Western Dressage Exercise – The Accordion

Without intending to, most riders make their horses stiff or sore by riding too frequently at one speed in the same posture. In fact, riding a horse in a single tempo and posture like this is one of the quickest ways to create dull, lifeless gaits, which is why I cringe when I see riders jogging endless figures around the arena without changing their tempo or riding a transition or changing the horse’s topline posture. Horses’ bodies are very similar to our own. Producing repetitive movements at the same rate of effort while maintaining a static body posture generally causes more harm than good.

The result, especially in the diagonal movement of jogging, is a spine that becomes rigid like a rod. The vertebrae brace closer together and lose their undulating mobility. The muscles that stabilize the spine restrict, which then reduces blood flow. This then leads to further tension and stiffness over time. At this point, a horse’s ability to produce the freely flowing, springy, supple gaits we all crave is greatly impaired. The prevention to this scenario? Strategic adjustments of the horse’s tempo, like the following exercise. “The Accordion” became a favorite warm-up of mine when  I was schooling a lot of F.E.I. dressage horses because not only did it loosen them up but it also gave a little spark to these horses that have been drilled extensively in the arena. Consider it prevention to dullness!

IMPORTANT: In clinics, I prescribe this exercise frequently. It comes with one caveat, though. If your horse is still green and not yet confirmed in maintaining a steady rhythm, this exercise is not for you. You need to have a steady gait confirmed before you begin making adjustments. If your horse is already able to sustain an unchanging jogging tempo around the arena without rushing or losing balance, give this exercise a go. You will soon be making it part of your daily ride!

The Accordion

  1. Ride the arena like a large oval, rounding off the corners.
  2. Around the top of your oval, ride the slowest possible jog tempo.
  3. Down the long sides of the oval, accelerate to the fastest possible trot…
  4. …then put on the brakes again for the bottom of your oval.
  5. Then blast down the long side of the oval.
  6. Continue riding the oval like this until you are getting clearer responses from your horse.
  7. Ride this exercise in the posting jog, so you keep your horse’s back free.
  8. Make your changes in speed obvious and clear enough that someone watching from the ground would be able to see them without question.


Western Dressage Weekly Exercise – authored by Jec Ballou | Copyright © 2012


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