Favorite Exercises

What are your favorite riding exercises?

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For what goal? I use a variety of exercises at various gaits to achieve specific goals, all the while keeping the training pyramid in mind. I find some exercises work better for certain horses better than others when it comes to having the light bulb turn on and then build from there often with additional exercises. I have a friend who has kept a journal (over at least 35 years) of exercises she’s learned in her clinics and from various clinicians/instructors/trainers over the years. I draw from her experience, the book of 101 exercises [dressage], and then my own experience of riding for most of my 57 years having started/trained a few. I am not the type to do exercises without a reason/plan for their purpose but that’s just what works for me.

In other words, it’s easier to answer the question with a narrower reason behind it…but I’ll go out on a limb and say that I use a lot of lateral work and exercises that incorporate the same as I develop horses up through the levels…even my baby, baby greens once they learn to move off the leg (using turn on the forehand, leg yield (shallow at first) and leg yield along the wall/long side (also shallow at first) get introduced to more engaging lateral work at the walk and so it goes from there.


Oh just in general. For all types of things.

Can’t answer without knowing level and task. All horses benefit from lateral work appropriate to their level as noted above.

On one horse that might be walk shoulder in on a 20 metre circle. For another that might be half pass canter to prep for a canter pirouette.

Your horses way of going is important. A horse that goes above the bit needs to learn to stretch into contact. A horse that roots needs half halts and to learn to support his weight.

A good exercise is one that addresses a horse’s needs at that time. It doesn’t matter if it’s a favorite of the rider. You do what you need to do.

I get the question, it just needs more specificity about level and issues.


A few of my current favourites:

Ride a 20m square with alternating sides of shoulder-in and travers. Make the change from one to the other in every corner. (suppleness and rideability)

Walk - collected canter - piaffe (puts the downward transition on the hind legs for somemare who thinks more forward faster is always the right choice and bonus if she sneaks in a plough through the hand and onto her forehand in a downward transition lol)

Trot - halt - immediate rein back - gait of choice (rideability and collection)

Half pass - leg yield - half pass (rideability and rider training because I get stuck in half pass and sort of freeze, I can train an amazing half pass, but don’t always ride them well)

For fun, use the cans (often barrel racing eqpt set up in the outdoor) for working pirouettes in canter AND trot(!) and then extended canter or trot down to the imaginary timer. (rideability, rider focus, FUN for both horse and rider!)

Trot - half steps - trot, playing with the collection and extension gradually increasing both (great for maintaining suppleness in neck and back and responsiveness to hand for this particular horse)

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As someone who doesn’t get to take a lot of lessons I am always looking for exercises I can do on my own that are easy to do without eyes on the ground!

One of my favorite go-to dressage warmup / suppling exercises is the spiral in. Literally just circling in in a spiral motion and then circling back out! By yourself it works best in a recently dragged arena so you can see your own footsteps and do your spiral somewhat evenly.

It works super well for shifting weight to the hindquarters and getting them responsive on the aids. I used to do this every single ride when i was schooling 2nd level, I think if you’re relatively able to control the horse’s haunches and shoulders it’s hard to mess up.

Also I often find myself in need of just ~patterns~ to ride with my greener horse because I tend to get stuck in my rides just circling forever and ever. One thing my trainer had me do way back in the day as a kid that has just stuck with me over the years is the “bow tie” - 15 or 20m circle at E, after the circle go straight down the rail towards the corner and half turn back to E, changing direction, then same thing the other way so it forms the shape of a bow tie.

There are infinite ways to switch it up and incorporate transitions on the circle or at specific letters, stretchy trot on your change of direction, canter in your circle, etc. It’s great for when I need to keep things interesting for my pony and stop myself from getting stuck in an infinite circle loop!

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Trot down the quarter line, leg yield to the wall, at wall ask for canter. Sets them up nicely.

20 meter circle, spiral in then out, trot or canter. Keeping the horse upright (no falling on the shoulder).

20 meter circle, trot half then canter half…or even a quarter of a circle.

Shoulder in through the second corner in trot, then change across the diagonal asking for longer strides.

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I like all kinds of noodling lateral work, counter bend, etc on loops in the center of the arena. Feel for what’s easy and what’s sticky. In hand walk, under saddle walk and then trot.

