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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.

Transitions. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

August 2, 2020

Transitions are an important part of any training program. Transitions, when done well, build strength and suppleness in the horse. In an Introductory Western Dressage test you may have ten or more transitions within the test, making this a very important component and a place where you may be giving away marks. Read on to see where you can improve your transitions.

Transitions may be basic transitions, for example:

– working jog, walk, working jog

– working jog, working lope, working jog

– walk, halt, walk

– working walk, free walk, working walk

– working jog, lengthen jog, working jog

Or they may be transitions used for improving collection (these improve engagement and strength as well as collection):

– working jog, halt, working jog

– working lope, walk, working lope

– collected lope, lengthen lope, collected lope

– working lope, halt, working lope

Forward walk

A forward walk with a relaxed frame.

Using the dressage training scale we can assess the transitions based on the following criteria:

Rhythm – this is the clarity of the gait. Does the horse quicken his steps before, during or after the transition or does it keep an even pace from one to the other?

Suppleness – Does the horse’s topline stay engaged and stretched throughout the transitions without hollowing? If a horse hollows, tosses or lifts its head into the transitions, then it is moving from front to back instead of engaging the hind end and core and lifting the back. When a horse moves smoothly from one transition to the next the muscles stay relaxed and elastic.

Connection – Does the horse stay connected to the hand and accept the aids? The feel in your hands should remain the same before, during, and after the transition and the horse will move easily off seat and legs.

Impulsion – This is the suspension and lift that is felt as the horse engages more from behind.

Straightness – When there is a straightness issue it will be felt more during a transition. The horse may bulge out more to one side, fall in, or pop up into the transition.

Collection – Transitions develop and test collection. Those working lope, walk, working lope transitions are a great way to develop the engagement of the hind end along with lateral work.

Let’s look at some common mistakes of both horse and rider during a transition.

Rider:

-ineffective with legs and/or seat

-leaning forward or falling back

-pulling on the reins. As Sally Swift said, “Ask, receive, give”. Feel as though you are pushing forward instead of pulling back.

-incorrect timing

Jog transition 1

Lisa tightened her body and stopped following with her seat as she asked for the jog. The mare responded by getting tight and inverting. You may also notice she is not stepping evenly in the jog.

Jog transition 2

The mare’s frame remained the same into the jog. Lisa’s body stayed relaxed and followed the movement from the walk into the jog.

Horse:

-pops head up/hollowing its topline

-not wanting to use core/hind end but instead lifts with head and neck

-no reaction to the aids

-losing impulsion in downward transition

-tempo not steady

When performing a transition the rider should only move from the waist down. The seat follows the movement of the horse throughout the transition and both legs will be involved. Even a momentary cessation of movement in the seat will relay tightness to the horse who will also then tense. Remembering to breathe through a transition will keep tension from building. During an upward transition it is important to allow the forward with both seat and hands, without giving away contact. Thinking “up” into the transition will help the rider stay light in the body.

Lope transition 2

Here you can see how the mare is sitting more to push off into the lope. The inside leg is reaching further under. Notice the lightness of the contact and how Lisa’s seat is deep in the saddle.

Lope transition 1

Here Lisa leaned forward, a common error of riders going into the lope. This puts weight on the horse’s forehand. You can see how Lisa’s seat has been lifted out of the saddle by the horse’s movement. You can also see how Lisa’s hands have gotten tight on the reins and the mare is tipping her nose. The mare’s hind leg is not stepping very far under her body.

For a downward transition think of a boat on a wave where the back of the boat is the lowest point and then as the wave comes down the front of the boat comes down last. We want the horse to ‘land’ hind end first. If the horse lands front end first there is no engagement from the hind end and we have crash landed! Even during a downward transition the rider’s legs are on the sides of the horse to keep the horse engaged forward and the rider breathes out and slows the following seat. The only time the seat stops is during a halt transition, but the legs will still be engaging the horse to stop hind end first without hollowing its topline. In a transition from a working jog to a walk the seat keeps following. A lazy horse will need more leg aids to keep it engaged forward, whereas a hot horse will need more seat and rein aids. Downward transitions are always harder to develop.

