Dressage (a French term meaning "training") is a path and destination of competitive horse training, with competitions held at all levels from amateur to the Olympics. Its fundamental purpose is to develop, through standardized progressive training methods, a horse's natural athletic ability and willingness to perform, thereby maximizing its potential as a riding horse. At the peak of a dressage horse's gymnastic development, it can smoothly respond to a skilled rider's minimal aids by performing the requested movement while remaining relaxed and appearing effortless. Dressage is occasionally referred to as "Horse Ballet." Although the discipline has its roots in classical Greek horsemanship, mainly through the influence of Xenophon, dressage was first recognized as an important equestrian pursuit during the Renaissance in Western Europe. The great European riding masters of that period developed a sequential training system that has changed little since then and classical dressage is still considered the basis of trained modern dressage.

Early European aristocrats displayed their horses' training in equestrian pageants, but in modern dressage competition, successful training at the various levels is demonstrated through the performance of "tests," or prescribed series of movements within a standard arena. Judges evaluate each movement on the basis of an objective standard appropriate to the level of the test and assign each movement a score from zero to ten - zero being "not executed" and ten being "excellent." A score of nine (or "very good") is considered a particularly high mark, while a competitor achieving all sixes (or 60% overall) should be considering moving on to the next level.

Monday, July 23, 2018

A Dressage Student's Handbook The Trot

        The trot comes in two beats, diagonal pairs, separated by a period of suspension. It is shown here in the photo above. The outside hind and the inside front in the air and travelling together, the inside hind and outside front on the ground travelling together.
         It is important that the thrust of the hind leg is the reason you post (or swing in the sitting trot), your posting or pushing must not be the reason the horse trots. Be sure to invite the horse to bounce in the period of suspension rather than push the back down. Obedience to the leg is necessary to achieve this. If you have a very hot horse that tries to run along, post very slightly slower. To do this keep yourself in the saddle just a split second longer and in the air just a split second longer. This way you are managing the balance and the tempo with your posting rhythm as well as the half halts with your reins. It can be that if you only use your reins you will loose track of the balance and natural movement of the horse, this in turn will cause you to balance on your hand and the horse will do the same, this will cause your rein aids to no longer work properly.
          If you have a lazy horse it is important not to push the horse along all of the time. Be sure to use your positive forward aids correctly and with good reaction and then go back to neutral so that your horse learns to move on its own without constant pressure. The application of the aid means go, the removal of the aid means stay the same, and is a reward. The horses are not born knowing this, so it is up to us to teach it. By neutralizing your leg aid you are allowing the horse to move freely, if he faulters, slows down or lowers his head as a response to you not squeezing or pushing you must teach him this is an incorrect response. Ride as if the correct thing will happen when you remove your leg, and push him forward and then remove the aid again. Do not get stuck in the rut of riding with a constant pushing aid because your horse misunderstands, teach him.
          If the back muscles are tense and blocked the hind leg will not be able to step under the center of gravity. This will cause difficulties in the self carriage and the aids being understood by the horse.
The goal of the rider is to find the optimum pace for the horse on a given day where the hind legs, front legs, back and neck all work together in the same size, strength and power. One then develops this through the ride to improve the strength level and suppleness of the horse. I find that it is best to return to this place of relaxation and balance often during the ride so that the horse always feels like what we ask is possible, the work is not overwhelming and they do not look to my hands, seat or reins when they loose their balance.
           Please feel free to email me at with questions!

I hope this improves your ride.

Always remember;
             Be youthful in your approach~Anything is possible~Connection is the key

Sunday, July 15, 2018

A Dressage Students Handbook The Walk

  The walk has four beats. There is no period of suspension. From this picture here you can see the distinct four footfalls.
                      1. Outside hind, just came to the round.
                      2. Outside front, on it's way to the ground
                      3. Inside hind, in the air and will come to the ground.
                      4. Inside front, has most of the weight of the horse and will be last to step forward.

         One side of the horse moves, then the other, the hind initiates the step.
          There is a slight nod in the neck which must be present in order for the back to be free and mobile. The neck must bob down and out rather than up and out. The working phase of each back muscle starts when the hind leg on the same side touches the ground. The muscles on the other side swing and relax provided the neck is allowed to nod.
          In addition to the neck I like to also feel for the rib cage swinging from one leg and into the other leg. As the hind leg comes forward there is a slight moving away of that sides rib cage. Allowing for this swing will also help the horse to stay loose in the back at the appropriate time and keep a clear walk. One can imagine one hip being picked up, pushed forward and let down, this is then repeated on the other side.
          The walk is the easiest place to spot a rider that manipulates the gaits. A horse that is not correctly through and has an artificial high head set will have to hold the  longissimus muscles in constant tension in order to hold the weight of the rider, thus causing a distortion or ambling gait (pacing).
When the neck is lowered and the forward downward nod is allowed the supraspinus ligament system is engaged to allow alternating relaxation of the longissimus muscles. For each level of understanding the amount the neck must be lowered or more correctly: allowed to lower is different. It is also possible that when a horse becomes tense from atmosphere or schooling that the neck should be allowed to come down more for a period of time and the nose allowed out and down to let the horse find that place of relaxation again before moving on.
           I find that hot horses that become tense at shows may need time with ground work, leg yields and transitions in order to find the relaxation. Loosing connection will further confuse and stress the horse, but manipulation will cause unhealthy pressure in the reins and a gait distortion. So staying focused on the swing, connection and proper reaction to the aids will bring relaxation and ultimately a correct pace.
            Please let me know if you have any questions!
             I hope this helps your ride!

               To be continued.....

                  Be youthful in your approach ~ Know anything is possible ~ Connection is the Key


Friday, July 13, 2018

Dressage Student's Handbook continued

              Understanding how your horse moves:

                                           Each horse will have positive attributes and even the most athletic horse will have a weak link. It is important to constantly be aware of the optimum gait on each given day.
                                           Knowing some basic conformation and how the energy moves through the horse will help you better influence your horse when riding. Watch horses move live. Get familiar with the four beats of the walk, two beats in the trot and three beats in the canter. This should become natural to watch over time and positive attributes should start to be noticeable quickly as you become more fluent. Does the horse move in balance front and hind? Are the steps rhythmical and the same size?  Is there relaxation in the joints? Does the hind leg reach under the balance of the horse or push out behind? Does the horse move over the shoulder?
                      No matter what movement the horse is doing pure gaits should persist.
                                           We add lateral work and upper level movements to clean, good gaits. The gaits are improved in suppleness and impulsion with movements, however, they need to be clean and relaxed before you add difficulty. Relaxation is built on understanding, so when tension creeps in causing rhythm problems step back, connect the dots for your horse and then move forward. When you have a particular area that you know your horse gets tense think of ways ahead of time to present the information in understandable chunks and make it possible for your horse to do it right. More small questions that get the right answers will benefit the training better than a big question that creates confusion and refusal. When you take your lessons be aware that your focus is just as much on communicating correctly with your horse as it is with making your instructor happy. Your instructor seeing your horse understand you will be happy!! When something does not make sense it is best to ask a question during a break rather then put extra miles on your horse in confusion.

                                           In the next chapter we will go into the gaits more thoroughly. So be sure to stay tuned. If you have questions please comment below, or email me

         Be youthful in your approach, know anything is possible, connection is the key!

                                                To be continued.....