Category Archives: Contact

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?


Real Life Rider Question #4.

Here we have a Crystal System subscriber who struggling to keep a consistent outline with her horse coming behind the vertical or poking his nose slightly, another very familiar problem which raises its ugly head, time and time again!  (no pun intended – well, it was intended actually, lol!)

Thing is, when our real life rider gets the magic spot … keeping it is a problem.


I have had a number of questions about consistent contact.  It’s a problem.  It is what is known as a back to front problem and can escalate and create more issues such as gait changes (working to medium trot) becoming difficult, movements are downhill instead of uphill and the horse begins to lean or back off the leg.

Too much focus on the reins makes you a ‘front to back’ rider.  Swapping your thinking will solve a multitude of problems.

Want to eliminate 80% of your problems?

If there were a one size fits all solution and I could just pinpoint one thing that would assist every rider it would be forwardness.

Having your horse forward quite simply erases 80% of all issues! fact! (bold I know, but I need you to understand this)

To achieve a consistent contact, we should shift our focus to forwardness and do everything we can to drive the horse’s engine (which is in the hind quarters).  Remaining focussed on this and removing the focus from the front is the starting point for consistency in the outline.

Keep the reins soft, following and steady, do not pull back.

Quick Tip: On a circle, if you drive your horse forward with determination, maintain the bend with the inside leg, but at the same time hold the outside rein, your horse has no choice but to become round.  If he drops behind the vertical push him forward, up into the contact and give, very slightly with the fingers and then DO NOTHING!

You must resist fiddling, vibrating, tweaking.  You must simply hold the reins in place and allow the horse to find the contact.  This will take practice.  Only make adjustments if things change, then go back to doing nothing.

A word of caution – you should have a contact, you should be able to feel the bit, do not think you have a light contact if you can’t feel anything – you don’t – what you have is NO contact, which frankly is a bad thing.

Want to eliminate 80% of your horse’s problems?

If there were one size fits all solution and I could pinpoint one thing that would assist every horse it would be transitions.

Incorporating countless transitions into your work will benefit you and your horse in many, many ways.  So, check that you are in a  back to front mindset and begin the use of the transitions to start the horses engine.

For example, in the walk to trot transition, when you ask the horse to trot, you should feel the horse respond easily to the leg aid by engaging his hind, accepting your seat by lifting his back and continuing to step under his belly towards the hand and UP into trot.

If the horse keeps his neck round (his nose can be slightly in front of the vertical) the energy created will flow, allowing you to feel as though there is a support behind your back and seat and lightness in your hand.

Remember …

To summarise, work on getting your horse forward, be still in your hand and use many transitions to engage the engine.

For a horse that is not used to being round, moving from his hind end through his back will cause him to use completely different muscles than he is used to.  After the exercise, give the horse the buckle end of the reins and allow him to stretch.  Like us, he will most likely be a bit sore the next day and will need time to build up the correct muscles.  Be patient.

For more great posts about contact you can select ‘contact’ from the sidebar section “Topics I’m interested in …”


Patricia – The Dressage Tipster


To buy the book, click on image : Dressage


There are a couple of exercises that will guarantee keeping your horse supple and flexible

  1. The first is a walk exercise.  Ensure your horse is in a long and low frame and make a 10-meter circle at A, C, B and E.  Really feel the inside hind stepping under your horse on the circle and be sure to keep a bend through the horses whole body.  Straighten on the long sides and bend into the next circle.  Do the same on both reins.
  2. The second is shoulder fore.  Again, in a long and low frame, keep the horse in shoulder fore around the entire school.  Along the straight, on the corner and then straighten for a lap, change the rein and do the same on the other rein.

BendJust a couple of pointers, in exercise 2, it may take a while for your horses strength to build in order to keep the shoulder fore for a lap of the school and keep both of the exercise in walk until you feel entirely happy that you will not lose balance in the trot.

Depending on your level of work, you can do the same in canter.

These exercises take a few minutes and if you regularly introduce them into your working in, you see a difference in everything you do, because your horse will become and remain more supple.

After each exercise, give your horse the buckle end of the rein and I guarantee he’ll stretch down and walk forward with purpose as he’ll feel loose.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

Need more schooling tips? Take a look at the following posts …



So, today we worked on teaching my young horse Trot Extensions and the essence of the matter is preparation.

The corner before the extension, assuming you are making the extensions across the diagonal is absolutely vital.  It should be forward, balanced and primed.

  • Half halt, make sure you have a good bend and use the corner well
  • After the corner, half halt again to let your horse know something different is about to happen (a transition into extended trot)
  • Sit up and apply your leg aids – BOTH – gently and off again, whilst giving A LITTLE with the rein, from the elbow.
  • Remember you are not aiming to go faster, just longer strides so don’t give away the contact.  The Horse should have a consistent contact so that he/she doesn’t run and simply lengthens the stride.
  • In the early days, talk to your horse – Tell them to trot on as if you were lunging, this will help to stop them going into canter

Allow it to happen.

Expect it to happen.

Feel it happening.


And when it does, lots of praise to reaffirm the horse is doing good.

