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Western Dressage – Square exercise. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

August 13, 2017

In this blog post, we will take the reader through an exercise that we call the square exercise.

Performing various schooling exercises with your horse will increase your horse’s suppleness, flexibility, obedience, and responsiveness to the rider’s aids.

Before attempting the exercise, the horse and rider pair should be able to correctly perform a turn on the forehand and a turn on the haunches. If you would like to review how to correctly perform a turn on the forehand, please refer to our article in the August 2016 issue of SaddleUp. To read up on how to execute a turn on the haunches, please refer to the articles in the September and October 2016 issues of SaddleUp. The articles can also be found online at https://fallingstarranch.wordpress.com/ and http://www.mountainviewtrainingstables.com/blog.

Before you begin the exercise, set up a 15 to 20-metre square with four pylons.

Begin the exercise at a working walk.

Part 1: Square with turns on the forehand

At each corner halt with the horse’s shoulders just past the pylon, perform a quarter turn on the forehand, then proceed in walk. The horse should keep a four-beat rhythm during the turn as the front end steps in place and the hind end crosses, inside leg in front of outside leg, to complete the turn.

Once in the halt the rider will tip the horse’s nose in the direction of travel, toward the next pylon on the square. The rider will then position her own body in the same direction, while positioning her inside leg back to move the haunches over, away from the square. By using press and release pressure with the leg, in time with the horse’s swing of the barrel, the horse will make the turn one step at a time, without rushing. The outside leg supports and maintains straightness as well as blocking the horse from going past the point needed to proceed to the next corner. The outside rein supports, preventing overbending and forward steps. It will also keep the outside shoulder from ‘leaking out’. The inside rein maintains bend. The rider should sit tall and straight and keep her eyes up throughout the movement looking toward the next corner.

Make sure to perform the exercise in both directions.

Square_exercise_forehandturn

The rider is turning in the direction of the turn; the horse is crossing over behind.  Rider is Jacklyn Hegberg, an amateur rider who competes in Level 1/2 with her horse Chip N at Midnite. In 2016 she was World Champion Youth in Level 1 and Reserve Basic at the WDAA World Show. In this series she is riding Itsa Rio Snazzy Zip owned by Lisa Wieben. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

Part 2: Square with turns on the haunches

At each corner halt with the horse’s haunches past the pylon and perform a quarter turn on the haunches, then proceed in walk.

In the halt, the rider will once again tip the horse’s nose slightly in the direction of the turn while turning her body in the direction. The rider’s inside leg maintains bend and prevents the horse from overstepping into the square after the turn while the outside rein determines the amount of bend and also prevents overstepping. The outside leg should be positioned back slightly to prevent the haunches from shifting to the outside during the turn and to press the horse in the direction of travel, using press and release pressure. Half-halts (squeeze and release) will keep the steps of the hind legs small during the turn.

Square_exercise_haunchesturn

The horse is bent in the direction of the turn; the rider maintains an inside bending leg and an outside pressing leg. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

To add some variation to part 1 and part 2 you can add working jog in-between each corner, halt and turn.

Square_exercise_steppingaround1

The horse maintains a four-beat rhythm while stepping around the turn. The rider is half-halting on the outside rein to keep the hind steps smaller while the front end reaches around the turn. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

To make the exercise more difficult take out the halt and use half-halts to shorten the horse’s steps before performing the turn on the forehand or turn on the haunches, maintaining forward energy throughout the turns.

Square_exercise_steppingaround2

The horse is crossing over in the front while the hind legs maintain the walking rhythm. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

In-between doing turns on the forehand and turns on the haunches we like to take the horse to the rail and do some lengthening jog on the long sides and working jog on the short sides of the arena or maybe a nice lope circle. After doing the more collected work of the turns, it is beneficial to give the horse a “mental break”, and moving forward is always a nice break! You will notice your horse will have more power after working on the turns as both of the turns get the horse stepping further under its body.

Have fun!

