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3 things to remember when preparing for your first show – By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

September 24, 2021

It may have been a year since you last competed or you’ve been anxiously awaiting your chance to attend your first show. You’ve done the work, you’ve practiced the tests at the level you plan to show, you have all the correct tack and attire, but you may have neglected a few things that could make all the difference on show day.

Trailer loading

Over the past year you may have been lucky to still have a place you could haul out to ride, even if it was to get out on a nice trail. If not, your horse may not have been off the property in a while. Taking a few days to practice trailer loading will pay off on show day. When those first show nerves are taking hold, or we are running late with last minute details, our horse picks up on those emotions and picks that moment not to load. Being confident your horse will load will make all the difference as you are departing for the show (trailer loading could be a whole other article, but for now we will just say… ‘be sure to practice before the big day!’ If you need help with this be sure to find someone – a coach/trainer/qualified friend or neighbour) – so that your horse has a good experience and builds confidence.

Prepare your horse to ride past the judges table, flower boxes, letters

The first time out to an event your horse may be more aware of his surroundings than you are used to. Be prepared with a plan. When we are getting our horses used to a scary object or area we usually start on the ground with a simple exercise.

  1. Lead the horse past the object/area with you between the horse and the area. By doing this the horse can look at the object, but still bend away from what he is worried about. Putting yourself in the middle shows the horse there is really nothing to worry about as you are not bothered to be beside it.
  2. Lead the horse from the offside of the object, but keep your body ahead of the horse to allow the horse to look at the object and bend his body away if he is still worried. The handler will keep his or her core in front of the horse’s nose, turning in the direction the horse is looking, drawing with an open inside hip (the hip closest to the horse’s head) to keep the horse moving forward. The leading hand will remain back under the horse’s throat to maintain contact guiding the horse in the direction you want him to move.
  3. Lead past the object asking your horse to stay in correct bend (not bending into you). Leading your horse from the left side, the object is to the right of the horse. You can use a dressage whip to tickle his belly to remind him to stay bent around you and not look away at the object.

Following this progression will teach the horse that you will not force him into something he is not ready for and build his confidence with an easy progression.

  • Now it’s time to bring this into riding. When you have a spot that your horse is worried about, allow the horse to bend away from the spot. For example, you are riding along the rail and your horse wants to counter-bend past a barrel in the corner. As you begin to feel him change bend, your aids will change. In true bend you ride the horse more from the inside leg, but when he counterbends, you will then change your bending aid to the outside leg (which is now your new inside leg). The horse will be bending around your new inside leg as he changes bend past the barrel. Your body will turn to be in the direction of the bend. This may turn into a bit of a leg yield off your new inside leg depending on how much the horse wants to move away from the object. Once the horse is past the scary barrel wait for him to begin to change to true bend before you change the aids and your body position. If doing this in a trot you will change your diagonal as the horse changes bend and then change back after the horse changes back to true bend.

This will keep the horse comfortable as he goes past the object. If we try to hold or force him to remain in true bend while he is nervous about an area he could invert (lift his head and hollow his back), creating more stress in his body. Once you have ridden past in this way a few times then you can start to ask him to stay in true bend as you go by (your horse will let you know when he is ready). The inside rein will block the horse from changing bend while the inside leg asks for bend.

Now how does this help you at the show?

First, do this with as many things as you can to get your horse used to the routine. Set up a table and have your friend sit there and move papers around. When you are at the show, the judge sits at C and will have a scribe with them. Sometimes the judge could be in a vehicle depending on weather or the show will have a box area for them to sit in. Bring out flower pots, white markers, etc. The more you can show your horse prior to the show the easier it will be for them to handle new things. You will have built up his confidence and your own!

Second, now that you know how to ride past ‘scary’ things, when you are in the ring for the warmup be sure to ride past the judge allowing the horse to look and change bend if he needs to. During the test you can use a very slight counter bend, if needed. Doing your homework will give your horse fewer things to be worried about.

Lastly, visualize your test

Even though Western Dressage shows allow you to have a reader all the way up to World level, visualizing the test will prepare your body for your ride. The more you visualize the more automatic your cues will be and you will have more confidence going into the test. Imagine that centreline straight as an arrow, your circles round and your corners as part of a 10-metre circle. As you visualize, ‘feel’ your ride.

Enjoy the process and have fun at your first show of the year!

Photos by Marc Lavigne. Rider Birgit Stutz. Horse “Shooter” (FS Firewater), a 13-year-old Arabian-quarter horse cross gelding. Shooter is ridden English and Western dressage and has also done some Working Equitation.

If you are unsure of where you are heading it is always a good idea to connect with a coach that knows the sport you want to prepare for. We (Lisa and Birgit) are both available for online and in-person lessons.

This article is part of an ongoing series of articles that appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis. The articles are a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz.

For the past five years, Lisa and Birgit have been writing monthly articles for SaddleUp on various topics related to Western dressage. For the coming year, Lisa and Birgit are encouraging readers to submit training questions to SaddleUp. Each month Lisa and Birgit will pick a question and write an article based on it. Be sure to send your questions to nancyroman@saddleup.ca as we will answer another reader question next month.

Lisa Wieben’s passion is empowering women in becoming confident and healthy riders. As an Energy Medicine Practitioner and Clinical Somatics Practitioner she addresses pain, tension, hormones, stress, and the issues that appear as a result. As a Centered Riding Instructor and Irwin Insights Master Level 7 Trainer she works with riders incorporating awareness exercises both on and off the horse. Balance the rider, balance the horse! Book a clinic that incorporates all the modalities! www.somaticrider.com

As an Irwin Insights Level 6 Master Certified trainer and coach, Birgit Stutz helps riders of all levels and backgrounds advance their horsemanship skills by developing personal and situational awareness, focusing on in-depth understanding of equine behaviour, body language, psychology and biomechanics. Driven by her passion for both equine welfare and performance, Birgit believes that facilitating effective communication between horse and rider is an approach that fulfills our responsibilities to the horse and elicits great results. www.fallingstarranch.ca.

The Mysterious Half-Halt: What is it and When to Use it – By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

September 12, 2021

You have heard us mention the half-halt in many of our articles. But what exactly is the half-halt, how do you set up for it, and when do you use it?

In Western riding the half-halt is commonly called a ‘check’ as you are basically checking in with the balance of your horse. Ideally when the horse is moving forward correctly his centre of balance will be placed under the rider’s centre of balance and the hind legs will be stepping under with the shoulders evenly balanced, without leaning in or out, and the horse will be in an uphill balance. The horse will be bending correctly on a bending line and will be straight on a straight line.

The horse’s weight has a tendency to move more forward which places more weight over the shoulders and ahead of the rider’s centre or more to one shoulder which causes the horse to drift out or in on a circle.

You can think of half-halts in two ways: rebalancing or corrective.

In a rebalancing half-halt the rider will check in with the horse’s balance by squeezing the rein. Ideally the horse will give immediately, the rider will release, then the horse will move into self-carriage. If the horse feels heavy, stiff, or doesn’t yield to the pressure, then the horse is missing some key points. He may not be bending correctly, the inside hind leg is not stepping under with the inside hip forward and he is not off the rider’s aids.

If on a circle half-halt from the inside rein. If the horse responds immediately the rider will feel the horse shift back, the inside leg will step under, the inside rein will remain soft when the rider gives and the horse will ‘fill’ the outside rein. The horse is now bending correctly on the circle with good self-carriage.

