Maribeth Dunlap Dressage

Dressage Coddiwomple Blog


Dressage (n.) The art of riding and training a horse in a manner that develops obedience, flexibility, and balance. A way of thinking. A way of living. A journey.

Coddiwomple (v.) To travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination.

Welcome to my blog - my dressage coddiwomple - a meandering life journey which has and continues to take me down interesting roads where I have discovered extraordinary trouvailles and whimsical crooked paths.

Although I do not consider myself a writer of any grand quality, I am a bit of a spontaneous gallivanter who enjoys sharing and writing about my experiences and observations.

As a student of the horse, aviation, and life, I also view writing as another way to learn and cement the ideas further into my understanding. Writing allows me to dig deeper into the subject material and gives me more reason to research and explore. I love learning new things and I enjoy sharing what I learn with others.

If you continue to explore my dressage coddiwomple, I hope you will find my writings interesting and of some value. Most importantly, I hope this blog inspires you to explore new places and perhaps embark on your own journey - your very own extraordinary coddiwomple.

Feel free to contact me to leave a comment!  I'd love to hear from you.


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The FEI Rule

Posted on September 1, 2017 at 9:30 AM

FEI Rule

Chapter I Dressage


1. The object of Dressage is the development of the Horse into a happy Athlete through harmonious education. As a result, it makes the Horse calm, supple, loose and flexible, but also confident, attentive and keen, thus achieving perfect understanding with the Athlete.

These qualities are demonstrated by:

• The freedom and regularity of the paces.

• The harmony, lightness and ease of the movements.

• The lightness of the forehand and the engagement of the hindquarters, originating from a lively impulsion.

• The acceptance of the bit, with submissiveness/throughness (Durchlassigkeit) without any tension or resistance.

2. The horse thus gives the impression of doing, of its own accord, what is required. Confident and attentive, submitting generously to the control of the Athlete, remaining absolutely straight in any movement on a straight line and bending accordingly when moving on curved lines.

3. The walk is regular, free and unconstrained. The trot is free, supple, regular and active. The canter is united, light and balanced. The hindquarters are never inactive or sluggish. The Horse responds to the slightest indication of the Athlete and thereby gives life and spirit to all the rest of its body.

4. By virtue of a lively impulsion and the suppleness of the joints, free from the paralyzing effects of resistance, the Horse obeys willingly and without hesitation and responds to the various aids calmly and with precision, displaying a natural and harmonious balance both physically and mentally.

5. In all the work, even at the halt, the Horse must be "on the bit". A Horse is said to be "on the bit" when the neck is more or less raised and arched according to the stage of training and the extension or collection of the pace, accepting the bridle with a light and consistent soft submissive contact. The head should remain in a steady position, as a rule slightly in front of the vertical, with a supple poll as the highest point of the neck, and no resistance should be offered to the Athlete.

6. Cadence is shown in trot and canter and is the result of the proper harmony that a Horse shows when it moves with well-marked regularity, impulsion and balance. Cadence must be maintained in all the different trot or canter exercises and in all the variations of these paces.

7. The regularity of the paces is fundamental to Dressage.

A Father's Explanation of Why He Had Horses for His Children

Posted on September 1, 2017 at 9:20 AM

A Father's Explanation of Why He Had Horses for His Children

~ Author Unknown

My daughter turned sixteen years old today; which is a milestone for most

people. Besides looking at baby photos and childhood trinkets with her, I

took time to reflect on the young woman my daughter had become and the

choices she would face in the future.

As I looked at her I could see the athlete she was, and determined woman she

would soon be. I started thinking about some of the girls we knew in our

town who were already pregnant, pierced in several places, hair every color

under the sun, drop outs, drug addicts and on the fast track to no-where,

seeking surface identities because they had no inner self esteem. The

parents of these same girls have asked me why I "waste" the money on horses

so my daughter can ride. I'm told she will grow out of it, lose interest,

discover boys and all kinds of things that try to pin the current

generation' s "slacker" label on my child. I don't think it will happen, I

think she will love and have horses all her life.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has compassion. She knows that

we must take special care of the very young and the very old. We must make

sure those without voices to speak of their pain are still cared for.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she learned responsibility for

others than herself. She learned that regardless of the weather you must

still care for those you have the stewardship of. There are no "days off"

just because you don't feel like being a horse owner that day. She learned

that for every hour of fun you have there are days of hard slogging work you

must do first.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she learned not to be afraid of

getting dirty and that appearances don't matter to most of the breathing

things in the world we live in. Horses do not care about designer clothes,

jewelry, pretty hairdos or anything else we put on our bodies to try to

impress others. What a horse cares about are your abilities to work within

his natural world, he doesn't care if you're wearing $80.00 jeans while you

do it.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she learned about sex and how it can

both enrich and complicate lives. She learned that it only takes one time to

produce a baby, and the only way to ensure babies aren't produced is not to

breed. She learned how babies are planned, made, born and, sadly, sometimes

die before reaching their potential. She learned how sleepless nights and

trying to out-smart a crafty old broodmare could result in getting to see,

as non-horse owning people rarely do, the birth of a true miracle.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she understands the value of money.

Every dollar can be translated into bales of hay, bags of feed or farrier

visits. Purchasing non-necessities during lean times can mean the difference

between feed and good care, or neglect and starvation. She has learned to

judge the level of her care against the care she sees provided by others and

to make sure her stan-dards never lower, and only increase as her knowledge


Because my daughter grew up with horses she has learned to learn on her own.

