A Good Guide, Part 2

AQHA Professional Horsewoman Lynn Palm offers exercises to help improve your horse-training skills by using your reins effectively.

From America's Horse

Editor’s Note: This is the final installment in a two-part series focusing on improving your ability to guide your horse. Need to review Part 1?

AQHA Professional Horsewoman, trainer and clinician Lynn Palm likes to use two exercises to help gain control of a horse’s body parts. This is the second exercise in the series, meant to improve the quality of turns with your horse.


Create a “slalom” course of six cones. Setting them up closer together will increase difficulty, so begin with them spaced about 20 feet apart. You want six cones total, three in two separate lines about 20 feet apart.


The ultimate goal is to learn to use your reins without pulling while riding around the cones in a serpentine, concentrating on the quality of the turns.

How To:

This exercise should only be done at a walk and trot. Be sure to make wide turns around the cones. Your goal is to keep the same rhythm; if the horse changes his rhythm, you’re pulling. Be sure to look ahead with your eyes to plan your route.

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Begin the exercise riding two-handed. As you approach the first cone, turn your hand

as if you were turning a key to unlock a door. The hand and rein should move sideways, out from the horse. The thumb should move toward the direction of the turn, the palm of the hand should come up, and the elbow should come in. Our instinct is to pull back with our hand toward, the body, and that is not correct. If your knuckles are on the top of your hand position, you are pulling. Your outside rein should move similarly and lay a bit of rein across the neck. The horse yields from this rein and turns. Your hand still moves like turning a key to open a door, and moves sideways without crossing the middle of the horse’s neck. Use your legs to keep the horse marching forward while you turn.

When you do it correctly, the horse should tip his nose to the inside and flow around the cone without changing speed of rhythm. Once you’ve mastered the turn, you can cease exaggerating and make your cues more subtle.


If your horse breaks rhythm by slowing down or speeding up, check to see if you’re pulling backward. If his nose is tipping to the outside, make sure you’re not pulling hard with your outside rein, forcing his head to come out. Do internal checks to make sure you’re moving your hand and body properly to execute the correct turn.

Collection: An Exercise to Try

One of the great mysteries of horsemanship is collection – the body position a horse adopts to perform at its maximum level of athletic ability. For most people, it’s an “I know it when I see it” concept. Lynn recommends this exercise to give you insight on how a horse works – and how it does and does not collect.

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a beach towel on the floor to keep yourself clean and kneel on it. Place your knees directly under your hips with your hands on the ground, directly under your shoulders. Hold your head normally, looking forward. This is a balanced position of self-carriage for a horse. Notice there’s more weight on your hands (forehand of the horse) than on your knees (the hind legs of the horse), due to the weight of your head and neck. Lift your upper body, as if you were a horse departing from a lope. Feel the effort it takes to lift yourself up. A horse naturally has to lift the forehand, as the hind legs propel him forward into the lope.

“(A horse) can do that easily,” observes Lynn.

Next, move your knees up under your body and round your back.

This simulates a horse that is collected – the hindquarters lower, and more weight goes to the hind legs (feel this in your knees). The forehand lightens as the horse rounds his spine. In this advanced position, a horse can do advanced transitions from stop to run, lead changes with every stride, jumping, turning a barrel or doing a sliding stop. Looking straight ahead, lift your front end as if you were loping off. Feel how much easier it is to get your front end

off the ground.

“When the horse rounds and collects correctly, the hind legs engage farther underneath him and allow less weight on the front legs,” Lynn says. “You can get more activity, and it enables you to do more advanced maneuvers.”

Finally, drop your head so that it hangs down from your shoulders (note the increased weight on your hands), and move your knees back so they’re positioned behind your hips. This is an example of a horse that has been pushed into a low headset. With the head lower than his topline, the horse can not engage the hind legs. It forces his legs farther out behind him to accommodate his balance. There’s now more weight in the front end than the hind end, commonly referred as to “on the forehand” or “downhill balance.” Now attempt to lift your upper body to lope off. There’s more weight and more effort on the front end, which means the horse is going to have difficulty doing athletic things.

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“Feel how hard it is to get the front end up to lope off,” Lynn says. “If the rider sends him forward then pulls and sets the head, the horse keeps it down to avoid pain in the mouth. It forces more weight on the front, and the horse can’t do so. It can become a vicious circle if the rider has to use more aid to get the horse to do the maneuver and instilling forceful aids. The anatomy of the horse allows collection one way, and that is in an uphill balance. A horse will set his head and break at the poll naturally if a rider flexes the head correctly without bending the neck. If a horse is balanced, he is happy and will respond with lightness, relaxation and willingness.”

Are you looking to learn more from Lynn Palm? Here's a short video of Lynn explaining the basics of dressage.