Doing too much or not enough?

I have a very hard time gauging whether or not I’m doing too much when I ride vs. not enough, trying too hard and expending too much energy vs. not putting in enough much effort.

And I don’t mean being lackadaisical and lazy and not wanting to work hard. I mean how do you know you’re working too hard to achieve a maneuver or getting a horse to execute a pattern? How do you know you’re doing too much and expending too much energy?

I have a habit of doing too much and trying too hard which has been the answer to many sports I’ve been involved with in the past but there is an element of letting go and knowing when you’re doing too much with respect to riding and I just don’t know how to measure that or feel when I’ve “crossed the line” into too much.



Lessons. Lots of lessons.
If youre alone, you ask yourself how is the horse reacting?
And take lessons with a pro that can explain the difference between pushing, temper tantrums bc horse doesnt want to accept aids or do, and not pushing or asking enough.
Get a pivo they are like $89 and you can watch yourself and get help with pros tgat do video consults.


Dressage always feels like this to me “do less; the less you do theore you do…well, you gotta do something…”


When the horse gets unhappy or pissy or confused. You need to get a feel for what the high point is for your horse and ending on a good note.

As soon as you basically progress past beginner level, you are no longer just a rider. You are also effectively a horse trainer even if you are not teaching new moves. Every ride leaves the horse globally better or worse.


If you’re asking the question, you’re likely doing too much. Think about the end result - you want a horse that is responsive to light aids. One that doesn’t require nagging. A horse that can maintain rhythm and pace without having to constantly push. A horse that moves off of light aids. So train them this way. You have to trust them to respond to a light aid. You also have to start with quiet aids and increase the ask as needed.


A thousand times this. As someone who is an anxious perfectionist and also has a similar horse, I have to immediately back off if I feel either one of us getting stressed because then the other follows. A lot of times I’ll just hint at what I’m asking for to gauge the reaction to see if I can actually commit to the aids for whatever I’m asking for.

Another thing that really helps with me is riding in an area where it’s not just a flat 20x60 arena. My barn has a big course set up in one of the indoors right now and I exclusively do my arena schools in there. Having all the fences up helps force me to incorporate lots of bending lines, straight lines, and changes in directions since I have been guilty of getting stuck on a 20m circle and fixating on it.

Also, Equilab has audio stats for when you use it to track your ride and will read out a message every 5 minutes (you can change how often or make it distance based).
Each time, it will say something like “You’ve ridden 25 minutes and have done 15 minutes of walk, 7 minutes of trot, and 3 minutes of canter. You’ve ridden for 14 minutes to the left and 11 minutes to the right” depending on what you’ve been doing in the ride.
I’m planning on trying this out next time I ride since the audio stats will help notify me if I’ve been drilling circles to the left too much or over schooling my trot work etc so then I’ll reroute if I’m getting in my own head.


Expending too much energy and doing too much has been my lifelong struggle in the saddle. I really had a major breakthrough after a clinic last week when I finally realized that having my horse truly in front of my leg means I can literally sit there and do nothing but balance and steer. No driving with my seat, no squeezing with my legs, no nagging with my heels.

And by doing nothing and having my horse really forward and active, everything else becomes easier. Lateral work I can do less. Transitions I can do less. Adjusting the frame I can do less. Steady, consistent contact requires that I do less, because when I try to fix anything with the hand, my saintly schoolmaster immediately lets me know he doesn’t approve. When he’s truly forward he takes the contact and I don’t have to work to make the connection happen.

I know this is really basic. I understood it in theory, and felt it on my previous horse, who was very goey. It sounds stupid but didn’t understand how it felt on this horse until the past two weeks. What I thought was me doing less wasn’t less enough.

Obviously the answer is ask your coach, but my gut says if you have to ask, you are probably working too hard.


So true. Expend your effort on getting the horse truly in front of your leg, and the other stuff becomes easy. (Well, not “easy,” but not a physical struggle.)

Now, getting the horse in front of the leg can be a journey of it’s own…


In front of the leg is definitely key, and is a fundamental part of the scales of training. You need to determine whether you’ve covered all the stepping stones that allow the horse to perform the exercise and progress onto the next level. So for every exercise that you feel you are working too hard on stop and consider whether you’ve given the horse the correct foundations to perform the required movement.

Use the training pyramid as guidance, for each exercise ask:

Is his rhythm steady and consistent?

Is his suppleness good both laterally & longitudinally?

Is he connected between leg & hand?

Has he the impulsion to perform the exercise?

Is he straight?

Does he have enough collection to perform the movement?

Whilst the training scales are often expressed as a pyramid it’s better if they are considered as a spiral so for example rhythm may be the foundation for suppleness in the pyramid but suppleness also assists rhythm.

If the answer to any of the questions is no, then you need to revert to one of your building block exercises to re-establish the appropriate foundation.

ETA: You also need to consider your own aids and ensure that you are asking correctly!

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“That was a little better than last time”. Know to STOP right there, or change to a different thing to work on.

1% a day, 100 days you have a totally different horse.


The horse you ride is the one “person” in the Universe who can tell you what too much is. When your horse gets fretful, indecisive, sucking back, head flinging, boring on the bit, tail lashing, etc., the horse is telling you that you are doing TOO MUCH.

One day a few decades ago I finally realized that I could not count on my body to really notice when the horse yielded its jaw I switched from aiding, holding, then rewarding a response, to aiding, immediate release, mild repetition if needed. My horses became light in hand, my training successes became more frequent, and the horses I rode became MUCH, MUCH, MUCH happier with me.

That one change transformed my riding from dictator (me) on the lowly ignorant dumbass (the horse) to delightful conversations between us about what we were doing and how we were doing it. Both of us contribute to the conversation, and if I want the horse to listen to me I darn well better listen to the horse.

