Keepin’ It Fresh—Equine Advice Column

The Box-Cloverleaf: Part 2

Expand on this arena exercise to help develop a neutral mindset in your horse, so he’s ready for anything.

By Kalley Krickeberg

Many get bored riding in an arena because they don’t know how to use it to its fullest extent. The Box-Cloverleaf Pattern can help change that. The box consists of four barrels in the center of the arena, set up in a square with about 10-12’ between barrels. The cloverleaf consists of four cones in the corners of the arena, and four cones at the center of each side.

In the last issue, I showed you how to use the Box-Cloverleaf Pattern to spice up your arena-riding time—this easy-to-build pattern offers you limitless opportunities to give yourself and your horse visual targets that can help create consistency and confidence.

With quality rewards to the horse for participating, like built-in rest stops, and quality corrections for the horse when he doesn’t participate to his fullest extent, you will eventually build to a complete revolution of a cloverleaf, where you travel around “quadrants” of your arena and through the box at the center—like a four-leaf clover. We want the horse to carry himself straight along the arena walls and toward or away from the center box, and to travel deep into the corners with good bend through his body. Your horse should be attentive, participating, ready to respond and calm.

Once you’ve mastered the three steps I outlined in the last issue—which broke down that ultimate, infinite cloverleaf into smaller sections—at the walk and trot, you’re ready to start incorporating the canter into your cloverleaf, too. If you get stuck at any point, go back to the previous step and make sure your fundamentals are solid before progressing again.

  1. Developing a good canter circle.

Starting in the center box, and facing the center cone on the long wall of your arena, ask your horse to step off into a left or right canter circle. If the horse rushes, make your circle small, wait for the horse to settle, then let him halt and rest in the box. If the horse is lazy, use a bigger circle; when he settles into the gait and quits making you urge him forward every step of the way, let him stop and rest in the box. Having the resting spot on the “edge” of the circle path helps reinforce that the horse shouldn’t drop his shoulder.

  1. Adding the canter to the cloverleaf.

Starting in the box, softly ask your horse to step off into a canter circle. As the horse completes his circle and passes through the box again, change your strong visual focus and aim the horse toward the center cone on the long wall. When you stop riding as you approach the cone and let your body and legs relax, your horse should stop, too. Let him rest.

Next, smoothly turn your horse left or right—whichever direction you originally picked for your canter circle—aim at a corner cone, and smoothly step the horse off into a canter again. If he wants to stop at the cone, push him forward; if he doesn’t ask to stop, then ask him to stop and rest. The goal is to build a neutral-minded horse—one that is not anticipating, yet is mentally participating. Repeat these steps until the horse can canter the entire pattern with straight lines and without rushing, being dull or cutting corners. This might take days, weeks or months.


This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Winter 2022 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join