What's it all for?

I have a 16 y.o. Percheron, and we have been working on dressage together for the past 10+ years. I’m an adult ammy, and can only make it out to ride 3 times a week. I’m not into showing. My instructor pushes me to show maybe once a year. We’re not great at it. We don’t go frequently enough to improve our show anxiety, and I don’t have time, money or desire to show more frequently. I have show nerves and my guy doesn’t like being by himself in the ring.

He has a good walk, and he tracks up well at all gaits. He does not have much self carriage at the trot and canter. We’re working on that.

My trainer has been asking for a more forward walk from us, and I understand that will help with his self carriage in the trot and canter. My first question is if I don’t want to show, does his walk speed really make a difference? I don’t want to take a good natural walk and push it into a lateral walk.

My second question is if I don’t want to show, how far up the levels would you go? We’re currently working on second/third level at home. I don’t feel the need to get to piaffe/passage. I think that would require much more time than I have to devote at this point in my life. While it’s important to have goals, I’m just enjoying spending time with my boy.

So what do you think? How high would you aim for? TIA.


If you really don’t enjoy showing, then I would tell your instructor that you’ve thought it through and you just don’t enjoy it or want to pursue it, even once a year.
I’ll let others address the question about the walk. I see what you are saying but don’t really know.
I will say that as an adult amateur I just focus on working on improving as much as possible without having a particular level in mind. I might play around with teaching something under trainer guidance without getting too wrapped up in the end result.


I am confused by your comment.

  1. You say that you understand that a more forward walk will “help with his self carriage in the trot and canter”. That is important whether or not you are showing.
  2. “Forward” at the walk has more to do with engagement and energy than with “speed”.
  3. You should be able to get a more forward walk without risk of making it "lateral. If you are getting a lateral walk, then you aren’t doing it right. (That is why you areworking with an instructor.)

I think you’ve answered some of your questions already - if you don’t want to show, then don’t. It’s expensive and can be nerve-racking. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it.
As far “how far would you go up the levels” - this is an individual thing. You’ll need to decide that :slight_smile:

I’m an AA that works full time. I do want to show again to get my last bronze score then maybe more. So at home I like to learn and train. I like lessons so I have homework and “adult supervision” to keep me on track and out of my bad habits, lol.
But I also like hacking and trail riding and hanging at the barn when time allows.

As far as the walk, yeah, you should be able to get a more “marching” walk that isn’t lateral. If your horse has a natural lateral tendency, it will make it harder, but your trainer can help.

Our hobby is expensive and time consuming, do what you enjoy.

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A Percheron is not designed to be a dressage horse and a 16 yo one is quite likely to have his own ideas about what is possible or impossible. Enjoy what you have, no one needs to show: it’s not compulsory. If you want to improve self carriage, try working with poles on the ground in various patterns so he has to lift his hocks to walk, trot and then canter over them. There is loads on line about pole work and it can be good fun for both of you.


We can all give our opinions, but in the end this is entirely up to you.

If you don’t like showing or don’t want to learn piaffe/passage then don’t. If you’re happy sitting at 2nd/3rd, then stay there and make it really quality. Or aim for PSG rather than GP. Or start to play with other disciplines as well to keep things interesting. I ride dressage, but I hack out in the hay field regularly and go on trail rides occasionally. If I thought my horse would stay sound, I’d probably play with jumping too. Variety is the spice of life.

I’m a bit confused about the lateral walk question. Maybe talk to your instructor about your worries, but pushing for more walk doesn’t automatically equal lateral walk.

My opinion for me and my horse? I only show about twice a year. I haul out for lessons a handful of times and haul out for trail rides a few times each year. We showed second level this year and have started schooling third. My “goal” is to top out at third due to my time and some physical issues that my horse has. I imagine once we get there I will spend some time in the arena making things as perfect as they can be, but also spend a little more time hacking out and doing trails. I do think it would be fun to play with some of the higher level stuff at home, even never planning on showing it or schooling it enough to make it nice. YMMV of course.


