Without dispute, a horse’s ability to flex his sacroiliac joint and lower his haunches entirely determines his success and progress as a performance horse. Flexion and strength here are critical not only for collection, powerful movement, and advanced maneuvers but also for the basic requirement of carrying his rider on a lifted and supple back.
This flexion and suppleness comes from a horse properly using his psoas muscles, those deep interior structures that stabilize his pelvis. The following exercise helps a horse achieve the right tone combined with relaxation that is a cornerstone of good Western Dressage riding. It combines the elements of steady rhythm, bend, rounded topline, and balance. It is suitable for both jogging and loping. I recommend riding it ten times in each direction.
You will need 4 ground poles, ideally wood ones that do not roll when knocked into. Mark out a twenty meter circle in your riding arena.
- On this 20-meter circle, place a ground pole (lying on the ground, not raised) at 12o’clock, 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock, and 9 o’clock. Place each pole such that you will ride directly over the center of each while riding around your 20-meter circle.
- Remember to look up and cross the CENTER of each pole. Many riders find themselves crossing the outer edge of the pole. You must plan your line at least 20 feet ahead to avoid this.
- Now count the number of strides between each pole. Be sure that the number is exactly the same between each pole.
- Keep your hands steady and low on the reins. Ideally, you will keep a soft contact with the horse’s mouth over the poles and he will cross the pole smoothly without lifting his head and neck.
- Make sure your horse bends to the inside around your entire circle.
- Have fun!
This deceptively simple exercise usually takes riders several repetitions to really master. Once you are riding it smoothly and consistently, there are a number of ways to vary it. You can alternate posting the jog vs. sitting it. You can try riding it in faster and slower tempos, just making sure to keep a consistent rhythm in whichever tempo you choose. And eventually you can raise the poles up off the ground to a height of 6-8 inches. I consider this exercise a great foundation tool. I return to it with advanced horses to re-confirm basics, and I use it with young ones to secure basics before moving on to more complicated gymnastics.
Western Dressage Weekly Exercise – authored by Jec Ballou | Copyright © 2012