Ask the Expert: Hug the Rail


Q: My horse likes to veer off the rail into the middle of the ring. How do I fix this?

Western Schooling

A: Correcting your horse’s crookedness is a two-step process. Step one is to teach your horse that wandering isn’t acceptable. Ride with two hands on the reins. As soon as he drifts off the rail, choke up the opposing rein (for example, if he drifts left, shorten up the right) and take a firm, no-nonsense feel of his mouth. Bring the rein away from your horse’s neck in the direction you want him to go (called a leading rein) to put your horse back on track. Reinforce your rein cue and keep his feet moving by bumping him on his sides with your calves. Once he stops beelining for the middle of the ring, release your cues and praise him.

Step two is to discourage your horse from roaming in the first place. Think of your reins and legs as solid and unyielding walls. They will form the sides of a narrow path that your horse will travel. Still riding two-handed, hold your hands slightly in front of your saddle and at the height and width of your hips. Ask your horse to ride straight lines both next to the rail and out in the open. If he stays between the lines, ride with a neutral rein and leg. If he drifts, close your fingers on both reins to prevent him from veering. Drive him with your legs as well to shift his sideways energy to forward movement, and be careful not to pull back on the reins and create a barrier that stops him from moving forward at all. If your horse continues to drift, actively push him off the leg he’s escaping toward and open the opposite rein, giving him room to move over. By giving your horse clear boundaries, he will be happy to hug the rail.

Liked this article? Here are others you’ll enjoy:
My Horse Won’t Go Straight!
Walk to Lope Transitions

Dale Rudin is a CHA-certified riding instructor and clinician with a mindful and balanced approach to horsemanship and riding.

This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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Dale Rudin is a CHA certified riding instructor, trainer, clinician, and contributor to Young Rider, Horse Illustrated, and She is the creator of Unnatural Horsemanship—a mindful approach to the horse-human relationship, and a founding member of Force-Free Tennessee, an animal advocacy organization that fosters humane low-stress training and handling of all animals.Rudin sees horsemanship as an opportunity for a mutually beneficial collaboration between our two species. To achieve positive results on the ground and under saddle, Rudin makes the horse’s welfare her first priority. She emphasizes the important of comfort, calmness, confidence, balance, and clear compassionate communication. She works with all breeds of horses in every discipline using positive reinforcement, clicker training, and the principles of classical dressage. Dale offers training, lessons, workshops, and clinics on her farm in Santa Fe, Tenn.


  1. Going to give this a try, she doesn’t do it too often, but it seems she knows when I am not paying attention or talking….too much.


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