How to teach your horse travers

What is Travers?

Sparky as a three year old.Travers is a lateral movement where the horse moves forward and sideways whilst bent in the direction of travel.  To be absolutely correct the horse moves on three tracks – the inside fore and outside hind foot being in alignment.   Initially ridden on the rail, the horse is bent around the rider's inside leg with the hindquarters in off the track.  It's a powerful exercise for suppling and collecting the horse and is a crucial movement in teaching correct lope departures and lead changes.  For the rider, travers helps develop feel and the use of independent aids. OK - so you do need to be able to rub your stomach with your left hand, pat your head with your right hand whilst standing one leg!  Seriously, you do need to master giving several cues at the same time but with patience and perseverance you will learn a real skill that you and your horse will benefit from.

Click here to watch a short video of Judith riding Forest Jac in travers up the centre line.

Are you and your horse ready?

Before starting to teach your horse travers he must have the correct basics in place.  This means being confident about:

  • turns on the forehand and hindquarters and
  • leg yielding, moving easily off your leg.

Your horse also needs to be able to show good lateral flexion with suppleness through his head and neck.

What are the cues?

To ride travers left you will create left bend by applying inside (left) leg on the cinch.  Lift the inside (left) rein slightly to soften the head and neck to the inside and whilst maintaining this position advance your inside seat bone towards your horse’s inside ear at the same time as drawing your outside (right) leg back behind the cinch asking the quarters to move to the left.  Be careful not to drop your inside shoulder or to lean over – this will only unbalance your horse and make it impossible for him to position correctly. In the picture to the left you can clearly see that Woody (Forest Jac) is confident and relaxed in this manoeuvre and is demonstrating very correct travers on three tracks.

Before you start...

If you and your horse are new to this manoeuvre I recommend that you try to arrange to ride an experienced horse before you begin.  This could be an english or western horse as the exercises, and therefore the feel, will be the same.  Alternatively, ask your instructor, or experienced friend to ride your horse to help him understand this new movement.  What will also help whilst you are practising travers is to have a friend watch (or even better video) you to help you judge the angles and indentify exactly what is happening.

Going sideways

Skooter 2 trackingYou now need to work on two tracking.  This is leg yielding down the rail with the horse at about 45 degrees to the fence and straight from poll to tail.  Here you can see Skooter positioned for two tracking.  At the time this picture was taken Skooter was a 3 year old, just starting lateral work.  Like many young horses, Skooter had an initial preference for one side (the right). This is quite normal but you should be prepared for the likelihood that your horse will initially prefer one side. To overcome this you need to work on both sides until your horse is equally supple and balanced to the left and right.  Make sure you pay attention to your own position. Keep your hands low with a soft contact on the bit.  Once you're happy with two tracking you're ready for travers.

The importance of feel and timing...

So you've ridden around a corner, positioned yourself with your inside seat bone forward, created inside bend and asked your horse to move his hindquarters to the inside.  The most important thing to remember here is that your horse won’t have a clue what you're on about.  I promise he's not being difficult, stroppy, naughty or stubborn!  All you're looking for the first few times is one brief step …………. and I mean ONE.  As soon as you think you feel your horse step away from your outside leg and keeps some inside bend RELEASE all cues and reward.  Then set it up again ………. One step, release and reward.  Just like the two tracking you will find your horse easier one side than the other.  I always find it best to start the horse this way just getting the response and releasing quickly.

If you find that you are working extremely hard with either your hands or legs and don’t seem to be getting much response then your horse obviously isn’t “getting it yet”.  Often having to try harder with your cues is a sure sign that you need to go back at least a step or two before starting again on that particular exercise.

What now?

The next series of pictures show Skooter leg yielding towards the rail with the rider deliberately allowing the shoulders to lead.  The rider’s outside leg and hip is back (and will stay in this position) with the inside leg passive at the cinch.  As the horse’s shoulder reaches the track the rider picks up a little on the inside rein to create good flexion of the head and neck and to control the inside shoulder.  By cueing with the outside leg whilst applying sufficient inside leg to create bend through the rib cage the rider has positioned the horse into travers.  After riding some steps down the rail then allow the horse to straighten up.  You can now repeat the exercise in the other direction.  Turn a half circle at the end of the arena and again float the horse across in leg yielding back towards the rail.

In time this becomes an excellent exercise for developing the lope departure, later on progressing onto lead changes.

And what about renvers?

You'll notice that the pictures below are a mirror image of each other. That's because travers and renvers are in fact the same movement, the only difference being the position of the horse and rider relative to the track or rail. Renvers is a very useful exercise for straightening a horse that is crooked, i.e. travels with its quarters to the inside of the track.

Problem solving....questions and answers

Q: My horse doesn’t move his quarters inwards. 
A: He's either too stiff or doesn’t understand your leg cue.  Go back to turns on the fore-hand and two-tracking.
Q: My horse moves his hind-quarters but doesn’t bend through the head, neck or rib-cage. 
A: He's either stiff or you're blocking with your hands.  Go back to flexion exercises to soften the neck, use leg yielding and turns to supple the ribcage and hind-leg.  Check that your reins ask for and allow the horse to keep the head and neck flexed to the inside.
Q: My horse is easy on one side but doesn’t travers at all on the other.
A: You might both be stiff or less co-ordinated on one side.  This movement will show up any asymmetrical problems for both horse and rider.  You (and your horse) might need help from a massage therapist or osteopath etc.
Q: My horse is great at travers. I can move his quarters much further in off the track, creating a far bigger angle.  Is this still OK?
A: Well done your horse is very supple.  Gymnastically this is good, but watch out, with too much angle you won't be encouraging your horse to become more collected as the joints of the inside hind-leg no longer have to increase their bend.
Q: I can’t work on two tracking or travers as I don’t have access to an arena.
A: Good news, both these movements can be taught and developed when you're riding down roads and trails!

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