The rebalancing half-halt helps the horse move his centre of balance back toward the hind legs.

If he is stiff during the rebalancing and pushes against the rein this means the horse is out of alignment and you will move to the corrective half-halt. Something to practice is to check-in/rebalance every quarter of a circle and a few times during each maneuver. The rebalancing half-halt is a quick check in to make sure all is well. It can also be used just before a change of gait or before starting a maneuver to prepare the horse for the change. A rebalancing half-halt can also be used with the outside rein to rate speed if the horse is moving forward with quick steps or you need to slow the forward energy to perform a lateral movement.

The corrective half-halt is used when the horse is moving out of alignment and needs more correction than just shifting the weight back. In this case there are four other corrections that may need to be made: more weight to inside shoulder, more weight to outside shoulder, shoulder falling into circle while haunches drift out, or shoulders drifting out while haunches move in.

In these cases the rider will not only use the rebalancing half-halt, but will also use the seat and legs to encourage the horse to shift his weight back and bring the body back under the rider with correct bend.

For example:

1) If the horse is falling too much to the inside of the circle the weight will move to the inside shoulder or the weight shifts to the outside shoulder causing the outside shoulder to bulge out. The hind legs will not be stepping under the body. The rider can use an indirect rein against the shoulder to move the shoulders back in front of the hind legs while guarding the position of the hip with her legs. The horse’s inside hind will step more under the centre and the inside rein will become soft once the horse is rebalanced on the circle.

In this photo the horse is leaning in with weight on the inside shoulder, as well as moving the haunches to the outside. The rider can correct this by using the outside rein to guard the horse from overbending and falling in (rein opens slightly with contact) and the inside rein to help guide the horse back onto the circle with an indirect pressure on the neck. The rider’s outside leg will move back slightly to guide the hip back behind the shoulder. The horse may need a half-halt on the outside rein to prevent him from speeding up as the rider adds the leg or on the inside rein to maintain flexion as the horse steps more underneath.
Here the horse is more balanced over all four legs and is stepping the inside hind under the rider’s centre and between the front two hoof prints. He is also filling the outside rein.

2) The horse may shift his haunches into or out of the line of the circle. In this case the rider will half-halt while using his inside or outside leg to move the horse’s hips back into position. The aids need to be used simultaneously.

Horse moving haunches to the inside of circle. Notice the inside hind leg to the inside of the inside front footfall. To correct, the rider will move her inside leg back to push the hips out while having an indirect outside rein to guard the shoulders and maintain tempo.

3) The horse moves the shoulders in while shifting the haunches out – the rider will use an inside indirect rein against the shoulder to move the shoulder out while using her outside leg to bring the haunches back in line.

4) The horse drifts out with the shoulders while moving the haunches in – the rider will use an indirect outside rein against the shoulders while using an inside leg to move the haunches out.

In these cases the rein not be applied to the neck can give a subtle rebalancing halt-halt which will slow the horse down slightly which will shift the weight back. This rein will also prevent the horse from moving too far in the opposite direction. After the correction is applied the result will be more bend and self-carriage.

Horse moving in uphill balance with even connection on both reins.
 
Note: The horse pictured is a young warmblood who has a tendency to be very wiggly. When riding on a circle the rider uses half-halts, both to check balance and as a corrective aid in order to guide him to straightness. This horse will be ridden in Western  and English Dressage. At this time the English saddle fits him well.
 
Horse: Pirro, 6-year-old warmblood gelding
Rider Lisa Wieben
Photos by Gary Wieben

Half-halts may be used during shoulder-in, haunches-in, leg yield, half-pass, etc. as the horse may also move his weight more to one shoulder or drift more in or out with haunches. The key to effective half-halts is becoming aware of where the body is situated and being able to feel the difference in the hands. Finding this feeling will help the rider correct the horse when on straight lines as well as the rider will begin to feel immediately when the weight shifts forward or the horse moves out of alignment. The mouth of the horse will tell if the horse is balanced. If the horse feels heavy, pushy, not yielding, then that is a sign to correct the body. Change the body, the head will follow. Corrections cannot be made head first, it always comes back to the body alignment.

When applying the half-halt the squeeze of the hand should be like Centered Riding’s idea of squeezing a bird. Your goal is a light squeeze to hold the bird, but you also want to keep the bird alive! Your corrective aid is applied until the horse responds. Sally Swift said, “Ask, Receive, Give”.

When executing a half-halt the rider will sit deeply in the saddle, breathing down into her centre. By continuing to breathe the body will carry less tension which could be transferred to the horse. If doing a ‘check’ the rider will squeeze the rein, wait for  the change (a stride or two), then release. In a corrective half-halt the rider will sit deeply with legs ready to aid in moving the hips into position or to maintain position of hips. The rider’s legs also keep the horse using the hind legs under the body as opposed to letting them move behind with a longer back. Think of the image of your horse staying within a circle – round back, stepping under the body. The hands will work together; if the inside rein is moving against the shoulder to block the shoulder from falling in or to help move it over, the outside rein opens to allow the shoulder to move over. If the outside rein is against the outside shoulder, the inside rein will open. Maintain even contact on each rein throughout the correction. When the horse rebalances, the inside rein will feel softer and the horse will fill the outside rein. The rider will use her torso to help with the rebalancing; legs, seat, and hands work together. As the rider squeezes the rein the shoulder blades will move toward the spine, the seat will deepen, the lower back will remain flat (arching will lose the effectiveness of the half-halt) and the legs will guide the horse into the reins.

The half-halt is mysterious because there are so many times we use them during a ride. With practice they will become second nature and feel, timing, and balance will be improved!

As always have fun and feel the difference it makes in your horse!

If you are unsure of where you are heading it is always a good idea to connect with a coach that knows the sport you want to prepare for. We (Lisa and Birgit) are both available for online and in-person lessons.

This article is part of an ongoing series of articles that appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis. The articles are a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz.

For the past five years, Lisa and Birgit have been writing monthly articles for SaddleUp on various topics related to Western dressage. For the coming year, Lisa and Birgit are encouraging readers to submit training questions to SaddleUp. Each month Lisa and Birgit will pick a question and write an article based on it. Be sure to send your questions to nancyroman@saddleup.ca as we will answer another reader question next month.

Lisa Wieben’s passion is empowering women in becoming confident and healthy riders. As an Energy Medicine Practitioner and Clinical Somatics Practitioner she addresses pain, tension, hormones, stress, and the issues that appear as a result. As a Centered Riding Instructor and Irwin Insights Master Level 7 Trainer she works with riders incorporating awareness exercises both on and off the horse. Balance the rider, balance the horse! Book a clinic that incorporates all the modalities! www.somaticrider.com

As an Irwin Insights Level 6 Master Certified trainer and coach, Birgit Stutz helps riders of all levels and backgrounds advance their horsemanship skills by developing personal and situational awareness, focusing on in-depth understanding of equine behaviour, body language, psychology and biomechanics. Driven by her passion for both equine welfare and performance, Birgit believes that facilitating effective communication between horse and rider is an approach that fulfills our responsibilities to the horse and elicits great results. www.fallingstarranch.ca.

Leg yield exercise – By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

June 6, 2021

This is a very basic exercise, but when done with consistency it can have a huge impact on the horse’s suppleness, balance, and strength. It will also improve your dressage scores by training the horse to maintain the line of travel rather than leaning into a bend. Accurate figures are a welcome result!

