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Western Dressage – Free walk and jog. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

December 15, 2016

Also known as “stretchy” walk and jog.

The free walk and jog: what is it?

The Western Style Dressage Association of Canada (WSDAC) states that:

WSD 2.02 b) Free walk – The free walk is a pace of relaxation in which the horse is allowed complete freedom to lower and stretch out his head and neck. The horse should maintain the same rhythm and tempo as the working walk, but is asked to stretch forward, down and into the contact. The poll should be lower than the withers with the nose well in front of the vertical. The amount of ground covered and the length of strides are essential to the quality of the free walk.

WSD 2.03 b) Free jog – The horse maintains the same rhythm and tempo as the working jog, but the horse is asked to stretch forward, down and into the contact. The poll should be lower than the withers with the nose well in front of the vertical. The free jog may be ridden either posting or sitting.

Free walk is seen from Introductory Level to Level 2 and Free jog is seen in the Basic and Level 1 tests.

When a horse is truly on the aids, supple, relaxed, and pushing forward with good energy, the back will lift and the neck will round with a soft flexion at the poll. Good quality training will produce an easy, relaxed stretch where the rider will softly open the hands and allow the horse to “chew the reins down”. The horse will take the bit forward and down to the point where the horse’s chin is at or slightly lower than the point of the shoulder, no lower than a point just above the knees with the nose slightly in front of the vertical.

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Free walk – the rider is looking nicely forward, with the horse showing a nice lift through his back as he reaches down and forward with his neck. His hind legs will be over-tracking the front foot steps.

Why should we ride a free walk or jog?

We already know that bending a horse laterally aids our horses in becoming more supple left to right, but we do not tend to think about stretching the horse back to front from the croup and tail to the withers and down to the poll. These are the muscles you sit on and the muscles the horse needs when he lifts his back, along with his abdominals.

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Free jog – the rider needs to allow the horse to stretch a little further forward so the nose is slightly in front of the vertical. The rider is, however, looking up and forward, and the horse has a nice reach in his stride and lift in his back.

What can stretching accomplish?

If the horse is high-headed and tense you can use stretching to get the horse more relaxed and listening. Stretching a horse “long and low” can release endorphins which relaxes the horse.

It can also help improve communication. If you are asking your horse for a specific movement and the horse begins to tense, you can ask for a little stretch and the horse will soften more through the movement.

The stretch can be used when the horse starts to become tense, tired, or tight during a movement. Green horses, in particular, can only take certain work, such as sitting jog work or lope work, for so long before their back starts to tire. The advanced horse performing higher level collected work will also need a break from time to time. Allowing the horse to stretch in posting trot (jog) will allow those muscles to release and relax before continuing on with work.

Once the horse knows how to stretch you can warm up and cool down a horse with a nice free “stretchy” walk and allow the horse to relax or take a break with either a free walk or free (posting) jog. The posting or rising jog keeps the rider’s weight off the horse’s back and allows the horse to lift and stretch the muscles of the topline.

A word of caution for those horses that tend to be heavy on the forehand with a naturally low headset: while the stretch can help aid relaxation, you need to be careful with how the horse stretches forward. If the horse immediately falls on the forehand, you will need to bring the horse’s back up and begin the stretch again. The stretch is not just the horse lowering the head, but it should lift his barrel and back, and the neck should lower from the withers. The horse should overtrack with good impulsion.

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Free jog – the horse is showing a nice reach forward and down with his head. The rider has allowed the horse to “take” the reins down. The rider could be looking up and forward. If the rider looks down it can make the horse heavier on the forehand.

How to get a stretch?

The key ingredients for a good stretch are rhythm, suppleness and relaxation, and contact. We usually begin training the free gaits at the end of a ride when the horse is soft, relaxed, and willing to stretch forward and down. Some horses will naturally reach down when the rider softly opens the hands, but some horses may need a little guidance. Lateral work such as the leg yield on the spiral circle or riding small circles with good bend will loosen up the horse before asking for the stretch.

Following the horse’s side to side rhythm you can begin to ‘flex’ the horse from side to side. As the horse is walking forward, his head will always go over the leg that is coming forward, right then left, right then left. The rider can use this natural rhythm and flex with the direction the horse naturally wants to go. The hands will be a little wider to aid the horse in this right and left lateral movement. As the horse begins to stretch the head down, the rider will allow the reins to slide through his hands. The rider must never “throw the reins away”, but allow the horse to take the reins forward and down.

