Patterns for the Weekend: The Bowtie Drill

Elevate your horse’s shoulders and help improve you and your horse’s focus.

The focus of the bowtie drill is to elevate your horse’s shoulders, work on body control, and keep your horse engaged.

Equipment needed:

  • four cones
  • one barrel

Other markers can be used as well, but it’s important that they are safe and will stay in position.

Set up:

  • Place the cones 50 feet apart in order to make a square
  • Put the barrel in the middle

Make sure to ride your horse in the bit to which he responds the best, but you’ll want it to be a bit in which you can ride two-handed. You’ll start out riding two-handed in order to help guide your horse. For beginner riders, start at the walk and progress to the working trot. More advanced riders can begin at the working trot and progress to a lope around the outside of the pattern and a trot around the barrel.

Working the Drill

Step 1: Start at Cone A, and ride to the right of the barrel in the center of the four cones. Pick up your horse’s left shoulder with your left hand by raising that hand higher than your right. Support your horse’s right shoulder by keeping soft pressure on that rein in a lower position. Use your inside leg, placed near the cinch, and your outside leg, behind the cinch, to arc your horse’s body around the barrel. Continue circling the barrel until you get a soft arc in your horse’s body. This could take one or many tries to get correct.

Step 2: Once you’ve circled the barrel, guide your horse off the arc toward the left side of Cone C. Look ahead on your line of travel to help your horse stay straight as he approaches the turn. Just before you get to Cone C, pick up your right rein to lift that shoulder; keep your left rein low with a soft feel on the bit, reversing the arc you just made around the barrel. Use your right leg near the cinch and your left leg behind it to support with leg pressure. As soon as you finish the turn at Cone C, look ahead to Cone D.

Step 3: Repeat the same body position as you make the corner at Cone D. When you exit the turn, look to the barrel in the center of the pattern. Pick up the left rein to elevate the left shoulder, use your left leg at the cinch, and your right leg just behind the cinch to circle the barrel. Focus on keeping your horse from leaning into the turn. Be sure, too, that you don’t lean your body into the turn.

Step 4: As soon as you complete your circle around the barrel, look ahead on your path to Cone B. Lift your horse’s right shoulder as you turn at the cone, as discussed earlier, and travel right back to Cone A on a straight line. You can complete this pattern a few times in a row.

Depending how closely you place the markers, you and your horse will have to think quickly as you approach each cone. You’ll notice that when you start from Cone A, you complete all right-hand turns around the cones and left-hand turns around the barrel in the middle. If you begin at Cone B, you’ll be able to work left-hand turns around the cones and circle to the right around the barrel. It’s important to work in both directions, and to spend extra time on your horse’s tougher side to avoid one-sidedness.

The degree of difficulty can be increased by reducing the distance between the cones by 10 feet, all the way down to having them 30 feet apart.

Once you’ve worked on this pattern a few times, you’ll be able to pick up your horse’s shoulders off the pattern—whether that’s on the rail or on the trail. You’ll have better control of your horse’s body, increasing your own confidence and your horse’s response to your cues.

This drill was originally published in this article Horse & Rider in 2016 and developed by Steve and Amanda Stevens, of Weatherford, Texas. They train client horses and offer lessons for amateur and youth riders. They strive to keep riding fun, safe, and educational through weekend group lessons that include pattern clinics, trail-ride preparation, and problem-solving. Visit their Facebook page, Stevens Natural Horsemanship, to learn more.