Category Archives: Real Life Rider Series


Real Life Rider Question: My struggle at the moment is how I can get my horse off her forehand.  Any exercises / tips gratefully received.

Response : Sometimes I see …

  1. horses on the forehand (O.T.F.) because the rider is allowing him to get support from leaning on the reins.  This is the first point to check.
  2. the rider actually putting the horse onto the forehand by driving so much with the legs and seat in the hopes that the horse will engage.  Are you under this misconception?
  3. a lazy horse in need of geeing up!

Whatever I am looking at the answer lies in transitions and the effective half-halt.

As always … lots of Transitions

I am a big advocate of transitions and their influence on the horses way of going.  So, how many will help in this exercise? well …. at least 6 transitions per lap of the arena!

Once the horse starts to respond to the upward/downward questions of the transitions – even anticipates a little – he will already be less O.T.F.

The upward transition should be crisp and immediate.  No compromises.  Do not accept a sloppy transition by doing so you are allowing your horse to be O.T.F.

The Effective Half Halt


Think about the half-halt as a balancing aid and use the half-halt before you ask your horse to do anything.

The half halt is a very important influence in making your horse obedient, balanced and up in his way of going.  Yet becoming skilled in the half-halt is Sooooooo difficult and I am yet to find a simple explanation as to how it can be achieved.

I have attempted an explanation, but for me it is still far too complicated … I will work on it and come up with something for you, I promise – It is my quest, to communicate the half-halt – crystal clear!!!!!!

So, firstly all of the following happens in a fraction of a second and you need to be very, very subtle.

  • The Seat Element of the half halt.

    • Move your tailbone (coccyx) forward while keeping your lower back flat and straight.
    • Your crotch or pubic arc presses forward to the pommel.
  • The Hand Element of the half-halt.

    • Your fingers should be relaxed when holding the reins ordinarily, closed but relaxed – now, in the half-halt, close your ring finger on the outside hand a little more.
    • As the horse feels your resisting hand he should back off the bit slightly.
    • Instantly reward – relax the ring finger.
  •  The Leg Element of the half-halt.

    • Close your legs gently and momentarily, asking for forwardness.

Remember to be steady in the hand. The goal is to train your horse to expect a request from you (change of rein, transition, change of bend).  Developing communication with your horse through half-halts will assist any balance issues enormously.

So for me the half-halt is a combination of seat/hand/leg co-ordination, which tells the horse, I’m going to ask you something different and it asks the horse to slow, momentarily and go forward (stop and go all at once) thereby helping to transfer his weight to his hindquarters.

Hope this helps, if you need any further motivation select School Exercises from the Category list on the sidebar.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

Have you taken a look at my sponsors site yet?   They have a great range of products and will price match so you won’t find them cheaper anywhere on the internet.









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

Canter Depart – Strike a Leg

Slow CanterThe canter depart or strike off can be a real sticking point for some riders.  In the third of our Real Life Rider Series, the rider is struggling with correct canter lead. In my experience this is a very, very common problem, although those who have it seem to think that everyone else can canter perfectly well and they are the only ones struggling!

Thanks for the question. I hope my response will aid a good many fellow equestrians.
The first thing to note is that it is almost certainly the rider that is creating the issues and recognising this is a huge step to correcting the problem.

So, here we are with a problem to solve, the solution may not be pretty; it may not be how you would want to ride in a test situation; it will – without doubt – be something that you will do for the fix and then forget.

Here goes … firstly let’s look at the trot prior to the canter depart.

  • You should go for a strong contact. Have the horse up in your hands, have the trot really forward but feel the contact a little more than usual, keep half-halting in the trot until you feel that the horse is putting in some effort and maybe even a little strong, create the circle of energy that you need to have full control of your horse.

You are working to engage the hind quarterscanter depart

  • When you are happy that you have a forward trot that feels a little more ‘UP’ than usual you are ready to ask for the depart.
  • When you ask for Canter, you can do it anywhere. Be very, very subtle about it. Inside leg on, outside leg sweeps back gently. Because you may be leaning and tensing, don’t think asking on the corner or circle is better, indeed it is not if you are leaning.
  • Under no circumstances drop the contact. You are trying to help your horse balance himself with you on board during the transition. It is not fair to him to abandon the contact and say – ok do it all yourself!
  • You need to help the horse by lifting the hand slightly (an inch maybe), sitting well back in your seat – leaning back is better than forward, look to the skies, hold the contact – half halt (I’m going to ask you something different) and ask for the canter.
  • Then wait. Don’t start pushing with your seat, leaning forward, shoving the hands forward, and willing him with every fibre of your body to go, just sit up and wait.
  • If it does not happen, back to trot and try again, rebalance the trot (do not allow the horse to run) if you need to back up your leg with a tap from the whip, so be it.

