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In-hand work part 2. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

April 21, 2019

In the last blog post, we talked about the basics of in-hand leading, a groundwork exercise we can do with our horses even when the temperatures are cold.

Topics included timing of turns, use of whip, flexing for stretching, as well as halts.

Today we are looking at turns on forehand, turns on haunches, as well as in-hand work over/through obstacles.

Turns on forehand

Stand next to your horse at his shoulder with your core (belly button) facing his hip, your inside hip (the one closest to the horse’s head) will be open. Shift your weight onto your outside  foot. This allows the horse to bring his head towards you.

Keeping contact on the lead rope with your inside hand, send impulsive (pushing) energy from your hand or a whip towards your horse’s hip, asking him to take a step away from you. Depending on your horse you may also need to take a couple small steps towards your horse’s hip in order to increase the pushing energy from your core as well as the drawing energy from your inside hip. If your horse dose not yield his hindquarters give him a gentle tap with the whip.

Keep repeating these steps until your horse has completed a quarter circle, and eventually a half circle, rewarding at each step.

As always, pay attention to your horse’s body language. If he raises his head and braces, he is not only feeling physically tense, but also and mentally tense and stressed. Stop applying pressure to his hip and encourage him to lower his head with the figure eight flexing motion explained in last month’s article. Be sure that you are breathing and not holding any tension in your body. Reward your horse for the smallest try.

Turns on haunches

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Turn on haunches: Dawn is using her outside shoulder to guide the turn, her inside hip is open, and her right hand is there to help guide if needed. – Photo credit Lisa Wieben

Stand about half a foot to a foot away from your horse, slightly ahead of his nose, with soft, slightly bent knees and core folded. With your hand closest to the horse’s head, hold the lead rope with contact.

Start applying pressure to his shoulder with your hand or a whip as you step in the direction you want him to go. Make sure your horse is straight or slightly bent in the direction of travel. This will make it easier for him to cross over with the front legs. Keep your body turning with the horse with your outside shoulder guiding the turn.

As soon as you feel your horse shift his weight away from your push, no matter how little, immediately stop applying pressure, reward, then ask for another step. A pushy or stoic horse is likely to push back into your push, so instead of using firmer, steady pressure, we find it is more effective to adjust the push by using our thumb or fingertips or even the whip handle and applying pressure in a rhythmic manner.

If your horse is still not shifting his weight away from you, tap him gently on the shoulder with the whip.

Make sure your horse stays in a level to low headed frame during the exercise. If he raises his head and tenses, stop applying pressure and encourage him to lower his head with the figure eight flexing motion.

Introducing obstacles

When starting to introduce obstacles that are stationary, such as a trail bridge, you can walk your horse past the object with your body positioned closest to the obstacle. This gives the horse confidence and allows him to bend away from the object without pushing into you. Keep him bending around both you and the obstacle. Do this in both directions, giving him the opportunity to see the obstacle from both sides. Once he is comfortable walking past the obstacle with you between him and the object then lead him past the obstacle with him being between you and the obstacle. Again do this in both directions.

Keep your body slightly ahead of him, with your hip closest to him open, allowing him to bend away from the obstacle if he gets worried. Reward every sign of relaxation and softness. As always maintain a low to level head throughout the exercise.

When introducing an object that you can move, pick it up (or drag it along the ground) and begin to back away from your horse and have him follow you. He will most likely become curious and want to move closer to touch or smell the object. For some horses this can take some time, for others curiosity will bring them in quickly. Once the horse is comfortable touching the object you can stand with him in a bend and bring it in closer to his body. Any sign of tensing up (for example inverting), pause and lower his head before proceeding further.

Maintaining calm and relaxation throughout these exercises will have your horse be a willing partner that will enjoy his time spent with you. Everything we do on the ground will translate to a willing partner under saddle as well.

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Allowing the mare to follow a scary obstacle instead of bringing it to her builds confidence. – Photo credit Rebecca Wieben

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Curiosity has won and the horse is checking out the tarp. – Photo credit Rebecca Wieben

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Once the horse is comfortable touching the object Lisa keeps the horse bent around her and brings the tarp closer to her body. Any sign of tensing up, stop and lower the horse’s head before proceeding further. – Photo credit Rebecca Wieben

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Still holding her in bend, Lisa gently drapes the tarp over the mare’s back. – Photo credit Rebecca Wieben

Have fun!

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.

