Up here in our neck of the woods, the snow is melting, the blustery wind is less stinging, and the sun feels just warm enough to start thinking about our riding program for the upcoming season. While we've ridden pretty much all winter, we can now lounge longer at the barn in less layers and more comfortable footwear. The sand is softer and spring is in the air!

And the horses know it!

If you've got a rambunctious, hippety-hoppety four-legged equine emerging from his shaggy coat and winter paddock, here is a fun and active exercise you can use to allow for movement while while also encouraging focus and calm attention.

Spring Time Exercise

The Pattern

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As you can see below, the pattern is fairly simple.

  • Start on the right rein.
  • Go up center line.
  • Turn left.
  • Left circle at B, 20-meters (or you can make it smaller for more challenge).
  • Continue to the far corner.
  • Change directions across the diagonal.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3



At this point, you can continue down center line or head back to the opposite rail. You can go straight on the rail, or add a shoulder-in or haunches-in if you want to add some lateral work. Or you can come off the rail just past A and leg yield to the rail.

Once you've gone to the right a few times, change direction and go to the left. Start on the B rail and head to center line from there.

But there's more!

The Transitions

Try this pattern in walk or trot at first until you have a good idea where you're going. Then add transitions.

If you like, you can do several walk-trot-walk transitions. Let's say you do the center line at a walk, trot through the corner and do the circle at trot, and then walk the rest and across the diagonal.

You can do trot-walk-trot transitions the same way.

You can add canter into the mix: trot the center line, walk the turn, trot to canter through the corner and canter circle, canter to trot through the next corner, and walk the diagonal line.

You can get creative with the transitions. Keep in mind the needs of your horse as well as yourself. If you need to work in the walk and trot, by all means, do so. Make sure it's a good, active, ahead-of-the-leg walk and a good trot!

At first, you might want to take your time through the transitions and help your horse develop a strong, round, flowing gait before the transition. In this case, you might not be too picky about exactly where the transition takes place. This is how I always start my horses and riders - looking for high quality movement and transitions before we get too much into accuracy.

Eventually, you might want to be more precise. You can decide where you want the transition and get it at exactly that letter. This helps you become more of a team with your horse. Remember to not sacrifice the quality of movement though just to get the transitions. At this point, you and your horse should be able to do the transition at the spot and do it well, with a good gait before and a good gait after.

The Point

This exercise is designed to do two things: give your horse room to move (straight lines and large circle), and require quick response to aids through transitions. Coming out of the winter, it is important to develop a forward-moving, ground covering gait that allows the horse to strengthen again after time off or less consistent riding. However, while you want to encourage movement, you also want to bring your horse's attention to you and work on responsiveness. What better way than through transitions?

I hope you enjoy the exercise. Let me know how it goes in the comments below.

If you like this sort of pattern work, join my Practice Sessions Pre-Launch GroupThe Practice Sessions are Modules of many exercises that work together to develop one major aspect of riding. The are currently two modules being prepared, "Focus On Transitions" and "Suppleness." There will be more Modules in the future, each dedicated to other significant concepts in riding horses. There will also be a private community and many more bonuses included. Click here to learn more.

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Five Years Of Horse Listening

We're commemorating the event by compiling the top 20 most popular articles from the blog, covering topics such as:
- rider position (hands, seat, legs, elbows, upper body)
- improvement of the rider's aids (kicking, inside rein, outside rein)
- and more!

Learn More.

Read more here: 

What Do Leg Aids Mean? Instead of relying on them only to get the horse to move his legs faster or transition to a new gait, we might discover more involved messages that can be given with a sophisticated leg aid.

Why you Don't Want To Pull On The Inside Rein - And What To Do Instead: There is one other consequence to pulling on that inside rein that has little to do with turning.

In Praise Of The (Horse Riding) Hand: What goes into developing the type of hands that horses dream of?

How to "Flow” From the Trot to WalkAlthough we rely on our hands too much and initiate all movements from the horse’s mouth, there are many alternate aids we can go to.

Use the “Canter-Trot” to Truly Engage the Hind End: Many riders think that kicking the horse along and making the legs move faster is the ticket to engagement – but there is nothing further than the truth!