The free, stretch, work is an exercise that some horses will learn quickly and other horses may take weeks to learn. Be patient and breathe as you work with your horse. As they feel you relax with the movement they will find their way into the stretch. Enjoy!

This article is the tenth 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, Chris Irwin Platinum Certified Trainer, and Equine Canada Western Competition Coach. She works with youth, adult amateurs and professionals as well as teaching a local 4H club at her facility near Bowden, AB. Western and English dressage has become her main focus, but many of her students compete in open competitions as well as obstacle challenges. Lisa has also added Somatics to help her students maintain and create further body awareness as it works to release muscle patterns in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and repetitive movements that can be work related. Getting riders in correct balance helps horses develop correct balance. 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, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, mentorship programs, as well as student programs at Falling Star Ranch 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 as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage. www.fallingstarranch.ca.

Western Dressage – Turn on the haunches – part 2. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

November 28, 2016

In the last blog post, we explained how to correctly execute a turn on the haunches. In this blog post, we would like to discuss common problems while performing a turn on the haunches.

As a review, there are two ways to perform a correct turn on the haunches for Western dressage. Both are to be judged equally. The first method is to keep the inside hind leg as the pivot foot. The horse is allowed to pick up and set down the pivot foot when needed to relieve stress on the leg. The front legs will cross over one another, outside over inside. The second method, the horse will walk a small circle with the hind legs, while the front legs cross over. The size of the circle of the hind legs can be one metre in diameter.

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The horse is stepping back in the turn. The rider is holding too much with both reins.

Common faults:

  1. If the horse steps towards the inside of the turn with his inside hind leg, he is leg yielding away from the rider’s outside leg in an effort to try and avoid the bending of the joints of his hind legs. Try using less outside leg and turn the horse more from the outside upper inner thigh. You may also need more outside rein to prevent the horse from stepping in. Changing the position of the outside pushing leg may also be needed. Sometimes if the leg hasn’t been positioned back the horse will think side pass instead of turn. Moving the leg a little further back may be all that is needed. Also be aware of how your weight is placed. If your weight is too much to the outside of the turn this may push the horse sideways. Stay centered and turn from your center, like a barber shop pole.
  2. Incorrect turn, such as doing a turn on the forehand or a turn on the centre: this usually happens if the rider allows the horse’s hindquarters to swing out. The rider needs to apply more outside leg adjusted further back to block the hip from swinging. If the horse keeps swinging out with his outside hind leg, start the exercise in a corner and only ask for a quarter turn. The wall can act as a block on the outside. Again, check your position and make sure your body is turning with the horse.
  3. The horse is overbent in the neck/tilting the head: the horse should remain straight (correctly bent) throughout the turn, rather than overbent in the neck or tilting the head. If the horse overbends in the neck or pops out the outside shoulder, this is often caused by the rider pulling the horse through the turn using the inside rein, rather than using the outside aids as turning aids. The inside rein is only there to keep slight inside flexion. Pulling will result in overbend.
  4. Turn is too large: the outside rein defines the size of the turn. To make the turn tighter, bring the outside rein closer to the horse’s neck without crossing over. The outside rein may also have to hold to keep the horse from stepping too far forward. Use a deeper, holding seat to slow the steps of the horse.
  5. Backing up: if the horse steps backwards, the rider should turn his body more into the direction of the turn to engage the horse forward while applying more inside leg. The rider may also need to decrease the restraining aids. When applying the aids think outside leg to turn, then inside leg to maintain forward. Alternating between the two will keep the horse turning and forward.
  6. Loss of correct bend: the rider needs to maintain the bend with his inside leg and inside rein.
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The rider is clearly sitting off to the right side. The horse is stepping sideways into the turn as shown by the hind legs stepping across rather than forward.

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The horse is overbent into the turn. In this position, it is harder for the horse to step across while maintaining clear steps behind.

 

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The horse is overbent into the turn with a slight head tilt. This is caused by the rider pulling with too much inside rein. The horse is dropping his outside shoulder, making it more difficult for him to do the cross-over step.

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The horse is counterbent due to the rider pulling too much with the outside rein.

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The rider is pulling too hard with the inside rein, causing the rider to be left behind and leaning to the outside. Also, the horse’s shoulder is being left behind in the turn.

Keep practicing and it will get better every time. Enjoy the ride!