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

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

Birgit Stutz is an Irwin Insights Level 4 Master Certified Trainer and offers horse training, riding lessons in the English and Western disciplines, horsemanship clinics, mentorship programs, intensive horsemanship courses, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, as well as working student programs at Falling Star Ranch Academy of Foundational Horsemanship in Dunster, BC. Birgit’s passion is to help humans have a better relationship with their horses through understanding of equine psychology and body language, biomechanics, as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage. http://www.fallingstarranch.ca.

Western Dressage – Common errors during haunches-in. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

July 16, 2017

In the last blog post, we discussed what the lateral movement haunches-in is and also how to properly execute this four-track movement. In this blog post, we will be looking at common errors while performing haunches-in (travers).

As a review, a correctly executed haunches-in will have the horse’s head and shoulders straight on the track, while the hind legs will move off the track toward the inside of the arena. Seen from the front the legs will show four tracks. The haunches-in is a Level 2 movement and is the first movement where the horse is bent in the direction of travel. The horse must be supple through its body and the rider must be aware of body position. The inside leg will be at the girth to maintain impulsion. It is also the ‘post’ for the horse to bend around. The outside leg will be behind the girth to move the hindquarters off the track. The inside rein keeps the head and shoulders in position, while the outside rein controls speed and amount of bend in the neck. The rider will sit in the direction of travel, to the inside, with the bend. The rider’s shoulders will be in alignment with the horse’s shoulders, with the outside hip moving back to bring the outside leg back.

Common errors

The horse loses impulsion or rhythm: the horse may not be strong enough or supple enough yet to perform the movement. You can help him by asking for less angle. As well, with any new movement, only ask for a few steps at a time before either asking the horse to straighten or perhaps asking for a few strides of lengthening down the long side. A horse that does not want to bend will become tight and lose impulsion. Go back and ride some spiral-in/out circles, and shoulder-in exercises to confirm bend and suppleness.

Haunches_in_0793

Horse is too straight through the body and appears to be on three tracks instead of four. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

 

The horse is travelling with its haunches slightly to the inside of the arena without bend through its entire body: this generally occurs when the rider focuses on moving the hindquarters off the rail, but forgets to hold the horse’s shoulders with the inside leg at the girth. You could start the movement as a leg yield down the wall with the head facing the wall, the bend around the leg to the outside of the arena, and the haunches moved off the rail. After a few steps add the inside leg at the girth and begin to change the bend into the direction of travel. Sometimes doing the movement in steps helps the rider to feel the difference in bend created by the holding inside leg as the horse is brought into correct alignment with the outside leg. The correct amount of angle is 35 degrees.

Difficulty maintaining the bend: start the haunches-in exercise from a circle to create the bend and then go into the haunches-in movement. Go back on a circle if you lose the bend. When you first start this exercise the horse may only be able to do a couple of steps before losing bend and impulsion. Build up gradually.

Haunches_in_0792

The rider is leaning into the direction of travel, dropping her shoulder. This will make it more difficult for the horse to lift his inside shoulder and to lift his inside hind leg. Impulsion may become an issue. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

The horse is overbent through the neck, but not moving the haunches off the wall: this is caused when a rider uses her reins instead of leg aids. Remember to keep the neck and shoulders straight with the rein aids while the legs and seat move the horse’s body. If the horse becomes overbent he will not be able to maintain impulsion as he will get ‘blocked’ at the shoulders.

The horse won’t respond to the outside leg: go back to the leg yield on the wall exercise until the horse quickly and easily responds to the leg cue to move the haunches off the track. It may take several sessions of this before the horse is ready to move into haunches-in.

Haunches_in_0801

The horse has a nice bend, but too much angle off the wall. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

The horse’s shoulders are leaving the track: this may occur if the rider tries to create too much bend with the reins or does not support enough with the outside rein. If the outside hand moves forward too much the horse will bend more to the inside and take the shoulders to the inside. The rider will need to maintain their elbow position on both sides of the body, keeping a soft feel through the hands on both sides.

