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Hey there!
I’ve been riding for a small while after taking a very long break from dressage. The gelding I used to lease was amazing but unfortunately sold so my stable gave me a new mare to lease in the new year, she’s 12 years old and incredibly smart. In group lessons she constantly follows the horse in front of her. Our trainer sometimes puts the pole bases on the centre line to weave in and out of, and when turning onto the centre line she almost always tries to cut in front of the horse in front of us by avoiding the first base. When it’s just me and her, she constantly cuts corners, even when I have firm contact and pull the reigns quite tightly to keep her to the side, but whenever I do this, she continues to cut the corner but turns her head slightly to ease the pressure from the bit. She’s a reliable horse who does everything I ask her to apart from when it comes to cutting in front of others and cutting corners, and on her own typically performs better as she doesn’t try to copy the horse in front, but in lessons she’s a disaster. Are there any ways I can avoid this? I’ve voiced my concerns to my trainer but he simply says I need to be firmer with contact when there’s literally so way I could get any more firm! It’s really frustrating and taking the joy out of riding, because at this point I’m not sure if it’s me or her. Riding is a partnership, and I’d love if I could forge the same relationship with her as I had with my last gelding.
 

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Stop trying to keep her from making the mistake. Let her make the mistake, then correct her for it. If she dives in to the left, guess what? She gets put into a working trot or lope and she can lope circles for a few minutes to the left. Or if she's cutting corners and tries to dive in, double her back to the right and boot her out of the turn and have her do turnbacks along the fence a few times, then quietly go back to work. If she repeats it, back to work she goes.

Your instructor is being completely useless. This is a simple problem to fix, but he needs to show you how to fix it, and simply preventing it won't work, especially as you sound like a relatively novice rider. Sometimes a skilled rider can prevent it by half-halts and keeping the shoulder up and bend the horse around your leg so they can't dive in, but that's not something you should have to do on a basic lesson horse.
 

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Riding deep into a corner is more about your inside leg than it is about your contact. The horse need to respect pressure from your inside leg through the turn, because that's what pushes them deep into the corner. Your leg is almost like a post that the horse bends around.

Other things you can try: ride straight into the corner like it doesn't exist. Like you're going to ride the horse straight through the wall of the arena. Then decide to turn once you're deep into the corner.

Or, if the horse starts to cut the corner, abruptly turn the other way. So, if you're going to the right around the corner and the horse starts to drift in, turn him tightly to the left. It makes him realize that he can't anticipate what you're doing and he had better pay more attention. Or if you don't think you can turn quickly enough that way, then just keep the right turn but keep going in it and make it a tight one, until you've basically turned right around. The main thing is to get him to pay attention so that he isn't just doing the corners on "autopilot."
 

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AS Steady on says ride right into the corner, try not to lean to the inside as that could help cut the corner. If you focus on where you are going you have a better chance of getting there.
Do you know how to do a leg yield? what I do around a corner if the horse wants to cut it, I use my inside leg strongly and almost ask for a leg yield to the outside.
You could practise doing a leg yield to the outside while riding a circle, thus making the circle larger, ride a 15m circle then ask the mare to leg yield out by using your inside leg to push her to the outside while still keeping the bend making the circle larger, maybe 18 or 20m. Keep some contact with the outside rein at the same time.
Sounds complicated but with practise the horse will learn and respond to your inside leg to ride into the corner.

Spirals in and out are a good exercise to help with this problem. Gets the horse listening to your leg.
I know it's harder to do all this if you are having a lesson but hopefully you can ride alone sometimes to practise these ideas,
Good luck and strong legs to you
 

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I've had a lot of luck with what @SteadyOn said -- imagine that you're riding right into that rail, and don't turn until the very last second. I've found that after a few times of that, my guys were a lot more willing to go deep into the corner and make a nice smooth turn.
 
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I like what steady on says if you are riding on your own. If you are in a lesson and expected to do as the instructor is telling you then I would suggest throwing equitation out the window and ride like a trainer. If you have to pull that rain straight out and really put that leg on her to keep her from cutting the corner then do it. Force her deep into that corner even if it's ugly. It will be a miserable ride but you will win that day. It won't fix the problem the way it will if you follow Steady's advice. That also isn't an overnight fix - but it will be a more solid fix in the long run.
 
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Well, I'd be curious to see how you are using this tight rein you say you are using.



You can push and pull and shove all you want, but the thing is the horse is doing this becuase she is thinking to shorten her workload (when riding alone with you). And, when in the lesson, she is probably both trying to shorten her lesson work load, and perhaps exhibiting some competition/dominance toward that other horse. But, whatever it is, it's all in her head, that's for sure.
The smartest rider will work with that understanding and fix things up so that she end up not having her idea work out for her.


So, for example, if she cuts in front of the other horse, avoiding one of the cones, she is circled out and made to start all over again. If she falls in on the circle, let her make that small circle, and just come back to the wall and try again, and again, and again . . .



If you know how to use your reins, and your legs to set her up for success, more power to you, but if she ignores all that, then I'd let her have her way, but have that 'way' be more work than yours.



It's pretty hard to do these things in a lesson, and chances are your instructor will not allow you fall out of line to do any kind of discipline work on her, but it's something to think about. At least keep in mind that it's her trying to carry out this idea she has that she can make her lesson go finish faster. That's my bet.
 

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There is a Warwick Shiller video on youtube about exactly this problem.
What he said he did was to ride the horse to the corner, wait for it to turn it as it would ( if riding to the right, the horse comes to the corner, turns right) and instead of letting the horse continue, he turned it to the wall and made it turn to the left (back the way he came). He did this at walk and then at the trot.

I think its this one:

 

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Cutting corners often means a stiff body frame. Logically, the horse needs to be supple and have bend prior to and through the corner.

So, as others have said, you need the bend generated from contact and inner leg, but this needs to be done before the corner. Anticipation is key. A horse cannot do what you want it to do if it is not set up and balanced previously. It's like driving a bus.

Do you regularly do shoulder-in with this horse? Setting him up in shoulder-in just a few strides before the corner will at least get him into a position where he cannot get out of taking that corner.

In addition to stiffness, there is another factor that may be coming into play here: herd dynamics. Honestly, I fail to see why your instructor would have you positioned so closely together that one horse could overtake another. Or is it that you start out further apart and you do not maintain that distance/you let him get his way? Too many of you in a small arena? Your horse is taller/has longer stride? If your horse is too close behind another, he is focusing more attention on the horse in front of him than on you (just watch his ears). So, if there is only two of you riding in the class and no one is behind you, I would come down the long wall, then halfway down do a small 10m circle to put space between you and the horse in front of you. Here is the trick: as you come out of that circle and back to the wall, USE that bend generated in the circle to do shoulder-in down the rest of the wall before the corner. You'll have enough distance bewteen the two horses and enough bend - no way will he cut that corner if you don't let him.
 

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Others have given great advice. When riding upper level tests I would always look way past my corner and ride the straight (or slight shoulder fore) until the last second. Then turn.

Another way to think of it, and I think this will help you, is to ride the HIND legs into the corner. You're very focused on her head and the reins, but I think you're forgetting where the hind end is. If you focus on riding all of that energy to the 90 degree corner, then allowing the front end to turn, you're winning half the battle.

A good exercise is to ride the corner at ¼ of a turn on the haunch. I do this in the walk, and the idea of it in the trot and canter.

I also agree with those saying your instructor is being useless... but we can't do much about that. :(
 

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That video by WS reinforces the reason for learning some dressage techniques; in order to have your horse 'adjustable'. Meaning, being able to slow/speed, collect, bend, etc, . . . even if 90% of the time you ride on a loose rein.


I also like to think of the word 'available' in terms of getting things done with your horse. If your horse is available to you, they are often reaching back to you, mentally, to see what you are asking. They don't go mentally far away, even while being engaged in their environment. If make a change in your seat or rein, they notice, and become available for a request coming next. That can be hard to achieve in a school hosre, since they naturally become masters at tuning out the endless stream of riders, whose skills at communication are all over the place.
 

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I began teaching my mare to lift and move her shoulder foreleg over and to the side from the ground at a walk. Then we began the exercise from the saddle, and I taught her to move her outside shoulder/foreleg to the side from light calf pressure at the girth. From there it has become more intuitive to her, to do a nice liquid corner at a walk, by lifting her outside shoulder/foreleg over when she begins falling in on corners. So she is learning the meaning of "support" from my inside leg. She can do a fairly round-ish large circle now at a walk. She is an older, fairly uneducated mare that I've had for a year, so is not extremely supple as of yet.


We "practice" lifting and moving the outside shoulder/leg regularly, vastly more than doing actual circles. Likewise we practice moving the hindquarters over. Just incidental to every day rides. Balancing the two makes the corners "easy" for her, for the level she is at.


A really great exercise that I like a lot is doing "squares". We walk in a straight line, then halt square and stand a bit, then do either a haunch or forehand turn to begin the next side of the square. It practices the square halt and stand, and moving the hindquarters/forequarters, then halting/standing, and moving off straight to the next corner of the square. It is surprisingly more difficult than it sounds for a somewhat uneducated horse! But a square in each direction, schooling the aids for shoulders/haunches over, keeps her nicely responsive to the aids and improves not only the corners/circles, but all the other lateral exercises.
 

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I agree that doing squares, in the middle of the arena, without the support of the walls, helps a lot. Slowly, at a walk.


May I ask, @dogpatch, are you saying that when you ask a horse to make that 90 degree turn, you are asking them to step the OUTSIDE foreleg over, crossing over the inside fore, as the first step of the turn?
 

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I agree that doing squares, in the middle of the arena, without the support of the walls, helps a lot. Slowly, at a walk.


May I ask, @dogpatch , are you saying that when you ask a horse to make that 90 degree turn, you are asking them to step the OUTSIDE foreleg over, crossing over the inside fore, as the first step of the turn?

She steps with the inside leg first, and "catches up" with the outside. She does not cross over.
 
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