Riding Spirals Will Improve Your Communication With Your Horse

Riding Spirals Will Improve Your Communication

Riding spirals is one of five basic exercises that will help you communicate with your horse no matter what discipline you ride.

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By AQHA Professional Horsewoman Carla Wennberg with Abigail Boatwright for The American Quarter Horse Journal
Illustrations by Jean Abernethy

For the past 40 years, I’ve ridden many horses in many disciplines, but everything I’ve done has many of the same crossover elements.

At the basic level, the goal for every horse and every discipline is the same: balance, steadiness, rhythm and a quiet mouth. All of that beauty comes together because of training.

I'm sharing five of my favorite exercises. They’re from the classical dressage tradition, but you’ll find them incredibly helpful whether you’re preparing for an all-around event, getting ready for a ranch riding pattern or just working on improving your communication with your horse.

Let’s start with the first one:

An illustration shows green spiral lines going in opposite directions. Jean Abernethy illustration


The exercise:

This is the exercise I probably like the most. You can perform spirals at the walk, trot and canter, and incorporate the leg yield.

If you’re trotting, you’ll want to start on a 65-foot circle, and then make that circle 80 feet in size by leg yielding out, then leg yielding out to a 100-foot circle, keeping the same rhythm and balance in your stride. You’ll be working on your inside leg and rein aids as you’re leg yielding into the bigger circle, and using your outside leg and rein aids to hold the circle’s shape.

It’s easier for the horse to move away from the leg and move into a larger circle, because that’s a more comfortable stride. To increase the challenge and to work on collec­tion, you’ll then take that 100-foot circle and draw it down to a 65-foot circle, then even to a 50-foot circle. Still keep the horse on a slight bend to the inside, with your inside aids of a softening rein and inside leg to hold the shoulder from drop­ping in. Your outside leg aid will be controlling the rib cage and rein will hold the shoulder as you’re slowly bringing the horse into a smaller circle.

Why it’s helpful:

This exercise makes the horse weight its inside hock when spi­raling into the circle. Whether you’re riding hunt seat or western, it’s just a great exercise for teach­ing balance on a circle.

Tips for success:

Trot this exercise first, then you can do it at the lope, but you’ll want to protect the lead with your outside aids when you’re spiraling out. Some horses will want to do a simple or flying lead change as you move into a bigger circle because you’re pushing them with the opposite leg to make that circle larger. Make sure to slide your outside leg back and hold the lead while your inside leg is behind the girth asking him to move out.

Abigail Boatwright is a special contributor to The American Quarter Journal. To comment, write to aqhajrnl@aqha.org.  This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of the Journal

More Exercises to Try


AQHA Professional Horsewoman CARLA WENNBERG is from Laurinburg, North Carolina, where she is the coach of St. Andrews University’s western equestrian team. She’s a world champion rider, a high-point dressage competitor and a carded judge for AQHA and the National Snaffle Bit Association. She was an FEI steward for reining for 16 years and worked the World Equestrian Games in 2010. Now along with judging, Carla is an AQHA steward and a Certified Horsemanship Association instructor at Level 4 for English and western. She is a bronze and silver medal-earning dressage rider and still rides an FEI-level horse.