Showing posts with label Dressage Today. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dressage Today. Show all posts

Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Secret to Following Your Horse’s Motion

Liz Steacie shares advice to help riders find a better sitting trot. Plus, try her unmounted exercise to get a better feel.

Learning to sit the trot effectively and to appear relaxed and in harmony with the horse is perhaps one of the biggest challenges in the world of dressage. Many of today’s dressage horses have big, bouncy trots that can be daunting for even experienced riders with supple seats. It is, however, very important that every rider develop her ability to sit the trot in order to influence the horse effectively during the trot work. So think of sitting trot as proactive rather than reactive.

An open angle between the hip and thigh also will lead to the softly draped long leg that is advantageous in many ways. In this position, the rider is correctly balanced and properly aligned to ride the sitting trot. (Photo by Amy K. Dragoo)

The first step a rider must accomplish is the correct position in the saddle. You want a tall, correctly aligned body position, a supple waist and strong abdominal muscles. The upper body must be very straight and placed directly over the hips. A viewer should be able to draw a straight line from the rider’s ear through the shoulder and hip to the heel, and that line should be exactly perpendicular to the ground.

The pelvis should be centered in the deepest part of the saddle and balanced between the two seat bones and the pubic bone. (If too much weight is placed on the seat bones, the rider will be behind the motion and behind the vertical with her upper body; if too much weight is placed on the pubic bone, the rider will be perched on her crotch and tipped forward.) Sit as tall as possible. While lightly balanced on the seat bones and pubic bone. Your back should be close to flat and your head carried over nicely squared shoulders and a raised an open chest.

Once the seat is balanced, the rider needs to open the angle between the hip and thigh allowing the legs to drop down almost vertically from the hip. It is the open angle between the hip and thigh that will enable the rider to use her hips to influence the trot. This open angle also will lead to the softly draped long leg that is advantageous in many ways. In this position, the rider is correctly balanced and properly aligned to ride the sitting trot.

To ride the sitting trot, the rider must make her waist supple—not loose and floppy, but elastic and supple. The very slight pelvic motion involves pushing the pelvis down and toward the hands through relaxation of the waist and abdominal muscles. The timing of the motion is critical—the rider must straighten as the horse begins the stride and then push down and slightly forward just before the completion of the stride. In this way, you can “bounce” the next stride with your seat, just by allowing yourself to relax down into the saddle.

You can get the feeling of the pelvic motion while dismounted: Stand against a straight wall with your heels, hips and shoulders touching the wall, and your knees slightly bent. Place your hands over your tummy, just below your navel. Using your abdominal muscles, push your back toward the wall—this is the “straightening” phase of the sitting trot. Relax your abdominal muscles toward your hands and allow your back to fall away from the wall—this is the relaxing or “pushing down” phase of the sitting trot. At no time should you grind your seat bones into the saddle to try to sit more “into” the horse—this is uncomfortable for the horse and counter productive.

Once a rider has the timing and strength to follow the motion of the gait, she will be able to change the trot strides wit just a little more emphasis on the pelvic motion—straighter and taller for a shorter, bouncier stride and more down and forward for lengthening the stride. Influencing the trot involves “riding the stride,” rather than going with the motion. The rider must be balanced and poised in the saddle and able to anticipate the stride. When this is done correctly, she is very slightly ahead of the motion of the trot, and by being slightly ahead, has a good opportunity to influence the size and shape of the next stride. So, rather than following the motion of the trot, a rider can lead the motion of the trot, thereby staying in balance and harmony with the horse.

This article first appeared in the November 2004 issue of Dressage Today. It is republished here with permission. Liz Steacie placed second in the 1999 Canadian World Cup League Final. She is the FEI rider representative on Dressage Canada’s High Performance Committee. She and her husband, Adam, own and operate Porcupine Hill Dressage, a training and sales facility in Brockville, Ontario.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

How Studying Biomechanics Enhances Your Dressage Training

The study of biomechanics provides the basis for understanding multiple facets of dressage.

What sets apart the horse who has amazing expression in his work from others? If you were to ask an engineer or someone who studies movement, he or she would use biomechanics to analyze the question. Biomechanics is the study of the forces that affect movement of the body. It examines how muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments operate together for a horse to walk, passage or perform lateral movements.

Biomechanics is the study of the forces that affect movement of the body. It examines how muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments operate together for a horse to walk, passage or perform lateral movements. (Amy K. Dragoo)

Different anatomical structures work in synchrony. The bones are the support structure. They are rigid and provide a framework. The joints’ anatomy dictates their degree of mobility (range of motion). Ligaments are the connections between bones, frequently involving joints. They are strong and flexible, allowing for distinct movement of a joint while providing stability. The muscles serve to propel the horse and to stabilize. For every muscle that moves a joint in one direction, there is typically a countering muscle that can pull the joint in the other direction. When the opposing muscles work in unison, both firing in balance, they stabilize joints. This equilibrium keeps the legs rigid when weight- bearing, the back from breaking and the head elevated and in motion with the horse’s movement.

The study of biomechanics provides the basis for understanding multiple facets of dressage, such as how neck position affects the forehand, back and hindquarters. It explains why it takes time for young horses to develop the strength to travel uphill with self-carriage and with an extended forehand. It also reinforces the importance of proper rider core strength and position to support the horse. It is necessary in comprehending how injuries and resulting pain can prevent horses from progressing and performing.

Biomechanics explains how riding with the neck lowered affects the entire length of the horse. This position produces traction through the ligaments and muscles of the topline, of the neck and back, causing the back to flex, or round. It moves the center of gravity forward with more weight distributed to the forehand, thus strengthening the muscles suspending the thorax. With the back flexing, the workload of the abdominal muscles increases. The advantages of incorporating exercises in a lowered neck position include strengthening the areas mentioned above.

An understanding of biomechanics can facilitate riding and training. Research has shown that the muscles involved with suspending the thorax within the shoulder blades affect the horse’s ability to move in an uphill carriage with a protracted forehand stride. These “sling muscles” raise the withers within the shoulder blades as they become stronger. The sling muscles consist of the pectoral muscles in the chest area and the serratus ventralis muscles between the rib cage and the scapula. Strength and training of these muscles lifts the front. As the front end raises, the hind end can sit and accept more weight to propel the horse.

Working in an uphill carriage or with the neck lowered can have positive and negative effects on a horse’s body depending on the nature of his biomechanics. The constructive effects of work done correctly and progressively are strengthening of the target areas and the horse learning to carry himself. Training with the head lowered could potentially stress an existing front leg problem by shifting the center of balance forward. By the same token, it can be a helpful position in strengthening a horse with kissing spines (impinging dorsal spinous processes). An uphill position may not be obtainable for a horse with sacroiliac or hind-limb discomfort.

In the case of a horse who exhibits some kind of physical discomfort during training, a veterinarian frequently correlates his or her diagnosis of a specific area of soreness to what a rider is feeling or a sign the horse is showing. An example would be lower neck pain on the right preventing a horse from bending to the right or not picking up the right lead. Horses can have multiple areas of soreness. Biomechanics is key in understanding what problems are causing the signs the horse is exhibiting.

Biomechanics encompasses most aspects of riding and training. It is the science behind how a saddle interacts with the horse’s back, how a horse compensates for an unbalanced rider, what a rider feels with a lameness and more. It is not a necessity for a rider to comprehend all aspects of biomechanics of the horse, although it does enhance the understanding of training and riding.

Resources for Studying Biomechanics 

Biomechanics can be approached from a superficial level to an in-depth study. The Internet is always a source with both valid and less-than-reliable information. Dr. Hilary Clayton has been one of the greatest sources of research and literature pertaining to equine biomechanics. She appears online in videos and articles and has papers available on many biomechanics topics. For more comprehensive studies there are books on equine biomechanics. Biomechanics and Physical Training of the Horse by Jean-Marie Denoix is written for the rider/trainer with an overview of anatomy, biomechanics and analysis of specific riding exercises. The Dynamic Horse by Dr. Hilary Clayton thoroughly covers the science of biomechanics.

Scott Anderson, DVM, graduated from the Virginia/Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1984. He attended the Eastern School of Farriery and was a practicing farrier prior to becoming a veterinarian. He was one of the first veterinarians in the U.S. to become certified in equine acupuncture by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society. He is also certified in veterinary chiropractic medicine through the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association. Owner of Woodside Equine Clinic, he specializes in sports medicine and lameness and is based in Ashland, Virginia. Visit

This article first appeared in the August 2018 issue of Dressage Today and is re-published here with permission.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Dressage Schooling Notebook: An Exercise of Circles

Improve your horse’s straightness and contact with this dressage training exercise from Gerhard Politz.