This article is the ninth 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, Chris Irwin Platinum Certified Trainer, and Equine Canada Western Competition Coach. She works with youth, adult amateurs and professionals as well as teaching a local 4H club at her facility near Bowden, AB. Western and English dressage has become her main focus, but many of her students compete in open competitions as well as obstacle challenges. Lisa has also added Somatics to help her students maintain and create further body awareness as it works to release muscle patterns in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and repetitive movements that can be work related. Getting riders in correct balance helps horses develop correct balance. 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, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, mentorship programs, as well as student programs at Falling Star Ranch 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 as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage. www.fallingstarranch.ca.

 

Western Dressage – Turn on the haunches. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

November 9, 2016

The turn on the haunches is a lateral movement performed at the walk. It is a collection exercise which engages the horse’s hindquarters and encourages flexion of the joints in the hind legs. Your horse’s hind legs should be stepping more underneath his body, making his body more compact and freeing up his forehand, creating more suppleness and mobility of the shoulders. It is also a stepping stone to the more advanced movement of pirouette.

The turn on haunches exercise can also be used as a training tool for horses that are having difficulty with lope transitions. The ability to be able to move the horse’s body around is very important in collection. To collect a horse you need to be able to maintain straightness. If you do not have control of the shoulders (turn on haunches and later shoulder-in) or hips (turn on forehand or later haunches-in) you will not be able to maintain straightness. The turn on the haunches is first seen in the Level 2 Tests where collected gaits are first introduced.

In Western Dressage there are two ways to perform a turn on the haunches; both methods are to be judged equally, but the horse must not switch between the two methods.

  1. The horse will maintain the 4-beat rhythm of the walk while stepping a small circle with the hind legs. The size of the circle can be up to 1 metre as measured by the inside hind leg. The forelegs and outside hind leg will step around the stepping inside hind leg on the circle maintaining the 4-beat rhythm.
  2. The horse will maintain a pivot foot while the forelegs and outside hind leg step around the pivot foot on a circle. The pivot foot can pick up and set down close to the same spot.

The forelegs in both methods will show the outside front leg crossing over the inside front leg.

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Method 1. a stepping turn on the haunches. The horse’s inside hind leg is stepping in the rhythm of the walk.

The turn on the haunches is usually performed as a turn that is 180 degrees (half turn), but may also be performed as a quarter turn (90 degrees) or a full turn (360 degrees). However, when first teaching the movement, just as with the turn on the forehand, we only ask for a step at a time, gradually increasing the number of steps as the horse’s training progresses. If the rider asks for too much too soon, the horse likely will lose impulsion and rhythm. Quality of the exercise is more important than quantity of steps. Throughout the exercise, the horse should stay forward, relaxed, balanced, on the bit, while maintaining rhythm and correct bend.

For the rider, the turn on the haunches exercise teaches the rider co-ordination of driving and restraining aids.

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Method 2, a turn on the haunches with the inside pivot foot.

To execute a turn on the haunches:

Begin in a working walk.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Put weight on 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. In Method 1, the inside hind leg will continue to step on the circle. In Method 2, the inside hind leg will become the pivot point so you will need to use less inside leg. It will still be there to maintain bend and to prevent the horse from stepping back in the turn, which will be marked as a fault. The horse must remain forward in the pivot.
  4. 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.
  5. Allow your outside hip to move forward slightly as you turn your body to match your horse’s turn. Keep the buttons on your shirt 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. Maintain a following seat, especially where you keep the walk rhythm.

The turn on the haunches is a fantastic training exercise. Perform the movement slowly making each step clear and precise. The horse will become softer to your leg aids and will be started on the road to developing collection. You can perform the movement in the corners of the arena or set up a square with pylons with a quarter turn at each corner of the square, progressing to 180 degree turns along the wall, then full 360 degree turns off the wall. Be creative, have fun, enjoy the journey!

In the next blog post, we will be discussing common problems while performing a turn on the haunches.

This article is the eighth 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, Chris Irwin Platinum Certified Trainer, and Equine Canada Western Competition Coach. She works with youth, adult amateurs and professionals as well as teaching a local 4H club at her facility near Bowden, AB. Western and English dressage has become her main focus, but many of her students compete in open competitions as well as obstacle challenges. Lisa has also added Somatics to help her students maintain and create further body awareness as it works to release muscle patterns in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and repetitive movements that can be work related. Getting riders in correct balance helps horses develop correct balance. 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, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, mentorship programs, as well as student programs at Falling Star Ranch 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 as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage. www.fallingstarranch.ca.

