Tag Archives: horse riding


Imagine your horse ambling along in walk, jogging instead of trotting, stumbling through a test constantly breaking the three beat canter.  Not often do you see all of these faults in one horse but sure as night follows day you will experience these faults, at least to some extent, if you have not focussed your training on rhythm.  Because in this small, rather oddly spelled word (should be ritham, right?) you have wrapped up a whole host of skills you and your horse must master; energy, even tempo, clear and regular paces, balance, rein contact … the list goes on!

RhythmIf you consider that impurities or irregularities in the rhythm, tempo and stride length are serious flaws in your horse’s ability to perform you can begin to appreciate that not only should you begin to focus on rhythm, but you should remain focussed on rhythm throughout your riding career.

The walk is the gait that is most prone to impurities.  You can have considerable influence on the way your horse walks which means that you can induce faults too.  So, if you over ride the walk and push your horse into a faster, bigger walk than he is capable of, he will fall onto the forehand and tighten his back.  Likewise if you attempt to collect more than your horse is capable of, his back will tighten and the walk will become irregular.

Consider your ‘free walk on a long rein’.  Your horse needs to show a clear, pure, four-beat walk and most likely is able to – as long as the rider is not touching reins.  Then immediately the rider picks up the reins, the horse responds with unequal strides. This happens as a result of the rider using too much rein; not enough leg support and usually too heavy a seat. Go figure!  Relaxing more and reducing the demands will in most cases restore the clear four beat rhythm.

The safest way out of jigging is to start the working trot afresh, if it is a walk push the horse up into a working trot, establish the rhythm and relaxation and when the hind legs have started thrusting and the back has started swinging again, the walk will most likely be improved as well.  The important point I would like to make here is, as with many, many other issues, you will not be able to regulate your horse’s paces without a good forward thrust, so first of all check that you have a forward thinking and willing horse, otherwise you will not have anything to work with.

The majority of young horses and horses that are being retrained need to be reminded periodically not to slack off the forward propulsion; left to their own devices they will gradually fade after a few strides with good effort and that means the power with which their hind legs propel decreases, the gait loses its intensity and becomes dull.  The result?  the horse’s back stops swinging and the trot deteriorates into a jog, loses its gymnastic value and the horse’s musculature development over his haunches, back and top line is hindered.

RhythmThis, coupled with the potential issue of losing forwardness on the corners if the horse is not strong enough or trying to avoid the flexing of his joints  (see Slowing Down and Speeding Up – Check the Flex) you may have to go back to basics and that means rhythm.

Most untrained horses assume that the leg aid means ‘speed up’, so they increase the tempo as soon as the rider asks, thus losing rhythm.  It is up to you to ‘clarify’ with your horse that the leg aid means ‘put more effort into your work, but keep your tempo’.  This is achieved using an effective half-halt. (see Heavy on the Forehand for more tips about the half halt).  So it is through systematic training that the horse should learn to adjust the tempo, adjust the stride length and adjust his energy levels independently of each other.

Loss of impulsion and slowing of the tempo often happens because keeping the impulsion and tempo requires more strength from the horse.  Pay really close attention to the regularity of the tempo, stride length and energy level throughout all exercises, patterns, and movements in order to develop the purity of the gaits to the highest level and to develop the horse’s strength and suppleness to its fullest potential in the process.

You have to be progressive in your training.  Your horse will respond with little and often.  It will take six weeks for him to build the muscle power and stamina required to be able to efficiently execute new and demanding exercises.  Too much too soon could result in injury.

Here’s some food for thought, like your heartbeat is the ‘rhythm of life’ so rhythm is to your horse’s gymnastic development.  Without it … not gonna happen!

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  



The dressage test movements come up on you so fast, don’t they?

Each section of the test is generally made up of a number of movements.

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 one movement prepare for the next.

Dressage TestTRY THIS …

Sit down with a piece of paper and plan your test in your head, working through what it is you need to be doing at each marker, coming up to the marker etc.,

So for  … Enter at A, C turn right, B – 20m Circle right



The importance of how you understand and focus on the collective marks cannot be emphasised enough.  If you pay lip service to this you will not have a full appreciation of the aims of your test as more and more emphasis is being put on the horse’s ‘way of going’.  It is no longer sufficient to simply do the movements; you must demonstrate relaxation and willingness from the horse.

The collective marks allow the judge to give an overall score for their perception of how you and your horse performed throughout the test.  It is their opinion as to how you, as a combination, conducted yourselves and the overall impression you left them with as the test progressed.

The first post in this series – Collective marks – Scoring, explained the way the collectives are scored by the judges.  Moving on, we turned to paces, regularity and freedom, the first of the collectives to be given marks and my post the collective marks – paces and regularity – the walk takes you through the rule requirements and what is being looked for in the walk element of your test.

Your score will be either an individual score for each of the 3 paces (walk, trot and canter) or an overall score for all of them, depending on your training level.

So, onto Trot – the two beat pace of alternative diagonal legs separated by a moment of suspension.


The trot should show free, active and regular steps

It is the quality of the trot that is being judged.  By assessing the regularity; elasticity of the steps; cadence and impulsion the quality of the gait originates from the horse’s supple back and well-engaged hindquarters.  Rhythm and balance will be assessed with all variations of the trot.

At all times the horse is required to be ‘on the bit’.  For the observer, a horse is on the bit when you can draw an almost vertical line from his nose to his forelock when viewed from the side. Yet, there is so much more associated with the horse on the bit that many riders are not aware of.



1 canterI love this quote …

“I don’t want riders who work physically hard. Work by thinking.” N.Oliveira (1998)

I have worked hard my entire riding career and only now that I am learning to think instead of putting in physical effort am I getting somewhere.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster



BreathePromoting relaxation when you ride is really quite simple, when you know how.  You should breathe.  Yes, I know you are breathing, but are you really breathing or are you just breathing?

Try this exercise to promote relaxation.  Your breathing must be a little deliberate – put one hand on your stomach and the other hand on your shoulder.

Walk your horse. 

  • Inhale. Keeping your shoulders down, let your stomach expand and get “fat” while you keep your shoulders down. By doing so, you’re lowering your diaphragm and taking in a really deep breath.
  • Exhale. Keep your back straight (don’t collapse in the saddle), and feel your seat getting heavier in the saddle.

 It’s as simple as that … the better you breathe, the more quickly you’ll get relaxation.

Patricia –  The Dressage Tipster