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Western Dressage – Common errors while performing leg yields. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

March 8, 2017

In the last Western dressage blog post, we talked about how to properly execute a leg yield and what the benefits of the exercise are. In this post, we are discussing common errors while performing the leg yield exercise.

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A correctly executed leg yield: the horse is parallel to the wall with slight flexion to the inside maintaining the over-forward momentum. – Photo credit Lisa Wieben

Loss of impulsion/uneven gaits

When the horse is learning to move laterally in a leg yield it can be quite common for the horse to lose the forward energy and become uneven in its rhythm. Using both the inside and outside leg to maintain a steady rhythm and to encourage the horse to move laterally, correctly, is key. A good way to think about the leg yield in this case is “over, forward, over, forward”, the inside leg asking for the over step and the outside leg maintaining the forward energy. Another way to engage the horse forward and balance out the rhythm is to ride straight for a few strides before asking for a few more steps of leg yield.

Horse is rushing

The opposite of the loss of impulsion is rushing. This may happen if the horse is confused by the aids or thinks leg pressure means forward energy instead of sideways. Using well-timed half-halts on the outside rein to rebalance the horse and slow forward movement will help. Showing the horse what is wanted in the walk first before progressing to the jog aids the horse’s understanding. During the movement in the jog if the horse still wants to rush you could add a small 10-metre circle to rebalance the horse each time the movement starts to get quick.

Horse not crossing over

There are times when the leg yield turns into a straight line ridden toward the wall where the horse’s shoulders are leading the hips and there are no lateral steps. In this case the shoulders can be brought back in line with the hips through the use of the outside rein gently drawn back toward the rider’s hip and a blocking outside leg. The inside rein will maintain the correct bend. The position of the rider will be in alignment with the horse ‘s bend, with the eyes looking in the direction of travel. The rider’s weight will shift slightly to the outside so the horse balances under the weight in the direction of the leg yield. The inside leg may need to increase the push sideways, along with a connecting outside rein to maintain straightness, with a seat that follows the movement over. If the rider’s seat is not following it could be blocking the sideways movement.

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Without the outside rein supporting and maintaining straightness, the horse has lost the sideways movement. – Photo credit Rebecca Wieben

Horse moves sideways too quickly

If the horse’s outside hind leg is moving laterally instead of coming forward and underneath with each stride, the horse will begin to move more exclusively sideways rather than forward and sideways. This is often caused by a rider not using enough forward driving aids (don’t forget your outside leg!) and not enough outside supporting rein to block the sideways movement slightly. Remember, “over, forward, over, forward”. While training, this could become over one step and forward three to four steps so the horse learns to wait for the ‘over’ cue.

Horse leads with hindquarters

In this case the rider may be using the inside leg too far back, causing the hips to move over first, while also using too much outside rein, blocking the shoulder movement. The outside rein is used to support straightness. To allow the horse to lead slightly with the shoulders the rider may need to open the outside rein, like opening a door, to get the horse started in the direction, and then close the rein to maintain the straightness of the movement. This will only be done in the training stage. Once the horse understands the movement the reins remain even, with only a slight half-halt if needed, and the leg and seat will move the horse laterally.

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The outside rein is blocking the shoulder from moving and in this case slightly changing the horse’s bend. The haunches are leading to the wall.

Rider leans to the inside of the horse’s bend or collapses at the waist and drops inside shoulder

Leaning to the inside will make it more difficult for the horse to pick up the inside hind leg and inside shoulder to cross over and may impede impulsion. Allowing your body to grow tall with equal length on both sides of the ribcage, with weight shifted very slightly in the direction of travel will allow the horse to move freely sideways under balance.

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The rider is collapsing the inside rib cage to push with the inside leg and opening the outside leg away from the horse’s body. – Photo credit Rebecca Wieben.

Horse is overbent

Using too much inside rein and not enough outside supporting rein will cause the horse to overbend. The horse will be unable to move forward/sideways with its body parallel to the long side. The horse’s neck should stay in the middle of its chest and the rider should only see the corner of the horse’s inside eye.

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Too much inside rein is causing the horse to overbend and to lead the movement with the outside shoulder. – Photo credit Rebecca Wieben

As always, stay balanced, centred, supple and relaxed. Focus on riding the movement step by step. Ask for two or three strides of correct leg yield, then reward and go straight for a few strides. Ride straight before the movement falls apart and reward the horse often! With practice the horse will learn to maintain even rhythm before, during, and after the movement and will develop more relaxation and suppleness.

