Western Dressage Exercise – Hangbahn

Hangbahn is a German term that means training in a sloped arena. In some traditions like Germany and Iceland, this idea of cross-country dressage training is routine. Here in the U.S., we tend to equate dressage training exclusively with arenas. While it IS necessary to have a well-surfaced arena for constructive schooling, riders will achieve even bigger results by incorporating gymnastic routines once a week in an outdoor area with a 6 to 10 degree slope.

The muscular and fitness adaptations to this kind of training are obvious. But a more important effect, beyond strength building, is the way that sloped arena schooling can alleviate tension stored in the horse’s body either from crookedness, repetitive movement, or general performance strain. By a varied recruitment of muscles and balance to negotiate changing terrain, the horse’s joints are taken through a different range of motion than in the arena, new stabilizing muscles are used, and topline and hindquarter muscles fire at different rates of intensity. In this way, a sloped area is a full-body workout for developing new strength and an invaluable one for releasing old restriction and blockages in the horse’s musculoskeletal system.

Controlled riding on varying terrains proves so effective at creating and maintaining symmetry in the hind limbs that the practice is used in physical therapy as described by Jean-Marie Denoix in the book Physical Therapy and Massage for the Horse.

When applied weekly, this outdoor schooling will accelerate your horse’s development well beyond what can be accomplished strictly in the arena. Here is how to utilize it.

  1. Aim to find a riding area (meadow, courtyard, turnout pasture) that slopes gently uphill 6 to 10 degrees. The degree of slope should be enough to see the gradient change with the naked eye but gradual enough for your horse to jog down comfortably.
  2. Begin by riding an oval sideways across this sloped area so that one short end of your oval goes up the slope while the other goes down.
  3. Jog equally around the figure in each direction until your horse is able to maintain an unchanging, steady rhythm and frame throughout.
  4. Then begin riding diagonal changes of direction across your oval.
  5. Each week play around with different patterns. Figure 8 around two trees, ride serpentines, practice gait transitions up and down the slope, and so on.

Western Dressage Exercise Hangbahn diagram

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

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