Category Archives: Tipster’s A to Z



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





Horses have been part of human’s history for centuries.  A system of training was first documented by the Greek writer Xenophon, as horses had to be obedient and manoeuvrable. So in time horsemanship became an art and the first riding school was set up in Naples in 1532 by Federica Grisone.

A little Dressage Trivia : As an Olympic sport it began in 1912 in Stockholm, however, at this point it was more of an obedience test derived from military tests.  By 1936 at the Olympic in Berlin, the standard rose dramatically to include most of the modern movements.  It was not until 1952 that women were allowed to compete in the Olympics!

So, Dressage in its original form was developed as a test of the horse’s obedience and today your training should demonstrate that your horse is obedient to your aids.  But in order for you to expect your horse to be obedient and responsive you will need to understand how the horse can most comfortably carry you.  Ask yourself this question …

WHY should your horse be ‘on the bit?’Obedience

This fundamental question, which you should know the answer to from day one of training is one that many riders cannot answer.

The horse which is round and on the bit is adjusted to take the riders weight easily.  To comfortably carry you and use his body with ease.  When we climb aboard a horse he has to brace his back muscles, so it is important that we make it as easy as we can for him and build the muscles he needs correctly.  We do this with correct training which includes the horse being “on the bit”.


A horse which is not able to carry the rider properly will become tense and uncomfortable and likely to be evasive and disobedient.

What to do? …

Firstly, to assess obedience in the horse you must assess your riding.  Be very clear with your aids.  Before you ride, revisit in your mind the aids you will apply for each movement and check for yourself once on board that you are actually executing them as intended.  Sometimes we do something for so long it becomes ingrained and a little sloppy.  Think about your driving! Is it as accurate as it was the day you took your test?

Secondly, take time to understand the reasons why; the benefits of and the disadvantages to not riding your horse on a contact and in an outline.  To carry you comfortably he needs your help.

Why would you not want to do this for your friend?

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster


… or actually ‘Neutral Spine’.

Neutral 1

The term ‘three-point-seat’ has been around for centuries and it refers to the seat bones and the crotch.

Rocking on just two-point, under the buttocks leads to instability while sending out endlessly confusing aids; likewise if the rider rounds or convexes the back this may lead to the tail/coccyx being turned under the core/trunk.

The very act of sitting compresses the stacking arrangement of the spine and by virtue of gravity it will flatten the lumbar by curling it under and thus leave us without the ability to absorb movement effectively.

To compensate you will often see riders pushing their stomachs forward and arching the lower back, again not permitting the vertical stack which allows a free and cushioning arrangement for absorption of movement – The Neutral Spine.

It is only by ensuring you have full 3-point contact with the seat can you hope to remain over the horse’s centre of balance.  But beware, it is through flexibility of the spine that you absorb the movement, a straight back that is rigid is as bad as one that is hollow or collapsed.

The diagram shows from left to right.

  1. Rider tilting backwards, pushing out stomach and arching lower back
  2. Neutral spine with 3-point contact.
  3. Rider tilting forwards, collapsing stomach and pushing tail down 


Here’s what to do … try to think of stretching up when you ride.  Here’s a couple of ideas to help …

  1. Think that someone has you by the ears from above, stretch up your neck and ‘straighten’ your spine.  Or …
  2. Imagine someone just told you that you look like you lost weight, you would draw up, pull in the stomach, smile and say – “do you think so?”  This is the ‘stretched up’ feeling you want in the saddle.  Or …
  3. Sometimes it is better to think of opening upwards from the waist and keeping the navel and sternum projected, the spine will take its own correct alignment from this.

You will often hear instructors saying “relax the upper body”, what they actually mean is allow your upper body to grow taller and expand the torso.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster


My ethos for The Crystal System is about giving you the tools to be your own riding coach.

Becoming ‘instructor dependent’ is a soul destroying place to be! I know – I have been there, hopelessly unable to replicate the good work that I got when having a lesson.  Why? Because your instructor is not allowing you to feel your way, you are too mechanical in your aids.