This article is the thirteenth 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. http://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, 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. http://www.fallingstarranch.ca.

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Western Dressage – How to properly execute a leg yield. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

February 21, 2017

If you’ve been following us over the past year, we’ve been covering the movements of Western dressage as well as training exercises to help improve your horse. In a past blog post you have already learned how to do the spiral exercise, which is the beginning of a leg yield.

In thispost, we are looking at how to properly execute 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 the exercise 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. The exercise also helps prepare the horse for more advanced maneuvers, such as the shoulder-in and later the half pass. It is also a great exercise to teach the rider how to use her aids independently and bring the horse properly into the outside rein.

The leg yield is a required movement in the Level 1 Western dressage tests and is performed from the centre line to the track.

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Horse and rider are showing a lovely straight leg yield at the centre line. The horse is crossing over nicely and has a slight bend around the rider’s pushing leg.

How to execute the leg yield

The horse should be fairly straight through his body while performing a leg yield, with only a slight flexion of the poll away from the direction of travel. The inside legs should cross in front of the outside legs with the rider being able to see the inside eye slightly. The horse should remain relaxed in his gaits, without speeding up or slowing down, during the execution of the movement. We initially teach the leg yield from the quarterline to the outside track, keeping the horse’s body parallel to the wall. The wall acts as a magnet, drawing the horse over, as opposed to starting in the centre of the arena, where the horse doesn’t have a guideline.

* 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 left, shift left). The horse will always 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.

* Start in a working jog, sitting or posting (if you are unfamiliar with the leg yield aids, we recommend practicing the exercise at the walk first).

* Turn the horse onto the quarterline.

* Ask your horse to move sideways by applying your inside leg at or slightly behind the girth, depending on the level of your horse’s training, in rhythm 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).

* Your outside leg is positioned slightly behind the girth of the horse in order to continue forward movement and to prevent the horse from rushing away from the rider’s inside leg, 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 the straightness of the movement as well as rhythm.

* Gently apply the inside rein for slight flexion at the poll. Keep consistent, elastic contact (not alternating slack and tight). If you use too much inside rein the horse’s shoulders will bulge out in the direction of the movement and he will lose his rhythm.

* Half-halts may be used as needed to control forward movement, if the horse gets rushing or pushy.

* Start out with only a few steps at a time, then ride straight forward again. You may also start the exercise by turning down a line that is only a metre away from the long side of the arena, then gradually increase the distance away from the outside track. With more practice, you will be able to leg yield the entire length of the arena from the centre line.

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Leg yielding down the long side with the horse’s nose facing the wall. The horse maintains bend around the rider’s pushing leg (right) and the rider’s left leg is maintaining forward energy.

With more advanced horses, leg yielding can also be executed from the outside track to the quarterline. To do this you would have to change your horse’s bend before proceeding off the wall.

Another common way to perform the leg yield exercise is with the horse’s nose facing the rail/wall, with his body at no more than a 30-degree angle to the wall. A variation of this is the horse being leg yielded with his haunches to the rail/wall.

The leg yield is a beneficial training movement and should be in every rider’s tool box. A horse with balance issues can be leg yielded on a circle, into corners, and on straight lines. It is a tool to aid with the obedience of the horse as he begins to yield from the rider’s leg. It is a wonderful warm-up exercise to create suppleness and looseness in the horse. Play with the exercise!

Stay tuned next month for common errors of the leg yield and how to fix them.

This article is the twelfth 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, Irwin Insights Level 4 Master 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 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 as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage. www.fallingstarranch.ca.

How to prepare your horse for riding when the snow is falling off the arena roof

February 14, 2017

Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny, warm day. The snow was melting rapidly, it was dripping everywhere. It sure felt like spring! Hard to believe that only a little over a week ago we had temperatures in the minus thirties!! Yesterday was also one of those “the-snow-is-sliding-off-the-arena-roof” days. I am sure many of you who live in northern climates have ridden in an indoor arena when that happens. How does your horse react? Does he stay calm? Does he spook or even bolt? Are you calm?

