Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

At our barn, we've turned the noun into a verb. We call it "accordioning" because the horse stretches out over the topline and then, a few strides later, he shortens once again. Much like an accordion, the horse expands and then compresses - over the back. In riding terms, we call it longitudinal flexion.

Starting from an uphill working trot outline, the horse responds to forward-urging aids and a longer rein by lengthening the back muscles. He reaches forward and down into roundness, loosening over the topline and striding deep underneath the body with the hind legs.

Then, a few steps later, the horse transitions back to the uphill outline. The reins shorten while the body shortens and rebalances up and back. The horse resumes the regular working trot.

stretchy walk
Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

The Benefits

While the horse is stretching, the muscles loosen to allow for tension to dissipate. Then, when the horse comes back up, the body is more supple, the gait springier. The trick now is to keep the suppleness that was developed through the stretch.

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The change of body position and balance encourages the horse to step under with the hind legs, aiding in the development of collection and hind end engagement.

The joints in the hind end "articulate" better - that is, they show more bend and flexion within each stride. This increase in energy translates into increased impulsion, which you might feel through more bounce, more air time, a rounder back, and a lighter front end. You might even encourage the horse to expel a heart-felt snort!

Done repeatedly, the horse learns to loosen at will. Later, the deep stretch may not be necessary. Once the horse has learned to accordion effectively, the results become apparent even with a small stretch and rebalance.

How to Accordion

The first step to an effective accordion is the stretch.

Tightness - in the neck, the base of the neck, in front of the withers, and behind the withers - blocks the horse's energy. Tension develops and the tightness over the horse's topline becomes visible through short strides, rushing, dullness or lack of response, and more.

Whether in walk. trot or canter, a well-established stretch over the back is the action that releases the topline. Take contact with the bit, use seat and legs to encourage impulsion, and slowly let the reins out as the horse takes up the slack. The key is that the horse should lower the neck and "chew" the reins from your hands, filling the space given by the reins.

Avoid losing complete contact, but continue to allow the rein length as long as the horse keeps reaching for the bit. Take a few strides in this manner.

Ask for a little more impulsion and now begin to shorten the reins. At this point, you might need several half-halts to help bring the horse up again, through roundness. Be careful to not just pull on the horse's mouth - this will cause discomfort and tension all over again.

Once the horse has rebalanced to a regular uphill outline, start all over again!

In the end, the horse that can accordion easily and effectively learns to travel with a more supple topline. The process can teach the horse how to release tension in the muscles and become more forward and engaged in movement.

Have you used this exercise in the past? Let us know how it has worked out for you.

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  1. Funny you should post this today. I’ve just started this exercise with Lady this weekend. Baby steps..shortening for a couple of strides and then lengthening…it was great feeling!

  2. This is a wonderful exercise for my warmup. Lipizzan horses are great at the short steps & collection, so this exercise helps my horse to engage and lengthen his stride.

  3. I really want to try this. The Lusitan I lease is only 5 and I always try to get him to stretch out before and after a ride. I didn’t even think about trying it during the ride. I’ve been leasing him since October (pretty much exactly the day this post was out up) and he has lost my trust on multiple occasions (I’ve fallen off of him twice) but we’re finally figuring out how to work well together. I feel like this might help us both. I’m sure my teacher will help us!

  4. My green baby wants to bring her head up frequently after a very few strides. When she does that, what should my response be?