The Cowboy Dressage court offers so many exercises to help us work on our horse’s bend and softness. While riding the Cowboy Dressage tests include all the of the elements to properly advance your horse, sometimes it helps to use variations of the exercises in the court to both help keep the work in the arena fresh and focus on elements that are stumbling blocks for you and your horse. Here are a few more valuable exercises for your arena notebooks!
Remember that spinning toy you used to while away the hours with as a kid? Maybe you are too young, but the Gyro Wheel was a top that spun up one side of a pair of wires, made a circle and came down the other side. This is an exercise I like to perform on the quarter lines. You can use any combination of gaits and transitions but I recommend beginning with the walk and free walk. Start at C in the working walk. Ride a ¼ circle with bend to the Q-H intersection then ride straight down the quarter line in in the free walk. At J-K ride half of a 10 m circle in the working walk to the F-N intersection then transition to free walk down the quarter line.
|Red 10 m circle or half circle in working frame transition to free frame at h-m line and K-F line. Straight line in free frame to opposite transition to working frame again at the H-M or K-F line.|
Some of the benefits of this exercise include working on preparation for the bend prior to the half 10 m circle. I like to prepare my horse by beginning to collect my horse into the working frame at the P-V line or S-R line and then create the bend a stride or two before you enter your circle. If you are a stride counter you will know that your horse will take approximately 6 strides in the working frame between the S-R or P-V line and the K-F and M-H lines before making your circle. So at 4 strides you will start to create the bend in your horse then ride the bend around the half circle. If the bend feels stiff then ride a full circle before moving onto the quarter line
There are multiple variations you can add to this exercise. At the jog/free jog I like to add a full 10 m circle at A and C between the quarter lines. You can also do this in the lope and free jog or working jog for horses that need help with straight line loping. Jog the 10 m half circle the pick up the lope just before you reach the intersection to the quarter line. Ride straight down the quarter line in a lope and transition to the jog and directly into the 10 m bend at the working jog. Then, depending on what your horse needs you can either jog a full 10 m circle or do a free jog down the other quarter line. You can also go from straight line to counter bend through the 10 m circle.
If you are ready to work on loping a shoulder in, this is also an excellent exercise to get your horse into the proper bend then ride that bend forward down the quarter line in a shoulder in the transition either back to regular bend or to a working jog at the other end.
The variations in this exercise are endless. The dynamic of the quarter line means you have to have your eyes up forcusing on that distant letter instead of looking down at your horse or you will never make that a straight line. No relying on the rail to keep your horse straight!
This is a free walk exercise performed on a straight line, I like to use the long diagonals for this but you can also use the quarter lines. At F transition to the free walk f8H. Between f at P-N ride a small 5 m circle to the right off the diagonal then back the free walk at 8 ride a small circle to the left off the diagonal line then back to the free walk. At S-Q ride another 5 m circle to the right. Back to working walk at H. M-8-K transition to free walk and repeat the daisy chain.
|Begin free gait at H or F. At the blank walk a small 5 m circle. Continue in free walk to 8 then walk a 5 m circle to the other direction. Continue free walk to the other blank and walk a 5 m circle to the other direction. Continue free walk.|
This is not only a great warm up exercise but it’s great for the horse that tends to anticipate or maybe rush across the diagonal. It’s also a challenge for the rider to keep to that diagonal straight line when you are throwing in a small circle. Because you are in a free walk, that circle is going to necessarily originate from your seat, leg and weight aids and less on your rein aid. Great for exaggerating bend in the horse and keep the horse supple.
Another quarter line exercise. Start with working walk down the quarter line at Q. At the Q-S intersection leg yield to E. At E leg yield back to the quarter line meeting the quarter line a V-J intersection. Obviously this should be perfected at the working walk before you progress to free walk or working jog and free jog.
At least for me and my horses the challenge in this exercise comes with attempting to keep your horse straight up underneath you. Try to avoid leaning or pushing with your outside leg. The horse needs to move off of that leg in time with his feet leaving the ground. Timing is important with all maneuvers but especially with this one where you are attempting to direct the feet out as well as forward. When your horse can master a straight leg yield to mid line or to E and B then you can attempt to go all the way from quarter line to quarter line.
The monkey face exercise is useful for helping a horse that tends to fade in or out in the free jog or looses the frame in the free jog. At E begin the free walk jog to A-P then transition to working frame, change bend and ride a 10 m circle. At the completion of the 10 m circle change bend and transition back to the free frame to R-C. At R-C transition down to the working jog and change bend to a 10 m circle. Alternately you can ride the circle maintaining the same bend and use the 10 m bend in the center of the 20 m circle to change direction through the working frame.
Quarter line Serpentine
As you can see I've been spending a lot of time at the center of the arena rather than on the rails lately. This is another great exercise to make you familiar with what are not always easy marks to see. I recommend you place cones or markers on at the top of your 10 m half circles until you can envision the marks that are used in this exercise. I use this exercise both for changes of bend as well as working on counter bend. After a few turns through the exercise it helps the horse to go to a 20 m serpentine in a free frame.
|The 10 m serpentines (yellow and red) have 3 changes of bend. The 20 m serpentine (green and blue) only has 1 change of bend at 8|
That aught to keep you busy for a while! Get out there and ride paying attention to softness and accuracy with each maneuver that you master! More exercises to come!