Doing too much or not enough?

@showy I’ve been riding for seven years now, 4 years of jumping and 3 of dressage for whatever that’s worth but I still think I’m a beginner.

This is an odd horse to be honest. I’ve been on baby horses before but never like this one. I don’t think she is a horse to be riding when one wants to work on basics and fundamentals, especially after the owner had a really bad accident on her, but I thought I’d give her a shot and hope I could do better.

@endlessclimb Interestingly, she’s great when being lunged, she pretty much lunges herself. She’s also great at trail when she’s got other horses with her.

@strangewings I don’t know what my trainer does when she rides her but my lessons usually involve a lot of leg yields, shoulder ins, haunches in and out, walk-trot-canter transitions. I agree she needs targeted hind end conditioning but I don’t think we’re specifically doing that.

@Jackie_Cochran My trainer always mentions timing of aids but never elaborates. On the one hand I get that your aides must be timed and coordinated properly, so I shouldn’t be kicking and pulling back on the reins at the same time but I suspect there is a lot more subtle timing/coordination aspects that I’m not aware of that are going on.

Yes, I would hear/read about the proper timing of the aids BUT except for certain extremely rare exceptions (Littauer in “Common Sense Horsemanship” for just a few) I never ran into the “unified theory” of properly timing my aids. Riding teachers? Even the best riding teachers I had could not explain how their horses obeyed them so readily. So I was slogging in the dark----

Until I read “The Way to Perfect Horsemanship” by Udo Burger. All of a sudden what had been HARD became simple. The horses stopped going “WTF are you saying?” to “Yes, of course, I understand you now”, including horses I’d ridden for over a decade, green horses, horses I’d rehabilitated, and horses who I had never ridden before. Get the timing right and most horses seem to understand. All of a sudden my aids became absolutely clear and easily understood. I have had riding teachers ask me how I did it when their usually resistant horses obeyed me easily and promptly.

It may also help some to get a copy of “The Horse in Motion” by Henry Wynmalen. I’ve spent many hours with this book using it to help me visualize what I need to do and when to do it. Wynmalen had an artist do drawings instead of using photographs so there are no distracting details that could lead me to a wrong conclusion.

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In that case your only job right now is to get her in front of the leg. 100% of the time, from the moment you swing into the saddle.

Put connection, suppleness, frame, etc. completely out of your head until this horse goes FORWARD at a walk, trot and canter with nothing more than an occasional reminder needed from you. Think of it like putting an engine into drive - the machine should keep going all by itself until you apply the brakes.

Next, make sure you aren’t applying the brakes accidentally. If you are driving with your seat, gripping with your legs or hanging on the reins, you are riding with the handbrake on. True forward isn’t possible, and your horse will get confused and frustrated (ask me how I know lol)

My trainer had me get up into 2 point (surprisingly hard in a dressage saddle!) put my hands in the mane, and just trot and canter around large with my lower leg completely off my horse. Nothing touching except my knee. And darned if he didn’t go MORE forward, more freely, with more swing through his back. He just MOTORED, without getting heavy or falling on his forehand and I did literally nothing except stand in my stirrups until I asked for a transition back.

That was so eye opening for me that I now do it in my warmup.

So for whatever advice from a crappy middle aged amateur is worth - focus on forward until you feel that horse taking you and the contact forward like a motorboat tows a water skier. Once you have that, you can develop the rhythm, balance, and connection you are looking for and everything is so much easier. You won’t be breathless, or feeling like you’re going to throw up from the exertion. And it will change your life lol.


My 2 cents.

On a phlegmatic horse - do as little as possible and back up your tiny requests instantly and sharply and then go back to just sitting there even if you only get 3 strides of “autopilot” before you need to ask with a tiny request and an instant sharp reinforcement. If will not take long until that horse is yes ma’aming it’s way around with you sitting there doing nothing.

The hot/spookey ones take a lot more effort to get to that point. They need to be hugged with the leg and cajoled into not jumping out their own skin. Once there see above - sit and do nothing - but until that time, they should actually be much harder physical work than the lazy ones.


This!! I realized that I made all my horses a bit lazy by working so hard when I ride them. The problem was clearly me lol


It’s not an easy thing to learn! We’re always told we are at fault and that working harder will fix everything. That applies to life, not just riding so it’s pretty ingrained in most of us.

The hardest thing for me is getting one of the hot spooky beasties to the point where their brains are calm and their bodies are strong and then, ack, now I AM working too hard and then finding the balance between new-found-quasi laziness and so hot to the aids that they back track and become explosive. lol


All the things you listed that your trainer is having you do are hind end conditioning. Each is targeting conditioning of a different piece of the hind end.

Five year olds are wiggly. They go fast and then they go slow. Your job is really to stay out of their way until they have some balance front to back. Then you work on in front of the leg — though in front of the leg looks different for every horse. For 70-80%, you ride slightly over tempo to get in front of the leg, and then the leg yields, shoulder in, etc. help to slow them down a bit. The remaining 20-30% need to be ridden slightly under tempo to be “in front” of the leg. Nervous nellies and horses that are naturally quick in the leg like Iberians and some TBs. The ability to read a horse and determine the recipe that gets you from the eggs and sugar to the cake is what makes you a “trainer” over a rider.

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@scislandsprite Do you know which setting is the audio update that you are referring to? I’d love to enable it but can’t find it!

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@kaya842 Select “Coach” on the right side under the map on the Start Riding page.

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@BigMama1So how do I make sure I’m not doing too much when I’m in the “get in front of the leg” mode? How do I make sure I’m not kicking, squeezing, etc. too much?

