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

February 9, 2020

This is a great walk exercise using poles that we learnt from American clinician Jec A. Ballou. It teaches the horse to shift his weight back which gives greater ability to maneuver between working gaits and more collected gaits.

The walk is a very important gait in our daily training and is often overlooked by many riders. We sometimes spend an entire session at the walk doing various exercises that help our horses improve their balance, suppleness, and fitness. Training in the walk can also greatly improve the horse’s other gaits.

With colder temperatures coming up, the walk is also a great gait to exercise your horse while preventing him from sweating. The walk isn’t just for warming up and cooling down!

This exercise requires a certain amount of collection, so your horse should be balanced, supple and accepting of half-halts. Before beginning the exercise be sure to warm up for at least 15 mins in the walk adding some working jog, leg yields, serpentines etc to prepare the horse for the required bend and connection of the exercise. Finish your warmup by having your horse at a free walk, allowing the horse to stretch his neck forward and down with a stride that reaches forward covering ground and the hind steps clearly reaching in front of the front hoof prints.

Set up five poles to create a fan shape. Raise the inside ends of the poles six to eight inches off the ground while the outside ends are sitting directly on the ground. Place the raised ends of the poles so they are two feet apart from each other. The centre of the poles should be four feet apart from each other. The outside edge of the poles should be six feet apart from each other.

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The set up. The ends of the poles on the blocks are 2 feet apart and the other end is approximately 6 feet apart.

Begin the exercise by riding your horse in a working walk. Maintain light, soft contact with your horse’s mouth. The hoof prints of the hind feet will step into or slightly in front of the front hoof prints. Align your body with a line towards the outside of the poles asking the horse to take two steps between the poles (poles approx. 6 feet apart). Depending on the horse’s stride this will either be an easy step for the horse, or the horse will need to shorten or lengthen the stride slightly to fit two steps between the poles. The horse’s body will be bent on the half circle line and the rider’s body will also turn onto the line of travel, rotating from the centre.

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The horse is walking through in a relaxed frame (Basic Level) taking 2 steps between each pole.

On the next circle ride more toward the center of the poles (approx 4 feet apart). Again ask for two steps between the poles. With the shorter distance and slight rise in the poles the horse will need to shorten his stride to maintain two steps between. To slow the tempo of the walk use your body by not allowing your hips to follow the walk as much. Use the idea of kneeling into your knees to create more contact with your seat and legs to both support and slow the horse. The lower leg maintains contact so the horse continues to push forward from the hind end. The hands will maintain contact to ask for smaller steps. Essentially you will be making your horse’s body shorter from back to front as the hind legs step a little further under and the hands prevent the neck from reaching as far forward. Continue to allow your hands/elbows to follow the motion of the walk, even though the follow won’t be as big as in the working walk.

Avoid pulling back on the reins to shorten the horse’s steps. This front to back action will slow the front end, but the hind legs will be left behind. Use your seat and weight aids to ask the horse to slow the tempo. Instead of a backward pull with the hands you can lift the reins slightly to or slightly above the level of the saddle horn. The combination of the weight aids and the reins lifting shifts the weight to the horse’s hind legs.

After crossing the fifth pole, go back to a working walk while continuing on the circle.

Before reaching the poles again, slow the horse’s walk and decrease your circle so that you will cross over the inner edge of all five poles, aiming to get one step between each pole. With the poles at their highest point the horse will have to lift considerably more while in the slower walk.

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Stepping closer to the centre of the poles. The horse is becoming more compact and you can see a little more lift in the step.

Repeat this sequence and stride count a few times in both directions, switching back and forth between a working walk and a slow walk.

As always when riding a circle, look ahead three to four strides, turning your body onto the line of the circle. Your belly button should be aligned with the horse’s bend. Use your inside leg at the girth to maintain the bend in timing with the swing of the horse’s barrel. As the barrel swings out, press with your inside leg. The inside rein maintains the bend and the outside rein supports, preventing the horse from overbending in, or with pressure on the shoulder prevents the horse from drifting out. If the horse drifts out use the outside rein against the neck and outside leg pressure to turn the horse as the horse’s barrel swings in. The inside leg also prevents the horse from falling into the circle. Feel as if you can push the horse from your inside leg into the outside supporting rein. Your horse should stay straight (evenly bent) during this exercise, with his nose in front of the middle of his chest.

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The horse has elevated slightly more and has to step higher and bend more on this line. One step between each pole.

Once your horse is able to do a slow walk/working walk on bending lines, ask for a slow walk to working walk on straight lines. Always be sure not to compromise relaxation.

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

Photos by Gary Wieben.

Rider: Lisa Wieben on Itsa Rio Snazzy Zip

https://youtu.be/B5EbYQLYxkI

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 – Simple circle combination exercise that moves up the levels with you! By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

February 2, 2020

Looking for an exercise that will put together many movements smoothly? Try this versatile combination that you can adjust for any level of horse and rider.

Throughout this exercise you can adjust the maneuvers as necessary to prevent the horse anticipating what comes next.

Begin at A and ride a 20-metre circle at a working jog on the left rein.

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Riding the 20-m circle – working jog. – Jacklyn Hegberg riding “Maverick” – Photo credit Lisa Wieben

Complete the circle, ride through the next corner and continue halfway down the long side. At B ride a 10-metre half circle to the left. At the completion of the circle ride a line back to the long side. Just before getting back to the wall change bend, ride through the corner and at A ride a 20-metre circle to the right. Complete the circle, ride the corner and continue halfway down the long side. At E ride a half circle to the right, then ride a line back to the wall.

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Bending on the 10-m half circle. – Jacklyn Hegberg riding “Maverick” – Photo credit Lisa Wieben

20-metre circle: looking ahead three to four strides, the rider turns her body onto the line of the circle, using her inside leg to maintain the bend. Feel the swing of the horse’s barrel. As the barrel swings out press with the inside leg. The inside rein maintains the bend and the outside rein supports, preventing the horse from overbending in, or with pressure on the shoulder prevents the horse from drifting out.

10-metre half circle: the rider’s body will rotate more on the smaller circle. If the horse drifts out use the outside rein against the neck and outside leg pressure to turn the horse. The inside leg keeps the horse bending and prevents the horse from falling into the circle.

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Riding a diagonal line back to the wall from the half circle – rider should have her heels lower to be more effective with her lower leg. – Jacklyn Hegberg riding “Maverick” – Photo credit Lisa Wieben

Using pylons or markers for the circles will help both the rider and the horse maintain the size and shape of the circle.

Corners: in lower levels the corners can be ridden as part of a 10-metre circle. Turn onto the line of the corner, bending the horse around the inside leg. Feel as though you can push the horse from the inside leg into the outside supporting rein.

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Leg yielding back to the wall from the 10-m half circle. – Lisa Wieben riding “Reno” – Photo credit Gary Wieben

Variations:

Introductory Level:

Add walk transitions in the last quarter of the 20-metre circle. At the corner transition to the working jog, and/ or walk the 10-metre half circles.

Basic Level:

1) Transition to the lope in first quarter of the 20-metre circle, in the last quarter transition to the working jog.

2) Transition to the lope in the corner before the 20-metre circle, lope the circle, then transition back to the jog in the next corner.

Level 1:

1) In the jog ride down the length of the long side, ride a 10-metre half circle, change the horse’s bend and then leg yield back to the wall.

2) Lengthen the jog down the long side, then back to working jog before the half circle.

3) Begin lope through the corner. Develop lengthen lope in first quarter of the circle. Develop working lope in the last quarter of the circle. Bring your horse back to working jog in the next corner.

Level 2 and up:

1) After the corner perform a shoulder-in down the long side, or after getting back to the wall from the half circle do a shoulder-in the remainder of the long side.