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In-hand work part 1. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

April 14, 2019
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Winter time with its cold temperatures, snow, icy footing, and short daylight hours can make it difficult to work with your horse. Don’t feel guilty. There is nothing wrong with letting your horse have break. It may be beneficial for him physically and mentally to have a break from his regular workout (as long as he still gets some turnout).

However, if you are looking for things to do with your horse that keep you warm as well, there are lots of groundwork exercises you can do.

In this blog post, we are looking at the basics of in-hand work.

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In-hand leading with the flexing hand position.Notice how the mare is almost leaning forward with a downhill appearance. This form of leading is great to help flex the horse down if it is high headed, but once the horse is relaxed you may switch to the second hand position. This mare is already relaxed and low. See next two photos.

 

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In this photo the handler is using the whip and a lifting hand to ask the mare to lift up and shift her weight back.

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In this photo you can see how the mare’s withers have come up and she is walking in a more natural topline for her. We would want her to walk in a more uphill balance for dressage.

There are two ways to lead the horse in-hand. The first way is our preferred way for working with young horses, problem horses, or horses that have a tendency to be high headed and need more boundaries. Start out by walking next to your horse’s shoulder, with the hand closest to the horse underneath his neck. Hold the rope like a rein, with your wrist turned so the thumb is level. The basic hand position is under the horse’s neck directly in line with the middle of the body in order to keep the horse’s neck straight and the head low without pulling. How to achieve this low relaxed position is further in the article. The second way to lead is to hold the rope from underneath with a slightly lifted feeling. The hand will be rotated so the thumb is turned up. This hand position works well for horses that are further along or that have a tendency to shift their weight forward onto the forehand. As you push forward with the whip you can lift the hand and ask the horse to lift through the withers. This sits his weight back to the hind end (the power end), where we will need them to be for any sport. With either method your belly button (core) should be facing straight ahead, in alignment with the centre of the horse’s chest. Imagine a railroad track, with you walking on the one track and the horse’s middle of the chest following the other track. The two tracks are always aligned (parallel or congruent). Hold the tail end of the rope in folds in your opposite hand. Do not hold it in loops for safety reasons.

You may choose to carry a dressage whip that can be used to encourage the horse forward.

Pick up contact on the lead rope, then ask the horse to take the first step before joining in. This will maintain the contact without you inadvertently pulling on the rope. It is important to work the horse from back to front by “pushing” the horse from the hind end into your receiving, never pulling hand.

Use the lead rope and the arm closest to your horse as a boundary so the horse doesn’t come into your space. Never pull on the rope or send pushing energy into the horse’s head or neck with your belly button, shoulders, hips or hands.

Maintain good contact and keep the horse straight or slightly bent around you.

Ensure that the horse is level headed and does not invert (high-headed with hollow back).

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Hand position used to lift and shift the weight back to the hind end.

Flexing for stretching

If your horse’s head is high, you can ask him to lower it by gently flexing the lead rope. Roll your wrist in a “flat” figure eight movement so the thumb of the right hand points up when the hand slightly moves to the right and down when the hand moves to the left. This is done with correct diagonal timing with the horse’s front feet.

This is a great tool to stretch the horse’s topline and getting him to relax and feel good while being led.

If your horse is already low-headed, you do not need the flexing motion.

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Flexing with the movement of the horse. The handler is flexing right as the mare steps with her right front. As she steps left the handler would then flex left. This is used to calm a horse and bring it down to a level topline.

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Flexing down hand position to help the horse relax.

Timing of turns

Always initiate a turn when the horse is on the outside diagonal so that the horse is balanced and level headed during the turn. Diagonal timing in groundwork refers to the horse being on the correct outside diagonal front leg of whatever bend it is in so that he is balanced to do whatever turn the horse is asked to do.

For example, when turning left, ask the horse to turn when he is standing on his right outside front leg.

While turning right (leader on left side of horse), it is important to step ahead of the horse’s shoulder and around his head and neck (not into it). Before asking for a right turn, make sure the horse is in a right bend. Never bend a horse directly from left to right; always walk a few steps straight in-between.

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Turning the horse balanced on the outside front leg.

Timing of use of the whip

The timing of the use of the whip is also based on the correct outside diagonal and is used for a “push” into the horse’s hips, shoulders or girth. The whip should only tap the horse as his barrel swings away from you.

Halts

Halting the horse should be done in three and a half steps.

