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Demystifying Collection: Key Elements of the Preliminary and Intermediate Eventing Dressage Tests

We are pleased to welcome our newest guest columnist, Allison Kavey of Rivendell Dressage. Allison Kavey is an international grand prix dressage rider with a long-standing affection for teaching. Her eventing clients include professionals, such as Colleen Rutledge, and juniors and amateurs ranging from Beginner Novice and up. To read Allison’s detailed breakdowns of Beginner Novice, Novice, Training and Modified tests, click here. In this column, we take a look at one of the key elements of the Preliminary and Intermediate Levels (and beyond): collection.

Allison Kavey during a schooling session. