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 Traditional Dressage / articles

Head up, Chin in, back of neck into collar, shoulder back and down, weight on seat, knees down, calves on horse, toes forward, heels down, elbows bent, wrists straight, RELAX.


Take movement from horse into hips.

Do not sit into horse until he can accept you and invites you to sit.

Rising trot body slightly forward, thus when sitting and upright either lengthen rein or hands must go forward.

Give and take rein contact (go with) from elbows.

At canter, sit on seat with same weight all the time on both seat bones, not heavier on 3 beat.

On circles keep weight even on seat bones. Do not bend over, just go with horse.

Do not push horse into any movement, ride into it.

Horse can become dead to aids which are always in time with pace, i.e. trot, try asking on rise, quickly (take care with tired horse coming into jump, you may unbalance him).

At rising trot elbows must bend as you sit, and straighten as you rise, to keep the contact.

If previous pace is good the half-halt unnecessary.

On horse with big canter stride do not tuck seat under – this will cause excess movement of body. Sit on seat and rock slightly.

Practise feeling the stride in each pace all the time.

If horse is lazy little, light aids, but quick.

Always a hand that lets the horse through, never stopping any of his natural movement.

At rising trot, go down into saddle ‘politely’ not heavily.

Once a rider can sit still and go with movement of horse, he should ride green horses to sit light and feel difference.

Lastly learn to use seat in advanced work (equal weight on two seat bones may change when horse very advanced).

Seat and weight aids used mainly in piaffe and passage. No need until this stage to do more than sit still (to horse’s movement) and keep weight constant.

Quick little aids and patience.

Sometimes two legs active together, never two reins.

When horse’s hind legs work and back comes up and carries you, then you might use seat to go forward, but not before.

Sit still and let head, shoulders etc. follow horse’s head, shoulders etc.

If horse hangs out of circle be sure you are not collapsing inwards and not asking too much bend in neck.

Careful not to hold inside rein too long round corner/down centre of horse will not be straight.

If you use seat keep back straight and strong, not floppy in middle, this will have more effect needing less use.

Just ride correctly and horse will be comfortable, willing and easy.

Give an aid and be still (relative to movement).

Feel what those quarters are doing and count everything from the quarters.

If horse is not bent on circle but cuts across, be sure you know whether his quarters are out or his shoulder in.

Careful of horse’s mouth when you use stick.

All aids light and quick, even when horse is pulling and keen.

To give aids at right time of stride is not easy. Get a good response from a quality aid first. 

Canter strike off aid the outside leg just slides back. Don’t be too quick on strange/sensitive horse.

Think shoulder-in before any change of direction/movement i.e. position first, then ask.

To ride with reins 3 in 1, left hand with curb reins must be in centre.

Remember to take your own shoulders with you in all movements.

Correct your position every time you make a transition etc., every day.

Equal feel in both seat bones, equal feel in both legs, equal feel in both reins, equal weight on both stirrups.

Always let horse go through the rein/your hands.

Beware in asking for impulsion you don’t lose smoothness and rhythm which are more important.

Patience, patience and more patience – with ourselves as well as the horse.

Quicken up everything, especially co-ordination between leg and hand – but stay relaxed.

Accept the bad day!

Relax knees at rising trot.

Before asking for anything ensure preparation done and horse able to give right answer, yet working through problems without waiting for them to disappear.

When shoulder falls into circle, even if head is bent to outside take outside rein to hold shoulder in line.

If horse hangs out on circle, keep outside rein, but take inside rein lightly and quickly – from a contact.

Hands must go with, not restrict or give.

Make sure horse is working from behind all the time.

Rein back – same aids as forward but keep rein. Aids may change if horse not straight.

Same contact collection and extension, but allow neck to lengthen.

Build up extension gradually at first – don’t just shoot off.

Feel things before they happen and correct i.e. before it goes visibly wrong.

When you get something good, do not drive and drive but make the horse jump.

Make sure legs and hands are used positively and effectively, closer and quicker.

When you achieve a jumping softness as opposed to a plodding softness, contain the energy, don’t let it out in front.

Make a habit of a running commentary in order to become more aware of each movement.

If horse difficult with any aid, up or down, use voice but keep using correct aid as well until voice not necessary i.e. do not strengthen aid.

Don’t use back when feel is good it may squash him.