Inhale and grow tall, then exhale, slow your movement, and if needed, half-halt with your back and core, before coming to a halt.

If the horse doesn’t stop, stay aligned with your horse (remember the train tracks!) and ask him for a turn on the forehand until he is willing to halt. We will talk about turns on the forehand in the next article.

Never force the horse to halt or stand still and also never pull on the lead rope.

If the horse tries to come in on top of you with his head, put up a block at the corner of his mouth, either with your hand holding the whip or with the knob of the whip.

In the next blog post, we will discuss turns on the forehand and turns on the haunches as well as introducing a horse to obstacles.

Pictures by Lisa Wieben. Handler: Jacklyn Hegberg with May, 12-year-old Warmblood 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.

Warm-up exercise. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

November 4, 2018

In this blog post, we are discussing another warm-up exercise that will help your horse become more focused, supple, and responsive to your aids. This exercise also creates more impulsion by getting the horse to move more off its hind end.

Before attempting this exercise you should already know how to ride a leg yield. The leg yield is a basic lateral exercise in which the horse travels both forward and sideways at the same time. Just as the name of it implies, it teaches the horse to move sideways, or yield, away from the rider’s leg pressure. The leg yield benefits as both a suppling and straightening exercise, therefore improving a horse’s balance. The horse will also develop more swing and stretch as he develops more suppleness. It also teaches the rider how to use her aids independently and bring the horse properly into the outside rein. We covered how to properly execute a leg yield in the February 2017 issue of SaddleUp.

In this exercise the rider will yield the horse from the track or wall toward the centre of the arena and then perform a half circle back to the track or wall maintaining the same bend.

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Nice bend through the circle to return to the wall. Inside hind is stepping under the body well.

Inside and Outside refers to the horse’s bend, not to inside or outside of the ring.

* Start the warm-up exercise by tracking right in a working jog, sitting or posting.

* As soon as you turn onto the long side and achieve straightness change the horse’s bend from right bend to left bend by using the left leg to create left bend through the rib cage by pressing at the girth and gently applying the left rein for slight flexion. The left rein will stay off the horse’s neck with consistent light pressure. Remember to turn your seat and body slightly in the direction of the horse’s bend toward the wall.

* Ask your horse to leg yield off the wall. The horse will be bent around the rider’s pressing leg. Imagine the bend of a banana. Apply your inside leg at or slightly behind the girth, depending on the level of your horse’s training, in timing with the horse’s swing of the barrel (apply leg pressure as the barrel swings away from the inside leg as this is the timing when the inside hind leg is moving forward and can cross over).

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

* Your outside leg is positioned slightly behind the girth of the horse in order to keep the forward energy and to prevent the horse from going sideways too quickly, or to prevent the hip from leading the movement. The outside leg does not apply a steady pressure, but is ready if needed, lightly on the horse’s side.

* The outside rein is a supporting rein and guides the horse into the direction of travel, while also preventing the horse from overbending through his neck and bulging through the outside shoulder. Use half-halts to maintain straightness and rhythm. Half-halts will also be needed if the horse gets rushing or pushy. To attain a quicker sideways action you will need more outside rein to slow the forward movement and take it sideways.

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Moving away from the wall. Horse is bent around rider’s pushing leg and rider’s body matches the bend of the movement.

When the horse is a few strides past the quarterline, start a half circle back toward the wall, then track left when you reach the wall. The horse will already be bent in the direction of the turn.

* Use your 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.

* You can add a degree of difficulty by pushing the horse’s hips out on the half circle by moving the inside leg back. The rider will need more outside rein to keep the horse’s shoulders on the circle as the hips move out.

When you reach the wall, track left, then repeat the exercise in the opposite direction.

The horse should remain relaxed in its gaits, without speeding up or slowing down.

This is a wonderful warm-up exercise to create suppleness and looseness in the horse as well as responsiveness and obedience to the rider’s aids.

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Moving away from the wall and preparing for the circle back to the wall.

This article is the 29th 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.

Photos by Lisa Wieben. Rider Jacklyn Hegberg and her horse Maverick.

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.

Rollback collection exercise. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

October 14, 2018

We love the following collection exercise. Doing this exercise with your horse will create more ‘push power’ in your horse’s hind end, as well as lift in the front end.

For this exercise, you and your horse should know how to execute a turn on the haunches. You can review by reading the blog entries https://fallingstarranch.wordpress.com/2016/11/09/western-dressage-turn-on-the-haunches-by-lisa-wieben-and-birgit-stutz/ and https://fallingstarranch.wordpress.com/2016/11/28/western-dressage-turn-on-the-haunches-part-2-by-lisa-wieben-and-birgit-stutz/.

