Establish control in an arena with your horse

Discover simple ways to establish control in an arena with your horse with expert advice from event rider Izzy Taylor...

Basic schooling and lateral work in an arena are vital for establishing control of your horse before you head out on a hack. Being confident that you can stop, turn or push him on when you need to will help you feel safe. When doing any schooling work, always pat your horse after he’s done something well. This will give him confidence in you and help to cement your relationship.

halt in an arena

Put your brakes to the test

One of the most important things you need to be able to do is ask your horse to halt. If you know you can do this, you’ll have more confidence pushing him forwards while out riding. When asking for halt, sit up tall in your body and close your fingers gently around the reins to bring him to a standstill. Make sure you can do this in walk, trot and canter. It’s also useful for you to be able to do transitions from halt into walk, trot and canter to ensure your horse is listening to you.

leg yield

Take control using leg-yield

Lateral work has countless benefits, one of which is the fact it allows you to gain more control of where your horse’s body is, and where it needs to be. The more supple your horse is, the easier he’ll be to manoeuvre when needed. An easy way to practise this
is to use objects in your arena to leg-yield around. Ride towards an object, then push him to one side of it, asking him to go sideways by sliding the leg nearest the object back and increasing the pressure. At the same time, put a gentle amount of pressure down the opposite rein to make sure he understands where to go, but keep his head bent slightly to the other side.

Use clutter to your advantage

Jump poles and wings cluttering your arena can be a really useful training tool as you increase your horse’s suppleness by bending and circling around them. As well as gaining control of his body, you’ll be helping him balance himself correctly as you circle around wings and pop the odd pole, which will give you a more secure seat while you’re riding at speed.

How to ride travers with your horse


Travers is the opposite of shoulder-in, so you ask your horse to bring his quarters in while his shoulders and front legs stay on the track. Incorporating this lateral movement into your flatwork and dressage training is a great way to encourage suppleness through your horse’s rib cage.

When you and your horse are learning travers, it can help to ride it down the long side of your arena, so you have the edge of your school to help you. 

The aids

  1. Move your outside leg back to ask your horse to step in with his quarters.
  2. Keep your inside leg at the girth to stop his shoulders drifting in. It also creates forward movement and bend.
  3. Ask with your inside rein for a little flexion at the poll – you don’t want a lot of neck bend.
  4. Your outside hand controls the amount of bend.
  5. To help your horse stay balanced your shoulder should face down the track.

Training programme to build a strong horse

Tailoring your horse's work will help him to build muscle safely, avoid repetitive strain and help to ensure that he has the right level of fitness for his work load.

To create a training programme for a strong horse you'll need to combine schooling and jumping with hacking. Plus, you'll need to allow time for him to recover between sessions.

Different types of training can be categorised like this:

Jumping can be considered to be strength training

Jumping can be considered to be strength training

  • Cardiovascular training: Using trot, canter or gallop for periods of at least twenty minutes, depending on your horse’s fitness
  • Skills training: Riding lateral work or pole work for example
  • Strength training: Jumping, hill work and exercises which require your horse to work in collection, such as piaffe

Your horse’s muscles are most at risk during strength training (this may include hill work or jumping). So, to help prevent injury, you need to gradually increase the intensity of this type of work. Use the plan, below, as a rough guide as to what to do with your horse, when.

As a rule, allow at least two days between strength training sessions to give your horse’s muscles time to repair.

An example training plan

How to ride shoulder-fore


Shoulder-fore is a lateral movement which encourages your horse to take more weight onto his hindlegs and step actively underneath his body.

Although it’s not a required movement in any dressage tests it’s a really useful flatwork exercise to do with your horse. It’s great for developing straightness and improving balance.

In shoulder-fore your horse will bring his shoulders in off the track while his quarters stay where they are. The angle is about half of what you’d see in shoulder-in.

The aids

  1. Put a little more weight into your inside leg to encourage bend and activity, keeping your outside leg at the girth to prevent your horse’s quarters swinging out.
  2. Your outside rein supports your horse’s outside shoulder. Thinks straight on this rein and hold it a fraction lower than your inside rein.
  3. Ask for a little flexion on your inside rein to keep your horse soft through his neck.
  4. Keep your shoulders parallel with your horse’s shoulders – you should be in shoulder-fore too, but watch you don’t get pushed to the outside of your saddle.