Western Dressage Exercise – Footwork

One of our biggest jobs as riders is the pursuit of straightness in our horses. Helping our naturally crooked equine athletes become more even on both sides of their bodies presents no small task, and sometimes the goal of symmetry and balance seem elusive. The esteemed veterinarian and dressage author Dr. Gerd Heuschmann (Tug of War and Balancing Act) likes to point out that most horses, with training, only become stronger in their crookedness. Riders then develop the feeling that the horse always maneuvers well in one direction but struggles or steers like a board in the opposite direction.

The roots of crookedness can be numerous but the general cause starts—and worsens—by a horse becoming uneven in his musculature. One side develops tighter, shorter muscles while the other side adopts a posture that is more permanently stretched open. For Western Dressage movements to be fully graceful and correct riders need to remedy this natural crookedness, prioritizing it above the later training results of improved straightness: impulsion, collection, extension.

Having the right tools for this job determine how quickly a rider can be successful. Exercises that alternately stretch and flex each side of the horse’s body are most effective because they prohibit the horse from traveling in his habituated posture that favors one direction over the other. Frequent direction changes prevent the horse from getting blocked against the rider’s aids on his more difficult side and help him use his hind legs equally by repeatedly changing which leg is on the inside. This encourages a good pattern of flexing and then stretching each side of the horse, which as I stated earlier, will lead to better symmetry. Exercises like the following allow us to gymnasticize the horse without his dominant side taking over the movement.

101 Western Dressage Exercises from Jec Ballou WDAAAs you will see, this exercise also encourages looseness and stretchiness in the horse’s topline, helping his spinal vertebrae oscillate and swing freely. This kind of unrestricted motion in the horse’s back is critical for achieving straightness and balance. After several repetitions of this pattern, your horse should feel very adjustable and supple.


  1. Develop a brisk working walk tracking left.
  2. After A, turn down the quarter line. Leg-yield to the right, arriving at the rail between F and B.
  3. Immediately lengthen your reins and stretch out your horse’s frame to a long and low posture.
  4. At M, gather your reins back up.
  5. Make a small turn (5 meters) to the left away from the rail, so that you are now back on the quarter line heading the opposite direction.
  6. Leg-yield to the left, arriving at the rail before B.
  7. Again, lengthen your reins and allow the horse to stretch all the way out.
  8. Before F, gather up your reins. Turn right. Repeat sequence.

** when you make your small turns away from the rail at F and M, be sure to achieve a good flexion and bend. If necessary, use an opening direct rein on the inside to lead your horse’s nose in the bend.

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

2 Responses to “Western Dressage Exercise – Footwork

  • I love this blog! I am so happy to have such a valuable training tool at my fingertips. I am new to WD and wondering where to start with all of this? Can someone tell me which are the best exercises to start with?

    • DMD-Admin
      5 years ago

      Welcome to the journey! There really is not any one particular exercise that is considered a beginning point. I would recommend you check with the Author directly at http://jecballou.com so she can help you directly.