Start by riding your horse in a working jog on a 20-metre circle. Ask your horse to come to a walk by inhaling and growing tall (creating a feeling of lightness in your body tells the horse that a change is coming), then exhaling and sinking down. Hold through your centre through the transition. Make sure to maintain straightness in your body, no leaning forward or back, with your legs close to the horse to maintain straightness and forward energy into the walk. There should be no feeling of ‘halt’ in a downward walk transition.

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Working jog on the circle.

Shorten your horse’s stride with your seat and rein aids while maintaining rhythm. Keep your legs on the horse in order to maintain the activity of the horse’s legs.

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Turn on the haunches: nice bend through the body in the direction of the turn.

Ask for a turn on the haunches to the outside of the circle. If circling to the left, perform the turn on the haunches to the right.

Open the inside rein to flex the horse slightly into the direction of the turn. The outside rein limits the amount of bend in the neck while allowing the shoulders to move around the turn. Move both hands slightly in the direction of the turn to lead the forehand around the hindquarters. The inside rein is a leading or opening rein, while the outside rein is brought closer to the neck to guide the horse around the turn as a supporting rein.

You can slightly shift your weight onto your inside seat bone and keep your inside leg on the girth to maintain bend and suppleness throughout the body and encourage engagement of the inside hind leg and to prevent the horse from stepping back in the turn. Move your outside leg slightly behind the girth to help bend the horse around the inside leg and to prevent his hindquarters from swinging out. The upper inner thigh can help push the horse around the turn. The inside hind leg will become the pivot point, however instead of a pivot foot, imagine the horse walking his hind legs around a dinner plate, while the forelegs and outside hind leg step around on a larger circle. If the horse pivots on a foot the foot picks up and sets down close to the same spot maintaining a walking rhythm. The outside front leg should be crossing over the inside front leg.

Allow your outside hip to move forward slightly as you turn your body to match your horse’s turn. However, too much turn through your hips will push the hindquarters out of the turn so keep the movement subtle. Keep the buttons on your shirt or your belt buckle lined up with the horse’s mane and your eyes looking through your horse’s ears. Overturning with the head will create too big a shift in your body weight and cause the horse to get heavy on the forehand.

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Walking to the turn on the haunches.

Maintain a following seat and keep the walking rhythm. The horse must maintain its bend and remain forward throughout the movement. Once the turn is completed ask for working jog onto the circle.

While executing the exercise, the horse should stay forward, relaxed, balanced, and on the bit, while maintaining rhythm and correct bend.

If the horse pivots on the outside hind leg instead of on the inside hind leg, the horse is backing up instead of staying forward. You may need to use more leg to keep the horse forward. Asking for the turn with a straighter neck or slight counter- bend may also help get the horse more onto the inside hind leg.

To increase difficulty, you can also do this exercise from a lope. Lope a 20-metre circle, ask for a jog, then walk, shorten the steps in the walk to a turn on the haunches, maintaining the forward steps, complete a 180 turn on the haunches, then lope out.

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Turn on the haunches: the rider’s body is balanced with the turn.

Overview of exercise:

1) Begin on a 20-metre circle in working jog.

2) Pick a spot to perform a downward transition to walk. Ask for transition using seat, voice, and rein aids if needed.

3) Shorten the steps in walk by using seat and rein aids.

4) Perform a 180-degree turn on the haunches to the outside of the circle with horse in correct bend for the turn.

5) Jog out of turn.

6) Repeat exercise.

This is a fun exercise and you will find your horse will enjoy the challenge!

This article is the 28th 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.

Photos by Lisa Wieben. Rider Jacklyn Hegberg and her horse Cash.

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.

 

Rebalancing on a serpentine. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

September 22, 2018

In the last blog post we discussed a rebalance exercise on the circle. In this blog post we will take that same rebalancing exercise out into the arena onto a serpentine. For this exercise the rider will need to be familiar with riding a three-loop serpentine.

Start by warming up your horse on random bending lines in the walk and working jog (posting). The changes of bend will begin to supple the horse’s ribcage and frequent transitions will encourage hind end engagement. All transitions should be on bending lines in the warm-up to prevent the horse from leaning on the bit, inverting (lifting the head above the withers), or getting heavy in the front.