The rider sits incorrectly: the weight for this movement must be in the direction of travel. Many riders, as they work to get the outside leg back while maintaining the upper body alignment with the shoulders, will shift their weight to the outside. When this happens the horse will struggle to bring the hind legs up and under for the movement. This will affect impulsion and make the movement more difficult for the horse. Imagine sitting on a balance beam; if you lean to one side you will fall off the balance beam. Your goal is to work with the horse’s movement with as little interference as possible. The shift in the direction of travel is very subtle.

Haunches_in_0751

The rider has shifted her weight to her outside seat bone, dropping her outside shoulder. This will make it more difficult for the horse to lift his outside hind leg. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

The haunches-in improves your horse’s response to your aids, increases mobility in the shoulders and hip joints, and improves weight carrying ability. As you move up the levels this will also become an exercise to prepare for the half-pass.

Keep working toward your goals and have fun!

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

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

Birgit Stutz is an Irwin Insights Level 4 Master Certified Trainer and offers horse training, riding lessons in the English and Western disciplines, horsemanship clinics, mentorship programs, intensive horsemanship courses, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, as well as working student programs at Falling Star Ranch Academy of Foundational Horsemanship in Dunster, BC. Birgit’s passion is to help humans have a better relationship with their horses through understanding of equine psychology and body language, biomechanics, as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage. http://www.fallingstarranch.ca.

Western Dressage – How to perform the haunches-in exercise. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

June 19, 2017

In this blog post, we are discussing an exercise called haunches-in, also called travers. Just like the shoulder-in exercise, haunches-in is a lateral movement and requires a certain amount of collection. The haunches-in exercise is performed on four tracks, so when watching the horse from the front or back, you will see all four legs, which each hoof on a different track. The outside front leg is on the outside track, the inside front leg is on the second track, the outside hind leg is on the third track, and the inside hind leg is on the inside track. This is different to the shoulder-in exercise, which is a three-track movement and requires slightly less bend.

During the haunches-in movement, the horse will be bending around the rider’s inside leg. The horse’s front legs stay on the outside track, while its hindquarters are brought in off the outside track toward the inside of the arena at a constant angle of approximately 30 to 35 degrees to the wall. In order for the movement to be ridden correctly, the horse’s head and shoulders remain straight on the wall, while the horse’s hind legs move off the track, with the outside hind leg crossing in front of the inside hind leg. During the movement, the horse is bent in the direction of travel.

Just like the shoulder-in exercise, haunches-in is used to supple and balance the horse. The movement also strengthens the horse’s hind quarters, its back and abdominals, as well as improving its mobility, therefore preparing it for more collected work. It also teaches the horse obedience to the outside leg. Haunches-in, along with shoulder-in, are the stepping stones to the more advanced movement of half-pass, which we will discuss in a future article.

HI_0927

Haunches-in down the wall. Notice the horse is bent in the direction of travel (the horse could be bent around the inside leg a little more). – Photo by Lisa Wieben

How to execute the haunches-in

We recommend that the horse and rider are already familiar with leg yields (February and March 2017 issue) and shoulder-in (April 2017 issue) before introducing the haunches-in exercise.

Before attempting a haunches-in, the horse should be proficient in the leg yield exercise along the wall where the horse’s head is pointing toward the wall and the hindquarters are moved off the wall. This prepares the horse by moving the hindquarters off the outside leg toward the inside of the arena. The leg yield exercise can be performed with the horse bent around the pressing leg, away from the direction of travel, and then with the body straighter. The next step would be changing the bend toward the direction of travel, which will be shown below, from a circle.

When teaching the haunches-in exercise to a horse, we recommend starting the movement when coming out of a corner or on a circle as the horse is already correctly bent from head to tail. This way the rider only needs to maintain the bend rather than establish it from a straight line. Haunches-in is the last step of a 10-metre circle continued on a straight line.

