Stepping out of dressage ring

Dressage newbie here. I ride in an outdoor dressage arena that is only fenced in by low wood panels and is open in the 4 corners for entering and exiting the arena. My horse gets disobedient around these 4 corners and tries to step out by strongly bulging his outside shoulder and speeding up. He is basically magnetized to these exits. I really have to micromanage him around the turns to successfully navigate the corners. He is only in light work and I try to make our sessions a positive experience for him with lots of praise so I don’t think he has much reason to be ring sour. He is sound and tack fits well.

I was thinking of trying a new approach of letting him step out of the ring, but then making the consequence be that he has to work harder outside of the arena. I’m not sure how – trotting small circles? Something else?

I’d welcome any advice from the community on how to deal with this problem. I’m just so tired of having to completely override every corner to keep us in the arena.

Thank you in advance.

I think there are several approaches you can try. The first thing I would do is ride “off the rail,” maybe two meters away, always. Always. And resist any temptation to look out of the ring. Look where you want to go.

Now try this: As you ride the long side, prepare for the turn at the short side well before you get there, and don’t ride into the corner. Make a smooth arc, holding his shoulders in place with your outside rein and guiding his body around with your outside leg, knee, and thigh. Using small counterflexions might help. Be sure to ride forward, forward, forward.

Another exercise to try: Establish shoulder fore on a long side well before you get to the short side, and keep him in shoulder fore until you are past the second corner on the short side. Be sure to ride forward the whole time. Straighten him after the second corner and ride the long side forward and straight. Then repeat the exercise as you approach the next short side.

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I would not allow him to step out of the arena, that will reinforce the bad behavior for him. He is not traveling on the line you are riding. The bulging is an evasion and I’ll bet he is doing it everywhere you ride, it’s just not as noticeable where the wall gives you an illusion of straightness. Plus, your attempts to micromanage the corners are probably contributing as you are likely pulling (unconsciously) on the inside rein to make the turn. Doing this causes his shoulder to push out even more. Don’t even think about the turn, you shouldn’t be going in the corners anyway.

Instead, think about the ends of the arena as 20-meter circles where you ride the circle as a diamond shape. So, if your circle is at C, come off the track and look at the 10-meter spot on the rail and ride a straight line to it. From there, turn your head and look at the 20-meter mark on the center line and ride a straight line toward it. Repeat this exercise all the way around your 20-meter circle, every circle whether in the ends of the arena or between B and E. Making your 20-meter circles have straight lines is a good exercise for getting control of that outside shoulder and keeping his shoulders on the line of travel. Of course, while you are doing this exercise, think about him being steady and rhythmic in the gait. Remember the training scale. Rhythm, Suppleness, Connection, Impulsion, Straightness, Collection. Without the first three, he will wobble about and fall over the shoulder even more. So, you have to establish those qualities in yourself and let him follow you. Another helpful hint it to think about your knees as headlights and you want them to point at the next turn you will make.

Hope this helps.

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As others have mentioned, either you or he are not working correctly off the outside rein.

I would stay off the fence line altogether until I’ve established the meaning and boundaries of the outside rein.

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“If you can’t turn your horse, straighten him.”

I’d not let the horse step out. No way.

Forget ‘bend’ and keep him quite straight in the body and esp in the neck. Outside rein fairly low and ride the shoulder thru the corner. Be sure your eyes and energy are past the corner. Look where you want to go.

If he manages to get past your outside rein and get even a stride outside your line, halt. Stand still for a moment. Be very calm and very clear. If he understands reinback, step back a couple steps to where you wanted to be and proceed on YOUR line at walk probably for a step or two but get back to trot ASAP and carry on.

If reinback is not an option, just turn in the spot and move on. The point is to not proceed on the line the HORSE chose.

Making a halt will help you because next time past, when take more feel on the outside rein, the horse will respect the contact and respond. It’s like when a half halt doesn’t go through, you make a full halt.

Then the ‘diamond’ strategy described by @PREs_Rock will be very easy. And not just for control: navigating turns will become a gymnastic exercise.

Good luck!

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Going straight and turning both require the ability to influence the shoulders and haunches laterally. If you and horse can do shoulder in and counter shoulder in, you can generally keep a horse from ducking in undesired directions.

If you and horse cannot do shoulder in yet, then teach this on the ground.

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Thanks for your advice! It’s very true that I do end up using my inside rein as a last resort when my outside aids fail to keep him from going outside the ring.

