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

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Are Tempo and Rhythm the Same?

By Heather Blitz

Heather Blitz, 2011 Pan American Games team gold and individual silver medalist explains the difference.

Q: I’m confused about the terms tempo and rhythm. I understand I’m supposed to always keep the same tempo, but what about the rhythm? When I ride at a faster tempo, the rhythm surely must change. I don’t understand how else I could ride a transition between working and extended trot.

Jeannette Shaw Chevy Chase, Washington, D.C.


A: First of all, let’s define the terms. Tempo: The rate or speed of motion or activity. Rhythm: is a strong, regular, repeated pattern of movement or sound. There tends to be a lot of confusion like yours about these two concepts, but they are actually completely different concepts. One is sequence (rhythm) and one is speed (tempo).

If you think about the gaits of a horse, the walk has a four-beat rhythm, the trot has a two-beat rhythm of diagonal pairs of legs and the canter has a three-beat rhythm of the outside hind leg ?rst, then the diagonal pair together and then the lead inside foreleg.

Varying the tempo of the gaits does not change the rhythm unless your horse makes an actual error or does something unusual such as stumbling, skipping or dramatically losing his balance. Rhythm just describes the sequence of the footfalls per stride, but has nothing to do with speed. There are many cases where the two terms are mistakenly used interchangeably.

The main focus in your trot extensions is to not allow the speed of your horse’s steps (beats per minute, BPM) to change. He should learn how to extend his frame and length of step only, maintaining enough balance and strength to keep the number of beats per minute the same as in his collected trot. This is a big challenge, and you actually may not see many horses do it well.

It would give you a good idea of how to do this if you rode with the help of a metronome (I have an app for this on my iPhone). Set the metronome to equal your horse’s collected trot, and then see what happens when you extend the trot. You may quickly ?nd that your horse quickens the tempo rather than keeps the same tempo and lengthens his stride. It’s much easier to simply get quicker.

The majority of horses will opt to simply get quicker when you ask them to start medium and extended trot at ?rst. When I start my horses into levels of work where they are required to learn this, I use only short distances and will use the corners of the arena to help me. I ask for a few steps of more “go” in the trot, and then remind them quickly of the balance to come back into collection, preferably coming into a corner.

Again, most horses will initially try to run away and get too fast in the tempo. Once they realize that the answer is not to go for a long distance, but to go more for only a few strides, they get the idea that it’s not about speed but about power and balance.

If your horse actually loses rhythm, it would feel almost like a different gait or an error. If you hop along a sidewalk and then all of a sudden just jog, that’s a change of rhythm. Without seeing what’s happening with you and your horse in person, I’m assuming you’re struggling with the tempo (and not rhythm) as are most horses and riders.

Heather Blitz won team gold and individual silver medals at the 2011 Pan American Games and was an alternate for the U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) 2012 Olympic dressage team. Based in Massachusetts and Florida, she teaches in Denmark, England and the U.S. (

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

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Balance in the Canter

By Lisa Pierson

Lisa Pierson explains how to balance your horse in the canter with exercises to improve engagement.

How Can I Balance My Horse in the Canter?

A few weeks ago my horse fell down with me when cantering through a corner. Ever since then, I’m afraid of cantering through corners. My horse, a 13-year-old Hanoverian, didn’t bolt, he just lost traction with his hind legs in the canter. He is 18 hands and has a huge stride. I’m a First Level rider, but he is trained to the FEI levels. How can I avoid this problem in the future? How can I get my horse sure-footed in the canter? Our indoor arena measures 20 by 60 meters.
Sam Cochran 
Petaluma, California

Lisa Pierson

It is a very scary and dangerous situation when a horse falls down. The first thing to consider is whether your horse is sound and strong enough to do his job, pain-free and without neurological problems. Neurological problems can affect your horse’s coordination, and pain and stiffness can make him reluctant to use his joints to bend and balance or load a sore limb. Back pain, neck pain as well as vision problems are all important to rule out. A veterinarian should evaluate your horse.

Most of our schoolmasters are older and may need extra care for their older bodies. They may also need extra time for loosening up. Fatigue also can make a horse struggle to balance himself. It is also important to consider the footing you work your horse on; slippery, wet, shifting or uneven footing can be very risky.

If your horse is able to longe, observe him on the longe line without tack. Watch him in the canter. Does he lose his balance? Does he have difficulty maintaining the canter? Is one direction worse than the other? Is he different with tack on when longeing? Ill-fitting tack can make a horse stiff or sore in his topline, inhibiting his ability or willingness to balance through his core.