@sportyspicepony do you bend one way in and the other out on spirals, ie shoulder in one direction, half pass the other? Or do you switch bend so you are shoulder in both directions?

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With my current horse we’re still learning about the concept of ~bend~ lolol so pretty much always I’m just striving for relative straightness with her and making sure we’re not falling one way or the other.

However with the more advanced horse I used to kind of picture a counterbend on the way out of the spiral and ride towards that, but wasn’t actually fully counterbending and was more just like super straight and not shoulder in on the way out… but I imagine the eventual goal would be a full counterbend on the spiral out, right?


Hands down it’s got to be Needlepoint for me. I got the name and the base pattern from 101 Dressage Exercises and added endless variations from there. I have used a modified form for barely started babies and further modified forms for my 2nd + level dressage horse. I am only limited by my ring size and imagination.

The base pattern goes:
A circle left
Proceed large to B
B-X half 10m circle
X-F change rein
A circle right
Proceed to E
E-X half 10m circle
X-K change rein
A repeat entire pattern.

The barely started baby horse did 20m circles, went all the way down the long side to a half 20m circle at the other end and changed rein across the long diagonal. The half 20m circle shrinks as the horse learns to stay balanced with a rider.

More advanced horses can do 15 or 10m circles at A.
Canter the circle at A.
Spiral in and out on the circle at A.
SI or LY or HI down the long side.
LY or HP the diagonal change of rein either in one go or stair stepping the LY/HP.
A full long side with a short diagonal allows for head to wall LY.
A full circle before the half circle to diagonal allows extra work to remind the horse to yield and bend properly prior to the change of rein.
Double the circle at A with a 15m canter circle preceded or followed by a 10m trot circle.
Lengthen or shorten trot down the long side, or diagonals.
Do transitions between or within gaits down the long side.
Do transitions in SI, LY, HI between or within gaits down the long side.
Do everything in canter with simple or flying changes. Everything, including all the variations.
Put a cavalleti, jump or 3-4 trot poles at X.

One of the best things about this pattern is that it works both sides of the horse. One of the worst things about this pattern is it’s very easy for the horse to cheat the work if the rider isn’t paying attention to what’s happening. Even green bean baby pattern should show a clear difference between the circle and the corner. More experienced horses quickly learn the rein will change frequently and if they just hold out a bit longer they won’t actually have to fully give to the rein, leg, position, etc on that rein. The frequent changes of rein are an advantage because it prevents the horse locking into a limited degree of bend as it also prevents the rider from locking into demanding more bend. The regular pattern highlights where the horse is stiff or the rider isn’t paying attention. When the rider focuses on making each repeat a little better than the last the horse will give more, and more easily than going round working one thing on one rein.

The biggest drawback is that it’s really hard to do this pattern when riding with others.

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This sounds like a better and more effective version of my lil bow tie exercise!!! Very good info thank you!

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Depends on the horse and level of course as stated above but my favorite three have got to be:

  1. Shoulder-in or haunches-in in serpentine loops, bend in the direction of the next turn.

  2. Up centerline at A, canter halfpass to the wall to E/B or H/M in the direction of the turn (so making a loop) and flying change on the wall. The loop with half pass or leg yield can be done at any gait and I use it a lot.

  3. Any mix of transitions on a 20 m circle. I usually do walk A-K, canter K-F, trot F-A, repeat. When they start to anticipate I change the letters around or throw in a snowman/10 m circle at X, usually at the trot.


I love the bow tie for green horses.

For more advanced horses: Kyra Squares. I do a lot of these when horses are learning collected gaits. Full pass two steps off right leg, forward two steps, full pass two steps off left leg, rein back two steps, and then upward transition to trot.

At canter, on the quarter line: Leg yield two steps towards wall, then straight two steps, then Shoulder fore two steps, to Half pass two steps, and then straight, with square turns at the end. Really shows you whether you are straight in your seat and the horse is loading the outside hind, jumping the inside hind, and whether you can actually move the shoulders, indicating collection.


Thank you everyone!! I love some of these! Exercises are truly a huge asset in training horses from the beginning and as we move up the levels.

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my mare’s favorite exercise for sure is any lateral movement. Renvers, travers, and quarterline to wall, the more acute the better. She moves straight line sideways …for fun. MY issue is keeping her from all that! When she’s good, by that i mean when she’s done a bunch of nice straight stuff, then i let her show me her mad skills.

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