Riding the Patterns Successfully to Build Horse’s Confidence

Using Follow The Rail And Circles To Teach, Build And Measure Your Horse’s Confidence.

Today I am going to be giving you two patterns that will help to gain and maintain your horse’s confidence. These may seem like simple things but that is the beauty of them. They are simple and effective, yet not altogether easy.


Like with any pattern, task, or strategy you want to have a good understanding of where your horse’s confidence is at in the first place before starting to improve and develop it. Otherwise you will most likely get frustrated when you don’t see the degree of improvement that you were expecting as often times progress is slow and less noticeable than we would like.

As Pat Parelli says “Observe, remember and compare.”  First you observe your horse’s behaviour, remember it, then compare it as the days go by. This may be tricky especially if you aren’t used to seeing and gauging improvement.

Think about videotaping your sessions when first starting out. Then you can compare videos as you go along. Take notes of each sessions where you highlight both the good and the not so good. Pretty soon you will be able to do all this in your head and in the moment with out having to work so hard at it.

Learning and Using the Base Patterns:

Riding the Rail

This pattern very straightforward. You ride along the rail of your arena staying close enough to the rail that if you were to reach out with your outside hand you would be able to touch the wall. You want to go deep into the corners and you are looking for rhythm, relaxation and for your horse to understand that his job is to stay on the rail at whichever gait you choose without you having to keep him there with your leg or reins.

Start off at the walk then progress to the trot and finally the canter. Keep in mind while doing any new pattern you teach yourself the pattern at the walk, teach the horse at the trot and then test at the canter. Horses learn the patterns quickest when at the trot, because the walk can be distracting, slow and less engaging and the canter the horse gets tired faster until you have build up his physical fitness. So the trot is a good pace to teach the horse, after you have learned the pattern at the walk.

DSCF1815A helpful way to gauge progress is to count how many corrections you make each lap. This is important as this is how you will know if your horse is gaining an understanding of the pattern and if you are being clear in your requests.

Ride the Rail pattern builds confidence in your horse because they learn the consistency of it. They have something to follow, that being the rail/ wall, and it gives us, as the rider, a strong focus. This strong focus in turn means that our leadership level increases and that will give horses confidence.


This next pattern is one that when used with the pattern mentioned above is a great combination especially if your horse lacks confidence in such a way that he wants to move his feet a lot and has more forward movement then what you would like.

It is again very basic, but highly effective because the horse soon learns that there is much consistency in this. A circle never ends. It can keep going on forever. Which when your horse has a lot of forward and doesn’t want to stop moving her feet or stand still the circle is one of your best friends.

To help you ride an actual circle, which believe it or not makes a big difference in building confidence, have a barrel or cone marking the center of the circle and have four barrels/cones marking the outer edge of the circle. This way you can ride from barrel to barrel. It will tell you exactly where your circle needs to be made bigger or smaller.

As with riding along the rail you want to be aware of the same things regarding rhythm, relaxation and also to count how many corrections you are making per lap so that you know if your horse is understanding the pattern.

DSCF1804Don’t hold your horse on the circle with your rein or leg as this will only physically get your horse to do the pattern instead of mentally connecting.  It is the mental connection that causes the horse to relax.

One more thing to keep in mind is that the size of circle is determined by how much you need to calm and relax your horse. If your horse is wired and wants to run off then a very small, tight circle may be best. If your horse isn’t that bad then you can play around with what size of circle is best to build relaxation. Your horse will tell you as long as you stay on the pattern long enough to make a change.

Signs that your horse is relaxing are lowering of head, stretching, blowing out, licking and chewing, forward movement being more manageable, less number of corrections, and horse more connected.

Sometimes Success Comes With An Extra Set Of Eyes And Mind To Help.

Of course there are many variables and each situation is different. This is just a brief overview of both patterns. If you are dealing with extreme issues or simply don’t know what to do it can be very beneficial to get a skilled, qualified set of eyes on you to give you specific advice for you and your horse.

Also remember that if at any point your horse is unsafe to ride, please get off. Play with him on the ground and then mount again once you feel safe. There is no shame in getting off.  It is wise and savvy!  You can always get back on if it wasn’t necessary to dismount.  The benefit, your confidence is preserved. If is much easier to build confidence and relaxation in your horse when you are confident and relaxed as a rider.

And remember, I am available to meet with you at Extra Mile Equestrian Centre or at your property or facility for lessons in either horsemanship or horse development.  My heart’s desire is to see horses and humans succeeding in their relationship and journey together.

Let’s talk (using the reply section below, or on Facebook…)  Have you used either of these patterns to teach, build or improve your horse’s confidence?  How is that working for you?

*Please note, words in blue bold, when clicked on, lead to articles and content that may be exterior sources to this blog. The opinions and ideas expressed in the linked to website, as a whole, may or may not necessarily reflect the views of the authors of this web site. The external sources are provided for further study and educational purposes of those reading this blog.

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