Two Dressage Training Exercises with Sarah Tubman

Try these exercises focusing on counter bend and counter-canter.

Dressage trainer Sarah Tubman shared the following two exercises with riders at a free Pony Club clinic in June 2017. To read the full article by Kim Miller, click here.

Exercise 1: True & Counter Bending on a Spiraling Circle

This exercise teaches riders to feel and establish even rein contact with their horse’s mouth, as opposed to having a “hollow” rein on one side and too heavy a rein on the other. 

It helps them feel and maintain throughness on both sides of the horse’s body. In switching between bends, the riders can identify where straight is in the middle and recognize the differences in lateral suppleness or lack thereof on each side of the horse.

1. Trot on a 20-meter circle going left.

2. Counter bend your horse slightly to the right with slight right rein

3. Keep your right leg at the girth to move the horse’s shoulders to the
inside and maintain left rein pressure to help establish rein contact on
both sides.

4. Hold that for a few steps, then switch to true flexion, left bend, while
slightly spiraling out the circle so the horse moves his shoulder back
to the outside.

I recommend this exercise at the canter, too.

Exercise 2: Counter-Canter Introduction through Serpentine

The Spiraling Circle is great preparation for this because the horse needs to be straight on both reins in order to be balanced in the counter-canter. This exercise mirrors what is asked for in tests leading up to holding the counter-canter, first appearing in First Level, Test 3,
as a single loop. It establishes balance, suppleness and bend and helps build hindquarter strength.

1. Cantering on the left lead, on the long side of the ring, come in slightly off the rail, not even as far as the quarterline to start, with a slight left bend.

2. Then return to the rail, maintaining the left bend and using the same aids as for the left lead: more weight in the left seat bone, the left leg a bit forward and the right leg a bit back. The strides back to the rail are strides of counter-canter.

3. Start as a very shallow loop and make it steeper as you and your horse can maintain your balance and alignment in every stride.