2) Repeat above but with haunches in.

3) After the half circle half-pass back to the long side.

There are many combinations that can be mixed and matched to create variety in this exercise. Take your time and move through each element when you and your horse are ready.

To view a video of the exercise and the variations check out the YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTY3D3OJNSA (Circle Combination Exercise).

Video Link: Lisa Wieben riding “Reno” – Itsa Rio Snazzy Zip – Video 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 – Create balance through the walk. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

January 26, 2020

The walk is an important and often overlooked gait in our daily training, quite often being relegated to the rest period between working jog or lope work. By spending more time training in the walk we can greatly improve the other gaits as well as lateral work and also improve dressage scores as much of the tests are in walk, especially in the lower levels.

The walk has a four-beat rhythm (often referred to as a “marching” rhythm). As with the other gaits there are gaits within the walk. In western dressage the first walk introduced is the Working Walk. This is an energetic, but relaxed, walk in soft contact. The hoof prints of the hind feet will step into or slightly in front of the front hoof prints. The Free Walk is a relaxation walk where the horse is allowed freedom to stretch the neck forward and down with a stride that reaches forward covering ground, the hind steps clearly reaching in front of the front hoof prints. This is not a faster walk, but a longer strided walk. The Collected Walk is a walk performed in contact with the neck raised and arched in self-carriage. The hind legs take more weight with the steps covering less ground, but are higher stepping. This walk is introduced in Level 2.

An exercise we were introduced to years ago that we have found helps the walk tremendously is to change to a slower tempo in the walk. This acts to connect the horse more through from back to front and enables the rider to detect when the horse’s body is out of alignment quicker.

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Notice how the horse is pushing forward into the bridle. The muscles in the neck are more noticeable behind the poll rather than along the entire neck.

Start by riding a 20 metre circle. Have the horse in a working walk in light contact. To slow the tempo of the walk use your body by not allowing the hips to follow the walk as much. Use the idea of kneeling into your knees to create more contact with your seat and legs to both support and slow the horse. The lower leg will maintain contact so the horse continues to push forward from the hind end. The hands will maintain contact to ask for smaller steps. Essentially you will be making your horse’s body shorter from back to front as the hind legs step a little further under and the hands prevent the neck from reaching as far forward. Continue to allow your hands/elbows to follow the motion of the walk, even though the follow won’t be as big as in the working walk.

Be careful not to pull the reins back to shorten the steps. If the “ask” comes from the hands only (front to back), then the horse will slow the front end, but the hind legs will be left behind. Use your seat and weight aids to ask the horse to slow the tempo. Instead of a backward pull with the hands you can lift the reins slightly to or slightly above the level of the saddle horn. The combination of the weight aids and the reins lifting shifts the weight to the horse’s hind legs.

To begin with only shorten the steps for a few strides then allow the horse to move forward again as a reward. Keep the horse in contact and think about the distinct four-beat rhythm of the walk. If the horse needs more forward energy use your legs alternately with the swinging rhythm of the barrel to encourage a more forward pace. As the ribcage is swinging away from the leg press with that leg. When the ribs swing back press with the other leg. This alternating rhythm encourages each hind leg to step further under the body as the rider’s leg presses. See if you can work up to one full circle each direction with the slower tempo.

If you find your horse gets tense or stiff as you ask for the smaller steps and slower tempo you can add a little leg yield out of the circle to supple the horse. When you are feeling tension the horse is lacking suppleness through his body to be able to lift his back to allow for the slower, shorter steps. You can also work on left/right flexion through the neck and rib cage by subtly flexing the horse’s nose to the left while asking the horse to leg yield away from the left leg. After a couple of steps change to the right and leg yield away from the right leg. When riding a circle you can do these changes of flexion in a very subtle way and make the leg yield steps very small and only for a step or two. The goal is not big movements, but to loosen up the body.

