Another place I see horses struggle is in the direction change.
The rider's choice of which type of direction change for the Pen makes a big difference in their horse's success.
The difficulty may be because the rider doesn't think through where, and in which direction they will make the change which I'll address in the next post.
But a big factor is, HOW they will make the direction change.
Types of direction changes for the Pen
The rule book allow for a "semicircle, half pirouette, or turn on the haunches". That list is not in order of difficulty.
In theory, any horse can perform a semi-circle. It is the size of that semi-circle that increases the difficulty (smaller = more bend = harder).
Next hardest in terms of training, is the turn on the haunches. It is performed with the hind feet walking a small circle (up to 1m.) while the shoulders are on a larger circle and front feet crossing over.
It is incorrect if the inside hind steps in, or the outside hind steps out of the circle. And also incorrect if any leg sticks or loses time.
The most difficult direction change is the half-pirouette. It is similar to the turn on the haunches, with the inside hind almost marking time in the same spot when done in walk. This is also the goal in canter but in the beginning it will look more like a TOH.
I have listed them in order of increasing difficulty.
Problems that occur:
When starting out, riders often try to ride a semi-circle that is too small for their horse. It is the size of that semi-circle that increases the difficulty.
When riding it, the horse's body should move like a train. As soon as any of the 4 legs slips off the track, it means the circle you are trying to ride, has more bend than your horse.
At that point, your score will start to go down.
A 20' half-circle done correctly, will score better than a smaller circle done incorrectly. Correct means no resistance. No change in tempo or way of going. And the horse's spine is aligned with the line of travel.
The other thing that happens is riders try to ride a turn on the haunches, when their horse is not ready for it.
To ride a turn on the haunches it helps to think of it as a really small circle because that is what the hind legs are doing.
Because you are moving the shoulders, there won't be as much bend. But the hind legs still have to be capable of walking the small circle with no change of tempo and no sticking.
Rushing to perform TOH instead of the easier semi-circle often results in incorrect movement. It takes time to prepare the horse for it.
I have in-depth lessons on this in the Working Equitation Mastery Online Program.
The important takeaway is:
At home you will always be working towards the next most challenging task. You'll test to see if you are able to perform it. But practicing it wrong does not benefit your horse.
The secret is, that although there are 3 direction change options it's How You Go, that earns you the points.
How you go will physically develop your horse, so they are capable of more.
And How you go will develop a willing horse, who enjoys their work.
Choose your strategy wisely.