HI_0904

Jacklyn Hegberg and Reno executing a leg yield down the wall. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

  1. Start the movement by riding a 10-metre circle in a corner so that the horse is correctly bent to the degree needed for haunches-in.
  1. Sit tall with eyes forward, looking into the direction you’re going.
  2. Align your shoulders with your horse’s shoulders and your hips with the horse’s hips, just as you would when riding a circle or corner.
  3. When the horse’s forehand reaches the outside track, keep the horse’s hindquarters on the circle by moving your outside leg slightly back. Your hips will turn as you maintain your horse’s hips off the track. This will keep the horse’s hind quarters to the inside of the outside track and under its body, help bend the horse around your inside leg, as well as maintain forward energy.
  4. Keep your inside leg at the horse’s girth to maintain bend in the direction of movement and to maintain rhythm and impulsion.
  5. The outside rein will support and maintain the straightness of the shoulders and prevent overbending. It also contains the energy produced by the horse’s outside hind leg.
  6. With the inside rein, gently ask your horse to flex at the poll so you can see its inside eye. The inside rein maintains proper bend and keeps the horse looking in the direction of travel.
  7. Both reins will keep the horse’s shoulders on the track through series of half-halts. If you hold pressure on either rein the horse will become tight and resistant in the movement. To maintain straightness of the horse’s shoulders, keep your shoulders aligned with your horse’s shoulders.
  8. Shift your weight slightly towards your inside seat-bone.
  9. Ask the horse to move down the long side of the arena while maintaining bend and the four-track movement.
  10. Only ask for a few steps at a time, then bring the horse’s hind quarters back on the track and continue straight ahead and forward along the outside track.
  11. As well, only ask for a slight bend to the inside, before increasing the degree of bend and the difficulty of the exercise as the horse progresses.

The haunches-in movement is developed through Level 2, where more collected work is asked for.

We will discuss common errors while performing haunches-in in the next blog post.

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

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

Birgit Stutz is an Irwin Insights Level 4 Master Certified Trainer and offers horse training, riding lessons in the English and Western disciplines, horsemanship clinics, mentorship programs, intensive horsemanship courses, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, as well as working student programs at Falling Star Ranch Academy of Foundational Horsemanship in Dunster, BC. Birgit’s passion is to help humans have a better relationship with their horses through understanding of equine psychology and body language, biomechanics, as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage. http://www.fallingstarranch.ca.

Western Dressage – How to perform a shoulder-in. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

April 19, 2017

In this blog post, we are discussing an exercise called shoulder-in.

Shoulder-in is a lateral movement which is used to supple, straighten, and balance the horse. It also strengthens the horse’s inside hind leg by encouraging the use of its hindquarters, therefore preparing it for more collected work.

In order to perform the movement, the horse needs to be bending around the rider’s inside leg, with its hindquarters staying parallel to the wall, while its forehand comes off the wall onto an inside track, creating a 30-degree-angle with the wall. The horse’s neck should only be very minimally bent, just enough that the corner of the horse’s inside eye is visible to the rider.

The horse’s hind legs track straight forward along the wall while the front legs move laterally, with the inside front leg crossing in front of the outside front leg.

The shoulder-in exercise is performed on three tracks, which means the horse’s outside hind leg is on the outermost track, the horse’s inside hind leg and outside front leg are on the next track, and the horse’s inside front leg are on the third track.

The inside hind hoof should track into or beyond the hoofprint made by the outside front leg.

During the shoulder-in exercise, the horse is bent away from the direction of travel, and therefore the movement requires a certain amount of collection.

As this is a collecting exercise, in Western dressage you will begin to see this movement in Level 2, when the collected gaits are asked for.

How to execute the shoulder-in

When teaching the exercise to a horse, we recommend starting the movement when coming out of a corner or on a circle as the horse is already correctly bent from head to tail. This way the rider only needs to maintain the bend rather than establish it from a straight line. Shoulder-in is the first step of a 10-meter circle continued on a straight line.