Not every horse is ok with the sound of big chunks of snow falling off the arena roof, or large areas of the snow-load sliding off the roof at once. I remember a couple of winters ago when I was riding one of our lesson horses, a paint gelding named TS Bold Cody, in our indoor arena. All of a sudden almost the entire snow-load on both sides of the arena roof let go at once. For about 15 seconds it sounded as if a freight train was going right through the arena. The noise was deafening. My heart was beating in my throat. Should I bail or just try to ride out whatever Cody throws at me? Split-second decisions. I decided to try and ride it out, whatever it was going to be. Cody started prancing underneath me, on the spot, and I could not only feel, but also hear his heart beat. He was definitely scared. But he never spooked, never bolted. He stayed on the aids, on the bit, neck arched, with his nose on the vertical, and just pranced. I quietly talked to him, trying to keep both of us calm. When it was all over – and believe me, it seemed like an eternity -, he calmly walked forward again.

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Not every horse would have stayed this connected to his rider and shown this much trust, listening to the rider’s aids and voice and looking for guidance. I know that some of my other horses – even if they are quite used to chunks of snow falling off the roof or some snow sliding off – would have at least spooked in this extreme situation; a couple of them, some of the more volatile ones, maybe even bolted for a few strides.

So what do you do if you’re not sure how your horse is going to react to the sound of big chunks of snow falling, or big loads of snow sliding off the roof?

How do you get him used to these sounds in a safe way?

I personally like to do in-hand work with the horse, a great way to have control of the horse’s body even when he gets nervous. In-hand leading allows me to keep the horse’s head low, which in a nutshell releases endorphins and helps keep him calm(er).

In the non-resistance training methodology based on Irwin Insights that we practice at Falling Star Ranch Academy of Foundational Horsemanship, addressing cause instead of just the symptom is key. Our focus must therefore extend past repetitive exposure to something scary and include the way in which the trainer handles the horse during that exposure. In-hand leading enables the handler to shape the horse’s body in such a way that it helps release endorphins and creates pleasant feelings in the horse, rather than inadvertently causing negative feelings created by misalignment and imbalance. Frame of body is frame of mind!

Make sure you stay aligned with your horse, at his shoulder, with your belly button (core) pointing forward, parallel (congruent) to the middle of the horse’s chest. Don’t force your horse to stand still when he gets scared. Instead, ask him to keep moving forward, ideally in a circle around you, with his ribcage bent away from you and his head low.

Once the horse handles these scary sounds while being in-hand led, I will then progress to lungeing him, before I mount and ride on days where the chance of snow sliding off the roof is big.

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When you are riding and the snow starts sliding off the roof, keep riding as if nothing is going to happen and it isn’t a big deal at all. If your horse spooks or bolts, and you find yourself pulling on the reins and gripping with your legs and going into survival mode – which is a perfectly normal reaction and a first reflex for most riders – tell yourself to breathe deeply, sit tall, deep, centred and balanced, widen your reins and turn in onto a circle. Over time, you can train your body to not go into survival mode first, but to do the correct things instead, which over time will become automatic.

Stay safe and enjoy your ride!

Western Dressage – Canadian Junior competes at the Western Dressage World Show in Oklahoma. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

December 22, 2016

The Western Dressage Association of America held its World Championship Show at the Lazy E Ranch in Guthrie, Oklahoma, from September 29 to October 2, 2016.

Competitors from three Canadian provinces and 28 states brought 176 horses of 31 breeds and crossbreds for 786 rides in tests and rail classes (info from http://www.wdaaworldshow.org/). From Alberta: Julie Moorcroft showing Backtrax Grace in Gold in Introductory Open and All About Bling in Basic Open; Sharon Crawford showing Tango Del Diablo in Level 3 Amateur and Freestyle Open; Sandra Oxtoby showing Wrangler Do in Level 3 Open; Jacklyn Hegberg showing Chip N At Midnite in Basic Level Junior and Level 1 Junior. From Saskatchewan: Kelly Adams showing Meagan in Introductory Open and Basic Open and Hotrodder Mike in Level 2 and 3 Open. From Ontario: Walter Mantler showing Liberachi SS in Level 2 and 3 Open; Sherry Beaudry showing I Forgot the Pie in Introductory Amateur. For full results of the show visit http://www.horseshowconsulting.com.