The quality of the transition is completely dependent on the quality of the gait before, during, and after the transition. So, if you feel your horse is not engaged in your working jog, wait for that moment of connection before asking for an upward or downward transition. When the horse is engaged it will step further under the body. If the horse struggles with this asking for a shoulder fore where the horse moves the front end off the track half a step will encourage the inside hind leg to step further under the body. Imagine the horse stepping its hind leg under the rider’s weight. This will engage the hind legs and as the horse pushes forward the back and withers will lift while the head and neck remain relaxed.

When working on transitions initially it is always best to do them on a bending line as the bend of the horse will help it to stay engaged. A straight line makes it easier for the horse to pop up or dive down in the transition. Keeping the connection between the inside leg and outside rein will help to balance the horse before, during, and after the transition, and if the horse has a tendency to pop up you can always spiral into a circle or add a leg yield out to rebalance. Making transitions a bigger part of your training program will pay off no matter which event you are training for. Have fun with it!

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 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 – Planning your riding session after time off. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

June 28, 2020

As we begin a slow return to activities, many of our readers may not have been able to be with their horses during this pandemic. If your boarding stable reduced the amount of time you can spend with your horse or kept you away to protect their staff, then chances are your horse has had a reduced work schedule.

As you begin to work with your horse again remember that just like for the rider, time off means deterioration in strength, stamina, and suppleness. Also take into account that cardiovascular fitness is the easiest to regain, it is the muscles and soft tissues, ligaments and tendons, that take the most time to regain previous condition. In fact, tendons and ligaments can take twice as long as the muscular system of the horse. If you have been following along with our ground work series you will have exercises that will help bring your horse back to a level of symmetry and strength in preparation for under saddle work. You can also add in lunging to improve cardiovascular fitness. These exercises can become your warm-up on some days as you are getting back in the saddle.

Begin your back to work schedule with plenty of walking and trotting. Ride out if you can or work lightly in the arena. Once a degree of fitness has been built up over several weeks, then you can start varying your workouts and give the horse plenty of rest breaks between more vigorous work within your workout and during the week. One day you can alternate work over poles and then allow the horse to stretch long and low. This will have the horse work the abdominal muscles and lift his back as he goes over the poles (providing his head does not elevate) and will also allow him to stretch and relax those back muscles as he goes long and low. Another day work on lateral work – leg yields, shoulder-in haunches-in. This develops strength, connection, and symmetry in the body. Begin with a few steps in the walk, then build back up to trot. Build up to adding a transitions day where you work on all the transitions that will be required in your dressage test or event. Working on upward and downward transitions will help build connection to the rider’s aids as well as improved push power in the horse, especially when working quick transitions – working trot to a few steps of walk, back to a trot, or when doing transitions within a gait, working trot to lengthen trot, back to working trot (do not add lengthening work until your horse has regained much of his strength and stamina – remember those tendons and ligaments take longer to rebuild). Add in a trail ride or an outside fun day. Always remember the horse requires 48 hours between vigorous workouts for the muscles to repair and rebuild. A light work day, like a trail ride or light lunging, will do much more good than another heavy work day or even a day off.

So with all that in mind here is an exercise that brings together elements of dressage and fitness building that you can add to your routine once a week after your horse is ready to resume work.

Begin by setting up 4-5 raised poles set at 3 feet (.9 m) apart with the middle pole set at A (the middle of the short side).

1) Start by tracking right over the raised poles (horse will lift his back and engage core muscles).

Pic 1 back to work

Raised walk-overs

2) Proceed straight ahead. At the corner move into a working trot and perform a loop either to the quarter line or the centre line (riding a loop develops the horse’s bend off the rider’s leg.) As the horse goes through the first corner the rider will use the inside leg to ask the horse to bend into the corner as the rider’s body begins to turn into the direction of the turn. The body will have to turn more to aim for the centre line than it would to aim for the quarter line. The outside rein and upper inner thigh of the outside leg will also help with the turn. Just before the center of the line you will start to use your left leg and right rein to ask for the change of bend as your body starts to turn back toward the wall. As you begin to move into the corner ask the horse to bend around your inside leg and support with your outside rein.

Pic 2 back to work

Riding the loop. Notice how she is bending in the direction of the wall as she finishes the turn through centre.

3) Turn down the centre line (or quarter line if you horse is younger or at a lower level). Ride straight for a stride, then leg yield toward the wall aiming to reach the wall by F(the end corner). Use your outside aids to maintain the forward energy and straightness of the leg yield. Resist the urge to over-bend with the inside rein.

Pic 3 back to work

Leg yield. The mare is crossing over nicely behind in this step.

4) As you go through the corner develop your working lope. Ride through the end and down to E, halfway down the long side (if your horse needs a little help with balance you can develop the lope between F and C, then lope a 20-metre circle, bringing the horse back to a working trot through the next corner. Continue to H for the halt.)

Pic 4 back to work

Coming into the top of the loop. The mare is bending well through the turn and the rider is turning her body in the direction of the turn maintaining a supporting outside(left) rein.

5) Transition to the working trot.

6) Halt through the walk (lower levels) or Halt at H. Back 4-8 steps.

After completing the exercise give your horse a 5-minute walk break, then repeat in the opposite direction.

This exercise covers a lot of dressage movements and will give you an idea where the horse may need more work. That can be your topic for your next work session. Enjoy and happy riding!

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

For a video on this exercise, check out https://youtu.be/hwTwUEM87Tg.

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 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 – Ground training: Haunches-in. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

May 24, 2020

In this previous groundwork series we have been covering how to train your horse to maintain bend while on a circle, while on a straight line, and during a shoulder-in. In the process the horse was also learning how to adjust to the amount of pressure placed on the head through half-halts to maintain speed and rhythm throughout the exercises. This month we will bring all the skills together and learn haunches-in from the ground. Haunches-in can really make changes to your horse’s muscling and overall balance. When moving the hip to the inside the horse will be on four tracks, each foot stepping on its own track. This really lengthens the muscles along the outside of the bend and contracts on the inside of the bend. The pelvis, back, and ribs all become freer as the horse reaches more under with the hind legs. The weight will be more balanced on the outside hind leg, which will step further under the mid-line.

This is a much more complicated process as we will be asking the horse to move his hindquarters away from the wall and towards us. There are two ways to do this. (To prepare start by attaching your lead to the side ring of your halter or on the front ring of a cavesson.) The first method is to have the horse at a stand-still along the wall. Using a dressage whip tap the outside hip/buttock. The pressure will vary with each horse. Begin with a light tap and increase if needed. As soon as the horse takes a step to the inside release the pressure and reward. Walk the horse forward to straightness, then ask again. At first the horse will want to take his head toward the wall to bring his hip in. This is ok while he is learning the cue. As he gets the idea of moving the hip begin to block the head from going to the outside with light pressure on the lead. You may also have to remind the shoulder to stay on the track with pressure with your whip hand. This process may take several sessions before the horse truly begins to understand the cue of the tap and to keep his head in the direction of the track. Once the horse can do this consistently at the stand-still begin to add forward motion. For this exercise the handler will walk backwards to the inside of the horse. If tracking left hold the lead in your left hand, closest to the horse, and your loops and whip in the right hand. As you are walking backwards keep your hips open to invite the horse to keep his head to the inside. Again, as you add forward motion the horse may take his head to the outside and push the shoulder to the inside. You can use the whip or your hand at the shoulder or place your hand into the hollow just in front of the shoulder to ask the horse to keep the shoulder over and bend the neck. Keeping the shoulder over on the track and bending from the centre will also make it easier for the horse to move the haunches in. Only ask for a step or two at a time and reward often!

Haunches_in_1

The handler has her hip toward the horse’s head causing him to bend toward the wall. Photo credit Lisa Wieben. Handler Diane Luxen and her horse Silverwind. Diane competes in Dressage and Western Dressage.

Haunches_in_2

The handler has opened her hip to allow the horse’s bend. This also makes it easier for the horse to keep his shoulders on the track with the head in the direction of the maneuver. Photo credit Lisa Wieben. Handler Diane Luxen and her horse Silverwind.

