I'm going to get you started and help you prepare for one of the most basic dressage tests at a show--Training Level, Test 1. I'll demonstrate exercises to improve your riding balance on one of my American Quarter Horses. I love them because of their quiet temperaments and forgiving natures, but of course, you can follow this program on any horse.
Our long-term goal is the same as the "Purpose" of the U.S. Equestrian Federation's (USEF) Training Level, Test 1: "To confirm that the horse's muscles are supple and loose, and that it moves freely forward in a clear and steady rhythm, accepting contact with the bit." This is written on the test and is the beginning of dressage training for your Quarter Horse (or any horse). To get there, our short-term goal for now is to work on your position. ("Rider Position" is scored on all dressage tests.) A well-balanced, steady position allows your horse to relax and become rhythmical in each gait.
Find longe-line exercises in the complete article "Improve Your Position and Balance" in the February 2006 issue of Dressage Today and read the rest of my series in the March, April, May and June 2006 issues of the magazine.
Here are two exercises I recommend that will improve your balance.
Exercise 1: Leg Stretches
Begin this exercise mounted at the halt. Safety reminder: Be sure someone holds your horse's head while you perform this exercise. Also, cross your stirrups over the pommel so they are safely out of your way.
1. Grasp the cantle of your saddle.
2. Begin with the left leg.
3. Lift your leg up slowly with your knee bent and heel down.
4. Slowly bring it out over your horse's neck as far as you can while keeping your seat centered in the saddle.
5. Carefully bring your left leg back over the horse's neck and down. Repeat with your right leg.
Exercise 2: Arm Rotation
Begin this exercise mounted at the halt. Sit with your back straight and legs relaxed. Safety reminder: Be sure someone holds your horse's head while you perform this exercise.
1. Hold your arms outstretched at your sides, parallel to your shoulders.
2. Sight along your left arm and slowly twist your upper body back to the right.
3. Continue to twist your body to the right until your right arm is straight out behind you and your left arm points straight out in front of you.
4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 while twisting to the left.
--Photos by Sharon P. Fibelkorn