wehorse.com partnership

wehorse.com has asked to partner with us to promote Working Equitation in the United States.

They are an online training website focused on Working Equitation, with great content from expert trainers like Uta Gräf and Pedro Torres. They also have videos on dressage, show jumping, eventing, ground work, rider’s position, and other topics for all-around horsemanship.

If you are interested in learning more, the website is https://wehorse.com/en

If you attend a Working Equitation clinic with Holly, make sure to ask about discount codes. Cheers!

Mary Wanless – on dressage

Amira here, your friendly wanna-be dressage rider

I listened to an interview of Mary Wanless on the Dressage Radio Show (dated 7/5/2019) and it blew me away. She has written several books on the biomechanics of riding and is an acknowledged expert in the sport.


I’ve transcribed some of what she said:

“My sense is that we really want to get a hold of kids before they are twelve. I think that about the age of twelve the rot sets in when someone in pony club probably says ‘Right then, now let’s get the ponies on the bit.’ And that is the beginning of the end.

And I would really try and steer trainers and teachers and coaches away from really getting kids neurotic about where their horse’s head is, and really teaching them the baselines of how to organize their body. If we can teach a kid to sit well enough that the ponies natural response is to come up through its back and reach into the rein then the kid never gets paranoid about getting the horse’s head down, never starts fiddling and pulling, and never has to unlearn that later in life.

And I think unlearning that is the hardest thing for a mature rider.”

(In regard to riders being told to get their horse’s on the bit, and the effects)

“Well it gets riders thinking about their heads, thinking about their hands, the arm, the shoulder girdle, worried about the contact, and riding sometimes as though they barely existed from the shoulder girdle down. Whereas I really want to try and keep the rider’s attention on her pelvis, on her contact with the horse’s back, and what is happening in the horse’s back underneath her. How she stabilizes herself on the horse’s movement. And if we can teach a rider to be really thinking about how to shape a horse’s back, and get the back up under her, … to get the head down, we’ve changed everything for that rider.”

“And the shape of the horse’s back, and whether the back is hollow or whether the back is a firmer, higher, surface underneath you, really determines how the horse’s whole body works. … That push of the horse’s hind leg is translated in that chain of muscles over its croup, under the panels of the sidle, and up to each of its ears. So it is fine to show riders how to make that happen, how to feel if it is happening, how to know what to do if it isn’t happening, and how to change the horse’s body underneath them by how they use their own bodies. “

My own (Amira’s) thoughts:

Very very relevant to me.

Confessions of an amateur: I learned about the “jiggle” technique about a year and a half ago during a schooling show (not from my trainer), and while I’ve thoroughly explored it, it doesn’t seem to produce real roundness. At best, it reminds Sonnet (a well trained, athletic horse) that she is most comfortable with her head low. Most of the time, it is an artificial stimulus which reverts back to normal within a second. At worst, it focuses all of my attention on manipulating the reins, rather than riding in a balanced manner.

Listening to this interview makes me realize why Holly always discouraged me from obsessing about the horse’s head, and to keep the rein as stable as possible so that the bit is a safe place to go to.

Dressage through the levels from the Judge’s Perspective

Linked from the Horse Radio Network: Dressage Radio Show #507

This podcast goes into depth on what the judge’s are looking for in Introductory, Training, and First Level. There are lots of great insights here such as…

  • Stretchy Circle in Training 2 and 3: The judges want to see your horse demonstrate “seeking the rein” as you increase the length. Don’t throw the entire length of rein out at once, show a gradual seeking behavior. You should be doing half-halts and have light contact and communication during the stretch. The last quarter of the circle you should be returning to normal length (don’t do it after the circle).
  • Corners: Many riders forget that they should not do corners during a circle. Sometimes riders skip the corners before and after their circle too. If you are doing a circle at A, you will go into the corner before A, start your circle at A, continue circling, finish the circle at A, then go into the corner after A.
  • First Level: For leg yield in F1 and F2, the judges want to see a non-rushed, meandering leg yield. Use the full length available. The important aspects are to maintain the quality of your trot and to keep the horse straight (rather than the shoulder poking to the side). In F3 the leg yield is much more demanding.
  • Lengthenings: The judge wants to see your horse (slightly!) physically lengthen from nose to tail. This means let their head out a bit so that they can make a bigger stride. Change your diagonal either before or after the lengthening so that you don’t throw off your horse’s balance.