The more you hang on to the rein without horse working behind the heavier he will be. Make him jump even if pulling.

Precision and accuracy in everything.

Quite a strong contact may be necessary top bring horse through.

Straight bit needs light contact.

Positive contact even and consistent, but never strong/hard.

Fingers closed.

Legs vital in collected work, horse lightens from activity from behind.

In canter just allow rein to be taken forward.

The key is to be able to use the leg without unbalancing the horse.

Horse is eased on the bit with close legs and breathing hands.

Horse must, as soon as possible, move in appropriate balance in front of the rider’s legs.

If the shoulder falls out in shoulder-in it could be too much inside leg.

Balance the horse on the leg, which is not more leg. He is just there positively but lightly between hand and leg.

Follow horse’s movement, shoulder and hips, nothing more nothing less.

Develop an influential seat that indicates to the horse exactly when you want.

Before you can do something you have to be able to do nothing.

Correct your riding continuously – sit in balance, straight, go with the horse, hands allowing.

The whole problem is to be able to ask in a relaxed way, very positively, but very tactfully.

Ridden thus horse can stay in front of the rider.

The most difficult problem to correct is nervous tension in rider.

Stretch upper body, head up, shoulder back, elbows to side, widen legs out of body, let them hang down, feel seat.

You need a seat that the horse cannot shift.

Middle position of your back – not hollow or round – in order to be able to sit still to the horse’s movement.

Leg and hand feel must be equal.

At rising trot go forward and up not vice versa.

Horses will not give their back to noisy/unstill riders.

Correct the seat, the body, the legs, the hands – in that order.

The weight of the rein is kept in the elbow.

Some riders have a light contact but a heavy rein influence.

The ability to feel and adjust your seat, and feel and adjust your horse – continuously.

There is only one person who can help you – yourself.

Sit square on straight lines and circles until very advanced, the only dare to use seat aids.

First check yourself, especially if things are going wrong.

Relax in downward transitions.

Brain must be open in horse and rider (relaxed) because it controls the muscles.

All aids, leg/sear/hand, must come from within a contact.

You must go to the horse first when you get on, then he will come to you.

The less they accept the hand the closer the leg must be.

Hand, seat and leg movements are all different, maintain through transitions.

Hands move forward and back, legs in and out, seat up and down.

It’s the use of the rider’s position, not allowing the horse to upset it, that gets results.

The triple contact – legs, seat and hands – enables a teamwork of aids that gives the horse a frame to work in.

You shouldn’t see the influence of the rider’s back.

It’s the rider’s legs that enable the hands to be still to the horse’s movements.

Aids not strong, only quick, not sudden and from a contact.

Beginners think of the head and neck, next they feel the back, good riders feel the whole horse.

A varying hand/leg contact can only produce an inconsistent outline in the horse.

It’s a continuous conversation with only small silences – listen.

To recognise the abnormal one must first define the normal.

Don’t float, keep waist down.

Sit with horse surely and consistently on all beats of every stride and be sure to allow.

Don’t be fluffy. Speak clearly and simply to your horse.

Rider’s head forward will bring them off the seat.

Loosen legs out of hip and let them fall down and stay there.

Trying too hard will stiffen – horse and rider.

Ride a bit stronger to get horse through perhaps, but soften once he’s there so they enjoy – without losing it!

Hands must be free to belong to the horse.

Elbows and knees bent – always – to allow free hand and leg.

Sink down in rising trot and allow yourself to be thrown up – if horse ready.

Breathe, blend and balance with the horse.

Lighten seat to get canter rounder.

Develop over time a deep, deep seat than contains, balances and allows.

Open your seat, lift rib cage, throw everything behind shoulder and down back of supple soft pelvis, thumbs up.

Seat and legs must allow horse to balloon out with a swinging back that carries the rider.

Do not teach only to know, allow to feel.

Just co-ordinate hands and legs with what you have in mind.

Take and give outside rein to slow. If horse is jogging and pulling then give and take.

If horse evades bit on one side, keep the contact and follow his head. Try to ease the other side and send forward.

If horse goes well for any aid or contact, think and try for a lighter/quicker one.

Know the paces so well that you feel the right moment to give an aid without actually counting. Feel from quarters.