The horse WILL tell you if you are doing well, and the horse will often give you immediate feedback. Your job is to learn how to read and understand your horse’s messages. A good riding teacher can really help, but in the end it is the HORSE who teaches you how to ride and train.


Having grown up riding all kinds of hard-mouthed, tearaway ponies and horses, it took me many years to discover that with riding less really is more.

It is very instructional to sit quietly on a horse and just think about what you want and see how the horse responds. Then, if nothing happens, a breath in or out, then a tiny bum wiggle, right up to full agricultural aids with flapping legs. Constantly watch to see how the horse responds. A flick of an ear, a breath in or out, a turn the head right round with a look to say “What on earth are you doing now?” Try pointing with a raised arm at a mark in the arena and keep that focus as the horse is moving under you: discover where you end up just by looking. Listening and observing is how you build the “feel” that allows you to develop a soft, conversational style of riding - and a happy horse working willingly.

The first time you stop a horse with just an indrawn breath is a moment of great beauty.


One more vote for ‘less is more’… It can really help to get on a horse who knows more then you, or even a hose who is optimistically already in front of your leg. If you spend all of your time WORKING at whatever you are trying to do you can totally miss the sweet spot of real riding. Everyone seems to describe it slightly differently but I have had several instructors say things like “that is IT, feel that? now enjoy that for a few strides.” Another thing to remember is when you get closer to what you want to be doing (or getting the horse closer) be sure to soften (reins, back, mind) and allow the horse to know that they are doing better… else how will they ever know and why would they try next time.

More then just ‘doing the pattern’ or ‘riding to the test’… feeling the horse relax, give their back, soften their jaw and step under themselves… also the line(above post) about getting past being rider and becoming a trainer. My last instructor used to repeat (old saying)that you are ‘either training or untraining’. Each ride should make the horse better, more responsive, stronger, happier in their work. Some days are easier to see this then others. YMMV.


Thank you all for the replies, definitely some great food for thought.

Regarding what many of you said, “if I’m feeling like I’m doing too much, I probably am” which is what my gut feeling is telling me but my trainer says otherwise which is my source of confusion.

The horse I’m riding in particular is a 5 year old who is consistently behind the leg and in general doesn’t know much with regards to dressage, connection, etc. It takes substantial physical effort to get her moving well. Generally she doesn’t want to move at all and she’s one of the front-heaviest horses I’ve ever ridden. When I can finally get her going it’s a constant series of half-halts and leg and whip because she either wants to come to a complete stop, or she wants to charge forward, all the while being very heavy on the forehand. It’s exhausting and not in the good way.

I’m doing too much, I know I am but again, my trainer thinks what I’m doing is fine to get the horse to a proper state and hence I’ve adopted doubts on whether or not I should trust my instincts. I think I also need to better understand horse behavior in order to read what it is the horse is telling me.

Maybe have a chat with your trainer about this discrepancy? Do you ride on your own someone, so you have a chance to ride at your own place without input? Sometimes it helps to do a non trainer ride to just feel things without the input from someone else.


I ride on my own at least once a week.

I’ve brought this up with my trainer many times and her response, at least for this particular horse, is that it does take a lot of physical effort. I somewhat agree but I think I cross the threshold most rides and it feels like I’m doing way too much.

OP, i think i remember you posting in hunter jumper or off course… aren’t you a greener rider as well? I mean absolutely no offense as I am also a green dressage rider but have showed a lot in H/J.

Is this 5 year old perhaps too green for you at the moment?

More experienced riders can use less force and get the horse to do more. Their timing is better. They can use force for just the right amount of time to get what they want.

I feel your pain and there’s days where I feel like I’m working so hard to get my green to dressage horse to do anything. I would try asking in a different way and seeing how firm you can be briefly to get the horse where you want, then reward.


How does she do on the lunge?

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Some degree of what you describe is normal for 5 year olds, esp. with a downhill build. What kind of hind end conditioning do you do?

If you have an opportunity to learn how to do some in hand work with this trainer, it can be very educational to see how a horse uses its body and how small weight shifts make them think about how to use their limbs.

There are sometimes phases of training where you do have to make a lot of corrections too. Conditioning can help, ground work can help. The main thing to watch out for is that you are not holding your aids. Also “doing a lot” is not really the important question, it is whether what you do has an intention and whether you are getting the needed effect for the horse to learn something from the training. In hand work can be good for teaching the handler the meaning of this as well.

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Has your riding teacher taught you about how to time and COORDINATE your aids?

For me my turning point was reading “The Way to Perfect Horsemanship” by Udo Burger. His comments that it is impossible to get the horse to obey an aid when the hind leg is pushing transformed my riding. (The rest of the book is good too, a Western rider thanked me profusely for lending her this book.) I went from being a rather heavy handed rider who did not get prompt, cheerful obedience to my aids to horses that are light in hand.

SOME horses are tough nuts to crack(!) but eventually even the “rebel without a cause” horse with extremely poor conformation for the finer points of riding, a cast iron jaw, and whose jaw and poll joints were essentially rusted solid, ended up being super responsive to my light hand aids as well as to my well timed leg aids. I ended up with fingertip control instead of where I started, using pounds of pressure on the reins to get him to even notice me as he either ran off with me to the gate or got into his signature evasion of backing up uncontrollably at speed as I hopelessly flailed with my heels.

Another book for learning to properly time your aids is “Simplify Your Riding” by Wendy Murdoch.

Proper timing and coordination of your aids are the key to lightness in riding. When you properly time your aids you are training your horse to become a better riding horse instead of making him a worse riding horse who learns to ignore all aids from his rider(s). SOME riders do this naturally, the rest of us have to learn. When we do learn how to do this the horses we ride reward us AND they become better riding horses for other riders.