Lots more in the show, those were just teasers that stuck out to me.

Anyways, please enjoy this radio show (link below) -Amira

Working Equitation clinics and training in Maryland USA near Baltimore and DC

Next clinic and show dates

We are starting to put together our 2020 clinics and show schedule!

Fix-a-test at Keep Stables (Working Equitation Dressage phase): mid-January 2020

Will host several Obstacle Relay days, where we run through mini courses and obstacle relays

Introduction to cattle penning: January 4, 2020

Confederation for Working Equitation show: May 2020

For more information and to sign up, please email keepstables@yahoo.com

Follow Keep Stables on Facebook for the latest news, photos, and events!

Working Equitation Training

Topics include

  • Complete beginner – introduction to Working Equitation and practice sessions with obstacles
  • Intro, Novice, and Intermediate level instruction for Ease of Handling, Speed practice and troubleshooting specific obstacles
  • Dressage discussion and practice WE-specific dressage movements

If you would like to schedule a training session, contact Holly Linz at keepstables@yahoo.com. Holly offers lessons several days a week and can give you a great introduction to the sport!

We have a fun group of riders at the farm regularly practicing Intro, Novice, and Intermediate level Working Equitation.

Pictures from our Working Equitation training, clinics, and shows

Holly and Freja performing the “Drums” obstacle. In Working Equitation the judge may reverse it (performing a left hand circle first instead of a right-hand circle) at their discretion. At Intro, this can be done at walk or trot. At Novice level, this is performed at the trot. At Intermediate, it is performed at the canter.
One of the trickier parts of Working Equitation is down-transitioning your gaits before the obstacle. You don’t want to stop too far away – one full stride seems to be ideal. At Novice level and above, this means a canter-to-walk transition about 6-10 feet before the bridge.
Kimberly (our September clinician) explaining techniques for holding the lance.
Our August clinician, Allison, really emphasized the quality of gaits and communication between horse and rider. She gave us a tip that judges don’t want to see the horse move at all while the rider is opening the gate or closing the gate. So adjust as much as you need, then allow your horse to stand calmly before you reach out your hand.
The jug obstacle looks easy, but it is deceptively difficult. Often you can only reach the jug easily from one side of the table. Be proud and hoist that jug! Kimberly says that if you want to show off, you can pour the water out onto the ground, or even onto yourself and your horse!

Keep Stables provides a beautiful, custom built Ease of Handling obstacle course.

The bridge obstacle. The rails were built to break apart if needed. This obstacle tests your horse’s confidence going over a raised surface. For EoH, it is performed at the walk only, even at Master’s level. In the background you can also see the lance and the intro jump.
This is the Rounding Posts obstacle. At Novice and above, horses are expected to weave backwards between the posts. At Intro, you ride forward through the middle, stop, switch the cup, then continue forward.

A rider practicing the gate obstacle. This custom built gate with hinges and a latch is challenging compared to a rope gate. During the clinic, our judge pointed out that riders are expected to keep one hand on the gate at all times while performing the obstacle. No adjusting the reins!


For the July clinic, we brought chickens to liven up the round pen obstacle. On the first day, the horses had a chance to meet the chickens in the warm-up area (lots of space). On the second day, the chickens moved into the round pen.

WE horse looking at chickens inside the round pen during Ease of Handling course
Holly and Aero performing the round pen. Aero is checking out the chickens!
Working equitation obstacle at Keep Stables, the round pen. It has chickens in it.
Holly and Freja working on the round pen obstacle. Chickens!

All the horses did very well and learned to perform even with chickens nearby!

Tips for lance and ring in Working Equitation

Audrey successfully catching the ring from El Blanco Diablo. She has her thumb open to catch the ring when it slides down the lance.

The Working Equitation lance and ring should be introduced slowly to horses. For first timers, this means doing everything from the ground until your horse started to get used to the concept. In particular, rehearse all the scary conditions from the ground so that your horse learns it isn’t in danger.

  • Carrying the lance can be scary to a horse because it is moving near their head, following them as they move, and might touch or bonk the horse if the rider loses their balance.
  • Pulling the lance out of the barrel and returning it to the barrel makes noises the horse must get used to.
  • If you successfully lance the ring, it will make a rattling noise as it travels down the lance. Horses can be alarmed when the ring moves toward them (on the lance) and time must be taken to get the horse used to the ring traveling along the lance.
  • Riders must spend time learning to navigate their horse successfully with one hand while maneuvering the lance with the other hand in order to perform this obstacle smoothly.