Aid for impulsion with inside leg when foot coming down into the ground; for sideways when foot is coming off the ground.

Aid to go forward/impulsion is inside leg at all times, i.e. inside leg used actively, outside leg is there with same strength. Both are used, one active one passive. Same with reins.

In counter- canter keep inside leg on and outside leg back if horse falls in. Do not allow too much bend or shoulder will fall in.

A tightening of finger is sufficient for a schooled horse to make a transition down immediately. Keep legs there the whole time and still.

Steady contact just below the knee.

Look up, especially in transitions or you will have trouble in advanced work and unbalance horse.

Balance a horse long, balance him short.

Weight in stirrup must be the same in walk, sitting trot and canter; only slightly heavier in rising trot, but consistently so.

Quickness of aid vital, timing more difficult.

Loosen small of back when sitting until horse is swinging and carrying.


Your horse must find his own balance.

Do not sit on youngster when standing. He will try to avoid the weight and stand crooked.

When changing down – canter/trot, trot/walk – think shoulder-in to activate inside hind.

Horse most go forward in flying changes at canter.

Let youngster find his own balance at best pace, with activity in all paces.

Don’t wait for the perfect moment, if horse ready get on with the job.

Any swelling of fetlock or back of leg is a sure sign of too much work too soon.

Lay off for a while and then proceed at a speed to suit horse’s age/condition.

If a horse keeps pulling try giving whenever possible.

Be quick to feel horse’s mood and vary the strength of aids accordingly.

With half-pass use inside driving leg if necessary to prevent horse going too acutely. Practise less acutely than test – it’s easier to decrease angle than keep horse forward.

With a horse that bends the wrong way in corners don’t ask for correct bend right away. Try to make him straight, then after moments/months ask for correct bend.

Having achieved a good counter-canter go on to something more.

Same with flying changes, don’t stop at 4-time or you will stick there.

Don’t drive into transition, unless previous pace insufficient.

Horse must go in a good enough pace with impulsion to achieve any transition at any time.

If things go wrong in any movement do not correct, go back and start again (unless in competition!)

Horse must learn to judge fences himself. After that for big fences rider helps, but horse must know first and have confidence for an emergency.

Walk to canter is easy for schooled horse, but don’t neglect trot to canter otherwise it’s easy to lose impulsion.

Only trot to canter with young horse otherwise you risk getting an unrounded canter.

When about to turn into circle/down centre/etc. think shoulder-in and position horse.

Do not put weight on inside seat bone or horse will put inside hind too far under and out thus overshooting line.

A well-trained horse will respond equally to both reins and both legs.

Good transitions down to not need riding into. A good pace will give a good transition – up or down.

Horse must go through the hand, not just up to it.

Feel rein to ask for bend. Take rein to slow down.

Collection before real extension.

Get a young horse moving forward and a trained one with impulsion.


Each horse must work when young at the pace it finds its own balance. Do not push horse that is too much on forehand. Slow him down until he is balanced, then ask for more.

Get horse moving forward with energy, really using hind legs.

When he does this he will lower his head onto bit simultaneously.

Rhythm, deep use of hind legs, loose back begins to swing, head down, feel the energy coming through from behind.

Have horse filled with contained and balanced energy at trot before trying any movements, then try to maintain the forward surge in the movement.

Horse must go straight before he can do anything.

Do not get that working trot too fast. It is fairly slow but active and easy to sit once back is swinging.

All horses can give good and bad feels. It comes purely from the rider achieving the flow of energy through from leg to hand. The result is softness.

Don’t expect too much too quickly. Just a few strides to begin otherwise it might not be the real truth.

Horse must carry himself (and the rider) always. Self-carriage, not rider manipulation.

If quarters fall onto bit during transition down, give rein completely. He must find his own balance.

If horse improves one day, or does new movement, next day do not attempt to go on from there. Consolidate improvement before asking more.

Horse will soon become crooked working too soon in enclosed school (forehand and quarters will hug wall). Ride often on inner track.

Any resistance in mouth is serious. Sort out before going further. The solution always lies in horse working forward and swinging through – with rider allowing.

Relation between pushing with legs and taking with hands is paramount. They must be equal.

Working trot is between ordinary and collected. Novice horse capable only of ordinary trot.

In extended, ordinary, working and collected trots speed of legs should be the same, only lengths of stride, energy and elevation differs.