She has had teachers that cannot speak, nor write, nor communicate beyond

body language and reactions. She has had to learn to "read" her surroundings

for both safe and unsafe objects, to look for hazards where others might

only see a pretty meadow. She has learned to judge people as she judges

horses. She looks beyond appearances and trappings to see what is within.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has learned sportsmanship to a

high degree. Everyone that competes fairly is a winner. Trophies and ribbons

may prove someone a winner, but they do not prove someone is a horseman. She

has also learned that some people will do anything to win, regardless of

who it hurts. She knows that those who will cheat in the show ring will also

cheat in every other aspect of their life and are not to be trusted.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has self-esteem and an engaging

personality. She can talk to anyone she meets with confidence, because she

has to express herself to her horse with more than words. She knows the

satisfaction of controlling and teaching a 1000 pound animal that will yield

willingly to her gentle touch and ignore the more forceful and inept

handling of those stronger than she is. She holds herself with poise and

professionalism in the company of those far older than herself.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has learned to plan ahead. She

knows that choices made today can effect what happens five years down the

road. She knows that you cannot care for and protect your investments

without savings to fall back on. She knows the value of land and build-ings.

And that caring for your vehicle can mean the difference between easy travel

or being stranded on the side of the road with a four horse trailer on a hot


When I look at what she has learned and what it will help her become, I can

honestly say that I haven't "wasted" a penny on providing her with horses. I

only wish that all children had the same opportunities to learn these

lessons from horses before setting out on the road to adulthood.

Riding Lesson

Posted on August 20, 2017 at 10:25 AM

Poem: "Riding Lesson"

by Henry Taylor

From An Afternoon of Pocket Billiards (University of Utah Press)

Riding Lesson

I learned two things

from an early riding teacher.

He held a nervous filly

in one hand and gestured

with the other, saying "Listen.

Keep one leg on one side,

the other leg on the other side,

and your mind in the middle."

He turned and mounted.

She took two steps, then left

the ground, I thought for good.

But she came down hard, humped

her back, swallowed her neck,

and threw her rider as you'd

throw a rock.

He rose, brushed

his pants and caught his breath,

and said, "See that's the way

to do it When you see

they're gonna throw you, get off."

The Dressage Lesson

Posted on July 3, 2017 at 10:30 AM

The Dressage Lesson - A Poem

by Stephen Forbes

July 03, 2017

Contact, oh contact, what does it mean?

Trying to figure this out makes me want to scream

Too light, too soft, too hard, too strong

My instructor yells that it's always wrong

They say it means whats going on in the back

This Dressage thing I can't seem to get the knack

"The hindelgs the hindlegs they are too out behind!"

Trying to get this horse straight has got me in a bind

I kick and sit and close and I pray

There has got to be a much easier way

I'm drenched in sweat and haven't left the walk

I felt it, I felt it! I engaged his hock!!

Tears of joy stream from my face

Until my instructor puts me back in my place

His back is round and he's finally coming through

Oh wait, never mind he's just taking a poo

We are trotting now and this is much better

The contact is perfect and he's a light as a feather

It's not so hard, dressage has become clear

Until I trot by and look in the mirror

My horse is as long as a two storey train

Why do a sport that drives me insane?

I bend I flex I click and I cluck

My horse decides that's the cue for buck.

We fly through the air in a moment's flash

I swear I felt something leak from my ass.

I ride it out and act like I'm fine

I think the universe just sent me a sign

I re't wait for tomorrow I'm gonna learn how to ride!

Components of a Good Position

Posted on April 1, 2017 at 11:25 AM

Components of a Good Position

By Maribeth Dunlap

May 2006 (Revised April 2017)

The position of the rider is perhaps the most important thing when studying dressage. It is from a correct position that allows us to positively influence and affect our horse. It also allows us to be in balance within our own bodies so that the horse can move in better balance. When we’re in good balance then we can better stay out of our horse’s way and to allow him to do his job more effectively. When we’re in correct position then the horse can move more freely forward, more able to use his back and be free from constraints and tension. The correct position is always the safest position. You are in balance and if something should go wrong and your horse spooks or bucks, you will be in the best position to stay in the saddle and to positively affect your horse.

So what are the components of good rider position? It begins with the seat. The seat is more than just what we sit on. It is the part of our bodies from the thigh up to our mid- section, from our mid-section down through our thigh. This is, in dressage terms, what is called the seat. So imagine sitting on your horse. Can you feel your seat bones? It is amazing how many beginners to novice riders have never thought about them before. It is important to be aware of your seat bones. You should sit evenly on them. You should not have more contact with the saddle on one seat bone than the other. If you do, then you’re most likely sitting crooked.

As dressage riders, we’re always working to improve our position. It never really ends. We’re all born a little crooked, with a strong side and a weak side, just like our horses. Do you remember the movie, The Karate Kid? "Wax on. Wax off." Which hand do you write with? Can you muck a stall or sweep an aisle-way on both sides of your body? Try switching your hand positions on the manure fork or broom. Do you favor a particular side? This is a good exercise for balancing and evening out our bodies. Muck your stalls, sweep, groom, etc. from both sides of your body evenly. Use both of your hands evenly. Groom with the right hand, then switch to the left hand. It is difficult at first, but eventually you will strengthen your weak side, become more coordinated, be in better balance and feel better. And this type of work carries directly over to your riding. So as you’re mucking, tell yourself that you’re also working on your riding.

Rider crookedness can be a big obstacle in dressage. If you’re not sitting correctly or evenly, then how can you influence your horse correctly or evenly? A common crookedness issue is the collapsing of one side of the body. This is also sometimes referred to as twist. You can either have a right twist or a left twist. What happens is when a rider collapses on the right side as in a right twist, his right shoulder also drops and usually falls behind the left shoulder. The right elbow then falls behind the left, the left side, the shoulder and elbow, then compensate and push forward, and then the rider wonders why he can’t maintain the left bend in the horse’s body. The horse is forever bent to the right. In addition, the right knee and heel tend to come up and the rider ends up sitting more to the left side. He ends up with a right twist and wonders why the saddle is always slipping to the left side of the horse. So now imagine trying to ride straight down the centerline in this position. The rider will have to over compensate just to try to keep the horse straight on the centerline. Now imagine trying to ride circles or voltes of equal diameter say in a figure eight pattern. One volte will be smaller than the other. One volte will be easier to maintain a correct bend in the horse than the other. But neither will really be correct. Now imagine trying to ride right shoulder in and left shoulder in. Most likely it will be difficult to bring the horses shoulder off the rail in the right shoulder in as the rider’s weight keeps sliding off to the left. And in the left shoulder in most likely the rider will never be able to even get the correct bend so the movement will probably never happen. So when the rider is crooked and not sitting straight, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to ride the horse straight.