Walk or trot your horse on a 20-meter circle in the direction that he feels hollow—where he tries to avoid contact. At the centerline, ride a change of rein and do a 10-meter volte.


  • Straightens your horse.
  • Encourages your horse to stretch his body into the rein on his hollow side and, eventually, helps you get more equal contact on both reins.

How to Do It:

  1. You first need to determine which is your horse’s stiff side and which is his hollow side. On his hollow side, he will have a tendency to bring his haunches in and fall through his outside shoulder. Falling through the outside shoulder becomes more obvious when riding circles or lateral movements such as shoulder-in. As a result, the contact on the outside rein becomes stronger because your horse tries to avoid contact on his hollow side.
  2. Begin riding a 20-meter circle on your horse’s hollow side in an energetic walk, working trot or an impulsive collected trot, according to your horse’s capabilities and stage of training. Let’s assume your horse is hollow to the right. Ride a 20-meter circle to the right. You will feel that the contact on your inside, right rein is lighter than on the outside, left rein. The measure of difference in the contact is related to the severity of stiff-versus-hollow side
  3. When you reach the centerline, ride a 10-meter volte to the left, to the outside of the 20-meter circle. Use your inside, left rein to bend your horse quite obviously in the neck. When your horse releases the inside muscles of his neck, his neck becomes somewhat concave. When that happens, immediately lighten the contact on your inside rein and allow your horse to stretch into the outside rein. Your inside leg is at the girth and your outside leg is behind the girth to ensure the bend and to prevent your horse’s haunches from falling out. If you ride the circle in the middle of the arena, you can repeat the outside volte on the opposite side of the 20-meter circle, thus linking two voltes to the bigger circle.
  4. Repeat this exercise several times, and you will feel that your horse is increasingly ready to take contact on the outside rein in the volte. It is important, however, that you keep giving the inside rein on the volte whenever possible. Remember that this is the rein on which your horse wants to be heavy when you ride the 20-meter circle.

Tips for Success:
  • Begin at the walk to introduce and familiarize yourself with the exercise. Pay attention to the quality of the walk and the degree of “forward.” Do not allow your horse to walk “like a snail on vacation.”
  • Make sure you don’t wrench your horse with your hands around the circle and volte.

Variations of this exercise improve the straightness and strength of your horse’s hollow side, confirming him in that rein, and make him lighter on the opposite, heavier rein. Your horse will become suppler and more flexible, his collection will be enhanced and his shoulders will become free. Because of the loosening and suppling effects, these variations also help address problems arising from a “passagey” or “hovering” trot. In addition, your riding skills will improve considerably if you strive for meticulously correct execution of the movements.

  • To increase the gymnastic value of this exercise, incorporate lateral work. For example, begin with shoulder-in right on the 20-meter circle. On the centerline, change rein to a 15-meter circle riding haunches-in left. Make sure you often release the inside, left rein on the smaller circle just as you did previously in the volte so your horse takes a better contact on the outside rein. Then at the centerline change rein again to the 20-meter circle to shoulder-in right. Over time, the degree of difficulty can be enhanced by downsizing the 15-meter circle to a 10-meter volte.
  • Vary riding shoulder-in right and renvers on the 20-meter circle. Eventually go from renvers to a 15-meter circle or smaller outside circle in haunches-in.

Before you include lateral work on circles, it is advisable that you acquire good knowledge of riding lateral work on straight lines. It is very easy to misjudge and overdo the bend and angle of lateral movements when riding them on circles. This would throw the horse onto his shoulders and be totally contrary to the purpose of lateral work. Also, make sure you don’t overdo the angles in lateral work and don’t wrench your horse around with your hands since serious drawbacks will occur, such as the horse losing regularity of the gait, impulsion and possibility of collection.

A Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI)-level competitor and trainer, Gerhard Politz emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1987. He is a Reitlehrer Fn, a British Horse Society Instructor and a U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) gold medalist. In Germany, he studied with masters such as Egon von Neindorff and Willi Schultheis as well as Gen. Kurt Albrecht, former head of the Spanish Riding School. In 1992, Politz joined the editorial board of the USDF Instructor’s Manual. He works out of the Flintridge Riding Club in Pasadena, California.   

Friday, June 21, 2019

How Dressage Horses Benefit from Variety

Courtney King-Dye explains the importance of days off, hack days and regular turnout.

Horses are like people; a weekend off helps them work better. I always give my horses one day off and a hack one day a week. The young ones I often have jump if I feel they like it. Again, like people, sometimes variety makes concentration easier.

Often if my horses are too heavy and can’t work harder to lose weight, or if they need to build more muscle, or, if like Idy [Idocus, her World Cup partner], they just enjoy a hack, I’ll have them be ridden up hills for a session in addition to their work three days a week. Hills are a good additional way to work without challenging the mind.

I also think it’s crucial for a students to ride on their own to make sure they’re independent and not relying on their instructor. My clients who are in full training get four lessons a week. The horse has one hack day, one day off and the client has one day to ride on her own. It’s one thing to be able to do something if you’re told to, and it’s another to recognize a problem on your own. That’s the difference between a good rider and a good trainer.

I also am a big believer in turnout for exercise as well as for chilling out, if horses like it. When I got Mythy [Harmony’s Mythilus, her 2008 Olympic partner] the previous trainer told me not to turn him out. I did anyway, and he just stood by the gate petrified. So he’s one of the few horses I never turned out.

I know turnout can be dangerous, so I do it as safely as possible in a small, not muddy paddock with the horse all booted up. Even with all these precautions in a paddock the size of a postage stamp, Rendezvous (a Grand Prix mare) broke her leg. I know some people aren’t willing to take the risk, and I don’t blame them. But we’re in the sport because we love horses, and turnout is the most similar to their natural environment, so I’m willing to take that risk. It’s hard. Every time I’d turn Idy out, he’d gallop joyfully around. He had a blast showing everyone how fast he could go. I was always terrified, but I’d prefer him to die like that, joyfully gallivanting, than be safe yet miserable in a stall.

Courtney King-Dye represented the United States in the 2008 Olympic Games riding Harmony’s Mythilus and at the 2007 and 2008 World Cups aboard Idocus. She is a U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) Certified Instructor through Fourth Level and USDF gold medalist. For six years, she was assistant trainer to Olympic Lendon Gray. Her website is

Friday, May 24, 2019

Rules of the Ring: Universal Dressage Ring Etiquette

Rules of the Ring: Universal Dressage Ring Etiquette

Beth Beukema shares 12 rules to help riders determine who has the right of way in a crowded arena.

The rules of ring etiquette are flexible and adaptable to the given situation. While riding, the safety of horse and rider should always be the first priority and common courtesy should also be present. When riding in a group, remember to communicate with other riders and keep an eye on patterns and attitudes of the horses around you. However, here are a few standard rules that should help.

Right-of-Way Rules

1. In general, riders should pass left shoulder to left shoulder.

2. Remain on the second track when working at the walk.

3. Announce, in a loud voice, when you are entering and exiting the arena.

4. Keep at least one horse’s length between you and another horse.

5. Don’t ride up the tail of any horse. Turn across the arena.

6. Use the second and third tracks. The most used part of the ring is the track—the outermost path around the ring going in to each corner. When many horses are utilizing the same space, it may be necessary to use the second and third tracks. The second track is just to the inside of the outer track, leaving just enough space to pass between you and the rail. The third track is two meters (6 ½ feet) from the rail and allows even more room for horses to safely pass you on the outside.

7. When riding a circle, look in the direction you are going and ride on the second track. This allows other riders to pass you on the outside and not cut through your circle. If you doubt that another rider is aware you are circling, you may call out “circle,” to let others know your intentions before moving to the second or third track.

8. Faster horses or horses traveling at a faster gait should avoid getting too close behind other horses. This can be achieved by circling or utilizing ring figures such as a half-diagonal, serpentine or turning across the B-E line.

9. In a lesson situation, the person under instruction should have the right-of-way. Other riders in the arena can be listening to the instructor and anticipating where the horse and rider in the lesson will be going next.

10. Green horses and beginner riders should be given more space by more experienced riders, who also should keep an eye out for the possible out-of-control moments that green horses and riders may experience.

11. Upper-level horses can be intimidating to a lower-level rider as they come across the diagonals. However, the basic patterns they follow are the same as at the lower levels. They should be treated as any horse and rider would be. By making eye contact, you can avoid potential collisions.

12. The use of voice is another tool to gain the attention of focused riders and to let them know where you are planning to go.