 

Western Dressage – Turn on the forehand. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

October 2, 2016

A basic, but highly effective training exercise that should be in every rider’s toolbox is the turn on the forehand. The turn on the forehand is a stationary movement, meaning during the exercise, the horse learns to yield away from the rider’s inside leg at a standstill. The horse’s forehand should not be moving forwards, sideways or backwards. Instead, the front legs move up and down on the spot, or in a very small circle, with the outside foreleg very slightly ahead of the inside foreleg, and the hind legs moving in a semicircle around the inside foreleg. While a turn on the fore is a simple manoeuvre, executing it in an accurate way can be challenging, depending on the horse’s response to the aids.

When first starting to teach the turn on the forehand exercise, it is a good idea to only ask for a few steps. Once you and your horse are more familiar with the exercise, you may progress to complete a full turn on the forehand, which is 180 degrees.

We prefer to start to teach the turn on the forehand exercise from the circle so that the horse learns to keep the legs stepping forward, before progressing to a straight line approach, as it would be in a test. In Western Dressage, the turn on the forehand is first introduced in Level 1 and is executed from a halt.

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The horse is showing a nice, soft connection with the bit as he starts into the turn on the forehand. The rider should be looking up more to keep the lightness of the forehand. This horse is starting to compete in Level 1 this year. – Photo by Rebecca Wieben

  1. Begin on a 10-metre circle in a working walk with soft, even, rein contact.
  2. Spiral the circle down towards the centre. This will help create bend in the horse as well as keeping the horse stepping forward.
  3. Shorten your horse’s steps with your seat and rein aids.
  4. With the inside rein, ask your horse to flex at the poll so you can see his inside eye and nostril. The inside rein maintains proper bend.
  5. The outside rein will slow the steps of the front legs and will prevent any further forward movement once in the turn on the forehand, as well as preventing over bending through the neck.
  6. The rider’s inside leg comes back slightly behind the cinch to encourage the horse’s inside hind leg to cross over (the greener the horse, the further the leg may have to move back for the desired result). Apply rhythmic on-off pressure with your inside leg for each step of the turn on the forehand. At the same time, turn your body slightly in the direction of the turn. Ask for one step at a time. As soon as the horse starts to move off the leg, relax your aid slightly and allow the horse to finish the step before asking for another step in order to reward your horse. The timing of the leg will be as the barrel is swinging away from the pressing leg.
  7. The rider’s outside leg should be directly under the rider’s body, receiving and regulating each step and preventing the horse from rushing. A good way to remember which leg gives what aid is “press with inside, ‘catch’ with the outside”.
  8. While you want to sit equally on both seatbones, a little weight shift in the direction of movement can aid the horse over.
  9. Remember to keep your eyes up in order to keep your horse’s weight ‘up’.
  10. During the turn on the forehand, the horse’s front feet should march up and down in one place. His hind-end should swing smoothly, but unhurriedly around his front feet, with his inside leg crossing all the way over his outside hind leg, forming an “x” if viewed from behind. The horse should maintain a clear walk rhythm throughout the exercise.
  11. When the turn on the forehand is complete, ride the horse forward.

 

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At this stage of the turn you can clearly see the crossover step behind and the inside front picking up. The front legs continue to step in the walk rhythm while maintaining a shortened walk to allow the hind legs to cross over. – Photo by Rebecca Wieben

The turn on the forehand exercise has a lot of physical benefits. The turn on the forehand is a great way to get the horse to step further under his body, stretching the hind limbs, as well as creating lift in the back. The exercise also engages the horse’s abdominal muscle group, increasing the horse’s ability to move with good posture and form. Tension in the neck and jaw may also be released which encourages the horse to soften his topline.

A turn on the forehand introduces basic lateral concepts, from which more complicated lateral movements may be introduced.

For the rider, the turn on the forehand exercise improves both co-ordination and application of the aids.

A turn on the forehand is also a useful exercise for opening and closing gates without dismounting.

This article is the seventh 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, Chris Irwin Platinum Certified Trainer, and Equine Canada Western Competition Coach. She works with youth, adult amateurs and professionals as well as teaching a local 4H club at her facility near Bowden, AB. Western and English dressage has become her main focus, but many of her students compete in open competitions as well as obstacle challenges. Lisa has also added Somatics to help her students maintain and create further body awareness as it works to release muscle patterns in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and repetitive movements that can be work related. Getting riders in correct balance helps horses develop correct balance. 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, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, mentorship programs, as well as student programs at Falling Star Ranch 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 as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage. www.fallingstarranch.ca.