Another common issue is the wobbly mid-section. The rider is loose and not straight in his or her mid-section. Some riders have a ‘C’ shaped mid-section where the rider is hunched over with drooping shoulders. The rider’s eyes tend to drop down and everything else follows. There is an old saying that goes “where the rider looks, the horse will follow”. In these positions, wobbly and loose or ‘C’ shaped, it would be very difficult to collect the horse. Most likely the horse is on the forehand and the rider is in a very poor position to influence the horse in any way. The elbows also tend to get disconnected in this position and that leads to disconnecting the seat from the bit. The ‘C’ position also tends to prevent the rider from having flexible hips. The hips get locked and the rider wonders why he or she is bouncing and why it is difficult to keep the hands and legs quiet. The wobbly and loose mid-section may allow the rider to feel like he or she is not bouncing, but it is the mid- section that is doing the moving, not the hips. The rider is disconnecting him or herself from the horse and is a mere passenger with very little control and no means of positively affecting the horse.

There are many other forms of crookedness and riding faults. Crookedness is a habit; it is a muscle memory. What feels straight to the crooked rider is the crookedness. Riding evenly and in balance feels crooked to the normally crooked rider. The same is true in aviation. Pilots must rely on their instruments or the horizon to fly straight and level. If they trust their bodies and senses in bad weather and not their airplane's instruments then they put themselves at great risk. What feels up may be down, and what feels straight and level may actually be sideways. In riding, the best way to improve upon a crooked habit or issue is to have regular instruction or good eyes on the ground. A good instructor with a good eye for position is like the instruments in an airplane. It will take many repetitions and reminders to change your muscle memory. Mirrors can help but can’t really take the place of a good instructor or observer. I call it nagging – professional nagging, to be exact - and I tell my students not to worry, as I will nag them about it, a lot. When the nagging lessens then they know that they are finally getting it in their muscle memory.

So let’s get back to the components of the correct riding position and the seat. Working from the mid-section down, let’s talk about the core. The correct position takes awareness and a strengthening of the core. It is our abdominals and core that keep us in the correct riding position. Good riding position is not unlike good posture. We hold ourselves straight and erect with our abdominals and core muscles. We should sit in the saddle but not just on our seat bones. The thighs support the seat, supports the abdominals and core, and distributes and spreads the weight evenly through out the seat.

The thigh should be well turned in and the knee well pressed down and into the knee or thigh roll. You can imagine having pigeon-toed thighs or if you’re a snow skier, snowplowing or holding your wedge down a steep slope. Well turned in thighs results in the draped leg look with the well-turned in toes. It has to begin though with the thigh and not the toes or you may end up with some joint problems down the road. There should never be any daylight between your knee and the saddle. This often corresponds with turned out toes. So roll those thighs in and point those toes straight ahead.

The calves should hang straight down, falling and resting lightly at the sides of your horse. What you feel under your calf depends largely upon your conformation and the conformation of the horse that you’re riding. If you’re short legged and riding a large barreled horse, then much of your calf will be in contact with your horse. If, on the other hand, you are long legged and you’re riding a small horse with a small heart girth, then much of your calf will be off of your horse. You don’t want to hold yourself in the saddle with your calves, gripping with your lower legs, which tend to make your knees come out and away from the saddle. Gripping with your lower leg also tends to draw your heels up and in. This puts you in a poor position to affect your horse and will be most uncomfortable for you. It also tends to deaden your horse to the leg aids. Wonder why your horse doesn’t respond well to your forward driving or sideways requests? Perhaps you’ve dulled him by poor position. Some horses resent the constant pressure from the lower leg and they suck back and lose their willingness to go forward. Once you’ve adjusted your lower leg you might find also that you don’t have to work so hard and riding becomes easier, less tiring and more fun! This leg position also helps to open your hip ankle and allows you to be more supple and loose in your hips.

Your feet should neither be pushed out in front of you as in a chair seat nor pushed too far behind you putting you in a perched position. Your heels should lie directly under your hips with the stirrup leather falling perpendicular to the ground. Your heels should be well pressed down but without bracing in the stirrups. A lowered heel should come from the relaxation of the muscles and not forcing the heels down. Forcing the heels down often pushes the feet out in front resulting in an ineffective chair seat position. The toes should point straight ahead and sometimes it helps to think about pushing the heel out. The correct position is more of a stance as in the Martial Arts than a seated position. Your weight should be distributed evenly from your seat bones, down through draped legs, with the energy flowing down through your heel and connecting to the ground. Think about this the next time you’re in the saddle, if by magic, your horse would suddenly disappear out from under you, how will you land on the ground? Will you land on both feet in perfect balance? Will you land but suddenly fall forward on your nose? Or will you land but fall backwards on your bum? If you’ve answered that you’ll fall forward, then you are most likely sitting in a perched position. You most likely are sitting on the front part of your bum and your shoulders are tipped forward. You may even experience some discomfort or pain in the front part of your bum. Well, sit back. Open and press the chest outwards, pull the shoulders back and pick your chin up. If you’ve answered that you would fall backwards then you are most likely sitting in a chair seat. This means that you’ve lost the straight line from your ear, shoulder, hip and heel. Your stirrup leather is most likely not perpendicular to the ground and your feet are pushed out in front of your hips. You may be sitting too far back on your hip pockets and may even be leaning too far back with your shoulders. It you’ve answered that you’ll land on your feet in perfect balance, well, congratulations! You’re in a good basic position.

