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Western Dressage – Maintaining the horse’s physical fitness. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

April 15, 2018

This month’s blog post isn’t specifically about Western dressage but applies to any horse in training or a horse going back to work after time off, such as after a long, cold winter! Since many horse owners are unsure how many days a week a horse needs to be worked in order to ‘keep their horse going’ we have outlined a few considerations below.

The answer to this question, of course, is not clear-cut and depends very much on each individual horse and what the horse will be used for. One day per week is only sufficient to maintain a horse in its current state of basic training. To begin to improve the horse’s physical fitness, two to three days a week will be necessary. To get or maintain a horse in performance ready condition, four to five days a week will be required. If your plan for the year is to move up a level in competition, five days a week is ideal. This will allow you to build your horse’s physical fitness, strength, and skills required for the new level.

Think of training your horse as similar to your own physical fitness journey. If you have decided to start the year off with a resolution to exercise, but the only time you have is one day per week, you are not going to make a noticeable change to your physical fitness. However, if you commit to exercising four to five times per week you will begin to see noticeable changes within a few weeks. Variety in your workouts is key, alternating between strength training, cardiovascular training, and flexibility work. This gives a well-rounded program to cover all areas of physical fitness training.

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In-hand suppling work, turn on the forehand.

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In-hand warm-up

Of course, not every session will be the same, especially with the performance horse. Approach your horse’s training with the same variety that you keep in mind when planning your own training sessions: cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility. While the horse may be ridden four to five days per week, each day can be different. To work on suppleness and flexibility, work with circles, bending lines such as serpentines, and some basic lateral work such as leg yields, spiraling in/leg yielding out of circles and turns on the forehand/turns on the haunches. Another day you may work on strength through transitions from walk to jog, jog to lope, walk to lope, as well as transitions within a gait, jog to lengthened jog, working jog to collected jog, lope to lengthened lope, lope to collected lope, and lateral work such as shoulder-in and haunches-in. Another day you may do work over poles. A search on the internet will give you plenty of options for layouts for both jog/trot and lope/canter overs. One day per week should be a recovery day. You may take your horse out for a relaxed trail ride or work on more ‘stretchy’ type work, long and low, then back to connection. Sore muscles can develop from the strengthening work, especially if the horse is coming back to work after time off. The recovery day will help release soreness from the muscles through light movement. Working the horse long and low (free jog, etc.) will help the horse release and relax all the muscles over the topline. Working in this way will also help develop the horse’s “swing” through the ribcage. Supple relaxed muscles will translate into smoother transitions and more willingness to move forward.

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Suppling exercises using pylons (spiral in/leg yield out).

If your horse has had some extended time off, keep the sessions short and spend most of it at the walk. Each session should always begin with a good warm-up at a free walk, ideally 15 to 20 minutes, to increase blood flow, lubricate joints, and stretch muscles, before moving on to faster gaits and/or collected work. Your walk warm-up can also include any lateral work you plan to perform later in the ride. A nice walk leg yield can begin to warm up the muscles that will be required to do the movement at a higher gait. Groundwork is always a good option to begin each session. In-hand work, lunging, and ground driving are great ways to build cardiovascular fitness and strength while still keeping sessions short. Each week you can gradually increase the length of the workouts or increase the time at the faster gaits (jog and lope). If your horse is out of shape, be reasonable in how much you ask of him, and never push him so much that he may injure himself.

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Lope work

Just as important as the warm-up is the cool-down. Keep your horse walking, either under saddle or in-hand, until his respiration has returned to normal and the temperature of his neck, chest and shoulder has cooled down. Soreness after a session can be greatly limited with a relaxed cool-down. The end of the ride is also a great time to do any stretches or massaging your horse may need. This is when the muscles are loose and still a bit warm from the workout. Never stretch a cold muscle!

In the winter time when it is cold, most of our session is spent at the walk, warming up and cooling down, with shorter sessions of jog and lope in-between.

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Warming up long and low (free jog). The horse’s nose should ideally be in front of the vertical.

It’s a good idea to keep a journal of the work you do with your horse to keep you on track and also to track the changes in your horse.

Make each ride count, and remember that even slow work can build muscle for your horse.

Photos by Rebecca Wieben

This article is the 24th in a series of articles on Western dressage and is a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz. The articles appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis.

Lisa Wieben is a Level 2 Centered Riding Instructor, EC Coach, and Irwin Insights Level 4 Master Certified Trainer. Specializing in Western and English Dressage, she coaches near Bowden/Olds, AB. Lisa is also a Hanna Somatic Instructor and Practitioner in Training, working with riders, in class or privately, to learn movement exercises that target specific muscle issues in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and overuse. A balanced rider equals a balanced horse. www.mountainviewtrainingstables.com.

 Birgit Stutz is an Irwin Insights Level 4 Master Certified Trainer and offers horse training, lessons (English and Western), clinics, mentorship programs, horsemanship courses, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, and 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, body language, biomechanics, as well as fundamental riding skills. www.fallingstarranch.ca.

 

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Western Dressage – How to correctly ride a corner. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

February 26, 2018

This is our third year collaborating on writing articles on Western dressage, and we appreciate all the feedback we’ve been getting. Some of the readers asked us to write more about simple exercises that they can do with their horses. So in this month’s issue, we would like to explain a very basic movement: how to correctly ride a corner.

A corner is not just a way to get from one maneuver to another, but can be very useful in rebalancing the horse in preparation for the next maneuver. A well-ridden corner will do just that!

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Jacklyn Hegberg riding Maverick through a corner – Photo by Lisa Wieben

Each corner you ride in the dressage ring can be defined as the arc of a circle, which is one of the various arena (or school) figures. Riding arena figures correctly helps develop lateral flexibility, suppleness, balance and straightness in your horse. Straightness means that a horse is straight on straight lines and bent on bending lines, with his poll through to the tail on the line of travel. Riding arena figures accurately will also help your horse become ambidextrous, meaning he can bend as easily to the right as he does to the left (bend refers to the horse’s lateral bend through the ribcage). Furthermore, riding arena figures develops obedience and responsiveness to the rider’s aids and helps assess both your horse’s training level as well as your own skill level.

Depending on the level of your horse, the arc of the corner may be that of a 10-metre, or in higher levels that of an 8-metre, circle. If your horse struggles with small circles and loses impulsion, rhythm, and/or balance, only go as deep into the corner as your horse can manage.

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Jacklyn Hegberg riding Maverick through a corner – Photo by Lisa Wieben

We like the following exercise to help the horse and rider learn how to properly ride corners:

– Begin in the walk.

– Ride a 10-metre circle in a corner.

– Proceed to the next corner. You can use the long sides of the arena for some transitions (e.g. walk to halt, walk to trot, trot to halt, etc.), but make sure you are back in a relaxed, but forward walk before each corner.

– Repeat the exercise in the opposite direction.

– Using cones to mark the circles will give you a better idea of the arc that you need to ride. Cones will also help the horse with a visual line of travel.

– If your horse is evenly bent on each circle, go large and omit the circles.

– If your horse maintains the bend in each corner repeat the same exercise at a jog.

– If the horse struggles with the smaller circles in the jog, discontinue the corner exercise and take the horse onto a 20-metre circle for the jog work. You can spiral this circle down to find the the size your horse is still comfortable with in the jog. As the horse develops more suppleness the smaller circles will become easier.

Rider aids/positioning

When riding your horse through a corner, he should be bending into the direction of the corner, with his body equally bent through his entire body from poll to tail, and his inside hind leg more engaged. The following are the aids for riding a corner to the left:

– Half-halt your horse (using your outside rein) before you reach the corner to let him know that something is changing as well as to rebalance him.

– Draw your left hip back slightly and allow your right hip to move forward.

– Inside (left) leg directly under your body, asking your horse to bend the rib cage as well as to maintain the activity.

– Outside (right) leg can be moved slightly back to prevent the horse’s hindquarters from swinging out.

– Gently ask for flexion to the inside with your inside (left) rein. This rein should remain slightly off the neck and you should just see your horse’s inside eye and nostril.

– Outside (right) rein supports the bend and is kept steady in order to limit the degree of bend in the horse’s neck. The outside rein also helps in turning your horse’s shoulders in and will be closer to the neck. The deeper you ride into the corner, the more the outside rein will be needed to turn the horse’s shoulders and maintain bend. The outside rein also helps maintain the horse’s rhythm.

– It is important to remember that while riding a corner, always turn your body from your centre (core), while your eyes are tracing the line of the corner a few strides ahead of the horse toward the next reference point.

In order to bend and turn a horse correctly, we need both inside and outside aids to work together, with your inside aids bending the horse and your outside aids supporting and turning him. The horse’s hind legs should be on the same track as his front legs, and he should be bending around your inside leg.

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How to set up cones for riding a corner properly – Photo by Lisa Wieben

One of the biggest mistakes we see is the horse cutting the corner. The rider, instead of bending the horse through the corner, tries to pull the horse into the corner with the outside rein as the horse is trying to avoid going into the corner. This causes the horse to counter-bend, tilting his head to the outside, and dropping the inside shoulder into the corner. To correct this go back to basics and work on the bend in the walk and keep the circle size appropriate to the horse.

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This is a good example of the horse’s inside hind leg stepping under. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

We will be bringing you more exercises to help you develop your horse’s rhythm, suppleness, and flexibility. Until next time enjoy the ride!

This article is the 23rd in a series of articles on Western dressage and is a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz. The articles appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis.

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 4 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 4 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.

Western Dressage – Alberta rider brings home Western dressage world championship. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

January 5, 2018

Lisa Hannaford of Valleyview, Alberta, and her 14-year-old Andalusian-thoroughbred mare Cloud Nine (“Drew”) recently brought home a Western Dressage world championship and two reserves from the 2017 Western Dressage World Championship Show, held September 28 to October 1 at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma.

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Photo credit Don Stine Communications & Photography

“Attending the Western Dressage World Show was a fantastic experience,” said Hannaford, who is originally from Edmonton, but now resides in Valleyview, about 3.5 hours north of Edmonton.

“I’m 51 years old and have been riding since I was six. While I began in the hunter-jumper world, my interest in dressage began about eight or nine years ago. While the majority of those years have been training and competing in classical dressage, Western dressage has piqued my interest, and for some reason my current mount seems to prefer it. I was very familiar with the Western as I had completed my national coaching certification in Western about 17 years ago, and while I am not currently hanging my hat as a coach, competing in Western dressage was not a stretch for me. Last year we competed in English, Western, Prix Caprilli, and succeeded in winning the senior championship in the Peace Country Circuit for English, Western and all-around champion. This year we did not focus on that specific circuit as much, but instead focused on Western dressage.”

Hannaford and some of her close friends have been instrumental in getting several Western dressage shows sanctioned in the Peace Country.

“Drew and I were competing in a show in Grande Prairie in August, and upon completion of my final salute the Judge Mary-Ellen Laidlaw came up to me and said, ‘Wow, you better go to the Worlds’. It never occurred to me to go to the Worlds, and I wasn’t even sure she was serious. A couple of weeks went by and I had a chance to do some research about the show, talk to a few close friends and family, and although there were so many reasons not to go, the stars aligned and the reality of travelling to Oklahoma became a real possibility. Once I made up my mind, there was not too much that got in the way!”

Hannaford said it took a huge amount of energy to get organized before leaving for Oklahoma, as she only had about six weeks to prepare once she decided to send in her entries.

“Things like time off work, a travelling companion, veterinary certificates, training and learning the American tests, organizing horse hotels, etc., but my lifelong friend Brenda Dunbar stepped up to the plate and was the best travelling companion and groom one could ask for. Brenda and my 16-year-old daughter Chloe, who flew in to the Will Rogers airport in Oklahoma City, played an instrumental role in my experience and journey. They were awesome!”

Hannaford has owned her current horse Drew for about five years now.

“She’s awesome,” said Hannaford.

“She was a star travelling all the way down as well as in the ring. Although the heat and humidity were not what we are used too, Drew gave me her very best each and every day. She is a dream, and I still feel like I’m on Cloud Nine. I love her to the moon and back.”