What the Crystal System blog is aiming to do is to steer you to find a path through the overabundance of information that is out there; so many methods; so many viewpoints on how it should and shouldn’t be done; so many opinions.


In my research for The Crystal System I have read hundreds of books about riding and dressage (really, there are that many).  What I discovered was that each and every one of them had something to offer, but that none of them had it all.  It showed me that I needed to keep an open mind, listen to others and then make my own decisions about whether I wanted to do it that way or not.  No rights or wrongs, just is this for me or not? (well, a few wrongs but hey, I’m trying not to be judgemental!)

My conclusion? – The Crystal System could not be another method of training – a do this, do that system; a this is right and this is wrong style, but needed to help the rider find their own way and develop their own system that works for them, by asking – what are you struggling with?; by encouraging experimentation; by suggesting good ways of doing things and giving feedback when things are not quite right.  Blindly following the system that works for someone else, who has had fantastic results, will not necessarily work for you!

The Crystal System is about finding your own way to train that brings the results you want.  This means accessing all sorts of resources, instructors, coaches, methods and taking from them only what you want, only what you need, only what you can use and then … making it your own!

This is why I am investing in arena mirrors from Mirrors for Training

I am a visual learner, when I explain something I have to have a picture or I say … ‘imagine this’, I start doodling and drawing to show people my point.  If I am to become my own coach, if I am to be able to train my horse myself, if I am to become independent of my ‘instructor’, I need a visual feedback.  I NEED mirrors.

1 Fat Rider

So, here’s what to do … If you can only afford just one mirror you should invest in one, if you can afford more, get more!

I am not saying that they are essential, clearly not as I have come this far without them, but if you really want to wean yourself off that instructor, replace him with your own ability to train your horse and become your own coach, mirrors will, without doubt, aid that process.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster



LateralLooseness is the essential aim of the preliminary training phrase and by this I mean relaxation of all of the joints and muscles.  Only when your horse is supple can he create impulsion, be straight and have balance with a swinging back and self-carriage. Looseness is not achieved overnight, particularly if you have started with a horse that has a degree of stiffness anywhere in its body and/or legs. Laterally the horse should be able to bend his body from poll to tail without falling in on the shoulder or swinging out the haunches.  The only means you have for acquiring lateral suppleness in your horse is lateral bending.

LateralLongitudinally (length-wise), the horse’s joints should bend and straighten equally on each side of its body with each stride; he should be able to lengthen and shorten whilst maintaining rhythm.With supple muscles comes strength.  

It is the act of contracting and stretching the muscles that makes them strong and supple and it is with bending and flexing exercises; lengthening and shorting of the paces that we can do this.
Here’s what to do … whatever your level of training try to incorporate shoulder-fore, shoulder-in, renvers and quarter turns into your warm up and regular traiing.  It will serve you will to master these lateral movements in the early stages of your training.Play a little with lengthening and shortening your horse’s paces too.Just like your own stretching regime! cough, cough! Your horse will benefit from exercises which are intended to stretch and contract the muscles, but you must do it regularly and keep it up, otherwise he will become sore.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster




Anyone wishing foray into the world of musical freestyle or musical Kur (from the German kur – meaning freestyle) will have a whole new host of rules to remember.

Here’s a quick guide to the Kur

  • The technical requirements of each level mirror the level of the training and balance expected in the compulsory tests at that level
  • The technical requirements affect more than half of the score, revealing the need to be able to execute with competence and ease in the movements of the level.
  • Technical and Artistic sides of the score sheet actually count for 50% each but the technical components of rhythm, energy, elasticity and harmony between horse and rider are scored on the artistic side (making the technical element more than half of the score).
  • Your music should be chosen to enhance the horse’s way of going and match the tempo of his gaits.  It is important that the music suggest the movement
  • Transitions should correspond to the transitions in the music
  • Music for all three gaits needs to be of the same genre; a cohesive flow of musical style throughout the test will give you better marks.
  • The floor plan must incorporate all the technical requirements for the level.


You will want to show off what the horse can do well and freestyle is your opportunity to do this.  Good freestyles are fun to ride and watch!

Here’s what 93.97% looks like at Grand Prix …

Charlotte & Valegro 

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

Want to know more about how you can get those all important marks? …

Collective Marks – Scoring

Collective Marks – Paces and Regularity – Walk

Collective Marks – Paces and Regularity – Trot






JEver wondered if the judge is blind?

We have all experienced the test where you think you have done really well but the scores don’t reflect the feeling, or the test that you think didn’t go so well and you win the class!  Sometimes we feel like we’d have better results if the horse climbed on the vehicle and judged!

1I however, have a very pragmatic view of what I should feel about the judge’s comments and scoring and what I should do about them.

For me the judge is the ultimate training aid.  Even if I don’t wholeheartedly agree with the comments, I will try to find what is the ‘essence’ of the judge’s comments and why, on this occasion, they feel so inclined to make those comments.

I have heard protestations from pupils who feel that the comments were unfair, given the level at which they work.  For example at preliminary level … “could be a little rounder”.  My view is that this is a perfectly reasonable comment.  Your horse could indeed be a little rounder, yes?  This is not to say that the judge has marked you down because your horse is not round enough, and you sure as hell would have better marks than the competitor who has cranked the horse’s nose to its chest in an effort to give the illusion of roundness!

Here’s what to do … try not to be defensive.  Take the judge’s comments, think about what they are telling you and work on improving for next time.

A test is just an opportunity for you to show someone how your training is going and for them to let you know what they think of it.  No biggy!

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

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Coveting the Red Rosette


IStriving for independence?  I’d be interested to know what you are doing for this.  This phrase is misunderstood and confusing with so many different interpretations of what is actually meant by ‘independence’ in riding.

For me a better word is interdependence (although way too big and student unfriendly) because as much as we are taught to have independent hands, seat and legs what we are actually striving for is a fully coordinated effort where interdependency between hands, seat and legs, together with the horses movement is essential. 1

When training a pupil, words matter – it is the way you describe what is being asked that either gives them the light bulb moment … or not!

On a more literal level, the term independence can be rightly assigned to describe a rider’s ability to use each body part independently of the other, so for example, using the lower leg should not result in tightening of the thigh or movement in the hip.  Each body part is flexible enough and strong enough to do its job without any compensation in another part of the body.  You need to feel like you could unscrew your top half from your bottom half also.

Work should start on the ground.  Any rider who has shaky balance or who is physically unfit will not be able to achieve independent body parts once mounted.  A horse reflects our own movements much more than we realise.  Sitting correctly in the saddle and personal fitness plays an important role in the achievement of good quality riding.

In order to achieve independence you will need to work on your breathing, posture, strength, flexibility and balance.

Trainers usually apply the term independent seat when they are trying to correct a rider who has dependence on the rein to maintain their balance whilst in the saddle; or as a way of achieving collection; or to pull a horse’s head into a so-called ‘outline’ to give the appearance of him being ‘on the bit’.  Many riders struggle with letting go of the rein because they simply have no understanding of how the pelvis controls the forward motion of the horse.  Acquiring an independent seat takes a great deal of time and dedication.  Due to the patience and time required a truly independent seat is a rarity in Dressage, when it really should be something for beginners.


Here’s what to do … why not test yourself on the lunge with a friend and just see whether you have a reliance on the reins, many of you, even established competition riders will be surprised at how your balance is affected without reins.  This will tell you how much work you have to do.

Another quick test;  In trot, gradually allow your reins to be taken down through your hands until you have a loose rein, continue trotting until you are on the buckle end.  If you begin to feel unbalanced, you have some work to do.

Go on, give it a go!

