel on the second track before, during and following the half halt, prepping the upward transition. Always remember why you’re on the second track and ride the integrity of the line.
Advanced Exercises: A more balanced and developed horse and rider can do shoulder-in, travers and renvers on the second track to be certain they’re in complete control of both sides of the horse. Quite often a shoulder-in, for example, devolves into a leg yield with the haunches out instead of the haunches remaining on the prescribed line of travel and the shoulders brought to the inside of that line and retaining the bend in the body. When one does shoulder-in on the second track it becomes immediately noticeable if the haunches drift out to the rail. This is a great exercise to improve the lateral suppleness and stability in the horse and rider, but it is also a great precursor to having to do shoulder-in on the centerline in more advanced-level tests.
Another great advanced exercise is flying changes on the second track. You can recognize a lack of straightness much easier on the second track than on a more traditional diagonal line and therefore improve the quality of the changes.
To improve your connection and straightness, add riding on the second track to your training. It will help you feel the effects of having a horse truly on the outside rein, a critical component of any half halt.
Martin Kuhn is a USDF Certified Instructor through Fourth Level and a USDF bronze, silver and gold medalist. Kuhn has trained horses through Grand Prix. He continues his education under longtime mentor Gerhard Politz, with whom he has ridden since 1998 in clinics and as an apprentice. He trains with his wife, Kate Fleming-Kuhn, at StarWest Farm in New Berlin, Illinois.