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Photo credit Don Stine Communications & Photography

Hannaford said the experience at the World Show exceeded her expectations.

“The grounds and facilities were amazing, and the folks who organized the show were extremely organized and friendly. The other competitors were also very friendly, and I was lucky enough to meet some new Canadian friends as well as many Americans. I heard that over 10,000 people tuned into the live streaming to watch the competition. That’s a huge indication this is a growing sport. What was so fantastic was the wide range in age of the competitors, although lots of youngsters, many people were my age and older. The other very refreshing thing about this horse show is the vast diversity of breeds. There were close to forty different breeds and crosses represented; all types and levels were embraced, so one never saw your cookie-cutter breed highlighted like you find in many other disciplines. I would encourage other riders, whether you are new to Western dressage or a seasoned competitor to keep this diversity in mind, as no matter what type of horse you have or what level you are currently riding at, opportunities such as this show are in reach, and it truly is a once in a lifetime experience. I would advise if you are going to take your time travelling down and enjoy the journey. We treated it as a show-cation, and that was a good mental spot to be in, for as much as I wanted to do well, having fun was more important than winning, which was the icing on the cake as it is pretty cool to come home with that World Champion jacket!”

Hannaford said she’s been very fortunate to have a plethora of coaches throughout her riding career.

“My horsey friends at home helped me a lot to prepare for this show, from eyes on the ground, reading tests, borrowing of tack items and moral support,” she said.

“The weeks prior to leaving I was blessed with the services of Jenneke-Hoogendoorn-Baker, owner of Highthorn stables in Stony Plain. Jenneke is a fantastic, hard-working, excellent rider and coach. She really went above and beyond helping Drew and I learn the new tests and perfecting the movements required. I can’t say enough good things about Jenneke, and I look forward to continuing up the levels with her mentorship.”

This was the fifth annual Western Dressage World Show, with more than 800 rides and exhibitors from 29 states, five Canadian provinces as well as New Zealand.

Congrats Lisa on your World Championship!

This article is the 22nd in a series of articles on Western dressage and is a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz. The articles appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis.

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 4 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 4 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.

Western Dressage – Common errors while executing the half-pass (part 2). By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

December 19, 2017

In the last blog post, we discussed common errors that occur while performing the half-pass, such as the horse leading with his hind quarters instead of with his shoulders, the horse trailing his hindquarters too far behind, the horse being on the forehand and/or dropping the inside shoulder, the horse tilting his head at the poll. In this blog post we are discussing a few more common errors while performing the half-pass.

The horse loses impulsion: This is often caused by the rider using too much rein to develop the bend. It is quite natural to feel like you need to “hold” the horse in the bend when starting the horse in the half-pass, but this is counter to what you want to do. The inside rein of the bend must be away from the horse’s neck and allow the shoulders to move freely over. The half-pass is much more about leg aids than rein aids. If the horse is not supple and off the leg, then he will struggle with the half-pass. Be sure the leg yield, shoulder-in, and haunches-in are solid before progressing to half-pass. An exercise you can do is to go from shoulder-in along the wall to half-pass for a few strides and back to shoulder-in. This will keep the horse thinking forward. Remember it is your outside leg that asks for the sideways movement and the inside leg that maintains the bend and impulsion. If the outside rein is too strong, the horse may lose impulsion, or if the inside rein is against the neck, blocking the sideways movement, he may slow down.

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The horse has too much bend in his neck. This is often caused by the rider using too much rein to develop the bend. Remember, the inside rein of the bend must be away from the horse’s neck so as to allow the shoulders to move freely over. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

The horse loses rhythm: Be sure to count your rhythm. The horse should not change the rhythm from the collected jog into the half-pass and back to straightness. Before going into the half-pass count “one, two, one two” and maintain the same count. If the horse begins to lose rhythm you can ride forward and re-establish the rhythm and then set the horse up again for half-pass. In the beginning you only want to ask the horse for a couple of strides before proceeding forward.