These rules are a good starting point for approaching a ring full of horses. However, there are many situations that call for deviations from the basic rules. If a 3-year-old horse has an explosive moment and comes leaping across the diagonal while you are pleasantly trying to leg yield on a line that has now turned into a collision course with a spring-loaded youngster, you need to stay out of the way. Riding requires tact, timing and coordination with your horse as well as the other riders in the arena.

This article first appeared in the November 2004 issue of Dressage Today.

Beth Beukema is president of the Intercollegiate Dressage Association, a U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) bronze and silver medalist and a U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) dressage “R” judge. She is associate professor of equine studies at Johnson & Wales University and directs its Center for Equine Studies in Rehoboth, Massachusetts.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Nutritional Challenges in the Dressage Horse

Understand three common issues that might be affecting your equine athlete

 Clair Thunes, PhD
Credit: Amy K. Dragoo

In my role as an independent equine nutritionist, I work with a lot of dressage athletes. For the most part, these horses are fairly straightforward in terms of their nutritional needs. However, there are three common problems that I have observed: insufficient trace minerals, inadequate vitamin E and a lack of quality protein.

Many dressage horses are relatively easy keepers, able to maintain their desired body weight with little more than quality hay. As a result, owners often feed minimal amounts of fortified commercial feeds. As these horses are used for competitive goals, the products selected tend to be performance feeds. On the surface this appears to make sense. However, these feeds typically have serving sizes upward of 6 pounds per day. When fed at one scoop per day (many 3-quart scoops hold no more than about 3 pounds of these feeds), inadequate levels of vital trace minerals and vitamins are consumed. The horse’s condition may be perfect and his coat may be good because adequate calories and protein are being consumed, however, trace-mineral deficiencies may exist. Commonly, copper and zinc are the minerals most affected. Copper is necessary for the formation of collagen, which is the foundation of bone, ligaments and tendons. Zinc is involved in more than 300 processes in the body and is an important component in immune-system function and hoof health. Both play roles in skin health and coat condition and color. Over time, sub-optimal intakes of these nutrients may have detrimental effects on your horse’s health. If you are feeding a commercially fortified feed at intakes lower than the manufacturer’s recommended levels, your horse’s diet may be deficient in these key minerals and potentially may also be unbalanced. When the balance between various minerals is outside of ideal ranges, even in the face of adequate intakes of each mineral, absorption may be impacted and deficiencies may still exist.

Vitamin E is necessary to reduce oxidative stress and cellular damage caused by working muscles, which generate free radicals, the by-products of the oxidative processes occurring within cells. Free radicals are molecules with an unstable electrical charge. In an attempt to become stable, they steal electrons from other molecules, setting up a chain reaction that can result in damage to cell components. Antioxidants, such as vitamin E, bind to free radicals or inhibit them in some way, helping to stop the damaging chain reaction. Insuring adequate quantities of antioxidants helps to reduce oxidative stress and the associated cellular damage. Vitamin E is present in large quantities in good-quality fresh pasture, however, it is not heat-stable, and levels in hay are low. Although included in most commercial feeds, the amount consumed by your horse may or may not be adequate to meet his needs. This is because not only are there different types of vitamin E with different levels of absorption (natural d-alpha tocopherol is better absorbed than synthetic dl-alpha tocopherol), but utilization once absorbed varies from horse to horse. Signs of inadequate vitamin E supply include muscle soreness, stiffness and slower-than-expected recovery after work. Additionally, some horses appear to have a hard time building adequate muscling for the level of work they are doing. Given the individual variability in vitamin E utilization, I recommend having your veterinarian take a blood sample and test the level of vitamin E and selenium (another important antioxidant) and then supplement as necessary based on the results.

Another cause of difficulty building adequate muscle and improving an under-developed topline in dressage horses is inadequate quality protein. While the majority of diets provide more than adequate levels of crude protein, the quality may not insure the necessary essential amino acids. Protein quality is determined by the proportion of essential amino acids making up that protein. These are amino acids that must be present in the diet because the horse is unable to make them himself. Often horses in need of a better-quality protein source are in good weight but look skinny along their toplines. Owners sometimes believe that their horses are underweight, but feeding more calories would likely result in the horse becoming obese. The issue may not be a lack of calories, but rather a lack of quality protein. Under developed necks, a lack of muscling along the back under the saddle area and an angular rump may indicate a need for a better-quality protein source. Many commercial feeds include essential amino acids, however, if being fed at less than the required daily intake, this can leave the diet short.

All of these deficiencies are easy to remedy through the careful reading of feed tags, correct choice of feeds and the targeted use of supplements. Removing these deficiencies from your horse’s diet will help insure that his feeding regimen is providing everything he needs so he can handle his workload and reach his full athletic potential.

Clair Thunes, PhD, graduated from the University of California, Davis, in 2005. Born and raised in England, she is an independent equine nutritionist and owner of Summit Equine Nutrition LLC, an equine nutrition consulting company based in Sacramento, California, that works with horses of all types and levels.

Re-published article with permission from Dressage Today.

Monday, January 21, 2019

What's Behind Syndication

Faye Woolf, sponsor of Silva and Boyd Martin, on how to make a successful syndication


Often when a rider syndicates a horse, they are offering an upper level competitor with the hope of taking the horse to the next level. In the case of the Rosa Cha W Syndicate, Silva Martin imported her homebred mare Rosa Cha W from Australia and rallied a group of supporters when the mare was just starting out at training level. Silva is an accomplished rider and some of the original syndicate members, like Faye Woolf, already owned horses for Silva and a) believed in her as a rider, b) trusted her judgment where this young prospect was concerned and c) wanted to support her competitive endeavors.

Fast forward to 2014 and Silva and Rosa Cha W represented the United States at the Adequan Still Point Farm Nations Cup, where they helped bring home the team gold medal. When they performed their Freestyle on Friday night of the competition and earned fourth place individually in that class, several syndicate members were there cheering her on.

Faye, who owns Ying Yang Yo, the horse that brought Boyd to America for his first Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, recalls when Silva first reached out to her. “Silva approached me and I felt like she was an enormous talent and she deserved the help,” says Faye. “I was thrilled to be part of it. Boyd was already well-known but not so much Silva at that point and I wanted to help her make a go of it here in the United States.”

Faye used to have more time to the farm visit often and see the horses in training. Silva also rode her horse Aesthete to wins at Dressage at Devon before he was sidelined with an injury. When Stately was competing, Faye had a double reason to travel to shows; in the past year or so she has been busy with business start-ups and hasn’t had as much time to spend with the horses, but she remains strongly involved by phone and email.

“Silva doesn’t skip anything, she takes her time and lays such a solid foundation for a young horse, and seeing Rosa from 5-years-old the slow layering of her fundamentals and her progression – which I really saw when I was able to go to the shows more – is so fantastic,” Faye says. “She has really taken her time and let Rosa mature physically as well as mentally, and that’s a hard thing to do.”

Everybody chooses to own horses for their own personal reasons. Faye says, “My motivation has always been to support somebody that I feel deserves the chance, who has a great work ethic, and a great person just needs a leg up, so to speak. Becky [Holder] is also that to me, I supported her for many years in eventing and still would today. The way Silva brings horses along, her beliefs are my beliefs. It’s also critical to have a good relationship with the horse, and Rosa is a delight to be around. I wouldn’t be part of a situation if I didn’t feel that way about the horse.”

She also points out that strong partnerships are more important than competitive success, in her case. “Having grown up in eventing and it being such a high-risk sport, I don’t know if it’s my nature or whatever, horses have always been my outlet. In business you have to be competitive and in horses I don’t feel that way, maybe because in eventing you just want everyone to come home safe and sound! But my motivation isn’t competitive success; Silva is so incredibly deserving of the support because of everything she personifies, that is important to me: her work ethic, her patience, her inclusiveness. She is great to all of us and she really takes the time to make us feel part of this. She is always so gracious in her gratefulness to all of us syndicate members for helping her achieve this, and the huge bonus is her immense talent. For me, on top of all these great qualities she has as a human being and a trainer, she’s incredibly talented.”

Of course competitive success is the goal of the syndicate, and Faye confirms, “I would be thrilled for Silva to achieve competitive success. It’s de facto why you do it—to help her achieve her dreams and goals.”

Having owned horses as an individual and as part of a syndicate, Faye believes that syndication is the way forward for riders looking to succeed internationally. “In today’s time it’s so expensive to be a sole owner, and through syndication so many more people can be owners,” she points out. “I think it will allow the United States to have a deeper bench and it allows people to be part of this that otherwise would feel like they couldn’t be part of it, for whatever reason. We have the ability to field teams that are competitive and I think we’re on the upswing for that with what the dressage community is doing as a whole, defining goals and executing the tactics to reach those goals. More of us can be a part of that through syndication. We can bring more people into the structure we need, as a community, to reach those goals. That is what is so critical about the whole syndication structure.”

