Test Ride on Schoolmaster

I’m going to test ride a schoolmaster for sale soon. I am super nervous because I am not at the top of my game riding right now. Horse is described as super safe so theoretically I know I will be fine but I’m still nervous. He is trained to a much higher level than I currently ride (which is the whole point, but still).

Looking for kind thoughts or tips to get me through! I know this is a good step for me but the nerves are tough!

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Let the seller (owner or trainer) talk you through his buttons. Let them give you a mini lesson. Watch them ride him first.

Potential issues are really mostly that you will cue him to do something you didn’t expect like half pass instead of canter etc.


Relax and enjoy. Chances are the owner wouldn’t let you ride if they didn’t think it would be ok.

To me the ability to tolerate some incorrect riding and take a joke is what sets a “schoolmaster” type apart from other highly trained horses who would find being ridden by a less skilled rider very confusing or irritating.

My old schoolmaster mare had been used in lower level lessons and was exceptionally tolerant. Basically if I asked incorrectly I got no response and if I asked correctly I got exactly what I was looking for.

My current schoolmaster gelding is less tolerant, in that if I ask the wrong question I will get a wrong answer - unintended flying changes if I shift my weight too much, a downward transition if I half halt too hard, etc.

The beauty of both horses is that they don’t get upset or frustrated with me, and that immediate feedback confirms whether I’m asking correctly.

Just stick to what you know like quiet position and steady contact, and let the trainer guide you on the particulars of how the horse likes to be ridden. I hope you have an amazing experience!


Yes, and it’s important to recognize the horse gave you what you asked for. So if you get a halt or flying change or whatever ride it as though you wanted it, don’t reprimand the horse or get flustered or try to correct too fast. If horse gives you a canter you weren’t expecting, ride it for a bit, then do an intentional downward transition. Don’t panic and effectively punish the horse.


Bought a schoolmaster years ago. He was PSG trained, I was training level rider. About a week into our relationship I did something coming out of a corner at the canter and next thing I knew he was flying down the long side. Before I had time to freak out that he was maybe running away with me, he dutifully and unasked came back at the next corner! I had hit the “extended” canter button…
Have also seen one who was at or very close to GP that would go to piaffe when aids got fuzzy - and then the rider couldn’t find the “off” button.
Great opportunity but dont be afraid to laugh at yourself as you figure things out.


Thank you for sharing! That’s about the differential between me and this horse. I’m totally okay with laughing at myself. Just hoping to avoid all-out panic. :slight_smile:


My trained horse test ride story:
I was horse shopping with Kathy Connelly for my next FEI prospect.
We were in Warendorf at the DOKR - the German Olympic training facility. I was an AA and
had ridden to I-1, but only on one horse. We watched the rider work him and he was lovely.
Kathy asked me if I wanted to hop on - did i mention at the DOKR?? lol - and i hesitated. She asked what was wrong - i whispered ‘what if i cant get him to canter’?!! She thought that was pretty funny.
I rode through some of the trot work. Started the canter and Kathy had me doing tempi changes down to 2. I had never ridden twos. I made a mistake asking and apologized to the horse. 100% my timing. The young girl who had ridden at first says loudly to Kathy ‘she does know that was her error, right’? I was mortified. But i was able to get them next time.
I didnt buy the horse - his price magically went up after my trial. and I wanted something younger.

A true schoolmaster should be able to take a joke. Ask the owner for riding tips - they want to horse to land safely as much as you want him to be your next horse.


One other thing…When I tried mine, I was somehow surprised at the power I felt, particularly in the canter. I had come from hunter world but the whole feel was different.


I rode my Trainers GP gelding when she held a quadrille at her barn one snowy day. I opted to pass on hauling my horse & she offered me the ride.
We were doing fine when, for whatever reason, he bucked :open_mouth:
Easy to sit, dolphin bucks. :dolphin::dolphin:
I laughed, she told me to get into him for that.
I was laughing too hard to react quick enough with any correction. But we ended just fine.

My own 2nd-3rd TB had his Schoolmaster Moments. If - in his opinion - I asked for too much lateral work, he’d default to leg yield.
Nicely done, but I could drop the reins & he’d carry on… :unamused:
Until I got the message & stopped asking for the Too Hard :roll_eyes:

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My first Schoolmaster was GP, and I was First level. Took me a year to be able to go from trot to canter without getting passage instead. So, we mostly just did walk to canter. But asking for passage on purpose was fun! And he taught me flying changes. Let out a big “Woohoo!” when I got my first one! He had a jackhammer of a trot, though, and in the 12 years I owned him until his death, I think we only ever made it to one recognized show (a fairly pitiful Second Level test), but he sure taught me a lot!

Second Schoolmaster I made sure didn’t have the GP buttons (so I couldn’t get anything by accident), and together we got my bronze and silver medals within 3 years.


Oh, and OP: I FELL OFF that first schoolmaster on my test ride. My foot hit the fence-rail, I goosed him with the spur, and like a good boy, he gave me extended trot. Which I totally was not ready for. After another couple of rides (where the trainer selling him put me on a lunge line and took away my spurs), I bought him anyway, because that wasn’t his fault, and I never came off him again. I think he only spooked once more in the 12 years I had him.


That does not make me feel better. :frowning:

I do not generally ride with spurs and don’t intend to do so for this test ride though.

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This. I got to ride an upper level horse when I was shopping. (I wasn’t there to try him, but he was for sale and not too far above my budget so the trainer got him out. I wasn’t going to refuse…)

I got to do changes on the diagonal! I have no idea how to do this, I just emptied my mind and channelled what the trainer was saying to do. But the amount of power coming from the hind end was waaaay different than my lower level eventing self had ever experienced. It was initially a bit scary until I realized that it was… coiled and contained. It wasn’t the tense and about to spook and bolt kind of power, it was just there ready to be used for good.

Whenever I’m on someone else’s horse for the first time I really try to get them to put me on a lunge line until I’m sure I can operate all the buttons. My next request is to have someone, anyone familiar with the horse, just give me a lesson. I’m not experienced enough, I’ll be nervous with people watching, just talk me through it at least until I get comfortable.


The seller knows that he or she is selling a schoolmaster, not a top-flight young horse or tricky international prospect. That’s a different kind of sale and you better be ready for something like that.

Rarely have I heard of anyone yanking a sale of a schoolmaster because the rider hit a few of the wrong buttons during the test ride. It’s almost expected. I couldn’t canter on the first schoolmaster I rode. It was embarrassing. But I still leased him. Now we can do all the canters and all the changes.

This is an interview between you and the horse to see if it is a good match. Enjoy the ride, see how he feels, focus your time on the conversation between you and horse. Let the owner guide you - they want the rider to be successful so they can sell the horse!


OP, keep in mind that the seller will most likely prefer a rider who wants to learn and improve. Vastly preferable to a buyer who is going to showboat him into the ground.


Listen to instructions, and don’t forget your sense of humor. I got stuck doing 1-tempis on a circle for what felt like a lifetime once. I was mortified, but survived. Horse and I ended up getting along quite well once he dutifully explained that my leg should not move so much.

A well-trained schoolmaster is the best instructor you will ever have. Just remember that 1 - you are not screwing him up, no matter what you may think at the time, and 2 - he’s still a horse in need of direction, don’t just freeze and sit there in awe of his awesomeness.


My FIRST horse when I was 16 was a 4th level saint, 20 y.o. and had been retired for a year and was FAT. I had to ride him bareback for a month to even get a girth with a girth extender to fit. As I was a Training level rider we did only walk and jog ( few steps then walk). Once he lost enough weight for a saddle we discovered my legs at canter were not quiet, so we got the occasional flying change. One lesson we were trying to do a leg yield back to the wall and got a canter pirouette. I could not get him to stop and my friend said “just jump off”… so I did. With total beginners he would walk once around the arena then stop. he definitely could take a joke… and could give them too. He also jumped. Mostly he took care of me no matter if it was at home, a show or going down the road. I did not have a trial ride… my instructor knew the owner and her instructor.


I used to get canter pirouettes instead of canter half passes. Guess who was putting her outside leg too far back?

With both my schoolmasters I did a trial ride, with my coach and the horse’s trainer / owner there. In both cases they let me figure things out and gave me some helpful pointers. With current horse I also took a lesson with his trainer before moving him to my trainer’s barn.

To give you an idea of my skill level (or lack thereof) I had only shown to Second and both horses were confirmed PSG and playing with a few of the big tour movements.

Both horses were older and looking to step down to Third/Fourth and their owners were far more concerned with the horse being taken care of properly than they were with me riding perfectly. I’m sure OP will find the same with the horse she is trying


Hi! I was in your shoes a few months ago. You’re going to be just fine.

Schoolmasters are wonderful, and will keep you incredibly honest. A horse who knows its changes and pirouettes will teach you to stay balanced in the canter…by popping changes when you lean sideways and turning a ten meter circle into a pirouette when you lean forward!

That said, there’s a world of difference between the kind of schoolmaster who says, “your foot was 1/8” out of position when you asked for the canter, so I’m not going," and the kind who says “I think I know what you’re asking, so I’m going to try it, even if I’m not sure.” Needless to say, you want the latter. There will be stuff you can’t necessarily get this horse to do, but make sure that when you’re trying it, you can get it to do all the things you currently know well, and a few things that you’re trying and experimenting with (i.e., I was doing first level work when I went looking and had taken a few lessons on more experienced horses where we worked on some second/third level movements, so my trainer had me make sure that on anything we were looking at, I could do a shallow serpentine and shoulder-in, haunches-in, half walk pirouettes, one flying change in each direction, etc.). Does the horse feel like he wants to try for you? Then he’s a solid candidate. Does he feel like he’s going to put up a fight all the time if you don’t ask exactly right? Those horses are great teachers for some people, but ask yourself really honestly if it’s going to drive you crazy if it takes you many months to get a solid walk/canter transition.

All the normal rules about looking for a good amateur’s horse apply to looking for a schoolmaster – is it kind? Is its instinct in confusion or panic to slow down or to speed up? Better that the brakes work a little too well than that the brakes be hard to find. The training needs to be correct, but I promise it really is okay if it trots for a 6.5 if it has a temperament for a 12.

If you want to show, ask what the horse is like at shows, and at the kind of shows you’ll go to. We took our new guy to a show a week and a half ago and it was blowing 40 mph and my coach was like deathly ill, and the fact that he was a solid citizen mattered tremendously. Ask all the questions.

It felt like a big scary commitment to buy an older horse (and in this case, one who had belonged to a beloved friend), but I swear, this is the best investment in my riding I have ever, ever made. I have made more progress in the 3.5 months he’s been with us than I had in years. It is so, so worth it.

Good luck! If he’s the right one, he’ll make you feel like you want to try stuff when you get on. If not, pass.


Take the hand break off in your own mind. The first time I rode a highly schooled horse who could do the fancy moves I was just so surprised when he immediately responded to my aids that I automatically stopped him. Too many years of very average horses and very little dressage training.