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

August 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

Begin the exercise at a working walk.

Part 1: Square with turns on the forehand

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

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

Make sure to perform the exercise in both directions.


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

Part 2: Square with turns on the haunches

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

Have fun!

This article is the seventeenth 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.

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.

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