Western Dressage Exercise – Arena Diamond

At some point, most riders have wished for something like a magic pill, a solution that will instantly alleviate nagging training issues. Since that is impossible to find, the next best thing is an arsenal of arena routines that improve your horse just by executing them. These are exercises almost too good to be true, ones that give you a looser and more balanced horse, ones that create engagement without excessive effort.

This is the secret all good trainers know: ask a horse to perform exercises that manipulate his body the right way and results fall in your lap, often rapidly. If you have ever had the chance to string together a few key yoga maneuvers yourself, you have likely experienced this effect on your own body. Regardless of how perfectly you perform them or how deep your understanding of yoga runs—or doesn’t—your posture, balance, and strength feel immediately improved by what you just did.

This pattern, what I call the Arena Diamond, asks the horse to make frequent adjustments of stride, which recruit different muscle fibers at varying rates of effort, eliminating any tendency to get blocked against the rider, dull to the aids, or listless. This consistent re-organizing of his body creates energy in the hind legs and lightness in the forehand while preventing the flat, heavy movement that arises from repetitive motion.

Because of how interconnected the horse’s muscular and skeletal system is, relatively simple yet strategic maneuvers can have far-reaching effects on his body. I call this working smarter, not harder. Let’s jump in and get started. There are several ways to vary the specifics of these exercises while maintaining the overall theme. For purposes of clarity, I have presented them in their most simple version below.arena-diamond-exercise

Arena Diamond

  1. Develop working jog or lope, tracking right.
  2. At A, turn off the rail directly towards E. (You will be riding a mini diagonal line, do NOT ride in the corner between A and K).
  3. Arrive at the rail at E and proceed only one stride.
  4. Then turn and ride towards C.

Continue following this diamond pattern as shown in the diagram. If your arena lacks dressage letters, set up cones at the markers specified in the pattern.

Once you are riding the figure accurately and hitting the markers, add the following challenge:

At each of the four points of the diamond at C, B, A, and E slow down to a slow jog as you round the turn and then immediately lengthen the strides between each point. Once this is going smoothly, canter the figure with the same variation.

Check points for success:

  • First of all, you need to turn your horse from your seat, not the reins, at each diamond point.  At each turn, be sure to close your inside bending leg against the horse’s ribcage while positioning the outside leg slightly back and using it with light thigh pressure to turn the horse’s withers to your next focal point.
  • Think of steering your horse’s withers, rather than his head and neck, where you want to go.
  • To ride your horse accurately between each turn, ride as if you intended to ride straight through the fence at each letter. Do not start turning before you get there, otherwise your horse will drift out through his outside shoulder.
  • Keep your rein contact absolutely equal throughout the pattern. A common error is to take up rein contact in the turns but then throw it away on the straight lines between diamond points.


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

2 Responses to “Western Dressage Exercise – Arena Diamond

  • Elizabeth Silk
    9 years ago

    I enjoyed reading about this exercise, how refreshing to not have to ride into the corners.

  • I’ll be trying this on Lettir, but I will make the pattern in a space smaller than the dressage arena.