I cannot emphasise enough the “Think Up into Canter” UP, UP, UP – say it as you do it. It’s difficult to lean forward, look down etc., if you are saying “UP into Canter” to yourself. Shoulders back, give the horse space to bring his hind legs under him, lift his forehand and make a strike off.

Lots of praise in the form of voice when he gets it and enjoy the feeling you get, soak it up, you will have many more of them, but this is the first – it’s special, you need to remember it so that you can make it a habit. Do not pat to reward – you can’t afford to give away the contact!

My young horse will strike off on incorrect left lead if I’m sloppy! It’s her way of telling me to put in more effort.

So, you have this great canter transition sorted, but the horse won’t stay in canter. He won’t stay “in front of the leg”.

Again look to yourself to see what it is about your position that is causing this problem. You are probably leaning forward and you may have tension in your legs.  When the horse backs off or comes back to trot without you asking you will need to make the transition to canter again, and whilst the brain is saying if you lean forward and shove your hands forward and push with your seat the horse will respond with forward (it would if you were a cowboy and wanted to gallop, heck why not go all the way stand up in your stirrups and shout Yee-Hah! – please resist this!).

Sit still, no pushing, sit softly and relax the legs. Sit up with your pelvis forward. It might feel odd but have a look at how Cart Hester sits. He encourages his belly button forward – this will engage your back muscles so you will know the next day if you have done it correctly!

canter depart

Other stuff to consider to aid the Trot to Canter Transition (Canter Depart)

  • You may need work with no stirrups, or work on the lunge so that any balance issues can be resolved.
  • It is so easy for me to say relax – but that is what you must do. If you can’t relax your legs and have them entirely independent of your upper body, you should get help to learn how. Maybe someone could lunge you, in canter, preferably without stirrups – but one step at a time eh?
  • If you could get someone just to have you on a lunge line but not actually lunge the horse and you ‘do the work’ i.e. ask for canter when you know you have no option but to remain on a circle it might do the trick.
  • One more exercise – Turn on the forehand. Establish this exercise with your horse to engage the hind quarters. Then you can do this before you ask for the canter and he will definitely be more engaged and freer behind.
  • Finally – walk to canter. The best way to find out if you’re aids are correct for canter is to do walk to canter. Don’t forget, think UP and from a forward walk, ask for canter. Exactly as above, say the words “Canter” that your horse associates with lunging.
  • With the horse that will not maintain the canter, say the words “canter, canter, canter” as go along, this is partly the purpose of lunging the young horse, to associate the words with the actions so that you can use them when training.

BookHave fun!

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

Are you enjoying the Real Life Rider Series?  You might want to take a look at THE BOOK


Continuing our Real Life Rider Series, Louise is having difficulty leaving the demands of her stressful day and long drive home in the car when she gets to the yard.  This is affecting her ability to focus on her riding.Whilst this post is written for a rider’s focus issues, it could actually relate to any concern you are having emotionally.  So Louise, you’re dilemma will resonate with many, many people – thanks for asking!

1 keep calmHave you ever heard of the phrase ‘Emotional Intelligence’?

It is the ability to identify, assess and control our emotions.  Control of your emotions (in this case, stress or anxiety) will depend on how much you feed them; how much focus you give them.  Control requires us to understand them, recognise when and why we feel this way and have the tools in place to influence them.

1 monster

Think of your stress/anxiety as a ‘thing’.  Not some mystical happening that can’t be dealt with.  Turn it into an object, visualise, if you like – a little monster.
This little monster – “spiralling anxiety” can blind us into thinking that NOW is all that matters. It makes us rush around, snapping and barking, it’s hungry and has a way of making us feed it!  At stressful times look ahead beyond what is happening now.  You’ll see the bigger picture.  It’ll feel better.

  • The first step to emotional control is to know when we are actually being emotional and why.  You can’t control your emotions by ignoring them.  If you feel stressed acknowledge it “Okay, I don’t like this, I’m feeling very stressed!” – now you’ve admitted it to yourself.
  • Next, identify why you feel this stress: “This is because I’m late to the yard, having driven for hours in horrendous traffic and I feel robbed of my quality time with my horse”.  Why you are feeling it means you’re that much closer to doing something about it.