The horse moves too much sideways and not enough forward: The rider needs to use more inside leg to maintain forward energy and more outside rein to block the sideways movement. The amount of each will depend on the horse.

The rider isn’t sitting centred, causing the horse to be crooked or off-balance: Imagining a balance beam will help you sit the half-pass correctly. If you tilt to either side you will “fall off” the balance beam and put your horse off balance. A very common mistake is the rider leaning to the direction of the pressing leg, to the outside of the bend. Imagine giving someone a piggy back ride. If the “rider” leans you would try to get underneath them to stay balanced. It is the same with the horse. If the rider is leaning away from the direction of travel the horse will have to work harder to maintain impulsion, rhythm, and balance. By shifting your weight slightly to the direction of travel the horse will be much more balanced throughout the movement.

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The rider is leaning to the outside of the bend, away from the direction of travel. The horse will have to work harder to maintain impulsion, rhythm, and balance. By shifting the weight slightly to the direction of travel the horse will be much more balanced throughout the movement. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

Rider position can affect all of the above issues. If the rider is not following with her seat, then the horse could lose impulsion and rhythm. If the rider is too tight in her contact the horse will become tight, or if the contact is uneven the horse will tilt his head. Keep your body looking in the direction of travel, with your weight very slightly in the direction of travel with even, light contact.

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The rider is dropping her inside shoulder and lifting her inside hand. This may cause the horse to be crooked or off-balance. The uneven contact may also cause the horse to tilt his head. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

If you think of the lateral movements like the training scale, work on proficiency at each level before continuing up the scale. Start with the turn on the forehand, the leg yield (head to wall and straight to wall from the quarter line or centre line), turn on the haunches, then shoulder-in, haunches-in, and finally the half-pass. To prevent issues we must not rush any one of these steps.

Training is all about the journey!

This article is the 21st in a series of articles on Western dressage and is a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz. The articles appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis.

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 4 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 4 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.

Western Dressage – Common errors while executing the half-pass (part 1). By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

November 23, 2017

In the last blog post, we discussed how to correctly perform the lateral movement half-pass.

In this and the next blog post, we are looking at common errors that occur while performing the half-pass.

As a review, during the half-pass, the horse moves forward and sideways at the same time bent in the direction of travel. The outside hind leg and front leg should cross over the inside legs, with the horse’s forehand leading.

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The horse is lacking the shoulder-in angle and bend through the body making him too straight. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

Common errors while performing half-pass:

The horse leads with his hind quarters instead of with his shoulders: This may happen when the rider holds the horse’s front end too much and/or moves the outside leg too far back. The horse needs to be evenly bent around your inside leg. An exercise to try is moving the horse from a half-pass back to a leg yield then back to half-pass.

For example, if you begin a half-pass from the left rein you will be traveling left in left bend, moving the horse from your right leg; without changing bend use your left leg to push your horse back toward the wall in a leg-yield. Use your right rein to keep the horse straight. Once the shoulders and hips are back in alignment change leg aids again and push the horse back into a half-pass.

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The horse leads with his hind quarters instead of with his shoulders. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

The horse is trailing his hindquarters too far behind; doesn’t have enough bend: Begin the half-pass from a 10-metre circle in the corner. As you complete the circle ask the horse for a few steps in shoulder-in, then begin the half-pass maintaining the bend through the horse’s body. Lack of bend is usually due to lack of suppleness. More work on lower level lateral work will be beneficial.

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The horse is trailing his hindquarters too far behind. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

The horse is on the forehand and/or the inside shoulder is dropping: This comes back to the horse not being balanced over his hind end. Work on transitions will help as well as establishing a good half-halt. Quick transitions will help re-balance the horse more onto his hind end. The horse must be light in the front to correctly execute a half-pass. On a circle in working or collected jog transition to walk for a couple of steps and immediately back to jog. Continue frequently until the horse begins to feel lighter in the front.

The horse tilts his head at the poll: This is generally caused by the horse not being supple in the poll or the rider having uneven rein contact. If you look at your horse’s ears and notice that one ear is lower than the other then you may have a poll suppleness issue. Working the horse in free jog will help relax the poll. Ride the free jog on a circle and ask the horse for a little more bend to the inside to ask the horse to supple a little more. Keep contact on both reins and as you ask for more suppleness on the inside, use the outside rein to maintain the size of your circle. Ride in both directions. Every horse has a tendency to be tighter to one side, just like we are right or left handed.

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The horse tilts his head at the poll: This is generally caused by the horse not being supple in the poll or the rider having uneven rein contact. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

We will discuss more common errors in the next blog post.

This article is the 20th in a series of articles on Western dressage and is a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz. The articles appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis.

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 4 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 4 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.

 

Western Dressage – How to execute the half-pass. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

October 14, 2017

In this blog post, we are discussing another lateral movement called half-pass. The half-pass is a schooling movement that requires the horse to engage its hindquarters. In Western dressage, the half-pass is seen at the Third Level.

During the half-pass, the horse moves forward and sideways at the same time bent in the direction of travel. The outside hind leg and front leg should cross over the inside legs, with the horse’s forehand leading slightly.

The half-pass is a more advanced movement and requires more balance, engagement and collection from the horse than the more basic leg-yield, which we discussed in the February and March issues of SaddleUp. This is due to the horse being slightly bent in the direction of movement in the half-pass, whereas in the leg-yield, there is only a slight flexion in the horse’s poll away from the direction of travel. In the half pass, the horse’s body will be parallel to the long side of the arena, with the forehand slightly leading the hindquarters.

It’s important that your horse is familiar with the lateral movements of shoulder-in (discussed in the April issue of SaddleUp) and haunches-in (travers) (discussed in the June and July issues of SaddleUp).

The half-pass is a great exercise to strengthen, supple and engage your horse. Since the half-pass is ridden at Third Level, the horse will be in collected jog when performing the movement and eventually move to the collected lope.

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Both the rider and the horse are looking in the direction of travel. The horse is bent nicely around the inside leg and is softly into the outside rein. The rein is allowing the horse to bend. The horse is showing very nice reach and cross-over. – Photo by Amy Pike

How to execute a half-pass

In order to ride a half-pass correctly, it is important to start the movement with the horse’s forehand leading in order to prevent a common mistake of having the haunches lead. Therefore, we like to teach the half-pass by starting with a stride or two of shoulder-in.

  1. Make sure your horse has enough impulsion when starting the movement.
  2. Sit tall with eyes forward, looking into the direction you’re going.
  3. Align your shoulders with your horse’s shoulders and your hips with the horse’s hips, just as you would when riding a circle or corner.
  4. Your belly button should be pointing in the same direction as your horse’s bend and your eyes will be looking toward the point you want your horse to line up with.
  5. With the inside rein, gently ask your horse to flex at the poll in the direction of travel and guide the forehand in the direction of the movement with the outside rein.
  6. Keep your inside leg at the girth to maintain the bend and keep the horse moving forward. You now have your horse in a slight shoulder-in position. Maintain shoulder-in for a step or two.
  7. Now use your outside leg slightly behind the girth to encourage impulsion and ask the horse to step sideways, maintaining the forward energy with the inside leg.
  8. Shift your weight to the inside seat bone to help maintain bend and help the horse move over laterally. Always think of your weight going in the direction of travel. The horse will want to balance under your weight and will move over with you.
  9. The outside rein will give very slightly to allow the horse to stretch the outside of its neck and body. Once the horse is in correct flexion the inside rein will soften so that the forward movement is not blocked at the shoulder.
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Notice the rider is looking down at her horse and the horse is starting the half-pass in a very slight haunches leading position. – Photo by Amy Pike

As always, do not ask for too many steps at a time as it takes time for your horse to develop strength to execute this movement and keep the line of the half-pass shallow, such as centreline to the end of the long side.

Another way to set the horse up for a half-pass is to ride a 10-metre circle coming out of the corner starting down the long side, shoulder-in for a stride or two, then begin the half-pass. If the horse loses balance, rhythm, or impulsion you can ride forward, circle and begin the half-pass again from the shoulder-in. The horse should keep its impulsion and rhythm and stay balanced during the execution of the half-pass.

