Books and Film

All You Need Is a Box…

A simple training exercise with big rewards

 In a world filled with technology and a gazillion gizmos intended to make life easier but sometimes overcomplicating it, it can be a relief when all you need is the simplest tool to get something done. In this case, it’s a box shape constructed from ground poles. That’s all. (You can add a cone or other marker to spot the center of your box, if you’d like.) In her book 50 Best Arena Exercises and Patterns, trainer and instructor Ann Katrin Querbach explains how a simple box can be a fabulous training tool.

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The point of the box exercise is to school tight turns. The goal is to ride a small volte inside the square.

The horse learns to move diligently forward while making tight turns, and to step up with his hindquarters. For those who do competitive trail, this exercise is an integral part of many courses.

What Do I Need?

2-4 ground poles, each about 6.5 feet (2 m) long. 1 cone.

Setting Up

Position two ground poles at a right angle to each other. The poles should be touching, with no gap. For Step 1, position the cone in the middle of the diagonal line formed between the two “open” ends of the ground poles. For Step 3 of the exercise, add a third ground pole to form an open square. The cone can now be removed. For Step 4, close up the square with a fourth ground pole.

How Does This Exercise Work?

  • At the walk, ride into the two-sided corner made of ground poles and try to ride a volte around the cone.
  • After the volte, ride back out of the two-sided corner.

Heads Up! Don’t fold at your hips. Try to lift high through your breastbone.

  • Add the third pole and remove the cone. At the walk, ride into the square on the open side. Begin your turn as soon as the horse’s last hind foot crosses the open side. Only begin positioning your horse to the right after you have started your turn. Ride with minimal bend and exit the square at the open side (Diagram 1).
Diagram 1

Heads Up! Move straight ahead as you enter the open side of the square. Only begin to position your horse when you begin your turn. Ride straight ahead as you exit the square on the open side!

  • Add the fourth pole. Riding straight ahead, enter the square by riding over a ground pole. An opening inside rein helps the horse to complete the tight turn within the box. Turn and ride straight out over the same ground pole (Diagram 2).
Diagram 2

Heads Up! Make sure your horse never loses his forward movement.

  • Tracking right, ride straight into the square. After one volte, exit the square on the opposite side from where you entered (Diagram 3). Or ride one-and-a-half voltes and then exit over the same pole where you entered (Diagram 4).
Diagram 3

Tip: Follow the horse’s turn with your upper body.

Diagram 4

What Is the Horse Learning?

Coordination. To step up with his hindquarters. How to complete tight turns with correct positioning.

What Is the Rider Learning?

Proactive, forward-thinking riding, and directional planning. To ride tight turns.

What Do I Do if …

My horse hits the ground poles?

As you cross over the ground poles, make sure that your hands are almost lying on the withers. Your reins stay long, so you don’t disturb the horse with them. Lift your breastbone and follow through with your hips, so as to avoid blocking the horse. Drive the horse over the poles with a quiet stride. If he trips anyway, try to practice walking over the poles separately from this exercise. Praise your horse when he does not trip!

If, while crossing, your horse catches his last hind foot on the pole, you should count the steps as he crosses, and first begin your turn only when all four feet are within the square.

My horse gets slow during the turn or even comes to a complete stop?

Drive with your legs. If this doesn’t do the trick, go back to (1) and the first stage of the exercise. Begin with a larger volte and then make the turn smaller, bit by bit.

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This excerpt from 50 Best Arena Exercises and Patterns by Ann Katrin Querbach is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books.