Western Pleasure Calisthenics: Part I

Filled in
By Tina Kaven in The American Quarter Horse Journal

These five simple exercises will ensure your horse is ready for show day.

Tina Kaven says you need to break up a horse's exercise routine. She uses five calisthenic exercises that enhance a horse's movement, balance and flexibility
A western pleasure horse must be in top physical shape to compete and win in todays arenas. But when it comes to conditioning a rail horse, theres more to it than just walking, jogging and loping.
See the complete slide show of calisthenic exercises for your horse.
In a way, a show horse is like clay. You keep working and working clay, and eventually it becomes very flat and moldable, and you can make anything you want out of it. But if you set the clay on the counter and let it get cold again, its going to get stiff and be hard to shape.
What I want with my horses is that warm, soft, moldable piece of clay all the time. I dont care how finished a horse is or how long he has done western pleasure, hell go back to that stiff piece of clay if hes not worked. He needs calisthenics to keep him supple and allow him to do his job properly.
To prepare my western pleasure horses for the show ring, I use five simple exercises to enhance movement, transitions, flexibility and balance. The exercises consist of long trotting, shoulder and hip work, departures and transitions, loping squares and backing up.

Get valuable insight to the judges' expectations and better understand how to correctly present your horse with AQHA's "Showing to Win: Western Pleasure" DVD.
Warming Up

Before I move into the exercises, I warm up the horse by longeing him and riding him lightly. I want to make sure the horse is mentally with me.
When I longe, I do not take the horse out there and just crack the whip and make him run around. I take the horse out, and I try to get a feel for where he is mentally. Is he excited, or is he quiet and ready to work? I dont want the horse to come out with his tail over his back and run around like crazy on the longe line.
If thats the case, then I will let him work himself down and maybe tie him up for a little while and let him recoup before I ride him. I dont like to ride right off a hard longe, because then the horse is breathing hard and is not really mentally open.
When I get on the horse, I walk him around and check his mental capacity again. If hes pretty quiet, then Im going to do a little lifting exercise where I see if he is attentive. I will raise the reins and ask him to lift his shoulders, head and neck.
If he answers correctly, then I will ask him to move into a jog and see if he continues to pay attention to me. I will then tap him with my leg and ask him to move his body and see if he answers my cues. I also ask him to move into a lope and check my leg and hand cues again. I will then check my brakes and maybe ask him to yield off my leg.
But if I feel he still has too much energy or isnt paying attention to me, then I would not necessarily drill on the movements and the calisthenics. Instead, Im going to say, What do we need to do to get your energy level down? Do you need to get out and play? Do you need to go on the hot walker?
If he is willing and listening to me, answering all my questions correctly, then I move into the calisthenics.
Stay tuned next week for Part II: Long Trotting and Shoulder and Hip.

This DVD is the first in a series presenting the standards expected in AQHA's most popular classes. Get your copy of "Showing to Win: Western Pleasure" today!