July 30, 2021

Rider wondering, How close should I be to the bull?

I recently received an email from a rider who did not have a problem drifting away from the Bull (which I covered in my last tip), but had a related question about 'how close should I be to the bull'.
Maybe you also have this problem?


"My problem is that I have difficulty judging exactly how close I must get to actually touch the ball or bull with my garrocha. You can't judge it from the ground when walking the course as it depends a lot on the length. So I move the horse away or towards the bull when I get close enough to judge - then it is a CURVE instead of a straight line."


The optimum path is to ride a straight line from the Remove Pole to the Replace Pole. You should be as close to those drums as you can safely be so you don't have to lean or reach out to the side and unbalance your horse.

The garrocha can be carried in different ways, depending how far you are travelling with it.
But, it should be kept as close as possible to parallel to your horse when you are preparing to spear the ring.

The first problem with reaching out to the side with the tip of the garrocha is that it increases your chance of touching your horses hindquarters with the butt end of the pole, which will lower your score.
And with the less experienced horse, can get you bucked off.

Whether you can keep the garrocha parallel to your horse while you spear the ring or ball is affected by the width of your horse, the width of the bull and the length of your arm.

Notice how in this video the rider does reach out, but her horse is travelling dead straight.

There is a second problem with angling the tip out to the side. The further out to the side you reach with the garrocha, the smaller the entrance to the ring will seem.

There's more chance of missing it because from that angle the opening will be oval shaped (), instead of round O.

So what can you do?

If the line between the remove and replace pole barrels, or the line your horse takes, puts you too far away from the ring to spear ita half-pass may be useful, or a bending line, may be needed.
But your priority is to maintain a consistent tempo and frame and to work on straightness.
For tips on that sign up for the Secret to Making Obstacles Flow

US and Australial Rules detail the requirements for riding this obstacle.

USAWE Rules - Assessment Criteria (EOH). The Judge will evaluate the manner in which the horse approaches the obstacle, maintaining a good posture and not changing the cadence, and the fluidity with which the rider completes the exercise.

Any break in the horse’s movement with loss of fluidity will be penalized. Striking any part of the obstacle will result in a lower score. Skewering the ring is not nearly as important as the style/approach to the obstacle, the continuity in movement of the horse and rider, correct bend, correct lead, and evenness of gait. Dropping the ring after picking it up or failure to skewer the ring will result in a lower score.

ANWE Rules - This obstacle is judged on the horse maintaining regularity, straightness, balance and the fluency with which the rider skewers the ring with the garrocha or knocks down of the ball. Striking the base holding the ring or the ball will be incur a lower mark.

One of the training suggestions in my Working Equitation Mastery Program is to put rails on the ground beside the barrels and the ring to create corridors to ride through.
This helps the rider to stay closer and to make sure the horse don't drift too far away. That's useful at the Jug too.

In North America you are allowed to handle the obstacles on the course walk. That way you can get a feel for the weight and length of the garrocha. I'm not sure about ANWE rules.

Additional tip for Course Design:

If you ever see the bull line set on a bending line, with no other obstacles in between, you should politely mention to the show management before or on the course walk that the bending line design does not allow an equal test of right and left-handed riders.

As the horse should be on the bend or lead that has them looking towards the obstacle, a bending line would require one of the sets of riders (in this diagram the left-handed ones) to have to ride a more challenging counter-canter.

The bending line can be useful in a training situation. For the right-handed rider this bending line can help to control tempo and left-handed riders could ride it from the other direction.

But in a show, that same line would disadvantage the left-handed riders who would be travelling in a counter-canter. 

Diagram showing the problem with setting the Bull line on a bending line.

You CAN learn how to improve your horse's skills from online courses and tips such as these.
But only if you implement.

So when you read my articles write down the steps as a reminder for what you're going to try in your next ride.
Take them to the barn and try them out.
Come on back when you're done and let me know how it went.

Before you go to the next article,
I'd love to read your comments and answer your questions below.

Intentional Drift: Help For Horses That Avoid!

The Day I Almost Died! Introducing Obstacles

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About the author 

Trish Hyatt

International Coach and Clinician
National and International Top 10 Competitor
Technical Delegate and Judge of Working Equitation (retired)

Trish's superpower is the ability to give you and your horse what you need, in a way that you understand, so each horse and rider makes progress and knows what they need to work on.

She puts her many skills to use introducing the international discipline of Working Equitation to riders eager to improve their partnership with their horse, with a focus on fun, classical horsemanship and use of the horse for practical work or as cross-training for other disciplines.

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Intentional Drift: Help For Horses That Avoid!

The Day I Almost Died! Introducing Obstacles