Category Archives: Basic Paces


VariationWhat is variation ?

It is “a change or slight difference in condition, amount, or level, typically within certain limits.”

Everyone knows that there are 3 recognised gaits in dressage – walk, trot and canter.  But we also have variations within these gaits – medium, free, collected and extended walk; working, medium, collected and extended trot and canter.

It is the phrase ‘within certain limits‘ that you must hold in your mind when training variations within the gaits.  You need a holistic approach to teaching your horse variations because, whilst the lengthening and shortening of your horses steps is important, this element (the length of the steps) is only important in relation to the overall outline or frame; elevation of the steps; raising of the forehand and neck and lowering of the croup.

All these elements are thoroughly interconnected and should be considered as the ‘certain limits‘ you must set yourself.  So, you would not set out to simply lengthen the stride when beginning in with the working to medium trot, you would set out to lengthen the frame, encourage more power from behind, raise the forehand and so on.  This is an important point for you to get into your head, because too many people send the front legs flicking out without engagement of the hind quarters and the way you approach the training will set you up for success.

Developing your horses ability to vary the gaits relies on your ability to do your transitions well and this in turn relies on your ability to recognise the absolute purity of the footfall within each gait, consistent tempo and regularity of the rhythm at all times – especailly throughout the transition.

Trot on

Products showing the ‘Trot On’ image can be purchased at …Zazzle/Kelli Swan

Here’s what to do …

Continue reading V – IS FOR VARIATION



In the arena you should be the only part of the team that knows what is happening or where you are going and nothing breaks the confidence or concentration of a horse more effectively than not bothering to prepare him for a movement.

Your horse is taken by surprise and goes into self-preservation mode when he sees the wall looming up in front of him!

1We use the half-halt to bring the horse to attention; to prepare him for things to come; to make him aware that something is about to happen.  It is absolutely vital that you prepare your horse in sufficient time to be able to allow him to carry out the movement AND whilst you are still in that movement, prepare for the next.

Not easy, but for me the revelation came when calling a test many years ago.  If you were calling a test for friend and on the point at which they reached A you shouted out “A Enter at Working Trot”, they would not be able to turn into the arena on time and they probably wouldn’t be your friend for long!

Here’s what to do … equate in your mind the way you would call a test to the time you and your horse need to prepare for each movement.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster




BThe horse’s natural stance is on the forehand, with his weight over the front of the legs.  Your job as the rider is to re-establish the horse’s centre of balance and move it further back so that he can carry you comfortably.  This balance can only be achieved if you have engaged the most powerful part of the horse – the hindquarters and you will do this with the half-halt.

Now I subscribe to the Carl Hester school of thought that the half-halt is a very personally developed aid which differs for every horse/rider combination. So let’s say as a generic description for the half-halt might be – close the legs to ask for more forward energy and close the fingers on the reins to block that energy.  The block ensures also that the horse does not run away or drop down onto his forehand but rounds his back, lifts the forehand and steps under himself from behind.

Be sure not to pull back in the half-halt, the closing of the fingers is a ‘block’ to send the energy asked for by the leg back to the hind-legs.  If you pull the horse’s back will hollow.  However you execute the half-halt it must be with finesse and subtleness and the aids should be applied for only a few steps.  Prolonged pressure will not give you the desired result, so as the horse responds, back off, soften the rein and then go again.

Imagine …

balance… circle the two areas of the horse where energy can escape; the front and the back.  When the horse is ‘on the forehand’ energy trails out of the hind end; if you have no contact or are not using the half-halt the energy will leak out of the front of the horse.


You are aiming to get these two circles closer together.   The front circle coil clockwise up through your legs, over the wither, down horse’s face, down under the horse’s forelegs and back up through the sole of the rider’s boot.

The Hind circle spirals anti-clockwise comes up through the rider’s legs, over the horse’s quarters, down under the horse’s hind legs and back up through the sole of your rider’s boots.

What is the desired effect?

You are looking for the hindquarters to be under the horse’s centre of effort with the back soft and light shoulders, thus enabling the forelegs greater freedom of movement.

Here’s what to do … always look to the end result, try to feel your way through, try not to be too mechanical about applying the aids, play with the pressure until it is achieving the desired effect.  Experiment and feel your way, too much hand and your horse will back off the forward impulsion, too much leg and he will shoot forward –  you will know when you have it.  You will feel the containment (or rather flow) of the energy coming up and over the back.

Once you have experienced it, you will want to be sure you always have it, because without it, you will not feel good about your riding, so you will want to work harder to keep it.

Balance, that’s it!