SI_circle

Riding a 10-m circle to set up for shoulder-in. – Photo by Rebecca Wieben

Riding a 10-m circle to set up for a shoulder-in.

Some trainers prefer to teach the shoulder-fore movement first before introducing the shoulder-in to the horse. The shoulder-fore movement is ridden on four tracks and therefore requires less angle than the shoulder-in exercise. The shoulder-fore exercise is also often used in lope work to help straighten a horse’s natural crookedness.

Shoulder_fore

Some trainers prefer to teach the shoulder-fore movement first before introducing the shoulder-in to the horse. The shoulder-fore movement is ridden on four tracks and therefore requires less angle than the shoulder-in exercise. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

 

  1. Sit tall with eyes forward, looking into the direction you’re going.
  2. Align your shoulders with your horse’s shoulders and your hips with the horse’s hips, just as you would when riding a circle or corner.
  3. Your belly button should be pointing in the same direction as your horse’s bend.
  4. Keep your inside leg at the horse’s girth to maintain bend, while also encouraging the horse to step under its body with its inside hind leg.
  5. Move your outside leg slightly back to prevent the horse’s haunches from swinging out and to maintain the forward energy.
  6. With the inside rein, gently ask your horse to flex at the poll so you can see its inside eye. The inside rein maintains proper bend.
  7. The outside rein steadies the horse and prevents overbending and also keeps the horse from stepping further off the track than is needed.
  8. Shift your weight slightly towards the horse’s outside shoulder in order to continue tracking down the long side and to prevent the horse from moving off the outside track.
  9. Only ask for a few steps at a time, then ride a small 10-metre circle before continuing along the outside track.
SI_three_track

The haunches remain on the track and the shoulders move towards the inside of the arena. Notice the three tracks: outside hind leg, outside front leg and inside hind on same track, and inside front leg. – Photo by Rebecca Wieben

 

Common errors

  • The rider uses the inside rein to create bend instead of asking for bend with the inside leg. This, however, overbends the horse in the neck instead of creating bend in the ribcage. It may also pull the horse off the outside track.
  • The rider’s inside leg is too far back instead of at the girth. This will push the horse’s haunches out, and you will end up doing a leg yield instead of a shoulder-in movement.
  • The rider’s outside leg is too far forward or completely off the horse’s side: in order to bend a horse properly, both the rider’s inside leg and outside leg have to work together. If your outside leg is too far forward or completely off the horse’s side, the horse’s hind quarters may swing out and the horse may lose forward energy.

The shoulder-in movement can be executed at any gait, and while we prefer to ride it at a walk when first learning the movement, riding the exercise at a jog can be beneficial as the horse has more impulsion. In Western dressage competitions it is only ridden at the jog.

SI_soft_rein

Notice the inside rein is soft, the bend is coming from the inside leg and the rider’s body turning with the shoulders. The horse moves into the outside supporting rein. – Photo by Rebecca Wieben

 

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

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

Birgit Stutz is an Irwin Insights Level 4 Master Certified Trainer and offers horse training, riding lessons in the English and Western disciplines, horsemanship clinics, mentorship programs, intensive horsemanship courses, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, as well as working student programs at Falling Star Ranch Academy of Foundational Horsemanship in Dunster, BC. Birgit’s passion is to help humans have a better relationship with their horses through understanding of equine psychology and body language, biomechanics, as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage. http://www.fallingstarranch.ca.

Western Dressage – Common errors while performing leg yields. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

March 8, 2017

In the last Western dressage blog post, we talked about how to properly execute a leg yield and what the benefits of the exercise are. In this post, we are discussing common errors while performing the leg yield exercise.

Leg_yield_Reno correct

A correctly executed leg yield: the horse is parallel to the wall with slight flexion to the inside maintaining the over-forward momentum. – Photo credit Lisa Wieben

Loss of impulsion/uneven gaits

When the horse is learning to move laterally in a leg yield it can be quite common for the horse to lose the forward energy and become uneven in its rhythm. Using both the inside and outside leg to maintain a steady rhythm and to encourage the horse to move laterally, correctly, is key. A good way to think about the leg yield in this case is “over, forward, over, forward”, the inside leg asking for the over step and the outside leg maintaining the forward energy. Another way to engage the horse forward and balance out the rhythm is to ride straight for a few strides before asking for a few more steps of leg yield.