I have definitely experienced the brake application you mentioned with other horses and unfortunately it was after the fact. I’ve gotten much steadier with my hands but probably still need much work on loosening up my legs.

@sascha She is fairly unresponsive to my leg but I have very small, rounded spurs. She can even be fairly unresponsive to a whip and will give a little buck before moving forward if you use it on her.

You cant get the hind end going if the shoulders are stuck. Move them, then hit the gas. The unreponsiveness to the whip/spur makes me think they are locked up.


Escalate the aids, don’t kick and whip at the same time.
So to ask for an upward transition:
Push your heels down (this will start to activate your calves),
Squeeze with your calves,
Legs away,
Kick once hard,
Whip, whip, whip, until you get a reaction (doesn’t need to be hard only annoying enough that the horse understands a reaction is expected).
As soon as you get a reaction then stop aiding, praise the horse, downwards transition, rinse and repeat. If you apply the aids consistently then the horse will start to react on the earlier aids. The rinse and repeat is the vital part in all this, it’s the thing that sets the appropriate response in memory.

However as MapleBreeze has stated, if the horse is locked through the jaw, neck, shoulders, or pecs, then moving forward for her may be difficult.


It is really, really hard to learn timing and precision in giving aids when riding a young horse that isn’t responsive to aids. Blind leading the blind. Have a lesson on a well trained horse from a good, observant trainer who is able to explain necessary actions clearly and well. Then you have gained transferable knowledge.


You’ve received good advice below. Remember to make sure your leg is off before applying a leg aid. If you’re already squeezing and then trying to give an aid, it won’t be clear to the horse.

Don’t accept anything less than forward, even in warming up. There may be some resistance at first and it may not be pretty, but work through the reactions to the whip or the leg calmly but firmly. Reward effort. It won’t happen in a day.

Have fun - do what Charlotte Dujardin tells people in her clinics and “go for a yeehaw.” Gallop going large in the ring. Get out into some fields or hills if possible and just go.


To rephrase this - remember to let go. I learned this auditing a clinic. Zettl probably said “Let go!” more than anything else over the two days.

I then learned how to let go by riding, and how to explain it by teaching.

“Let go” isn’t about dropping the contact or lift your legs away - though doing so as a temporary exaggerating exercise can help you learn. “Let go” is releasing the tension in your muscles used to aid the horse. As BigMama1 said, if you don’t release that tension the horse doesn’t recognize added pressure as an aid.

Try sitting or standing up in riding position (yes, now). Tighten every muscle as hard as you can without letting your position change. Then relax all your muscles as much as you can without changing position - that’s letting go. And the horse knows you didn’t let go of her mouth when you relaxed your fingers but kept tight elbows, or shoulders, or neck (yes, really), or through your knees, or hips, or seat.

Jackie said it too - she had to let go because she couldn’t feel the response in her hands and needed to see how the horse responded and repeat her aid if necessary.

If you think you might be or feel you are getting locked up, exaggerate letting go for a couple of strides. Take your leg away, loop the reins, do a two point. Getting stuck on one thing like a circle, or left shoulder in, or right leg yield can create bracing in horse and human as the human fails to let go before asking for more. Patterns that constantly change direction and exercise can really help prevent this bracing as you constantly change the muscles working.

The other thing that might be contributing to your issues with this specific 5yo is saddle fit. Her described behaviour could be due to a saddle that doesn’t fit well or is too far forward and blocking her shoulder.


The getting into two point and just letting the horse carry me around was huge for me.


Is this your horse or are you paying for a lesson on this horse and it belongs to someone else?

If the trainer is charging you for a lesson and the horse is NOT yours, I would be upset.

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Also sounds like there is something more than youth and lack of training in the behaviour of the horse.

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OP be really careful about the kicking, squeezing, whipping too much. You are essentially training this horse that those are the aids they are to respond to. Instead, you want to use a very light aid. If you get no response, then use a strong aid (not strong-er, just very strong) and again take your leg off. Charlotte Dujardin said it best: hot horse, leg ON! Lazy horse, leg OFF! You don’t want to end up begging him to go forward.

Take the “too fast” stuff and just go with it. Your horse needs to find its balance and right now you aren’t helping that happen. When working with a young horse, my mantra is “just go forward.” Everything else the horse does is asking, “is this what you want?” So you always have the same answer. “No, just go forward. I’ll handle the rest.”

Finally, if your horse is good on the lunge, have your trainer lunge you while in the saddle. You can give a soft aid and she can back it up from the ground. The horse needs to learn to associate your soft leg aids with going forward.

Good luck!


Yes to this.

My trainer uses this exercise at the very start of her rides to test how in front of the leg her horses are. From baby greens to upper levels, it’s simple and sharpens them up so quickly.

At a walk, take your legs off completely and cluck ONCE. If you aren’t trotting in the next stride, then give a good ol’ “pony club” thump to get to trot. Trot for no more than 3-4 steps and come right back down to walk and repeat. Leg off, cluck, kick if no response. If you cluck and they go right forward, then great, just sit pretty, keep your legs off, and carry on with what you want to do next.

Whenever you get the feeling that you’re having to nag nag nag, go back to this exercise. You can replace the cluck with a light squeeze too, but I’d start with the cluck as it really forces you to be honest about how forward your horse is, and prevents the rider errors like inadvertent squeezing/nagging, or anticipating that the horse will be behind the leg and asking firmer than they really ought to. The horses get the hang of it pretty quickly, and so if you do have to stop in the middle of your ride and go back to this, it usually only takes 2-3 reps to remind them to move forward.