Here's something for you to try this up coming weekend. It's an adaptation of the Gaming sport "pole bending." If you've ever watched a really good pole bending horse, it is a fascinating spectical to see. Why I've started using it with folks at clinics, is because there are far too many horses out there that are not using their hind quarters well, or using them at all. It is my belief that this phenomenon is a result of an extraordinary amount of emphasis put on hindquarter disengaging, with no counter balance of the maneuvers that require moving the horses forequarter (which takes far more effort on the horses part, therefor it takes longer to teach correctly, and takes discipline on our part to maintain that correctness). Or, it's because of a simple lack of knowledge on our part as riders at knowing and feeling how our horses are moving underneath us. And as a result, many horses perform some sort of "bottle spin" when asked to turn, instead of using their hind quarters to load, push and drive. This very simple incorrect move, puts a full stop on progress towards any kind of athletic training, athletic skills, or correct movement you might be wanting to achieve with your horse.
There's always more than one way to do something, and with horses it's usually either because you've directly asked them to do it, or they figure out how to do it by virtue of the job or task at hand. And, because I like to stay balanced in my horse training, I like to do both with my horses. In the end, I want the horse to allow, and be willing, to let me position their body so that they are moving correctly and positioned to be powerful and efficient for a specific maneuver or job. My strategy of achieving this level of understanding, willingness and obedience, is not only by teaching them to move away from different pressures/signals from my seat, hands and legs, but also by giving them a visual component to engage and associate those signals and pressures with. The weave pattern is an indirect way of getting the horse loading, pushing and driving off their hind quarters. It is obviously visual, and that can be very helpful to the horse because he can actually see what needs to happen, and put his own mind towards working to accomplish that task. While the horse is focusing on the visual task I have given him with the weave pattern, I apply all the signals or aids that I want to be there when there is no visual component. It is a simple way to give purpose to your signaling, and purpose in and of itself can be a very powerful teaching tool or training aid.
There are a couple secrets to getting the most out of the Weave Pattern: Firstly, YOU need to have focus and determination...that means no lolly-gagging. You have to want the horse to move with purpose, as linearly from one "pocket"(the exact point you start to arch around the next cone) to the next pocket as possible. So that means you need to DRIVE them to each next point with a sense of urgency. Your sense of urgency is critical for the success of this exercise because if you don't care, neither will they. That said, a sense of urgency doesn't necessarily mean going as fast as you can, it has more to do with your desire to be exact, streamlined and purposeful with your and your horse's movements. The second main secret to the success of this exercise is repetition...set up enough cones or poles up that the horse has a chance to repeat the pattern enough times to start to put his mind to "balancing" his body. For example, a figure 8 is too short, and they can miss the importance of balancing their body and driving or powering off their inside hindquarter. Whereas the repeated small left arc and small right arc in the weave pattern, doesn't give them enough time to get really crooked, lean or hang too much either to the left or the right. Also, set up an even number of cones or poles so you get a full left turn and a full right turn on either end of the pattern, this way you can easily feel if your horse is stronger or weaker, physically or mentally(...meaning willingness and obedience) on the left hind leg or the right hind leg.
In the beginning I just do it at a trot, that keeps the added complication and possible worrisome lead change out of the equation. I also carry on until the horse starts feeling like they are calm and are settling into a rhythm and getting the concept, and sometimes that takes some time and patients. If you add this to your daily or even weekly program, I believe you'll be surprised at how well your horse starts #1 listening to your aids, and #2 how well he starts moving and using himself. You'll start to uncover, or maybe even simply dust off the athlete that lives down inside him that you've been looking for ;-)
Go have some fun finding the "Power of the Weave!"