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Warm-up exercise. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

November 4, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Use your inside leg to maintain bend and prevent the horse from falling in. The outside leg will maintain impulsion.

* The inside rein will stay off the neck slightly and maintain the bend, without pulling. The outside rein will be supporting the amount of bend needed for the size of the half circle and will also prevent the horse from falling in, when used in conjunction with the inside leg.

* The rider’s seat will turn in the direction of the half circle – outside hip toward the horse’s inside ear.

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

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

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

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

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

This article is the 29th in a series of articles on Western dressage and is a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz. The articles appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis.

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

Lisa Wieben is a Level 2 Centered Riding Instructor, EC Coach, and Irwin Insights Level 4 Master Certified Trainer. Specializing in Western and English Dressage, she coaches near Bowden/Olds, AB. Lisa is also a Hanna Somatic Instructor and Practitioner in Training, working with riders, in class or privately, to learn movement exercises that target specific muscle issues in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and overuse. A balanced rider equals a balanced horse. www.mountainviewtrainingstables.com.

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

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Rollback collection exercise. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

October 14, 2018

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

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

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

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Working jog on the circle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Walking to the turn on the haunches.

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

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

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

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

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

Overview of exercise:

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

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

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

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

5) Jog out of turn.

6) Repeat exercise.

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

This article is the 28th in a series of articles on Western dressage and is a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz. The articles appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis.

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

Lisa Wieben is a Level 2 Centered Riding Instructor, EC Coach, and Irwin Insights Level 4 Master Certified Trainer. Specializing in Western and English Dressage, she coaches near Bowden/Olds, AB. Lisa is also a Hanna Somatic Instructor and Practitioner in Training, working with riders, in class or privately, to learn movement exercises that target specific muscle issues in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and overuse. A balanced rider equals a balanced horse. www.mountainviewtrainingstables.com.

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

 

Rebalancing on a serpentine. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

September 22, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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Riding the half circle of a serpentine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article is the 27th in a series of articles on Western dressage and is a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz. The articles appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis.

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

Lisa Wieben is a Level 2 Centered Riding Instructor, EC Coach, and Irwin Insights Level 4 Master Certified Trainer. Specializing in Western and English Dressage, she coaches near Bowden/Olds, AB. Lisa is also a Hanna Somatic Instructor and Practitioner in Training, working with riders, in class or privately, to learn movement exercises that target specific muscle issues in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and overuse. A balanced rider equals a balanced horse. www.mountainviewtrainingstables.com.

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

 

Rebalance exercise. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

August 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

This article is the 26th in a series of articles on Western dressage and is a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz. The articles appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis.

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

Lisa Wieben is a Level 2 Centered Riding Instructor, EC Coach, and Irwin Insights Level 4 Master Certified Trainer. Specializing in Western and English Dressage, she coaches near Bowden/Olds, AB. Lisa is also a Hanna Somatic Instructor and Practitioner in Training, working with riders, in class or privately, to learn movement exercises that target specific muscle issues in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and overuse. A balanced rider equals a balanced horse. www.mountainviewtrainingstables.com.

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

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

May 6, 2018

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

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

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How to ride the exercise:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The rider is in the correct position for the turn.

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

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The rider is in correct position for the turn.

This article is the 25th in a series of articles on Western dressage and is a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz. The articles appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis.

Photos by Lisa Wieben

Lisa Wieben is a Level 2 Centered Riding Instructor, EC Coach, and Irwin Insights Level 4 Master Certified Trainer. Specializing in Western and English Dressage, she coaches near Bowden/Olds, AB. Lisa is also a Hanna Somatic Instructor and Practitioner in Training, working with riders, in class or privately, to learn movement exercises that target specific muscle issues in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and overuse. A balanced rider equals a balanced horse. www.mountainviewtrainingstables.com.

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

Western Dressage – Maintaining the horse’s physical fitness. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

April 15, 2018

This month’s blog post isn’t specifically about Western dressage but applies to any horse in training or a horse going back to work after time off, such as after a long, cold winter! Since many horse owners are unsure how many days a week a horse needs to be worked in order to ‘keep their horse going’ we have outlined a few considerations below.