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster



HarmonyHarmony is to fit together, to join, like the relationship between different pitches in a song.  One note on its own is good, two notes with slightly differing pitches together sound better.  (More musical connotations).

In your training you are aiming for a harmonious picture, but what does this actually mean?  Well, think about being equal in thought, attentive, sensitive, listening to each other where every muscle you use, every thought you have results in a reaction, either by the horse or you.

What the judge is looking for and therefore, what you should strive for is HARMONY.

When this is achieved, the communication between you and your horse is barely perceptible; Harmonyyou will appear to move ‘as one’.  The horse should be reading and responding to your body language, his heart rate will rise and fall with yours.  The two minds, that of your horse and your own fully synchronised.

Imaging then that you are frustrated, angry or anxious – this will, without doubt, have an effect on your horse. How important then for your mind to be quietly focussed in the present moment? – The Here and Now.

So, how do you achieve this state of mind?  There have been many studies on the subject of sports psychology and as always the answer is through practice; you cannot stop the feelings of frustration or anxiety so you should notice them and without being judgemental about yourself, control your reactions to them.  It is when in a relaxed state of concentration that the sense of effortlessness comes.  Only then can you become fully immersed in the feeling of the ‘Here and Now’ because you are not reacting to the feelings or thinking of the consequences.  This is called being in a ‘flow’ state.

HarmonyNo matter how you are feeling, learn to say ‘Hi’ to those feelings but pay them no attention.  Park them and continue with your training.  They can sit and watch you ride well!

Here’s what to do … focus wholly on the current exercise, this will serve to optimise cooperation and harmony between you and your horse.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster



GeometryGeometry is all about shapes and their properties.

You will, without doubt, be heavily penalised by the judges if you do not execute the shapes within your test accurately.  Accuracy of the shapes you make in the arena is essential if you are not going to drop marks that you could easily hold onto.  Accuracy is a basic requirement of dressage and never the fault of the horse!

So, how do you get those all important circles, turns, diagonals and loops into your work routine as second nature?  A simple yet effective method is to never do any shape in the arena that you would not find in a dressage test.

Condition yourself to be true, so for example ride a true circle be that 8m 10m 15m or 20m – (never 9m), even when you are relaxing your horse and taking a break, you should ensure that when you give the horse a loose rein and are meandering around the arena it is in a shape that you would see in the dressage test.

Change the rein across the diagonal or with a loop – it is all part of the conditioning of you and your horse to the shapes required in a test and teaching your horse to listen and be in-tune with you whatever you are doing – even when you are having a break.

If you are walking around the outside track, you are making a square and should use your corners, even though you are not actively in training mode, if you are relaxing you are still training, basically if you are in the arena – you are training!

Little bit of Dressage Trivia for you here. Where do the letters of the arena originate from?


Well, it is believed that the markings found on the walls of the Royal Manstall (Stables) of the Imperial German Court in Berlin suggest that the letters indicated where each courtier or rider’s horse was to stand and wait for their riders.

The markings found on the wall of the Hof (stable yard) at the Royal Manstall were:

A – Ausgang (Exit)
K – Kaiser (Emperor)
F – Furst (Prince)
P – Pferknecht (Ostler or Groom)
V – Vassal (Servant/Squire/Equerry)
E – Edeling/Ehrengast (Chieftan or Honoured Guest)
B – Bannertrager (Standard Bearer)
S – Schzkanzler (Chancellor of the Exchequer)
R – Ritter (Knight)
M – Meier (Steward)
H – Hofmarshall (Lord Chancellor)

Quick Tip for Geometric Circles … To aid your accuracy before your schooling session use a rake in the arena to draw a straight line from A to C and the again from B to E.  This will help you to work out if your circles and shapes are accurate.  It will also show you if your straight lines are straight!

Dressage, like geometry is also all about shapes and their properties.

Here’s what to do … concentrate on the shapes you make, whether you are working or relaxing, try to get into the habit of using the arena in a way that reinforces accuracy in your riding … at all times.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster