Debbie Rodriguez, 'S' dressage judge, 'r' eventing judge, USDF Bronze, Silver and Gold Medalist. Available for clinics, lessons and judging.

Leg Yield Zig-Zag

Basic Circles

Turn on the forehand

Canter Transitions

Canter work

Who-Horses and riders of all levels that have mastered leg-yield.


When- Can be used as part of your daily warm-up or added anyplace in your workout if your horse gets a little slow off your leg.


What-This is a good exercise for horses of all levels that are a little slow off the leg.


Come down the center line in walk or trot and leg-yield one way toward one quarter line then immediately back toward the other quarter line, so on and so forth until you run out of ring.


Remember: the point is to get your horse quicker off your leg so this is a good opportunity to apply a sharp (stronger and/or quicker) leg aid if your horse is not quick enough in his response. After you use a stronger leg aid be sure to come back and try again with a softer leg aid to see if your horse is more responsive to the leg.


This is not an exercise that needs to be done with precision like you might practice some of the leg-yields if you were preparing for a first level test. It is an exercise that is most successful if you pay attention to the quickness of your horse’s response to your leg and switch directions as needed to keep him quick and attentive.


Starting out-At first you can try the exercise in walk until you and your horse are comfortable with the movement but then go on and try it in trot for maximum effectiveness.


Variations-Another variation is to go from the quarter line to the rail and back again as needed until the response to your leg is prompt enough.


            -Or try it on the driveway or walk to the ring.


            -Try it on a trail ride if the trail is smooth and wide enough.








Basic Circles


One of One of  the best exercises for controlling your horses pace, balance and engagement is circles. Learning to be precise with your aids so that the horse follows the path of the circle with his neck, shoulders and haunches takes some control. Keeping the horse between your aids and staying aware of the inside and outside takes some practice.

It is best to do this as part of your regular rides instead of waiting until you have a lesson or show coming up.


Incorporating circles into all your work makes the precision and balance second nature to both you and your horse.


A simple way to start is to add precise 20 meter trot circles into your warm-up.

Start at C and make a balanced steady circle.


To do this you need to know the geometry of your ring. If you are riding in a standard ring or ‘large’ arena it is important to know that R and S are 18 meters from the short side (not 20m.). If you get in the habit of making a precise circle everyday it becomes a habit. If you have difficulty picturing and riding a precise circle take the time to measure a 20 meter circle and mark the circle at 4 or more spots with some cones. If your circle is not round you will lose the many of the benefits of riding circles.


From the circle at C go straight down the rail and make a 20 meter circle at S.


Again be aware of the geometry- R and S are 12 meters from the nearest letter. Be sure not to make a 24 meter oval!!


Then move the circle to E, then to V, then to A.


You get the idea. Once you have gone around the entire ring with correctly shaped circles, reverse and go the other way, keeping the geometry in mind. This is a great trot warm-up for a young horse or for the horse that doesn’t like one end of the arena.

Once you are confident making the circles you can check your control.


Every time you begin a circle half halt and rebalance your horse.


Be sure to keep the horse straight on the path of the circle. Envision an overhead camera tracking your horse’s movement. Is the entire horse on the path of the circle or is he falling through the outside shoulder or overbent through the neck maybe with the haunches falling out? Does he follow the same arc both directions? Are you able to control his straightness as you half-halt then push him through?


In the same imaginary picture from the overhead camera are you sitting evenly? With one hand on each side of the horses neck? Legs lightly guiding the horse? Shoulders, hips, hands and eyes square? Inside leg at the girth and outside leg slightly behind the girth?


Once the basic circles become second nature add more control.


Push  your horse through on each straight section and half-halting at the start of each circle.


Then reverse the exercise and half-halt on each straight section and push the horse through on each circle.


Then try half-halting at the start of each circle and each straight section being sure to push the horse through between the half-halts.


Be sure to balance your seat and upper body as you half-halt so you do not rely on just your reins to rebalance your horse. As you push your horse through be sure to think of engaging and activating those hindlegs not just speeding up.


Once you start to feel in better control at the trot go ahead and do the exercise in canter. Include the same variations and check list. If you are not able to go around the whole ring with canter circles at the letters start with just one side of the arena then take a break before going the other way.


If you are on a young horse it may seem that making all these circles and transitions within a gait then adding the circles in canter may end up being your entire work out for a day. After you get accustomed to the routine it can become just part of a warm-up or work out ending stretch.


If you are showing training level be sure to add the 20 meter circles left and right from X. Take the time with your instructor (or a measuring tape) to be sure where the 20 meter circle ends.


Remember that R, S, V and P are just 12 meters from E and B.


As a judge it is frustrating to watch someone with a decent trot quality lose points because they have made a 12 meter egg. Correcting bad geometry in this movement is just a matter of planning ahead and knowing where you are in the ring.


Throughout this exercise be sure to keep the gait quality in mind as you get the geometry under control.


This basic lateral schooling movement won’t be found on any dressage test, but it is still an important basic introduction to lateral movement from the leg.


 WHY : To introduce a young or green horse to the concept of moving sideways away from the leg without speeding up


            -To introduce a rider to the give and take timing of moving the horse off the leg


 WHAT: The horses front legs stay basically still and near the same spot and the hind legs move around until the horse has turned 180 degrees


            -Most easily introduced with a young horse next to the fence


 HOW: Stop your horse parallel to the fence line, slightly bend your horse towards the fence


            -Use the leg next to the fence to push the haunches away from the fence, continue until the horse is facing the opposite direction


            -The reins are used to keep the horse slightly positioned in the direction of the active leg and to keep the horse from walking off


            -Do not let the horse step backwards, soften the rein contact if this happens and apply a stronger squeeze with your leg


-This is an exercise you can introduce before you get on, just stand to one side of your horse and put your hand where your leg would be and with a push and release rhythm push the haunches sideways until he moves easily around, keep one hand on the rein on the same side as the active pushing aid.


-Be aware of the give and take rhythm of the aids and the horse’s response




A Variation: Make a turn on the forehand while walking, the front legs stay walking and make a small circle (1-3meters) and the back legs move around on a bigger circle, still reinforces the sideways response and timing without having to stop.


Sometimes it is easy in our attempts to have every aspect of a transition perfectly under control to lose sight of the clarity of the aids and response. In other words your horse should clearly step into canter every time you ask with no hesitation or uncertainty and stay in canter until you ask for a downward transition.


 Practicing prompt transitions is one way to clear up the aids and the response. When trying the following exercises be sure to sit evenly in the saddle and keep your horse on the path of the circle from nose to tail. Be sure to stay centered over your horse and the path of the circle.




Training Level Horses:  Start on a 20m circle and pick up the working trot, count 8 strides.  Each stride is the up OR the down of your post.  On the 8th count ask for canter and count 8 canter strides, on 8 trot. Count out loud to help yourself stay focused.  Count 8 trot strides, on 8 canter……


Continue until you are able to get the transition exactly on the 8th stride for several repetitions.




Make yourself count accurately and count every stride. No fair waiting until the trot is organized to start counting.


If you get the wrong lead finish your eight strides anyway. Repetition will help with the leads. Within a circle or two the transitions should get more prompt and obedient.


 Training Level/First Level Horses:  Master the exercise above then try to see if you can stay on the count for 8 trot-8 canter, 7 trot-7 canter, 6 trot-6 canter, 5 trot-5 canter, 4 trot-4 canter, 3 trot-3 canter, 2trot- 2 canter.




Again, be accurate with your counting to get the most out of the exercise.


 Second Level to Fourth Level Horses:   Master the exercises above then try a variation of 6 canter-2 walk, 6 canter-2 walk, 6 canter-2 walk. This should really help with collection and balance in the canter.




Stay on the circle and be accurate with the count.


Having trouble staying deep in the saddle?  Try this exercise without stirrups.




Fourth Level and FEI Horses:  Master the exercises above then try this variation, 4 canter-3 walk, 4 counter-canter-3 walk, 4 canter-3 walk, 4 counter-canter-3 walk, etc. If this is too difficult or confusing at first leave the 20 meter circle and try it on the rail of your arena. Once you can reliably perform this exercise on the rail return to the circle.




Be sure to clearly change your aids for the lead you want.













Exercise One


One of my favorite exercises for warming up is a simple pattern....



 Step I.


Start down the long side at E with a 20 meter circle in trot.


Continue to the end of the arena.


Make a 10 meter half circle returning to the track at E.















 Step II.



At E, step into right lead canter and canter a 20 meter circle.


As you return to E make a transition back to trot and proceed straight ahead.


At the end of the arena make a 10 meter half circle returning to the track at E.












 Step III.



At E, step into left lead canter and ride a 20 meter circle in canter.


As you return to E transition back to trot and repeat









Move the downward transition to trot further down the long side, first to S and V and later to H and K.




For more advanced horses stay in canter through the half circle then make a change of lead through the trot before you get to E.


 Or try making the canter circle 15 meters.


 How it helps:


-gives you a plan for starting out with your canter work


-keeps you making many transitions and helps keep the horse on the aids.


-helps you keep the horse supple by frequent change of direction


-lets you keep a familiar exercise and increase the difficulty in steps when you are ready.


 Things to remember:


In a large arena, for the 20 meter circle at E, remember to stay 2 meters inside the line from R-S and V-P. R, S, V, and P are each 12 meters from E and B, NOT 10 meters.


Let your eyes help you stay focused. Be sure to look where you are going and keep the correct inside/outside aids as you change direction.

Debbie Rodriguez      Williamsburg VA

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