If your horse does not respond to tapping to move the hip over, you may have to teach this maneuver from a walk. As above you can place your fist (right hand, tracking left) into the hollow in front of the shoulder. While walking backwards use your hand to press the neck. As the shoulder moves out the hip will move in. This will take many tries! At first the horse may want to push into or through you as he won’t understand, but by using half-halts with your leading hand and gently asking he will eventually bring the hip to the inside. Stop immediately and reward the slightest try. This is a lengthy process so patience on the handler’s part is key. If the horse does try to push into you, you can always take him onto a circle to reinforce the bend, then as you are coming back to the wall ask for the shoulder to move out. Asking before the haunches make it back to the wall may help to give the horse the idea of what you are asking.

Haunches_in_3

Tapping the outside hip to ask the haunches to move in. The mare is about to step in with her inside front so Lisa will then block the shoulder with either her hand or whip at the shoulder. Notice how her hip is away from the mare’s head to maintain the flexion of the head and neck. Photo credit Gary Wieben. Handler Lisa Wieben and her horse You Otta Have Me.

Haunches_in_4

Asking for haunches in by pushing the shoulder toward the track. This mare is stepping under nicely while maintaining head and shoulder position. Photo credit Gary Wieben. Handler Lisa Wieben and her horse You Otta Have Me.

Because these maneuvers are very new to the horse practice them at the end of your session so you can quit after a good effort. The horse will see that as a reward for what he just did. Give your horse plenty of time to learn them. Go very slowly. He will be using muscles and stretching his body in ways that he is not used to so you want to be careful you don’t over-do it and cause soreness. At first only ask for a step or two, then a couple of strides. Eventually your horse will be able to maintain this position all the way down the long side of the arena. Giving the horse plenty of time to learn will pay off immensely as he becomes more supple, relaxed, and willing.

Using the groundwork we’ve outlined in the last few articles will give you a wonderful way to warm up your horse prior to your ride. Giving your horse 10 to 20 minutes of walking work either from the ground or riding will help to warm up joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles helping to prevent stress related injuries.

 

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 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 – Create balance through the walk. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

May 3, 2020

In the last blog post, we discussed how to teach shoulder-in in-hand. Before teaching the haunches-in exercise in-hand, we thought it would be a good idea to get the horse to understand the half-halt and get him used to having a little more pressure placed on him before introducing the haunches-in exercise.

The following are two groundwork exercises you can do at the walk that will help you not only with under saddle work but also with getting more respect from your horse.

In the August 2019 issue of SaddleUp, we covered a slow walk exercise under saddle to help connect the horse more through from back to front. We also love to do a similar exercise on the ground.

Slow walk in-hand

To begin with, walk your horse in-hand along the track around the arena at a forward walk, or along a fence line if outside (see our previous article on in-hand leading in the March and April 2019 issues of SaddleUp). Having a boundary on the outside will help keep the horse straight, and having contact on the lead rope, with your hand under the horse’s head, will guide the horse where you want him to go (without pulling, but instead using consistent blocking contact to disallow any unwanted movement). Ask for forward motion with the whip pointing at or lightly tapping the flank of the horse.

 

Pic 8

Positioning for walking beside the horse. Leading hand is lifting up and slightly back to ask for a half-halt. The whip is keeping the horse stepping under.

Pic 9

Positioning for asking the horse forward, while the handler is walking backwards. The whip can block the shoulder from drifting in and can touch back further to ask for more forward energy.

When your horse walks well in-hand at a good forward walk, breathe out, put a half-halt in your upper body and more contact on the lead rope and say “whoa”. Then ask your horse for a backup (see February 2020 issue of SaddleUp on how to back your horse up in-hand), asking for only one step or two at first, by keeping the block on the lead rope to prevent forward movement, and if needed, tapping the horse in the flank area. If done correctly, this will shift the horse’s weight onto the hind end. Go forward again and with a half-halt in your upper body, ask your horse for a slower walk. The half-halt will ask your horse to shift his weight back and shorten his stride, essentially making your horse’s body shorter from back to front as the hind legs step a little further under. Do not pull back on the rope, but instead raise your hand holding the lead rope slightly.