Great, thank you. Will definitely incorporate the rein back when he ignores my outside aids. I like that idea.

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We’ve started doing some shoulder in at the walk. I’ll research how to do it from the ground.

Thank you for these suggestions!

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Oooo that’s where he’s got your goat!

Don’t abandon the outside rein to try and ‘make a deal’ to hopefully get thru a corner :upside_down_face:

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@RemarkableOwl21 As others have said, do not let him exit. You could get him to work harder as soon as you feel him pull away from you mentally and physically instead of waiting until he is out of the arena. (see several previously-mentioned excerises about to making sure he in riding your line) If he heads out of the arena on his own accord under saddle he has learned it is possible and will be a tempting ‘choice’ in the future.

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When I was in the very early days of starting my younger horse under saddle I rode in the indoor arena most of the time. The big doors at both ends were frequently open, which was not a problem until I started riding out of the arena and around the property after the ring work.

One day he decided he wanted to go outside early (he really enjoyed going around the property) and ducked out the back door (opposite end from the barn and his paddock buddies). It took a bit of persuasion to get him back inside and he ducked out a second time when I tried riding past on the track. I had to really cut inside that end of the arena to keep him on my line, but as we worked I pushed my line out a little at a time as we went by that end and he remained obedient and connected with me.

Cutting your corners now is just a temporary step in training.

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Your aids arent strong enough… Put a tiny spur on because your horse shouldn’t be blowing that shoulder through your leg and bump when he does to the point of being effective (ask 3x, soft, medium, then hard if he doesn’t listen). And carry a whip in your outside hand and tap tap tap that shoulder so he listens. Once you have a little more shoulder control you can transition to outside rein aids but right now he’s owning you.

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Doesn’t sound to me like she/he is competent enough to use spurs as aids yet.

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I’m slightly curious about having open corners to allow entry. A dressage test always enters at a mid point of the short side. Corners are where one sets up the horse for the stuff that happens down the long side so riding a corner is an essential skill to work on. Moreover, they are corners rather than circles.

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20m circle in the middle (away from the conveniently placed exits lol), work on counter flexion, counter bend, and leg yielding in and out on that circle (controlling it by making the changes of size concentric circles instead of a true spiral) and launches out leg yielding on the 2 “open” sides of the circle.

Once you’ve got all of these exercises down pat in walk and trot, you will have all the tools necessary to keep your horse in the arena. Horse starts to bulge - counter flex and ask for a leg yield away from that outside leg. Soon you will only need to remind yourself to keep the horse straight through the outside rein when you approach a corner. Then you will be able to add bend and correct flexion while you maintain contact with the outside aids.

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A tiny trick, which I am hesitant to suggest as I don’t know the OP or how theyre riding…

Raise the outside rein the second you feel him start to push too much into/through it. Not much, 2" or so, keeping the contact exactly the same. This is a shortcut, but will help break what is likely now a habit for him to get pushy at the corner. This doesn’t negate anything the other posters have said about correctly riding inside leg to outside rein, and getting his shoulders under control.

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Pay for a trainer/instructor and have them ride the horse in the first part of your lesson to school it for you. If you tell your horse no, and your horse resists (tosses head, etc) and that resistance scares you have a trainer touch it up first.

Horses don’t think like you’re suggesting. Just need more effective aids.

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It seems to be a matter of this is what she has to ride in, so she has to deal with it. Riding into the corners is only inviting trouble right now and there’s no need to do it at this point. She can practice that when she has the shoulders under control and can ride her horse straight and to the outside rein, flex and counter flex easily, and have his attention.

@RemarkableOwl21, another exercise to try. Can you do a quarter turn on the haunches? If you can, ride a diamond rather than a square, i.e. walk straight on an angle from the middle of the short side almost to the wall, staying straight and completely out of the corner. As you approach the wall, give a half halt, shorten the stride a bit, do a walking quarter turn on the haunches, and walk straight toward the point on the open side opposite the place you turned off the short side. When you’re ready, give a half halt, shorten the stride a bit, do a walking quarter turn on the haunches and walk toward the point on the wall opposite the place you turned off the other wall. You can continue to do this for several “diamonds.” Walk with purpose, don’t mosey, and be sure to practice it in both directions. This will help in at least wo ways: it will get his mind off the open corners, and help get him in your outside rein.