This exercise will set the horse up for balanced changes of bend. It is a great warm-up exercise starting out at the walk and progressing to the working jog. It can be ridden on a figure eight, serpentine, loop, or change of rein across the arena. Our favourite way to start is by riding random bending lines. This allows you to decide when the horse is ready for the change rather than trying to force the changes with the horse feeling tight or quick.

Ride around the arena on random bending lines, starting out in left bend. Straighten the horse from your right leg, then initiate the change of bend from your right leg. Now leg yield the horse a step or two off your right leg away from the new bend (leg yield to the left, the horse is in right bend) before turning right. This prevents the horse from falling in on the turn. Continue in right bend, then straighten the horse from your left leg, ask for change of bend from your left leg, leg yield the horse off your left leg for a step or two (moving the horse to the right in left bend), then turn left. Keep repeating the exercise.

Practicing changes of bends with a leg yield away from the new turn will teach the horse to keep the inside shoulder up on the turn. As an added bonus this will improve your lope departs later in your ride!

Riding the right circle

Straightened out changing to left bend

Rider aids for leg yield

* Sit tall with eyes forward (remember to always look where you are going!) and shoulders parallel to the horse’s shoulders. Your body should always turn in the direction of the bend.

* Shift your weight very slightly in the direction of travel (leg yield to the right, shift right). The horse will balance under the rider’s weight. Shifting in the direction you want your horse to move will aid the horse to the direction as well as creating lightness in the rider’s inside hip, aiding the horse to bring his inside hind up and forward.

* Ask your horse to move sideways a step or two by applying your inside leg directly below your centre, in rhythm with the swing of the horse’s barrel (apply leg pressure as the barrel swings away from the inside leg as this is the timing when the inside hind leg is moving forward and can cross over).

* Your outside lower leg maintains light contact so that it is able to ask for forward movement if the horse begins to slow down and also to prevent the horse from moving over too quickly from the rider’s inside leg, or to prevent the hip from leading the movement. The rider’s upper inner thigh can block the horse’s shoulder’s from moving over too quickly along with the outside rein.

* The outside rein is a supporting rein and guides the horse into the direction of travel, while also preventing the horse from overbending through his neck and bulging through the outside shoulder. Use half-halts to maintain the straightness of the movement as well as rhythm.

* Gently apply the inside rein for slight flexion at the poll. Keep consistent, elastic contact (not alternating slack and tight). If you use too much inside rein the horse’s shoulders will bulge out in the direction of the movement and he will lose his rhythm. Keep a slight space between the inside rein and the horse’s neck to allow freedom of movement in the horse’s shoulder.

As you ride random bending lines the horse should be able to maintain a level headset. If the horse inverts (lifts up his) as you begin to ask him to straighten, then go back into the same bending line asking for more bend from your inside leg. Repeat asking for the horse to straighten until the horse can come through the change without inverting, then ask for the new bend. Maintain connection from back to front using your seat and legs to send him forward into your receiving (never pulling) hands.

Moving off the left leg before riding the left circle

Moving off the right leg before riding the right circle

When you practice your next dressage test or work on movements use this exercise to set up the horse for the corners at the end of a loop or change of rein across the diagonal or the half circle onto centreline. For example, when changing rein across the diagonal, change bend just past the quarter line, then leg yield a step or two to the letter, then ride the corner or make the turn onto the track (short diagonal).

Elsie is demonstrating a common mistake: as the rider is turning left, her inside hand has pulled back to ask for the bend and the outside rein has released forward. This creates an overbend in the neck and moves the horse’s weight onto the outside front. The shoulder will end up leading in the leg yield rather than the whole body moving together.

When performing this movement in the show ring the rider will take out the leg yield steps, but will “think” leg yield, keeping the aids in place to prevent the horse from falling in.

To view a video of this exercise, check out https://youtu.be/CSYKFEFC05U.

As always have fun and feel the difference it makes in your horse!

Elise Petitjean riding Master Scout Gunsmoke aka Smokey. Photos and video by Lisa Wieben.

If you are unsure of where you are heading it is always a good idea to connect with a coach that knows the sport you want to prepare for. We (Lisa and Birgit) are both available for online and in-person lessons.

This article is part of an ongoing series of articles that appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis. The articles are a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz.

For the past five years, Lisa and Birgit have been writing monthly articles for SaddleUp on various topics related to Western dressage. For the coming year, Lisa and Birgit are encouraging readers to submit training questions to SaddleUp. Each month Lisa and Birgit will pick a question and write an article based on it. Be sure to send your questions to nancyroman@saddleup.ca as we will answer another reader question next month.

Lisa Wieben’s passion is empowering women in becoming confident and healthy riders. As an Energy Medicine Practitioner and Clinical Somatics Practitioner she addresses pain, tension, hormones, stress, and the issues that appear as a result. As a Centered Riding Instructor and Irwin Insights Master Level 7 Trainer she works with riders incorporating awareness exercises both on and off the horse. Balance the rider, balance the horse! Book a clinic that incorporates all the modalities! www.somaticrider.com

As an Irwin Insights Level 6 Master Certified trainer and coach, Birgit Stutz helps riders of all levels and backgrounds advance their horsemanship skills by developing personal and situational awareness, focusing on in-depth understanding of equine behaviour, body language, psychology and biomechanics. Driven by her passion for both equine welfare and performance, Birgit believes that facilitating effective communication between horse and rider is an approach that fulfills our responsibilities to the horse and elicits great results. www.fallingstarranch.ca.

Serpentine-Zig zag pole exercise – By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

April 4, 2021

Here’s another simple exercise that doesn’t require much to set up and greatly improves the horse’s suppleness, balance and strength. It is also a great exercise for the rider as it teaches to turn from the centre of her body and to keep rein aids at a minimum. As the rider maneuvers the horse through the different exercises the horse will begin to develop a greater sense of balance and will begin to adjust tempo for the strides required over the poles.

All you need is six poles laid out in three sets of two pairs down the centre of the arena. Each pair is set approximately 8 to 10 metres from the next pair. The pairs of poles are set into the point of a triangle with approximately three strides between the pair of poles, measuring from the centre of one pole to the centre of the next pole. The poles used in our exercise are 12 feet long and the arena is closer to a 20x40m ring.

The setup

There are many different ways to ride this exercise:

  • Ride a three-loop serpentine riding over the points of each set of poles.
  • Ride straight up the centreline of the poles.
  • Ride big loops from one side of the set around to the other side, then move to the next set in the same way.
  • Randomly ride around the arena and over random poles can also be fun and keeps the horse from trying to anticipate.

Start riding over the poles in a working walk to familiarize yourself with the patterns before progressing to a working jog. Work on precision rather than speed. All of the above patterns can be ridden in working jog until the horse is comfortable, relaxed, and confident.

When randomly riding through the poles you can change gait often. Perhaps jog over a pole, pick up the lope and lope over a pole, come down to a walk and walk over a set. You could also stop and sidepass part of a pole or the whole set. If you position the horse’s body to the inside of the set, with the front legs on the outside, you will do a step or two of turn on the haunches to get around the tip of the set before continuing the sidepass down the next pole. If the horse is positioned with the front legs to the inside of the set you will then do a step or two of turn on the forehand to go past the tip.

There are so many fun ways to use this set up!

Ride wide, big loops to create a nice bend through the horse’s body. Riding big loops increases suppleness. Riding straight lines improves balance and straightness.