I have to say don’t think about the movements (like piaffe and passage) as required for GP only. Rather, starting the half steps and piaffe will have an impact on other areas of your training - like activity and sitting in the canter and ability to adjust the trot…

Whenever my horse’s canter quality decreased during a ride, I’d go do a few half steps and then a walk-canter and have much more sitting and activity (and self carriage). The passage and Spanish walk can help a horse learn how to rotate their scapula better, and therefore increase the reach in the medium and extended gaits.

All of the dressage movements are connected to each other, and even if you aren’t doing a GP quality pirouette, etc., you are improving some other area of your training by training the components and schooling a pirouette.

Also something to remember is the higher you are schooling, the higher “quality” your warm up can be. I struggled with long warm ups because I kept starting my warm up at training/first level, even though we were schooling 4th and above. My trainer said to warm up thinking like a second level horse rather than starting all they way at the bottom. Now some days, we might just have hacked around stretching and doing easy training/first level items and gone for a walk, but if we were schooling, my warm up included SI, counter canter, changes, and lots of transitions.

I started the half steps and Spanish walk in-hand using clicker training - it was a fun way to engage with my horse and using R+ training made it very low stress.


Your instructor probably feels shows are a useful reality check. If you are schooling 2nd and 3rd movements at home I assume you are showing 1st? Honestly there’s going to be a limit to how many times you can ride a 1st level test on the same horse without getting bored.

There is no reason to show if you don’t enjoy and value the reality check. And if you want that reality check you really need to do it more than once a year so you can average out the responses.

A big walk with energy is super important and no, that doesn’t mean a tense walk that goes lateral. A marching walk can be huge for fitness even just trail riding.

A 16 year old Percheron is going to be limited in going up the levels in dressage, so I would concentrate on loving the wonderful horse you have right now and finding more things to build your relationship. For me, those have been trick training and horse camping, things where the horse is stimulated by new ideas.


There are some wonderful practical applications to dressage training that will hold you in good stead just hacking around on trails. If you worked on serpentines, on coming to a nice square perfect halt from a trot… There are so many thingz. My Percheron has bilateral stringhalt, or i would haul him into lessons just to teach him how to use his big gigantic beautiful body in a better way…

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This for sure. We can all spend months going round and round in circles analyzing the quality of the canter. When you have to show, everything comes much faster, there aren’t any ‘let me throw in a circle’ do overs, and you get super useful information. I came out of my first FEI ride and was like “oh so that’s why I need a right half halt”.


A lateral walk is caused if you push more and are not following his head with the rein. Make sure you arms follow in walk and canter, they are onlystill in trot.

Walking horses in side reins can cause a lateral walk.

Teach your boy when leading to walk before you walk with a single click.

Hop on and walk on a free rein. Use the single click to increase the walk. Now pick up the reins to get contact without slowing the walk. If he slows you have done it incorrectly. Drop the reins. reinstablish the walk and try again. Rinse and repeat.

When you do show the walk marks are multiplied by 2.


Sounds like it’s time to find a new trainer if she doesn’t understand or agree with your riding goals. Or maybe most of her other students do show, so that’s the way she structures her students’ lessons. You might save a lot of $, feel less stressed and not feel at odds with your trainer without lessons. Or maybe just take 1 or 2 per month?

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I suppose the trainer thinks a show or 2 keeps you from getting barn blind. A fresh set of eyes to give you feedback.
I don’t see you going very far up the levels, but go as far as you and your steed enjoy it.

Naturally if you do not enjoy showing, there is really no point (but horsey can profit from the alone time in the ring. Although he might just be picking up on your discomfort.

As to the walk, while it is the hardest to improve, there is always room to make it a little better.
And keeping it from becoming lateral is - well - training.
My sister had a WB mare that tended to fall into a camel walk style thing early on.
Something the judges commented on in her tests (as well as other little mistakes that crept up between lessons)

In the end, you are in charge of your riding destiny.
If you don’t want to do pony picnics, don’t.
Just ride the best you can and get as good as you can, all at home.


Thanks for the explanation of how a lateral walk develops. I’d heard that if you push too much it can develop, but why and how it develops.

You are so welcome.

From Boomer:

Our hobby is expensive and time consuming, do what you enjoy.

This exactly! My answer is very based upon my personality and desire to focus on riding as a way of keeping my sanity. Your priorities are different, and it is too expensive and time consuming to base your life on my or anyone else’s priorities! I will share a couple examples, though.

