Category Archives: School Exercises

Exercises to help with Collected Canter

Real Life Rider Lee asked me … ‘what advice would you give to help with collected canter’.  A really good question, the answer to which will help many.  Here’s what I think …

  1. Variations in Strides

First thing to do is to make sure you have properly established the working to medium so go for lots of variations in the stride, ‘on and back’ to get you and your horse used to the control of the variation in pace that is required, utilising paces you know you can do. 5-8 strides of each.  I am assuming you know how to do these on the basis that collection only comes into tests at Elementary/Medium level so working to medium trot should be well established.

  1. Walk to Canter / Canter to Walk

Secondly, one you are entirely happy that you have control over the variation and that means, you can control the number of strides, go for working canter to walk / walk to canter to get your horse absolutely on the seat and aids and encourage more hind leg.  Again walk to canter is in the Novice test, so you should be accomplished with this.

Here we know that good very much begets good.  You will not get a good walk unless you have a good canter and you will not get a good canter if you do not have a good walk.  Quality over quantity.  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.

  1. Introduce Collection

Thirdly, the rules state “The horse’s strides are shorter than in the other canters, without losing elasticity and cadence. The hocks should be well engaged, maintaining an energetic impulsion, enabling the shoulders to move with good mobility thus demonstrating self-carriage and an uphill tendency.”

I would pick up the working canter and introduce collecting the stride on the short side and immediately back to working canter on long side.  Go for 5 strides.

To shorten the horse’s stride you need to sit taller and lengthen your spine. With multiple half-halts in rhythm with the horse’s strides you will engage the hindquarters. With the half halts, sit up taller on the corner as you go in, slow your upper body, slow your seat and as soon as your horse responds give him a pat and canter on.

Your seat becomes quieter but it is still the forward aid. Often described as ‘bouncing the horse’ because the energy that produces the length of the stride now creates the height of the stride.  The idea is to get him responsive and enjoying it and really ‘sitting’, he will only achieve this by a gradual build-up of strides that he can physically do easily.Collected Canter


  • Insufficient leg will allow the horse onto the forehand or to break into the trot or walk.
  • Don’t try to do it for too long, when introducing the work, your horse will probably drop into trot if you do.
  • Do nothing with your reins other than half-halt. No pulling!
  • Go back to working/medium after the exercise because the last thing you want is for your horse to start offering a piddly little canter. He must be forward and loose.
  1. More Collected Canter

Finally, and yes I know, it’s always a long process but to encourage you both to keep the quality of the canter use exercises.  Make your circle smaller, I would collect on the short side and pop in a 10m circle and a few collected strides out of the circle and push him on and back into working canter.

Ride slight shoulder-fore, the focus should always remain on the quality of the canter and balance. Never continue with the exercises when quality diminishes because it can ruin your horse’s confidence. Teach him that when the work becomes a little harder, he must keep his activity and alignment.  Over time your horse will build the strength to carry you and be able to do a good expressive canter when collecting and most importantly he will be on your aids and under control.

balanced positionAt all times concentrate on your position and the clarity of your aids.

As your horse becomes more comfortable with compressing his stride, you can use increasingly difficult exercises such as counter canter, half passes and working pirouettes.

Hope that helps.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

My Most Used Warm Up Routine

I am often asked the best way to warm up your horse for the training session ahead and this is something that I used to struggle with myself.  Exactly what is it I am trying to achieve, and how?

I have a number of routines that I use depending on the horse and what sort of work is planned but nine times out of ten I follow the same path, which not only helps me ensure that I am warming up my horse correctly but also helps to settle my horse if she is in a different environment.  Vertical 2Doing the same old warm up routine she does every session at home is familiar and well within her comfort zone (and mine!)

The other benefit is that when you are used to a specific routine you can become very proficient at it and can make adjustments to get you back on track if and when required in a strange environment, like at a competition.

Continue reading My Most Used Warm Up Routine

On The Forehand

Here’s the thing – You simply cannot pull your horse up off the forehand, so if you have a horse that pulls down on your hands, barely uses his hind legs let alone pushes from them, is heavy, hard to manoeuvre and thoroughly unpleasant to ride; if you feel like your horse would fall on his face if you were to release the contact … then you have a horse that is on the forehand. Continue reading On The Forehand

The Ultimate Guide to Canter to Trot Transitions

Riding good canter to trot transitions is a joy and a skill.   In my experience the upwards transitions are the joy and the downwards transitions are the where the real skill lies!

