Ask An Expert – Riding the Stockpen

Ask an Expert

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This question has come in from an anonymous reader;

“I have been riding the Stockpen at walk with my Preparatory level horse. I have been doing this obstacle only at walk because it allows me to stay in the same gait through the turn outside the pen without having to do a transition. I am thinking of trying the Stockpen at trot to give me more challenge. What is the best way to train my horse for riding the Stockpen at trot and managing the transition and turn outside the pen?”

Answered by Maree McAteer;

A great question to understand the way the Stockpen furthers our training and how to use it.  

Stockpen is  a 3m circle inside a 7m circle so the actual circle for the horse is about 5m.  At the highest levels it is done in canter both directions with a lead change and half pirouette between the circles.  If we understand the qualities that are needed to achieve this at the highest level, it will help guide our training at the walk and trot.  The goal is to stay balanced and forward inside the pen and then exit on a straight line, gradually collect and do a lead change before making a half turn, some straight strides, then go balanced and forward around the other circle. Your horse has to have a reliable amount of relaxed collection in canter to achieve this. Canter and walk are related gaits in the way that collection is developed.

A fun pattern that I play with while training in the walk is to ride the circle inside the pen creating an active walk with self – carriage. Then as you exit onto the straight line before the turn, gradually developing a slower, uphill collected walk, followed by bending, to prepare for the turn.  The turn at the beginning level is a half circle as tight as you can do while maintaining the bend and rhythmical stepping, moving mostly off the outside leg and rein. Then back into the pen for an active, forward circle in the other direction. Repeat the exercise, paying attention to the clarity in the horse to respond to a lighter aid. You will feel when it will be easy and right to add in trot inside the pen and walk outside.  If you have a horse with a long stride, it is going to be hard for them to manage the trot inside the pen without strain so to choose walk until you have developed enough collection and balance to canter the pen will be easier on the physique of these horses.

As I use this pattern to develop activity, flexibility, collection and lightness to the aids I do not worry about the turn outside the pen being a longer distance from the pen.  To take the time to develop the collection and balance before turning is a valuable exercise in quality over promptness.

When considering the step up to trotting the pen some of the things to help you decide might be:

  1. Is my horse strong and willing enough to be able to trot the whole circle or does he want to break to walk?
  2. Do I have to pull him around the circle with the inside rein or can I balance him between both reins and navigate the circle?
  3. Does he get tense or dull with a few repetitions?
  4. Do I feel he is leaning on his inside legs? (Motorbiking)
  5. On the second half of the circle does his neck bend more and the shoulder fall out?
  6. Is the circle round or am I bouncing off the sides?
  7. Do my left and right circles feel like the same horse?
  8. Are my walk/trot and trot/walk transitions accurate and reliable enough I can trust I will not have a break of pace inside the pen?

All these things will cause lower mark in a competition as well as being indicators to you as a trainer of the imbalances needing attention.

I hope these ideas help give clarity but know that each horse/rider combination has their unique list of things this obstacle will show up. Over the 20 years I have used Working Equitation to help explain training to riders the Stockpen has worked it way up my list of favorite useful obstacles – second to Double Slalom.