My gelding is…an a-hole. We decided at first level, forget it, his aerial acts were going to get someone else injured at a show. He had various physical issues we had to resolve which led to that nuttiness, but regardless of that attempting to show him was not fun, and his violent bucking had a tendency to give me whiplash - and risk the safety of others because it can set off other horses.
So, I focused on learning all I could about correct dressage riding, knowing it would help later. Also, when I had my trainer start my then youngster, we both knew she could not do anything as bad as what I rode through with my gelding, so I had a certain amount of confidence on a greenbean.
We kept working on correct dressage work with him, and in his case that was almost always working on suppleness and specifically the lengthening of the long muscles along his spine, which tended to get very tight. Lateral work really helped loosen up those muscles. It also developed his sitting ability and his power.
By the time we started stepping back his work due to his hooves just not holding up to the power he had developed anymore, he rode through all the I-1 except changes (see: goes airborne, changes often encourage that), with excellent full pirouettes and GP steep half passes. His half steps were pretty easy to get, and I could ask for a but of passage, plus he had by far the best extended trot on the property. That just came from consistently working and developing him to continue always working on greater suppleness and honesty in the connection. One of the keys for any progress was having an active and energetic walk. It set the tone for the rest of the work if he was in front of my leg at the walk. So I’d definitely work on demanding more energy in the walk, because that makes trail rides or other work more fun, too, but agree it should not cause a lateral walk.
A friend has a mare who was born with one hind cannon bone significantly shorter than the other. Vets weren’t sure she would ever be rideable, so my friend figured if she could do training level it was a bonus. She did ok under saddle, so they worked at getting her straight enough for training. Then they started adjusting gaits, always working on straightness, and she was suddenly ready for first. They worked on lateral work to build the muscles to support the straightness they asked out of her crooked body, and suddenly she was ready for second. Reserve state champion (first under one judge) for third level. Now she’s schooling PSG and I-1 work, and half steps and pirouettes have really helped strengthen her topline to support her remaining straight. Every year that dressage work helps make the work easier for her. That has been slower progress for her than it would have been for a more evenly built horse, but I believe the work is why she is in her middle teens and still sound. Simply working on maintaining basics and improving her capability all the time has ended up making her a nearly ready to show FEI horse.
So I’d keep working on the basics, and work on improving all the time. Do fun things you want to do, too. And even if you’re not giving up everything else in your life to chase a goal, just let your horse get where your horse gets. I wouldn’t show if I disliked it as much as you seem to, but I’d still want to keep improving as a rider. And the lessons we learn regardless of one horse’s long term future helps us on every subsequent horse.


I wish I could like this more than once.

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On the not showing…the best four years I had with my Thoroughbred were in college. I had no interest in showing anymore, but had him at school with me. The barn we were at required lessons once a week. And the trainer expected improvement each week, in a way that there was no saying no to.* I usually rode when no one else was there, and those cold (Ontario) nights alone in the indoor with my horse, working on things, were some of the best in my life. I didn’t, and don’t need a ribbon, I simply wanted to ride better and in more harmony with my horse. No one ever questioned me or challenged my desire to never show again. What mattered was the riding. And that, in my view, is how it should be.
That being said. A good walk will take you a very long way, but it is not fun to work on. You may find it easier to build a walk outside of the ring. However, your trainer may well be right in pushing for a better walk, because without it, you can’t really do much at higher levels.
*Eddo Hoekstra, I wish I could take more lessons with him…


i did not trot my mare for our entire first year. At the end of year one we started transitions and just one or two steps of a trot. Then maybe 1/4 of a 20m circle and back down. Last week, for the first time, we took a trot down the entire long side! Then we did the long side with a 20m circle. Then we worked on a trot to halt. She is getting pretty responsive. And training translates over into all walks of life. Farrier visit last Friday and she walked in, squared up when asked and was a perfect citizen. Discipline in the ring has changed her headscape.

edit: didn’t know so googled: Lateral walk in horses. It’s a pace then, huh? Have never seen my standardbred, who is a natural pacer, do this movement at a walk.


When people say lateral walk they don’t mean an actual pace, just a walk that is diverging from a 4 beat in that direction. IME it also feels tense. It’s very subtle when you are watching from the ground.

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