The answer to this question, of course, is not clear-cut and depends very much on each individual horse and what the horse will be used for. One day per week is only sufficient to maintain a horse in its current state of basic training. To begin to improve the horse’s physical fitness, two to three days a week will be necessary. To get or maintain a horse in performance ready condition, four to five days a week will be required. If your plan for the year is to move up a level in competition, five days a week is ideal. This will allow you to build your horse’s physical fitness, strength, and skills required for the new level.

Think of training your horse as similar to your own physical fitness journey. If you have decided to start the year off with a resolution to exercise, but the only time you have is one day per week, you are not going to make a noticeable change to your physical fitness. However, if you commit to exercising four to five times per week you will begin to see noticeable changes within a few weeks. Variety in your workouts is key, alternating between strength training, cardiovascular training, and flexibility work. This gives a well-rounded program to cover all areas of physical fitness training.

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In-hand suppling work, turn on the forehand.

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In-hand warm-up

Of course, not every session will be the same, especially with the performance horse. Approach your horse’s training with the same variety that you keep in mind when planning your own training sessions: cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility. While the horse may be ridden four to five days per week, each day can be different. To work on suppleness and flexibility, work with circles, bending lines such as serpentines, and some basic lateral work such as leg yields, spiraling in/leg yielding out of circles and turns on the forehand/turns on the haunches. Another day you may work on strength through transitions from walk to jog, jog to lope, walk to lope, as well as transitions within a gait, jog to lengthened jog, working jog to collected jog, lope to lengthened lope, lope to collected lope, and lateral work such as shoulder-in and haunches-in. Another day you may do work over poles. A search on the internet will give you plenty of options for layouts for both jog/trot and lope/canter overs. One day per week should be a recovery day. You may take your horse out for a relaxed trail ride or work on more ‘stretchy’ type work, long and low, then back to connection. Sore muscles can develop from the strengthening work, especially if the horse is coming back to work after time off. The recovery day will help release soreness from the muscles through light movement. Working the horse long and low (free jog, etc.) will help the horse release and relax all the muscles over the topline. Working in this way will also help develop the horse’s “swing” through the ribcage. Supple relaxed muscles will translate into smoother transitions and more willingness to move forward.

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Suppling exercises using pylons (spiral in/leg yield out).

If your horse has had some extended time off, keep the sessions short and spend most of it at the walk. Each session should always begin with a good warm-up at a free walk, ideally 15 to 20 minutes, to increase blood flow, lubricate joints, and stretch muscles, before moving on to faster gaits and/or collected work. Your walk warm-up can also include any lateral work you plan to perform later in the ride. A nice walk leg yield can begin to warm up the muscles that will be required to do the movement at a higher gait. Groundwork is always a good option to begin each session. In-hand work, lunging, and ground driving are great ways to build cardiovascular fitness and strength while still keeping sessions short. Each week you can gradually increase the length of the workouts or increase the time at the faster gaits (jog and lope). If your horse is out of shape, be reasonable in how much you ask of him, and never push him so much that he may injure himself.

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Lope work

Just as important as the warm-up is the cool-down. Keep your horse walking, either under saddle or in-hand, until his respiration has returned to normal and the temperature of his neck, chest and shoulder has cooled down. Soreness after a session can be greatly limited with a relaxed cool-down. The end of the ride is also a great time to do any stretches or massaging your horse may need. This is when the muscles are loose and still a bit warm from the workout. Never stretch a cold muscle!

In the winter time when it is cold, most of our session is spent at the walk, warming up and cooling down, with shorter sessions of jog and lope in-between.

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Warming up long and low (free jog). The horse’s nose should ideally be in front of the vertical.

It’s a good idea to keep a journal of the work you do with your horse to keep you on track and also to track the changes in your horse.

Make each ride count, and remember that even slow work can build muscle for your horse.

Photos by Rebecca Wieben

This article is the 24th 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, EC Coach, and Irwin Insights Level 4 Master Certified Trainer. Specializing in Western and English Dressage, she coaches near Bowden/Olds, AB. Lisa is also a Hanna Somatic Instructor and Practitioner in Training, working with riders, in class or privately, to learn movement exercises that target specific muscle issues in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and overuse. A balanced rider equals a balanced horse. www.mountainviewtrainingstables.com.

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

 

Western Dressage – How to correctly ride a corner. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

February 26, 2018

This is our third year collaborating on writing articles on Western dressage, and we appreciate all the feedback we’ve been getting. Some of the readers asked us to write more about simple exercises that they can do with their horses. So in this month’s issue, we would like to explain a very basic movement: how to correctly ride a corner.