For riders looking to syndicate a horse the old saying, “It never hurts to ask” is 100 percent true. Faye encourages riders to just go for it. “You have to come to the realization that you may not like the answer, but you have to ask. If you’re not successful, dust yourself off and refine your message until you get a yes. Don’t be afraid!”

Monday, October 29, 2018

Learn How to Be More in the Moment When Riding

Author and dressage trainer Dominique Barbier offers advice on how to be more focused when working with your dressage horse.


Q: I am trying to be more at one with my horse mentally. I try to be in the moment, but I’m not always successful. Any tips would be appreciated.
Name withheld by request

Dominique Barbier

A: If I may rephrase the question, perhaps it would be better to say, “I would like to be one with my horse. What tips can you offer?” For if we are not in the moment, we cannot be one with the horse, and if we are not in the moment, we cannot be focused. Therefore, the questions should be how to be present, how to be available and how to be capable of being one:

First of all, you need to be one with yourself before you attempt to be one with another being. This is beyond the mechanical, physical aspects of riding. Your mental attitude is more important than your physical attitude. Meditation, breathing, a good understanding of yoga, contemplation—each of these techniques allows you to know yourself better and be able to feel a calmness and a freedom that will allow you to feel closer to a greater consciousness. All this means is that if you are able to breathe correctly with your horse and stay mentally with him, slowly the process will bring you to a common understanding and a greater unity. There is no need to ride, there is only a need to be. Slowly and progressively you will feel a completeness and a union of the mind that will help you to feel closer to your goal.

The simple exercise of longeing and work in-hand will create the foundation for your mental communication and deepen your sense of being together. Later, when you ride with your concentration on very basic points (direction, rhythm, bend, lightness), the use of simple breathing exercises, while on the horse, will help you to put your body in a union with his movement. Then the mind will help you to project your vision through shoulder-in, haunches-in and pirouette at the walk first, then shoulder-in and haunches-in at the trot. By then, if you get a correct (rhythmic and energetic) shoulder-in at the walk and trot and correct haunches-in at the walk and trot, with your horse on the bit and in lightness, you should have a good feel of togetherness with your horse. A horse cannot be in lightness if he is not on the bit. To me, “on the bit” means the horse is 100 percent mentally and physically with you.

Things you should avoid: If you are pushing or kicking your friend in the belly with the leg or using spurs, you have a recipe for separation. If you kick your friend, pull on the reins and tell him mentally what you want to do, you will never be able to fulfill your goal. Riding a horse is strictly communication between beings. If you have any sort of aggressive attitude, mentally or physically, you will not achieve oneness. Happiness and joy are the best ingredients for oneness.

Dominique Barbier is a native of France who trained with the late Nuno Oliveira in Portugal. The author of numerous books, including his latest, Meditation for Two, he and his wife, Debra, run Barbier Farms in Healdsburg, California (

Friday, August 24, 2018

Increase Your Horse's Responsiveness to Your Aids

Sabine Rijssenbeek explains how to improve this aspect of communication between horse and rider.


Q: My 10-year-old warmblood mare is quite lazy. She does not respond to the whip. She simply ignores it. She never puts her ears back or gets angry. While I love that she hardly ever spooks and is not really excitable, I would like some advice on how I can get her more responsive to the whip. She has excellent breeding, and the vet can’t find anything wrong with her.

Janet Lorenz
Aurora, Illinois

Sabine Rijssenbeek

A: Good communication between a horse and rider is a basic foundation in proper training. The horse’s willingness to move forward is essential. To improve your mare’s response to the whip, I suggest the following procedure. Keep in mind that to develop throughness and good impulsion, the horse needs to respond to the leg aids with the whip as additional support. I have used this procedure successfully many times to develop the desired response between horse and rider.

Step 1: You will first need to longe your mare on a 15-meter circle. The goal is to bring her into a very light frame on the bit. Use a longer-than-normal longe whip with a long lash and simple side reins. The whip needs to be able to reach the haunches of the horse, and the side reins should be long enough that the mare can achieve the desired roundness under saddle with her nose not behind the vertical. She should be able to move freely forward with a light connection. Adjust the size of the circle accordingly. After warming up at the walk, send your mare into a nice forward trot. When she slows down, use the whip at or around her haunches to encourage forward movement. Longe in both directions and do transitions between trot and canter. The goal of this exercise is to get your horse active using the whip, which will be helpful once under saddle.

Step 2: The next step is to bring the horse alongside you, in the middle of the arena, still in side reins. Using an extra-long dressage whip, tap your mare just behind the girth, then move the whip toward her haunches to determine where she is most sensitive. The goal is to get the horse to move sideways away from the whip. If the side reins inhibit sideways movement, remove them. To tap your horse, use a quick double-tap rhythm. An assertive double tap is always more effective than one hard crack of the whip. After completing the exercise in both directions, you should be able to determine where your horse is most sensitive to the whip.

Step 3: Now you will need the help of a trainer or trusted, experienced rider. The rider should be in the saddle, with no side reins and the reins in light connection. The helper on the ground should have the longe line attached to the bit. The helper will double tap your horse (as with Step 2) in the most sensitive area, prompting sideways, not forward, movement. One side will be more sensitive than the other. The goal is to get the hind legs to make quick, almost trot-like steps away from the whip. When your horse responds, the helper will tap her when the inside hind leg is in the process of leaving the ground. This is extremely important. My experience is that horses react better with this exercise when they can move sideways rather than forward. Don’t ask for more than five steps at this point.

Step 4: Next, with the helper still holding the horse from the ground, the rider will use a dressage whip, in the exact same spot and with the same double-tap rhythm and intensity, to get the same reaction. But now she will also incorporate the leg aid. If your horse does not react with the same sideways movement, the helper on the ground will immediately double tap with her whip to get the reaction.

Step 5: Next, the rider and helper will move to the rail and remove the longe line. With the helper positioned at a safe distance at the shoulder of your horse, the rider will again double tap your horse while using leg aids in the same rhythm to get forward movement. Remember that the helper should use the same intensity and rhythm with the whip. If your horse does not immediately move forward, the helper will again double tap her from the ground.

Once your horse moves swiftly forward, both rider and helper should stop right away and praise the horse by using the voice, pats on the neck or treats. Repeat the exercise six or seven times with the helper on the ground to ensure your horse understands and receives praise. The goal is to get your mare to react more quickly each time. Be sure that the rider changes reins and repeats the exercise in the other direction and uses the whip on the opposite side of the horse’s body. Don’t be alarmed if your horse takes quick trot steps—this is exactly the reaction you want.

Step 6: Once your horse understands the exercise, ask again for forward trot from the saddle, but this time do not stop. Instead, double tap the horse again and ask for a quicker tempo. Be sure you are using your other driving aids in the same rhythm of the whip. Every time your horse begins to slow, use the whip and aids to again encourage a quicker tempo. Try to ride as many straight lines as possible during this exercise and don’t change direction until you are certain your horse understands. The reason you need to ride straight lines is that you want your horse to focus only on reacting quickly and moving straight forward in response to the aids. Be sure to keep your horse at the desired pace for at least a few minutes in each direction. Repeat the exercise at the canter going in both directions. Be sure to continue to praise your horse when she responds.

Horses respond well and like routine work. It is extremely important to repeat these exercises over and over again until the forward movement becomes confirmed in your horse.

Sabine Rijssenbeek is a native of the Netherlands and holds a Level 3 International Trainer’s Passport (highest level in the Netherlands). She was short-listed for the 1980 Moscow Olympics and has trained Olympic and Dutch National Championship horses. She is located in California.

Friday, July 20, 2018

An Inside Look at Top Dressage Show Management

Learn what keeps some of the country’s largest showgrounds ready for competition.

Jennifer Mellace

Credit: Terri Miller The HITS showground in Saugerties, New York, hosts dressage events, including international CDIs.

When you travel to a dressage show for the day or weekend, do you ever wonder what is behind keeping the grounds show-ready? With the cost of high-end footing and the amount of thought that goes into keeping horse and rider safe, it’s no wonder there are only a handful of world-class facilities available for international-level competitions (CDIs). Here are some of the costs and challenges faced by the country’s largest facilities.