To begin with only shorten the steps for a few strides, then allow the horse to move forward again as a reward. Keep the horse in contact. Keep mixing it up between slow, forward walk, and halts and backups.

Pic 10

After asking for a halt while walking backwards, Lisa is now asking her mare to step back a few steps to shift her weight back more. From the same position she can then ask for forward steps by tapping near the flank.

Another exercise we like to do is the following:

Position the horse along a wall or fence. Turn around and start walking backwards and slightly to the inside of the horse for safety reasons. If tracking left hold your lead rope in your left hand, closest to the horse and your loops and whip in your right hand. In this position the whip can be used along the body of the horse to maintain position on the track, straightness and forward energy. Have light contact on the lead rope. Ask for forward motion with the whip pointing at or tapping the flank of the horse.

Use blocks on the lead rope if the horse wants to rush forward or past you. If the horse wants to come off the wall/fence with his shoulder or hip, use the whip to block the movement, asking him to stay straight.

Just as in the previous exercise, ask for halts, backups, and slow walk, then allow the horse go walk forward again.

Many horses struggle when there are lots of boundaries (wall, whip, person), but “boxing in” is a great exercise to get your horse to respect your space more and not rush forward.

Some horses do better with one way of doing this exercise than the other, but in the end your horse should be able to do the exercise both ways without rushing or being pushy.

Another way to help your horse get the idea of the slow walk is to set up four to five walk-over poles. By setting the poles slightly shorter than the horse’s usual walk stride he will start to get the idea to shift his weight back and shorten his steps.

Pic 6

Walking over the poles with a long stride (3 foot spacing) The mare’s frame is below level and she’s relaxed.

Pic 7

Walking over the poles with a shorter stride (2 foot spacing). The mare has lifted her head slightly and shifted more onto her hind legs.

During all of these exercises the horse should remain level-headed. When the horse’s head lifts up above the withers the horse’s back will hollow and he will get more anxious. By keeping the head low to level the horse will get more endorphins and relax with the work.

Always make sure not to compromise relaxation. If your horse gets tense, ask for a few forward steps before asking for slow walk again.

Changing the length of the horse’s steps develops the horse’s ability to maintain balance and connection. With improved balance comes improved transitions and lateral work at all levels.

Photos by Dawn Stevens. Handler Lisa Wieben. Horse: Ava (You Otta Have Me), 8-year-old AQHA/APHA mare.

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 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 – Ground training part 2 – Shoulder-In. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

April 4, 2020

Last month you learned how to bend your horse from a standstill, walk on a circle with bend, and back your horse without pulling. This month we will take the bend you have created into a more advanced exercise, the shoulder-in. By teaching this maneuver from the ground the horse will better understand the cues when under saddle and will also begin to release tight muscle patterns. Think of this as yoga or somatics for your horse!

Now that your horse is bending nicely on a circle we will take this to bending on a straight line. To begin with, walk your horse along the track around the arena, or along a fence line if outside. Having some sort of boundary on the outside will help when performing the maneuvers.

Shoulder-in_2

Walking on a circle with bend.

For this exercise we will change our leading and whip hands. If tracking left, hold your lead rope in your left hand and keep the loops and whip in your right hand, closest to the horse. If using a halter, snap the lead to the side ring of the halter so that when you ask for bend the pressure will be to the side rather than from underneath which could create a twist in the head/neck. In this position the whip can be used along the body of the horse to maintain position on the track and forward energy. With the horse straight, ask the horse to bend to the inside with light pressure on the lead. Keep all four feet on the track, but ask for the head and neck to bend slightly to the inside, not past the point of the shoulder line. You may need to keep your right hand at the shoulder to keep the horse from stepping in with his inside front leg. When performing this exercise correctly the horse will lengthen the muscles on the outside of the body and contract slightly the muscles on the inside. Your hand at the shoulder will act much like your leg at the girth when riding, asking the horse to bend around that point. The hand at the shoulder will be used in a pulsing pressure, rather than steady pressure to prevent the horse leaning into it. The hand on the lead will also ask and give rather than holding steady. The goal is the keep the horse light. Head position should be low to level, just like we did on the circle last month. Walk one lap in each direction. You may want to spend several days with these exercises (the ones from last month and this straightness one) before progressing to the next ones.

