Western Dressage Exercise – Alignment Snow Man

Unless both you and your horse are genetic miracles, you struggle like the rest of us with straightness. This might mean you find riding straight lines tricky, or maybe circles and bent lines are more difficult in one direction with the horse pushing against your leg or pulling one rein more than the other. This will give you the feeling that, not only is he difficult to navigate easily, but he is not using his body symmetrically nor his hind legs evenly.

In a perfect ride, the horse should travel with a loose spine correctly centered, a supple neck, and equal weight in what I call the four corners of his body so that he feels solidly underneath you rather than leaking out one side or the other. This alignment—or straightness, to use dressage jargon—can be thought of as horse yoga. It ensures that the horse is moving with correct flexion of his joints rather than uneven torque and strain which results from crookedness and creates sore or undeveloped muscles.

Most riders already know that performing arena figures at different gaits is on par with guiding your horse through yoga poses. It leads the way to alignment, balance, and hindquarter engagement. Keeping proper form on figures, though, proves to be easier said than done. Most horses, like humans, will shift or cant their bodies slightly while traveling in order to modify an exercise to make it more accessible or easier given their asymmetry. Most frequently this appears on circles where the horse either bulges out on one side of the figure or collapses one side.

Here is one of my simplest exercises for ensuring that you are getting the gymnastic benefit from your circles by keeping your alignment. It works by creating activity in both of the horse’s hind legs, using a quick direction before he can misalign his posture. This keeps him using both sides of his body, becoming more symmetrical.

Alignment Snow Man

  1. Begin in working walk or jog on a 20-meter circle tracking left.
  2. Be sure you have vibrant activity in the gait you’ve chosen, no listless trudging along.
  3. Ride one full 20-meter circle to set your geometry and rhythm and left bend.
  4. Then, next time your circle crosses over the center line of the arena (half way around your circle), ask to see your horse’s RIGHT eye…
  5. And then bend his whole body to the right and ride one 10-meter circle.
  6. Your 10-meter circle should finish precisely at the center line where you started it.
  7. Then, change bend back to the LEFT and continue around your original 20-meter circle.
  8. Continue riding the pattern this way, making clear 20- and 10-meter circles and being very clear to change your horse’s bend for each.

After you have mastered the geometry of this exercise, the real challenge comes in keeping an unchanging rhythm as you ride the 10-meter circle on the top of your snow man. Imagine someone standing nearby listening to your horse’s footfall with her eyes closed. She should be able to detect NO change in that sound beat as you ride the figure.


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

2 Responses to “Western Dressage Exercise – Alignment Snow Man

  • Becky Cramblit
    8 years ago

    Is the 10 meter circle going in the other direction or are you saying to keep tracking to the left but bend to the right?

    • jec ballou
      8 years ago

      Hi Becky,

      No, in the 10-meter circle, you are both bending and riding to the right. Think of this pattern as a figure of 8, except that you ride this figure of 8 by making the top circle MUCH smaller than the bottom. I hope this helps.