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.

What do you think about riders having the option of rising or sitting to the trot throughout First Level?

BILL – Well, it‟s a done deal with the new 2011 tests, so it doesn‟t much matter what I think. But just for the record, I don‟t think it‟s a very good idea. Understand, this is ground that has been gone over before. Whenever it comes to test writing, there‟s a tug of war among various factions who either adore or despise a particular movement and demand its inclusion/exclusion in the new requirements upon forecast of dire consequence. Likewise, there‟s a tension between those wanting to make the tests “horse friendlier” [read: easier] and those who want to protect “the art” from dilution and “dumbing down.”

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I’m having trouble with haunches-in, or as you dressage geeks like to call it, travers. I tried introducing the movement by first sharpening him up on turn-on-the-forehand. With my horse reliably moving his haunches away from my leg, I tried framing the question in terms he is familiar with. I rode a 10 meter circle to shoulder-in, then a 10 meter circle to haunches-in. Rather than elucidating what I wanted, ordering the exercise in that way seemed to confuse him. Can you suggest another exercise?

BILL: The exercise is a decent one, but the underlying problems are twofold. Travers is mainly complicated because after all that time of teaching the horse to move away from the leg he’s bent around, now all of a sudden he has to move into that leg. Suggestions:

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Because of the work at the canter, I’m having a terrible time with lengthened trot. I’ve tried sitting trot on a 10-meter circle, then lengthening in posting trot as well as shoulder-in in sitting trot to lengthening in posting trot . The best I can do is to use my voice, shove the reins at him and exaggerate my post. This gives him the idea of lengthening, except with some serious, ugly on-the-forehand-ness. Help!

BILL: Lengthenings are complicated because how to produce them varies a lot from horse to horse. There are some horses that have a natural programmed-in rhythm and cadence. They have no inkling of the notion of rushing, so all you have to do is add more leg and you get longer, not quicker, steps. That’s a characteristic you’ll find in some but certainly not all warmbloods.

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In my lessons I get mixed up when asked to make a turn on the forehand or a turn on the haunches. Is there an easy way to keep the aids for those two movements straight?

BILL: First of all, before you worry about the aids, you have to visualize what the movement being called for looks like. If it all sounds like technical gibberish, substitute the words “upon the” or “around the” for “on.” In other words, turn on the haunches equals turn the rest of the horse around the haunches. That ought to make your task more clear.

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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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