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Going Around the Bend

If you’re like me, you think a lot about bend. It seems to come up in every lesson and training ride. If I had to be honest, I tend to be looking for it more than finding it, some days. It's such a simple concept if you boil it down to the one question: is the horse bent in the direction of travel? But then that simple definition doesn't do justice to all the things that go into the concept of bend.

For me, I like the definition to be two different points on the horse – the front and the back. For my definition I think of bend in the front as “my horse needs to flex at the poll,” and I call it flexion. When I think of bend in the body at the rib cage, I call that bend. So when I start off to the left, for example, I look to see some signs that my horse has flexion. Can I see a little bit of the eye and nostril on the left? Is there a small gap between the inside rein and neck? Is the outside rein softly touching the outside neck? Then, I think through “am I slightly shoulder fore so there is some bend in the rib cage and the horse is following my body position and forming himself underneath me.” Since the horse and I bend on both sides, I also have to think about my outside leg or calf gently resting on the horse’s side and moving with them as we go in the left direction.

The intent is that you swivel your seat when approaching the center line to change the horses bend. This should get a little easier and more fluid each time you do it. By changing the bend, you will help your body feel the bend. Sometimes just staying on the outside rail or riding one 20m circle, the feeling gets lost in the horse’s motion.

Let's talk through a simple exercise. Get out some cones or sticks or make track marks in the sand with your feet, and mark out a both a 20m and a 15m circle that are touching at the point where they cross the centerline. Start riding the 20m circle at a walk to the left, first. When you get to the center line or marker cone, change the bend and direction and walk the 15m circle to the right. Your challenge is to change bend and direction over the centerline and then back again fluidly. When you approach the center line again, change the bend again and go back to the 20m circle. Try doing it at the walk, and then try trotting the 20m and walking or trotting the 15m, depending on where your horse’s strength and balance are. A little tip – if the 15 m circles turns into an “off to the races” feeling, you or the horse or both might not be ready for that, yet. You can also try doing the 20m at the canter and the 15m at the trot. It's a little bit more of a challenge to do the canter to the trot, but I believe that you are up to the challenge.

Stay tuned for next week’s Two-minute Training Tip! If you need help building a training plan, you can always email me questions at or check out for upcoming events and information. Like us on Facebook at!

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