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster




Have you ever ridden a problem, time and time again and thought

“he always goes off the circle at that point”

or “whenever I ride past that point he loses rhythm”

or “he always drops his shoulder on that corner”

If the answer is yes (as it is for me!) then DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!  I truly hope I am the only one who, despite knowing that …

“If you always do what you’ve always done,you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

… I will go round focussed on something else (that’s my excuse!) and wonder why I keep getting the same result, until my coach says in a fairly exasperated manner  – CHANGE SOMETHING! – You know she’s going to baulk at that, so next time round prepare for it, do a little shoulder-fore, more inside leg, half-halt, just do something to at least try to solve the problem!  OK?

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

The Downward Transition

TransitionHappy New Year to you all, lets get on with some training shall we?

The old masters taught that all training occurs in transitions and as I have advocated many times, without doubt, transitions can be used to improve balance, suppleness and obedience.  But correct transitions are not easy.

Today I am looking at downward transitions and here’s the thing, you know that I do like to keep things simple, but I am about to perplex you for which I apologise …

Continue reading The Downward Transition

Improving the Canter to Walk Transition

A Facebook comment has prompted this short post on how to improve the canter to walk transition.

Question: I can get walk to canter easily, but cant get a relaxed canter to walk, any tips?


Your horse needs to carry much more of his own weight onto his hind legs and your weight also, into a forward transition to walk.  He will find it tricky if he has not built up sufficient strength gradually over a period of time.

To help your horse develop the strength and balance to perform crisp canter-to-walk transitions, perform the exercise on a large circle.

In this instance, good very much begets good.  You will not get a good walk unless you have a good canter.  The canter should be relaxed and forward before you ask for the walk transition.

If the transition is rushed, walk until you are happy with the quality of the walk, only then ask for the canter.

Repeat the process, with the goal of shortening the interval between transitions. At first it might take several circles of the canter before you are ready to ask for the walk and vice-versa.  It will also take several weeks of working on this exercise for a few minutes during each ride, before you will have built the horses strength to be able to consistently canter a half circle and walk a half circle.

Canter to WalkFor you it is a matter of ensuring that you are using your core strength to hold yourself up and keep out of your horse’s way whilst he does what is asked of him in the transitions.  Often riders collapse through the middle which shifts their weight and centre of balance forward, hindering the horse’s ability to sit.

But at least you don’t have to carry his weight too!  Be patient, it will come.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster


This post was sponsored by:

Blue Chip Feeds



The importance of how you understand and focus on the collective marks cannot be emphasised enough.  If you pay lip service to this you will not have a full appreciation of the aims of your test as more and more emphasis is being put on the horse’s ‘way of going’.  It is no longer sufficient to simply do the movements; you must demonstrate relaxation and willingness from the horse.

The collective marks allow the judge to give an overall score for their perception of how you and your horse performed throughout the test.  It is their opinion as to how you, as a combination, conducted yourselves and the overall impression you left them with as the test progressed.

The first post in this series – Collective marks – Scoring, explained the way the collectives are scored by the judges.  Moving on, we turned to paces, regularity and freedom, the first of the collectives to be given marks and my post the collective marks – paces and regularity – the walk takes you through the rule requirements and what is being looked for in the walk element of your test.

Your score will be either an individual score for each of the 3 paces (walk, trot and canter) or an overall score for all of them, depending on your training level.

So, onto Trot – the two beat pace of alternative diagonal legs separated by a moment of suspension.


The trot should show free, active and regular steps

It is the quality of the trot that is being judged.  By assessing the regularity; elasticity of the steps; cadence and impulsion the quality of the gait originates from the horse’s supple back and well-engaged hindquarters.  Rhythm and balance will be assessed with all variations of the trot.

At all times the horse is required to be ‘on the bit’.  For the observer, a horse is on the bit when you can draw an almost vertical line from his nose to his forelock when viewed from the side. Yet, there is so much more associated with the horse on the bit that many riders are not aware of.


Outing my Inner Snark – Guest post blog for The Snarky Rider

SnarkyHi Folks,

Recently guest posted for The Snarky Rider … hope you like the blog, I think it will certainly raise some discussion.

Click on Image to see original post.

Guest Post- Outing my inner Snark and other bits …

Not one for being outwardly snarky I’m not really sure why, when The Snarky Rider put it out there that she was looking for guest bloggers, I leapt forward and offered my services with the same enthusiasm I apply to my own blog. Before I knew it I’d agreed to write something and was feeling pretty pleased with myself.

For those of you that don’t know me, I am The Dressage Tipster and although I can make even a die-hard dressage fan yawn with my endless musings about dressage training (that is to say I am never short of ideas for my posts) after spending an age contemplating my subject matter, I was somewhat dismayed that I drew a big fat blank

… WHAT am I going to write about that will appeal to Snarky Rider’s audience?