When moving through other obstacles, Kimberly recommends balancing the lance on your shoulder so that it doesn’t get caught on anything.

Kimberly recommends holding the lance on your shoulder while going over other obstacles.

When you lance the ring, it is important to catch it with your thumb as it travels down the lance. If you don’t catch it, the ring can go around your hand and the lance and lock them together (this is bad).

When you place the lance back into the barrel, you should be ‘laying it down’ not just throwing it in. This improves your score.

Jumps in Working Equitation

The jump obstacle in Working Equitation is meant to be a ‘working horse’ test. The intent is that a horse can jump a small hay bale or log on the trail. No huge jumps!

The intro level jump is just a ground pole, and is done at the trot.
The Novice level jump is a cross-rail no more than 15″ high in the center, and 18″ high at the edges. It can be performed at the trot or canter.

Intermediate jumps are a maximum of 22″ high and Master’s level are 39″ or less.

Tips for EoH and Speed course design

We found it useful to design the obstacle course using scale models on the computer. This blog post talks about how we did it.

General information about Working Equitation and Keep Stables

Holly Linz and the stallion Zamingo review the outdoors Ease of Handling course at Keep Stables MD
Holly Linz and the stallion Zamingo review the outdoors Ease of Handling course at Keep Stables MD.  In the middle is the “pitcher” obstacle. Simply stop alongside, hoist the jug overhead, and set it back down.  If you drop the jug, you are expected to dismount, replace it, and remount during the test.

Keep Stables is an official group member of the Confederation for Working Equitation in the United States!

We have a group of active Working Equitation riders who are schooling Intro through intermediate level Ease of Handling and Speed Tests, and a variety of levels for the Dressage phase.

National Championship Speed Trial Video   (MUST WATCH!!)

This video is just fun to watch, and shows what Master’s level Working Equitation looks like. It is the “speed trial” phase, which is scored by how long it takes to complete, so the rider is moving fast!

Never tried Working Equitation before? 

We are amateur friendly and have riders of all skill levels to practice with.

Do you have a Baroque or Spanish horse such as Andalusian or Lusitano? 

These breeds are naturals at Dressage and Working Equitation due to their beautiful movement, collection ability, and temperament.  Holly Linz has trained several Andalusian horses up the levels. 

We are a sponsor of ERAHC (Eastern Region Andalusian Horse Club) and between our farm and First Choice Farm, we have a large group participate in the August breed shows each year.  As of 2018, ERAHC is now offering recognized Working Equitation shows each year, either standalone or as part of their breed shows.

What does Dressage have to do with WE?

Being educated in English / Western Dressage gives a major advantage to riders who want to do Working Equitation.

  1. Dressage teaches you and your horse the balance, collection, and coordination necessary to perform well on an Ease of Handling or Speed course. For example, an upper level WE horse performing the figure-eight would be doing a collected and upright canter with flying changes for each change in direction around the obstacle. These are dressage skills.
  2. Dressage by itself is an entire 1/3 of the score for most Working Equitation shows! No obstacles – just precision figures and movements in a small dressage arena.

Because Keep Stables riders already specialize in dressage with Holly Linz as our trainer, we find that Working Equitation is a natural next step to progress in our skills and have fun with our horses! It helps to keep the horse and riders mind fresh, and have new way to approach training goals and challenges.

working equitation maryland md DC stallion dressage
Holly Linz schooling dressage on the stallion Zamingo

Keep Stables is located in Woodbine, MD which is about 45 minutes north of DC, 30 minutes west of Baltimore MD, and 30 minutes east of Frederick Maryland.

Our farm has a full complement of Ease of Handling equipment.

  • “El Blanco Diablo”  the white bull figure for the precision lance obstacle
  • A full size solid gate with latch, and a rope gate
  • Round pen
  • Side pass poles
  • Garrocha poles
  • Bridge
  • Rein-back obstacles such as the cup, bell, and L-shape
  • Adjustable jump
  • Figure riding obstacles such as figure-8, drums, single and double slaloms.
  • Bank and water crossing
outdoor ring keep stables
Keep Stables outdoor arena

Working Equitation Clinics and Training

Please email us for the schedule of our clinics and small group practice sessions – we are accepting new students and horses for training, and offer regular clinic days for outside riders.

