Here are some schooling exercises for horses that are suitable for all riders to do at home, especially when you are short on time.
You’ll need 30-40 minutes and you’ll have completed a worth while schooling session rather than just cruising around the arena with no actual plan to a productive outcome.
WARM-UP: 5 – 10 minutes
Before moving on to your schooling exercises, you’ll need to warm up. Your warm-up should build through the paces you want to use in the main body of your session, which is usually walk, trot and canter.
You should begin on a loose rein, allowing your horse to stretch forwards and down. Push down hands forwards and down to encourage this lengthening of your horse’s frame.
Building your pace throughout your warm-up and getting your horse responsive to your aids, ride through lots of transitions, both between and within paces. Use circles and turns to aid suppleness and change the rein frequently to keep them listening to you.
MAIN SESSION FOCUS: 15-20 minutes
Schooling Exercise 1: Suppleness
Suppleness is one of the most important factors for success in any competition or ridden horse. A key marker in dressage especially, a supple horse moves more economically and fluidly, aiding not only movement execution but speed and energy efficiency too.
Warming up with lots of changes of rein is the perfect to start, focusing on suppleness and a change in poll direction. Entering the main body of your session, begin with work on a 20m circle, encouraging your horse to consistently walk on a curved line. Once balanced and relaxed on the circle, spiral toward a smaller circle. After a few smaller circles have been completed, encourage your horse onto a larger circle using your inside leg. Support the outside of their body from falling out by using the outside rein to half-halt when your horse picks up speed and lacks balance. Use your outside leg to support the body and help reduce over-bending the body, a common fault causing fall-out on the circle. If your horse is comfortable completing this exercise in walk try it in trot and canter too!
Got some extra time for schooling your horse? This spiralling circle exercise sets you up perfectly to complete shoulder in. Shoulder in encourages flexion through the horse’s quarters and spine, as well as hindlimb engagement. Set up for shoulder in down the long side of the arena. Ride a 10m circle in the corner, encouraging flexion of the poll and bending around your inside leg. On your 10m, once you’ve reached the corner and are online for the arena’s long side, maintain the bend as you would if you were to complete another circle. However, using your inside leg, push your horse’s body up the track, placing your outside behind the girth to help maintain this bend. Your horse’s feet should walk on three tracks. Keep your body central in the saddle as if you were walking in a straight line.
Schooling Exercise 2: Contact
Contact is the third step on the scales of training and is essential for precision and control of movement, aiding correct working over the top line and through the hind quarters.
To target contact, begin with a warm-up containing lots of transitions within and between paces. This will get your horse responsive to your aids and listening to you.
Starting the main body of your session targeting contact, look at exercises to drive power from your horse’s hindquarters into an what feels like an elastic contact. Having mastered transitions in the warm-up, scale it back to some gentle transition with the pace but on a circle. This will encourage your horse to work into an elastic contact and engage their hind quarters. Generate power from your inside leg and check your horse isn’t falling on the forehand with a touch on the outside rein. Power up your pace for no more than one lap of a 20m circle, then reduce the pace for a lap before repeating the exercise.
Schooling Exercise 3: Impulsion
Transitions in the warm-up are also fantastic for prepping for a session working on impulsion.
Schooling exercises such as direct transitions are a great way to get your horse listening to you and striking off from behind. Start with halt-to-trot transitions, working up to walk-to-canter, and even halt-to-canter transitions.
Falling on the forehand? This can be a common problem when horses begin to predict what’s coming next with a session that will be focused on direct transitions. If you find your horse bouldering onto their forehand, ask them to complete some lateral work before moving on to their next direct transition. For example, ask for leg yield in walk down the long side of the arena, and in the corner ask for a direct transition to canter. Also, keep in mind that short bursts of a pace powered from the hindquarters are much better for your horse’s development than long periods of a pace on the forehand.
COOL DOWN: 5 – 10 minutes
After you’ve completed any schooling exercises a cool down is a must. Cool down with a stretch. Your cool-down period is the time for your horse’s to relax and unwind after a hard session. Encourage your horse to work in a long, low frame, stretching the top-line muscle and aiding muscle recovery. Walk a few laps until your horse’s breathing has returned to normal. Keep in mind, that your competition cool-down or cooling down after a very intense session will take longer.
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