Western Dressage Exercise – The Fan

A horse’s ability to use his hindquarters for engagement and propulsion depends not on his hind legs but on his front end. Before anyone gets quizzical about this assertion, let me remind them that the horse’s entire trunk is suspended in a hammock-like sling of muscles and connective tissue. A fine network of muscles threads between the front of the ribcage, the neck vertebrae, and the scapulae. These small but crucial muscles need to be both toned and elastic for the power of the hind-end to be optimized. Otherwise, without springy cushioned development of this region, the hindquarters will essentially be pushing energy forward into a rigid wall.

The Fan exercise increases joint range of motion in both front and hind ends. When ridden consistently, it delivers measurable changes in your horse. It is also useful if, for some reason, your horse is not in a riding program at the moment. This exercise is equally beneficial for horses being worked in-hand or ground-driving. It creates stronger stifles, supple and stronger oblique muscles (which bend the horse and support his trunk), and lighter forehand movement.

Note: this exercise is best performed with long ground poles, 8 feet minimum. 10 or 12 foot poles are optimal.

fan-diagramThe Fan

  1. Place four or five poles so they fan out and away from a central resting point on a large tub, stack of tires or similar object approximately 1.5 feet tall.
  2. Begin by riding your horse at a walk in a larger circle which includes only the outermost edge of the pole fan.
  3. Gradually decrease the size of the circle towards the center of the fan. As the circle decreases the poles become closer and higher.
  4. Be sure at this point to keep your horse’s spine bent in the direction of travel.
  5. Keep a slow, steady pace. The emphasis here is joint flexion and finely controlled limb movements; this is not a speed exercise.

If your horse becomes anxious or starts knocking poles, increase the size of the circle until he can easily cope with the pole distance and height. Be sure to work in both directions. In one direction, your horse will most likely be more difficult to keep bent. Use little leg-yielding movements towards outer edges of the pole to regain your bend. Then, resume spiraling in. Practice 5 times in each direction.

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


4 Responses to “Western Dressage Exercise – The Fan

  • Karen Nichols Nye
    9 years ago

    We have a 14 hh 9-10 grade palomino mare, Daisy, whose conformation is not as good as it could be. Her back end is a little higher than her front and her gaits are a little strung out – she has trouble getting up under herself. When I read about this exercise my thought was that this could be really beneficial for her.

    The beauty of this is that most anyone can find discarded tires so no cost there. We have some landscaping timbers that were left on this property by the previous owners so we used those for our poles, so all materials were at no cost to us. The poles are only 8 feet long but they served the purpose.

    We set up our poles using only three for our first time so that one half of the tire is open and the other half uses the three poles; one on each side of the half-way mark of the tires and then one in the center of those two. We also spray painted a 1 foot, 2 foot, and 3 foot marker on each pole so that we could visually see just where we wanted to go, working in deeper with each round.

    We set up the obstacle and walked her through it on the ground. She wanted nothing to do with it. I rode her for awhile until she relaxed and we worked on some very basic cone exercises. After she relaxed we put my 8 yo stepdaughter on her so that we could watch the progress. Morgan then started taking her through the obstacle.

    By the third round at the 3 foot marker where she had to take a bigger step over, we could visually see her topline rise and her hindquarters engage. This was so cool to see! Of course, Daisy and Morgan got big praise for working together as a team.

    For sure we are going to use this obstacle with our other two horses, also. This will add some interest for them and for us in their arena work.

    Thanks for posting this idea. We will continue to look for your training tips and use them!

  • Luara
    9 years ago

    Great to have this blog, by the way. Thanks! 😀

  • Luara
    9 years ago

    Is there any guidelines on the distance between the outer edge of the poles? (and what size would be this pole)

    As the image suggests, the poles should be spread on only half of the circle?

    • Hi Laura-

      Ideally, you will want to use poles that are as long as possible (9-12 feet or even longer). Spacing at the outer edges of the poles should be the distance of one of your horse’s LONGest walk steps, so approx. 3.5 feet apart from the next pole.