Our upcoming events calendar can be viewed at the bottom of this page (scroll all the way down).  This calendar generally has the big events for the farm.  Practices and schooling are scheduled less formally.

Our head trainer Holly Linz can assist you in learning the ease of handling obstacles and give dressage lessons to you and your horse.

We have access to a nearby farm with beef cattle and will have a few trips a year to practice cattle handling and get used to the ranch environment.

Keep Stables working equitation rider Audrey and her horse Apollo at a clinic in April 2019.
Keep Stables working equitation rider Audrey and her horse Apollo at a Virginia clinic in April 2019. Gate obstacles might be either fully built wooden gates or a simple rope between posts. Both types are challenging. Many horses are concerned about the ropes because they are similar to electric fencing. Wooden gates can snag riders and horses, and are less forgiving of sideways movement.

What is Working Equitation?

Working Equitation is a new, rapidly growing horse sport that is amateur friendly and lots of fun!   It has spread to several countries worldwide, and is strongly influenced by the Spaniard cattle handling traditions.

“El Blanco Diablo” at the Keep Stables outdoors Ease of Handling course.

Style is important in Working Equitation – riders are allowed to choose their own style of dress and tack, and are not required to wear helmets.  Examples include: Formal English, Portuguese, Western USA, and Spanish. 

A wide variety of tack and bits are allowed such as hackamores, snaffles, curb bits, and bitless bridles, which makes the sport welcoming to a wider range of riders.  Riders are expected to stay consistent with their style by using the same dress and tack for all phases of the Working Equitation show.

A Working Equitation show has four phases:

Working Dressage

Keep Stables amateur rider Amira and horse Sonnet performing WE Novice A Dressage Test, which is similar in difficulty to a USEF Training Level test

Very similar to the USEF / USDF Dressage Tests, the Working Equitation Dressage tests are performed in a 20×40 meter dressage arena and follow the same basic movements as English and Western dressage tests.   For example, Intro dressage has walk-trot figures such as 20 meter circles.  Novice dressage includes a short rein-back and turn on the haunches.  Intermediate and higher tests include collection, flying changes, and other precision movements.

From the Confederation website:

What is the Working Dressage phase? It is a test to show the rhythm and regularity of the natural gaits and the precision of the horse to prepare for the other 3 phases. These are achieved through systematic gymnastic movements which are judged individually on a scale of 0 -10. Working Dressage does seek to demonstrate a horse’s natural athletic ability, willingness to work and lightness as does traditional Dressage and Western Dressage.

It differs from Competitive Dressage as there is not an emphasis on extension work and the trot is only used as a training gait and appears in the tests less and less as the levels advance, focusing on the working gaits of the walk and canter.

Working Dressage creates an opportunity to chain together the movements usually practiced in a work situation with cattle. Working Dressage requires that a horse show regularity and purity of gaits performed in horizontal balance who is then able to continue on to perform obstacles, work cattle and remain obedient at fast speeds.

Ease of Handling

Bull obstacle – use the lance to spear the ring while walking, trotting, or cantering past (depending on level).  You only get one pass: if you miss, continue on and return your lance to the holder.  Bull silhouettes can be 3-dimensional, 2-dimensional (like the one above), or simply a ring holder that doesn’t look like a bull.
This is Whitney and Beau during a beginner lesson in August 2019. Well done!

This phase is most similar to a Trail Competition, but is less about surviving and more about showing that you and your horse are working together as a team.   The test replicates the tasks a cattle working horse would be expected to perform during a day on the ranch.   

During a test, you will be expected to move through about 10 obstacles such as a gate, an L-shape, a low bridge, and slalom poles.   You might stop by a barrel and hoist a jug of water overhead, then set it down.  In between obstacles, you would trot or canter.  Sometimes there are live animals in the round pen obstacle (such as chickens), which tests your horse’s experience and temperament.

You are judged by how efficiently you and your horse progress through the obstacles.  Does your horse wait calmly while you manipulate the gate?  Is your figure-8 around the barrels round and symmetrical?   Does your horse willingly walk over the bridge or do they try to race across?

Round pen obstacle (travel between the inner and outer pen).  In shows, there are often small animals (goats, chickens) or other decorations inside the inner pen, which test the temperament of your horse.

