Western Dressage Exercise – Schaukel

In dressage we talk a lot about the broad subject of strengthening the horse’s hindquarters, but the specifics of what we actually mean by this are sometimes vague. I won’t bore you with an anatomy lecture here, but on this topic it is worth knowing one small fact about the horse’s muscular and skeletal system: joint flexion determines correct strength building. The horse’s hip and stifle joints closely effect one another. These two important parts are connected by a cord-like muscle called the tensor fascia lata. In order for the stifle to flex well—and therefore draw the hind legs under the body for engagement—the hip must flex. Trying to accomplish engagement of the hindquarters without ensuring good flexion in both of these areas will only create torque and strain at the junction of the horse’s pelvis and spine.

In developing any equine athlete, a rider needs to continually think about where the hind legs are. First of all, this demands riding in the correct tempo to build strength. When your horse jogs, watch the motion of his hind legs. Are they swinging forward and landing under his belly or trailing out behind him and landing behind his hip line? If you observe the latter, this indicates poor stifle flexion and you should increase your tempo during schooling sessions to activate these joints. The same rule applies to loping, which is why trainers caution riders not to slow the lope tempo before a horse is ready. Without adequate flexion of the joints to draw his hind legs under his belly, it becomes nearly impossible to strengthen his hindquarters.

Once you are riding in the correct tempo for good use of the hind joints, you then want to choose exercises that increase strength in the horse’s hip flexors, biceps, and quads. As with any gymnastic exercise, I recommend using an interval format for the following exercise. Ride it in short doses followed by rest periods of equal duration.

Western Dressage ExerciseSCHAUKEL

  1. From a balanced, square halt with the horse stretching softly towards the bit, ask him to back up 4-6 steps.
  2. Make sure the rein-back remains very straight and that the horse marches backwards with an active step.
  3. After your final step backwards, ask the horse to promptly walk forward 4 steps. Ask for a brisk energetic walk.
  4. Then halt briefly and walk backwards again.
  5. Continue riding backwards and forwards for 5 repetitions. As this exercise improves, it should feel smooth and easy for the horse like a rocking horse.

Pointers: The horse’s topline should remain level as you go backwards and forwards. There should be no lowering or raising of his neck. After each rein back, the horse should march vigorously forward. The purpose is to refresh his forward energy and thoughts so that he is prepared and balanced to flex the hind joints. If your horse gets crooked in either the rein-back or the halt, walk forward several meters until he is straight through the body again. Always regain straightness by riding forward.


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

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