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

Thursday, September 1, 2016

How to Ride Travers and Half Pass

By Janet Foy

4* dressage judge Janet Foy explains how to judge and ride these required movements.

The travers (haunches-in) is the first movement we teach a horse in which he bends in the direction of the line of travel. Learning travers is a prelude to teaching half pass, which requires quite a lot of lateral suppleness and cadence. These movements are the only two in dressage where the forehand is on the line of travel with the haunches displaced.

I was always taught that half pass was really travers on a diagonal line. In the past, travers was defined as a three-track movement, however, if you stand at C and watch a three-track travers on the diagonal, it looks like the haunches are badly trailing.

Within the past rule-change cycle, the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), the international governing body for equestrian sport, and the U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF), our national organization, changed the definition. Now travers is to be ridden as a four-track movement at approximately a 35-degree angle. (Remember shoulder-in is ridden on three tracks with approximately a 30-degree angle.) To me, this makes much more sense as the horse’s body in travers (and consequently the half pass) should have more bend than it does in a shoulder-in.

Judging Travers and Half Pass

When you judge the travers, keep these points in mind:

l. Willingness. Is the horse willing to displace his haunches? To me the willingness is more important than a four-track angle with resistance and lack
of a quality trot.

2. Consistency of angle. Does the angle vary? At Second Level, it can happen. Perhaps it does not deserve an 8 or above, but again willingness and training going in the right way are important.

3. Rider position. Is the rider’s position making it impossible for the horse to succeed? If so, then I will lower the rider-effectiveness score in the Collective Marks.

When you judge the half pass, keep in mind these questions:

l. Preparation. Does the rider clearly prepare and start with the shoulders leading? Or do they come down centerline and start going sideways as soon as the front legs hit centerline? Haunches leading can rarely score more than 6.

2. Accuracy. Does the rider start and end at the correct location? Remember judges, ending early does not give the rider extra credit. The point is that the rider has control of the lateral movement as well as the forward impulsion and cadence.

3. Rider position. Is the riding correctly influencing the horse or not? We judges now have a score for that.

4. Cadence and submission to the bend are of utmost importance. The well-executed half pass has lateral reach and elevation of the shoulders as well as a correct cadence and uphill balance.

Riding the Movements

Travers. The most common mistake I see is a rider who does not keep the horse’s forehand moving straight down the track. Riders often turn the horse’s shoulders toward the rail, struggling to displace the hindquarters. They also twist their upper bodies, sitting to the outside in an attempt to create more displacement of the haunches with the outside leg.

I feel it is best to teach this exercise in walk. Think about coming straight out of the corner first. Keep the forehand walking straight down the track (the front legs do not cross) with a slight bend in the neck to the inside. Then shift your weight to the inside and move your outside leg slightly behind the girth.

Be aware of and avoid moving your hips to the outside. Don’t put your outside leg too far back either. The horse should be quite sensitive to the outside leg and should move the hindquarters quickly to the inside. If you do not have this reaction, you must go back and get the horse more sensitive to your outside leg aid. Without it, he will never succeed in travers or half pass.

Start with only a few strides as it is quite difficult for the horse to stay forward and supple. When he slows down too much or gets a bit stiff, straighten or walk a 10-meter circle and ask for a few more strides. Reinforce your inside leg as the “go forward” leg. Try not to use both legs actively at the same time. Think about which leg your horse needs to react to more quickly.

Think of this as a stretching exercise, much as you would do if you wanted to touch your toes. You would not succeed the first day. However, you would need to stretch several times a day, every day to succeed. It is always a good idea to go back to the more simple the head-to-the-wall leg-yield exercise, if you have difficulty getting the haunches to react enough.

Remember, in the finished product, your horse’s shoulders and your shoulders are perpendicular to the long side and your outside hip is slightly back with weight in the direction of the bend. A correct rider position will create a lot of stretch through the outside of your body, too.

The finished movement will have the rider using the outside leg to displace the haunches and then the inside leg to ride the horse forward and create cadence. Don’t drive the horse with your outside leg for the entire movement. This will cause many problems in the half pass.

Half pass. The half pass should be moving forward and sideways with the rider always in control of the line of travel. Practice riding different angles so you can test the horse and see if you can go more sideways or if you can go on a longer angle and more forward. Do not let the horse take control because he will learn to fall sideways, usually with the haunches leading, and you will never develop cadence.

