I normally train and compete for the hunter ring, but lately I find myself focusing more and more on dressage schooling. I’d like to attend a few competitions and try my hand at first level, so I’ve been developing my horse’s balance and suppleness. I’m lucky in that my horse has natural impulsion – he has a spring in his step and drives off his hind quarter. My challenge is capturing this energy and creating a round outline. Moe likes poke his nose out and get heavy on his forehand, and I need him to accept contact on the bit and lift his back.
Transitions are a great tool for lightening your horse’s forehand, and it’s where I need the most improvement. My coach recently showed me an exercise that combines trot-canter transitions with small circles. It challenges your horse’s suppleness, responsiveness and balance. At C, pick up a left lead canter and ride up the long side of the arena. At A, turn down the centre line and make your way to E. A few strides out from the wall, transition down to the trot, balance up, and turn back towards the centreline. Before you reach the centre line, pick up the left-lead canter again and carry onto to C and then H. Your track should make a bow-tie shape.
My coach loves these types of exercises because they are easy to practice on your own – you can tell when things are going well and when they’re not. Here’s what to focus on:
- Keep your inside leg active when riding the hoops of your bow tie so you get a nice round corner.
- As soon as you turn off the centre line and towards E, slow your body down and think “trot” for a nice, calm downward transition.
- Sit up nice and tall as you approach E and ask your horse to balance up too. Use your outside aids and ask for a really square turn (think turn on the haunches).
- Balance your horse up once again and ask for a canter transition. Try not to the cut the corner on the second hoop of your bow tie.
My horse Moe is quick on the aids, and he has a nice sharp V in the middle on his bow tie. However, his head pops up through the transitions. I’d like him to lower his poll and accept more contact on the bridle:
What kind of exercises do you use you improve your horse’s balance? I’d love to hear from you. Please comment below.