Shoulder-in_1

Walking straight with bend. Handlers hand is at the shoulder.

 

Shoulder-in: To ask for the shoulder-in from the above exercise, you will allow the horse to step the front legs slightly to the inside. In a shoulder-in the horse will walk on three tracks. Inside front leg, outside front leg and inside hind leg, and outside hind. The bend of the horse is still through the centre so your hand at the shoulder will now maintain the bend and the amount the horse can step off the track. When a horse is first asked to bring the shoulders in he may think he is being asked to walk a circle and push around you. That’s ok and quite normal. Circle back to the rail. When you ask again be prepared by lifting the lead slightly up and to the outside (toward the neck). This will act as a half-halt and shift the horse’s weight back. What is great about teaching the horse the half-halt in this way is that when you ask from the saddle the horse will already understand that shift of weight back. Again, give your horse several days or more to get comfortable with the exercise before moving on. In the beginning reward the slightest try – ask, receive, give. Ask for the step in, feel the movement, then release the pressure and allow the horse to move straight again. Eventually you will be able to go the entire long side in shoulder-in.

Shoulder-in_3

Shoulder-in: handler’s hand at shoulder to ask for bend and block stepping in further off the track. Notice the three tracks the horse’s legs make. Inside hind and outside front step on the same track.

All of these exercises can be done with an ordinary nylon halter with the lead attached to the side ring. You may also want to try using a cavesson with a lead or rein attached to the middle ring on the nose piece. This gives a little more precise movement of the head and neck. When asking for more precision hold the lead close to the halter or cavesson ring. Once the horse starts to carry himself you can then move your hand further down the lead.

Photos by Gary Wieben. Handler Lisa Wieben. Horse Ava (You Otta Have Me), 8-year-old AQHA/APHA mare.

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 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.

Ground training. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

March 1, 2020

Winter, the perfect time to regroup, reflect, and fill in the gaps in any training in preparation for the new season. Going back to ground work, especially when working in the cold, is a great way to 1) stay warm, 2) improve flexibility, 3) improve connection, 4) build strength, and 5) teach maneuvers to your horse so the horse understands what you are asking once you get back to riding.

Since you want to stay warm while working with your horse, when doing ground work you can wear your warmest boots without worrying about your feet getting caught in the stirrups. You can also wear a toque instead of your helmet. You could also wear a thin hat under your helmet if you want to add a little more safety to your handling. Bulky gloves are also not as much of an issue with ground work.

When starting ground work we always like to check in with the horse’s ability to bend left and right. This simple exercise can tell you if one side is harder to bend to than the other. Stand at your horse’s side, slightly behind the girth, facing forward. Hold the lead rope in your outside hand (left hand if on the horse’s left side). With your inside hand (hand closest to the horse) begin to rub in the girth area or slightly behind where the girth would sit, just where the ribs start to curl under the horse’s belly. You should find a small indentation, which is essentially a bunch of nerve endings. Also think of where your heel might rest against the horse. This is the natural axis of the horse.

Pic 1

Lisa is asking her mare to bend around. It is not necessary for the horse to bend completely around as this horse is. Lisa’s body is back behind the girth to allow the mare to bend around. Her pressing hand is just behind the girth.

If the horse moves away from the pressure, continue rubbing, but hold the lead to prevent the horse from going forward. If he turns, turn with him, keeping your belly button aligned with the middle of his chest. When the horse turns his head and looks in your direction, release the massaging pressure to show him that is what you want. Rub again to see if the horse turns to look at you and release when he does. Keep your body back with your core ‘off’ (have soft, slightly bent knees and slightly bend with your upper body, without dropping your chest and shoulders forward). This acts like a draw to allow the horse to bend around to you. If your core is “on” (belly sticking out) or your outside shoulder or hip goes forward, it may block the horse from turning as far. When the horse looks towards you he is bending in the rib cage and bending around the pressing hand. When mounted we can use our leg to press and the horse will bend around our pressing leg.

