My rule of thumb is: two-thirds outside rein, one-third inside rein.
If my horse is too strong on the inside rein, I want some of that weight to go to the outside rein. For example, if I'm tracking left and feel like I have too many pounds in my left rein and too little in my right, then I will open my outside (right) rein and look for two-thirds of the weight to go there. To open the outside rein, I keep it in front of the saddle in line with the saddle pad and bring it straight out (to the right) in line with my horse's outside shoulder. I'll find some weight there.
Avoid these problems:
- My hand shouldn't come back, because that would shorten the horse's neck. I want to work the horse within the full length of his neck.
- I don't bring my outside rein toward my hip, which would flex the horse to the outside and bring him behind the vertical, causing the shoulder to fall in to the left.
The Balance in Canter
My October 2009 Dressage Today article primarily talked about trot, but the dynamics of canter are slightly different. When I half halt in canter, I do it when the inside hind is reaching directly under my saddle in shoulder-fore--which is when the poll is at the highest point. The neck is up and hasn't started its downward motion. When tracking left, that's the moment that I want to ask the outside (right) hind to become more active. This activating of the outside hind in the half halt doesn't make him get fast, but rather encourages it to step with regularity.
Imagine your left foot is on a skateboard and your right leg is pushing to give you impulsion. The left leg gets pretty wobbly unless you have the support of the right leg pushing. The balance and stability of your left leg is a result of the impulsion from the right. When the poll is at the highest point, I want to drive that outside hind, so it can give the inside hind the ability to lift off the ground and step again. The inside hind will get stuck and bore a hole in the ground if it doesn't get support from the outside hind. So I do a half halt over the outside and ask the right hind to quicken double time so the left hind can go up and down regularly. He feels comfortable when the outside hind is supporting him.
This thinking improves my canter pirouette: I sit with two thirds of my weight in the inside stirrup to maintain bend, and I stay in shoulder-fore so I always have an outside rein. My horse's outside hind leg keeps him secured in the outside rein as I slowly pirouette those six to eight strides. The momentum of my horse's pushing outside leg gives his inside leg security and balance. If the canter starts stalling out, I go out of the movement and get the quality of the canter back. Then I return to the pirouette, so my horse doesn't get in a frustrating position.
A technically correct working pirouette is an excellent exercise, and you can always make it smaller for competition.
Lisa Wilcox was a member of the U.S. bronze medal team at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, and the U.S. silver medal team at the 2002 World Equestrian Games in Jerez, Spain. She also earned an individual silver at the 2003 Open European Championships in Hickstead, Germany. After 12 years overseas, she returned to the United States. Based in Wellington, Fla., she trains out of Tuny Page's Stillpoint Farms. She is competing Ingred Lin's two Lusitano stallions at Grand Prix, Highlife Farms' Der Euro at Intermediaire II and Diamond Stud and Der Dollar in the 6-year-old classes.
To read the entire article on throughness, see the October 2009 issue of Dressage Today.