Footing is one of the largest investments a showground can make. Dianne Boyd is the U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) Show Manager at Dressage at Devon (DAD) and manages a number of shows at other facilities. “In general, footing and stabling are the two most expensive components of maintaining a show facility,” she says. “The footing needs to be maintained at least twice a day, weather permitting. Drags may be required more often, depending on specific show requirements [like a regional championship or CDI]. Footing also needs to be prepped before the show management arrives, and this can involve dragging and watering over several days before show setup.”

Although DAD rents the Pennsylvania-based showgrounds, it is responsible for the new footing that has gone in over recent years. Lori Kaminski, president and CEO of DAD, believes that if a showground is going to stay competitive, it must keep its footing up to standards. In 2010 and 2011, DAD replaced the old sand footing in both main arenas with state-of-the-art EuroFelt. After that work had been completed, new USEF rules for footing stated that all CDI horses must be able to warm up on the same footing on which they will be competing. Fortunately, through many generous donations, DAD was able to raise the estimated $300,000 it took to replace the footing in the warm-up arenas to bring it up to the standard of the others.

Glenda McElroy, of Cornerstone Event Management in California, runs many dressage CDIs at public facilities on the West Coast. “Footing is an ongoing issue at most public facilities because so many different types of horse shows want to rent the facilities, and they all have their own requirements for footing,” she says. “While I don’t have to keep up the grounds, many times I do have to pay to tractor and level the ground and then pay to add footing.”

Tenants and owners of showgrounds agree that in order for dressage shows to be successful, the footing must be up to par. “Proper footing is a wonderful investment,” says Ginny Rattner, owner of DevonWood Equestrian Center in Sherwood, Oregon, home to Dressage at DevonWood, one of the largest dressage competitions in the Northwest. “We want our show attendees to know there is no safer place for you and your horse. We haven’t had suspensory problems or other troubles related to poor footing. And we never lacked for attendance even at the worst of times.”

Rattner found a new footing product for her state-of-the-art dressage facility that came from Germany. Even with shipping costs of $45,000, the footing was more cost-effective than if it had been produced in the United States. “In Germany the product is subsidized, helping to make the cost to the end-user less,” explains Rattner. “This was a tried-and-true product [used at the 2008 Olympics] that consists of wall-to-wall rubber matting underneath a layer of sand and geotechnical material. Devonwood was the first American facility to use the product in two of our arenas. It takes terrible abuse without watering, and the ring holds level without much grooming. We spent $100,000 five years ago.”

Fifteen years ago, Rattner was introduced to an ebb-and-flow footing concept while in Aachen, Germany. Once again, she opted to use the model at DevonWood. “The system consists of conduits and pumps that line the arena and keep the water level consistent,” she says. “If it rains, the excess water is drained to the level it needs to be. If the weather is dry, the water isn’t released. It’s like walking on the sand right near where the waves recede back into the ocean. If you go too far into the dry sand, it’s strenuous on your knees and ankles; same if you go too far into the water. This system keeps the constant consistency.” The showground has this system in two rings, including a large arena used for FEI-level competition. The cost was $60,000 per arena, but has lasted 15 years. “We maintain our rings every six months. They are all laser-leveled by an excavator that grooms and aerates the rings. The cost is $500 each time.”

Thomas Struzzieri is the president and CEO of HITS, Inc., the largest hunter/jumper horse-show management company in the United States. In recent years, the Saugerties, New York, location has been rented for dressage events, including international CDIs. Struzzieri admits that there are challenges to running such large show facilities but the benefits far outweigh them.

Credit: Mary Cornelius DevonWood Equestrian Centre in Sherwood, Oregon.

“I’ve owned my show facilities for the past 15 to 20 years,” says Struzzieri. “Being the owner means I control the footing, the schedule, the stabling and everything else that comes with being a show manager. It’s everything I love about my job. Some of the bigger challenges for any facility owner are the maintenance of the grounds, the permanent stabling [HITS facilities have 1,100 permanent stalls], taxes, water and sewer bills—things that many folks who rent showgrounds don’t need to consider. Of course, footing still prevails over the cost of most everything else. It’s the lion’s share of our capital expenditures—I’d say 75 percent,” he explains. “Proper footing is a moving target. We’re constantly reassessing to keep it the same or better. We’ve successfully done this at Saugerties—having the dressage shows renting the grounds is evidence of this.”

While footing remains the largest expense, showground owners and managers face many other issues. In fact, when asked what is the biggest threat to showgrounds today, folks agreed that it’s infectious diseases. “Frankly, I’m terrified of that,” admits Rattner. “We are diligent about keeping our ear to the ground and knowing what is happening. During the herpes outbreak, we didn’t hold shows. We always keep the walls of our stalls sterilized and remain proactive to prevent any problems.”

Struzzieri agrees, noting that not only are the horses’ lives at risk but also the livelihoods of many trainers. “If a disease like equine herpes spreads, we would all lose weeks, if not months, of income. We must have a proactive program with stringent standards set up to protect everyone involved.”

The cost of maintaining an equestrian-use-only facility is another looming problem. “The business model does not have a good profit margin, and most facilities have difficulty covering their operating costs with just equestrian events,” says Boyd. “This low-profit/high-cost model also makes it difficult to acquire and develop new facilities without significant government or donor support.”

Sadly, the threat of being sued is another concern. “We are a litigious society, so we need to protect ourselves,” says Struzzieri. “We [HITS] use the top insurance firms, make sure our grounds are properly maintained and pay attention to the size of the shows, making sure they are appropriate for the particular showground. This helps prevent accidents from happening.”

While many have seen increases in insurance rates, Rattner hasn’t and believes that proper planning has played a large part in this. “Our insurance costs truly haven’t changed much over the years. If anything, they’ve dropped some because we’ve had a great track record for safety. We have planned for everything, from stabling to parking, and have a great relationship with our insurance provider. Prior proper planning has allowed us to cover everything and keep everyone safe.”

In the end, those involved with keeping showgrounds ready for the next event agree that there is no better feeling than seeing everyone enjoy their day. “It’s fascinating to me how well-run the dressage shows are,” says Struzzieri. “There are so many volunteers and competitors who care deeply about the sport.”

Monday, April 9, 2018

What Are the Elements of a Balanced Canter Depart?

Canadian "S" dressage judge explains what is most important about a canter depart.

Q: One of the comments I received in my last test was that my horse shouldn’t jump into the canter. This completely confused me. How is a horse supposed to canter on? How would you like to see an upward transition into the canter?

Jo Barbour
Redmont, Washington

A: It is understandable that you might be confused by the comment “shouldn’t jump into the canter.” The canter is a jumping movement. When the hind legs are sluggish due to a lack of engagement, judges may suggest the quality of the canter would improve with more jump behind.

In response to your question about how I would like to see an upward transition into the canter, I will reference the USEF Rulebook, which reads: “The changes of pace should be clearly shown at the prescribed marker; they should be quickly made yet must be smooth, not abrupt. The cadence of the pace must be maintained up to the moment when the gait or pace is changed or the horse halts. The horse should remain light in hand, calm and maintain correct position.”

There is more to riding a canter transition than just giving the canter aid. It is important to establish a quality trot or walk first. The horse must be working in a steady rhythm with a forward attitude and the degree of suppleness, contact and straightness relative to his level of training. In order to execute a transition with harmony, lightness and ease, you must have a secure, balanced, deep seat and independent hands with the ability to follow the movement.

Preparation is the key to achieving balanced, fluid transitions. In preparation, your horse must respond to a balancing half halt. You should feel a slight shift of weight to the hindquarters with your horse stepping under, rounding his back and lightening his forehand. The horse is now rebalanced, on the aids and capable of a calm, fluid transition.

Half halting is important before every transition you ride. It serves three purposes that directly relate to the section of the Rulebook previously quoted:

1. “Transitions should be quickly made yet must be smooth not abrupt.” Horses hate to be surprised. The half halt acts as a wake-up call, warning the horse that he is about to be asked for a transition. The horse will be ready to respond to a quieter, softer aid, enabling a smooth transition.

Too strong an aid or overriding causes the horse to overreact, resulting in an abrupt transition with the horse hollowing his back and coming above the bit or “jumping into the canter.”

2. “The cadence of the pace must be maintained up to the moment when the pace or gait changes.” The trot quickening or the walk becoming tense and lateral when asked for a canter transition is a common fault. It is important to maintain a balanced, energetic trot or walk without altering the tempo. Balancing half halts will help to regulate the tempo.

3. “The horse must remain light in hand, calm and maintain correct position.” The half halts keep your horse relaxed and create the engagement needed to encourage him to work through his topline, maintain a supple back and flex at the poll with an elastic connection from behind.