Oh, well – something will come!   It didn’t!  Every time I thought of something I’d dismiss it, but make a note for my own work as I usually do. But it was in there, ‘the inner snark’, quite deep in me, deeper in others maybe, but if you wait long enough it will appear and like magna waiting to erupt it came whilst reading an article which started something like this …

“How embarrassing is it to walk into the local tack shop and admit you do not know how a bit works.”

The voice in my head said “not in the least, I’m quite proud of the fact that I don’t spend hours contemplating which bit is going to change my horse… bits don’t fix training issues!”… Ahem! – Snarky

Take a look at the bit opposite. Sguest post inner snark pic1ome may call it a lozenge bit, a training bit, but to me it is more or less a loose ring French link and my bit of choice for everything up to medium level in competition and training bit for those that are above that level.  For me it is a thing of beauty, simple, elegant.

So how does something so understated become this…
guest post inner snark pic2

Butterfly Flip Waterford with Copper Spinner


When I first saw this bit I thought it was a necklace pendant. I liked it, perhaps a little fussy but nice colours.  Imagine then my fright when I discovered it IS actually a bit!

Tell me this – at what point in our training does it become necessary to put a configuration such as this into your horse’s mouth?

CGuest post inner snarky pic3learly the above bit is not Dressage legal so would never grace the arena and is a somewhat extreme example but my point is this; it worries me that as riders we point to a bitting issue when we have a problem, particularly with contact and/or speed, when often it is the rider and/or training which has the deficit.

I don’t feel particularly deficient having very little knowledge of how different bits work. This has come about because it does not occur to me to change a bit when I am experiencing issues, and the idea that someone buys a bit because it looks interesting or has a complicated name (as was suggested to me by a well known equine retailer recently!) is pretty shameful.

“Yeah, I use the Butterfly Flip Waterford – oh, you use a French link snaffle? Really? Full cheek, no? – Hanging cheek, no? – rollers then? wilkie rings, no? sweet iron perhaps? not even a copper lozenge? – loose ring French link eh, interesting, what does that do for you?

Naff All – well, very little – just as intended really, it keeps my horse comfortable in the mouth without too much going on and allows me to put in the hard work.  I am even more intrigued by the some of those names.

  • Cartwheel – Horse will turn into a gymnast – doubt it very much.
  • Revolver – Alternative to shooting the horse – I approve.
  • Gag – They’re a joke. Get it …gag / joke … never mind.
  • The Pee Wee – No comment.
  • Baucher – Named after the classical master and yet variations of these bits are not dressage legal. Oh, the irony.

And as for this?
guest post inner snark pic4

For me this looks like a genetic alteration, some freaky unrepaired damage to DNA; a replication which resulted in mutation. I can’t look at this bit because it gives me ‘the willies’.

But given that this oddity scares me, how do you think I feel about The 3 Ring Gag with Reversible Scruboard and Copper Pacifiers?

Just stop it now it’s unkind and uncalled for, Ok?

I’m going to lie down now and suppress my inner Snark, don’t get me wrong I feel better for having ‘outed’ – I just need a lie down.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster


Another of our Real Life Rider series, where our rider wrote to say she is currently training her 3-year-old Warmblood and is having difficulty with getting her ‘forward’.  The horse is always behind the leg and when she loses the forward the horse then becomes crooked and starts to rear and protest.

A rider may struggle to properly apply and coordinate their aids without fully knowing or understanding that they may be the root cause of the horses lack of forwardness. As a rider you should constantly ask and answer a persistent question when the horse does not respond as you intend.

Whether you are training at the very highest level or a beginner ask yourself …Is it me or is it my horse?


This basic question never goes away, even for the most experienced rider. To answer this ever present question you should automatically run through a check list related to your basic position.

So, in sequential order … check out the following Continue reading IS IT ME OR IS IT MY HORSE?


Dressage is about training and developing your horse’s natural athleticism.  Creating a willing and gymnastic way of going is just as important as achieving the technical requirements.

The importance of how you understand and focus on the collective marks cannot be emphasised enough.  If you pay lip service to this you will not have a full appreciation of the aims of your test.

Since the Rollkur debates began raging, more and more emphasis is being put on the horse’s ‘way of going’.  It is no longer sufficient to simply do the movements, you must demonstrate relaxation and willingness from the horse.

The collective marks allow the judge to give an overall score for their perception of how you and your horse performed throughout the test.  It is their opinion as to how you, as a combination, conducted yourselves and the overall impression you left them with as the test progressed.

The first post in this series – Collective marks – Scoring, explained the way the collectives are scored by the judges.  Moving on, we now turn to paces, regularity and freedom, the first of the collectives to be given marks.

Your score will be either an individual score for each of the 3 paces (walk, trot and canter) or an overall score for all of them, depending on your training level.