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In this picture you can see how much higher the horse is stepping, also elevating the neck. Notice how the muscles of the neck are ‘on’ down the line of the neck. The rider could soften her hand slightly to prevent the horse coming slightly behind the vertical.

Another way to help your horse get the idea of the exercise is to set up some walk-over poles. By setting the poles slightly shorter than the horse’s usual walk stride he will start to get the idea to shift back and shorten his steps. Again if working on a circle you could set 4 to 5 poles in a shortened length and then on the other side of the circle set 4 to 5 poles in a slightly lengthened position.

Once your horse is able to do a slow walk on bending lines, ask for a slow walk on straight lines. Always make sure not to compromise relaxation.

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

Note: when placing the poles for this exercise the shorter steps can be set at 18 inches to two feet. A longer stride could be set from two feet to three feet depending on the horse’s natural stride.

Even though this is a western dressage article, any horse, from any discipline will benefit from the exercise. The horse in the photos competes in both Western and English events.

Photos by Rianne Eeltink. Rider Kyra Tyerman. Horse “Big Texas Dream”

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.

Zig zag exercise. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

January 18, 2020

The zig zag exercise is a great exercise that will help build strength and suppleness and can also be used as a therapeutic exercise for horses that are coming back from an injury or have been on stall rest for a period of time.

When you think about the horse’s bend, we quite often only consider the inside of the bend, for example how it bends around the inside leg or around a pylon. But what actually happens during a bending motion? First, on the inside of the bend the horse’s muscles 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.

To set up the exercise place five poles on the ground lengthwise about a metre apart, forming a long line, either down the centre of the arena or along the quarter line.

Begin the exercise in working walk and ride down the line making wide loops to start to create a nice bend through the horse’s body.

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Riding a wide arc to the pole.

Turn your body in the direction of the bend, guiding your horse over each pole. A good way to think of the turn of your body is as the horse’s front feet cross the pole begin to turn into the next direction. This will keep the horse turning smoothly over each pole. 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.

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Nicely lined up to the first pole. Notice how the horse is stepping over the rail with the foot closest to the pole. As you progress through the exercise a few times the horse will figure out the footfalls and become more coordinated.

Once your horse is comfortable and can change from bend to bend without lifting his head and hollowing his back begin to make the loops tighter. You can do this by keeping the horse close to the poles and making very subtle changes of bend. As you make the loops tighter the horse will begin to step laterally over the pole (stepping away from the body and to the side to step over the pole). Be sure to keep the horse connected from back to front. 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. Keep the movement slow to start with. When the horse is comfortable in the walk and can do the exercise without inverting then you can progress to doing the exercise in a working jog. As you increase the speed you may want to go over every other pole and work your way up to doing every pole at the jog.

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Softly bending over the pole. The horse is listening to the rider’s body guiding him. The rider is looking ahead to the next crossover point at the next rail.

As you progress through this exercise your horse will be using many muscles as he bends and lifts over the poles. Go slowly and work on precision rather than speed. This is a simple exercise with great results for strength and suppleness. It is also a great exercise for the rider as it teaches to turn from the centre and to keep rein aids at a minimum. The horse will respond well to the rider’s slight aids and the turn from the centre. For horses on rehab you can lead your horse through the line of poles in the same way that you would ride through. Start with larger arcs and work up to keeping the line tight and having the horse lift laterally over the pole. Have fun with this exercise and feel the difference it makes in your horse!

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There will be a moment of straightness before the change of bend to the next pole. Notice how the rider is turning to the new direction.

Photo credits Lisa Wieben. Rider Jacklyn Hegberg riding “Maverick”

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.

Long-lining – a great ground work exercise. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

January 12, 2020

Long-lining – the preparation stage. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

January 5, 2020

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

April 21, 2019

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

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

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

Turns on forehand

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

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

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

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

Turns on haunches

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introducing obstacles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have fun!

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

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

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