Ever wondered how to encourage your horse to engage his hind quarters? Not sure about you but this is a comment I see regularly on my dressage test sheets; 'Lovely horse but needs to work from behind, engaging hind quarters and working forwards into a more elasticated contact'. That sounds great and I'm sure it looks fabulously hunky dorey but how the heck do we do that? Well.. here's some easy tips, but remember, these should be done on a regular basis and not just once in order to see a consistent improvement!
Tip no. 1: Transitions: These are a really easy, gentle way of encouraging your horse to balance himself and activate his hind leg. It's so important that you not only practice transitions out of the pace but you also try them within the pace too. A key thing to remember is the transitions needs to be snappy! He must go when you say go and whoa when you say whoa. Try picking point in the arena where the transition must happen and ride to it, be strict that it happens when you ask and not 5 steps later.
Tip no. 2: Half-Halts: I use these all the time. Ever find that all of a sudden things are getting messy, complicated and out of control? The half-halt can help you regain some composure! A half-halt encourages your horse to transfer more weight behind and rebalance himself, therefore becoming more active with his hind quarters. I recently found a good article on how to perform the half halt.. read it here!
Tip no. 3: Lateral work: I don't mean leg yield etc. but things like shoulder-in (shoulder-fore) and mini walk pirouettes help toward engaging his hind legs and when done in walk allows you the time to organise yourself so things do not become rushed or panicked, therefore creating tension. Try incorporating transitions before and after the exercises to really keep him on his toes. For example, try riding a 'square' in walk. At each corner, instead of turning to make it a circle, you try a mini walk pirouette, then on the long sides you ask for a few strides of trot before coming back to walk for the next corner. I find this a really good exercise to keep him listening and on my aids.
Tip no. 4: Reins aids: One thing to always be mindful of are your rein aids. You must never block your horses movement through pulling back. Think of your reins as a steady, soft guide encouraging you horse forward into the contact. So many issues can be created through mixed signals between your leg and your hand so it's something to always keep in the back of your mind ... 'Am I confusing things?'.
Of course, there are many exercises that can help improve your horses engagement, however, sometimes it's best to keep things simple, and uncomplicated especially when in a competition environment. Remember, you can't 'fix' things on the competition day, you just need to prepare your horse for the test ahead. I think these are all exercises that can be done on any horse at any level and can even be incorporated into your warm up routine! So what are you waiting for? Give them a go, let me know how you get on!