We’ve talked about what happens during a bending motion in previous articles, but it is worth repeating. When riding a horse on a bending line, the horse’s muscles on the inside of the bend contract and shorten through the topline and sides of the body, bringing the front and hind end closer to each other. On the outside of the bend the muscles lengthen to allow the bend on the inside. During this exercise the muscles contract and then lengthen, working both sides of the body equally.


Starting the serpentine riding over the points of the sets.

Rider aids

Remember to always look where you are going and turn your body in the direction of the bend. Use your inside (of the bend) leg to aid the horse into each bend. Your hands will follow the turn of your body. If your horse needs more help turning, use your outside aids – the outside rein against the neck will help turn the shoulder and your outside leg against the horse’s side will help turn the body. Pulling on the inside rein could cause the horse’s neck to overbend, which will then allow the body to continue to drift away from the turn. Thinking of your reins and legs as blocking where you don’t want the horse to go and funneling the horse where you do want to go will also help.

Your horse should change from bend to bend without inverting (lifting his head and hollowing his back). If the horse inverts while going over the pole or starts to lean into the turn and not bend through his rib cage the exercise will not be as effective. If your horse wants to fall in into the turn leg yield him out for a step or two.

Be sure to keep the horse connected from back to front using your seat and legs to send him forward into your receiving (never pulling) hands. Your horse will be using many different muscles as he bends his body in both directions and lifts when going over the poles.


From here Lisa will now ride an arc to the left and ride over the first green and white pole.
If you think of the arcs as circles that won’t completely close it will be easier to find the line of travel.

To view a video on these exercises, check out Serpentine Zig Zag Exercise with Poles on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXGQNKGNkcM)

The horse ridden in the video has not had a lot of experience with pole work so it proved to be a very beneficial exercise for him. He became more comfortable the more he was worked over the poles. You will be able to see his unbalanced moments and when he needed to adjust his stride length.

Lisa Wieben riding 8-year-old AQHA gelding, Krymsuns Blue Image, owned by Kaylee Leinweber.
Photos and video by Gary Wieben.

Have fun with this exercise and feel the difference it makes in your horse!

If you are unsure of where you are heading it is always a good idea to connect with a coach that knows the sport you want to prepare for. We (Lisa and Birgit) are both available for online and in-person lessons.

This article is part of an ongoing series of articles that appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis. The articles are a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz.

For the past five years, Lisa and Birgit have been writing monthly articles for SaddleUp on various topics related to Western dressage. For the coming year, Lisa and Birgit are encouraging readers to submit training questions to SaddleUp. Each month Lisa and Birgit will pick a question and write an article based on it. Be sure to send your questions to nancyroman@saddleup.ca as we will answer another reader question next month.

Lisa Wieben’s passion is empowering women in becoming confident and healthy riders. As an Energy Medicine Practitioner and Clinical Somatics Practitioner she addresses pain, tension, hormones, stress, and the issues that appear as a result. As a Centered Riding Instructor and Irwin Insights Master Level 7 Trainer she works with riders incorporating awareness exercises both on and off the horse. Balance the rider, balance the horse! Book a clinic that incorporates all the modalities! www.somaticrider.com

As an Irwin Insights Level 6 Master Certified trainer and coach, Birgit Stutz helps riders of all levels and backgrounds advance their horsemanship skills by developing personal and situational awareness, focusing on in-depth understanding of equine behaviour, body language, psychology and biomechanics. Driven by her passion for both equine welfare and performance, Birgit believes that facilitating effective communication between horse and rider is an approach that fulfills our responsibilities to the horse and elicits great results. www.fallingstarranch.ca.

New to Western Dressage – Where to begin? By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

March 7, 2021

You’ve decided Western Dressage is something you want to try. Now what? How do you get started?

First on the list is to find clubs in your area or province that you can go to with questions. They will be able to tell you which rules and tests they follow as there are a few different ones to choose from. They will either be Western Style Dressage Association of Canada or Western Dressage Association of America or Horse Council BC tests. Each association has their own tests so you will want to know that you are practicing the correct ones. The rules will let you know what tack and attire is acceptable. Check for any local clubs that are offering shows and clinics. Also check with English Dressage Associations as most shows offer Western Dressage classes.

Attire is what you feel most comfortable in as it can range from jeans and a western shirt, to full show attire and chaps, to chinks, tall boots, and a western shirt with or without a vest. Shows in Canada require helmets to be worn.

Once you know which rules/tests you will be required to learn then you can start to look at what the judge will be looking for.

In the lower levels (Introductory-walk/jog and Basic – walk/jog/lope) the first three levels of the dressage training scale will be the most important to focus on.

Rhythm – work on getting a consistent rhythm and tempo at each gait. If the horse is constantly speeding up/slowing down, it will detract from the performance and cause tension.

Imagine riding to a metronome. 1,2,3,4 for a walk, 1-2, 1-2 for a working jog, 1,2,3, 1,2,3 for a lope. The pace should be nice and even. Too quick, and the horse will likely show tension. Too slow, the horse will likely not track up. Ideally the horse will step his hind foot into the front foot step. Depending on the conformation of the horse, some horses will step over the front foot step while others will have trouble tracking up fully. Eyes on the ground can help you determine where your horse is stepping. Stepping over is ok.

Relaxation – this goes along with rhythm – as the horse relaxes it is easier to maintain a consistent rhythm. Relaxation describes a calm demeanor as well as a supple body without muscle tension. A horse that is comfortable with the movements will be relaxed.

Connection – this is the push from behind into the rider’s hands, also called contact. Contact should be light and elastic, following the movement of the horse.

In the lower levels the ring size will be 20 metres x 40 metres. One of the main components to work on is the 20-metre circle. Sounds easy, but it takes time to master (check our article in the May 2016 issue of SaddleUp). Many horses will want to fall in or drift out, or keep their body too straight if they are lacking suppleness. Every test will have a 20-metre circle so it is always good to practice this.

To turn onto the centreline you will need to ride half a 10-metre circle to line up to the centreline and a half 10-metre circle to return to the rail at the end of the line. Measuring the circles out and setting out pylons or markers will help tremendously as you practice!

Working on the basics is the perfect thing to do in the winter months. Strong basics will carry you through all levels of dressage. Even the top dressage riders still need to work on rhythm, relaxation, and connection when practicing flying lead changes and advanced lateral work. Spending lots of time here will pay off later.

Here is an exercise that you can do to start working on all three components:

Measure out a 20-metre circle and place a pole at each quarter of the circle with the outside edge of the pole set just outside of the circle (we used 12-foot poles in the photos). You can raise the inside end of the pole, which will discourage the horse from leaning into the circle as they spiral in.

The layout. Poles are measured 10 metres from the centre pylon to the last white marking on poles. Poles are 12 feet long. Blocks are 6” in height.

There are several ways to ride this layout.

  1. Ride the outside of the circle away from the poles in walk, jog, and lope, practicing transitions.
  2. Ride over the pole to the outside of the circle (with our painted poles we can pick the color to ride over). If the inside edge of the poles are raised you would start to the low side.
  3. Spiral the circle in from the outside edge of the poles to the middle of the poles, then to the inside edge of the poles, finish by riding a circle on the inside of the poles without going over the poles (do one circle with each new circle size to give the horse a chance to adjust.) Slowly spiral back out either using a leg yield or guiding the horse from your body. Note: the amount you spiral in will depend on the ability of your horse. If the horse starts to struggle, lean in, or wants to speed up or slow down, immediately move back out on the circle.
  4. 20-metre circles/10-metre circles. ride to the outside edge of the poles or over the outside part of the pole on the 20-metre circle. As you get to each pole ride a small circle around the pole. It will help in the beginning to have markers set to determine the size of a 10-metre circle. This is a great suppling exercise and perfect practice for both the 20- and 10-metre circles that you will need in the ring.
  5. Feeling confident with your lope you can ride outside of the poles in working jog, pick up your lope, then lope over a pole, then back to the outside of the circle. Work up to going over all the poles. This will take time for the horse and rider to gauge the distance, but is something to work up to.
Riding the 10-metre circle. Nice bend in the circle. Rider is looking ahead on the circle.

Turn on the haunches in centre of spiral (as seen in the video).
Jogging over the pole.

There are certainly more ways to add onto this exercise, but for now this will have you working on the three basics of the lower levels.

For a video on these exercises, check out https://youtu.be/wnQmxmdOBlE

Lisa Wieben riding You Otta Have Me, 8-year-old APHA/AQHA mare. Photos by Gary Wieben

If you are unsure of where you are heading it is always a good idea to connect with a coach that knows the sport you want to prepare for. We (Lisa and Birgit) are both available for online and in-person lessons.

This article is part of an ongoing series of articles that appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis. The articles are a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz.

For the past five years, Lisa and Birgit have been writing monthly articles for SaddleUp on various topics related to Western dressage. For the coming year, Lisa and Birgit are encouraging readers to submit training questions to SaddleUp. Each month Lisa and Birgit will pick a question and write an article based on it. Be sure to send your questions to nancyroman@saddleup.ca as we will answer another reader question next month.

Lisa Wieben’s passion is empowering women in becoming confident and healthy riders. As an Energy Medicine Practitioner and Clinical Somatics Practitioner she addresses pain, tension, hormones, stress, and the issues that appear as a result. As a Centered Riding Instructor and Irwin Insights Master Level 7 Trainer she works with riders incorporating awareness exercises both on and off the horse. Balance the rider, balance the horse! Book a clinic that incorporates all the modalities! www.somaticrider.com

As an Irwin Insights Level 6 Master Certified trainer and coach, Birgit Stutz helps riders of all levels and backgrounds advance their horsemanship skills by developing personal and situational awareness, focusing on in-depth understanding of equine behaviour, body language, psychology and biomechanics. Driven by her passion for both equine welfare and performance, Birgit believes that facilitating effective communication between horse and rider is an approach that fulfills our responsibilities to the horse and elicits great results. www.fallingstarranch.ca.

Flying lead changes. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

December 20, 2020

This is the third and last article in our series on how to develop flying lead changes. The focus of this article is how to perform flying lead changes.

A flying lead change simply means that the horse changes leads at the lope without dropping down to a jog or walk. A flying lead change is simply another lope stride. Therefore the quality of the lope is important. If the lope is four-beat or flat, the horse won’t have time to switch his legs in the air.

Before asking your horse for flying lead changes, he should be able to execute simple changes through the walk and jog, be balanced and relaxed, without tension, at both the lope and counter-lope, and move forward freely with good impulsion, rhythm, and soft contact. The horse should also understand and accept half-halts and be moving off the leg rider’s leg well.

There are several ways to practice flying changes.

  • Ask for a flying lead change on a figure of eight. Ride one to two strides straight through the centre in order to change bend and ask for the lead change.
  • Ask the horse for counter-canter, then ask for a flying lead change. This can be performed either on a straight-away or on a circle. If riding on a circle the horse will be in counter-canter, bending around the rider’s outside leg (of the circle). Ask the horse to change bend while maintaining the counter-canter, then ask for the lead change.
  • Set out a couple of ground poles towards the end of each diagonal. Lope around the arena across the diagonals and ask for a lead change over each pole. The horse will change bend prior to going over the pole.
  • Ask for a flying lead change from a half pass. For example, ride up the centreline in left lead, half-pass left to the track, ride forward a stride or two, change bend, then ask for the change before the corner.
  • Change rein across the diagonal, asking for a flying lead change on the diagonal as the horse changes bend before the corner.
  • Ride down the centre-line, then change leads  approximately at the last letter before changing direction.
Riding a circle in counter-canter (right lead). The mare is flexed slightly to the right.
Moment of suspension. The new inside hind is coming forward. The mare has changed to true bend.
The left lead push off leg (right hind) has touched down and is pushing off into the new lead.
Left lead stride.

Rider position and aids for a flying lead change from left leg to right leg

Pick up the left lead lope.

The rider’s inside left leg is at the girth, while the outside right leg is slightly behind the girth. The outside right leg stays on the horse to maintain the correct lead.

The outside right rein maintains the degree of bend while the inside left rein is for flexion. Remember the horse’s nose should always be in front of the middle of the horse’s chest. The bend is through the horse’s body, not just the neck.

Keep your shoulders aligned with the horse’s shoulders so that they point slightly in the direction of the leading leg. This will help keep the horse balanced in the direction of the leading leg.

The rider’s inside hip (in line with the lead leg) will move further forward and will also make a larger circle in the seat than the outside hip.

Remember that your core should always point into the direction of the horse’s bend.

Ask the horse for a change of bend before asking for the lead change. Straighten the horse and ask for the new bend from your seat and new inside (right) leg by applying pressure at the girth. Move your new inside (right) hip forward (similar to the scoop of the hip as you ask for a lead). The new outside left leg slides back as the inside leg comes forward to signal the new outside (left) hind leg to strike off into the new (right) lead.

Be sure to soften your right rein so you don’t block the new inside front leg from coming forward.

The timing of the aids is very important when asking for a flying lead change. Give the aids as the horse’s leading front leg is coming forward, just before the period of suspension, because it takes your horse a moment to process and carry out your request.

As always be patient with your horse. It is common for a lot of horses to become excited when first asking them to execute a flying lead change and they may be anticipating or rushing or inverting. If the horse inverts this tells you that the horse is not balanced and needs to work more on rhythm, suppleness, and balance. Go back to practicing simple lead changes and counter-canter. When preparing for the lead change the horse must move well off the rider’s legs. As the horse changes bend, the rider’s new inside leg will prevent the horse from falling into the lead and changing front end first. Suppleness to the rider’s aids is key to performing seamless changes!

To prevent the horse from anticipating the changes alternate practice days, ride the horse on the line you plan to change on, but change your mind and do a counter-canter, simple change, or a transition down. Keep the horse guessing as to what you are going to ask. This will also keep the horse listening and waiting for your cues.

Have fun and enjoy the journey!

Horse: You Otta Have Me. Rider Lisa Wieben. Photos by Gary Wieben.

Note: This mare is very new to lead changes so she is elevating more as she lifts through the change. As she becomes more balanced and comfortable with the changes she will stay more level headed and round at the moment of the change.

This article is part of an ongoing series of articles that appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis. The articles are a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz.

For the past five years, Lisa and Birgit have been writing monthly articles for SaddleUp on various topics related to Western dressage. For the coming year, Lisa and Birgit are encouraging readers to submit training questions to SaddleUp. Each month Lisa and Birgit will pick a question and write an article based on it.