If horse tilts head (usually starting in lateral work) go right back until corrected.

Often caused by not being allowed to go forward sufficiently in lateral work. See these faults at the beginning and correct.

In shoulder-in any hint of quarters out is taboo. They must stay on the track.

If horse goes with head too far down then try going slightly slower with more impulsion to lighten forehand. Don’t drive too much.

If horse is not straight he probably lacks impulsion, taking the easier line and not bringing hocks underneath him.

Always keep horse’s shoulder away from wall or his quarters will go in.

Practise getting horse into the corner in walk first.

Go forward into all transitions.

Patience and more patience. Ask only a little at a time.

Start young horse on long rein at walk, then mostly trotting.

With lazy horse have patience and build up impulsion gradually.

Never hold young horse up, especially in transition. He must find his own balance.

Throughout training he must not be heavy in hand, but quietly accept the rein contact.

Horse with very active hind legs must be encouraged to use back. Create the circumstances to produce ‘IT’, but rider will only feel when ready.

Horses also can only give when ready.

Work different horses slowly for different reasons, i.e. to bring off forehand, not to antagonise lazy ones, etc.

Rhythm, circles, smaller circles, loops, transitions etc. build up gradually.

Care in ensuring horse goes truly forward in downward transition.

Start canter/walk transition on circle which helps hind leg to cope with additional activity.

If horse keeps changing at canter, let energy die away. Correct through trot by strengthening on circle.

Always establish ‘something’ as regards Way of Going before trying exercises, and later movements.

Double bridle OK fairly early, i.e. elementary, just for walk, trot or canter, but no more.

Don’t get/allow more energy than horse can carry at a particular stage.

Transitions down easier on circle.

If horse needs longer neck by being too restricted, it must come from behind before you let it out in front. Lungeing the same, get contact then lengthen side reins.

Lateral work can become an evasion. Take care horse is truly forward and through before allowing/asking sideways.

Previous pace is all important in any exercise/movement.

Front, back and side doors – open and shut as needed, i.e. neck, shoulder, quarters.

Changes from counter-canter to true canter when horse feels right.

Establish counter-canter, but then go on to changes or horse will get stuck.

Patterns must be accurate, loops must be equal.

Horse must feel he can stretch down, but don’t allow for too long, especially if he has a weak neck/big head. Do not ask or worry about bend until quarters active.

You won’t get it correctly and when horse is active it will be given.

Horse must go with enthusiasm and be happy, keep work cheerful.

If quarters in or shoulder out in canter think shoulder-in when asking for it.

The hollow side of horse is more difficult in shoulder-in.

Outline in halt must be same as previous pace.

In halt hind legs must be vertical under body, ground covered as short as possible ready to go forward or back.

Work also on long lines.

Shortened trot essential, keeping it himself, before lateral work.

When starting shortened pace, especially canter, don’t push if he breaks.

Get him jumping in trot. Just ask and be light.

Establish something and go on.

You cannot get true extension before collection, therefore in Elementary only lengthened strides.

With horse with bad action you may have to run into extension initially.

‘Contained’ is the beginning of collection.

In extension neck lengthens rather than lowers.

Shoulder in not quarters out, and you should be able to give inside rein.

Very often shoulder-in will come easier on horse’s stiff side since he goes slower.

Vary pace with transitions and feel with hands.

Once horse is working truly through then work slower and improve it. If you go faster he may run or lean.

Do not expect the same feel from every horse – that’s difficult.

Try shortening canter by taking every third beat.

The first stage of calm, forward, straight gradually develops into balance, suppleness, and swing, and later collection.

A thoroughbred may rush off against a too strong hand.

The beginning of ‘contained’ is just balance.

When horse comes into ‘one-piece’ working in balance and through, the hind legs and fore legs are placed quietly and deliberately in their place.

The horse becomes driveable the moment he comes into balance.

Impulsion allows us to go faster or slower.

In all collected movements the croup must be lowered.

Rhythm is regularity of footfalls, tempo is length of time from one footfall to another.

Cadence is rhythm plus impulsion giving the pace an extra quality expressed by an energetic lifting of the feet from the ground.

Late changes can be late with horse’s sequence in the stride, or late from rider’s aid.

The hollow side must be corrected through opposite hind.

