Jec A. Ballou

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Our barn visitor offered her comments good-naturedly, but still I bristled. She had chuckled at one or another of Corazon’s antics and then called him a male diva. A what? I didn’t share her chuckle, puzzled as I was that anyone could see this leggy Andalusian as anything but majestic and regal, maybe even brawny.

Jec Ballou, horse trainer, jec aristotle ballou, western dressage, jec ballou, dressage exercises for horse and rider, equine fitness

Many of us make our horses stiffer with our attempts at kindness. Aiming for light and forgiving rein contact, we sometimes make the mistake of too much looseness, which feels erratic and unclear to the horse. Rather than improving our horse’s balance and physiology, we cause him to fall apart immediately following moments of correct movement.

Jec Ballou, horse trainer, jec aristotle ballou, western dressage, jec ballou, dressage exercises for horse and rider, jec ballou, equine fitness, beyond horse massage, Jec Ballou

By Jec A. Ballou

When I rode in Germany, my instructor was almost militant about the fact that I should be able to carry a whip equally well with each hand. By well, he meant that I should not tighten my wrist, yank on the rein, or get disorganized when changing directions and switching the whip over to my other hand. And, maybe most importantly, he meant that I should USE the whip. 

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As an equine fitness specialist, my job is always to ask how we can improve the horse’s body. One of the simplest ways we can do this in daily riding is to think about how we ride the trot: posting vs. sitting. Certain disciplines tend to prioritize one method over another, but regardless of a sport’s traditions or fads, we need to consider our force impact on the horse’s physical structure

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My student’s husband said it best when he quietly murmured, “You guys are insane,” before climbing back into his warm truck and pulling away from the arena. We, meanwhile, watched him drive down the road to a warm office somewhere as we stood in a combination of rain/snow, wind/hail, and frigid temperatures.

Jec Ballou, horse trainer, jec aristotle ballou, western dressage, jec ballou, dressage exercises for horse and rider, equine fitness

After several years of traveling around giving clinics in which I teach riders to use ground poles in their regular schooling, I have arrived at a fact: most riders quickly understand the gymnastic benefits of group poles, but they will not incorporate them on a consistent basis. It’s not because they are rebelling against my advice but because poles can be a hassle to drag out and set up every day.

Jec Ballou, horse trainer, jec aristotle ballou, western dressage, jec ballou, dressage exercises for horse and rider, jec ballou, equine fitness, beyond horse massage, Jec Ballou

The image of dressage horses prancing sideways might just seem like fancy footwork, but in reality these lateral movements are akin to physical therapy for the horse. From a conditioning standpoint the dressage exercises of shoulder-in, haunches-in, and half-pass prove highly advantageous for improving neuromuscular coordination and proprioception.

Jec Ballou, horse trainer, jec aristotle ballou, western dressage, jec ballou, dressage exercises for horse and rider, equine fitness

Believe me when I tell you that I love freedom as much as anyone. I love trimming away boundaries, living widely in each moment. And yes, I love to watch a beautiful horse running free across a meadow with his legs surging and his expression content. That, to me, is a wonderful sight. On the other hand, a horse careening around a round pen with his neck twisted sideways and his body misaligned disgruntles me.

Jec Ballou, horse trainer, jec aristotle ballou, western dressage, jec ballou, dressage, exercises for horse and rider, equine fitness

When Western Dressage first established itself, we instructors struggled to describe the requirements of a “working lope” clearly enough for students. We wanted to be sure to differentiate it from the stilted gaits seen in the Western Pleasure discipline, and yet it was also not the animated jumping-across-the-ground canter of the traditional dressage world.

Jec Ballou, horse trainer, jec aristotle ballou, western dressage, jec ballou, dressage, exercises for horse and rider, equine fitness

Optimizing how a horse uses his body often relies on making the most of every chance you can to observe him. For me, training plans benefit enormously from noting how horses stand at the grooming area and while roaming around the pasture. This can be the purest time to evaluate how they are using their bodies during a given phase of training or life. It allows me to maintain an ongoing report for how they seem to be doing or where I might need to shift the emphasis of their training.

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