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“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.


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’.


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.


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.


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


The rider is in the correct position for the turn.


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


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.

 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.

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