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Exercises for seat, calves and hands: part 1

Published: 2016-12-11 18:33:19 Categories: Guides Rss feed

background source:, phot. Natalia Łabuzek

Regardless of which riding discipline you're into, the more clearly you communicate with your horse by the means of your calves, seat and hands, the better he would present himself, move and more efficiently he would react. Many riders don't realise that they subconsciously send wrong signals to the horse, sometimes they're even contradictory. In this article, we decided to describe some of the most common mistakes we - riders - tend to make and propose exercises that will help you fix it! :)


Remember that "riding aids," namely seat, legs and arms never work in separation. Error of one aid causes errors of the others. So it is crucial to control actions of all your body parts and their influence on your horse, so you can easily communicate with him, not disturbing his balance.

Doing the exercises we mention below, it's good to ask somebody to watch us from the ground and point out our mistakes. You can also arrange a "date" with another rider and perform the exercises by turns, so you can watch one another and exchange suggestions :)

Some of these exercises require a very calm and tolerant horse. If you're not sure if yours is as described, first check it on a smaller, fenced ground e.g. lunging arena or just using a lunge and with help of an additional person.

ćwiczenia na poprawę dosiadu pracy łydek i rąk jeźdźca cz.1 source:

Before you begin

Remember that not only you will try to change something in the way you think and ride. Your horses also have some habits, which may be hard to lose, or replace with new ones. Horses are animals that don't like changes by nature: new places, new behaviours etc., because in nature, change usually means danger. If you want to change anything in your riding style, you have to be patient and give your horse enough time to get used to "news" (also, give that time to yourself). Your horse has to learn how to react to your "new" signals. You can achieve it only by everyday repetition. There are no shortcuts possible here.

It's good to stick to the rule: something worked - reward. Not only your horse, but also yourself. It is a great motivation to keep working. However, remember that the best reward for your horse is not a pat on his back. Way better is your voice - positive and calm, it's not important what you're saying, but how you're saying it. You can even be saying "souuuuup" instead of the standard "bravooo" or "yeeees." It's important to elongate vowels, in a calming manner. The next reward right after vocal approval is to let go, slow down or remove the pressure, more freedom, e.g. changing pace to lower; changing gait to slower; removing an aid; slightly lower rein. Simply, a moment of ease, which you both deserve. If you feel tired, or you feel that your horse is tired, let go for some time or finish  training. A tired body won't work properly and it won't be trying "more" ;)

Since you already know the most important... let's talk turkey!

Exercises for improving seat

Riding with an effective seat, using your body weight and its position in the saddle is not as difficult to understand as most inexperienced riders think it is. All you have to do is to make it seem like your seat is "lighter," that means it's important for you to be able to use your body and properly distribute your weight in the saddle by tightening proper muscles.

With Joanna Tragarz, Polish dressage rider, we will try to show you a few of the most common mistakes and present you possible solutions ;)

dosiad source:, phot. Klaudia Żyżylewska

Problem 1: Using to much rein and too little seat.

Rider cannot switch to slower gait without using reins.

Solution: Start the exercises in posting trot. Try to keep your centre of gravity in the middle of the saddle. In the right moment, when you're ready, sit for a couple of time steps in the saddle. Try to "press" down with your body. Tightening your belly muscles will help you do this. Remember not to flex your arms and back.

Keep your legs relaxed by the horse's sides, but don't let them dangle.

Remember not to give your horse contradictory signals. If you want to slow down, limit activating actions, especially those of your calves. Also, hold your horse gently with reins. If your horse won't react to your aids, try giving him voice commands, such as "whoooa," "waaalk" or "slooower." Again, it doesn't really matter what you will say, but it's important for you to say it slowly and calmly, elongating the first syllable to calm your pet.

Why can your horse not react? If formerly a clear command for him was a strong rein action, he would wait for such an aggressive signal. Why change it then? Because you should want to make your signals more subtle, so your communication can be pleasant for your horse. To "talk" to him by means of understandable whisper, not incomprehensible yell.

If your horse, despite all, won't react for several seconds, don't allow this situation to last and stop the exercise, coming back to starting point. Begin in posting trot and try again after a while. If your horse will switch to walk from your action in the saddle and slight use of reins, immediately reward him, preferably with your voice, because it's the quickest method, you can also pat him on his back, of course. After a while, start at a trot and repeat the exercise. With time your horse should react quicker and switching won't take a whole manage wall ;) Remember to decrease the pressure on rein with each switch. By using less reins, you will strengthen your seat ;)

pomoce jeźdźca source:, phot. Klaudia Żyżylewska

Problem 2: Using calves too actively and too little seat while switching to faster gait - from walk to trot. 

Solution: For this exercise you can use a long dressage bat (not a jumping bat). Begin your work at a walk, focusing on the walk-trot switches. Sitting on the points of buttock (while moving your hips sideways, you should feel that you're sitting on this bones, which are below cheeks) and riding at a walk, press your thighs stronger to against your horse and try "shifting the saddle upward and forward" while "gluing" the seat to the saddle. What does it mean? It means that without sliding your bottom on the saddle you should try pushing your horse forward and upward with your hips, using your belly muscles and disrupting his balance. If all your horse does is speeding up the walk, try "pushing" him with your hips again, at the same time slightly using the bat behind your calf.

When your horse switches to trot, immediately reward him with your voice (e.g. a positive "braaavo") and switch to posting trot.

Then repeat the exercise. Switch to walk and while using your calves as little as possible and pushing your horse mainly with your seat, switch to trot. Remember that one "push" may be not enough at first. Try pushing him a couple of times with your seat, signal after signal, without long pauses (long means lasting a second or more).

If your horse doesn't react for a longer while to your actions, remember to let go for a moment. Give him and yourself a break and after a while try again, using a bat :) After some time, limit the use of it.

After succeeding at switching from walk to trot, try switching from trot to canter. BUT! Not during the same day. Give your horse time to learn one thing for a couple of trainings. Only then start the other thing.

Against all appearances, "shifts" are the most difficult exercises and "manoeuvres" we perform on a horse. Shifts between slower and faster gaits, switching from short to long gaits etc. Your horse's gait quality and the quality of whole ride depends exactly on shifts.

Once we heard a very wise words from one trainer: "if at the very beginning of a ride I feel that the first start from zero to walk is wrong, I stop my horse and start again. This first shift decides about the whole ride." There's something to it. If you set boundaries with a horse from the beginning - a more energetic pace with a lazy horse without the necessity of constant rushing him, and a calm, soft pace with a hot-headed one, then your rides will be much easier.

poprawa pracy pomocy jeźdźca source:, phot. Klaudia Żyżylewska

Problem: Too active calves, too little seat while switching to faster gait - from trot to canter.

Solution: Ride at a steady pace in posting trot. Whenever you're ready to canter, sit in the saddle for 2-3 steps of your horse, hold him slightly on a rein and (like described in the problem above) "push him forward and upward with your seat," loosening the rein. If you feel that he didn't understand the first signal and he's not switching to canter, immediately give him the second signal. Don't allow him to speed at a trot.

If he didn't switch to canter, slow down and repeat all the stages. Sit in the saddle, hold him slightly on a rein, push him with your seat and loosen the pressure on a bit, moving your hand forward.

This exercise should, preferably, be performed on a large circle, which will prevent your horse from speeding and will eliminate the additional problem with cantering on the right leg :)

We hope that our tips will be useful for you in improving the quality and clarity of your signals, which will also improve the communication with your horse.

In the next article from the series, we will try to discuss another problems - those with arms and legs.

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