It is important to maintain the softness and flexibility of the joints. The hip, knee and ankle joints should not be stiff but act as shock absorbers. The stirrup placed in the correct position at the ball or slightly closer to the toes will help the ankle stay soft and flexible. If the stirrup is too far in the “home” position or under the arch, then the flexibility of the ankle joint is severely diminished.

Now let’s go back to the mid-section and work upwards. So remember that the thigh supports the core muscles and that the abdominals and core muscles help to hold us erect. The rider should sit straight in balance, neither tipping forward nor leaning backwards.  Sometimes it helps to think of sitting in a straight-backed chair. The wooden straight- backed chair without any cushions is, by the way, the best chair for our posture. So think about trading in those Lazy Boys for the Stickley models. It helps to think of stretching tall and growing long in the saddle. Imagine that someone is pulling a piece of your hair on the top of your head straight up. It can also help to imagine that you have weights tied to your boots that are hanging straight below your feet.

The elbows should fall and rest close to your hipbones. Use the hipbones as a reference point for the elbows. By keeping the elbows close to the hips, you are then able to connect your seat to the bridle. Rein aids and half halts are more effective and more invisible because the seat now supports them. When the rider straightens the elbows and allows them to be out in front of the hips, then the rider is disconnecting the seat from the bridle. The rein aids and half halts are not nearly as effective. The rider pulls on the horse’s mouth and the aids become crude and visible. From the elbows, the forearms and wrists should be relaxed and soft, and form a straight line from the bit to the elbow. The hands should be soft and closed, forming a soft fist. The thumb should be at the top or slightly at an angle pointing towards the other thumb. The hands should be at the same level and one should not be behind or below the other. There should be a bend in the thumb. If the thumb is flat and stiff, then that stiffness carries through to the wrist. I often use the analogy of holding baby birds or baby bunnies. You want to hold them firmly so as to not lose them, but softly so as to not crush them. So try riding and imagine holding your baby Blue Birds or birds or little furry creatures of your choice. Experiment and see how that affects your riding and feel.

The rider’s shoulders should be back and down and free from tension. Many riders hold stress and tension in the shoulders and tend to hold them up and brace within them. This tension then runs down the arms to the elbows and results in an undesired movement somewhere, perhaps the hips or the hands or even the head. So keep the shoulders relaxed and back and down. It helps also to think about spreading the shoulders wide apart without letting the shoulders tip in as if you are holding a large beach ball in front of you. This helps to open the chest cavity and lifts the chest, which is supported by the core and abdominals.

The chin should be up and eyes should be forward. If there is a reason to look down, don’t drop the chin but briefly drop your eyes. When we drop the chin, a chain of reactions tends to follow. The chin drops down, next the shoulders tend to follow and hunch over, the chest caves in and we lose the effectiveness of the core, the hips then stiffen, the hands drop down too low, the horse falls on the forehand and the quality of the gait diminishes. So, by all means, keep your chin up! The neck should be relaxed and pressed back into the shirt collar. The head should be quiet without any excess movement. A bobbing head is a result of stiffness somewhere in the body and is very distracting and unattractive.

The correct position is a powerful position and feels good because it is balanced. When the body is balanced then there is less stress and tension and the muscles can then begin to let go and relax. The correct riding position takes years to perfect. Just like dressage, it takes discipline and hard work. The appropriate muscles need time to stretch and to fall in place. It takes time and practice to find the relaxation within the position. It comes with perseverance, dedication and much practice. Over time with this correct repetition, it will fall into your muscle memory. I heard someone once say, “Never get caught sitting poorly on a horse”. To me this quote has many layers of meaning. The correct position is the best place to positively influence your horse, as it is also the safest position for the rider to be in when things don’t go quite as planned. I also like to remind my students that you never really know when your picture is being taken. Never compromise your position! And never allow a horse to compromise your position! Some horses like to do that. They’ll try to talk you out of your position, as that is where you have the most control. The correct position is a powerful and effective position with the greatest ability to influence your horse. It is a balanced, relaxed position in which the horse can mirror us in our balance and relaxation. So do practice, practice, practice. Get good instruction from one who also teaches good position. Take lunge lessons on a regular basis. Your hard work will reap great benefits and your horse will love you for it.

Components of a Good Position written by Maribeth May 2006. May 2006 – All Rights Reserved Used With Permission.

Longeing Tips

Posted on April 1, 2017 at 11:20 AM

Longeing Tips

By Maribeth Dunlap

May 2007 (Revised April 2017)

There are many benefits and reasons for longeing. Longeing is an art itself and it takes many years of good practice to become effective. Longeing is meant to prepare a horse mentally and physically for under-saddle work. With the use of proper and correctly adjusted equipment, longeing can strengthen and help condition muscle, it can teach the horse the commands, and help the horse to carry itself in balance. It is important to understand that longeing should never be used for the horse to blow off steam. He should never be allowed to run and behave badly at the end of the longe line as this is when injuries happen and bad behaviors are learned. Longeing should be viewed and understood as another training tool and should be done with the proper equipment and in the proper setting.

The equipment needed to longe effectively is: longe line, cavesson, surcingle, properly adjusted side-reins, longe whip, bridle with bit, saddle as part of the horse’s every day riding apparel, protective boots or wraps for the horse, gloves for the handlers and helmets are another safety option for the handlers. The proper setting is one that is calm and controlled. Either the use of the circular pen or an assistant is needed for the young, rehabilitating, or spoiled horse.