Lisa Wieben is a versatile and exceptional riding coach, balancing her skills as a Level 2 Centered Riding Instructor, Equine Canada Western Competition Coach, and Irwin Insights Level 7 Master Certified Trainer. Currently specializing in Western and English Dressage, she trains youth, adult amateurs, and professionals as well as coaching a local 4H group at her facility near Bowden/Olds, AB. Through dressage and foundational training she helps riders of all disciplines create stronger partnerships with their horses. Also, as a Hanna Somatic Instructor and Practitioner in Training, Lisa works with riders, in class or privately, learning movement exercises that target specific muscle issues in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and overuse. Her approach, using Dressage, Centered Riding, Irwin Insights principles, and Somatics, all come together to develop a balanced rider and a balanced horse. http://www.mountainviewtrainingstables.com.

Birgit Stutz is an Irwin Insights Level 6 Master Certified Trainer and offers horse training, riding lessons in the English and Western disciplines, horsemanship clinics, mentorship programs, intensive horsemanship courses, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, as well as working student programs at Falling Star Ranch Academy of Foundational Horsemanship in Dunster, BC. Birgit’s passion is to help humans have a better relationship with their horses through understanding of equine psychology and body language, biomechanics, as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage. http://www.fallingstarranch.ca.

Simple lead changes. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

November 22, 2020

This is the second article in our three-part series on how to develop flying lead changes.

The focus of this article is simple lead changes through the jog and walk.

In Western Dressage we can see the progression of the lope work through each level leading up to the flying lead change.

In Level 1 simple changes are done through the jog on the long diagonal, with three to five strides of jog in-between.

In Level 2 simple changes are done on the short diagonal through the walk (3-5 steps). In test 4 the rider is required to ride a half 10-metre circle at M, back to the rail at B, counter-lope down the wall, then execute a simple lead change through walk at F. The same pattern is ridden on the opposite side of the arena, with the half 10-metre circle starting at H, back to the rail at E, counter-lope down the track followed by a simple lead change at K.

In Level 3 the simple lead change is through the walk over X (E-B line) and on the centreline (A-C line) as well as simple lead changes on a three-loop serpentine.

Before asking your horse for simple lead changes, he should be balanced and relaxed, without tension, at both the lope and counter-lope and move forward freely with good impulsion, rhythm, and soft contact. The horse should also understand and accept half-halts and be moving off the leg rider’s leg well.

A simple way to start asking for the simple change is on a figure 8. Start out by picking up the left lead lope on a 20-metre circle. Five to six strides before X shorten the lope with collecting half-halts before you ask for the downward transition to jog or walk. Remember to inhale and grow tall to let the horse know that a change is about to happen followed by an exhale for the downward transition.

Before X transition down to a jog or walk. Be sure to maintain the horse’s bend into the jog or walk with your inside (left) leg and rein. Then straighten the horse, a stride or two before X, from your seat and right leg, ride straight for a couple of strides over X, then ask for right bend from your seat and right leg by applying pressure at the girth. Pick up the right lead and ride a 20-metre circle to the right. In the beginning you can allow for more steps of the jog or walk until the horse maintains balance. The key is to maintain the bend of the circle during the downward transition, then to have a couple strides of straightness before changing bend into the new lead.

Simple lead changes on a figure eight:
Downward transition to jog from the left lead.

If the horse has a tendency to fall in when asking for the new lead, ask for a few steps of leg yield away from the new bend (bending right, leg yield to left) before asking for the new lead.

If the horse doesn’t fall in or doesn’t invert (high head with hollow back), you won’t need to ask for a leg yield.

Before decreasing the number of jog steps, straighten the horse out at the lope before asking for the downward transition to jog. Create the new bend in the horse, then ask for the new lead. If the horse inverts this tells you that the horse is not balanced and needs to work more on rhythm, suppleness, and balance. Go back to doing the transition with bend.

In the next step start decreasing the amount of jog steps. If the horse stays straight for only two jog steps he is ready for flying changes.


Simple lead changes on a figure eight:
Straightening for a stride or two.

Horses that are more naturally balanced will not need to spend as much time doing counter-lope and simple lead changes as they will be more balanced for the flying changes.

Simple lead changes on a figure eight:
Changing bend before asking for the right lead.

Rider position and aids

The rider’s inside leg is at the girth, while the outside leg is slightly behind the girth. The outside leg stays on the horse to maintain the correct lead.

The outside rein maintains the degree of bend while the inside rein is for flexion. Remember the horse’s nose should always be in front of the middle of the horse’s chest.

Keep your shoulders aligned with the horse’s shoulders so that they point slightly in the direction of the leading leg. This will help keep the horse balanced in the direction of the leading leg.

When asking the horse for straightness, always ask from your outside leg (outside of the horse’s bend), not the rein.

Remember that your core should always point into the direction of the horse’s bend.

As always be patient with your horse. It is common for a lot of horses to become excited when first asking them to perform simple lead changes and they may be anticipating and rushing or inverting. Instead of practicing this every time you ride alternate training days with other activities such as pole work, lateral work, or a trail ride.

Have fun and enjoy the journey!

For a video on these exercises check out https://youtu.be/i76B2dVepjc.

Horse: You Otta Have Me. Rider Lisa Wieben. Photos by Gary Wieben.

This article is part of an ongoing series of articles that appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis. The articles are a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz.

Lisa Wieben is a versatile and exceptional riding coach, balancing her skills as a Level 2 Centered Riding Instructor, Equine Canada Western Competition Coach, and Irwin Insights Level 7 Master Certified Trainer. Currently specializing in Western and English Dressage, she trains youth, adult amateurs, and professionals as well as coaching a local 4H group at her facility near Bowden/Olds, AB. Through dressage and foundational training she helps riders of all disciplines create stronger partnerships with their horses. Also, as a Hanna Somatic Instructor and Practitioner in Training, Lisa works with riders, in class or privately, learning movement exercises that target specific muscle issues in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and overuse. Her approach, using Dressage, Centered Riding, Irwin Insights principles, and Somatics, all come together to develop a balanced rider and a balanced horse. http://www.mountainviewtrainingstables.com.

Birgit Stutz is an Irwin Insights Level 6 Master Certified Trainer and offers horse training, riding lessons in the English and Western disciplines, horsemanship clinics, mentorship programs, intensive horsemanship courses, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, as well as working student programs at Falling Star Ranch Academy of Foundational Horsemanship in Dunster, BC. Birgit’s passion is to help humans have a better relationship with their horses through understanding of equine psychology and body language, biomechanics, as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage. http://www.fallingstarranch.ca.

Developing the counter-lope. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

November 10, 2020

Our next three articles will focus on how to develop flying lead changes.

Using Western Dressage principles we can see the progression of the lope work through each level leading up to the flying change.

Before asking your horse for counter-lope, he should be relaxed (without tension) and balanced in both lope leads and move forward freely with good impulsion, rhythm, and soft contact. The horse should also understand and accept half-halts and be moving off the leg rider’s leg well.

When a horse is very balanced he will naturally change leads when changing directions without his rider asking for a lead change in order to maintain his balance. However, in order to perform flying lead changes, the horse needs to learn to wait for the rider’s aids before changing the lead. So before teaching a horse flying lead changes under the rider, the horse needs to be confirmed in maintaining the lope lead asked of him.

The counter-lope is a balanced lope performed on the outside lead, so for example if the horse is tracking right, the rider asks the horse to lope on the left lead. Another way to look at it would be that the horse changes the bending line, but does not change lead, for example when riding a serpentine in left lead where two of the loops are to the left, the middle loop would be ridden in counter-lope if there were no change of lead.

It is important to understand that there is a difference between a horse loping on the wrong lead and a horse who is in a counter-lope. A horse who is loping on the wrong lead usually does so because he is weak or stiff on one side, whereas the counter-lope is first and foremost a suppling and strengthening exercise. If ridden correctly, the counter-lope not only improves the quality of the lope, straightness and balance, but also the connection with the outside rein as well as improving the horse’s collection.

The following are some specific exercises to help develop the counter-lope. All of these are ridden in the 20x60m arena.

In Level 1 Western Dressage you will be asked to ride:

1) a shallow loop to the quarter-line:

  • Begin in working lope left lead. At F turn off the wall and begin an arc out to the quarter line.
  • As you begin the gradual arc the horse will be in counter-lope (a few strides before the centre point, across from B, and a few strides after the midway point).
  • As the horse is coming back to the long side at M he will be in true working lope as he comes back to the track and into the corner.
  • The horse never changes bend from the time he comes off the track, through the loop, and as he comes back to the track.

In Level 2 Western Dressage you will be asked to ride:

2) a loop through X (the centreline): this requires a larger arc so the degree of difficulty is slightly harder as the horse must maintain the bend and lead throughout.

3) serpentine three equal loops quarter line to quarter line, maintaining the same lead.

In Level 3 the rider will be asked to perform:

4) a three-loop serpentine the width of the arena with no change of lead. To perform this maneuver the rider will follow the 20 m circle lines up the arena.

Level 4 will introduce the flying change.

In Levels 2 and up all of the lope work will be collected, which brings more connection and strength to perform the maneuvers required. The horse maintains the true bend of the given lope lead throughout any counter-lope work.

Rider position and aids

It is very important that the rider sits correctly and quietly while riding the counter-lope so as not to disturb the horse and inadvertently ask him to change leads.

The aids for riding the counter-lope are the same as those for lope.

The rider’s inside leg is at the girth, while the outside leg is slightly behind the girth (inside hip forward, outside hip back). The outside leg stays on the horse to maintain the correct lead throughout.

The outside rein maintains the degree of bend while the inside rein is for flexion.

Keep your shoulders aligned with the horse’s shoulders so that they point slightly in the direction of the leading leg. This will help keep the horse balanced in the direction of the leading leg.



Riding the loop back to the wall. Horse remains in right bend throughout the loop.
Horse: You Otta Have Me, rider Lisa Wieben. Photos by Gary Wieben.

When riding the counter-lope it is a good idea to ask the horse for a shoulder-fore. This will help the horse remain soft through his barrel and maintain a supple connection with the outside rein. It will also help keep the horse’s weight over the inside front leg (the leading front leg) rather than on the outside front leg, which could cause him to fall over his outside shoulder and could also cause him to bulge his rib cage too much to the outside.

Be sure to maintain the aids for the lope lead consistently throughout the entire exercise and when turning back to the track only turn your head in that direction. Your core always points in the direction of the horse’s bend.

Do not pull on the outside rein in order to ask your horse to move back to the track. That would make him lose his balance and most likely get him to change his lead. Instead, use your inside leg at the girth with rhythmic pressure as well as half-halts on the outside rein to guide him back to the track.

If the horse starts to speed up use half-halts with the outside rein.

Even if you maintain your aids for the lope lead correctly, your horse may change leads on his own anyway during these exercises. Do not punish him or he may be unwilling later on to change leads when you ask for a flying lead change. Just quietly bring him down to a trot or walk and wait for him to be calm and relaxed again, then pick up the lope again.

These exercises take a lot of practice so be patient with your horse. It is very common for most horses to become excited when first asking them to perform these exercises and they may be rushing at the lope or changing leads.

Have fun and enjoy the journey!

For a video on these exercises check out https://youtu.be/stBGnqTFUjQ.

This article is part of an ongoing series of articles that appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis. The articles are a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz.

Lisa Wieben is a versatile and exceptional riding coach, balancing her skills as a Level 2 Centered Riding Instructor, Equine Canada Western Competition Coach, and Irwin Insights Level 7 Master Certified Trainer. Currently specializing in Western and English Dressage, she trains youth, adult amateurs, and professionals as well as coaching a local 4H group at her facility near Bowden/Olds, AB. Through dressage and foundational training she helps riders of all disciplines create stronger partnerships with their horses. Also, as a Hanna Somatic Instructor and Practitioner in Training, Lisa works with riders, in class or privately, learning movement exercises that target specific muscle issues in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and overuse. Her approach, using Dressage, Centered Riding, Irwin Insights principles, and Somatics, all come together to develop a balanced rider and a balanced horse. http://www.mountainviewtrainingstables.com.

Birgit Stutz is an Irwin Insights Level 6 Master Certified Trainer and offers horse training, riding lessons in the English and Western disciplines, horsemanship clinics, mentorship programs, intensive horsemanship courses, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, as well as working student programs at Falling Star Ranch Academy of Foundational Horsemanship in Dunster, BC. Birgit’s passion is to help humans have a better relationship with their horses through understanding of equine psychology and body language, biomechanics, as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage. http://www.fallingstarranch.ca.

10-metre circle serpentine over poles. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

October 29, 2020

Our exercise this month is a great one for developing suppleness in your horse. It features 10-metre circles which, when ridden well, produce further stepping under with the inside hind leg, lifting of the back, bend from poll to tail, and loosening up of the ribs and back. This exercise can be a challenge for riders who haven’t quite found the rotation through their centre or the correct use of the aids, particularly the outside rein.

The set-up

Place five poles along the centre line of the arena. Measure from the middle of each pole 10 metres to the next centre point. One end of the line of poles can be touching the track or just to the inside of the track.

How to ride the exercise

You may begin in a walk to start with, but the goal is to do this in working jog.

  1. Begin by riding over the middle of the first pole onto a 10-metre circle which will go over the middle of the next pole. Ride one and a half circles.
  2. As you pass over the middle of the second pole the second time straighten your horse for the one stride over the pole, then change bend onto the new circle, aiming for the middle of the third pole. Ride one and a half circles. Continue in this way to the end of the line.
    If your horse gets tense at any time continue on the circle you are on until the horse settles or go back to a walk and regroup.
  3. Once your horse is comfortable with the circles, move to riding only half circles over the poles.
    As you ride over the centre point of each pole maintain straightness for one stride, then go into the new bend.

Ride up the length of poles, then back down maintaining the half circles.

Crossing the rail at the centre point.

Hint: When riding 10-metre circles in a dressage arena (20 metres wide) the circles will go from quarter line to quarter line.

Variations

Once you and your horse are comfortable with the above exercises you could:

  1. Ride a serpentine with your horse staying closer to the poles, asking for subtle changes of bend over each pole. In this case you will be at an angle as you cross the poles.
  2. Add a 20-metre jog circle or figure 8. Cross the middle pole and ride a 20-metre circle with the end pole as the top of the circle. As you cross over the centre pole again change directions onto another 20-metre circle.
  3. Perform the 20-metre circles in the lope.
  4. Ride the first half of the serpentine with 10-metre half circles. As you cross the centre of the third pole, ride a 20-metre circle going over the end pole. As you cross the centre pole again change directions and finish the line with 10-metres half circles again.
  5. Ride 20-metre figure 8 in lope with a simple or flying lead change over the middle pole.

There are lots of ways to play with this. Have fun!

Notice how the mare is stepping under her midline with her inside hind on the 10-m circle. She is nicely bent through her body from poll to tail.