For the rider’s position, half pass is a bit easier, and the shoulders and hips will sit in the same position. For me, the most simple explanation about the rider’s position is to think about starting in a shoulder-in (putting the horse’s forehand on the line of travel or pointing the shoulders to the letter where you want to arrive) and then putting your weight to the inside and bringing the horse over with your weight and the outside leg. Always remember the shoulders must lead in the finished product.

A good exercise to test your horse is to start straight on the diagonal line. Then ride a few strides of a three-track travers. Over X, ride a four-track travers. Go back to three tracks and then straight before the corner. I don’t even mind in this exercise if you push the haunches ahead a few strides just to test the reaction to your outside leg. Just remember that in the final product you want to have control of the haunches and the angle in order to produce more cadence.

Personally, I am not a big fan of working a lot of travers on the long side. I feel it can put the horse onto his shoulders quite easily. I prefer to use the half pass or the travers on the circle to make my point. Also remember that the goal is increased lateral suppleness and reach through the shoulders, and therefore, more cadence and expression in trot and canter. If the rider pushes the haunches ahead in the half pass, the result will be the loss of cadence and the benefit of the movement will be lost.

Janet Foy is an FEI 4* and USEF “S” dressage judge and an “R” sport horse breed judge. A member of the USEF international High Performance Dressage Committee, she also teaches judges’ training programs nationwide. Author of the book Dressage for the Not-So-Perfect Horse, she is based in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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

Friday, June 3, 2016

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 

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 (

 - Three Runs Plantation Equestrian Blog. Re-published article from Dressage Today.

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

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Science Behind Equitation

By Dominique Barbier With Maria Katsamanis Photographs By Keron Psillas
A book excerpt from The Alchemy of Lightness by Dominique Barbier and Maria Katsamanis

It is important that one learns how to be and not just how to do. We need to begin riding with a very simple task, one that is meant to initiate the relationship with the horse. It could be as simple as establishing a walk as we focus on knowing where we are going (direction) or find a particular rhythm.

We should not necessarily be focused on passage or piaffe, even when riding those movements is one of our goals. This is very tricky because we learn throughout our life that when we want to produce something, we have to do something.

The sequence of first focusing on pursuing small, simple tasks with our horse may seem, on the surface, as if nothing is happening. However, in the end, when all the basic building elements come together, we have something incredible.

I learned this from my grandfather. He was a locksmith by profession and knew everything about locks—he could pick every one. Consequently, his mind worked backward. When beginning a new project, he would not work on the project itself but on preparing for it: He would gather the necessary tools, the needed materials and organize the different parts. He carefully measured and weighed everything. To us children, it seemed that for days he was doing nothing, which drove us crazy. However, when my grandfather did, in fact, start working on the project itself, the job was done quickly because of all the preparations made beforehand. This was a great lesson for me.

When you approach a new lesson with your horse, do your thinking first. Use the power of your mind in the form of visualization (create a clear picture in your head of each interaction with your horse); work on your ability to be present; gather the basic building blocks of communication, that we just discussed. That way, when you are with your horse and beginning the communion that is riding, then everything is ready for your horse to meet you in the place where molecular change can occur.

There are many things you can do without your horse to prepare to be with him and prepare for the feeling you will experience when both of you come together. For example, you can sit in a quiet place and play a movie of your ride in your head. Do this with your eyes closed. This enables you to create a situation where you mentally ride your horse. Your movie can be as complete as you wish. It is a visual image of your state of being, your horse’s, and the feeling that is the result of both of you together. For you, this movie is like being a pilot in a flight simulator.

Misconceptions Become Barriers

Molecular change will occur when we want it to, when we have a clear intention. For most people, this may seem too simple a formula because it involves debunking previous notions of what training should be. But because of the way I teach during my clinics, which are time-intensive, I am unable to be conventional. Years of working in this way have made me refine my ability to establish a quick rapport with a horse, assess his needs and consider the next step in his training.

My work differs from regular training offered by others because the emphasis is not on the systematic training of the horse, and this might be a point of criticism by some. Because my time is limited, my priority becomes the quality of the relationship formed with the horse, and that facilitates his ability to learn. We can accelerate his learning—and even help make things happen—when we use our mind. It is because I am forced to adhere to a schedule that I rely on creating change in myself and the horse through mental clarity. This kind of approach is quite different from what is currently out there; it is a result of the way I choose to be as a teacher, as a clinician.

Lessons from Mestre Nuno Oliveira

Very early one morning when I was in Portugal visiting the old picadero (riding school), Mestre Oliveira arrived riding an extremely large gray horse that was owned by a banker. He was a strange-looking horse: His back was slanted—I think he had once injured his haunches. Catching sight of me, Mestre asked me to ride the horse.

Wearing plain shoes and pants, I was not dressed properly, but still, I climbed into the saddle. The ring was very small, about 13.5 meters wide, maybe 27 meters long; just enough room for a circle at each end.

Mestre asked me to canter on a circle. He requested descente de mains, descente de jambes (let go with the hands and the legs). Then he said, “Reins on the buckle.” So I dropped the reins, and the horse stayed in the same position. Then he asked me to lengthen the stride down the long side, and in about five or six strides, I was at the other end. The gray was strong, and as I circled to the right, he was in a big canter. Mestre asked me to collect the horse. Of course, I went to grab the reins, but he said, “Oh no….” And that was about the extent of it.

Then I stretched upward and pulled my shoulders back, and the whole horse came back in a collected canter—without any rein. This became one of the most important experiences of my life. I decided that this was what I wanted to learn and what I wanted to teach.

Lightness, The Ultimate Connection

Lightness, true collection on the part of the horse with maximum impulsion and a slack rein, allows the horse to be himself. Rein contact and strong leg contact, in many ways, interfere with the physical movement of the horse, and totally destroy and alienate the horse’s mind. Only when he is comfortable in the correct position and light, do we have a chance to experience a superior understanding of the relationship between the two.

The horse is already light by nature. He experiences lightness under saddle only when he is ridden properly. In other words, it depends on how competent, tactful and refined we are in order for him to just be himself. When he is himself, he is light. When a horse has been pulled on for many years, a tactful rider is suddenly a new feeling. He must form a new understanding of being ridden that he no longer has to answer to all the pushing of the rider’s seat and legs and pulling of the hands. The horse has to learn that this is not part of the equation anymore, and sometimes this realization takes a certain amount of time. Once the horse does understand that the rider does not intend to interfere with his body or his mind, then it is only a matter of how clear the rider can continue to be…and molecular change will be able to happen at the discretion of the horse.

Lightness Is a Rider’s Perception

Lightness comes as a result of the rider’s body and mind. First, the rider has to get out of the way of what is (remember, the horse is already light). When the rider can do this and can put the horse in a correct position while maintaining enough energy to help the horse stay there, it is then that the dance will happen. The quality of the dance is dependent on the quality of the dancer, especially of he who leads.

A monk once said that inviting God in is not enough. You have to get out first—there is only space for one. Getting out is the challenge.

Teachers as Facilitators of Molecular Change

While our horses are our best teachers, we cannot discount the importance of the simple human-to-human student-teacher relationship. There is much to be said about this as it allows for learning to go both ways. I think that a teacher can learn a lot from his student and vice-versa. The real master is the person who is able to show us the light, to direct us into a way that will allow us to understand what is happening as he does.

There is a great responsibility on a teacher to direct his student in a certain way—a way that awakens. When he imparts knowledge in an overwhelming way too quickly, for example, instead of liberating the student, he blocks understanding. Therefore, the timing of teaching is very fundamental. When it is done well, the student will blossom. If knowledge is given too soon, the teacher could end up blocking his student’s path to understanding with too much information before the student is ready to receive it. The responsibility of the teacher is to feed the student what is needed at the time that it is needed—a principle of importance to the masters of the past. In this way, learning is not just a present-day interaction between student and teacher, but an important part of a long tradition of riders who have worked with a master in a certain way. I think that when people are really dedicated to such a tradition, it gives them a strong feeling of continuity; a strength of belonging.

Learning Is Remembering

There is a Native American adage that says, “We do not learn, we remember,” meaning that at some point, we already knew all there is—our body, our mind, our soul already knows the subtleties of life and of riding. The only thing that we do is remember them through day-to-day experience.

We must think of being with our horse not as a matter of learning how to commune with him but as a matter of remembering what our higher self already knows. Remembering more and more each time we ride becomes yet another opportunity for refinement.

Old Perceptions Create Room For New Ones

To welcome in the new—new ideas, new potential—we need to consider the possibility that a different path to being with and riding a horse exists. Without judgment, with humility and compassion, we open ourselves to this possibility. We need to create change in ourselves in order to learn to look at things differently—let go of old perceptions and outdated knowledge. We need to be able to recognize that even very little change in the way we look at things can make a big difference.

What follows are just some examples of misconceptions about horses that we hold as being true. These are the very things that prevent us from creating a different reality with our horse—that of a vision nested in openness, a communion. 1. The horse is, for the most part, on the forehand. 2. A young horse cannot be light. 3. The horse’s conformation is a barrier to lightness. 4. Lightness is achieved as an end goal of training. 5. Lightness (in the horse) comes from a lot of hard work (on the part of the rider), namely pulling and pushing.

Any changes in our understanding or consciousness are a result of self-discipline and practice.

Understanding lightness and how it is attained is no different. We must practice being with our horse as we might practice meditation: every day in the same position, mind and spirit.

Dominique Barbier is a certified British Horse Society assistant instructor and has trained at a number of highly regarded facilities throughout Europe, including an internship with Mestre Nuno Oliveira. He is the author of Dressage for the New Age and Meditation for Two. He has been teaching his art of dressage training philosophy across the world for the last 40 years. He lives in Healdsburg, California.

Maria Katsamanis is a licensed clinical psychologist and is the co-founder of an equine-based psychotherapy and learning program. She lives in Lambertville, New Jersey.

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Origins of the Dressage Training Scale

USDF gold medalist Bruno Greber explains why the dressage training scale was developed.

Q: I often read about the German training scale and the U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) pyramid of training. But what is the history of the training scale and why is it structured as it is?

Bruno Greber

A: The training scale developed from the manual for the German cavalry, "Heeresdienstvorschrift H.Dv. 1912, 1937," whereas the term "Skala der Ausbildung" (literally translated "Training Scale") only started being used in the 1950s. The H.Dv. 12/37 named the goals and principles for the training of a horse. It provided a detailed plan as guiding rules for the training of a military horse. The H.Dv. defined the training steps as follows:
  • accustoming the horse to the rider's weight
  • rhythm, relaxation
  • development of thrust and development of the gaits, contact
  • straightness
  • throughness, keeping the horse on the bit and in a frame
  • development of carrying power, collection
  • origination of elevation
  • working frame (standard rule)
  • dressage frame (may be asked only for a brief time)
The forerunner of today's training scale is found in Siegfried von Haugk's book, The Training of the Recruit in Horseback Riding (1940). Haugk defines, in the appendix for instructors, the training goals in the same order as we know them in today's training scale:
  • Takt (Rhythm)
  • Losgelassenheit (Relaxation)
  • Anlehnung (Contact)
  • Schwung (Impulsion)
  • Geraderichtem (Straightness)
  • Versammlung (Collection)
In the training process of the horse, six elements are divided into three overlapping training phases:
Phase 1: Rhythm, relaxation and contact form the accustoming phase. In this part of the training, the horse is supposed to get accustomed to the rider and his aids. This phase is used for the warm-up in the daily work.

Phase 2: Relaxation, contact, impulsion and straightness serve in the development of driving power (thrust) of the hind legs. In this phase, the horse is supposed to work more from behind and step diligently forward to the bit. This phase focuses on versatile gymnastic work to get a flexible and athletic horse.

Phase 3: Impulsion, straightness and collection aim to develop the carrying power of the hind legs. The horse is supposed to bear more weight over his hindquarters, which is mandatory for true collection and relative elevation. Both are necessary to reach higher goals in dressage training. Some older books mention elevation as a seventh element of the training scale. Since relative elevation (the head carriage and elevation of the withers are directly related to the degree of collection) is a direct consequence of correct collection, it has not been considered in today's version.

None of the six elements of the training scale stands by itself. They interact and depend on one another. The individual qualities are systematically incorporated into the training of the horse. The overlapping of the three training phases mentioned previously is a clear indication of the intermittent dynamics of the single components of the training scale. It may help you understand how the training scale contributes to your horse's training if you visualize it as a pyramid, with rhythm at the base and every layer built upon the next.

There is a logical reason for the order in which the six elements of the training scale are listed. The horse needs to reach a minimum of one element in order to have access to the next element. But, in practice, you'll feel that there is a flow between the elements, and you have to be open to listen to your horse; he'll tell you what needs to be considered the most in that particular moment.The goal in training a horse is to reach the best possible level of throughness.

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

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.