 

Western Dressage – Suppling exercises for dressage riders – spiral in, leg yield out. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

July 24, 2016

The spiralling circle is a wonderful exercise that can be done by any level of horse or rider. It is a very effective way to get a horse laterally supple and to teach a horse to leg yield. It will also help the horse learn to balance himself. The exercise can be done at any gait, but should be practiced at the walk first to establish correct bend, as well as to help your horse become connected to both the outside turning aids and the inside bending aids. You may use cones for this exercise to help your circle stay round.

The goal of this exercise is to be able to smoothly spiral in from a 20-metre circle to a 10-metre circle, then slowly yielding back out to the 20-metre circle. If your horse is quite young or green, you may only want to go from the 20-metre to a 15-metre in the beginning in order to maintain the balance and rhythm. As your horse’s training progresses and an improved connection, balance, and rhythm are established, you will be able to spiral in further. The spiral may also progress to a point where you can finish the inward spiral with a turn on the forehand or turn on the haunches before moving back out again. The turn on the forehand and turn on the haunches will both be subjects of future articles.

If you drew a circle on the ground, the horse’s ears, spine, and tail would be moving on the line with a nice bend through the rib cage. The alignment of your body will need to follow that line as well, with your eyes looking through the horse’s ears.

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The horse is nicely bent and tracking up as she comes onto the 10-metre circle in the working jog.

Begin the spiral in by turning your body slightly into the circle to take the horse onto an 18-metre circle. Aid the turn with the outside leg and reins; the outside rein will prevent overbending into the circle, thus controlling the circle size. Remember from our articles on Circles and How to Prevent Mistakes on Circles, if you give too much with the outside rein, the horse will “bulge out” through the outside shoulder. This will become even more evident during the leg yield out.

The inside leg and rein will maintain the flexion on the circle, without pulling with the inside rein. The inside rein will remain slightly off the horse’s neck with soft contact with the bit. Try to keep your rein cues as light as you can and ride the spiral more from seat and legs. Have the seat turning in as the horse’s barrel swings out of the circle and the outside leg pressing as the horse’s barrel swings into the circle. The inside leg will remain just behind the girth and will maintain the bend. Continue the spiral in to a 16-, 14-, 12-, and 10-metre circle. Establish each circle before spiralling to the next to give the horse a chance to maintain rhythm, relaxation and connection within each new bend. As the circle gets smaller, the horse’s bend will become greater and the rider’s body will need to turn more to help maintain the horse’s balance.

To begin the spiral back out to the 20-metre circle, the horse’s body must remain on the bend of each circle as it moves out laterally, so the legs begin to cross over in leg-yield steps. If the horse loses the bend he will then move out of the circle too quickly and no lateral steps will be felt. To ask the horse to leg yield over, the rider will maintain a slight flexion with the inside rein. The outside rein can either open slightly if the horse is a little slow to move over, or it will maintain a light connection with the neck and shoulder so the horse does not move out too quickly. The rider’s inside leg (positioned just behind the girth), will press as the horse’s barrel swings out of the circle and release when the horse’s barrel swings into the circle. When the horse’s barrel swings out of the circle, this is also when the inside front leg is leaving the ground and is in position to cross over the outside leg. In order to maintain impulsion while spiralling in and out, keep your seat following the movement and rhythm of the horse. Sometimes we can become so focused on what our legs and hands are doing that we forget to follow with the seat. This can create a loss of rhythm in the horse and the spiral will not flow as well. Spiralling out is the first step of leg yielding, as it is much easier to teach a horse to leg yield on a circle than on a straight line. The bend of the circle makes it easier to maintain suppleness, rhythm, and speed through the movement.

Spiralling exercise 2

Beginning the leg yield out on the circle. You can see how the horse is stepping further under her body with her inside hind leg.

Once you and your horse have mastered the spiral exercise at the walk, increase the difficulty by doing the exercise at a working jog, and eventually at a lope. This exercise at the lope is considerably more difficult and should only be done once the horse is well balanced in the lope on a 20-metre and 15-metre circle and has worked on the leg yield exercise in the jog both on the circle and on a straight line. Once you develop these exercises with your horse you will begin to see how much more supple and connected he can be.

