Skip to content

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

May 24, 2020

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

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

Haunches_in_1

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

Haunches_in_2

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

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

Haunches_in_3

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

Haunches_in_4

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

May 3, 2020

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

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

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

Slow walk in-hand

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

 

Pic 8

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

Pic 9

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

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

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

Pic 10

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

Another exercise we like to do is the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pic 6

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

Pic 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

April 4, 2020

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

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

Shoulder-in_2

Walking on a circle with bend.

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

Shoulder-in_1

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

 

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

Shoulder-in_3

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ground training. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

March 1, 2020

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

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

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

Pic 1

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

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

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

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

Pic 2

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

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

Pic 3

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

Pic 4

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

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

Pic 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

IMG_7924

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.

IMG_7891

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.

IMG_7906

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.

IMG_7930

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.

DSC_1435

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.

DSC_1413

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.

DSC_1425

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.

Combination exercise thumbnail

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.

Walkexercise_0003

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.

Walkexercise_0075

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.