Riding Hourglass Shapes will Improve Your Communication with Your Horse

Riding Hourglass Shapes Will Improve Your Communication

Riding hourglass shapes 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.

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


The exercise:

I love the counter-canter, but I don’t want to see the counter-canter used until the horse has a very balanced lope or canter. When the horse is ready, I use the counter-canter like an hourglass.

You’ll come off the rail for about 50 feet, and then go back to the rail. Start with a somewhat shallow serpentine loop going straight down the long side of the arena. Then I like to do it across the diagonal line. For example, if you’re loping on the left lead, go across the arena on the diagonal and then hold the counter-canter at the top of the arena, come back across your diagonal and you’ll be on the correct lead again. You’ll go one end on the correct lead, then one end as a counter-canter.

Once your horse can do the exercise well, you can do three loops in a serpentine, without transitioning – you’ll hold the same lead, as it’s the correct lead on one loop, a counter-canter loop and then back to a correct lead loop.

Why it’s helpful: This exercise gives your horse lots of room for balancing, and you can teach him to be obedient to your aid that’s holding the lead. It will help you balance your aids and teach your horse to be sensitive to those aids. Once your horse masters this exercise and is balanced, I feel like it’s fair to ask for a lead change.

Tips for success: Keep your horse bent slightly to the lead he’s on, even when he’s counter-cantering.

Abigail Boatwright is a special contributor to the Journal. To comment, write to aqhajrnl@aqha.org.

More Exercises to Try


An illustration shows an hourglass shape.

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.