I want to, nay need to, share with you my ‘eureka moment’ I had only this week whilst working on improving the quality of our canter to trot transitions.  Those confounded downward transitions can be tricky, can’t they? Continue reading The Ultimate Guide to Canter to Trot Transitions


Haunches in, haunches out, quarters in, quarters out, travers, renvers – strip back the technical terms and what you are aiming for is the ability to move your horse’s quarters left or right (with bend through the horse’s body). Getting to the heart of the matter will dispel any fears you have about cracking on with this type of work, because the sooner you do, the sooner your horse will benefit from these straightforward exercises. Continue reading LATERAL WORK: Travers

Why The Half Pass Cannot Be Improved

There are many elements to the half pass which can go wrong but the good news is that 90% of the issues can be dealt with really easily.  The solution to many half pass issues is energy.  It is essential that you create sufficient energy in your horse for him to flow across the arena without labouring.  Fact is, it is simply not worth beginning a half pass if your horse’s gait is not energetic as you enter the movement, it will fade, become stuttery, lose bend and just be a ‘puffed up’ leg yield.  It is crucial there is no loss of rhythm, tempo or impulsion throughout the movement and this can only be achieved if your horse is forward and energetic.

Continue reading Why The Half Pass Cannot Be Improved

 How to get … and keep … your horse sensitive to your aids

How to get, and keep, your horse sensitive to your aids.

You will all, by now be more than aware that I am an advocate of keeping things simple. My favourite Bruce Lee quote is “Simplicity is the Key to Brilliance”, but when I say simple I realise that this can be misunderstood.  I don’t necessarily mean ‘less’ when I say keep it simple I mean ‘reduce to its heart’.Sensitive to your aids

I had a note from Angie who asked me a question relating to the mechanics of getting her horse sensitive to the aids.

I am a big believer in putting the leg on and then always immediately off – a squeeze and release.  This assumes that your legs are hanging gently at your horse’s side and only being used when needed and not clamped on for dear life.

Continue reading  How to get … and keep … your horse sensitive to your aids

Tension Mnemonic

I had a note from Anna who is struggling with tension in her horse and all the associated issues and whilst I have regularly written on the subjects of Rhythm and Relaxation it occurred to me that I have not really addressed tension and how to deal with it.

The enemy of harmony is tension; rhythm and relaxation are at the base of the dressage training scale and the biggest challenge to relaxation is tension.  It is both mental and physical the tension that causes tightness in a horse’s body which in turn makes the horse uncomfortable and unhappy.

T – Train

E – Extra Work

N – No Doubt

S – Shallow Loops

I – Inhale, exhale

O – On the side

N – Nurture

The little mnemonic above might help you remember some strategies whilst you are riding, that will assist when the dreaded tension creeps into your riding.

T is for TRAIN

As you ride be aware that you are sitting on your horse’s spine and that spine extends from poll to tail without interruption; just as the muscles do.  The muscles of the top-line: neck, back and croup merge into one another and besides their individual function, work as a whole. Continue reading Tension Mnemonic

Falling In

 How difficult and confusing is ‘ falling in ’ for a rider?

When a horse is falling in, it’s the horse that’s not following the track of the circle or corner, right?  After all, you have set your course, it’s a 20m circle, which somehow becomes smaller with every stride or begins to resemble an egg shape as you feel the horse fall in at certain points and attempt corrections.  Those of us who have experienced our horses falling in usually wait until it happens and then correct it.  Nothing wrong with that you may say, but there is a better way; another Eureka! moment for me in my training which requires a slight change of mindset and a good helping of focus.

Firstly, you should experiment with the give and retake of the rein to establish whether your horse can maintain his balance on a circle without you holding him there with the reins; in this exercise he should remain on the circle.  If not, the issue is from your horse’s inability to balance himself while being ridden on a circle, or indeed a straight line.  We have all experienced the centre line that starts at A and finishes somewhere left or right of C, haven’t we?Falling In

If your automatic reaction to the sensation that your horse is falling in is to push the inside rein against the horse’s neck in an attempt to ‘neck rein’ him out onto the circle or worse, if you’re crossing your hand over his neck to ‘ultra neck rein’ him out to the circle; or even if you have learned to drag the horse out with your outside rein, you have skipped a fundamental lesson in your training and need to go back to basics.

Continue reading Falling In

Corner – Hands, Legs and Oops a Daisy

Do you ever feel like you want to pull your inside rein to the outside on a corner?

This is a clear indication that you are not utilising your inside leg effectively.  Ooops!  Not your fault though, what is happening is that your brain is telling your hand that you need more bend, you are not sufficiently habituated to engage the leg and so the hand takes over in an effort to prevent the horse’s shoulders from falling in.  This will happen because your leg is not pushing the ‘middle’ of the horse out or because the horse had not been trained to respond to the leg aid that says “bend in the middle”.

As humans we depend greatly on our hands.  CornerOur arms and hands are our first line of defence for balancing ourselves in everyday life.  Instinct can take over and force you to use your hands for balance as soon as you sense something is not quite right.

Often using your arms and hands to fix a problem or to accomplish your goal is so instinctive that you don’t even realise that this is the very thing that is the cause of the problem.  Instinct is very powerful, as is habit – the combination of instinct and habit will result in the over-use of the hands.  You need to make the habit a good one.

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In order to ‘make’ the inside leg do the work you need something to Continue reading Corner – Hands, Legs and Oops a Daisy