Steal Some Horse-Training Moves From Dressage
Chances are, you use dressage techniques every time you saddle up. AQHA Judge and Professional Horsewoman Christa Baldwin explains two-tracking and haunches-in.
September 28, 2014
From The American Quarter Horse Journal
While the event itself seems like a completely foreign concept to many who ride in other disciplines, dressage really has more in common with your discipline than you realize. The “two-tracking” and “haunches-in” maneuvers in particular are useful to all horsemen - not just those who participate in dressage. AQHA judge and Professional Horsewoman Christa Baldwin explains why and shows you how to make sure your horse knows these useful maneuvers.
For this example, the maneuver is performed to the left. To go to the right, simply reverse your cues.
I teach this to my new students and all my young horses almost immediately.
For a right-to-left two-track maneuver:
- Pick up the right rein and bend the horse until you see its right eye.
- Apply your right leg (to begin moving to the left).
- Apply your left rein in a half-halt. When you pick up the left rein and feel your horse move laterally to the left, release softly but immediately and begin forward motion. (Note: If you pull too much, you take away the forward movement.)
Continue with leg pressure and pick up again on the left rein. Repeat this give and take (half-halt) with the left rein while continuing the right bend until you reach your destination.
I usually start this maneuver down the center of the arena and move diagonally toward the fence, keeping the shoulder and hip parallel with the fence. (The fence gives you a visual marker so you can see how well you’re staying on target, and you’ll know if you’re letting your horse’s hip drag behind or shoulder leak out ahead.) If your horse’s shoulder gets ahead (too far to the left), correct the problem by applying more left rein to stop the shoulder and more right leg to encourage the hip to get straight and catch up with the shoulder.
Two-tracking is always a forward movement. If you’re not moving forward, you’re probably using too much hand and not enough leg and seat.
Dressage maneuvers can be very beneficial to your horse, no matter what discipline you primarily ride. To learn more about dressage, download AQHA’s FREE Riding Dressage report.
For a haunches-in (to the right) maneuver:
- Bend your horse’s head slightly to the right.
- Keep your right leg forward near the girth (this is the leg your horse will bend around).
- Slide your left leg back and apply pressure to bring the haunches to the right.
- Begin forward motion. As you move forward, half-halt (apply a give-and-take pressure) with the left rein. This is an indirect rein to the haunches that helps bring the haunches to the right.
Remember, your legs and seat create energy and your reins confine energy - so your horse moves to where there is less leg pressure, or where you have opened a door for your horse to go through.
It’s not easy to explain how much rein to use in a half-halt. I can’t tell a student to take five or 10 pounds of pressure on the reins, because each situation is different. It’s something a student has to feel. As soon as you ask for something with your reins, and you feel a reaction, you have to give back to the horse. You have to give immediately and softly.
A Few Examples
How can these maneuvers be helpful?
Use dressage moves to smooth out a horsemanship or equitation pattern, to help you pass horses better in rail classes, to prevent your horse from shying and more. For Novice riders, a good place to start using these maneuvers is in horsemanship or equitation patterns.
You’re in a pattern class, making a left circle in the middle of the arena. You have your horse bent nicely on the circle, and everything is going just the way you pictured it in your mind before you entered the arena. All of a sudden, you feel your horse drift out of the circle (to the right) toward the other horses lined up at the end of the arena. Your horse knows they’ve already completed their patterns, and he wants to stop and join them!
Your job is to apply the right rein, close your right leg and move your horse toward the left and back onto the course you were following. That’s how to make two-tracking work for you.
Download AQHA’s FREE Riding Dressage report to learn even more about how the fundamentals of dressage can help you and your horse stay sharp.
Use dressage to get back on track if your horse shies from an object, like the flowers at the end of the arena or the judges sitting in chairs. If your horse spooks away from the object and drops its shoulder outward, think about correcting the shoulder and putting it back toward the judges or the flowers. Two-track the opposite direction from where you horse wants to go.
On the Rail
These same aids can be helpful when passing horses on the rail. Instead of reining a horse around another horse, you can use the two-tracking maneuver to glide the horse out (keeping his hip and shoulder parallel to the fence) and glide back to the rail after you’ve passed.
Haunches-in can be excellent for teaching pleasure horses and hunter under saddle horses to engage their hocks. You’ve probably noticed that when you first start loping a green horse, his hip typically flies to the outside of your circles, and pretty soon, you get a shorter, instead of a longer, stride on the inside. With haunches-in, you can teach your horse to develop a longer, more reaching stride on the inside of the circle.
In western riding, your horse should understand two-tracking because the class makes it necessary to swap leads while moving down a straight line.
Haunches-in is invaluable, too, when teaching flying lead changes. You’ve got to teach your horse to move his hip both ways, and this essentially is a haunches-in maneuver.