Longeing is part of the process for rehabilitating a horse. If a horse has suffered an injury and has required rest, longeing in a safe and systematic way can help to build strength and muscle. It is all done as above and in a calm and controlled setting. The horse should never be allowed to play and blow off steam and energy at the end of the longe line as, depending upon the nature of the original injury; the horse can potentially re-injure himself. Longeing is a part of the process. One should begin by exercising the horse in- hand with long walks and hand grazing. As the horse becomes stronger and more calm, then short longe sessions can begin at the walk, then later at the trot and eventually adding the canter work. Most likely longe work should start with only a couple minutes in each direction and slowly build from there. Veterinarian advice should always be acquired when putting a horse back into work after an injury or lay-up.

Longeing is a vital part of remaking the spoiled horse. Longeing can help to teach the horse to work with you and not against you, it can help to bring the horse onto your page and your way of thinking, and can help to establish your role as trainer and number-one in your herd-of-two. Longeing can help to introduce the horse to the controlled gaits on a circle, to your voice commands, body language and the whip as an aid. With properly adjusted side-reins, longeing can also help to correctly condition the horse’s muscles and teach him to carry himself in balance. When the horse learns to move in balance this affects his self-confidence. Longeing the spoiled horse is a smart, safe step to make before the under-saddle part of his training. Longeing in this circumstance might take place for the first couple weeks of the spoiled horse’s training before any under-saddle work would begin. Again, all work should be done lightly at first and build slowly as the horse’s strength, fitness, confidence, willingness and understanding increases.

There are many other aspects of longeing and this article should not be viewed as a complete guide. I advise you to read as much on the subject as possible but most importantly, take some lessons from a trainer who is accomplished in the art of longeing. These are very valuable lessons and should be highly regarded as such.

This article was written by Maribeth Dunlap May 2007 (Revised April 2007) – All Rights Reserved Used With Permission.

Work on the Longe - Developing the Seat

Posted on July 1, 2012 at 7:05 PM

Work on the longe - Developing the Seat

By Maribeth Dunlap

July 2012

"Longe lessons on a safe and experienced horse are a great means of improving your position, a fact I cannot stress enough, as this is the most beneficial way to develop and improve a more balanced and independent seat." Arthur Kottas-Heldenberg

Work on the longe is a time honored tool of classical dressage. Longe lessons provide the student rider an opportunity to develop a secure and balanced seat. With the help of a knowledgeable and experienced instructor and a safe, reliable, steady longe horse, the student rider can work to develop balance, coordination, and strength in the core which will then enable the student to be able to take the next step in being able to produce an effective seat and an independent aiding system.

The instructor uses a system of exercises for the student rider to perform at all three gaits of the horse. These exercises have a specific purpose to the needs of the rider and helps to address any weaknesses and areas that need to be corrected in the student's position. The knowledgeable and experienced instructor will know what is needed to achieve the desired result. These techniques allow the student to become a proficient and elegant rider.

The horse is well educated on the longe line and is able to maintain a steady and reliable rhythm in all three gaits. He listens well to the verbal cues and whip aids asked of by the instructor. A good longe horse is safe and gives the student an opportunity to relax, focus and concentrate on his body position and awareness without the necessity of having to try to influence the horse. The instructor takes care of this while also giving the student instructions pertaining to his position. A good longe horse is a valuable asset to any equestrian program.

The Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Austria, has a long history of developing riders with outstanding equitation and effective, elegant seats. Riders at the SRS spend years on the longe line before they are allowed to take up the reins of their Lipizzans. This tradition of developing excellent, top-notch riders still exists in this school of over 500 years of tradition. However, it is one of the most over-looked, yet most valuable of all methods, in developing the seat.


This article was written by Maribeth in July 2012 – All Rights Reserved - Used With Permission.

Suggested Reading List

Posted on September 1, 2011 at 9:45 AM

Suggested Reading List

Updated 2011

In Alphabetical Order:

ALBRECHT, KURT (1981; translation by Nicole Bartle 1993), Principles of Dressage, J.A.Allen, London.

BALLOU, JEC ARISTOTLE, (2005), 101 Dressage Exercises, Versa Press, USA.

BELASIK, PAUL (1990), Riding towards the light. An apprenticeship in the art of dressage riding, J.A.Allen, London.

BELASIK, PAUL (1994), Exploring Dressage Technique. Journeys into the Art of Classical Riding, J.A.Allen, London.

BELASIK, PAUL (1999), The Songs of Horses. Seven Stories for Riding Teachers and Students, J.A.Allen, London.

BELASIK, PAUL , (2002), Dressage For the 21st Century, Trafalgar Square Publishing, Vermont.

BELASIK, PAUL, (2009), A Search For Collection, J.A.Allen, London.

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The Rider's Position & Effective Use of the Seat

Posted on April 1, 2010 at 2:00 PM

The Rider's Position and Effective Use of the Seat

By Maribeth Dunlap

April 2010

Dressage is a French word that means "to train". Dressage is centuries old and dates back as far to the Greek Philosopher, Xenophon, who wrote the book, "The Art of Horsemanship". Dressage is considered classical because it has stood the test of time, it is enduring, and still relevant today. Much study, experimentation, and research has gone into the development of dressage and the training of the horse. Horses were a very important part of human existence in our recent past. They were the main mode of transportation, they enabled Cavalries and Militaries to move troops swiftly into battle, and they were a source of entertainment. A skilled horseman was highly respected and often served in Emperors, Kings and Queens Courts. Horses were very valuable and so was the training of them. Like cars of today, much research and development went into the training process of the horse so as to be able to mobilize large troops for battle, entertain Kings and Queens, and to keep horses sound and healthy longer so as to be useful for longer periods of time and as a result, the great riding masters of the past developed a sound system of training.

One example of a training system is the Training Scale. It consists of six training concepts: 1) rhythm, 2) suppleness, 3) connection, 4) impulsion, 5) straightness, and 6) collection. To learn more about the Training Scale, please see my article titled, "The Training Scale - Pyramid or Circle?"

