So, as fun and as preferable as jumping is to many people, dressage is and always has been and always will be the foundation of literally anything you do on you horse. It’s something I think about often. I’ve taught many different students who ride at a variety of levels, and the best way I could find to better them as riders and their horses as athletes was through the foundational aspects of dressage. Western riders can still benefit from correct understanding of collection and rhythm. Barrel racers benefit from proper impulsion and straightness. Hunt seat riders must maintain relaxation and rhythm. Trail riders aim for straightness and relaxation.
I think that’s one of the reasons why I find the arguments among different discipline so funny. Because, at the end of the day, when riding is done right it is the same across the board.
End of that rant.
The purpose of the exercise this week is to experiment and test your horse’s flexion, bend, and straightness. The catch? No poles or jumps needed! Just a giant rectangle (or dressage ring).
Begin your warm up as you normally would and ensure your horse is responsive on your aids. I always like to start the warmup before this exercise with serpentine at walk and trot and canter circles. With the canter circles, I just practice a little bit of counter bend and yield my circle smaller. Then, ask for a straight horse. Then yield out of the circle at a canter so your circle then gets bigger. In other words, leg-yielding your horse slightly in and slightly out on a circle.
After you feel sufficiently warmed up, begin the exercise. Down your long sides, a slight shoulder fore. There's no need to think or perform a full shoulder-in to get the correct response from this exercise. Straighten before you get to your corners and then as you move through your corners, get a legitimate bend through your horse’s barrel/ribs and neck. On your short sides, practice maintaining a straight horse underneath you, but play with slight inside and outside flexion, so that just your horse’s head flexes to either side. Start at a walk, when you feel comfortable, move into a trot. Lastly, work at a canter but do not despair if as you move up in your gaits, the exercise becomes harder.
Do not become frustrated. If you cannot successfully perform the exercise quite yet at the canter, don’t canter. Same goes for the trot. Just do what you and your horse are both capable of together. The more you utilize this exercise, the better and stronger you both will become!