Horse Training With a Plan

Horse Training With a Plan

Transitions, lines and circles are vital to riding your horse right.

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Horsemanship patterns have evolved so that the rider must understand and execute the parts of the pattern so that they become credit-earning rather than zero or penalty-earning. There are three maneuvers that every broke all-around horse should know, and the more disciplined the rider is in practicing the maneuvers, the more disciplined the horse will become in performing these maneuvers. You have to ride with a plan, and you have to learn to control your horse. Breaking down the patterns into their pieces will give riders confidence in training and showing a horse, while helping them plan their daily workouts and make the most of their riding time.

Here, AQHA Judge and Professional Horseman Doug Huls of Arizona gives advice and some great tips on how to use transitions, straight lines and circles in your plans for riding well.


Begin your daily workouts with transitions: walk to jog, jog to lope, downward transitions and upward transitions - to take some of the fresh off the horse, loosen his muscles and get him listening and paying attention to the rider. When working on gait transitions, work on straight lines, circles and turns. Every transition a rider can think of should be done every day.

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When beginning to teach a horse downward transitions, using the same spot in the arena for the slow-down can be beneficial. When a rider consistently slows or stops there, it becomes habit for the horse, and he begins to hunt that spot. Once a horse has picked up the downward transition, if he tries to start cheating at that spot, move on and change up the routine to slow or stop in other places. But that initial consistency helps the horse learn the slow-down transition.

If you ask for a transition and don’t get the immediate response, that’s when you fix it. Pick up on the horse, push him into the bridle, back him off or turn him back, making sure he is in the bridle and moving his shoulders. If your horse is pushing back on you on a lope departure, you can correct him by pushing his hips around to lighten him up before asking him to lope off again.

Straight Lines

The second element of pattern work is the straight line, which can be more difficult than it sounds. The straight line is essential to basic control. While you are working on your straight lines, you will continue to work on your transitions, keeping your horse in that straight line.

The easiest way to work on your straight lines is to give yourself visual guides. Set a line of cones or even spray-paint a line in your arena sand to follow. Make sure if you begin your line five feet from the line or cones that you finish five feet from the line or cone. Pick a visual spot ahead of you to ride toward. You will go where you look. Keep your eyes up and looking out where you are going. If you look down and to the inside, that’s where your horse will go; he will drift to that side.

If a horse drifts out of a straight line, pick up the reins and push him into the bridle or bump his ribs to put him back on the line and keep his body straight. Your horse needs to stay straight between your hands and your legs. The single most basic fundamental is that you can move that horse straight up through the reins and guide him wherever you want to go.


Circles, the third element, can also prove to be difficult for riders trying to keep a good, round, symmetrical shape. Using four cones at the quarter marks of a circle can aid you in keeping your circles round. As you ride your circle around them, stay five to six feet from the cones as your guide. That mark gives you a visual guide to execute that circle.

Marking a straight, 6-foot long line at each quarter-point cone in the sand can also help to keep the circle arc consistent. If you keep your horse straight at each quarter point, your arc will naturally happen. Break down your circles into those four quarter points, and you will find circles much easier to navigate. Those quarter points serve as your checkpoints to keep you from losing that round shape.

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If you get to a quarter point and find yourself off your line in the sand, that’s where you make your correction. Your corrections should not be huge, big moves. As you ride between your quarter points, use your legs and reins to steer your horse so that you hit that quarter-point line straight. Remember to look ahead to your next quarter point as you ride your circle to keep your horse aimed correctly. If you look to the inside or the outside of that circle, you will telegraph that to your horse, and he will drift to the inside or the outside of that circle, and you will miss your quarter point and lose the shape of your circle.

While you are practicing your circles, continue working on your transitions. If you have trouble with a gait change, correct it, get your horse listening and get your transitions back before you continue in your circle.