As beginner riders, we are almost exclusively taught to stay on the rail. While at that level it is for steering and safety purposes, as we progress as riders there are several benefits to riding off the rail, both for the horse and for the rider.
Here are a few reasons you should try staying off the track in your next ride!
- Keeping your horse straight: The rail often has some sort of a groove, varying in depth, which keeps your horse in the track of others before it. Often times this groove prevents you from feeling just how bent or crooked your horse is. By bringing your horse off the rail, whether just a few inches or up the quarter line, you can get a better feel of where your horse needs to be straight. Do they have a dominant side? Are they curved really hard to the right? All things you can find out and work on!
- Giving your horse a destination: When the horse stays on the rail, it’s a little like a person walking on a treadmill. On a treadmill, there are no elements of surprise. You’re in the same place, walking to no specific destination other than the end of the workout. You’re getting exercise, but not a lot of mental stimulation. Working off the rail is like taking of a walk through the woods. It forces your horse to pay attention, get out of its routine, and you give your horse a destination by redirecting their focus to something other than the arena wall or fence. Incorporating circles, half-turns, reverse half-turns, and serpentines can all be helpful in giving your horse a destination and help them pay attention.
- Challenging yourself: Just like the horse, riders get stuck in the same routine. If your horse has a hard right bend, you may also start to have that bend or twist by staying in the same track, every day. It may be hard at first, but bringing your horse off the rail will help you get a really good feel for their body and in return, you’ll learn how to effectively control their straightness with your natural aids.
You’ll become a stronger, more focused rider just by changing up your routine!
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