What are your favorite exercises for improving rideability?

I’m not a very big person, so when I find myself on a strong/heavy horse that likes to pull a lot, I really have to go back and improve their rideability so I can ride more effectively. Unfortunately my toolbox is feeling a bit repetitive and boring these days (and I’m assuming the horse feels similarly), so I’d like to add some new exercises to my repertoire.

What exercises do you like to do? They can be things you do during warm-up, on the flat, or jumping too!

That is what dressage is for, the levels are to strengthen the horse and to keep both the horse and rider frimom getting bored.

Which exercise? All of them, so there is no drilling.

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Lol I feel you. My last three horses have been 17.2 and up, while I’m 5’4” on a good day. The last two I’ve had came directly from Europe where they were used to heavier, taller men who rode with a lot of contact and a lot of seat. I’m physically never going to be able to take that kind of feel or sit down as heavy in the tack to drive to the base, so I need my horses to learn steering, collection, and balance without pulling me out of the tack.

My current horse is 6 and the largest of any horse I’ve had (he’s dinosaur sized and doesn’t fit most XL or OS equipment he’s so damn big), and so we’re really focusing on the balance and rideability. Right now, we focus a lot on holding a bend or counterbend on both straight lines and circles. This is in preparation for introducing more lateral work down the line.

I also do a lot of changes of pace within the gait, asking for extension, working, collected versions of the trot and canter and moving seamlessly between them.

We’ve been doing a lot of serpentines with changes of gait as well, doing one loop at the canter, the next at the sitting trot, and repeating. We’ve incorporated countercanter, but primarily on straightaways until he’s a little more mature and balanced to hold it on the bend.

Finally, we do work in the Equiband system to help hind end strength. You’re not going to get them to carry themselves if they lack the muscle to do it, so proper conditioning is key.


Throwing in small circles, transitions (within and among gaits), and changes of hand throughout your ride are always good ideas. So a serpentine in three loops at the trot with walk transitions over the centre line or a serpentine with a 10m circle at the centreline, exercises like canter 8, trot 8 strides on a circle, sit the trot from one letter to the next, then post, then sit, etc. Or canter a 20m circle left, at X change to a sitting trot 10m circle right.

Really anything along those lines.

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If I find them starting to get heavy I like to slow it down.
I’ll come back to the walk, maybe a halt. Turn on the forehand, turn on the haunches. Some leg yields. Rein back.
Once they’re soft and relaxed again I’ll start doing some walk-trot transitions. If the horse is running through the transitions I might not move to anything else.

My gelding responds really well to w-t-w transitions. You can really feel him sit on his butt and lift the front end.

At this point I like to add in some lateral movements. If they don’t accept the leg they’ll get strong again.

Spiraling in and out on a circle is a good one, as are serpentines (focus on making sure they’re straight for a couple strides as you cross the center line, the next time ask for a transition every time you cross X).

At the canter do lots of transitions within the gait, lots of circles, counter bend. Counter canter. As you come down the long side use your leg to push them to the quarter line, and then back to the rail again. Canter-trot-canter and canter-walk transitions.

If they stay soft through all of that I’ll add in some pole work. My three favourites are
a) a line of canter poles spaced 9’ apart. They have to stay in a consistent rhythm and pay attention to where their legs are. You can play with this using cavaletti as well, or raise alternating poles, or alternating ends of the poles. It’s hard work for them though, so don’t overdo it. A tired horse will start to lean on you as well.

b) Circle of death. Start with one pole, then two, then four.

c) Three poles 45’ apart. Alternate the strides. Four to a four. Five to a four. Four to a three. A soft, well schooled horse should eventually be able to do a three to a five.


Yes! I love this one, especially because it gives me some real quantifiable feedback of our progress. Richard Spooner also uses an easier variation with 2 poles on each of the short sides to give the horse/rider some time to prepare down the long side.

If I ride something super heavy and hard to piece together, I’ll start the ride in long lines for a warm up until they get lighter and engaged in the hind end.

I’m light and almost 5’4, I refuse to be pulled on or hold their head up for them. It’s too much work.

Lateral work such as shoulder in, haunches in, leg yielding, half pass…

Don’t drill, just practice a few minutes during a ride.

So useful.

Also the book 101 Dressage exercises


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