In answer to your question about what the judge would like to see in an upward transition into the canter: The quality of the pace before and after the transition must be maintained. The horse’s frame remains supple, the energy comes from well-engaged hind legs and flows up through a round back into the contact, maintaining a soft, elastic connection. The horse shows complete straightness, self-carriage, confidence and acceptance of your aids.

Doreen Horsey is an Equine Canada “S” dressage judge, a USEF “S” judge and a member of Dressage Canada’s Officials Committee. She has won many national awards to Grand Prix and was on Canada’s international long list in 1989 and 1990. She is based in Alberta, Canada.

Re-published article with permission from Dressage Today.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Can Dressage Judges Really be Fair?

USEF "S" dressage judge Kathy Rowse discusses the dedication it takes to be a judge

Q: Do dressage judges take into account the different ways different breeds are moving? Can a dressage judge be really fair when faced with such a variety of breeds, especially at the lower levels of dressage? It seems to me that the fancy sport horse breeds are always the ones with the best scores. What, in your opinion, makes a good dressage judge?

Katie McIntosh

Newton, Massachusetts

Kathy Rouse

A: A dressage judge always has to judge according to the Training Scale and the standards/criteria set forth by the FEI. It takes most judges our entire career to develop, review and update our scale to both evolve it according to our experience and understanding and then keep it at the highest level. That means that all dressage performances are subject to the same standard, regardless of the breed of the horse, the experience of the rider or the level of the show.

Judges should always evaluate the correctness of the Training Scale (the methodology), and then use this formula of the basics in addition to the criteria of the movements (when you look on your test, it describes how you do certain arena figures and movements) and the modifiers (which includes things that are not in the essence of the movements such as geometry). The more correct and thorough the training is, the higher the score will be.

There is some subjectivity in judging as judges will sometimes see movements a little differently or emphasize certain modifiers more or less than one of their colleagues. This can also happen when a rider is judged by a panel of judges who are viewing a performance from different vantage points around the arena. Evaluating your tests from a variety of judges over an entire show season should give you a good idea of your strengths and weaknesses.

Dressage judges can be fair and objective when judging a variety of breeds as long as they stick to their standards, which help them to evaluate each performance on its own merits. The “fancy” movers will not score higher if they are demonstrating incorrect training. An “average” mover will score higher if the training standard is demonstrated at a high level. However, it is true that the “exceptional” mover with exceptional, correct training will be rewarded the highest scores.

Remember there are also “non-brilliant” moves in every dressage test, which include halts, rein backs, turns on the haunches and walk pirouettes. These movements get a score and allow the average horse to earn points. The ever-important corners also will show a well-trained horse but by themselves don’t change the score. These moves are mainly dependent on the skill of the rider, not on the brilliance of the horse, and the execution in the ring will tell you a lot about the correct basics of the rider with the horse.

There is a lot required of a good dressage judge. They need experience, a good knowledge of the rules (USDF Rule Book), the basics (the judge has to understand the application of the basics as explained above) and the criteria of each level and of each movement (which tells you what’s expected at each level). They develop and maintain their methodology, they work to improve and they should always be humble. A judge has many responsibilities: to the sport, to horses and riders, to the federation and to the show management. They have to be able to formulate clear, encouraging comments that are useful to guide the rider and address the most important aspect of the movement and the test in a concise manner. The comments must match the scores, and the collective marks must collate to the body of the test they have judged. They place the class in the right order and give appropriate scores for the performance they have evaluated.

It requires a lot of dedication and focus to be a dressage judge. But it gives back to the sport and to the riders, which is well worth the effort.

Kathy Rowse is a USEF “S” dressage judge and has received her USDF bronze, silver and gold medals. A popular clinician active with the FEI Junior and Young Rider programs, she has coached numerous riders to win their USDF medals. She lives in Suffolk, Virginia.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Tips on Choosing a Riding Instructor with Courtney King-Dye

How to find the best fit
Courtney King-Dye

There's a big difference between choosing a good instructor for you and a good trainer for your horse. If your horse needs a trainer then, of course, you'll want to choose the best rider, but if you want someone to teach you, I suggest evaluating other things.

Ask yourself why you are riding, and choose the instructor who will help you toward that goal. Not everyone wants to go to the Olympics. You may just want to learn the movements and enjoy your horse, and that is absolutely fine. Some instructors happily accommodate this goal, but some (like me) cannot tear themselves away from perfecting the basics before moving on. A good instructor should be able to explain things in a clear, comprehensible way that allows you to progress toward whatever goal you may have.

Choose someone who suits your needs. When I was competing a lot, I knew I couldn't give people a lot of attention and was surprised at how many who despite telling me they wanted a great deal and me telling them I couldn't supply it still wanted to come. I had to turn people down because I knew I couldn't make them happy. Try to make this decision on your own.

Be sure to choose someone you want to be like, both in riding position and in attitude. This is not just to ensure that they teach you the correct things. Even if you don't do it purposely, your brain is telling your muscles to mimic what it sees. The attitude toward the horse is equally as transferable through the eyes. You want to see balance between correction and reward. At the end of a ride, you want to see both the horse and the instructor motivated for the next ride even if they had trouble. So I recommend only watching riders you want to emulate.

It's also important to know how you learn. Some people learn from "yellers," while others get tied up and can't react when someone yells at them. Some people learn from gentle coaxing; others need a kick in the butt. Some instructors are methodological explainers, and there are some who don't know the "why," they just know what to do. There are very few trainers who can adjust their method, so choose someone with a teaching style you can learn from. And remember not to train with someone long-term just because a friend said that person is great. Go and watch a couple of lessons before you decide.

Courtney King-Dye represented the United States at the 2008 Olympic Games riding Harmony's Mythilus and at two World Cup Finals riding Idocus. She is a U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) Certified Instructor through Fourth Level and USDF gold medalist (

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Find Your Focus in the Dressage Show Ring

USDF gold medalist Kim Herslow explains dressage riding as a mental sport.

Credit: © juiceteam2013 - Fotolia Preparing yourself mentally means staying completely focused on the movie of your perfect test that is playing in your mind. The trick is to avoid letting anything cause the pause button to go on, even when you make a mistake.

Dressage riding is a mental sport. I wish I had known then that preparing oneself mentally helps make your performance more successful in the show ring.

Preparing yourself mentally means staying completely focused on the movie of your perfect test that is playing over and over in your mind. The trick is to avoid letting anything cause the pause or stop button to go on, even when you realize you have made a mistake or executed a few subpar strides. Many amateurs make the mistake of focusing only on riding all the movements, instead of seamlessly blending them together with the steps between the movements, such as setting up a clear transition between extended and collected trot, for which you are scored.

When you focus on your perfect test mental movie, you are always riding as though a magnet is drawing you forward. Always be four seconds ahead of what’s coming up. It makes it easier to block out external distractions, which every dressage rider faces sooner or later—the horse suddenly leaning, an open, scary-looking umbrella, a noise, another horse walking by. Adjust to the situation by having a plan in your head of how to respond to such challenges, like a tool you pull out from your toolbox when a screw becomes loose. If you know your horse well, you know that he will likely cut the next corner. So be prepared before the corner, setting your horse up for the corner to prevent the situation from happening. If you still feel your horse is about to cut the corner and is leaning in, simply adjust him. For instance, brace your back, half halt with your reins and ask him to move off your inside leg.

Include in your plan the possibility that your horse might spook, yet don’t dwell on it. Focus on your movie! If your horse spooks, simply ask him to look away from the ghost and move him toward the spooky object with your inside leg, as you would when increasing the size of a circle, while remaining focused on your mental movie. Then look ahead to the next steps without dwelling on what just happened or how many points you might have lost or how many mistakes you have made.

It is also important to breathe deeply and deliberately throughout your test. Deep breathing prevents tension from creeping into your body and helps you to focus on your mental movie. It also prevents you from getting anxious, nervous or overriding your horse, which often happens when the rider is tense. When your horse spooks, loses his balance or makes some sort of mistake, adjust him while keeping up the deep breathing. You have to be the rock in the ring for him, and a consistent, reliable one at that. If you feed off of your horse’s tension, the tension in both of you will triple. Tension, by the way, makes you top-heavy and stiff, preventing you from feeling your horse, whereas staying relaxed helps you have a stable yet deep seat and keep an elastic connection to the bit.

Dressage riding is a cerebral sport, and you have to be in a good place mentally to be effective and in harmony with your horse, especially in the show ring. Visualizing and feeling your perfect ride while keeping your breathing deep will help you achieve better results.

