Western Dressage Exercise – Shifting Gears

One of my students describes the feeling of a horse moving correctly in balance as being like a hovercraft. This is the feeling that, in an instant, he can shift gears upwards or downwards smoothly without pushing his body weight forward onto his front legs. Exercises that help create this hovercraft feeling are ones that alternately recruit the muscle groups responsible for pushing and propulsion with those for carrying and balance. One of my favorite exercises involves creating four distinct “gears” within each gait and then shifting between them. This is also a good means of checking in regularly with your horse’s responsiveness to your cues.

The following exercise is a fun, simple, and clear way to do this. Physical markers like cones or arena letters make this routine most effective, so do not be tempted to forego setting them up. Without them, riders become vague with their cues and horses dull in their responses. Accurate riding creates results athletically. Remember that as you ride this pattern, the changes in your horses strides between cones should be clear and measurable enough to be recognized by an observer on the ground.

Shifting Gears

  1. Around the perimeter of your arena, place four cones in a line measured 15 meters apart from each other.
  2. Begin in a working walk.
  3. As you approach your first cone, shift your speed down to a slower, shorter-stride walk. Think of creating a walk that covers as little ground as possible with each step.
  4. As you pass cone #2, allow the walk to extend slightly. Imagine if you were turning up a volume knob/dial by just one notch on the dial.
  5. As you pass cone #3, encourage the walk to take larger and swifter strides. In other words, turn up the imaginary dial one more increment.
  6. At cone #4, ask your horse for his most extended walk. Really go for it.

Now repeat the pattern in both jog and lope in both directions.


Western Dressage Weekly Exercise – authored by Jec Ballou | Copyright © 2014

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