I'm going to add another element to this particular training system - The Rider's Position and Effectiveness of the Seat. Every training system should be built upon this crucial concept, as it should be the base, the foundation, and the bedrock upon which every system should rest. This concept should be nearly mastered before dressage can begin, as it is impossible to achieve training progress without it.

There are three phases that the rider's position seems to go through as progress is made: 1. hindrance/burden phase (negative influence), 2. passenger phase (no influence), 3. effective phase (positive influence).

When a rider has not yet mastered her own balance on the horse, she often relies on the use of the wrong muscle groups to stay on the horse. These riders are usually hunched forward, grip with their lower legs (calves) with their knees away from the horse, thighs rotated out with toes sticking out to the sides. In addition, they tend to balance also off their hands and the mouth of the poor horse. If the horse is of the kind sort, he will suffer usually by adopting a head high, dropped back, and unengaged hindquarters. The horse is trying to maintain some degree of his own balance while carrying an unbalanced rider and may tend to fall on the forehand and become quick. These riders tend to become frustrated with their horse, not understanding why they rush about and don't listen to their rude and crude aids. When the rider hangs on the mouth of the horse and grips with the lower leg, the horse becomes dull to the aids and can no longer distinguish between what is an aid and what is hanging and gripping. The rider must shout his aids at the horse using cruder and louder aids and this becomes a downward spiral. If the horse is not of the kind sort, he may resort to becoming ill-tempered and misbehave when in reality, it is really not the fault of the horse, but that of the rider who so crudely rides the horse.

When someone contacts me about buying a horse, I usually ask them certain questions so as to get an idea of what kind of horse that might best suit them and help them achieve their goals. If a person contacts me who has no riding experience or very little riding experience, I always recommend to them to take at least a year's worth of regular riding instruction from an instructor who understands the seat and to take lessons on appropriate school horses who will give them opportunities to work on acquiring an effective seat. Lessons on the longe line are very helpful in establishing a balanced position. This will help to prevent the first phase - hindrance/burden phase of riding. Under the tutelage of a good instructor, the rider can avoid making common position errors and reduce the formation of bad riding habits. The rider will quickly learn to maintain his own balance without gripping, tight muscles, and without balancing on the poor horse's mouth and/or banging on the back of the poor animal. Much time can be saved and much frustration (on the rider's and horse's part) can be avoided if good quality riding instruction is sought out first before buying a horse.

In the second phase - passenger phase - the rider has learned to maintain her own balance on the horse. She is comfortable and able to move different parts of her body without gripping or losing her balance. She is more confident as a rider and the horse is a little happier with his rider, however, she has not yet learned to positively influence her horse. The technical aspects of the seat have yet to be learned. One can often observe riders in this phase as, although they present a nice picture on the horse, they have not yet learned to rebalance the horse using effective half halts, they have yet to master simple figures and movements while keeping the horse balanced with correct bend, and they often struggle with tempo and rhythm which may cause the horse to appear irregular in his gaits. These riders often ride by the "seat of their pants" and with a "hope and a prayer" of getting the job done. Riders in this phase over fences may have trouble with finding the correct distance to a fence, maybe jumping too long or chipping into a fence. They wonder why then can't get a lead change and their horses are often counter bent around a course of fences. Dressage riders in this phase struggle with keeping their horses on the aids, in front of their leg and on the bit. They don't understand the idea of connection and struggle with keeping a correct bend and riding simple arena patterns.

In the third phase, the rider is now learning to have an effective seat and able to positively influence the horse. Achieving this phase is impossible without first mastering the second phase of achieving a balanced seat. An effective dressage seat is very similar to a Martial Arts/Karate stance as it is one of balance, power, and great strength. The dressage seat encompasses the area from right below the ribcage down through the thighs. For more information about the dressage seat, please refer to my article, 'Components of a Good Position'.

The following is an excellent exercise for an instructor to help illustrate an effective seat and for a rider to feel the tiny nuances of the seat: with the rider off the horse and standing in front of the instructor, place a longe line or rope of some sort about the riders hips. The instructor holds the line and asks the rider to simulate the riding position. Once the rider is in position, the instructor pulls with a steady, gentle pressure. If the rider is in balance over both feet, the rider then should be able to meet the pressure from the line with equal resistance. The rider should be standing in balance over both feet with equal weight distributed down through both thighs. She should not lean back as in a water skiing position, but should merely meet the pressure by engaging the muscles in her seat (from the base of the ribcage down through the thighs). The instructor can check to see if she is leaning back by quickly releasing the backwards tension of the line. If the rider falls backwards, then that is a sign that she is leaning backwards to meet the resistance instead of using the engagement of the core muscles. Once the rider is capable of correctly meeting the resistance of the line, ask her to straighten her arms out. She will, of course, fall forward. Have her regain her correct posture, then ask her to gentle roll her shoulders forward. Once again, she will tip forward. This exercise is excellent in teaching the rider the tiny nuances associated with the correct riding posture. She will quickly become aware that the tiny details are very important in achieving an effective seat. An effective seat is one that is strong and consistent. The parts of our body stay where they belong as we have mastered control of our own balance and our own body. When we are connected within our bodies, our upper body remains strong as we use our core strength. This allows us to keep our arms where they should be and our rein length then stays the same maintaining a consistent contact with our horse's mouth. Our legs stay put and we are able to use them when needed and desired to make a positive change or influence our horses.

An effective seat allows the rider to use the subtlest of aids. When the rider is in the correct position, the aids become lighter and more invisible. For example, a breath inhaled can become a half halt and rebalance the horse. A breath exhaled can be very effective in a lengthening. It can become this subtle. The horse can feel the lightest touch on his hair like a fly on his skin, so our aids can become very light and subtle. This is when it appears like we're dancing, as our aids are invisible to the on-looker. Our effective seats allow us to become connected to our horses and there is harmony in the aids and movements. When you are connected to your horse, then you can feel the slightest change in his balance and then using a tiny subtle aid, help to rebalance him. The training scale should begin with the rider's position always. Without this, then everything else becomes difficult, if not impossible.