From the Confederation website:

What is the Ease of Handling phase?

This phase which in other countries is also called ‘Manability’, ‘EOH’ ‘Style phase’ ‘Obstacle test’ or ‘Handiness test’ is an obstacle type event in which horse and rider must overcome elements which symbolize the difficulties natural and not, relative to those likely to be encountered in the field (i.e. crossing bridges, passing through gateways, side passing, etc).

The manner in which the obstacle is executed – focusing on agility, submission, working attitude, as well as ease of movement and of handling – is scored by a judge the same way as the Working Dressage test on a scale of 0-10 for each element.

The Keep Stables working equitation group visited a clinic in Virginia to school ease of handling
The Keep Stables working equitation group visited a clinic in Virginia to school ease of handling in a new place!  In the foreground, the task is to stop between the yellow posts and move the cup from one side to the other without changing hands.  In the background, you see Holly Linz and Vadriero schooling the round pen obstacle, and to the right, there are three barrels which are trotted or cantered in a barrel racing pattern.

Speed Trial

Amira and Gideon the Clydesdale cantering to a finish! Going through the finish or start in the wrong direction will disqualify you immediately. Red on the right and white/gray on the left is a common way of indicating direction.

The speed phase goes through the same set of obstacles as the Ease of Handling test, but the score is based on completing the obstacles at speed.   For example, the rider who completes all obstacles in 2 minutes will beat the rider who completes the obstacles in 3 minutes.  If you cannot perform an obstacle, there is a set penalty assigned such as 10 or 30 seconds added to your time.   

This is an exciting competition to perform and observe!   Remember though – none of these phases are required; some riders will only perform the dressage phase and ease of handling while others will sign up for all four during a competition.

From the Confederation website:

What is the Speed phase?

This is the second test of handiness, the first “EOH’ (listed above) is a test of technical handiness; this is a test of time handiness.

It is a timed obstacle race, using the ‘Ease of Handling’ Obstacles. This is the same event as ‘EOH’ but measured in an objective way by the use of a stop watch -timer. The goal is to promote the horses which are most manageable. The individual scores are based on elapsed time through the obstacles and time penalties for course errors.

The routes and the penalties applied for the mistakes must be such as to prevent any attempt to promote just the top speed, and not the handiness which would be contrary to the spirit of the discipline.

It is the most exciting element  in the Working Equitation competition series.

Cattle Handling

cattle handling phase of working equitation
A team of riders separates one calf from the herd and pens it.

This phase is only included in some shows since it can be difficult to find appropriate livestock.   Riders are judged in their ability to separate a specific cow from a group and herd it into a holding pen.  This takes equitation skills similar to a Western Cutting Horse.

From the Confederation website:

What is the Cattle Handling phase? The Cattle handling phase is the essence of the sport of Working Equitation. It is performed by a ‘Team’ of three or four riders.

This is a timed test which is to prove the skills of the competitors with cattle.

The constraints of the test are to show: 1.) A calm approach to the cattle. 2.) The isolation and the sorting of the cattle in respect of the integrity of the herd. 3.) The conduct of the cattle sorted efficiently and accurately. 4.) Teamwork.

The event consists of team members individually separating a particular animal from the herd, and then as a team herding it into a separate pen. It is similar to the American sports of Team Penning or Ranch Sorting.

WE United or Confederation for Working Equitation???

In the United States, two major groups have formed to organize Working Equitation events and shows. These groups are the Confederation for Working Equitation and WE United.

The Confederation is active with ERAHC (Eastern Region Andalusian Horse Club) which puts on multiple Working Equitation shows each year on the east coast.

Link to Confederation event calendar

Link to ERAHC show calendar

WE United seems to have mostly west coast events. Link to WE United calendar

For most riders interested in WE, you don’t need to pick between the two. Just go to whichever events you are interested in.

Helpful links about Working Equitation

Contact Keep Stables keepstables@yahoo.com for information about Working Equitation Training, small group practice sessions, and clinic schedule.

About Page for Keep Stables and head trainer Holly Linz.

Confederation for Working Equitation USA Links

Official 2019 Rules Page

PDF:  Summary of time penalties, time bonuses, and disqualifications.  Obstacle requirements summary (gaits, appropriate levels).

Confederation Events Calendar  (Region 6 includes Maryland, DC, Virginia and most of New England.

