Unlimited access >

Doing too much or not enough?

My young horse is exhausting right now. He is fairly light and responsive to the aids and carries himself well, doesn’t lean or pull but I expend SO much energy just because there is SO much power there and it’s exhausting just keeping it all together and harnessing it and just sitting it lol

1 Like

OP, are there any trainers in your area with upper level schoolmasters that you could ride? Ones that will not allow nagging and will “tell on you” if you apply the aids incorrectly? I think it could be extremely enlightening for you if you are struggling with “how much” and how to ride with a truly quiet seat. On a well schooled ride, you’ll truly just sit until you lightly apply aids, get the movement and then return to neutral.


Ditto this. A less-than-cooperative 5-year-old mare damn near made me quit riding. Getting some rides on better-schooled horses helped me identify and begin to extinguish the bad habits I developed on her.

I forgot how to sit quietly and let the horse do it’s job. I’m still fighting with bits of the old bad habits. it doesn’t help that I’m close to 70 and my body doesn’t always listen to my brain.

I wish you the best of luck with your mare, OP. Make sure you are using tack that fits her and get that “go” button firmly installed so you’re not flapping and flopping (sadly, that was ME) in an effort to get HER to do the work. Not that I’m saying that’s what you do, but your situation sounds so like mine – I tried “everything” (all wrong) to get my mare to carry herself and go forward.

Sit quiet, quiet hands, whisper your aids to her but expect a response. Get help from the ground if you need until she understands that complying right away is easier. Lots of transitions, both in and out of gaits and within gaits. Use cavalletti exercises to help her gain strength over the back and hind legs. A bit of jumping might help her develop the forward you need.

1 Like

My trainer had me do this with my thoroughbred who was lazy and either behind the leg not moving, or behind the leg and bucking, when we started out. Getting the responsiveness at a walk set the tone for our whole rides. It also taught me to keep my mares in front of my leg when they came along, and it makes life with horses so much more enjoyable to me! My trainer said he got it from Conrad Schumacher.

1 Like

Never stop going forward. The horse needs the confidence to forward. If he goes forward even on the forehand and you stop forward you are confusing the horse and lessening his confidence.

The answer here is that a dressage horse is not kicked, and you never pull back on the reins. With the reins we hold and give, the hand does not go back.

Kick and pull the reins is the aids to teach a horse to rear.

We do not kick to ask a dressage horse to go forward.

Take a deep breath and reassess.

To start with I will give you two exercises. One off the horse. One on the horse.

Off the horse you hold the reins as if riding. Give the bit to someone else. This is the horse The ‘horse’ needs to pull. Pull up, down, left and right, etc, trying to pull you forward and then randomly give.

You are to hold the reins so as the ‘horse’ cannot pull you forward. Use your core, your elbows by your sides. When the ‘horse’ gives what should happen is your body and elbows should not move, the rein should go loose.

What should not happen is that you take 3 steps back as you have been pulling.

Now on the horse. Halt. Knees on. This does not mean turning yourself into a clothes peg and pushing yourself off the saddle. It is gentle. Remember they can feel a fly on their side. You do not need a harder aid than that. To ask for walk, it is invisible to the person on the ground. You do not use your seat the same as shoving a chair across the kitchen floor. Press your tummy forward as you take your knees off. Drop your seat down and knees on to halt. The person on the ground should still not be able to see this. It is internal inside you. For trot, later not until walk is consistent, up and forward with tummy, knees off, still invisible to those watching. If it does not work, work on it as this is much better than kicking and whipping and your horse has been trained to not to go unless you kick and whip. It is harder to retrain a horse than to train it, so you need to be consistent, to change what has been happening.

As others have said listen to the horse. It can go forward with just your core. Legs mean sidewards.

There is a saying.

Novice riders work too hard.


Sorry for getting back to this so late, I have been travelling for the past few weeks and just got back not too long ago.

To answer some questions, @candyappy this is not my horse but a horse that I am half-leasing along with paying for lessons. I’m not happy about the situation but that’s a long story.

@Warmblood1 I’ve searched but there aren’t any trainers around me with upper level schoolmasters available but that search was a while ago. I know a few good places near me but they require you to have your own horse.

What all of you have advised makes a lot of sense and I most certainly need to work on all of these things but I just don’t see it happening with this trainer and this horse. It’s A LOT to be constantly aware of so working on it on my own is going to require some sort of a system I have to develop to make sure all these elements are forefront in my mind every time I ride. I definitely suffer from doing too much no matter the activity so knowing how to do less is hard to do for me.

1 Like

There is a subtle difference between “doing too much” and “dancing with your horse.”

Are you allowed to carry a crop or wear spurs. (I recommend the Spursuaders, developed to use with sensitive Thoroughbred mares.) If I do not carry a crop AND also wear my spurs I give well timed aids and the lesson horse I ride sort of says “you cannot enforce your aids, why in the world should I work harder for you?”

I don’t use my crop on the horse, if it hits their skin they suck back if they decide to remain civilized under me as opposed to sky-rocketing forward. I hit MY LEG, my half-chaps, to make a noise. That seems to get the horse to notice my leg aid better.

I wear spurs, but I rarely use the spurs. Just wearing them seems to tell the horse that I am SERIOUS about my aids.

If I forget one or both of these things I definitely end up working too hard to get the horse MOVING, and I irritate the horse.

If I look DOWN, even if it is just down enough to look between the horse’s ears (unless your horse is an American Saddlebred show horse, their heads are up), the horses lose impulse because the weight of my head looking down puts the horses on their forehands. If you want your horse to stride forth fearlessly LOOK UP, directly ahead, and never look down more than a split second and be prepared to use your legs when you look UP again.

Carry a crop, wear spurs, and never, never, never look down. It is your horse’s job to move his legs to move over the ground, it is your job not to hold the horse back by looking down, not releasing your hand or leg aids, or giving confusing aids to the horse. The crop and spurs are for back up, and you will not have to use them at all most of the time if you ride right, once you convince the horse that you actually know what you want and how to get it.

1 Like

I know everyone says this, I have said the same thing. I think we miss the “or status quo” or someone clever think of something.

I’ve been letting a PC kid come up and help my daughter ride our horses to keep them just relatively fit now high school is in full swing.

I let the realllly novice PCer ride my personal horse once in a while to “get the feel” of how to ask for something and get it so she can apply it to her lease horse at the PC barn. (And actually a friend on this board has let the kid have mini lessons on her guy).

My horse isn’t persay coming away “better” training wise and he certainly isn’t worse. Side note- I can’t even describe the feeling of watching your horse execute a move with a beginner and the kid say “ohhhh now I get how to ask” and what it feels like.

I’ve also had personal rides where seriously- WTF am I doing ? I always get on the next day and when there isn’t a negative consequence and always :thinking::thinking:.

Anyway- I always subscribed to this school of thought also but am questioning whether it is really what happens. Just pondering.


I’m thinking that most rides, someone’s learning something, horse or rider. Even if its what Not to do!
Those miserable rides where no one learns anything? I think everyone has one from time to time. I thought I had one yesterday but on reflection I think I probably did learn not to have high expectations of Mr Sensitive after 2 days off when there’s another horse in the arena being truly epically naughty.


Sonetimes if they are light and not demanding its just fun. Sometikes youre training the attitude and not the skills.


I definitely subscribe to the idea that in every ride someone, whether horse or rider, is learning something, for better or for worse. Every ride is an opportunity to learn and reinforce good or bad riding which obviously transfers to the horse.

1 Like

I want to be clear that my musing is because people say “every ride is a training ride” and they mean for the horse.

The “I would never let anyone ride my horse, they’ll ruin him”

Or the Ammy upset because of a bad ride and is convinced she screwed up her horse

For the horse- I just don’t agree 100%. But- I love hearing other thoughts. We can debate semantics about what learning is, I’m just talking big picture.

1 Like

I’m dying for someone to ride my young mare, who won’t be scared by her. I think it’s great for someone else to get up there, and there’s nothing they can do that I can’t fix (within reason obviously). My SO has trouble understanding that a horse who only goes well for one person is in a precarious position should something happen to the owner.


Exactly. My kid can ride my horse even when he’s at his worst. I love watching him go for other people. It’s a real sense of pride that he can behave and help teach a kid the ropes. He’s difficult some days, he’s big and when he is feisty is super intimidating. Definitely not for everyone, but when he’s on- like you said- no one is going to ruin him in one ride especially when it’s supervised. I love giving the PCer kid a confidence boost. I had her do some minor stuff with him after I was done my lesson with a BNT and the barn we were at made such a big deal over her getting to ride him (in a good way) she was walking on air for weeks.


It is not just when a horse is ridden. It is whenever you interact with a horse. There is no just put a rug on or throw a biscuit of hay over the fence. It is training.

Horses are not bikes. They are not the same as when you put them away.

You don’t know how much a horse will change until someone else takes over the ownership of your horse.

That is why people have the same problem with their horses. Either one at a time or all of them if more than one owned at a time.

That is why a person has all sane rideable horses with no problems, because in both cases they are trained every single time they interact with the horse and the horse you see is a result of the training you don’t see.

Training includes everything. How the horse is kept, what and how much the horse is fed, not just what happens when the horse is ridden.

Training also and especially has to do with the mental of the horse, not just the physical.

1 Like

I was specifically referring to rides on a horse. Just talking rides.


Remember - the foundational goal of riding is comfortable transportation. In my opinion, maintaining the working gaits should not take much effort once the horse has properly developed rhythm and suppleness. Can you give me a few examples of when you’re asking yourself this question in your schooling? Are you just trying to maintain a working trot, or asking for a complicated movement like a pirouette or flying changes?


I’m definitely not asking for anything fancy, just a simple working trot from the walk. This horse certainly is far from supple and lacks rhythm but I would suspect that is due to my inability to generate the suppleness and rhythm, no?

1 Like

Got it! Transitions are going to be your friend if he’s a bit sticky. Think about going into a medium trot from the walk until he’s anticipating “when do I get to trot?” instead of “when can I stop?” - the biggest thing to remember here is that you don’t want to nag with your leg. Ask nicely, and then give a few bumps and make it happen. Don’t think of the bumping as a punishment - instead, think about creating excitement and energy! Don’t reward anything except the trot you want. I see a lot of riders cue until the horse just gets quicker in the walk or lifts their head. The reward for going forward needs to be clear. Never squeeze or hold as that’ll create tension throughout your thigh and lower back. Does that make sense?


Makes perfect sense but with if said horse doesn’t move after kicking? Even a few light whips and this horse doesn’t want to move. She is chronically behind the leg most of the time.

Transitions help to get her a bit less heavy on the forehand and they help to get her trotting only after getting her responsive to moving forward but that’s the hard part, getting her going in the first place.