Sponsored rider Angela Gladding shares her thoughts on the use of squares in training. Angela is currently riding her homebred 'Jupiter' at Inter 1 having trained him through the levels.
She tell us that 'riding squares is so underrated and benefits all levels of both horse and rider'. Being able to keep control of the shoulder (especially the outside one) is so important regardless of the level you're working at. Marking out the square with poles or cones helps the discipline of making sure the square stays uniform in size and the corners are in the right places, but as long as you can ride a square shape of around 20m in the space you have there isn't any need for any equipment.
For the younger or less experienced horses, squares are really useful for teaching straightness. You can start to move the outside shoulder around using your outside rein with a little half halt against the neck to get the shoulder underneath the horse. From there, you can introduce riding squares in walk - ride 4 straight lines and 4 corners using a half halt before the corner to encourage more activity from behind. You need to think about riding around the square with your legs light on the horses side as opposed to clamped round them with an even connection down both reins. Be careful not to draw back and shorten the neck, and use the outside rein contact to turn the horse whilst the inside leg applies pressure to create the inside bend.
It can be built on with more advanced horses to help develop more engagement and self carriage - especially in the canter work and working towards, and in, the canter pirouettes by thinking about a 1/4 pirouette in each corner.
In the canter work quarter pirouettes on a square/diamond shape will help with the collection whilst making sure the horse stays soft and relaxed over the back and into the contact. Use these to sit the horse back and to control the shoulder and amount of steps you get on each "corner".
Angela says she's currently finding this really useful for getting more engagement with my Inter 1 horse who is just starting the one time tempi changes - "it helps me get control of my canter and makes sure he is using himself correctly and not pulling on to my hand. A corner turn on a square into the changes really helps with the quality and connection."
Have you used squares in your riding? How useful were they?