Many horses, when doing a transition on a straight line, will lift the head and pull themselves forward, rather than keeping the head level, pushing from behind, and lifting the back and withers. To get an image of how a horse should move forward imagine a power boat starting forward. The back of the boat sinks down as the front of the boats lift up. The power is in the back. For the horse, if the hind end is lacking power and the legs are out behind, the horse inverts (hollows its back and lifts its head), and pulls forward from the front end. This would be equivalent to someone in the front of the boat paddling to get the boat to go forward – there is no power. The person paddling will likely get a sore back from the effort and your horse will also become tight and sore in his back from the hollowing. Saddle fit will also change if your horse is lifting his back correctly. The ultimate goal of collection is developing the horse, over time, to carry more weight on his hind end and lighten the forehand.

The following exercise as well as the previous rebalance exercise are great ways to start teaching the horse this transfer of weight.

For this exercise you will be riding a three-loop serpentine in both directions of the arena. In our last exercise we used transition points on the circle to create a little anticipation in the horse, which allows us to use more leg to tell the horse “not yet” when they want to do the downward transitions on their own. In this exercise the transition points will be just before and after the centre line of the arena.

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Riding the half circle of a serpentine.

Begin the first serpentine in a working jog (posting) and ride through the entire serpentine to get the feel of the half circles and straight lines across the centre of the arena. When you reach the end of the arena proceed back up the arena again in a three-loop serpentine. This time, just before the centre line, ask the horse to come back to a walk by inhaling, growing tall (creating a feeling of lightness in your body tells the horse a change is coming), exhaling and sinking down. Make sure to maintain straightness in your body, no leaning forward or back, legs close to the horse to maintain straightness and forward energy into the walk. There should be no feeling of ‘halt’ in a downward walk transition. Allow the horse to walk forward a few steps, begin to change bend onto the new arc of the serpentine, and ask the horse back to a jog, maintaining light contact throughout the transitions. Repeat on the next straight line, bringing the horse to a walk across the centre line, walking a few steps, changing bend into the new arc and jogging forward. Repeat this transition until the horse begins to anticipate the downward walk transition.

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Entering the straight portion of the serpentine. The 12′ poles maintain straightness through the centre.

Once the horse is thinking ‘slow down’, begin to ask for a halt transition at each centre point of the serpentine. You could also add a transition on each short side as well, at A and C. For the halt transition use the same breathing of inhaling and growing tall and exhaling and sinking down, but this time stop your seat from following, giving the horse the cue to stop. Maintain leg contact into the halt to keep the halt straight. Keep your eyes lifted and body tall to keep the horse light on the forehand.

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Transitioned to the walk at the start of the poles. The rider will then begin the working jog as she leaves the poles.

Once the horse begins to anticipate the halt, then you can repeat the serpentine using a slight rebalance at each centre line. Keep the horse in working jog and as you approach the centre line, slow your posting and ask the horse to ‘come back’ very slightly in his gait. Only ask for a couple of steps, then immediately ask the horse to go forward again by increasing the tempo of your rising. Maintain contact throughout the rebalance, especially as the horse goes forward again, to prevent the horse from lifting the head and pulling forward. You want to feel a push from behind.

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Transitioning to a halt. Notice the rider’s hands lifting slightly.

To make this exercise more interesting you can add trot poles at each centre line transition point. When adding poles just use the two points on the centre line and not A and C. You can use the rebalance before the poles to adjust speed and length of stride and after to adjust speed and balance. Some horses will get excited when adding poles. Go one step further and place your poles at different distances. For example, place the first set at just under one metre or (three feet) apart and the second set at just over a metre (3’6”) apart. With poles set at different distances you can use the rebalance to set your horse’s stride length. Experiment with different distances and placements of poles. Have fun!

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A square halt shows the horse is halting balanced. The rider kept both legs on the horse to maintain straightness and to keep both hind legs stepping under.

This article is the 27th 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.

Photos by Lisa Wieben. Rider Jacklyn Hegberg and her horse Cash.

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.

 

Rebalance exercise. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

August 11, 2018

In this blog post we are looking at an exercise that will help rebalance your horse to achieve more hind end engagement, lightness on the front end, and overall connection to the rider’s aids. A lot of reward for a simple exercise!

At this point your horse should be comfortable riding in all three gaits, can execute a 20-metre circle comfortably, and be able to transition from a working jog to halt, and has had some work in transition within a gait, for example moving from a slower jog to a more lengthened jog and back to the slower jog.

