Max has multiple personalities. He's either very, very good or very, very
bad. I really do think he has a split personality. One moment, he's very
sensitive to the leg, and the next minute, he's not.
In his stall, he's the biggest slob in the world. We have to pay stall muckers
extra just to go in there. He also scatters his hay around and overturns his
water buckets at every chance.
Amazingly, this slob has good ground manners. He's one of the more
advanced, highly trained horses in the barn, and he's usually kind to riders,
when he's in the mood.
More Advanced Movements
You should now have enough preparation and confidence to learn a few
dressage movements. These are exercises taught to a horse to develop his
muscles, much as you'd use push-ups and chin-ups to build your biceps
and triceps. If done correctly, these exercises build the right muscles; if not,
Here, however, the goal isn't to develop the horse's physique or prepare for
a dressage show. Instead, I want to teach you how these exercises affect
the horse's mind and movements and how you can use them to your
It's really not critical that you do the movements perfectly. The best way for
you to get a feel for training is to experiment with a horse that already knows
many of these specific movements -- a horse like Max. You don't yet have
the skill you need to actually teach a horse these movements. Trying them
on an untrained horse would be a frustrating experience, even though the
corridor of aids will work to some degree even then.
Leg yielding -- moving Max laterally -- can be done at the halt, the walk, or
any other gait. Many other books describe in great detail how the
movement should look and feel, but few describe the aids for a leg yield.
Why? Because there are no aids specifically for this movement. Every
horse responds differently to the leg and the subtle cues given by the rider.
The following aids can, however, serve as a guide, despite the many
adjustments you may need to make.
Assume you're traveling on left rein in the ring and want Max to leg yield to
the outside. Come off the track 20 feet or so, enough to give yourself room
to move back toward the track.
Aids to the Leg Yield
1. Bend the horse.
2. With the outside hand, use a leading rein.
3. With the inside hand, use a direct rein. (If the horse resists the
progression, use an indirect rein behind the withers).
4. Position the inside leg at the girth.
5. Position the outside leg passively behind the girth.
6. Keep the inside seat bone weighted.
Those are the aids. To execute the move, start driving with the inside leg
and inside seat bone. You want Max to go forward and laterally. Your
hands must receive the surplus energy you create with your legs and your
seat, while your inside leg directs energy laterally.
Note: Most newer riders try to turn this leg yielding exercise into a hand
yielding exercise. Leg yielding has nothing (almost) nothing to do with your
You'll probably fail during your first attempt at the leg yield because either
your hands don't receive enough energy or perhaps your legs haven't
created enough energy. You must practice to find the point where the
horse is between your hands and legs. There you can direct the horse's
energy to execute the leg yield.
Turn on the Forehand
The turn on the forehand is the first basic movement that asks a horse to
move without stepping forward or backward. Here, your legs impel direction
independently of your hands, with Max's hindquarters revolving around his
There's a perfect way to do each dressage movement, but don't worry
about perfection; instead, I want you to concentrate on how Max moves
away from your leg without forward motion. The turn on the forehand, by
the book, requires the horse to turn 180 degrees by crossing the hind legs
while remaining straight. One foreleg, the pivot, marks time in the same
spot. The accompanying illustration should help you understand. What
you're doing is changing the rein, but without bending or moving forward or
You accomplish this through the corridor of aids:
Aids for Turning on the Forehand
1. Set your hands. Remember, your hands control the front wall.
You don't want your horse to go forward, so you set your
2. Apply seat and legs. You want to close the back wall so the
horse doesn't back up. Since he can't move forward or
backward, his instinct will be to move left or right.
3. To turn the horse clockwise, apply both legs, but with your right
leg behind the girth. The horse will move his hindquarters away
from this pressure.
Repeat this set of aids for each subsequent step, making any necessary
adjustments. Keep doing this until Max has rotated 180 degrees and you're
now on the right rein.
The shoulder in movement asks you to bend the horse while moving
straight ahead. Although designed to develop muscles, this exercise also
helps the rider and horse with canter leads, since picking up the correct
canter lead requires the horse to bend.
To execute the shoulder in, the horse's front and hind legs cross, with the
right front and left hind lined up -- assuming you are on left rein. The horse
bends just enough so that you can see the outside corner of his eye. But
at the same time, his direction of travel is straight.
Practicing this movement will improve your understanding of how the
degrees of intensity that you apply relate directly to the balance between
your legs and hands.
Aids to the Shoulder In
1. Position the inside leg at the girth.
2. Position the outside leg behind the girth.
3. Keep the inside rein active.
4. Keep the outside rein steady, or supporting your inside leg.
5. Keep your hips or seat turned to the bend.
6. Keep the inside seat bone weighted and active.
7. Position your shoulders and head toward where you're going.
The half pass is a little more complex than the preceding dressage
exercises. With a half pass, you move forward and on a diagonal, typically
at 45 degrees. One front leg crosses the other and one hind leg crosses
Unlike a simple leg yield, the horse, ideally, bends in the direction you're
traveling. In a half pass to the left, the horse bends left. However, this is
very difficult to do. Few horses have been trained to this level. If you can
achieve a half pass with the horse straight, good enough.
In summary, the corridor of aids should bend the horse at the same time
that he moves forward on a diagonal.
Aids to the Half Pass (to the Left)
1. Position your right leg behind the girth, keeping it active.
2. Position your inside leg at the girth.
3. Keep your left hand closed slightly more than your outside
hand, just enough to create the bend. (The major tension will
be in the right hand, just as your right leg will be your most
4. Sit on your left seat bone.
Performing a full pass requires the horse to move directly to the side with
no bend, crossing both the front and hind legs. This movement is very
complex, but it will help you understand contained energy and how to
Where can Max go? To the open side, or the left wall. You have to
achieve a fine balance among the various aids here to get Max to perform
this exercise. A lot will depend on how each horse is trained in response to
Aids to the Full Pass (to the Left)
1. Close the front wall.
2. Close the right wall.
3. Keep the back wall closed.
What to do if...you can't perform an exercise.
In almost all instances, you haven't balanced the aids correctly. Say that
when you ask your horse for a turn on the forehand, he just walks forward
instead of revolving around the pivot foreleg. Your front wall isn't holding
and the horse is walking through your hands. Fix your hands and your
Or suppose your horse walks around the circle instead of revolving. In this
instance, you probably have a bend and perhaps your seat is at fault, too.
Somewhere a wall isn't holding fast or the balance of intensities is off.
The Basics of Training a Horse
In essence, to train a horse, you must be able to do the following, not
perfectly, but with a measure of skill:
1. With your hands: turn the horse's head either way, slow him down or
speed him up, and control the frame he travels in.
2. With your legs: drive your horse forward, elevate him, or elongate him,
plus move him laterally or bend him, depending on leg position and
3. With your seat: restrict motion, encourage motion, facilitate lateral
movement and bends.
No, you can't master all this in 10 lessons. Give yourself time. For now,
focus on learning the corridor of aids as soon as possible. And don't forget
that the horse must be reasonably trained for you to attempt dressage
You're on track if you can:
- Reasonably execute a leg yield (to a corner).
- Perform four strides of shoulder in.
- Execute a turn on the forehand.
- Complete a half pass, staying straight (or even with a slight bend).
- Execute a full pass -- four steps! Pretty good!
Boost your confidence
Build your skills
Enhance your lessons
Put Mike Smith's
40 years of
experience work for
You'll love it!
|Woodland Horse Center
16301 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20905
301-421-9156 fax: 301-421-9049