Common rider position fixes

This article by Practice Horseman Magazine is semi-relevant to dressage (it is oriented mostly toward jumpers).

It addresses ..

  • Gripping with your knees.
  • Hunching shoulders and collapsing your torso.
  • Too much hand in turns (causing loss of shoulder).
  • Bouncing during sitting trot.
  • Losing the stirrups.

Link to article:  10 Time-Tested Rider Position Fixes




What is Working Equitation?

Four phases:

  1. Dressage
  2. Ease of Handling (obstacles at a comfortable speed)
  3. Speed Trial (simpler obstacles as fast as you are willing to go)
  4. Cattle handling in teams (not often available)

Each of the phases can be performed separately or skipped (for example, there is no requirement to do the speed trial).

Beginner is walk/trot only

Intermediate and advanced introduces canter

Here is a video that gives a nice overview

The more things change…

Article from HorseMagazine.com , it is a repost from their own article from 1986.  Still just as accurate today as it was then.


Chris Hector takes a lesson with Tina Wommelsdorf

We published this story back in 1986, it is a sobering thought that 30 years down the track, the same fundamental problem shows itself over and over again in the dressage arena…

You’ve probably witnessed the conversation a hundred times.

The horse has disgraced himself.

The offence may vary. Perhaps he cantered too fast, or too slow, or refused to canter at all – the post mortem often has a depressing sameness: Perhaps he is sore, maybe you should try BTZ? Do you think his teeth might need attention? Have you tried him in a mechanical hackamore? I had a horse that wouldn’t canter and my chiropractor had him right in ten minutes! It’s his breeding, those XYZs are always a problem…

And on and on goes the list, and all the time the cause of the problem is sitting right there (literally) in front of them. The rider simply cannot ride well enough to expect the horse to perform!

The horse has not yet been born that will continue to function with the rider bouncing, gripping in the saddle and pulling on his mouth. Sure, you can bang a double bridle on his head and hide the problem for a while. Or get one of the fix-them-quick experts to do an instant ‘re-education’ job on him – to bash him into submission for a while, but eventually the truth will out.


Eventually he will run through the most severe bit. Eventually no amount of bashing will cower him into submission. And then we are back with that original, inescapable conclusion.

The problem lies not with the horse but with the rider… and it is a case of rider heal thyself.

Of course there will be some who take the other option. Sell the horse as a hopeless case (he probably is by now), and start in on wrecking another. That this sort of process is repeated time and time again all over the land, is a everlasting condemnation of those instructors who are more interested in telling their clients what they wish to hear than offering them a simple and surefire solution:

‘We will just have to get your position right. On the lunge, with no stirrups or reins, until you are secure in your seat.’

It is not such a pleasant experience, but a month or so on the lunge can be the beginning to a lifetime’s enjoyable riding, for both horse and rider, and surely is not such a price to pay?

Of course there are some instructors who will not absolve the rider and blame the horse. Instructors like Tina Wommelsdorf. Tina has travelled the length and breadth of Australia spreading the message that riding starts with the rider. Go to one of her schools – as I was fortunate enough to do recently – and the message is hammered home.

The horse’s problems are problems caused by the rider. Until the rider learns self discipline, no success can be achieved.

It is not a fashionable message, not a welcome one to many, but Tina has seen fashions come and go. She has seen the gimmick trainers with their instant solutions come, and just as quickly go… and nothing in their routine of miracle cures has caused her to deviate from the principles she learnt in ten years at the German Riding School. Principles that were re-inforced and hammered home by the late Franz Mairinger, The principles by which Tina trains her own horses, and. the same principles that produce the greats of the dressage world, like Dr Neckerman, like the present day superstar, Dr Klimke.

“The problem lies with the rider’s body,” says Tina, “because the body reacts to what the horse is doing instinctively, and not at the rider’s command. The riders are not aware of what is happening, so they get stuck with their hands, which is the worst thing. Or they don’t push – which is also bad. In other words, their body is just reacting to the horse instead of being told what to do by the rider’s mind, so that they can train the horse.”

“Even riders who can sit quite well, don’t seem to be in control of their hands. The hands can wreck everything. If you surrender both reins, if you have a loop in the reins to teach yourself not to hang on – then you can’t hang on, and you have to ride forward instead of sideways. It doesn’t matter how well they can sit, if their hands are not under control and they jam, then they cause a jam in the horse. You can’t isolate the jam in your own hand, if you have a jam in your hand, you have a jam in the horse.”

