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Joy and Fun with Horses and Horseback Riding

The basic work

The basic work is very important for every training level and training hour with your horse.

Written by Beate Schulze and translated by Martina Wald

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The basic work

The basic work is very important for each training level and training hour with your horse.

Basic work means that your horse moves

  • with rhythm

  • relaxed, with suppleness

  • followed by finest aids of its rider, "submissive"

It isn't self-evident and has to be improve and perfected by training exercises again and again.

Everyone knows pictures of horses with hollow backs and the neck stretched straight in the air

or as if someone has stretched it into length – with a forward stretched head and hindlegs which drag.  

The rhythm

First of all you have to pay attention to correct rhythm. That doesn't mean only that walk has a four-beat, trot has a two-beat and canter has a three-beat.
Rhythm is a chronological and spatial constancy of movements as well. Every single step and stride should have the same length and happen within the same time.

For example if you go for a walk. Your movement is always constantly, which means your steps always have the same length and happen in a limited period of time. If you look at this from a small distance you can count: 1, 2, 3, 4.
And now please change constantly the length of steps, walk faster and then more slowly.
Do you feel well?
How exhausted and tired are you?

And now please transfer this to the horse. If you let move your horse without any control – sometimes faster and than more slowly – it will be nerve-racking, the muscles will cramp and the horse will get tired very quickly.

So, you have to pay attention to having always the same ground cover (overstep between hindlegs and forehand) within the same time and in a chronological order according to several paces. Paces are, for example, working trot, collected trot, medium trot and extended trot.

If you look at a correct and constant rhythm you will see a swinging, cadenced and easy movement, which gives impression of tamed power and harmony

(picture will follow)

Canter is a movement with even, impulsive strides giving the impression of an uphill moving  canter. Every stride can be counted in rhythm: 1, 2, 3 – 1, 2, 3.
It should be possible to follow up the steps and strides in all gaits like a pianist moving his baton.

Every training hour has to begin working on rhythm, suppleness and submissiveness. These 3 facts are the fundamental basis for being able to ride movements.
Dressage horses should move in rhythm, equally trained on both sides and straightened at the spine.
The horse has to react on finest aids. In walk, trot and canter horses should show submissiveness, suppleness, impulsion and – with advanced training degree – they should have self carriage as well.

The horse should have fun at work, be cooperative and not be an apathetical recipient of its commander.

By using spine and leg aids the horse should step through the poll and show a calm head position by chewing the bit – as far as possible – with closed mouth.

The horse has to show a well recognizable, forward stepping movement (without chasing away – or getting in a hurry) by stepping forward to the bit and – depending on the collection level – the hindlegs should move under the centre of gravity more and more. The hindlegs “sink” because the single joints are being bowed stronger.

Because of raising forehand and neck, the back is bending and the muscles above the neck are protruding.


You only can expect good performance and movements from a relaxed horse. Suppleness includes "to relax", "to let go off" and "to take it easy". Like every human athlete who has to do a limber up training, the horse as an athlete has to warm-up and loose up its muscles. This is important for producing synovia, warming-up, stretching and strengthen the muscles and improving the suppleness. Small or even serious ruptured muscles, sprained tendons and strains can be caused by not warming-up. If the muscular system warms up and begins to relax, a positive tension of body could follow in the working phase.

Exercises improving suppleness

  • frequently change of both sides with stretching of the outer back-side

  • riding  transitions (to stretch and strengthen the hindlegs and the back)

  • rising trot

  • riding on bent lines (please pay attention to correct bent and flexion)

  • forward movements in trot und canter (no medium trot/ canter)

  • training over cavalettis 

  • small jumps, gymnastic jumps

  • basic and fresh canter (Some horses relax faster in canter. With these horses you should begin with canter work as soon as possible)

  • leg yielding

  • hacking at rough grounds

  • lunging over cavalettis

Appearance of a relaxed horse

  • swinging back (easy to see looking at the kidding part if it begins to 'wobble' and 'flabby')

  • stretching position

  • fluent, rhythmical steps

  • snorting

  • activity of the mouth

  • swaying tail from driving power of the hindlegs

  • satisfied facial expression

How can I control my horse's suppleness?

To allow the reins completely: The horse should stretch forward-downward to the bit and move in rhythm without getting faster or more slowly. Head and poll stretch forward-downward to the yield hand (Picture follows).

You have to listen to and look at the individuality of your horse. You should begin with exercises, which easily can be done by your horse. Some horses like to canter after the walk phase immediately and others have a better relaxing by doing leg yielding.

Please do not work strictly according to a scheme, it is better to take care for the needs of your horse. Test it out when the best relaxation effect is achieved. And, if the horse prefers another kind of relaxation after some time, do not be afraid of changing the relaxation phase.

You do not want to do knee bends first and then sit-ups and finally holding the arms about the head every day. If you do that 300 days a year in the same order again and again, you will be get completely blunt and bored too.

If there are any difficulties:

  • control the feed (especial grain) - does your horse get too less (floppy) or too much (troublesome)

  • help with voice

  • check the saddle on pressure points, control wrong position

  • check bridle and bit (for example for sharp rims or if the bridle is lying on bones)

  • correct your seat and eventually the impact of your aids

  • lunge with auxiliary reins

  • pay attention on the physical factors of your horse too (Lower neck, steep shoulder, straight back)

These horses often need a longer relaxing phase or they relax the muscles better by lunging.

Solving problems concerning suppleness


Message to Beate about this article


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