The half-pass movement really teaches the horse to step into the outside rein and bend around the inside leg. Be sure to have a solid shoulder-in and haunches-in before teaching the half pass. The horse will then be more comfortable with moving off the leg and into the outside rein, thus preventing tension from developing as the horse learns to move laterally in the direction of the bend. Riding the movement in the walk will help both horse and rider become more comfortable with the angle and degree of bend required for the movement before progressing to collected jog. Enjoy!

In our next article we will look at common errors while executing the half-pass.

This article is the nineteenth in a series of articles on Western dressage and is a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz. The articles appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis.

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 4 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 4 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.

Western Dressage – The three-loop serpentine. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

October 7, 2017

In this blog post, we are discussing a schooling exercise which we call “3-loop serpentine with a few steps of leg yield at each straight section”. The 3-loop exercise is a schooling exercise to prepare the horse and rider for the serpentine that is performed from Basic Level up. A serpentine is a series of half circles connected by straight lines through the centre of the arena.

This variation of the 3-loop serpentine is not only a great suppling exercise, but also a great exercise for setting the horse up into the new bend. Horses have a tendency to fall into the new bend when changing directions (usually more so in one direction) and many riders new to this exercise can find it difficult to maintain the bending lines and prevent the horse from either falling in or out on the turn. The directions we provide in this article will help you ride a serpentine with smooth changes of bend.

Before attempting the exercise, the horse and rider pair should already know the spiral in/out exercise as well as the leg yield exercise moving from the quarter line to the wall. Both of these have been discussed in previous articles.

When performing a serpentine in a show setting the rider wouldn’t ask for a leg yield, but would keep the aids in place to prevent the horse from falling into the new direction.

How to perform the 3-loop serpentine with a few steps of leg yield crossing the centre line:

  • Begin the serpentine on the short end of the arena, either at C or A.
  • Begin on the left rein.
  • Ride a half circle to the left, straighten the horse, change the bend, and then ask for a couple steps of leg yield to the left away from the new bend. This will prevent the horse from falling into the new direction. Continue onto a half circle to the right.
  • As the half circle to the right is completed, again straighten the horse, change the bend, and then ask for a couple steps of leg yield to the right away from the new bend.
  • Continue onto a half circle to the left.
  • Repeat one more time completing the serpentine.
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Riding the half circle. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

Rider aids:

On the half circles the rider will be using her inside leg to maintain bend and prevent the horse from falling in. The outside leg will maintain impulsion.

The inside rein will stay off the neck slightly and maintain the bend, without pulling. The outside rein will be supporting the amount of bend needed for the size of the half circle and will also prevent the horse from falling in, when used in conjunction with the inside leg.

The rider’s seat will turn in the direction of the half circle – outside hip toward the horse’s inside ear – and then straighten during the moments of straightness.

When bringing a horse from a bending line into the moment of straightness (for example: a half circle left into straightness), the rider will use the right leg to begin to ask the horse to straighten, while bringing her seat into straightness along with the hands. Once straight the rider can then ask the horse to change the bend from the right leg while supporting with the rein aids, all the while maintaining forward with the outside leg. The outside leg and rein will also prevent the horse from drifting. Ask the horse to leg yield a step or two to the left with a press and release pressure with the right leg in timing with the swing of the barrel. The inside rein maintains the bend, without pushing the horse out in the leg yield. Do not cross the inside rein over the horse’s neck.

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The moment of straightness before changing bend. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

Practicing the leg yield in this manner will teach the horse to keep the inside shoulder up on the turn. When performing this movement in the show ring the rider will take out the leg yield, but will “think” leg yield, keeping the aids in place to prevent the horse from falling in. Each serpentine loop should be the same size and evenly spaced down the arena. In a 20×60 metre ring the serpentine will consist of three 20-metre half circles connected by a few strides of straightness crossing the centre line. The exercise can become part of your warm-up or cool-down when you ride. Enjoy!

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Leg yield steps before the left turn. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

This article is the eighteenth in a series of articles on Western dressage and is a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz. The articles appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis.

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 4 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 4 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.