Horse Riding Exercises For The First Blocks Of The Training Pyramid-Part 2

horse riding exercises

Koda is moving nicely forward in good balance in this photo

Are you ready to get back to some more horse riding exercises that will help establish rhythm, tempo and relaxation in your horse?

This time we are going to combine transitions and figures, using turns, corners and circles to work on having a balanced, supple horse.

Before you think about how you would rather jump high, gallop cross country or even barrel race you must realize that it won’t be much fun on a stiff horse that can’t maintain a steady canter or gallop.

So, if you don’t like working on the basics, you might want to find yourself a trainer and hire them to ride your horse at least a couple times a week to instill and maintain these qualities. Without them your horse isn’t going to be very good at all those other “exciting” things you want to do.

If you are “up” for doing it yourself, then let’s get going with some more exercises that will help your horse be the horse you want him to be!

horse riding exercises

This horse is not well balanced, heavy on the forehand and leaning on its rider’s hands

Why are turns and circles so important to your horse’s development? It is because they help him become supple and balanced, and, when executed properly, to step up under himself and strengthen his inside hind leg.

The aids you will use to bend or turn begin with your inside leg and seat bone. Without leaning in you want to make your inside seat bone a little heavier and bend your horse around your inside leg by squeezing it at the girth.

Your outside leg stays a little behind the girth to be ready in case he swings his hind end out as he bends. If he does, you will push it back onto the arc of the turn.

You will ask your horse to bring his nose onto the line of the bend with your inside rein by asking him for some flexion. Do this by gently squeezing and relaxing your inside rein. If he comes “off” of the bend then repeat the squeezing and relaxing.

Keep a soft, even feel of your outside rein, allowing your horse to stretch the outside of his neck on the arc. Your goal is to get your horse to accept and yield to the flexing of your inside rein while maintaining both his front and hind feet on the arc of the bend.

horse riding

Small dressage ring showing 20 meter circles at A and C

Exercise 1:   Walk-Trot and Trot-Canter Transitions On A 20 Meter Circle

  • Make your circle ROUND. If necessary set out cones at the 4 points of the circle and ride from point to point on a bending line. THERE ARE NO STRAIGHT PARTS to a circle. At first it is easier to ride a 20 meter circle at A or C.
  • Pick up a posting trot (or walk) on the circle. After you establish a steady, rhythmic trot(or walk) you are ready to ask for the canter (or trot). Sit and make your upward transition as you are leaving the wall. This will encourage your horse to go forward in the up transition. *If your horse has trouble with a lead then make your canter transition going into the corner.
  • When you are ready (not when your horse decides to break)  sit deeper and make your down transition as you are approaching the wall after X. This will encourage your horse to balance himself in the down transition.
  • Wash, rinse and repeat 2-3 times, as long as your horse remains quiet. Make sure that in between transitions your horse goes back to a balanced rhythmic trot (or walk).
  • Reverse and repeat the exercise in the other direction.

Exercise 2:   Changing Direction From E to B

  • From a steady trot you will prepare for your SMOOTH turn off the straight side at E or B by balancing your horse with a couple of soft half halts.
  • You want to begin your turn early enough to allow your horse to bend his body on the arc of a 10 meter circle. Be VERY careful not to overuse your inside rein in the turn. Use the aids described earlier in this post
    horse riding exercises

    Small dressage ring showing 20 meter circle at B or E

    for bends and turns.

  • You can also use your outside knee and thigh to help your horse turn, if needed, to help move his shoulders. Remember to look ahead where you want to go and to bring your inside shoulder back slightly. Ask for flexion with your inside rein and as your horse begins his turn soften the rein and ride the turn more from your inside seat bone and leg.
  • As you straighten on the line from E to B  (or B to E) square yourself up and sit evenly on both seat bones. Then give a soft half halt to re-balance and prepare your horse to turn in the new direction.
  • Establish your new bend and flexion and follow through with the same aids used for the first turn.
  • Straighten on the new long side and don’t forget to prepare in the same way for each upcoming corner! Each corner is an opportunity to school your horse.

Note: When doing these horse riding exercises always strive to maintain the same rhythm through your bends, turns and corners.

While these riding exercises are simple, they are not easy. I use them often when I teach lessons with all levels of riders. I also use them every time I ride.

Done correctly they are an invaluable tool for improving both your horse’s way of going and your riding skills.

Best of luck! 🙂


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