July 25, 2021

Diagram showing correct, incorrect and how to fix problems with horses drifting away from Working Equitation obstacles.

In ''Drifting Away From Obstacles''  I gave you a couple of tips for the horse that drifts away from the table on the approach.
Today I have a much longer tip to help you build your horse's confidence, and responsibility, for going straight past obstacles, or anything else they drift away from.
And of course you can always get more help in the Working Equitation Mastery online program.

I mentioned that as long as your horse is thinking about drifting away, do not try and ride closer.
You need to build their confidence first.

But what if the suggestions I gave you last time still aren't working?
What if your horse still drifts away from things like the Jug, or the Bull?

For this tip we will consider the obstacle to be on the inside of the horse (because they should be looking at it), and the non-obstacle side to be the outside.

What we are often told is that we are not using enough outside leg or rein.
And that may be true if there is slack in your rein.
But we're also often told

  • You're letting the horse push through it (outside rein or leg).
  • You need to be stronger.
  • You may even need spurs...

Can you see those building a horse's confidence?

What I am going to suggest is counter-intuitive. As a predator based species, we want to go for the Jug, or the Bull.

But if that has not been working for you, to where you don't need to 'hold' your horse on the line, try this instead.

You'll find you're more successful.
And you'll build your horse's confidence so they can 'hold' the line themselves.


Section A - Correct Line of Travel Past the Working Equitation Obstacle

These horses show a straight line being ridden with a slight inside (right) flexion.
ie. Looking towards the Working Equitation obstacle. It may be the Jug, or the Bull.
This is the correct line of travel for a right-handed rider.

Section B - Using Counter-flexion to correct drift

These ones show the counter-bend (counter-flexion) that I mentioned in the last post.
If the horse tries to drift away from the obstacle, having a counter-flexion, proactively, can help to stop them.
Although incorrect in a show, it can be a better choice than not getting near the obstacle.

Section C - Horse taking charge and moving away

However, if you need a counter-flexion, or more than a light aid, to help your horse travel a straight line. Or if your line looks more like the one in section C, your horse is worried about the obstacle.
Sometimes Working Equitation Bulls can be pretty scary looking.

We don't need to increase the aids, get stronger, and try to force them.
 We need to help them become more confident so they can be more obedient. 

Section D - Applying a correction that Builds confidence

Section D and E shows the correction I recommend.
On approach, have a slight counter-flexion.
If your horse flips the bend (2nd horse) and starts drifting away (3rd horse),

In effect you are taking control of the drift and making it into a leg-yield.
They are looking to the inside (right), and want to drift to the outside (left), so help them to do that rather than fighting them.

You are working with their bend, the one they have chosen.
You are also making the work harder for them, and easier for you.

It is easier to ask them to move away from the obstacle because that's what they want to do. You are getting obedience to your inside (right) leg.

This is a win for both of you, instead of them pushing into or through your punishing outside (lef)t leg.

You, as the leader, are helping them move away from a perceived danger instead of pushing them into it.

This helps to build their confidence in you.

Continue to leg-yield away from your intended line of travel.

When you've gone far enough past the obstacle, you can ask them to follow their nose and go back to it.

There will be no bend change You will now be coming past the obstacle with a right bend (counter-bend), and the obstacle on your left.

Section E - Applying the correction teaches the horse responsibility

Forget about the fact that in a show you need the obstacle on your right (if you're right handed). You need to develop your horse's confidence on both sides.

Chances are your horse will now flip from the right (counter) bend, to the left bend, and drift through your outside (right) leg.

Remember we are not using strong aids.
Suggest your horse ride past counter-flexed but don't fight the change.
If it happens, ride it.

Now you can leg-yield off your left leg, gaining obedience to that leg. The one we needed to support him with in Section D.

This exercise gives you an opportunity to perfect your leg-yields. Which also helps build your side-passing skills.

As before, leg-yield away from the obstacle until you are far enough past it that you can turn again. Allow your horse to follow their nose and start the pattern again from the beginning.

You will not initiate the bend changes, they will.

You will work 'with' what their body presents.
Keep repeating the sequence until they do not feel a need to flip the bend or drift away.

As their confidence builds you will be able to ride past the obstacle straight. And then with correct flexion.

If they forget and start to drift away make sure that you offer supporting outside aids, but do not force.

If they've flipped the bend, you can always repeat the leg-yield away correction to establish obedience to the leg. 

It will take a few repetitions, but the exercise will show your horse it's easier to follow your line and it is not uncomfortable if they do.  It's physically easier for them and you. 

You can use this skill any time your horse doesn't like something, to help them accept it, and to earn your benevolent leadership badge.

Comment below and let me know what you think, how it went, or if you have any questions. And don't forget to share with the buttons above.

There are lots more 'secrets' (tips) in this blog, and another bigger one on improving your flow through the obstacles here. 
The Secret To Making Working Equitation Obstacles Flow

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.

Drifting Away From Obstacles

Question: How Close Should I Be To The Bull?

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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.

  • Thank you so much for this information. It has really given me some hope and I look forward to trying this when I am back riding my horse. She really drifts away from the barrel that I have to pick up the pole from and I have tried laying poles on the ground but I can still feel her body bending away from the barrel. Once I have picked up the pole she is fine, but the picking up in the main issue.

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    Drifting Away From Obstacles

    Question: How Close Should I Be To The Bull?