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  Equestrian Coaching

  Hilary French on Elvis

Warm up & Cool Down

For both the rider and horse it is important to make sure that the muscles are properly warmed up and cooled down. The purpose of the warm up is to boost heart rate, increase blood flow to working muscles, and most importantly to improve the function of the nervous system. In the warm up the muscles should be worked to prepare the horse and rider for the work that is going to be undertaken in the session by moving the body (of both horse and rider) through full ranges of motion while dynamically moving. Following the correct set of exercises and movements will make the rider more mentally and physically prepared and will also ensure that the horse is prepared to give optimum power and activity output. Warm up exercises should be dynamic rather than static stretching, so for the rider, rolling the shoulders, exercises to stretch the hips and thighs whilst moving on the horse are better than static exercises which can overflex muscles but careful static exercises are better than nothing and may be a safer option on a fresh horse. The horse needs to work through a range of stretching exercises both laterally and longitudinally without forcing the muscles. It can be beneficial to use a horse walker to start the warm up process of the horse but ensure that the horse is worked equally in both directions and that the underfoot surface is secure. If you are fortunate then a solarium or a massage rug can also be helpful in starting the process of warming up the horses muscles especially on a cold day.

Experts have concluded that it is best to stretch once the body is loose and the muscles are already warm. In order to maximize the efficiency when it comes to stretching you must make it a habit to stretch regularly and preferably once you have finished with your riding session or once you have finished your chores. For a stretch to be beneficial it must be held for at least 30 to 60 seconds in a relaxed state. The stretch does not need to be uncomfortable and should be steady. If you wish to achieve maximum results in your flexibility or if you have injuries then it is probably best to get guidance from a professional in order to set up a stretching program specifically designed for your imbalances. Great results can be achieved with no more than 15 to 20 minutes 3 times per week on top of 5 minutes after you finish riding. For the horse it is important to stretch at the end of the session and to allow the muscles to cool down gradually so you should allow as much time for your cool down as you did for your warm up (around 15 minutes). Once again the correct use of a horse walker may help in this regard (perhaps whilst you do your stretching exercises.This helps to reduce lactic acid build up and to relax the muscles properly from their tighter working state and be careful to ensure that the horse is not allowed to cool down too quickly particularly in cooler weather by using the correct weight of rug.

Kim On Late O'Leary - Winter Championships  

Understanding the movements-Simple Changes

Improving your test riding- Understanding the Directives 

Most riders, when they learn their dressage test, look at the directions or the patterns that they need to ride, very often using a plan with the movements drawn schematically rather than the British Dressage sheet with the words on. However, whilst it is important to be aware of where you need to go this is a lost opportunity to understand the main areas the judge will be considering in each movements For several years now the BD sheets have featured Directives for the benefit of both the rider and the judge and it is an important element to ensure that you as a rider understands.

For example, let us consider some fo the directives of preliminary test 15 of the 2008 series. The initial directives that accompany the Entry halt and move off are; “Quality of trot, straightness, Evenness of contact and Quality of turn at C”. Where it says Quality of trot/walk/canter then it always relates to the elements of the scales of training, rhythm including freedom and tempo, relaxation/suppleness, contact and impulsion at this level and where it refers to Quality of turns this incorporates the supple bend without losing the balance either to the inside or outside through the shoulders and hind quarters. Movement 2 relates to a 20 metre circle and here the directives are “Quality of trot, regularity and tempo and Uniform bend along the line of the circle”. These directives continue to the final movement the halt and immobility where the directives are “Fluency and thoroughness of transition, balance and relaxation in halt” Balance in this case will refer to the straightness and squareness of the halt.

By having a detailed understanding of the Directives of every single movement in the test this can help the rider to understand what is required and what element needs more attention as the judge does not have time to write a comment on every single element that they will be considering to arrive at the mark.

(by kind permission of Ian Barr Images- see links)

 Understanding the horse’s musculature and movement (1)


The aim of dressage is to improve the gymnastic ability of the horse by systematic training of the muscles in the same way as a human gymnast. It is therefore important that the rider at least has a broad understanding of the way the horse is put together, where the main muscles are and which exercises help particular areas.

It is also important to have a basic understanding of how muscles work- both generally and specifically in the horse. The muscles are made up of hundreds of individual muscles fibres, not all of which work at any one time to make a muscle work This means that some of the fibres can be resting whilst others are working hard. When it is under hard labour the muscles fibre will become damaged and the fibres adjoining it will acts as support whilst it recovers. That is a natural part of building stronger muscles and without this “micro damage” then the muscles does not build in strength. The supporting muscle fibres will be in tension which can result in soreness if sufficient rest is not given in between. This will then lead to soreness and the increasing area of tension can lead to a loss of elasticity.

It is therefore important to correctly warm up the muscles before each session, to be aware of how much work can be done before muscles may experience excessive tension and soreness, to identify which areas need more development and to cool down the muscles properly at the end of a session. Part of the warm up can be using mechanised massage equipment but the rider needs to ensure that recommended timings are strictly monitored. Most of us have also lost the art of strapping, a technique in which the horse was thumped with a pad over the muscle areas to encourage improved circulation and muscle development (in the rider as well as the horse!)

If there are specific articles that you are interested in then please send me a contact form

Rona Willicott of Sound Schooling with Flynn

Goal of the Month: Crop circles for suppleness



This month we are going to develop an exercise that you can use at trot level for prelim/novice horses and in canter for more experienced novice/elementary horses. The exercise can be performed in any arena which is at least 20x40 metres (like a standard dressage arena) or a larger grass area. But wherever you are riding the movement you need to be clear where your circles are so that you keep focussed on riding the right shapes and sizes.

To begin with the trot exercise, start by riding a 20 metre circle to the right at B and each time you cross the centre line go onto a 10 metre circle on the right rein and then continue on the 20 metre circle. Once you are happy that you have good control over the horse and can make the 20 & 10 metre circles easily then we will move onto the next stage. Again ride a 20 metre circle to the right at B but this time, each time you cross the centre line then an immediate turn onto a10 metre circle to the left which will touch the track at A/C(if you are in a 20x40m arena). On returning to the centre line (as you finish your 10 m circle), return to your right 20 metre circle and continue on the circle until you reach the next centre line when you should ride another 10 metre circle to the left. Repeat this a couple of times and then change the rein and ride the same two stage exercise on the left rein.

The next stage, if your horse has already started work in counter canter, is to complete the exercise in canter. This time begin in right canter on a 10 metre half-circle starting at A and as you cross the centre line turn onto a 20 metre ½ circle in counter canter which will touch the track at E and then continue to the next centre line and turn onto a 10 metre true canter circle which will touch the track at C, then as you finish the 10metre circle turn again onto the 20 metre 1/2 circle which will touch the track at B, again once you get to the centre line turn onto a 10 metre true canter circle and then return to trot. The shapes that you will ride will be exactly the same as in the second of the trot exercises – a half 20 metre circle, a 10 metre circle on the opposite rein, a second 20 metre half circle followed by a final 10 metre circle to the opposite way.-looked at from above it would look like a round face with 2 round ears! Remember that when you are in counter canter you should keep the flexion to the leading leg and you need plenty of support from the outside leg & rein (outside to the flexion not to the circle) so that the horse does not fall into the circle.

In the trot exercise the supplying comes from the change of bend whilst in the canter the supplying comes from not changing the bend when going around a circle against the bend. If your horse isn’t ready to do the canter exercise yet, then just keep a note of the exercise to try once the counter canter is more established.