Riding Squares Will Improve Your Communication With Your Horse

Riding Squares Will Improve Your Communication

Riding squares 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
Illustration 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.

This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of The American Quarter Horse Journal

An illustration of a square with dotted lines indicates a trot pattern, and a square with solid lines indicates a lope pattern. Jean Abernethy illustration.


The exercise:

You can tell I’m a teacher, because I have a lot of different exercises I love. I teach a lot of squares, which are great to enhance your steering using outside aids, and to collect and balance. If you’re having trouble steering, if you find yourself always going to your inside rein to pull the shoulder around, work on the square and pushing the horse’s shoulder around the turn.

The horse must bring the outside shoulder around for the turn. He has to rock back onto his hind end to turn in a square.

Visualize a square, then as you perform the exercise, use your outside aids: outside rein controls the shoulders and the outside leg controls the ribcage. Start at a walk, say a 30-foot square, then jog or trot a 50-foot square, then canter or lope a 65-foot square. As the horse becomes more balanced, then you can decrease the size slightly as you feel your horse understand the aids and balance.


Why it’s helpful:

We use squares all the time in the western disciplines, particularly for pattern work, because it’s so related to steering, and it’s a great activity for guiding and smoothness.

In dressage, we use squares a lot for working on moving the shoulders, especially at the upper levels when you have a lot of collected work and steering of the shoulders. The squares at the walk, jog and lope are great exercises for the outside leg and outside rein together to steer the horse around the corner, but also to weight the inside hock for balance and collecting.

The squares at all gaits are a tremendous exercise for not only horsemanship and hunt seat equitation, but also any discipline that needs extremely good steering.


Tips for success:

Squares are great to practice after circle work.

When I coach, I ask the rider to look slightly to the inside before each turn. Horses need clarity, and part of that is your body language. As a judge, I want to see what you are thinking as you perform you pattern work.

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