Warm-up your horse by riding randomly around the arena, in both walk and working jog, with frequent changes of bend. Any transitions during this time should be performed on bending lines to prevent the horse from leaning on the bit, inverting, or getting heavy in the front. Riding serpentines, loops, circles and random bending lines will help the horse begin to supple through the rib cage. Frequent transitions will help engage the hind end.

For the exercise begin riding on a 20-metre circle in the working jog (posting works best for this exercise). Pick two sides of the circle which will be your transition areas. For example, if your circle is at the end of a 20x40m ring, you could pick A and X as your transition points. Doing the transitions in the same location each time will create anticipation in the horse, which for this exercise is a good thing as it will allow you to use more leg as the horse begins to anticipate the downward transition to let them know “not yet”!

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Transition through the halt: a nice balanced, square halt.

Your first transition will be from the working jog to walk. Just before you get to the transition point inhale and grow tall, then exhale and let your body sink down, without leaning back or forward. Hold through your centre through the transition. If the horse does not respond to the breath or seat cue, then use a little rein aid to reinforce the cue. Walk for a few steps, then ask the horse to move back into the working jog, again maintaining contact on the reins. Letting your hands go forward as you ask the horse to move more forward will let the horse get long rather than pushing off the hind end and lifting the back. Maintain the bend of the horse on the circle throughout both the upward and downward transitions. The inside aids are bending aids and the outside aids are supporting and speed control aids. You will perform this transition at each transition point, only riding half a circle in the working jog before each transition.

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In this picture you can see that the horse is not using his hind end. Notice the sand that is kicked up by his hind foot as the toe stabs the ground.

When the horse begins to anticipate the walk transition, change the exercise and proceed to halting at each point on the circle. Again inhale and grow tall (this cues the horse that there will be a change), exhale and sink and stop your body from following the horse’s movement. Your legs will remain close to the horse’s side to keep the horse straight throughout the halt and also to keep the hind legs stepping under the body. Quite often the horse will halt with his legs in a stepping position rather than square. This is a sign of an unbalanced halt. Keeping your legs on the horse throughout the halt will help the horse connect back to front throughout the transition. Once the horse is halting balanced and light then move on to the next step.

Step three is creating a momentary rebalance on the circle maintaining the jog. Ride the 20-metre circle in rising working jog and this time at each transition point slow your rising by holding just a split second longer in the rise. You may need to reinforce slightly using a rein aid, but eventually you want to feel your horse respond to the change in rising more than the rein aid. Throughout this transition your legs will maintain contact to keep the horse’s hind end engaged. Using light rein contact and maintaining leg contact as the horse slows in the gait will allow the horse to rebalance. You will feel the back lift. Only ask for a couple steps, then immediately ask the horse to go forward again just by changing the rhythm of your rising. Slow the rising to bring the horse back and increase the rising by letting your hips go more forward to ask for more forward steps. The horse should increase his reach of stride and not make quicker, shorter strides.

 

Once the horse begins to anticipate this change, then you can use this rebalance to ask for a lope departure. Allow the horse to lope a full circle, then ask for the working jog. Repeat the rebalance cues a couple of times and then ask for the lope cue again. You will find your horse’s lope transitions will be greatly improved using this rebalance.

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Notice how the horse’s back is dropped behind the saddle. He is not using his body well.

 

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After all the transition work the horse is now lifting his back. Notice how the poll is lifting and as the rider slows her posting while applying leg pressure the horse is lifting his back and appears shorter through the body. Compare the area behind the saddle compared to the previous picture.

Once the horse is proficient on the circle, then you can ask for these rebalances anywhere in the arena when you are going to perform any transition. Playing with transitions within a gait is a great way to encourage hind end engagement and connection to the rider’s aids. Have fun!

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As a break after completing one side of the exercise you can let the horse stretch forward.

This article is the 26th 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.

Photos by Lisa Wieben. Rider Jacklyn Hegberg and her horse Cash.

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.

“Guiding” rather than “steering” the horse. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

May 6, 2018

Beginner riders and even some more advanced riders quite often are unaware of how much turning from their centre can assist their horse in smooth turns. When horse and rider are working together in harmony they portray an effortless look. The rider’s body can guide the horse, not just from the legs and hands, but also through their seat and body. The following exercise will bring awareness to riders in how light they can be with their turning aids and also prepare the horse for the loop maneuver which is ridden in the lower levels in jog and Level 1 in counter canter.

