Exercises to Improve Suppleness and Balance
Two of the key qualities that the dressage judge is looking for at all the levels are suppleness to the bend and balance.
It makes sense that if your horse is supple around your inside leg, you’ll be able to bring his inside hind leg more underneath him, and he will, therefore, be in a better balance.
Here are some useful exercises that you can use during your schooling sessions that will help to improve both of these important areas.
Spiralling in and out of a 20 metre circle is a really simple way of increasing the engagement of the horse’s hindquarters, thereby improving both his balance and his suppleness.
1. Before you start, place a cone or some other marker where you want the centre of your circle to be. Ride a 20 metre circle, keeping the cone as the centre point.
2. Gradually spiral in to decrease the size of the circle. Think of the circle as a bull’s-eye, and make your circle one ring smaller on each revolution.
3. Keep the rhythm and impulsion whilst spiralling in, using your inside leg to your outside rein. When you reach the smallest circle your horse can comfortably manage, spiral back out again.
The exercise works by allowing the horse to gradually adjust his bend and balance to cope with the increased demands of a smaller circle.
In order to maintain the rhythm, impulsion and bend, he increases the flexion and engagement of his hocks.
Leg yield is a great exercise for increasing suppleness and engagement and for placing the horse securely into your outside rein.
1. Begin by walking down the three quarter line of the school. As your horse walks forward, use your inside leg on the girth to ask him to step sideways away from your inside leg back towards the track. If necessary, ‘lead’ him with your outside rein.
2. Ask for a very small amount of inside flexion at the horse’s poll, whilst keeping the rest of his body straight. The horse should remain almost parallel to the fence with his forehand slightly in advance of the hindquarters.
You can also incorporate this exercise into the spiral exercise described above, leg yielding the horse away from the centre of the circle, then back in again.
Related Read: How to Leg Yield
Bend and counter-bend (on a circle)
Asking the horse to ‘counter-bend’ is a simple and effective exercise for improving suppleness and balance.
Counter-bend simply means asking the horse to bend in the opposite direction to that in which he is turning. In other words, if you’re riding a circle to the right, your horse would be bent to the left.
1. Start in walk on the right rein, and introduce the exercise around the short side of the school, before attempting to do it on a circle.
2. Open your left rein, keep your left leg on the girth, and ask the horse to bend around it. Your left leg is pushing your horse’s shoulder around the turns, while your right hand should lead him. Turn your upper body and head in the direction of the turn to help the horse understand that he needs to turn right, even though he’s bent to the left.
3. Remember to include plenty of changes of rein, and keep your horse moving forward.
You can improve your horse’s balance and suppleness by including these exercises in your schooling programme.
Your horse will only be able to develop the strength to take more weight on his hindquarters through gradual and systematic training, so don’t expect too much too soon.
Vary your horse’s work programme by including strengthening hill-work whilst out hacking, and pole-work in the school.
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