The Walk

The walk should at all times be consistent, like a march – a regular, four-time beat with equal intervals between each beat, relaxed.  There are currently 4 walks within the full range of Dressage Tests.

  • Medium Walk
  • Collected Walk
  • Extended walk
  • Free walk

Medium Walk

The rules state: A clear regular and unconstrained walk of moderate lengthening. 

For maximum points you should demonstrate an energetic, purposeful walk which is relaxed.  The horse should ‘overtrack’ (the hind feet touching the ground in front of the hoof prints of the forefeet) with even and determined steps.  The rider should allow the natural movement of the horses head and neck.

Collected Walk

The rules state: The horse moves resolutely forward with its neck raised and arched and showing a clear self carriage. 

The collected walk must remain marching and vigorous and in regular sequence.  The steps cover less ground and are higher than at the medium walk, because all the joints bend more markedly.  The collected walk is shorter than the medium walk although showing greater activity.

Extended Walk

The rules state: The horse covers as much ground as possible, without haste and without losing the regularity of the steps.

Overtrack becomes even more of a focus on the extended walk.  It is all too easy to have the horse strung out with appearance that the steps are longer, without overtrack the horse is not truly engaged and active.

However, the rider should allow the horse to stretch out the head and neck (forward and downwards) without losing contact and control of the poll.  The nose must be clearly in front of the vertical.

Free Walk

The rules state: The free walk is a pace of relaxation in which the horse is allowed complete freedom to lower and stretch out his head and neck. 

The degree of ground cover and length of strides with overtrack are essential to the quality of the free walk.  You are looking to show that the horse is balanced, supple, obedient and relaxed.  You should allow the reins to lengthen as the horse stretches gradually forward and downward.

As the neck stretches forwards and downwards the mouth should reach more or less to the horizontal line corresponding with the point of the shoulder.  How many of you have had the judges comment “should show more stretch or could stretch a little more”.  I see it all the time.  Work in a long and low frame at home and really get this, it is an essential element of your success.  An elastic and consistent contact with the riders hands must be maintained.

The most important element of this exercise is that the walk must maintain its rhythm.  He should stay light in the shoulders and not drop onto the forehand.  The hind legs should remain well engaged.  During the retake of the reins the horse must accept the contact without resistance in the mouth or poll.

Common Faults

Often the horse becomes irregular in the walk and the foreleg and hind leg on the same side move almost on the same beat so that the walk tends to become an almost lateral in its movement.  This ambling irregularity is a serious deterioration of the pace and will cost you dearly in a test situation.

Try this exercise to improve your control of the walk…

Experiment with the tempo of the walk by using your abdominal muscles to slow the pace.  Whilst in medium walk, with the horse ‘on the bit’ bear down (push of the guts against the skin, which we do naturally when we clear our throats and which good riders do all the time).

This is not easy for most riders, most bear down and give too much with the hand, or bring the hand back and suck in the stomach (which is not a bear down).  Riders also find it nearly impossible to bear down and breathe at the same time.  This comes with practice.  Remind yourself to breathe.  It is not easy to utilise the bear down to regulate the tempo of the walk, but as with everything, practice makes perfect.

  • Slow the walk to the very slowest you can achieve (using bear down – not reins) … then try to slow a little more.  You will be surprised at how slow your horse can walk! But you must maintain purpose.  This is not a slow amble, it’s a slow march.
  • Release the bear down and with swinging hip movements that follow the horses natural rhythm encourage the horse to walk forwards – not fast, just marching forwards.
  • When you have achieved a good forward walk, allow the reins through your hands and go for the free walk.  Remember to keep a contact.
  • Re-take the reins by ensuring that you are following the horses head movement with your arms – exaggerate if you have to.  Don’t bother vibrating or tweaking just follow the head movement and gradually take up the reins.  Your horse should come back up to you without resistance.  Once he’s there – do nothing, just hold.
  • In the early days the re-take might take a length of the school.
  • You can judge your improvement by aiming for shortening the time it takes to achieve the re-take with a goal of one-horse’s length.
  • Use the bear down again to slow the horse and repeat the exercise.

By repeating this exercise or taking part of it and practising you will begin to take control of the tempo, rhythm and balance of the horse.  You will begin to feel what it is like to regulate the pace.

So, back where we started, regularity, rhythm, balance, freedom, tempo – get this right and you have the basis for a good transition into trot, a great transition into canter and maximum points in the collectives for your walk.


Footfalls of the walk

Quick Quote: “It is a mistake to keep the horse on the bit for too long. He must be relaxed at the walk on the long rein regularly and afterwards he must be carefully put back together again.”  N.Oliveira (1998, 42)

The next post in the series will be the trot and what you need to look out for to improve your collective marks for the trot work.

Until next time, have fun!

Patricia, The Dressage Tipster