Rider position and aids

Because the circles are small at 10 metres, it is important that you turn your body from your centre to help your horse turn. Your outside upper inner thigh will help the horse turn while the inside lower leg will ask for bend and keep the horse from leaning in. Maintain evenness in your seat bones. It is best to ride this exercise sitting to help the horse stay up and connected. Keep your shoulders and your hips level, no leaning into the turn.

Maintain contact with your outside rein to prevent the horse from drifting onto a larger circle or falling in. The outside leg will also block drifting. If the horse needs more help to turn use the outside rein against the neck in a press and release. Time the turning cues as the outside front leg is going forward. The horse is then more easily able to respond without losing his balance.

If the horse starts to speed up use a half-halt with the outside rein, while adding pressure from both legs. If the horse starts to lean onto the forehand or get long in the topline, use even contact on both reins (half-halt) and squeeze forward with both legs. Imagine you are squeezing toothpaste towards the cap. This will bring the hind legs further under the body and lift the back. Once you feel the connection soften the contact without giving away the reins. It is easier to maintain the size, shape, and rhythm of the circles when the horse is connected from back to front.

Any level of rider and horse can ride this exercise. If you are in Introductory, you may want to start in a walk and only jog the 20-metre circles. In Level 1 you start using 10-metre circles to prepare for a leg yield or before a lope, and in Level 2 and up your 10-metre circles will be ridden in collected jog and lope. For every level, however, every test will have a 10-metre half circle to go down the centreline, which makes this a very important and beneficial exercise. Enjoy!

Once again notice the placement of the inside hind, supporting the rider’s weight. The rider is looking ahead and turning with her horse.

For a video on this exercise, check out https://youtu.be/jPrr20vJPfg.

This article is part of an ongoing series of articles that appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis. The articles are a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz.

Lisa Wieben is a versatile and exceptional riding coach, balancing her skills as a Level 2 Centered Riding Instructor, Equine Canada Western Competition Coach, and Irwin Insights Level 7 Master Certified Trainer. Currently specializing in Western and English Dressage, she trains youth, adult amateurs, and professionals as well as coaching a local 4H group at her facility near Bowden/Olds, AB. Through dressage and foundational training she helps riders of all disciplines create stronger partnerships with their horses. Also, as a Hanna Somatic Instructor and Practitioner in Training, Lisa works with riders, in class or privately, learning movement exercises that target specific muscle issues in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and overuse. Her approach, using Dressage, Centered Riding, Irwin Insights principles, and Somatics, all come together to develop a balanced rider and a balanced horse. http://www.mountainviewtrainingstables.com.

Birgit Stutz is an Irwin Insights Level 6 Master Certified Trainer and offers horse training, riding lessons in the English and Western disciplines, horsemanship clinics, mentorship programs, intensive horsemanship courses, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, as well as working student programs at Falling Star Ranch Academy of Foundational Horsemanship in Dunster, BC. Birgit’s passion is to help humans have a better relationship with their horses through understanding of equine psychology and body language, biomechanics, as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage. http://www.fallingstarranch.ca.

Zigzag exercise. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

October 20, 2020

This is a fun exercise that we gleaned from the jumping world, but it is just as beneficial for the Western dressage riders.

The exercise develops suppleness, flexibility, balance, strength, connection, and symmetry in the horse’s body.

It is simple enough for green horses and green riders, but can be made challenging enough for advanced horse/rider pairs as well.

If your horse struggles with rhythm and balance, lacks suppleness and flexibility, ignores half-halts, has a tendency to rush, then this exercise is for you and your horse!

All you need is four poles. Place the four poles on the ground end-to-end, in a zig-zag pattern. We recommend using poles that are 10 to 12 feet long. Using shorter poles increases the difficulty of the exercise. Place the poles at minimum 30 feet from the wall or rail, especially when riding greener horses.

The exercise can be ridden at a walk, jog or lope, depending on the training level of horse and rider.

Start by riding your horse over the first pole, aiming for the middle of the pole. Then ride a small circle to the left, lining up with the second pole as you come out of the circle. Ride over the second pole, then proceed onto a small circle to the right, lining up to the third pole. Ride over the third pole. Perform another small circle to the left, then ride over the fourth pole. Repeat the exercise several times, then give your horse a break before reversing the pattern to go in the opposite direction.

Bending on the circle

The size of the circles depends on the experience and training level of the horse and rider. Advanced horse/rider pairs may ride 10-metre circles or even smaller. Horses that are still struggling with balance may need larger circles up to 20 metres. Make your circles round and even, at a size appropriate to your horse’s training level.


Lining up with the pole

Start the exercise at the walk until you are comfortable with the pattern and know where to make your turns before riding the exercise at the jog and eventually at the lope. When riding the exercise at a lope, try executing the flying change of lead over the pole. If your horse isn’t ready for flying changes, ask for a simple lead change by transitioning to jog or walk.

When riding the pattern at a lope, remember that at the beginning it isn’t uncommon for horses to break to the jog when they lose their balance. Just rebalance your horse and pick up the lope again.

Riding over the poles will engage the horse’s abdominal muscles and lift his back (providing his head does not elevate).


Starting the left turn

Riding the circles helps develop the horse’s bend off the rider’s leg. Ask the horse to bend by applying rhythmic pressure from your inside leg at the girth while at the same time turning your body into the direction of the turn (outside hip toward the horse’s inside ear). Depending on the size of the circle the rider’s body has to turn more or less. The outside rein and upper inner thigh of the outside leg will also help with the turn.


Final approach over the pole

If your horse has a tendency to fall in when on a circle, think leg yield out and shift your weight slightly to the outside of the horse’s bend without leaning or collapsing in your hip. Aim to ride a few strides straight – one stride before, over, then after the pole before beginning the turn. Thinking leg yield toward the outside of the new circle will also prevent the horse from starting the turn too early.

When approaching and riding over the poles, straighten your seat again and aim for the middle of each pole maintaining straightness.

Maintain a consistent, steady rhythm at the gait you are riding.

Be sure to keep your eyes up and look ahead!

Pictures: Horse: You Otta Have Me. Rider Lisa Wieben. Photos by Gary Wieben.

This article is part of an ongoing series of articles that appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis. The articles are a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz.

Lisa Wieben is a versatile and exceptional riding coach, balancing her skills as a Level 2 Centered Riding Instructor, Equine Canada Western Competition Coach, and Irwin Insights Level 7 Master Certified Trainer. Currently specializing in Western and English Dressage, she trains youth, adult amateurs, and professionals as well as coaching a local 4H group at her facility near Bowden/Olds, AB. Through dressage and foundational training she helps riders of all disciplines create stronger partnerships with their horses. Also, as a Hanna Somatic Instructor and Practitioner in Training, Lisa works with riders, in class or privately, learning movement exercises that target specific muscle issues in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and overuse. Her approach, using Dressage, Centered Riding, Irwin Insights principles, and Somatics, all come together to develop a balanced rider and a balanced horse. http://www.mountainviewtrainingstables.com.

Birgit Stutz is an Irwin Insights Level 6 Master Certified Trainer and offers horse training, riding lessons in the English and Western disciplines, horsemanship clinics, mentorship programs, intensive horsemanship courses, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, as well as working student programs at Falling Star Ranch Academy of Foundational Horsemanship in Dunster, BC. Birgit’s passion is to help humans have a better relationship with their horses through understanding of equine psychology and body language, biomechanics, as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage. http://www.fallingstarranch.ca.