Trot Extensions

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster


So … watching my partner give his very close friend some riding tips, I witnessed the transformation of the horse from a horse going “nicely” to a horse which looked spectacular and whilst both horse and rider were going very well the number of times he asked the rider to ‘pat’ the horse with the inside rein seemed excessive to me.

Later, I asked whether he might have asked the rider to reward the horse a little too much.

“She has developed a bad habit of using the inside rein a little too much, by asking her to continually pat the horse, particularly coming up to and through the corners, with the inside hand I –

a) got her to release the inside hand thereby ensuring she was not using it to steer the horse andClever

b) checked that the horse was in self carriage and steady in its head carriage.”


Patricia – The Dressage Tipster


Do you fully understand the essential concept of inside leg to outside rein and have the ability to apply it in your training?

Outside ReinNO? … Well this does not surprise me!

One of the most perplexing, most difficult concepts in riding is the use of the outside rein to turn a horse.  It goes against everything that is hard-wired into our psyche.  Surely to turn anything you need to show the direction in which you wish to go?  NO!

In riding dressage you use inside leg to outside hand, but it is not the USE of the outside rein that you should think about.  It’s about how you apply the inside leg and seat bone.

  • Outside ReinYou are looking to encourage your horse to ‘fill’ the outside rein, not apply more pressure on that rein.
  • Rein contact should be even, inside leg encourages the horse to put more weight to the outside, inside seat bone also encourages the weight shift.
  • The outside rein is there to catch this weight shift.  The outside rein ‘fills’ the inside rein ‘softens’.

When the above occurs correctly, we say you can feel the connection between inside leg and outside rein – just a little hint on the subject, which is vast and complicated, hope it helps.

 Patricia – The Dressage Tipster



Here I go again with another controversial notion – REIN CONTACT. To initiate contact with your horse, you must shorten the reins – this does not mean pull! Many riders believe that shortened reins means pulling reins. This is far from the truth.

You should aim to achieve a useful rein length that allows a secure feel of the bit in the horse’s mouth, it should be steady, which is where it gets tricky – take up the rein contact, and keep it, but you must allow and follow the horses head movement. I see all too often riders who think that a steady contact is keeping everything still – No – you must ‘allow’ or your rein will actually be on-off, on-off with the movement of the horses head.

Another prerequisite is hands that are independent of the seat so they can respond to the horse’s needs rather than using the mouth for balance.

1 handshake

Next, invite your horse to reach forward into the rein contact. This can be thought of as a “handshake” with the horse, where the horse comes to meet you, like when you reach forward to shake someone’s hand, they reach forward, and you make contact!
Ask the horse forward from your legs and seat. Create a millimetre of space for your horse to reach into. (from giving elbow movement – don’t drop the reins or let them through your hands!!) You should feel your horse surge forward with a lifted back, this is how you will know if you are on the right track!

Without contact, your reins will be ‘wishy washy’ and so will your rein aids. You will always surprise your horse, you may cause discomfort in the horse’s mouth and there will without doubt, be inconsistencies in your communication.

Contact can always be improved, like communication can always be improved. It develops with the goal of softness, lightness, gentleness and effectiveness of the touch.

Good rein contact makes a happy horse and taking all of the above into account, only with soft shoulders, arms, elbows and hands will you achieve a good contact.

Have fun!

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster


Wow, have you ever felt, I mean really felt what a correct change of bend feels like.  Flowing, rhythmic, effortless.  Having worked hard on establishing correct bend on a 20m circle in both directions, I worked through the change of direction over X, as shown in the diagram.
change of bend
Whilst this seems a very simple exercise, getting it right is a major building block to so many other exercises that it is really worth taking time to perfect.
  • A good rein contact
  • Spot on rhythm
  • and tempo, absolute maintenance of the bend throughout each circle without allowing the hindquarters to fall out, maintenance of the size of the circle in the correct position in the menage and, of course, ride the correct diagonal.
Oh, and don’t forget that momentary straightening through X.  So, this simple exercise, done properly is not so simple.  Get all that and you’re there!


67328_348660735237784_47607227_n644490_348660741904450_501584849_nAre you aware of the power of working your horse in a long and low frame?

I am making a clear distinction here between Long, deep and round – Low, deep and round – and Long and Low. Because my horse is young, 80% of my training is done in a long and low frame with the poll never coming above the level of the withers until the last 10 minutes of the session.

So, how do you achieve a long and low frame?

48145_348661341904390_52763903_nAllow your horse walk on a long rein and when you take up the contact, take it slowly, maintaining soft, following hands on a longer rein that you usually school with.

When ready for trot ensure it is forward (this is essential), keep your hands low, use your fingers to squeeze and release the inside rein. Ideally your horse will drop his head for a stride or two and travel with a round frame. You want him to seek the bit forward, you need to maintain a contact but do not hold the horse together, if all is well he will offer to stretch down but you must give and react quickly enough to ensure that your horse is rewarded for his efforts.

If you get a bit wobbly in your seat it’s because you are relying on your hands for balance! This is BAD and another good reason to work your horse long and low is to improve your own balance and reduce dependence upon your hands.

You will definitely know if you have got it. Your horses back will lift up to your seat. This lifting sensation is unmistakeable and exactly as described. Sensational!

This is an emotive subject … see pictures and feel free to comment.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster