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

April 4, 2021

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

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

The setup

There are many different ways to ride this exercise:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Starting the serpentine riding over the points of the sets.

Rider aids

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 7, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are several ways to ride this layout.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flying lead changes. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

December 20, 2020

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

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

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

There are several ways to practice flying changes.

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

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

Pick up the left lead lope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have fun and enjoy the journey!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple lead changes. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

November 22, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Rider position and aids

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have fun and enjoy the journey!

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 10, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) a shallow loop to the quarter-line:

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

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

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

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

In Level 3 the rider will be asked to perform:

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

Level 4 will introduce the flying change.

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

Rider position and aids

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have fun and enjoy the journey!

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

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

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

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

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

October 29, 2020

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

The set-up

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

How to ride the exercise

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

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

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

Crossing the rail at the centre point.

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

Variations

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

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

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

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

Rider position and aids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zigzag exercise. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

October 20, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bending on the circle

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


Lining up with the pole

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

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

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


Starting the left turn

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


Final approach over the pole

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

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

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

Be sure to keep your eyes up and look ahead!

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

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

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

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

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.