This article is the sixth one 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, Chris Irwin Platinum Certified Trainer, and Equine Canada Western Competition Coach. She works with youth, adult amateurs and professionals as well as teaching a local 4H club at her facility near Bowden, AB. Western and English dressage has become her main focus, but many of her students compete in open competitions as well as obstacle challenges. Lisa has also added Somatics to help her students maintain and create further body awareness as it works to release muscle patterns in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and repetitive movements that can be work related. Getting riders in correct balance helps horses develop correct balance. 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, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, mentorship programs, as well as student programs at Falling Star Ranch 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 as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage. www.fallingstarranch.ca.

 

Western Dressage – Common errors on the circle. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

July 18, 2016

In the last blog post, we talked about how to ride a correct 20-metre circle. This month we will be talking about the many common errors while riding a circle.

A correctly ridden circle should start and end at the same point and be round, not oval or egg-shaped, which can be caused by the horse falling in on the circle, drifting out on the circle, or being ridden too deep into the corners. While on a circle the horse must maintain his rhythm in whichever gait is called for.

A horse may drift out on the circle if the rider isn’t maintaining contact with the outside aids (leg and rein). A rider not turning with her body can also cause a horse to evade out of the circle. When a rider turns her body with the bend of the horse, the rider’s outside leg/thigh will be closer to the horse. The rider’s hands will also follow the body, opening more with the inside rein and closing against the neck/shoulder with the outside rein. The outside aids create a wall for the horse to follow.

The horse should be evenly bent through his body from head to tail. However, it is relatively common to see a horse travelling on a circle while being too straight. This may be caused by the rider’s body not turning on the circle, causing the horse to stay straighter in his body (see picture 2). It could also be due to a horse that is not supple through his body.

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The rider’s body is not turning on the circle causing the horse to stay straighter in her body. As you can see by the arrows, both the horse and the rider are not bent on the circle.

Another common mistake is if the horse is overbent through his neck (folded) but straight throughout the rest of his body. This is generally caused by a rider pulling too much with her inside hand and not supporting enough with the outside rein. This causes the horse’s shoulder to ‘bulge out’ on the circle as the bend of the horse is mainly through the neck instead of through his body (see picture 1).

Common_errors_1

The rider is pulling too much with the inside hand and not supporting enough with the outside rein. The horse is over-bent in the neck, causing the shoulder to “bulge out” on the circle. The bend of the horse is mainly through  the neck, instead of through the whole body.

If the rider is leaning into the circle and pulling too hard with the inside rein, but has a supporting outside rein, the horse’s shoulder may not be bulging as much, but it can cause the horse to tilt his head (see picture 3). Head tilt can be created by too much “pull” from either rein, along with a supporting rein. The horse should have his nose in line with the poll. If the nose is slightly to the left or right of this line, then the horse would have a noticeable tilt to his head.

Common_errors_3

The rider is leaning into the circle and pulling too hard with the inside rein. The outside rein is supporting so the shoulder isn’t bulging as much, but this has caused the mare to tilt her head.

A horse travelling on a circle with his haunches swinging out is often caused by the rider not using her outside leg to prevent the swinging out of the haunches or the rider’s inside leg has moved back causing the haunches to push out of the circle.

Another common mistake is when the horse is travelling counterbent on the circle, instead of in true bend. A counter bent horse will be bent opposite to the direction of travel. This can be created by too much pull on the outside rein or by a horse that needs more suppling to be able to maintain a true bend.

Rider position is very important in riding circles. If a rider is leaning into the circle, this will cause the horse to lean into the circle as well. The horse may push against the rider’s inside leg, making it more difficult for the rider to keep the horse out on the circle. If the rider picked up her inside shoulder and put a little more weight to the outside seatbone, the horse would maintain the circle much easier (see picture 4). A rider collapsing through the rib cage, leaning to the side, or turning from the shoulders only, will throw a horse off balance.

Common_errors_4

The rider is leaning into the circle with the outside hand slightly higher than the inside hand. The horse has a slight lean into the circle. This can cause the horse to push against the rider’s inside leg, making it more difficult for the rider to keep the horse out on the 20-metre circle. If the rider picked up her inside shoulder and put a little more weight to the outside the horse would maintain the circle much easier.

