Category Archives: qotm archives

Past Questions of the Month are listed below in chronological order.  Just click on the Question to pull up Bill’s Answers.

Help me with “the helps!” I’ve been working on the walk-canter transitions which we schooled at the end of our clinic lesson. I put him on the 20 meter circle in shoulder-in at the trot and ask for the canter transition. He obediently did it. After bringing him back to walk on the 20 meter circle, I again put him in shoulder-in, then asked for the canter transition. After a minor rearranging of feet (which is a timing issue and why I’m emailing you), he went into canter with no resistance. Yesterday, I was working on this again and got the right lead walk-canter transition dead-on with no trot steps. Now that I know what it feels like to do a “real” walk-canter transition, I need help with my timing. Basically, I’m asking for the Betty Crocker version so I can develop the “feel” of when to ask. Kayla, Shreveport, LA

BILL: The key to the depart is to persuade the horse to take whatever rhythm it had been in and change that rhythm to the three beats of the canter. As you know, the first beat of the canter is the outside hind (followed by the diagonal pair and then the inside, leading foreleg). But whether you’re in walk or trot when you want to ask, that first beat still comes down the same in the new gait. What has to be altered is the second beat, meaning the inside hind leg which now has to do something different than it had been doing. So when you should ask is when the inner hind is supposed to push off, remembering that your aids include scooping him up with your inner seat as well as what your legs tell him. Your outside leg is going to be back, but which leg you emphasize as the immediate “cue” will often depend on what they understand. I like to think that on an educated horse, it’s my outside positioning leg that tells him which lead to take and it’s more my inside leg that tells him when to take it.

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ANOTHER UNAVOIDABLE RANT — What now? The Dressage Simulator !


Excuse me, I’m feeling unbearably passé as I drag my sorry carcass each day through Oldies Radio reveries from the middle of the last century. I should be out there at the dressage barricades (or at least teetering on the cutting edge). But across my Samsung SyncMaster™ 2233SW HD quality 22″ display monitor (with 5 ms (GTG) response time, 15000:1 dynamiccontrast ratio, and 300cd/m2 brightness) the other day came information about a special clinic being shilled in the Deep South. And, I’m sorry, I thought the brave new world it offered was just TOO goofy for me! It began:

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I have a husband and three kids at home and a hot schoolmaster in the barn. Will judges discriminate against me and my horse if I wear a safety helmet with my tailcoat instead of a top hat? What about riding PSG in a snaffle?

BILL: The judges will absolutely not discriminate against you for exercising caution and common sense. Aside from the rulebook making it completely legal, some will secretly admire you for eschewing the glamour road for the sake of yours and your family’s wellbeing. You are more apt to have tales told about you for the reverse – the top hat worn in Intro, for example, which while legal, is pretty pretentious!

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Received via e-mail from a Western-trained observer: I was watching a student of yours working with a horse in training and making turns on the forehand. You should both know that turning on the forehand will not engage the horse’s hind end. In fact, turning on the forehand disengages the hind end and basically stalls the horse’s motion. You cannot get collection with the horse in neutral. To teach a horse to engage his hind end you must teach a horse to turn on his haunches. This will put his hind end under him and teach him to use himself in a correct manner. Regards, Mary

BILL: This criticism wouldn’t come only from a western rider. I’ve heard it from Europeans with a certain background as well. But specifically here’s the background on what Mary saw: the horse in question is one of those “plodders” who’s oblivious to his owner, drifts around long and flat, and needs in almost every sense to “get with program.” What my student-trainer was doing was pushing the horse off her leg, making something akin to a big-angle leg yielding with the forehand on a small circle and the hindquarters on a much larger one.

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I see lots of Dressage riders, both beginners and pros—on horses that plod submissively along— I guess they look “happy” in a bored sort of way. I think there must be something MORE. More like—an edgy quality— like riding a horse whose expression might just look not quite in control- Your comments? D Neibling, Tucson, AZ

BILL: You’re quite right—there IS something more, and it’s what separates the “interesting” horses from the obedient, cheerful “coasters.” And I was with you right up to the horse’s expression looking “not quite in control.” Then we’re getting towards those flashy models with tail fins and a lot of chrome (that also throw their legs around and can’t stand still at the halt.)

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We’re always taught to maintain impulsion. How come in pirouettes the horses are allowed to slow down?

BILL: This is an example of the classic “Impulsion is Energy, Not Speed” concept. While in a pirouette you will see the horse travel more slowly over the ground, in very collected canter he should maintain his rhythm and energy throughout. The whole idea in Collection is that some of the horse’s forward thrusting power is converted into upward lifting power. If you see a pirouette where the tempo markedly decreases and the strides look labored or dragging (as opposed to crisp and active), you’re watching a bad pirouette.

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Q: Is It for the Journey or the Blue Ribbon?

BILL: This is another one of those questions that doesn’t have one right and one wrong answer, although I bet you’ll find some people that are sure that it does. If you read the dressage pulps or lurk around the message boards and chat rooms, you’ve already heard the contentious sparring: It’s an art; it’s all about the relationship; it’s how you think about your horse and your work, not success itself; you can’t measure success, anyway, by ribbons you win. That’s the Less Taste side of the argument. On the More Filling side, if you don’t go out and measure yourself against other riders, you seal yourself in a bubble where “Not Very Good” can seem to you like “Just Fine”; competition is what pushes people to excel; shows attract sponsors and money and even fame, and without those things it would be impossible to breed and support star athletes like Ravel or Edward Gall’s horse that we all admire. From one vantage point, it might be even borderline sinful to spend exorbitant amounts of money on a horse with all the problems and inequities that exist in the world. But what’s “too much”? Is it ten million dollars? Is it two million? Is it the price of a house? Or just a low six figures? Maybe just the price of an SUV from Korea? Might it only be a year’s tuition someplace? I’ve heard people claim that if it’s more than a thousand bucks, that horse ain’t worth it. Clearly, it’s a matter of perspective. The so-called (oops, I’m showing my bias) classicists might argue that “since it’s about the training” and not the innate value of the horseflesh, there’s no need to spend the cash. That is, until someone acknowledges that there is greater raw beauty in the superior horse than in a common one. They might also point out that success which is purchased is of lesser value than success which is created from time and effort. Alternatively, that you can’t experience what some of the movements are really supposed to feel like if you don’t feel them on a horse that’s truly talented and capable (and, by definition in our modern world, expensive.) You can go round and round— many people have in the past in tones both self-righteous and accusatory. Personally, I like shows and competition as long as they don’t make people crazy. Kept in perspective, showing can be wholesome, fun, and motivation to go out and put in the hours in the saddle when it might feel easier to succumb to the comfort of the couch, a glass of wine, and the TV. If you’re of the journeying ilk, you’ll say you’re happy enough right at home, and you don’t need externals to keep you focused. It’s all so tied into your own personality and what makes you tick. I will say this, however, whether you do it for its own sake or specifically to get to the destination, the journey itself is inevitable, and it’s always a long one. You can step out for a jaunt to the convenience store pretty easily, but training a dressage horse is more like embarking on a hike the length of the Appalachian Trail. Governor Sanford excluded, if you don’t enjoy the trail itself, you aren’t going to be happy out in the woods, and you’re going to be more aware of the aches and the blisters than you are of the rewards. If frustration and disappointment dominate your riding, you either need a new, attitude, a new horse, or a new sport!

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