Occasionally horses do lose their balance—tripping or misstepping, even falling down. The bigger, more powerful movers can be more difficult to keep in balance. The rider needs to be able to manage the amount of pushing power these horses have through the strength of their own position (core) and by using half halts to engage and collect the horse from behind. When the push from the horse’s hind legs is stiff and the hocks are out behind, this pushes the horse more on the forehand, downhill. You can usually feel this in your contact—very strong and heavy on your hands.

In the canter it can be even more difficult to keep a horse in balance because it is hard to keep the hindquarters level and not tilting (due to the inside hind leading ahead of the outside hind), twisting the hips up and out behind and causing loss of traction. Overflexing the neck can also cause the horse to lose traction much like turning the steering wheel of a car too sharply can cause the car to fishtail.

It’s best to use the Training Scale to problem-solve:

Rhythm: Does your horse lose rhythm or tempo in corners and on smaller circles by scrambling, stalling or rushing?

Suppleness and Relaxation: Does your horse stiffen or brace through his body or have tension through corners and circles?

Contact: Is your horse heavy on the forehand, leaning on your hands for balance instead of carrying himself?

Impulsion: The release (thrust) of energy should be stored by the engagement of the hind legs, not downhill speed.

Straightness: Is your horse able to bend through a corner or circle and stay level, with his hind legs on the same track as his shoulders (in alignment even while bending) or is he crooked, jackknifing and falling out through his shoulder or hind end?

Collection: Is your horse able to bring his hindquarters under his center of gravity to balance for a corner in the canter?

To properly ride your horse through corners, you need to half halt as you approach the corner, roughly 6 meters, or 20 feet, before the approaching arena wall, and you need to establish true bending that engages your horse’s inside hind leg to balance him for your turns, circles and corners.

Before turning, weight your inside seat bone by pushing your inside hip forward and lowering your inside knee, not collapsing your inside hip. This begins bending your horse’s body for the corner, with the inside leg at the girth to bring his inside hind leg farther forward.

The horse should be flexed slightly to the inside with the inside rein (you should be able to see his inside eye, but he should not be flexed past his inside shoulder). The outside rein prevents the horse’s outside shoulder from falling out but still allows him to flex to the inside. The rider’s outside leg, slightly behind the girth, keeps the hindquarters from swinging out. Remember that the horse’s hind feet must track in the path of the front feet, so the amount of bend you ask for cannot disturb this alignment.

Think of your corners as a quarter of a circle, however small you can accurately ride without losing the proper bend and alignment—20 meters, 15, 10 or 6. A shallower corner is safer until you can reliably ride smaller circles while maintaining steady bend, alignment and balance.

To build your confidence, you need to be able to engage your horse’s hind end to control his balance. Your position must be strong enough so that you hold your horse together through your leg and seat, not from your hands. The bigger the movement of your horse, the harder this can be to do.

The following exercises will improve engagement:

  • Ride transitions before your corners, teaching the horse to listen to your aids for coming back, then engage to go forward through the corner. 
  • Try riding a step or two of turn on the forehand at the walk before each corner to engage your horse’s inside hind leg for bending into corners.
  • Add an extra step or two in each corner in your canter to collect your horse. 
  • Maintain the tempo and rhythm in your canter while adding extra steps between letters or markers.
  • Ride transitions in shoulder-in. They are a great exercise for engaging your horse and maintaining the bend while collecting him.

Keep track of the tempo and rhythm when you are preparing your horse for a corner; slowing down becomes leaning, speeding up becomes downhill running. Neither of these accomplish better balance, although slowing down is safer.

Lisa Pierson is a USDF Certified Instructor through Fourth Level, a USDF “L” Education Program graduate and a USDF bronze and silver medalist. An FEI-level trainer and competitor, she is based in New York State.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in an article of  Dressage TodayIt is reprinted here by permission.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Look Your Best in Breeches

By Barbara Biernat
Personal stylist Barbara Biernat tells you how to dress your shape to look great in and out of the ring.

We spend hours ensuring that our horses are meticulously groomed and sharply outfitted, from their smoothly braided forelocks to the tips of their polished hooves. But this often comes at the expense of our own appearance. After all, how often do you head out to the ring with a gleaming horse but covered in dirt yourself?

Feeling confident and comfortable in your riding clothes not only makes it easier to transition from the barn to wherever your day takes you, but it might have more of an effect on your riding than you would think.

“Dressage has so much to do with attitude. If you feel like a million bucks, you ride a little bit better,” says Barbara Biernat of Horse & Rider Boutique in Los Angeles, California.

Biernat is the outfitter of international-caliber riders such as Adrienne Lyle and Debbie McDonald and uses her skills as a personal shopper to add extra polish to their image in the show ring.

Here, she shares her advice for looking your best in breeches and beyond with special consideration for women’s unique shapes. Whether you find yourself top-heavy, bottom-heavy or more straight-lined, a few tips from this pro might change the way you think about riding clothes.

All Shapes

  • Tuck in your shirt. It is always flattering and regardless of your shape, untucked shirts tend to look frumpy.
  • A good vest is everyone’s friend. Correctly fitted, it can conceal problem areas, help create a desirable silhouette and look neat and professional.
  • Stick to breeches made from a thicker cotton material or even denim. These tend to be the most flattering fabrics because their thickness offers structure and helps hide imperfections.
  • Choose pants with a wider waistband and wear a wider belt. This is usually more flattering and more comfortable for all shapes and sizes.
  • If you like to ride in full-seat breeches, always choose pants that have a darker seat, such as white pants with a gray seat. This creates a slimming effect. Never wear darker pants with a lighter seat.
  • Unlined jackets tend to be cut for a tighter fit. If you want to give yourself a bit more room for comfort, order up a size.
  • Wear a thin shirt underneath the more snug fitting technical-fabric show coats to reduce bulk. Similarly, avoid large belts under technical coats to prevent unflattering bulges.


  • Reach for shirts with princess seams, which are flattering because they provide shape and definition. Straight looks tend to not flatter those who are heavier up top.
  • Invest in a quality sports bra, which is crucial for a comfortable ride and a polished look.
  • Wearing the correct sports bra also can affect the fit of shirts and coats. Make sure to wear a sports bra to the tack shop when you try on shirts and coats because it will affect gapping.
  • If a coat fits everywhere else except in the chest, you can have the button moved horizontally to loosen or tighten the chest area.
  • Look for shirts with gussets—usually triangular pieces of fabric sewn into a seam—to help create definition.
  • If you have thinner legs with a larger waist, purchase pants with a comfort-fit waistband that stretches. This allows you to wear pants that are small enough in the legs but large enough in the waist. This is better than the alternative of having to go up a size, resulting in bagginess around the legs.
  • Avoid shirts with large prints and bright colors.


  • Opt for breeches with back pockets that have flattering placement. Correctly placed, these can create a lifting and slimming effect.
  • Always buy breeches that have a side seam. The long vertical line of the side seam will make legs look longer and thinner.
  • Stick to pants that provide more structure and support, and generally avoid pull-on tights.
  • Splurge on more-expensive pants, as cheaper pants will start to sag and won’t look as good. With pants, Biernat says, you tend to get what you pay for.
  • Choose contrasting full-seat breeches over knee-patch breeches.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with brighter colors for larger sizes. Riders over a size 32 should probably stay away from plaid, but the print can be flattering and provide a camouflage effect for smaller sizes.
  • Wear boots that are tapered at the ankle to give the illusion of more definition in the leg.
  • Give denim breeches a shot. They can be a great option for those with a heavier lower half, as they tend to hold you in place better.
  • Avoid side-zip breeches. A zipper in the front breaks up the midsection.
  • Steer clear of low-rise pants. Instead, pick breeches with a mid-rise fit. Low-rise pants tend to get saggy, and breeches with a higher waist draw the eye upward.


  • Create the illusion of curves with high-waisted breeches.
  • Add more shape to your seat with breeches with pockets.
  • A correctly fitted vest can help create the illusion of a waist.
  • When purchasing a coat, make sure that the sleeves are long enough or that there is enough material in the sleeve that can be let out to accommodate a longer arm.
  • If you have trouble finding a coat or shirt that is the right length, order a size up and have it tailored.
  • Look for a coat that offers the right silhouette without being baggy.
  • Detail on the back of a coat can help to create more feminine lines.

Where to Splurge, Where to Save:

To cut unnecessary expenses, Barbara Biernat of Horse and Rider Boutique advises riders to strategically invest in more-expensive, higher-quality pieces of certain clothing while choosing more economic options for others.


Helmet: Ensuring your safety should be a priority. Don’t compromise the fit of a helmet for price. Schooling breeches: Investing in quality breeches for schooling trumps spending money on show breeches. Schooling breeches tend to get the most wear, so make sure you buy styles that last and opt for more economical show breeches. Boots: Footwear needs to stand up to a lot of use, and shoes made with good leather are worth the investment. Coat: More-expensive coats usually have better tailoring, which gives a sharper appearance.


Gloves: Explore less-expensive options for gloves, as there are plenty of options on the market that provide good quality for a reasonable price. Stock tie: It is difficult to tell the difference between a cheaper stock tie and a more-expensive one when it is worn under your coat. Shirt: Unless coats are waived, shirts often stay hidden. Therefore, comfort and functionality are more important than appearance.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in 2010 article of  Dressage TodayIt is reprinted here by permission.