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Track right and track left

From: Caryl


I am a new subscriber and have really enjoyed your archived newsletters. Some friends are debating the definition of "track right/left". We all agree the track is the rail or wall. The debate comes in on the direction of travel. Some say track right means you are circling to the right so your right side is away from the wall (following the logic of a canter lead), and some say it means your right side should be on the wall. I have read in dressage books both descriptions. The only reference I found to tracking direction in your archives was in connection to leg yielding. The description there appears to be that track right means the riders right side is away from the rail. I am starting to suspect this is one of those English/Western, East Coast/West Coast differences. Will you please help clear up this conundrum?


Hi Caryl! There are two concepts that seem to confuse all riders at one time or another: "tracking left" and "tracking right", and "inside" vs "outside". Just to be quite sure that everyone is clear on what's what, I'll explain them both.

You're all correct about the track - it is the rail or the wall. Whether the arena is round, square, oval, or rectangular, "Track right" means "Ride around the arena with the rail/wall on your LEFT side, making right turns at the corners." "Track left" means "Ride around the arena with the rail/wall on your RIGHT side, making left turns at the corners." Are you with me so far? ;-)

Although "track" also has connotations of position and bend, in its simplest sense, "Track" is direction. If you've ever read a dressage test, you'll see that after the horse enters the arena, always coming straight down the center line, the next directive will be "Track right at C" or "Track left at C". (The alternative, going straight ahead, would involve stepping over the rail and into the judge's box and possibly onto the judge, which would be a very, very bad idea.) When the test says "track right at C", the rider will position, bend, and turn the horse to the right at C, then continue along the rail. The horse should still be bent slightly to the right, the rail (outside edge of the arena) will be on the horse's LEFT, and the horse and rider will be - in more ways than one - on the right track.

Not confused yet? Good for you. I'll see what I can do with "Inside" and "Outside".

"Inside" and "Outside" are very confusing to many riders - especially if they are new to riding, or if they were taught by an instructor who didn't entirely understand the concept either.

During your first lessons, the instructor will typically use "inside" to refer to the inside of the arena (the large expanse of territory on ONE side of your horse) and "outside" to refer to the side of the horse that's next to the arena wall. In those first lessons, you'll be doing your best to keep the horse traveling in whatever direction your instructor wants you to go, at the gait she suggests. When she says "Lift your outside hand", she'll mean "Lift the hand on the side toward the wall", and when she says "Use your inside leg", she'll mean "Use the leg that I can see from the center of the arena." All of this makes sense in a way, because your first lessons will take place mostly on the rail, with occasional changes of direction.

As soon as you're past the baby-beginner stage, though, you will learn the true meaning of "Inside" and "Outside" - and you'll find out why you can't tell which side is which by locating the arena wall. You'll also find out why your horse has an "Inside" and "Outside" even if you're working in the middle of a huge field - or on a trail.

The REAL significance of "Inside" is "the inside of the horse's bend"; "Outside" means "the outside of the horse's bend". Imagine that you are riding your horse along a straight line drawn on the arena footing with powdered chalk. Now imagine that someone is taking photographs of you and your horse from an airplane. If your horse, seen from above, would look like a banana with both ends a little bit to the left of that line, and the center curve (including the saddle and you) a little bit to the right of that line, then your horse is bent left, and his left side (inside of the bend) is the "inside", whilst his right side (the outside of the bend) is the "outside". And those terms would apply whether that straight chalk line were down the center of the arena, just off the wall on any side of the arena, or on a diagonal line across the arena. Once you're no longer an absolute beginner, "Inside" and "Outside" will always refer to the bend, or curve, of the horse's body. Don't worry about this during your first series of lessons! Even after you've been riding for several months, it's very likely that most of the time in your lessons, the inside of the horse's bend will correspond to the "arena" side, and the outside will correspond to the "wall" side.

Now I'll put both concepts together, just for fun. ;-)

When you're tracking right, you'll be going around the arena making right turns, your horse will be bent to the right, the horse's right side will be the "inside" (which WILL be the "arena side") and the horse's left side will be the "outside" (which WILL be the rail side). When you change directions and track left, you'll be going around the arena making left turns, your horse will be bent to the left, the horse's left side will be the "inside" (which will be the "arena side") and the horse's right side will be the "outside" (which will be the rail side).

When in doubt, always remember that it's the bend of the horse's body that determines which side is the horse's "inside" and which is the "outside".

By now you should either have a firm grasp of both concepts, or a terrific headache. Please let me know which!


P.S. I forgot to mention that there is still another use of the terms "inside" and "outside" in riding - when your instructor says "I'm sick of riding inside, I think the outdoor arena is finally dry, would you like to ride outside today?"

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