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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.

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