Arena set-up: Set up five pylons on one side of the arena, seven metres apart, and a loop with three pylons on the other side of the arena. The loop with the three pylons can either be set at a five-metre loop or a ten-metre loop out to centre line.

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How to ride the exercise:

The line of travel for the first part of this exercise, the zig-zag through the five pylons, will be as close to the pylons as you can be. The changes of bend will be very subtle. Imagine a snake slithering through the pylons.

The key to a flowing line is to not pull with the reins in the direction of the new turn, but to turn your body in the direction of the turn. To pull the horse would unbalance him and make the line look ‘jerky’.

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The rider is pulling the horse into the turn and releasing the outside rein. The horse, without the supporting outside rein, is overbending and drifting through the outside shoulder.

Before we begin, take a moment to sit in a chair and turn your body from your seat a little to the right and notice how your left leg presses in a little and the right leg opens a little to allow the turn. Repeat to the left (on the horse your outside upper inner thigh will press against the saddle and the inside thigh will soften slightly). Now if you hold your hands like you are holding reins, turn your body again and keeping the hands the same distance apart and your elbows equally close to your body notice that as you turn through your centre your outside rein automatically goes forward, without giving at the elbow, and the inside rein automatically draws back, without actually pulling back. The hands follow the body and your weight stays evenly centred over both seat bones.

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Correct bend through the corner after the loop. Notice the rider’s hands are evenly across from one another. The outside rein is supporting and the inside rein is maintaining the bend. The rider’s body is in alignment with her horse and she is looking ahead onto the line of travel.

– Start the exercise at a walk at C and track right.

– As you approach the corner ask your horse for right bend: inside (right) leg directly under your body pressing at the girth in timing with the rhythm of the barrel (the leg presses as the barrel swings to the outside), asking your horse to bend the rib cage as well as to maintain activity. Your outside leg will maintain rhythm and help to turn the horse in around the first pylon.

– For the turn your right hip will draw back slightly and your left hip will move forward to turn the horse. Your hands will follow your body. As you turn from your centre your right rein will open slightly and the outside rein will come against the neck. Both reins are supporting the line of travel. Think of funneling the horse onto the line of travel. The two reins are the side of the funnel.

– As the horse is crossing the line of the pylons you will turn your body toward the wall of the arena to take the horse to the outside of the line. Remember your line of travel will be as close to the pylons as you can be. The turn of your body will be very subtle and the changes of bend in your horse will be very subtle.

– Continue down the line turning from your centre. Once you get to the corner be sure to ride a corner that is part of a 10-metre circle. Your body will turn more through the corner than through the zig-zag. Your inside leg and your connection with the outside rein will help to balance the horse through the corner.

– Continue straight on the short side. As you approach the next corner, again ride the corner as part of a 10-metre circle and leave the track at the letter, bending the horse around the first pylon of the loop.

– As you complete your turn toward the middle pylon prepare your horse for a couple strides of straightness by bringing your body back to centre and aligning your reins evenly on both sides of the neck and maintaining even leg pressure to maintain straightness through the horse’s body.

– A few steps before the middle pylon turn your body toward the last marker and bend your horse’s body slightly to the left.

– Whether your loop is set at 5-metre or 10-metre, aim your horse to just before the middle pylon so that as you pass the pylon your horse will be aiming straight at the short side of the arena. If you are riding the 10-metre loop to the right you will be aiming at C as you cross the centreline, a 5-metre loop you will be directly on the quarter-line.

– After you complete the turn at the middle marker you will then have a few strides of straightness before preparing for the turn around the final marker and into the corner.

– As you approach the track for the corner plan a step or two of leg yield to the outside to help the horse prepare for the corner. This will prevent the horse from falling in to the turn. For most horses it will be the last turn off the line where they will try to cut the corner.

– Repeat the exercise a few more times to the right, now in jog. Then repeat to the left.

You will find the more you repeat this exercise the lighter the horse will get off your turning aids. Our goal in dressage is to appear as effortless and in harmony with the horse as we can. Exercises like this help to develop that harmony.

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The rider is pulling with the inside rein and releasing the outside rein.

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The rider is in the correct position for the turn.

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The rider is pulling with the inside rein while releasing the outside rein.

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The rider is in correct position for the turn.

This article is the 25th 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.

Photos by Lisa Wieben

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.