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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.


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.


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.


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.

 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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