Posted on January 1, 2010 at 11:45 AM

Dressage Terminology

Compiled By Maribeth Dunlap

January 2010

Above The Bit – When the horse avoids contact by putting its muzzle forwards and upwards. The back is usually dropped and there is loss of engagement of the hindquarters.

Activity – Refers to the activity, energy, vigor and liveliness of the hind legs.

Against The Bit – When the horse avoids a soft contact by becoming stiff and unyielding in the neck, poll and jaw. The horse’s outline may appear correct but there is usually a lack of throughness and engagement.

Anlehnung (Contact) - A German term used to describe the soft, steady connection between the rider's hand and the horse's mouth. A correct, steady contact allows the horse to find its balance under the rider and find a rhythm in each gait. Contact must never be obtained by pulling back with the reins. It must result from the correct development of the pushing powers of the horse. The discreetly driving aids of the rider cause the horse to step into the hands with confidence as the skilled rider receives that energy and directs it.

Appui - A French term used to describe the feeling of the contact or connection experienced by the rider through the rein as the horse accepts the bit. This acceptance may vary from light to heavy. A constant, light appui has been the preference favored by horsemen of all times and nationalities.

Arret - arête - A French term which means halt. Balance – This refers to the lateral and longitudinal distribution of weight of the horse upon is front and hind legs.

Bascule -

1. the round arc a horse's body creates as it jumps over a fence. The back comes up and the neck stretches forward, down and over the obstacle.

2. when one end of a device is counterbalanced by the other. The use of the neck seeking forward and over a fence counter balanced the other end as in the walk and canter, the use of the neck balances the other end in order to move correctly and in balance.

Beat – A footfall within a gait of the horse that strikes the ground that

1) can determine the regularity of the gait, i.e. walk =4 beats, trot = 2 beats, canter = 3 beats,

2) can refer to the musicality and the matching of the beat (footfalls) to the timing of a piece of music.

Behind The Bit, Behind The aids, Behind the Leg – When the horse retracts or backs away/behind the contact by putting its muzzle behind the vertical. The back is usually dropped and there is loss of engagement of the hindquarters while the horse does not truly accept contact with the bit.

Bend – This refers to the lateral bend (left & right) of the horse through his entire body, from the poll to the tail.

Cadence —The hind legs must "swing through" and engage well underneath the horse. The moment of suspension is more clearly defined and there is a marked accent of the beat due to increased elasticity and expression of the gait.

Clarity – Marked, clear distinction between the footfalls of a particular gait.

Collection (Versammlung) - When a horse is working in collection the quarters take more of the load. The haunches (hip and stifle joints) are flexing more and the hind legs step more under the horse's center of balance. This lightens the forehand and allows greater freedom of movement. The strides become shorter without losing energy and activity. The horse looks and feels more "uphill." In the trot as well as in the canter, the impulsion needs to be fully maintained, rendering these gaits more expressive and cadenced. The horse's anatomy is such that it carries most of his own weight on the forehand. This situation is adversely effected by the rider's position directly behind the shoulders. Therefore, it is also in the interest of soundness and safety of the footfalls if the hindquarters are induced to carry more of the weight. Consequently, it is advantageous for every horse to go in a certain measure of collection.

Confidence – This refers to the horses boldness and self-assurance with which he performs, how he reacts to training, and to the trust in the partnership with his rider.

Connection – This refers to the quality of contact and to the ease in which the horse performs in harmony with the rider. A good connection is one that is not stiff or constrained, the horse yields to the aids of the rider and there is harmony between horse and rider.

Contact (Anlehnung) - A soft, steady connection between the rider's hand and the horse's mouth. A correct, steady contact allows the horse to find its balance under the rider and find a rhythm in each gait. Contact must never be obtained by pulling back with the reins. It must result from the correct development of the pushing powers of the horse. The discreetly driving aids of the rider cause the horse to step into the hands with confidence as the skilled rider receives that energy and directs it.

Correctness – Refers to the many different training aspects of the horse, how the exercises are performed, and used to describe their results.

Crookedness – This refers to misalignment in the horse’s body from poll to tail.

Demi-Arret - (half halt) French term meaning to lighten a horse or to lift up the head with a vibrating, lifting hand, quickly dropping and returning to a soft and neutral contact. This is done without pulling upwards or backwards. It is a slight wrist action in small upward vibrations usually almost invisible to the on-looker.

Descente de main et des jambes - French phrase to mean the yielding of the hand and the legs, while the horse remains in the same flexion, cadence and rhythm in the movement being executed.

Durchlaessigkeit - A German term used to describe the supple, elastic, unblocked, connected state of the horse's musculature that permits an unrestricted flow of energy from back to front and front to back, which allows the aids/influences to freely go through to all parts of the horse (e.g., the rein aids go through and reach and influence the hind legs). Synonymous with the word Throughness or throughlettingness.

Ecuyer - A 17th/18th century French term used to denote a recognized Master of equitation. This term is still used at Saumur today.

Elasticity – Refers to the balance and suppleness of the horse’s muscles and to the springiness of its footfalls.

Elevation —Relative elevation is relative to the horse's ability to collect at any particular stage of his training according to his conformation. Refers to the raising of the head, neck and withers due to the lowering and engagement of the hind legs.

Engagement – Increased flexion of the joints of the hind legs while distributing more weight on the hindquarters thus lightening the front end.

Evasion – Avoiding an exercise without active disobedience.

Flexion – Refers to the lateral and longitudinal articulation of the joint at the poll of the horse. One can have flexion without bend, but there is no bend without flexion.