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Jacklyn and Maverick at the Western Dressage World Show. Photo by Onetulsa Photography

We interviewed 18-year-old Jacklyn Hegberg of Olds, AB, the only Canadian junior competitor and a student of Lisa Wieben’s, about her first-time experience at the Western Dressage World Championship Show.

Jacklyn, her mom Joanne Hegberg and Lisa Wieben travelled to Oklahoma in one vehicle following Sandra Oxtoby, who hauled her own horse, Sharon Crawford’s horse, as well as Hegberg’s horse.

Wieben said it was great having travelling companions, and the horses all travelled well. At each stop the horses were watered and the hay was checked. Their trip led them through Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, and finally into Oklahoma to Guthrie.

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Jacklyn watering Maverick during the trip. Photo by Lisa Wieben

Jacklyn, how long have you been riding? I started at age 8, so 10 years.

When did you start showing horses? In 2012, I competed in Showmanship in 4H with a borrowed horse. In the fall of 2012 I bought my other horse, Cash, for 4H.

What else have you competed in? 4H Equitation, 4H English and Western pleasure, 4H Horsemanship and 4H Trail.

How did you become interested in Western Dressage? In the fall of 2012 I started boarding at Lisa Wieben’s Mountain View Training Stables near Bowden, AB. I started taking lessons from her and was in the 4H club she teaches. She started teaching Western dressage clinics at her facility and I participated with my horse Cash. In 2014, I started riding Lisa’s horse Maverick, and in 2015 I competed with him in 4H and in Western dressage. In the middle of that summer I purchased Maverick.

Tell us more about your horse. Maverick, or Chip N At Midnite, is a double registered six-year-old Quarter Horse/solid Paint.

Why did you decide to compete at the Western Dressage World Show? This year is my last year as a junior competitor and our show season has gone really well. Lisa encouraged me to go.

What was the experience like? It was exciting!! I learned a lot of lessons.

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Will someone brush my hair please? Photo by Lisa Wieben

Anything in particular that stands out? The 30-hour drive to Guthrie! We took three days to go down. The warm weather was great and the facility was really nice. Having my coach there was a definite plus, and Maverick handling the trip and everything new so well was a big plus! It was fun having more competition in my classes. In Alberta, I’ve only had one or two other juniors to compete against. At Worlds I had nine to 14 riders to compete with, and there were many different breeds.

What were the lessons you learned? 1) Never stop showing – no matter the situation you can’t lose focus. For example Maverick spooked in our Equitation class and I thought I blew it, but little did I know other riders were having issues too. We finished Reserve Champion. 2) Ride an accurate test. 3) Remember that you are competing against yourself and your goal is to ride better than you did the day before. You can’t compare yourself to others or your horse to other breeds. 4) Believe in yourself and trust your horse! 5) Look for the positives instead of dwelling on the negatives. When you are feeling down you have to look at what you did well and then look at what you can improve.

How did you and your horse do?

We got Reserve Champion Equitation. Basic Level Junior day 1 fifth, day 2 first, day 3 fourth, Overall Reserve World Champion Basic Level Junior. Level 1 Junior day 1 first, day 2 fifth, day 3 first, Overall World Grand Champion Level 1 Junior. For this show each day the first place winners received World Champion jackets and then at the end of the show they gave out belt buckles for the overall winners. I got three jackets and a belt buckle as well as two halters as well as a trophy for High Point Canadian Junior.

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Jacklyn and Maverick and their wins. On the left Lisa Wieben. Photo by Allen Hicks

Did you have any strategies that you used to prepare for the competition?

Breathing kept both me and Mavi relaxed. Not worrying about yourself. Staying in your own bubble, especially in the warm-up ring. Reviewing tests at the end of each day and going through each component that we had difficulties with. Walking the tests the night before and visualizing how I wanted to ride each part.

Having a properly fitted saddle has made a big difference to both Mavi and I. Maverick is very sensitive and my first Western show saddle didn’t fit. We now have an Easyfit saddle which fits him way better and gives him better movement and more lift. In Level 1 we do leg yields and lengthenings in the jog. He would do them in my old saddle, but he wasn’t as free. It is also adjustable for me. I can change the seat so I am sitting more balanced.

Thank you for the interview and congratulations on your wins Jacklyn!

This article is the eleventh 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 – 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.