This article is the fifth one 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, Chris Irwin Platinum Certified Trainer, and Equine Canada Western Competition Coach. She works with youth, adult amateurs and professionals as well as teaching a local 4H club at her facility near Bowden, AB. Western and English dressage has become her main focus, but many of her students compete in open competitions as well as obstacle challenges. Lisa has also added Somatics to help her students maintain and create further body awareness as it works to release muscle patterns in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and repetitive movements that can be work related. Getting riders in correct balance helps horses develop correct balance. 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, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, mentorship programs, as well as student programs at Falling Star Ranch 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 as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage. www.fallingstarranch.ca.

 

 

Western Dressage – Arena figures: How to ride a proper circle. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

June 24, 2016

Why do we ride arena figures?

Arena figures (or school figures) are a set of movements that are ridden in a dressage arena and make up the basis of all dressage test movements. But even if you are never going to ride a dressage test, riding arena figures gives structure to your training sessions by giving you a set of exercises that benefit both you and your horse.

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. 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.

Pic 1 circles

This four-year-old mare is learning correct alignment on a 20-m circle and shows a lovely degree of bend while the rider maintains correct position. (Photo by Rebecca Wieben)

The 20-metre circle

The 20-metre circle is usually the first school figure taught to novice riders and green or young horses. It is the most basic dressage movement and also the most important training figure as it is a great test of the horse’s suppleness and the rider’s ability to keep the horse between the aids.

The 20-metre circle fits into both a small (20×40 metre) as well as a standard (20×60 metre) dressage arena and allows the rider to use the letters on the arena walls to determine if the circle is the correct size and shape.

The 20-metre circle should always be round, not egg-shaped or pear-shaped or oval. This means that the circle touches each arena wall, or point on center line, only at a single point, for no more than one or two strides. There are no straight lines on a circle.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But riding a perfect circle takes a lot of practice. There are two aspects to riding the circle: how the horse is being ridden on a bending line as well as how the figure itself is being ridden geometrically.

A good way to start is by placing cones around the circle as visual reference, starting out at a school letter (e.g. A or C), which gives the rider an exact place to start and finish the circle. We prefer to mark the four quadrants of the circle. So if you’re starting out at A or C, your second reference point is a point on the wall four metres past the corner letter, not the corner letter itself. The third reference point is the spot where the rider crosses the centreline. The fourth reference point is on the other long side, four metres before the corner letter. A good tip to riding an accurate 20-metre circle is to always look toward the next reference point. Looking too far around the circle can cause your weight to shift to the inside and the horse to want to fall into the circle.

Pic 2 circles

This picture shows inside rein slightly off the neck, outside rein lightly on the neck, with the rider’s body turning in the direction of the circle. (Photo by Rebecca Wieben)

Rider aids/positioning

When a horse is travelling on a circle, it should be bending into the direction of the circle, with his body equally bent through his entire body from poll to tail, and his inside hind leg more engaged. In order to ride a horse on a bending line, the rider must know how to bend the horse correctly. For example, if you are riding a circle to the left, your aids should be as follows:

Weight your inside (left) seat bone to encourage the horse to engage his inside hind leg. Draw your left hip back slightly and allow your right hip to move forward. Put your inside (left) leg at the cinch, asking your horse to bend around it as well as to maintain the activity of his inside hind leg. Place your outside (right) leg about one to two inches behind the cinch 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.

Your outside (right) rein is your supporting rein and needs to be kept steady in order to limit the degree of bend in the horse’s neck. The outside rein also helps turning your horse’s shoulders in and should be closer to the neck. The smaller the circle, the more the outside rein will be needed to turn the horse’s shoulders.

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 turning him.

It is important to remember that while riding a circle you should always be turning your body from your centre (core), while your eyes are tracing the line of the circle a few strides ahead of the horse toward the next point on the circle. Every dressage test will have circles so make this a part of your regular practice.

In our next article, we will be discussing common errors on the circle.

This article is the fourth one 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, Chris Irwin Platinum Certified Trainer, and Equine Canada Western Competition Coach. She works with youth, adult amateurs and professionals as well as teaching a local 4H club at her facility near Bowden, AB. Western and English dressage has become her main focus, but many of her students compete in open competitions as well as obstacle challenges. Lisa has also added Somatics to help her students maintain and create further body awareness as it works to release muscle patterns in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and repetitive movements that can be work related. Getting riders in correct balance helps horses develop correct balance. 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, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, mentorship programs, as well as student programs at Falling Star Ranch 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 as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage. www.fallingstarranch.ca.