A corner is not just a way to get from one maneuver to another, but can be very useful in rebalancing the horse in preparation for the next maneuver. A well-ridden corner will do just that!

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Jacklyn Hegberg riding Maverick through a corner – Photo by Lisa Wieben

Each corner you ride in the dressage ring can be defined as the arc of a circle, which is one of the various arena (or school) figures. Riding arena figures correctly helps develop lateral flexibility, suppleness, balance and straightness in your horse. Straightness means that a horse is straight on straight lines and bent on bending lines, with his poll through to the tail on the line of travel. Riding arena figures accurately will also help your horse become ambidextrous, meaning he can bend as easily to the right as he does to the left (bend refers to the horse’s lateral bend through the ribcage). Furthermore, riding arena figures develops obedience and responsiveness to the rider’s aids and helps assess both your horse’s training level as well as your own skill level.

Depending on the level of your horse, the arc of the corner may be that of a 10-metre, or in higher levels that of an 8-metre, circle. If your horse struggles with small circles and loses impulsion, rhythm, and/or balance, only go as deep into the corner as your horse can manage.

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Jacklyn Hegberg riding Maverick through a corner – Photo by Lisa Wieben

We like the following exercise to help the horse and rider learn how to properly ride corners:

– Begin in the walk.

– Ride a 10-metre circle in a corner.

– Proceed to the next corner. You can use the long sides of the arena for some transitions (e.g. walk to halt, walk to trot, trot to halt, etc.), but make sure you are back in a relaxed, but forward walk before each corner.

– Repeat the exercise in the opposite direction.

– Using cones to mark the circles will give you a better idea of the arc that you need to ride. Cones will also help the horse with a visual line of travel.

– If your horse is evenly bent on each circle, go large and omit the circles.

– If your horse maintains the bend in each corner repeat the same exercise at a jog.

– If the horse struggles with the smaller circles in the jog, discontinue the corner exercise and take the horse onto a 20-metre circle for the jog work. You can spiral this circle down to find the the size your horse is still comfortable with in the jog. As the horse develops more suppleness the smaller circles will become easier.

Rider aids/positioning

When riding your horse through a corner, he should be bending into the direction of the corner, with his body equally bent through his entire body from poll to tail, and his inside hind leg more engaged. The following are the aids for riding a corner to the left:

– Half-halt your horse (using your outside rein) before you reach the corner to let him know that something is changing as well as to rebalance him.

– Draw your left hip back slightly and allow your right hip to move forward.

– Inside (left) leg directly under your body, asking your horse to bend the rib cage as well as to maintain the activity.

– Outside (right) leg can be moved slightly back to prevent the horse’s hindquarters from swinging out.

– Gently ask for flexion to the inside with your inside (left) rein. This rein should remain slightly off the neck and you should just see your horse’s inside eye and nostril.

– Outside (right) rein supports the bend and is kept steady in order to limit the degree of bend in the horse’s neck. The outside rein also helps in turning your horse’s shoulders in and will be closer to the neck. The deeper you ride into the corner, the more the outside rein will be needed to turn the horse’s shoulders and maintain bend. The outside rein also helps maintain the horse’s rhythm.

– It is important to remember that while riding a corner, always turn your body from your centre (core), while your eyes are tracing the line of the corner a few strides ahead of the horse toward the next reference point.

In order to bend and turn a horse correctly, we need both inside and outside aids to work together, with your inside aids bending the horse and your outside aids supporting and turning him. The horse’s hind legs should be on the same track as his front legs, and he should be bending around your inside leg.

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How to set up cones for riding a corner properly – Photo by Lisa Wieben

One of the biggest mistakes we see is the horse cutting the corner. The rider, instead of bending the horse through the corner, tries to pull the horse into the corner with the outside rein as the horse is trying to avoid going into the corner. This causes the horse to counter-bend, tilting his head to the outside, and dropping the inside shoulder into the corner. To correct this go back to basics and work on the bend in the walk and keep the circle size appropriate to the horse.

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This is a good example of the horse’s inside hind leg stepping under. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

We will be bringing you more exercises to help you develop your horse’s rhythm, suppleness, and flexibility. Until next time enjoy the ride!

This article is the 23rd 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.