If you have ever ridden a Training or First Level dressage test, you have become pretty acquainted with what we call the stretchy circle, the 20-meter test of your horse’s ability to elongate his posture while maintaining rhythm, bend, and contact. Generally more foe than friend, this exercise is awarded extra points not because of its skill level, though plenty of skill is needed to perform it well, but because of its role in the overall good of the horse. Simply put, riding in different frames or postures leads to correct musculoskeletal development.
When riders stretch their horses’ necks forward and downward for a few circles before resuming a working frame, they often notice their horses moving with springier, looser gaits. This elongation of his topline muscles flushes out lactate (metabolic waste that creates stiffness and heat) and delivers blood and oxygen to these big prime movers. Moments of stretching throughout your work session are necessary to develop the fullest and most elastic range of motion in your horse’s gaits. Varying your horse’s posture through workouts preserves spacing between vertebral joints, delivers fuel and oxygen to muscles for proper contractions, and ensures that each muscle system continues to do the job it was designed for. One group should stabilize the skeleton and support its soft tissue while the other muscle group creates movement. When one group tries to take over a different role because of tension buildup, the horse ends up working in opposition to himself.
JEC ARISTOTLE BALLOU is the author of 101 Dressage Exercises for Horse & Rider.