Kim Herslow is a USDF bronze, silver and gold medalist. She has won many regional and national awards including a team gold medal at the 2014 Wellington CDIO3* Nations Cup and the 2013 Dutta Corp/USEF Intermediaire I Dressage National Championship. A graduate of Delaware Valley College with a degree in equine science, she trains with noted professionals, including Lars Petersen, Robert Dover, Guenter Seidel, Debbie McDonald, Scott Hassler and Anne Gribbons, and operates Upper Creek Farm, a training facility in Stockton, New Jersey.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Pest Control

Riders offer advice on how to rid your farm of unwanted guests without the use of harmful chemicals.

Where there are horses, there’s sure to be pests: Ants—including the dreaded fire ants—and other insects and wildlife can run amok in a barn. They are annoying at best, dangerous at worst, and almost always an unhealthy contribution to the stable environment for horses and humans.

Dressage Today polled professional and amateur riders and longtime farm owners for successful strategies on managing unwelcome visitors without the use of harmful chemicals. The tips they offered include all-natural remedies to rid farms of pests, including fire ants, flies and mice.

Ants: Amateur rider Nan Meek keeps her 20-year-old schoolmaster at a private stable near her home in Moss Beach, California. Like many riders, she often keeps sugar cubes on hand as a treat for her horse. “Sugar in the tack room attracts ants as reliably as sugar in the kitchen,” Meek says. “But a friend who is allergic to chemical products gave me a great tip: scatter a line of ground cloves across the path where the ants are entering, and they will go elsewhere. It doesn’t kill them, and they may try to go after the sugar from another entry point, but a few applications seem to send them elsewhere. An airtight container for the sugar removes their goal. Now, if I could only find a coyote deterrent! We are seeing more of them this winter than ever before.”

Flies: Ellie Jensen, who owned and managed Checkered Flag Farm in Loxahatchee, Florida, before retiring to a smaller farm, learned key strategies for maintaining a healthy environment for her trainers and horses. One found her switching to natural pest control tactics many years ago after a fly-spray scare with a beautiful filly.
As the weather warmed up in the yearling’s first summer, Jensen applied a conventional fly spray of the time. “Within 20 seconds, she started to shake all over, then she went down,” Jensen recounts. “I knew it was a reaction to the fly spray. I hosed her down with water and was able to save her. And that made me more determined to look into natural products.”
Jensen is a big fan of cedar-oil spray, which was dispensed through an automatic misting system at Checkered Flag. “It has a water base and works just as well as the toxic stuff,” she notes. Cedar also has antifungal properties that can help heal hot spots on the skin and it has a woody scent.
Not all cedar-based pest-control products are equal, Jensen cautions. Like many natural ingredients, they, too, can be irritating and/or harmful if used in too-highly concentrated forms.
Fly strips are another tool often used to trap and kill flies in and around farms. While not the most attractive decor, they can serve a purpose. To ensure your strips are safe and nontoxic, try making your own sticky traps by mixing a one-quarter cup of corn syrup, one tablespoon of granulated sugar and one tablespoon of brown sugar in a small bowl. Next, cut strips of brown kraft paper and soak them in the sugar mixture. Give them 12 hours to dry and then poke a small hole at the top of each strip. Run a piece of string through the hole and the strip will be ready to hang.

Fire ants: These pests are a nightmare for Florida’s horse keepers. The ants love open, sunny spaces, like pastures, where they typically colonize in dirt mounds under the reign of one or more queens. A bite from a fire ant stings and can cause blisters on the skin of horses and people. “Enough bites can kill an animal, and a lot of people and animals are allergic to them,” Jensen says.
The most effective strategy she found was spreading nontoxic pellets that target the ant queen. “They sterilizes the queen ant so that within six weeks, you have no more ants,” she reports. They actually worked faster at Checkered Flag. “A week after we first had the pellets in our pasture, I noticed that the ants were staying out of a station where I fed four feral cats.” The pellets don’t harm other critters, including grazing horses and birds.
Relative to other treatments she tried, the pellets were cost-effective at $100 for the first acre, then $30 an acre after that for a treatment that Jensen’s property needed just twice a year.

Mice: Grand Prix riders Shannon Peters and Sharon McCusker happily report that their barns have very few problematic pests. Mice are the biggest menace at the Peter’s San Diego, California, stable and at McCusker’s property in Ashby, Massachusetts. In both cases, barn cats are an effective defense force.
In eradicating rodents, cats do a great service for their equine stablemates. However, because mice and rats can carry diseases, insects and parasites, their predators need regular veterinary care to prevent them from becoming conduits for those health risks. A strict deworming and vaccination regimen for the cats is important; so is spaying and neutering to keep their population under control.
Feeding cats in the barn will keep them on the job. If they have to rely only on their hunting skills for food, they may wander off to areas where mice haven’t been so well controlled.
Pest problems vary greatly across the country, but early action and consistent preventive practices and maintenance treatments will help to minimize the insects and animals that threaten to bug your horse. Old-fashioned, low-tech tactics always help: Keep the manure pile far from the stable, keep nooks and crannies clean, use tightly sealed containers in the feed room and eliminate pooled water whenever possible. A ship-shape stable is your best defense.

Credit: Cat: © Brenda Carson - and Fire Ants: © seagames50 - Cats might just be your best defense against pesky rodents.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in Dressage Today. It is reprinted here by permission.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Balanced Horse

Book Excerpt: Sylvia Loch explains the aids by feel, not force.

In her new book, The Balanced Horse: The Aids by Feel, Not Force, author Sylvia Loch—an international dressage trainer and co-founder of the Lusitano Breed Society of Great Britain—confirms what equestrians should be doing and what they should avoid when it comes to each and every request they give their horse. Intended for those seeking the elusive art of riding versus competing, this valuable resource will help equestrians develop a better relationship with their horses. In the following excerpt, adapted from her book, Loch discusses the effects of a rider’s upper body and how it affects the seat. Used with permission from Trafalgar Square Books.

With the young or novice horse, our main preoccupation has been to allow him to go forward within the gentle framework of our hands and legs. Transitions require the interaction of the whole body, the legs playing a bigger part than the hands. The take and give of the fingers for an upward or downward transition is generally accompanied by the take and give of the rider’s legs, seat and upper body, which influence the whole — although not necessarily in the same moment.

As the horse matures, we should become more aware of the effects of our upper body and how it affects the seat. As with the aids of hand and leg, the seat can either take or give. The “take,” of course, refers to collection. If more lessons for the higher-level student were devoted to the seat aids, we might see much kinder hands and there would be less inclination to shorten horses through the neck in order to remain in control.

So what exactly do we mean by the take and give of the rider’s seat? First, let us clarify that this has absolutely nothing to do with pushing, which may well hollow the horse’s spine. On the contrary, the seat aids should be subtle and almost invisible since they rely on the tone and elasticity of the rider’s abdominal, back and adductor muscles, which are not so easily observed.

Second, no seat aid can be given with real precision unless the rider sits still! This may sound like a contradiction but, as with the hands and legs, unless we are quiet to start with, the horse will not notice when an aid is given. It is also vital that we sit as close as possible over the horse’s center of gravity, i.e., up to the pommel (waist to hands) with the seat bones resting in the center of the saddle.

Up the Body

The rider’s body acts on that of a horse rather like a bridge. The bridge must, of course, allow energy to pass through and under. For this reason it requires a supportive structure and firm foundations. When it is vertical and well-rooted, gravity keeps it in place but, in relation to the horse, this can only work when the rider sits up with supple loins and learns to let go with the legs.

From open hip joints and relaxed legs, you are more able to stimulate the horse sufficiently to produce and gather the energy required in collection. Ask at the girth with light, swift touches of the lower leg to bring the horse’s back up and think of sitting up and remaining above it all. Never ever push down; instead allow gravity to keep you in place.

From now on, everything we do with the upper body and legs will change the feel and the pressures of our seat on the horse’s back. The bridge will collapse if the abdominal muscles are slack; by firming up with the shoulders, back and sternum and with the navel to the fore, you can control this stored energy at will. “Up the body, down the weight!” is the maxim at Vienna at the Spanish Riding School.

Down the Weight

To stay in balance, the entire underside of the pelvis from front to back must contact the saddle. A good saddle, rising at the twist to support the crotch, will direct the rider’s weight to its lowest point through the seat bones (i.e., a good hand’s breadth from the cantle) and as close as possible to the horse’s center of balance. This all-embracing contact of the rider’s seat promotes a quiet, elegant and upright position which allows for subtle changes. It has come to be known as the three-point seat, with numerous references in both ancient and modern classical books, and it is practiced at the great riding academies of the world.