Horse is rushing

The opposite of the loss of impulsion is rushing. This may happen if the horse is confused by the aids or thinks leg pressure means forward energy instead of sideways. Using well-timed half-halts on the outside rein to rebalance the horse and slow forward movement will help. Showing the horse what is wanted in the walk first before progressing to the jog aids the horse’s understanding. During the movement in the jog if the horse still wants to rush you could add a small 10-metre circle to rebalance the horse each time the movement starts to get quick.

Horse not crossing over

There are times when the leg yield turns into a straight line ridden toward the wall where the horse’s shoulders are leading the hips and there are no lateral steps. In this case the shoulders can be brought back in line with the hips through the use of the outside rein gently drawn back toward the rider’s hip and a blocking outside leg. The inside rein will maintain the correct bend. The position of the rider will be in alignment with the horse ‘s bend, with the eyes looking in the direction of travel. The rider’s weight will shift slightly to the outside so the horse balances under the weight in the direction of the leg yield. The inside leg may need to increase the push sideways, along with a connecting outside rein to maintain straightness, with a seat that follows the movement over. If the rider’s seat is not following it could be blocking the sideways movement.

Leg_yield_straight

Without the outside rein supporting and maintaining straightness, the horse has lost the sideways movement. – Photo credit Rebecca Wieben

Horse moves sideways too quickly

If the horse’s outside hind leg is moving laterally instead of coming forward and underneath with each stride, the horse will begin to move more exclusively sideways rather than forward and sideways. This is often caused by a rider not using enough forward driving aids (don’t forget your outside leg!) and not enough outside supporting rein to block the sideways movement slightly. Remember, “over, forward, over, forward”. While training, this could become over one step and forward three to four steps so the horse learns to wait for the ‘over’ cue.

Horse leads with hindquarters

In this case the rider may be using the inside leg too far back, causing the hips to move over first, while also using too much outside rein, blocking the shoulder movement. The outside rein is used to support straightness. To allow the horse to lead slightly with the shoulders the rider may need to open the outside rein, like opening a door, to get the horse started in the direction, and then close the rein to maintain the straightness of the movement. This will only be done in the training stage. Once the horse understands the movement the reins remain even, with only a slight half-halt if needed, and the leg and seat will move the horse laterally.

Leg_yield_haunches_leading

The outside rein is blocking the shoulder from moving and in this case slightly changing the horse’s bend. The haunches are leading to the wall.

Rider leans to the inside of the horse’s bend or collapses at the waist and drops inside shoulder

Leaning to the inside will make it more difficult for the horse to pick up the inside hind leg and inside shoulder to cross over and may impede impulsion. Allowing your body to grow tall with equal length on both sides of the ribcage, with weight shifted very slightly in the direction of travel will allow the horse to move freely sideways under balance.

Leg_yield_collapsed

The rider is collapsing the inside rib cage to push with the inside leg and opening the outside leg away from the horse’s body. – Photo credit Rebecca Wieben.

Horse is overbent

Using too much inside rein and not enough outside supporting rein will cause the horse to overbend. The horse will be unable to move forward/sideways with its body parallel to the long side. The horse’s neck should stay in the middle of its chest and the rider should only see the corner of the horse’s inside eye.

Leg_yield_shoulder_lead

Too much inside rein is causing the horse to overbend and to lead the movement with the outside shoulder. – Photo credit Rebecca Wieben

As always, stay balanced, centred, supple and relaxed. Focus on riding the movement step by step. Ask for two or three strides of correct leg yield, then reward and go straight for a few strides. Ride straight before the movement falls apart and reward the horse often! With practice the horse will learn to maintain even rhythm before, during, and after the movement and will develop more relaxation and suppleness.