“Unless the rider is completely in charge of the hands and is able to ride the horse into a forward reaching hand, he will create a jam in the horse, and then the horse cannot perform to the best of his ability – in fact, usually the horse will not be able to bend to one side.”

“The rider must concentrate on position. Your position is everything. If your position is wrong, then the horse cannot go. It is technically not possible because you are causing that famous jam.”

“You will even see it in the higher tests. Riders are stuck on one rein, and it is usually the side that the horse is naturally bent to. The horse does a lovely half pass to one side – and next to nothing to the other, because the rider is holding the horse on that rein. The horse can’t bend the other way.”

“The best way to overcome this problem is to surrender the contact on both reins, so that the rider’s body cannot involuntarily take up one rein and hold it. While the rider’s hands maintain contact, the body is just so quick in instinctively holding one rein that the rider is just not aware of it. Particularly since the rider has probably been doing it for a long long time. If you surrender both reins, if you have a loop in the reins to teach yourself not to hang on – then you can’t hang on and you have to ride forward instead of sideways.”

“The rider is inclined to do all the corrections with the hands, when the riders should be doing the corrections with the seat and the legs.”


Right through the school, Tina emphasised the importance of correctly riding forward and into a corner – rather than trying to pull and steer the horse onto the line.

One youngster was so spooky in the indoor school, that his rider had come equipped with trotting blinkers… and still he attempted to shy out of the corner!

“No, don’t pull, just ride him straight into the corner straight, forward,” came the command.

“Impossible,” came the reply.

“I will show you.”

Tina positions herself a few yards in from the corner. The rider rides straight ahead, the horse comes to a halt, deep in the corner, his chin practically resting on the wall of the school.

“See, it works.”

“But you were standing there … ”

“OK, I will stand back, now do it again.”

Tina is well and truly clear of the corner and the horse still goes deep and comes to the halt. And to drive the lesson home, Tina gets on board, and rides the horse dead straight into the corner with a half-moon loop in the reins! The rider is impressed.

“You can demonstrate to the rider when you make them ride straight into the corner and stand next to the wall, they CAN get there if they ride forward. They will wobble all over the place if they try to ride sideways! Once the rider goes straight into the corner, they get the feeling of riding forward, instead of trying to hold the horses out. Then they can transfer this same feeling to riding on a curved line, also forward, then they get the idea of forward riding.”

“If you can make the horse go forward, then the hands will not be tempted to act incorrectly. I want the rider’s hands forward reaching so you are bringing the horse to the bit – not the bit to the horse. If you start with the head, you are not riding the horse, you are jamming it in. You must bring the horse to the bit, so he is engaged and carries himself.”

“The head position occurs all by itself, it falls into your hands. The horse’s nose will not poke out if you can push him sufficiently to take more weight on the hindquarters. He will automatically round himself if you have an amiable contact with him.”

Christopher and Cedar contemplate the mystery of the forward reaching hand…

Perhaps I am a bit thick, but for a long time I had problems understanding Tina’s ‘forward reaching’ hand. Somehow I had it in my head that the hand had to actually move forward at the moment of the push. What Tina was talking about is far simpler. The forward reaching hand simply means that the hands are positioned well in front of the body, making a straight line from the elbow to the bit.

Tina would demonstrate over and over again that if you let the reins go long and the hands come back to the body, then that forward going impulse is lost. The immediate worry was that by shortening the reins you would shorten the neck, but it soon became apparent that with the hands in the correct position, Cedar could still travel in a long outline and on a relatively short rein.

But the horses were not expected to rush around the arena with absolutely no contact. Once the rider’s hands had learnt the lesson of the no contact position, they were expected to half halt/check (remember most riders back then had no idea what half halt meant) over and over again…

“You can’t keep on pushing without checking. Otherwise the horse gets faster, faster, faster. You have to have half halts to maintain a tempo that is yours – otherwise you can’t push. And unless you can push, you cannot train. You have to keep on checking the tempo of the horse so that you can push him, and when you push you can engage the hind legs correctly, and then his position will follow. He is light in front and he will round himself.”

