Western Dressage Exercise – Ground Work Clover Leaf

When helping a horse gain strength, we must focus above all on the recruitment of good postural muscles—those little underlying structures that support joints and connect soft tissues. Strength and suppleness in these muscles enables a horse to carry himself well, allowing his gaits to adopt more efficiency and lightness. Many training programs focus too much on developing the horse’s large gymnastic muscles, like his gluteus and long back muscles. These larger surface muscles, however, serve to create movement rather than to support and carry the horse. If we strengthen those gymnastic muscles without equally addressing the underlying muscles supporting the skeleton, the horse will still struggle to carry himself in a good posture. Furthermore, any bracing patterns or restrictions in his freedom of movement will continue to exist.

To target the strength and suppleness of postural muscles and to create correct memories in them, riders should utilize slow-paced calisthenics like the following exercise which asks the horse to keep adjusting his posture. By slightly shifting his line of travel, combined with the suppling effect of bending his spine, the horse’s nervous system recruits these postural muscles with relaxation, smoothness, and full range of motion. By being able to do this without a rider on top, he uses himself without restriction in these underlying supporting structures. This is when real gains can happen and he is on his way to having more expression and freedom in his movement.

Ground Work Clover Leaf

  1. After outfitting your horse with a longe cavesson or a halter and long line, set up your ground work pattern as follows. Place a cone at each corner of a 20-meter square and then place one in the center of the square.
  2. Begin by asking your horse to longe around the perimeter of the cone square, traveling to the right, to get a marching walk rhythm established. You should be standing near the cone in the middle of the square right now.
  3. Now back away from that cone and ask your horse to make an oval that travels around the top right cone and the center cone. This is the first “leaf” of your patterns, designated as oval #1 in the diagram.
  4. Now shift your standing position so that you guide your horse to make an oval around the center cone and the bottom right cone of your square– leaf #2 in the diagram. Continue using the four corner cones this way, shifting your horse’s position on the pattern.




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

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