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

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

 Birgit Stutz is an Irwin Insights Level 4 Master Certified Trainer and offers horse training, riding lessons in the English and Western disciplines, horsemanship clinics, mentorship programs, intensive horsemanship courses, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, as well as working student programs at Falling Star Ranch Academy of Foundational Horsemanship in Dunster, BC. Birgit’s passion is to help humans have a better relationship with their horses through understanding of equine psychology and body language, biomechanics, as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage. http://www.fallingstarranch.ca.

Western Dressage – How to properly execute a leg yield. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

February 21, 2017

If you’ve been following us over the past year, we’ve been covering the movements of Western dressage as well as training exercises to help improve your horse. In a past blog post you have already learned how to do the spiral exercise, which is the beginning of a leg yield.

In thispost, we are looking at how to properly execute 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 the exercise 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. The exercise also helps prepare the horse for more advanced maneuvers, such as the shoulder-in and later the half pass. It is also a great exercise to teach the rider how to use her aids independently and bring the horse properly into the outside rein.

The leg yield is a required movement in the Level 1 Western dressage tests and is performed from the centre line to the track.

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Horse and rider are showing a lovely straight leg yield at the centre line. The horse is crossing over nicely and has a slight bend around the rider’s pushing leg.

How to execute the leg yield

The horse should be fairly straight through his body while performing a leg yield, with only a slight flexion of the poll away from the direction of travel. The inside legs should cross in front of the outside legs with the rider being able to see the inside eye slightly. The horse should remain relaxed in his gaits, without speeding up or slowing down, during the execution of the movement. We initially teach the leg yield from the quarterline to the outside track, keeping the horse’s body parallel to the wall. The wall acts as a magnet, drawing the horse over, as opposed to starting in the centre of the arena, where the horse doesn’t have a guideline.

* 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 left, shift left). The horse will always 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.

* Start in a working jog, sitting or posting (if you are unfamiliar with the leg yield aids, we recommend practicing the exercise at the walk first).

* Turn the horse onto the quarterline.

* Ask your horse to move sideways by applying your inside leg at or slightly behind the girth, depending on the level of your horse’s training, in rhythm 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).

* Your outside leg is positioned slightly behind the girth of the horse in order to continue forward movement and to prevent the horse from rushing away from the rider’s inside leg, 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 the straightness of the movement as well as rhythm.

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

* Half-halts may be used as needed to control forward movement, if the horse gets rushing or pushy.

* Start out with only a few steps at a time, then ride straight forward again. You may also start the exercise by turning down a line that is only a metre away from the long side of the arena, then gradually increase the distance away from the outside track. With more practice, you will be able to leg yield the entire length of the arena from the centre line.

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Leg yielding down the long side with the horse’s nose facing the wall. The horse maintains bend around the rider’s pushing leg (right) and the rider’s left leg is maintaining forward energy.

With more advanced horses, leg yielding can also be executed from the outside track to the quarterline. To do this you would have to change your horse’s bend before proceeding off the wall.

Another common way to perform the leg yield exercise is with the horse’s nose facing the rail/wall, with his body at no more than a 30-degree angle to the wall. A variation of this is the horse being leg yielded with his haunches to the rail/wall.

The leg yield is a beneficial training movement and should be in every rider’s tool box. A horse with balance issues can be leg yielded on a circle, into corners, and on straight lines. It is a tool to aid with the obedience of the horse as he begins to yield from the rider’s leg. It is a wonderful warm-up exercise to create suppleness and looseness in the horse. Play with the exercise!

Stay tuned next month for common errors of the leg yield and how to fix them.