“Very often the half halt is completely misunderstood by the riders. Or mis-executed! Instead of checking and easing off, they are checking and getting stuck, and it becomes a halt. If you read Reiner Klimke’s writings you will find that he says it is the most important thing in your riding – and that if you get stuck with your hands, you are not riding the horse anymore, you are holding it.”

“The rider should say to himself: ‘I am taking my hands back only reluctantly, to slow the horse down. I will immediately allow them to go forward again, so that I can ride into a forward reaching hand’. The rider must control himself before he can control the horse … and must maintain that control.”

“That is the most important step in your riding is that you can control yourself, and that you know at all times what your hands, seat and legs are doing. You are aware of yourself and your actions.”


“If the rider cannot control his body, then he must go back to the exercises to promote an independent seat. Once the seat is independent, then the arms and legs are independent. Until they have that seat they must go back onto the lunge. No reins, no stirrups· until they learn to sit because they are balanced and not hanging on. If they are not balanced they grab with the legs, and they push the horse inadvertently, and then they grab hold of the rein to slow it down. It is a vicious circle. Or they hang onto the reins for security and that is backwards riding. They are holding the horse instead of riding it.”

 “Forward is the most important ingredient in all your riding. If you listen to the Old Masters, they always say ‘Forward is everything’. Ride your horse forward and straighten it. That is always neglected, no-one wants to listen to it, they all want to hear about indirect, opposing reins, and God knows what complicated expressions… when forward is everything. If they follow that forward principle they could ride!”

“It is really sjmple. All collection should be forward, everything is forward. The minute you get a problem, forget what you are doing, just ride forward with both legs, until you have the hindlegs correctly engaged. Then try the exercise again.”

“The great riders are forward riders. Look at Dr Neckermann, he is absolutely the embodiment of forward riding. I have watched him time and time again, and he does all his corrections forward. When his horse won’t stand square and well at the end of the lesson – he rides forward out of that halt time and time again. He never corrects a horse standing still, he rides forward and out to correct. There is no backwards correction, it is all forward.”

“All movements are forward movements. The flying change is a forward movement, and if you don’t ride them forward, the horse will swing the quarters and you don’t get a straight . line. People seem to think that they want to change from the left to the right. Really the horse must just canter on, either on the left leg or the right leg – forward, not side to side.”

“People don’t seem to want to admit that it is so simple. Perhaps because carrying it out and learning it is not so simple for the rider. The body is basically frightened, self preservation plays its part. When someone gets on a big seventeen hand horse, the legs want to grab so you don’t fall off, the hands want to hang onto the reins so he doesn’t get too fast… To set yourself completely free and say ‘Yes, you may go, I want you to go forward, I will make you go’ takes a lot of self discipline. But that is the only way. When you ride a horse forward, he doesn’t want to run. he horse only runs when he is on the forehand.”

“It all starts with self discipline. With the rider! You ride as you live.”




For the original article, click the link below:

Chris Hector takes a lesson with Tina Wommelsdorf


Why it’s a great idea to ride dressage tests

Reposted from DressageNaturally; Karen Rohlf :


Competition test riding can bring up a lot of emotions. Being judged and tested can trigger all kinds of anxiety, but it doesn’t have to be like that.

The reality is that we need ways to measure our results. Many problems riders have at home are a result of unclear goals, lack of a plan, and not having a way to measure their progress. Although my entire Dressage Naturally program is designed to help students be able to self assess and make progress independently (and it works really well), the truth is that I did a lot of competing in my past and it played a big role in making me the rider I am today.

Good News:

There IS a way to practice and perform dressage tests and have it be a positive experience for horse and rider! Competitions can be a place to bond and connect with your horse and improve your focus and emotional fitness, if you set yourself up for success.

Perfecting tests and going to shows is an entirely different skill set and many riders overlook that. If you prepare well, it can be an excellent learning tool and confidence-builder. If you don’t prepare well, at the end of the show day you could be left at least $500 poorer and have less confidence than before. I have seen this happen many times with students. No wonder many people don’t want to compete!

Most problems riders have at dressage shows are a result of unclear goals, unrealistic expectations, poor preparation, or not understanding how to interpret their results. All of those can be managed and improved upon, especially if you avoid the 5 stressful mistakes.

5 Most Common Mistakes: 

  1. Wrong test choice
  2. Unsavvy practicing
  3. No specific objective
  4. Lack of preparation/organization/time management
  5. Not understanding or not reviewing the judge’s sheet

Keep reading at DressageNaturally