Working trot must jump, ordinary trot must go forward.

It’s difficult if not working to a system.

Beware lateral walk on horse lacking an enthusiastic walk.

Dressage is movement. The aid is for the horse to move. The action is proof of training.

If mare in season goes dead in nerves – mouth and sides – just rest 3 or 4 days.

Once they take the bit they must then swing their back and work, otherwise it’s nothing.

Whole top line must be mobilised, first straightness ( to a degree) then roundness.

Horse must work in a balance in which they feel secure, not too fast.

Aim for that consistency in leg and hand, plus the correct speed and balance.

Some horses (a few) have to be taughtened.

When horse comes light from behind, he can then go forward to a surer feel in the hand and lightness of body.

Most horses need to be much more through in walk first, then stay there.

Different methods may be necessary for different temperaments of horse and rider, but still within the system.

Horse’s back must swing up and down at every stride. Up and stiff is as bad as hollow and stiff.

Work for ever on the basic paces.

Too strong/non-allowing contact lungeing may lead to quarters out.

Keep in mind the perfectly quiet, calm energy of the well-trained horse –straight, powerful and utterly soft.

The whole horse motoring effortlessly, light in hand and absolutely through between leg and hand.

Shoulder-in at walk OK when horse/rider learning.

Be sure horse is using his impulsion for and not against you.

You must achieve the feeling that you don’t have to do much.

Relaxation before suppleness straightness before impulsion.

Leg yield on circle.

You can hear rhythm but only see cadence. Don’t confuse cadence with tension.

Development of horse’s body must go hand in hand with the development of his mind – novice horses could not cope with changes. The shape and the stride of the horse must be equal and balanced.

As the trot improves so the grounded period lessens.

When the horse rounds down and doesn’t want to go faster then he can carry the energy.

Increase/decrease impulsion, then increase/decrease stride, until collection.

De-impulsionise if necessary to keep suppleness.

Rising trot until horse ready. Sit only when invited by the horse’s back.

Horse that leans may well produce hind leg down first.

Horse must absorb/contain/slow through back and supple quarters.

Hind legs can be too far under to carry weight, i.e. if joints not flexible.

Middle trot useful to get whole horse really working.

Impulsion must never be at the expense of suppleness.

The advantages of doing a certain exercise must outweigh the advantages of not doing it.

Balanced on forehand is OK but unbalanced not acceptable.

The silence of the stride when balanced and through.

The hands merely regulate the energy hat has been initiated behind.

To slow/balance, take softly with leg and allow neck to move as in walk.

Ensure the horse is in a position to obey then, and only then, ask.

Half-halt is a doubling of everything.

Only submission to the inside aids bring the horse to the outside aids.

Take care always with seat influence. Horse must be encouraged to use back.

Keep rein and leg aids the same, alternate aids may encourage rocking.

Movements (lateral, etc.) are a means not an end. Balance is when the weight and energy are equally distributed throughout the horse.

It is always the quarters that must be positioned first, the forehand then adjusted to them.

It’s vital to allow the surge of energy right through before containing it.

The head and neck must reflect the hind leg so that he is filled uniformly.

In flying changes the rein aid is very slight. Can sometimes prevent too much swinging of head which horse would do naturally if changing on a loose rein.

Try piaffe before passage or he may try to elevate his piaffe thereby risking unlevelness. Regular low piaffe at first.

Pirouette on centre marker rather than the corners, so that shoulder not cramped.

Use high cavaletties for starting passage.

Piaffe must have collected walk first.

Piaffe, Passage, Changes, Pirouettes are all only walk, trot and canter.

Piaffe never exactly on spot when schooling – slightly forward. Whole horse must be rounded and bounce. Not too much weight behind otherwise legs cannot be raised easily.

Not too high in passage otherwise steps will shorten.

Keep Piaffe and Passage apart in training until able to do both, then only put together.

Very, very few horses can keep same tempo in Piaffe and Passage – Piaffe slightly quicker.

Good horse will start Piaffe and Passage work after changes. He will probably achieve one-times before he perfects his P/P.

Piaffe = good suppling exercise before test – horse puts an enormous amount of energy in.

Piaff usually taught from walk/halt, and Passage from collected trot.

Canter half-pirouette – outside seat back.

Equal weight on two seat bones may change when horse is advanced.