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

Lisa Wieben is a Level 2 Centered Riding Instructor, Irwin Insights Level 4 Master Certified Trainer, and Equine Canada Western Competition Coach. She works with youth, adult amateurs and professionals as well as teaching a local 4H club at her facility near Bowden, AB. Western and English dressage has become her main focus, but many of her students compete in open competitions as well as obstacle challenges. Lisa has also added Somatics to help her students maintain and create further body awareness as it works to release muscle patterns in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and repetitive movements that can be work related. Getting riders in correct balance helps horses develop correct balance. 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, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, mentorship programs, as well as 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 as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage. www.fallingstarranch.ca.

How to prepare your horse for riding when the snow is falling off the arena roof

February 14, 2017

Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny, warm day. The snow was melting rapidly, it was dripping everywhere. It sure felt like spring! Hard to believe that only a little over a week ago we had temperatures in the minus thirties!! Yesterday was also one of those “the-snow-is-sliding-off-the-arena-roof” days. I am sure many of you who live in northern climates have ridden in an indoor arena when that happens. How does your horse react? Does he stay calm? Does he spook or even bolt? Are you calm?

Not every horse is ok with the sound of big chunks of snow falling off the arena roof, or large areas of the snow-load sliding off the roof at once. I remember a couple of winters ago when I was riding one of our lesson horses, a paint gelding named TS Bold Cody, in our indoor arena. All of a sudden almost the entire snow-load on both sides of the arena roof let go at once. For about 15 seconds it sounded as if a freight train was going right through the arena. The noise was deafening. My heart was beating in my throat. Should I bail or just try to ride out whatever Cody throws at me? Split-second decisions. I decided to try and ride it out, whatever it was going to be. Cody started prancing underneath me, on the spot, and I could not only feel, but also hear his heart beat. He was definitely scared. But he never spooked, never bolted. He stayed on the aids, on the bit, neck arched, with his nose on the vertical, and just pranced. I quietly talked to him, trying to keep both of us calm. When it was all over – and believe me, it seemed like an eternity -, he calmly walked forward again.

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Not every horse would have stayed this connected to his rider and shown this much trust, listening to the rider’s aids and voice and looking for guidance. I know that some of my other horses – even if they are quite used to chunks of snow falling off the roof or some snow sliding off – would have at least spooked in this extreme situation; a couple of them, some of the more volatile ones, maybe even bolted for a few strides.

So what do you do if you’re not sure how your horse is going to react to the sound of big chunks of snow falling, or big loads of snow sliding off the roof?

How do you get him used to these sounds in a safe way?

I personally like to do in-hand work with the horse, a great way to have control of the horse’s body even when he gets nervous. In-hand leading allows me to keep the horse’s head low, which in a nutshell releases endorphins and helps keep him calm(er).

In the non-resistance training methodology based on Irwin Insights that we practice at Falling Star Ranch Academy of Foundational Horsemanship, addressing cause instead of just the symptom is key. Our focus must therefore extend past repetitive exposure to something scary and include the way in which the trainer handles the horse during that exposure. In-hand leading enables the handler to shape the horse’s body in such a way that it helps release endorphins and creates pleasant feelings in the horse, rather than inadvertently causing negative feelings created by misalignment and imbalance. Frame of body is frame of mind!

Make sure you stay aligned with your horse, at his shoulder, with your belly button (core) pointing forward, parallel (congruent) to the middle of the horse’s chest. Don’t force your horse to stand still when he gets scared. Instead, ask him to keep moving forward, ideally in a circle around you, with his ribcage bent away from you and his head low.

Once the horse handles these scary sounds while being in-hand led, I will then progress to lungeing him, before I mount and ride on days where the chance of snow sliding off the roof is big.

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When you are riding and the snow starts sliding off the roof, keep riding as if nothing is going to happen and it isn’t a big deal at all. If your horse spooks or bolts, and you find yourself pulling on the reins and gripping with your legs and going into survival mode – which is a perfectly normal reaction and a first reflex for most riders – tell yourself to breathe deeply, sit tall, deep, centred and balanced, widen your reins and turn in onto a circle. Over time, you can train your body to not go into survival mode first, but to do the correct things instead, which over time will become automatic.

Stay safe and enjoy your ride!