Frame – This refers to the longer and shorter outline, which results from extension or collection.

Gait – This refers to the three paces of the horse, i.e. walk, trot, and canter.

Geraderichten (Straightness) - A German term to describe in a straight horse the pushing powers work directly towards the horse's center of balance. The forehand is in line with its hindquarters allowing the horse's longitudinal axis to follow the straight or curved line of the track. The rider's restraining aids will then pass through the horse correctly, via the horse's mouth, the poll, the neck, and the back through to the quarters and influence both hind legs equally.

Half Halt - Prepares and alerts the horse for a change, re-balances, lightens the forehand, engages the hindquarters.

Impulsion (Schwung) - The energy created by the hind legs transmitted into the gaits and into every aspect of the forward movement. Impulsion is the result of the correct influence of the rider, utilizing the natural gaits of the horse and combining them with relaxation, and the development of the horse's pushing power and throughness.

Inside – This refers to

1) the side of the horse that is toward the center of the ring or circle.

2) the hollow side of the horse that is bent or flexed independent of the ring or circle of the horse.

Irregular – This refers to an impure, uneven gait of the horse.

Lateral – Side to side, as in flexion, bend, suppleness and aids.

Losgelassenheit (Relaxation) - A German term used to describe when the horse is willing to stretch his neck forward and down in all three gaits (allowing the horse to chew the reins out of the rider's hands). A relaxed horse moves with a swinging back and in a natural, regular rhythm without hurrying. The horse accepts the driving aids and allows a supple rider to sit comfortably.

Manege - A French term used to denote an arena, ring or area where horses are schooled or dressed.

Marching – This refers to the purposeful and marked accentuation of the steps of the walk.

On The Aids – This refers to the horse that is responsive and light to the aids.

On The Bit – This refers to the horse that accepts and yields to the contact with the bit.

Outline – This refers to the posture and profile of the horse.

Outside – This refers to

1) the side of the horse that is toward the outside of the ring or circle.

2) the concave side of the horse that is bent or flexed independent of the ring or circle of the horse.

Over bent – This refers to the lateral bend in the horse’s neck, mainly occurring at the base of the neck causing a lack of uniformity in the bend of the whole horse from tail to poll.

Over flexed – This refers to the longitudinal flexion of the horse at the poll resulting in being behind the vertical.

Poll – The occipital crest or the highest point of the horse’s skull.


1) The lateral flexion at the poll; position right or position left.

2) The rider’s position.

Purity – The correctness of the order and timing of the footfalls of a horse’s gait.

Resistance – This refers to the physical opposition by the horse against the rider.

Rhythm (Takt) - The regularity and the purity of the steps or strides in each gait, covering equal distance and of equal duration. The metronomic "beat" of the horse's footfalls. It should not vary.

Rhythm and Regularity —Rhythm and regularity have to be maintained on straight lines, in all bending and/or lateral work, and during transitions. If an exercise or a movement is not regular it cannot be rated good. A training exercise is non-productive if it causes irregularity.

Relaxation (Losgelassenheit) - Relaxation has been achieved when the horse is willing to stretch his neck forward and down in all three gaits (allowing the horse to chew the reins out of the rider's hands). A relaxed horse moves with a swinging back and in a natural, regular rhythm without hurrying. The horse accepts the driving aids and allows a supple rider to sit comfortably.

Roundness – This refers to the longitudinal roundness of the horse’s top line giving the impression of the horse being round like a ball with the energy flowing from the hind legs up over the back to the neck and poll and the recycling itself back again.

Schwung (Impulsion) - A German term used to describe the power of the hindquarters that carries the horse forward and its transmission over the back.

Scope – This refers to the reach and roundness of a movement.

Self-Carriage – This refers to when the horse carries itself in balance and harmony with the rider without taking or needing any support from the rider’s hand.

Straightness (Geraderichten) - In a straight horse the pushing powers work directly towards the horse's center of balance. The forehand is in line with its hindquarters allowing the horse's longitudinal axis to follow the straight or curved line of the track. The rider's restraining aids will then pass through the horse correctly, via the horse's mouth, the poll, the neck, and the back through to the quarters and influence both hind legs equally.

Submission -The horse's willingness to conform to directions from the rider.

Suppleness - The horse's body is free of tension. He looks dimensional with clear muscular definition.

Takt (Rhythm) - A German term used to describe the rhythm and tempo of the gaits of the horse.

Tempo - The rate of repetition of the rhythm. Ideally, it appears easy and without tension.

Terra Terra - An air which was considered the basis for the airs above the ground, but which is no longer recognized in dressage today. The movement is a very cadenced, elevated canter in two-time.

Throughness—The supple, elastic, unblocked, connected state of the horse's musculature that permits an unrestricted flow of energy from back to front and front to back, which allows the aids/influences to freely go through to all parts of the horse (e.g., the rein aids go through and reach and influence the hind legs). Synonymous with the German term "Durchlaessigkeit," or "throughlettingness."

Tilting – This refers to an evasion when the horse tilts or cocks his head in which one ear is lower than the other.

Top Line – This refers to the longitudinal outline of the horse, from his poll, over his back, and ending at his tail.

Uberstreichen - A German term to describe the brief release of the contact, wherein the rider in one clear motion extends the hand(s) forward along the crest of the horse’s neck, and then rides for several strides without contact. Its purpose is to demonstrate that even with loose rein(s), the horse maintains its carriage, balance, pace, and tempo.

Versammlung (Collection) - A German term used to describe when a horse is working in collection the quarters take more of the load. The haunches (hip and stifle joints) are flexing more and the hind legs step more under the horse's center of balance. This lightens the forehand and allows greater freedom of movement. The strides become shorter without losing energy and activity. The horse looks and feels more "uphill." In the trot as well as in the canter, the impulsion needs to be fully maintained, rendering these gaits more expressive and cadenced.