1 keep calm 1The tendency is to think that moods just happen.  They don’t.  There has to be a very particular set of circumstances in order for the stress to build and eventually influence our behaviour.The thing is we can influence, even change, our moods without resorting to alcohol! …Ahem!Learning how to do this is a very powerful tool.So, try these three small exercises:

  1. Instantly do something else.  Just do or think something different. Don’t be passively carried along, allowing the stress to consume your thoughts.   So, I’m driving along wishing I was at the yard an hour ago, I’m hacked off! I take a moment to strongly imagine feeling relaxed and comfortable and even in a good mood. I consider what it would feel like to have all the time in the world – this will, at the very least, neutralise the bad mood.
  2. Breathing.  You know how important the breathing is in your riding.  Have a go at it to help YOU instead of the horse, for a change.  You need to deal with the physical changes, as always, led by the way we breathe. Anxiety can only ‘work’ if we are breathing quicker with shallow breaths.
    • Reset your breath by holding it for 5 seconds
    • Breathe in slowly, focussing on your diaphragm
    • Breathe out even more slowly (imagine that you blowing calm into your hands (on the steering wheel)

It is the OUT breath that creates the calm.
3. Force the thinking part of your brain to work.  This will dilute and subdue the rampaging emotional part.  Here’s how … you have just recognised that the little monster ‘stress’ is making an appearance.  Force yourself to remember 3 names of riders that you admire and why, or the names of horses you like and why, or even just run through the alphabet in your head. Try it – because it really will work.My final thoughts on this subject are about our basic human needs.  We all have them.  There’s the very BASIC NEEDS – food, sleep, shelter, water.  If these are not met you will feel more emotional – no doubt, but then I don’t suppose for one moment anyone unable to focus on their Dressage does not have the basic need for food and water met!But there is an element that we can take from this – hydration and hunger.  If at times of high stress, like the period after work when the days shizzle hasn’t been dealt with and you are on your way to the yard, if you have skipped lunch or not had a drink for 4 hours, it will be harder to suppress the anxious feelings.You also have EMOTIONAL NEEDS.  To be emotionally healthy you need to feel safe, regularly give and receive quality attention, be able to feel in control of your life, feel part of a community, enjoy friendship, fun, love and intimacy, feel recognised and competent.

Knowing this is the first step to creating focus beyond your emotions.Give yourself time to think about these needs and how your life is meeting them.  If there are any deficiencies, try to work out activities that are likely to help you fulfil them.
When you get on your horse, feel the freedom that sitting on a horse gives you.

Take a moment to feel the privilege, keep calm and ride.

Ride well and enjoy!

The Dressage Tipster

Get more inspiration from Install a New Habit, The Training Holy Grail or Have What It Takes?


In the first of our Real Life Rider Series of blogs subscriber Anne wrote to me to say that she has issues with legs “creeping up” and losing stirrups.  So, especially for you Anne …

…any rider that has had a problem for some time with legs that creep up and/or forward are displaying the symptoms of muscle memory which will take some fixing.

As with most rider issues there are two areas to address – the physical and the psychological nature of the problem.

The physical:

The best way to start is by stretching the tight areas. I’m afraid I don’t have the time or space in this blog post to go through all the stretches that you could do, suffice to say the muscles indicated on the pictures are the ones that you should target and you should get professional advice about how to do it.  Losing StirrupsNow I know that this is not easy.  You have enough to do right?  When are you going to find the time to go through a thorough stretching regime?  Well I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but all the time you are spending trying to sit deeper, push the weight into your heels, grip on for dear life is wasted time.  Put aside some quality time (20 mins) to go through some stretching exercises focussed on the muscle groups above and you WILL see results.  Not immediately, but soon.

The Psoas Muscle

Also, let us not forget that we are correcting a problem, if you sit in your job all day chances are your Psoas muscle needs a workout.  There’s an interesting article by Karen Gunn “The Psoas Muscle and its Importance in Riding” – Happy Horse – well worth the read.

Another simple method of fixing the improper muscle firing sequence which should be utilised alongside stretching, is to pause it, continuing just strengthens it, so instead of continuing trying to hold the tense position, stop, refocus, get back into position and off we go again.

After all, you know when your horse is ready to stretch or needs a break, you have exactly the same need when you are trying to fix an ingrained problem.  At first, you may have to pause quite a lot and if you are truly committed to advancing your riding, you may have to spend several rides pausing, your horse may not get his full workout, but the time will be worth it.

As long as you are seeing progression and the time between the pausing is getting longer, you can continue happy in the knowledge that your legs will soon no longer be creepy!

The Psychological:

You need to train your body to have an ‘off’ switch.  At the same time, let go of any mental tension which may be building up.  Your brain will be releasing tension related signals whether you are conscious of them or not.

Riding with a pattern like inner thighs tightening, or heels creeping up, or legs creeping forward causes a constant firing signal to the muscles involved.  It creates a very strong ‘on’ signal to those areas.

Teaching your brain to have an ‘off’ switch by stretching and pausing is a good start.

For dressage riders, it can be helpful to think of these stages as similar to the training scale. Without addressing the tension in your thighs you will not be able to progress through the scales of training.

If you’re creepy legs are giving you difficulty with sitting trot there are two posts with helpful tips bumb-n-grind and more on sitting trot ... go take a look.

The next ‘Real Life Rider’ post looks at rushing in the long-and-low frame and how to re-establish the rhythm.

As always, have fun!

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster