The corners will correspond to a quarter of a circle with a diameter 2m smaller than the smallest circle in the test. So, in Preliminary it is a quarter of an 18m circle and at trot 8m in all other EA tests, and a quarter of a 6m circle at FEI levels. Each corner should be six strides. You can count the strides from the beginning of the bending. The third and fourth stride will be right in the corner and the sixth stride is the last stride with bend before straightness is re-established. At every level the corner can be six strides because as the horse gets more collected the stride is shorter, so the six-stride guide still applies.
So, before you get to the corner, a half-halt or two to rebalance the horse and PREPARE. I think of the half-halt as THREE little aids in quick succession. Balance (gently apply rein and core muscles), push (leg), soften (hand and core). Balance, push, soften, like a ripple of aids that runs through the body of the horse to rebalance and re-energise, and assist him to be in self-carriage. Then your six strides. Then straight, two legs into two hands – think train tracks. Before you arrive at the corner, another half-halt to balance and prepare.
The inside leg is like the post that your horse bends around and stops him from dropping his shoulder to the inside. Think about keeping his shoulder up and his body vertical, not leaning. It will help if you do this with your body too. Stay vertical, don’t lean into the corner. See if you can soften the inside rein and encourage him to reach towards it in the corner. This helps him to soften.
In training you can practise riding the corner sometimes pushing the quarters in like travers, sometimes bringing the shoulders in, sometimes even riding a renvers through the corner just to see if you can. When you are riding the test, you may need these reactions to ride the corner correctly, so practise the corrections at home. Horses will often have a tendency to let the quarters drift out in the corner so as to avoid carrying weight. A rider who only uses the inside rein to steer around the corner can inadvertently pull the shoulder to the inside, allowing the quarters to drift out. Riding the corner thinking about the outside rein holding the shoulder to the outside can help counteract this and help you develop the correct feeling of inside leg to outside rein that is so important in developing suppleness and self-carriage.
With a young horse, however, there may be times that you want to encourage the suppleness by allowing the outside hand forward, encouraging him to stretch the outside to bend the neck. It is always true that there is never one right way to do things, and in training you may need to mix it up. Sometimes you want to train to do something, like giving the outside rein or riding a stretchy corner, just to know that you can, that your horse has the suppleness and balance to be obedient to an unusual question. You may not want a stretchy corner in the test, but you want to be able to do it if you ask.
When you ride the straight part, allow him to come up a little if you want him higher in the frame. I choose the word “allow” carefully. Don’t jack his head up with the reins; allow him a little forwards. If you need more impulsion, get it here. If you need more collection, the straight part is an opportunity to encourage him to wait and rebalance. Slow down on the short side if that is what you need. The straight part of the short side is an opportunity for the rider to pay attention to the pace and notice if you need more energy or more collection. The judges can notice the quality of the pace on the short side and so can the rider. Show him off on the short side.