This simple exercise can begin to shape the horse and create more flexibility and suppleness. Being able to bend your horse in this way will also help you keep your horse’s attention when you are tacking up at your trailer or in the stall. If the horse bends away from you to look at something you can go to the bend spot and massage to get his attention back on you. When asking for the horse to bend around to you, your goal is to have the horse come around and hold the bend on his own for 10 seconds. Then you know he is comfortably there and is truly bending, the muscles on the outside of the bend are lengthening, and the muscles on the inside of the bend are contracting. It may take some time to build up to this time.

Once the horse is comfortably bending left and right you can walk you horse on a circle in-hand (see our previous article on in-hand leading in the March and April 2019 issues of SaddleUp). Using a dressage whip in your outside hand, you can touch the horse at the girth while you are walking to remind the horse to keep his bend on the circle. By keeping contact with the lead rope you will be guiding the horse where you want him to go (without pulling, but instead using consistent blocking contact to disallow any unwanted movement) and will also be able to feel as soon as he tries to look away. A tap to the girth should bring his attention back. If it doesn’t you can make your circle smaller and use the whip to push the hindquarters out of the circle slightly to bring the horse’s attention back to you. Your body will stay aligned with the horse (your shoulders aligned with his shoulders, your core aligned with the middle of his chest) and your inside hip (the one closest to the horse) will push toward the horse slightly to create the bend on the smaller circle.

Pic 2

Leading in-hand – horse is bending on the circle. Lisa’s hand is back under the throat, guiding the horse, along with her body turning on the circle.

Another exercise you can do in-hand is teaching your horse how to back up without pulling, which will also translate to under saddle work. For this exercise you will need a dressage whip. Stand your horse either along a fence line or an arena wall with your body next to the horse’s shoulders. Keeping your body facing forward with hips squarely over your feet, hold the leadline with contact, keeping your hand under the horse’s head. Using the dressage whip, tap lightly near the flank. This cue will push the horse forward into your blocking hand, which will not allow the horse to go forward. The wall blocks movement to the outside and your body blocks the other side. The only choice left is for the horse to step back. When he does, release tapping pressure immediately and praise. When you first start to tap the horse may push through your block. If he does, circle the horse back to the wall and ask for the halt again. After a few tries he will begin to get the idea. Just ask for one step at first, then you can add more as he gets more comfortable with it. To ask the horse to come forward again, move your hips to the outside to invite the horse into the open space. When the horse gets beside you bring your hips back to square to stop the horse again, or you can step in with the horse once he is beside you and go for a walk, before halting and trying again.

Pic 3

Lisa showing the position of the whip when asking the horse forward into the hand. Her hand will block the forward, then the horse will step back. This translates to riding the horse from back to front and teaches the half-halt – a shift back off the forehand.

Pic 4

As Lisa asks her horse to back up she keeps her hips square to the horse. The horse should not step past her block.

During all of these exercises the horse should remain level-headed. When the horse’s head lifts up above the withers the horse’s back will hollow and he will get more anxious. By keeping the head low to level the horse will get more endorphins and relax with the work.

Pic 5

A student is asking her horse to step forward from the backup by opening her hip and asking for forward with the whip. Note in this pic the horse is wearing a cavesson. When using the cavesson the hand closest to the horse is holding the whip and outside hand holds the lead (this gives a softer feel on the nose, more like an open rein, and the hand closest to the horse can press the shoulder away quicker if he steps into you. Having the whip closer to the body also helps with bend. Using a cavesson keeps the horse much more aligned. No more tilting heads!).
All these exercises can be done either with a halter, bridle, or cavesson.

By focusing on ground work a few days a week or even 15 minutes before your ride you can effectively change muscle patterns in the body that could lead to lameness and improve the horse’s frame of mind in preparation for work. A relaxed, supple body will be much more willing to do the work you require of your horse. Have fun with these exercises.

Photos by Rebecca Wieben, Dawn Stevens, and Lisa Wieben. Pictured Lisa Wieben and student Diane Luxen.

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 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.