20-Minute Workout

Ideally, your schooling session should last between 30 to 45 minutes, excluding your free walk before the session. However, occasionally, you will be stuck within a tight 20 minutes to work out your horse. This article will help you prepare a schooling session for the next time you are out riding with limited time on hand.

For the Preliminary Horse & Rider:-

Defining the level

This is the level at which you will be working on your basic paces and shapes, trying to build your horse’s flexibility and fitness. Young horses begin their schooling at this level, but you may need to go back to basics with an older horse if he was not properly established in his early training.


Your goal should be to work your horse equally on both reins, allow him to become rounder and lift his back while working actively with his hind legs. Simply put, you are teaching your horse the essence of self-carriage.

Before you begin

Walk your horse on a free rein for about 5 to 15 minutes (depending on how much time you have). This allows the horse to loosen up and relax before the work out. Make sure that your horse is active in his hindquarters and not just letting them trail behind. If your horse wants to stretch his neck and lower his head, let him, as this lifts his back and improves his flexibility. It would be handy to have a dressage arena for your schooling exercises.

The First 10 Minutes

After you have walked your horse, gather up the reins, and ask for trot. A young, novice horse will usually begin with a flat trot, pulling with his front legs rather than pushing with his back end. Don’t panic, there are lots of exercises to help the horse shift his balance to his hindquarters naturally. Do not insist on an outline at this stage, you are just beginning to warm up your horse.

Ride 20-meter circles, gently asking for a bend to the inside by sponging on the inside rein then softening it. When riding straight along the track, ask for a shoulder-fore (very slight flexion to the inside). To help your horse organize himself, ride 3-loop serpentines, advancing to 5-loop serpentines if you are using a 60 m x 20 m arena. (See figure 1).

You may then progress to a simplified leg-yield to get your horse to use his hocks and step underneath himself. On the long side of the arena, ride a 5 meter loop to the inside until your shoulder is aligned with the B marker, then leg yield back to the track. (Figure 2).

By then, you will notice that your horse is beginning to engage his hindquarters and will naturally lift his back and round up in his outline, providing that you are not limiting his progress with a heavy contact or a bouncy sitting trot. If you are ambitious, you may try some trot extensions along the diagonal but make sure that your horse does not fall on his forehand or it will be difficult to get him to collect again.

Once the first 10 minutes have elapsed, ride a good downward transition to walk and give your horse a breather for 2 or 3 minutes on a long rein. The remaining time will be dedicated to canter-trot work.

The Second Half

From the corner or from a circle, ask for canter if your horse can perform a walk to canter transition. If not, trot first then ask for canter.

Cantering on a straight line can often drop a novice horse on his forehand, so focus your cantering on a circle until you feel that your horse is stepping well underneath himself. Remind yourself to sit quietly through the canter to help him maintain a relaxed frame of mind. To collect the canter, ride trot-canter-trot-walk-canter transitions a few times while keeping the transitions smooth instead of abrupt.

After establishing a good canter, you can repeat the 5-meter loop to the inside of the track at a canter, but instead of leg-yielding back, you will return to the track at a counter-canter (figure 2). Do not overwork your horse with this exercise as it can be strenuous on his muscles and could intimidate him. Three or four repetitions are usually enough. Remember to work your horse evenly on both reins.

Your canter work should last approximately 6 or 7 minutes. Ride a downward transition to walk and allow your horse to stretch his neck and lower his head. This is the cool down and should last around 2 to 3 minutes. Finish it on your horse’s favorite rein (softer side).

For Novice to Elementary Level Horse & Rider:-

Defining the Level

Your basic paces should have been established and your horse should be showing a more rounded outline with more engagement from his hind quarters. Lengthening and shortening of stride is introduced at this level, as well as some lateral work.


To encourage your horse to engage his hindquarters, left his back, and round his outline. ‘Lightness’ is the keyword to keep you going forward and active. Your horse can be introduced to some lateral work in order to build his muscles and body coordination as well as his suppleness. Walk your horse as mentioned previously to loosen him up and relax him before you begin schooling.

The First 10 Minutes

Gently urge your horse to trot. It is advisable that you begin your trot work on a longer rein while keeping the pace slow and rhythmic. Ride plenty of circles and serpentines to discourage your horse from falling on the forehand during the long and low exercise and to improve his lateral suppleness; check Long and Low for more information about this exercise.

Gradually gather the reins to a contact. Ride a couple of serpentines to get your horse bending in both directions. When you feel your horse is ready, turn down the centerline and leg-yield back to the track at sitting trot. Repeat that a few times, then ride a 20-meter circle, spiraling in to a 5-meter circle, then leg-yielding back to the larger circle. Perform the exercise on both reins while always maintaining the bend to the inside.

Ride a downward transition to walk. If you have practiced shoulder-in at lessons, you can try it first at the walk then at the trot on the long side of the arena. For an introduction on shoulder-in, check out the article on this website titled The Shoulder-in. If you are not sure on how to perform a shoulder-in, wait until your next lesson and ask your instructor to show you exactly how to ride a correct shoulder-in. This movement collects the horse and introduces him to further development in lateral work such as travers, renvers, and half-pass.

When your horse has collected, you may advance to lengthening and shortening of stride. Ride your medium trot along the diagonal and a collected trot on the track and on circles. Avoid excessive repetition as it may exhaust your horse if he has not yet developed the suppleness and strength required for it.

Go back to walk, and give your horse a breather on a long rein for a couple of minutes.

The Second Half

Ask for canter from walk or trot and keep the pace forward and light. Do not restrict your horse with the reins because you do not want to build tension in your horse at this stage after all the work you have done to loosen him up. Keep the contact light and encourage him to bend and round his outline by sponging the inside rein and softening it. Ride a few circles, 20 and 15 meter, and change the rein once by riding a downward transition to collected trot.

To further improve your canter work, you can introduce the counter-canter at various stages of difficulty. For example, an easy exercise is the one described above for the preliminary horse: the 5-meter loop to the inside of the track. You can slowly increase its difficulty by increasing the depth of the loop, from 5-meter to 10-meter to 15-meter, until you are able to make a complete loop from one side of the arena to the other. Keep your horse bending slightly towards the leading leg and sit quietly to prevent him from breaking into trot or from making a flying change, (Figure 3). Some horses will not tolerate the counter-canter, so make sure you introduce it gradually.
You may finish your canter session with a short canter in the long and low frame to stretch your horse’s neck and back, provided that he is well engaged from behind. Bring your horse to a walk on a long rein and cool off.


While we do not always have the luxury of a 45-minute schooling session, it is always possible to give your horse and yourself a good workout in less than half that time. You will not be looking at teaching your horse new movements, but simply at getting him to use the right muscles and to get him to stretch and work in collection, thus providing him with a short ‘toning’ session.


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