Tag Archives: Dressage Seat


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



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




CCadence is the rhythmical movements of the horse’s stride.

Your horse is said to be expressing cadence when you appear to be moving in harmony with the horse with well marked regularity, impulsion and balance.

I like to think of cadence with a musical connotation.


Think of the metronome used to produce regular, metrical beats (clicks) and used by musicians to keep a steady tempo, it is used to work on issues of irregular timing, your horses paces should be regular 4 beats for walk, 2 beats for trot and 3 beats for canter, regularity of the paces being fundamental to dressage.

The first level of the German scales of training, rhythm and relaxation is the where we start to ensure we have cadence.  Without relaxation you will not achieve the spring in the gaits that you need to show cadence.

Additionally, when a horse is not in balance (See B is for Balance) and transferring too much weight to the forehand, cadence issues and flat gaits will result.  Athleticism and energy are needed but cadence comes from developing the engagement of the hind legs.

Here’s what to do … you will not go into the arena to work on cadence; you will work on rhythm, you will work on relaxation, you will work on balance and when you have achieved a certain level of each, your horse will be expressive and will show cadence in his paces.

How do you know if you have cadence?  As ever … you will feel it!

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



Tracy from New Zealand has been in touch – she says …

“There were 3 main things that have really helped me since subscribing to your blog. When I train I often catch myself in a state of ‘trying too hard’. This results in tension in me and also in my horse. Whenever I feel this happening I focus on just 3 things that I’ve learned from you that I know make a difference to my riding (and automatically improves my horse)…

  • Relax and don’t hollow lower back. This really does help me get my leg down and on the horse’s side.
  • Relax arms and let them hang at my sides. As soon as I do this my horse softens through the neck and jaw. And I also feel better because my shoulders aren’t creeping up and up and up….
  • Un-clench my jolly buttocks! A favourite of mine, especially when I’m doing upward transitions or asking for more activity.

Check List

I learned as a teenager when learning to ride, to push with my seat. It is so automatic that I can’t help doing it but I instead I am now trying to squeeze with my legs and follow with my seat.

There are many other things that have been helpful but I find it hard to retain a lot of information so I just focus on those 3 things, and
then hopefully they will become automatic too”.


Tracy Arrowsmith

Thanks to Tracy for her very positive feedback and for taking what essentially she sees as the priority key elements of her rider faults and locking into her psyche the tools she needs to deal with them.

The lesson from Tracy then is, with all this information at hand, pick what is important to you, use it, work with it, make it second nature and then move on to something else.

Well done Tracy, you’re clearly doing a great job!

And don’t forget to scan the “99 Checks to Self Assess your Progress” report that you got when you subscribed, to see if there is anything in there you should be concentrating on.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster


Posts related to Tracy’s training issues …

Well Heeled, Throw Away the Rulebook, Max – Relax & Get Heavy Buttocks, Install a New Habit, Up In Arms  



Has anyone heard of or tried max relax ?

This requires you to exaggerate your tension to a ‘ridiculous’ level and then release it.  So, if you find that you tend to tense your glutus maximus in the saddle try this …

  • While on a tolerant horse, inhale and contract your ass muscles so intensely that they turn into hard rocks and you are lifted out of the saddle and your upper body shoots forward.
  • Hold the contraction until you start shaking (or laughing uncontrollably!), then totally let the contraction go as you exhale. Let your upper body rock back and picture your legs melting onto your horse. Just really let go.
  • Now get ‘normal’ – that is sit with an appropriate amount of muscle tension and alertness for riding.  This now feels quite relaxed compared to the max tension.  Remember this feeling it’s the one you want when you register that you are tensing.  This is the actual relaxed state you are aiming for – ‘Normal’

You can do this in a variety of situations.  It will help you to register a specific feeling and a physiological response.  Your goal is to be able to draw on the normal feeling during times of muscle tension and recreate the ‘relaxation’ response.

Max RelaxSomething no female likes to hear – HAVE HEAVY BUTTOCKS!

Tightness in the buttocks emanates down the legs and up the torso and is the single biggest contributor to balance problems in the saddle.  So, heavy buttocks allows your legs to relax, ankles to relax and has a revolutionary effect on your riding.

You may have to keep thinking about relaxing that ‘glutus maximus’ and even do the Max / Relax regularly until ‘normal’ comes naturally to you.  Oh, and when I say ‘heavy buttocks’ I do not mean HEAVY – it’s relaxed or actually – not so tense as to affect your horses way of going.

It’s not all about the buttocks though, you can do max/relax with any area of tension in your body.

Give it a go, it really is quite good fun!

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?


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