The taller we sit, the greater the downward pull of the legs. The stretch should be through the front of our thighs, into our knees and thence to the ground. This keeps our seat central, making it easy to “let go” with our legs—so important for the gathering or collection of the horse as we advance his education. The feeling is not unlike that of riding without stirrups. Once we tune in to gravity, the sheer weight of the leg falling away keeps us rooted. We should never worry about losing our stirrups again.

Opening and Closing

Whilst the seat should remain more or less neutral for riding the young horse forward or for hacking, dressage proper requires greater awareness. How we use our seat should never be forced or contrived, but every change of balance and gait will rely on subtle changes within ourselves. With practice, these fine aids should develop naturally, since every movement we make on the ground is based on similar principles.

In simple terms, the pelvis acts rather like a gearbox. In riding, its position—our seat—can regulate just how much energy we retain or let through. For example, in bringing our shoulders fractionally behind the vertical, the pelvis “opens,” allowing more energy to be released from the hindquarters to the forehand. When correctly done and assisted with appropriate leg aids, we now have an effective driving aid. This is, of course, the opposite of how we use the seat for collection.

By contrast, when we sit in the vertical, knees down, legs back a little, the pelvis is more closed in front. This complements the bringing together of the horse’s energy—the word “collection” being very appropriate. Tilting the balance to the front of the saddle allows the horse to flex his back, step deep underneath and produce shorter, more elevated steps. The more we draw up, the more we take his energy up with us. This, in turn, brings control, cadence and balance to the gaits.

As already discussed, moving the legs too much behind the vertical may put on the handbrake. This works very nicely for rein-back as we relieve pressure from the back of the saddle, but we must always release, sit up and return to neutral the moment we want to go forward again. All these nuances work together to produce a fine balancing act, but take care never to overdo things. The seat aids should be virtually invisible to anyone watching.

Higher and Higher

Later in the horse’s training (and always subtly counterbalanced by the raising of the rider’s center of gravity), a further redirection of his energy can lead us to the high school airs. Freeing up the horse’s loins facilitates the piaffe and passage—when the impulsion is held in a state of bubbling suspension—and all this will be an evolving process. We must never rush collection. “Contained” energy transforms itself into beautiful movements in its own time and according to the strength and the ability of the horse. Having said that, often the most collected movements are offered quite spontaneously by a fit and generous horse.


At this stage of riding, it is important always to have a mental picture of your entire body and how it impacts the horse’s back. Make no mistake, despite the latest numnah [saddle pad], or the stuffing and padding of a beautifully crafted saddle, every move we make is felt.

Disciplining oneself should translate into feeling what the horse is feeling. We have to listen as well as act. Any form of tension or imbalance should be relayed back through the seat of the pants. We learn to make small but meaningful changes of weight, always returning to neutral in between. Personally, I tend to “look down” on myself when I ride. Others prefer a series of checks: Am I sitting square? Am I vertical? Have I kept my navel and sternum forward? Has my inside hip maintained position? Has my outside hip opened sufficiently? Are my knees sufficiently deep?

Is my neck at the back of my collar? Are my fingers and ankles relaxed? All these, practiced on a daily basis, are very useful.


Of course, many riders use the seat aids without ever thinking about it. They may never have had a lesson in their life, but by conditioning themselves and their horse to what works, they develop the feel for opening or closing the door. Good riders will scarcely use the rein for halt since the combined aid of seat, legs and upper body does it much better. Their downward transitions will be smooth and seamless.

Bad riders think impulsion can only be stopped at the horse’s mouth—by which time it has generally gone too far. They have no comprehension of controlling it from the center and have to rely on stronger bits and harsher aids, which invariably hollow the horse. As French riding master Francois Baucher famously wrote: “I like the horse to be behind the hand and in front of the legs, so that the center of gravity is placed between these two aids, as it is only on this condition that the horse is absolutely under the control of the rider.”

Collection First

Clearly, the more we are able to develop the weight aids, the better our riding. For me, collection has to come before extension, since without the gathering of energy there can be no serious releasing or lengthening. It should go without saying that the more we wish to collect the horse, the more we need impulsion.

To start, it may require something of a juggling act to preserve the flow of energy from the hind legs and to collect or keep it at the ready for the next movement, be it sideways, upward, backward or simply more forward. No one can teach you how to do this, but riding a fully trained and collected horse can at least give you the feel, so you can gradually develop it for yourself.

Half Halt

It is not just in riding that we learn to harness energy. Most athletes, and particularly dancers, ice skaters and gymnasts, know when to keep it in reserve—to hold or fix with their bodies—and when and how to allow it out—sometimes in a great surge! And, of course, all this has nothing to do with the hands!

The half halt can be like this. Remember this is not a full transition, but the feeling could be described as preparing for a transition. It should be a momentary instruction—a second’s check or fix—prior to sending forward or rechanneling the impulsion for whatever is required next. Try not to lean back in the half halt. Rather, sit up with shoulders back! A consequence of the half halt will be a reduction in the length of stride, but we are rewarded with higher, lighter steps. In the early days, do not be greedy with these or you will end up with choppy gaits. As with everything in riding, we must work the horse both ways—forward and more together—to develop his strength and understanding. It’s a very gradual process.


Unfortunately, many people think the half halt is only to do with the hands. Many draw the hand back, which only invites resistance. Try instead to think of half-halting through your core as you close the fingers. This will be felt down the length of the rein and if this is not sufficient, then raise the hand gently, but only an inch or so. As you do so, breathe, draw up and hold—through the small of the back. Let the breath out when the horse obeys and your hand will automatically give again.

This feeling is generally transmitted all the way through the seat. A correct half halt allows the horse to draw the hindquarters deeper under the rider’s center of gravity. In so doing, the well-schooled horse will bend his joints to greater effect and learn to “sit.”

As with a ballerina, it is from those moments of “hold” through the rider’s core, back and pelvis that the balance is perfected—for whatever maneuver is requested next. In the shoulder-in, for example, I always think of a moment of fix, to allow the horse time to step under, to flex his joints and to take his weight back. In this movement, and in half pass and canter strike-off, I would half halt with the outside rein alone.

Fix, Take and Give

It was [riding master] Nuno Oliveira who introduced us to this perceptive little saying. Anyone who attended the Annual Conference of the Association of British Riding Schools (ABRS) in 1987 and 1988 will remember this advice being given out to every rider on every horse. If the horse is heavy on the hands and powering on rather too much, say in trot on a straight line, one would probably use both hands. The feeling is subtle. The fingers close very firmly, very quickly.

With some horses, a slight rotation of the wrists might help, and there should be a very slight upward influence to the action, but never at the risk of jerking. With it comes a corresponding “hold” through the wrists, elbows and shoulder joints. The “fix” feeling transfers right down the rider’s back and, if anything, the seat bones should move a little forward.

The moment the horse changes his posture, the hands must give again. Once accepted and understood, half halts will gradually be employed more and more as we progress toward full collection. They eventually become so refined that they comprise a vital part of the collection process.

Weight Back

Strength and suppleness behind come from the judicious and repeated practice of many different maneuvers—start and stop, straight and bend, forward and back, right and left, together and stretched. Now that we understand the main principles of the aiding process, we will be in a much better position to ride the lateral exercises accurately and with a deeper understanding. The shoulder-in is always considered the first of these, since it not only transfers weight to the haunches but, done correctly, will engage the horse’s hip, stifle, hock and fetlock joints. That is the key to lightness and collection.

Everything Is Connected to Everything

To understand the different “feels” required to bring about collection is very personal. We have concentrated on the seat here, but remember—nothing in your body works in isolation. Every single part of you, even the way you carry your head, will have an effect on the feel of the seat in the saddle. Collection comes from knowing how much to regulate the flow from behind, but without energy you have nothing to play with. Bringing the weight back must never restrict the horse; it simply allows us to gather him so that the work can flow with more brilliance the moment we release. In human terms, it’s similar to “setting one back on one’s heels”—a momentary pause before doing something extraordinary.

Things to Guard Against

Remember, too much of any one exercise will tire your horse’s muscles, ligaments and joints. There can be no true collection where tension or discomfort is present. Solution: Introduce variety in everything you do and collection will develop as the horse becomes more elastic and fluid.

Think Positive

Look ahead at all times; if our eyes help us control our bodies on the ground, so they will on horseback. Feel for the balance and make small adjustments only as required. Between each and every request, remember to return to neutral. Remember, less is more!

Sylvia Loch has written seven books on dressage training. She studied in Portugal and became an accredited instructor by the Portuguese National School of Equestrian Art. Based in Scotland, she teaches and gives clinics worldwide.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in Dressage Today. It is reprinted here by permission.