Western Dressage Exercise – Arena Intervals

Enjoy this “Western Dressage Exercise of the Week” by Jec Ballou. Feel free to use this to enhance your western dressage riding ability.

As spring buds burst open and horses shed their winter coats, daily riding sessions become more consistent. For some, this means setting goals for the season ahead or plotting adventures, but for most riders it means the need to tune up their steeds’ fitness.  I recommend devoting one day every week to building and maintaining cardiovascular fitness.

Obviously you can squeeze bouts of cardio work in to your other days, too, but by planning to focus exclusively on it the same day each week, you will ensure your horse gets the sustained cardio efforts that will fuel your goals for the season. Maintaining cardiovascular fitness assists your horse’s performance by increasing his ability to take in and use oxygen which partly determines his stamina and willingness during exercise as well as muscle pliability. It also boosts production and activity of the metabolic enzymes that deliver nutrition to muscles, transport fluids between soft tissues, and clear out waste build-up that hampers muscle contractions. In this way, it helps the horse get further in a workout before fatigue, helps him recover more efficiently afterwards and feel good the next day.

Western Dressage Exercise - Jec BallouPick a day to do your Arena Interval workout when you will not also be schooling dressage maneuvers of teaching your horse new exercises. It should be a day where, following a 10-minute loosening and warming up phase, you target your horse’s cardio system. This means you get to turn off your brain, don’t worry about your form, and just follow the clock.

Arena Intervals

Following a warm-up of at least 10 minutes:

  1. Develop working lope on the right lead and ride for 30 seconds, varying between circles and straight lines.
  2. After 30 seconds, transition down to the working jog for the same duration. Do not walk.
  3. Repeat the above sequence (lope 30 seconds/jog 30 seconds) three more times without any walk breaks.
  4. After you have repeated the sequence four times, bring your horse down to a walk for 3 full minutes.
  5. Then repeat the entire above sequence in the opposite direction.

** with this exercise, it is critical to use a clock. Do not rely on your own inner time-telling mechanisms. The intervals must be of precise length, both the work bouts and the recovery jog periods, in order to develop the horse. After 3 weeks of this routine, increase your intervals durations to 60 seconds. Here it is especially important to use a clock because I find that riders always tend to think they have been loping for much longer periods of time than they have been!

Western Dressage Weekly Exercise – authored by Jec Ballou | Copyright © 2013

3 Responses to “Western Dressage Exercise – Arena Intervals

  • Would this be an appropriate exercise for a horse just getting back into work? After what amount of time off (eg., less activity during the winter; not ridden for a few month?, etc. )

    • DMD-Admin
      5 years ago

      I will forward your comment onto Jec Ballou for further clarification. Thanks again for reading and following us!

    • Jec Ballou
      5 years ago

      Hi Alla,

      This exercise is suitable to be used once a horse has 30 days of base conditioning (3 or more days per week of light exercise, inclusive of longe line work, hacking, arena rides). If your horse has had more than 2 months of minimal exercise (less than 3 days per week), you will want to wait for a few more weeks before tackling this one.
      Good luck!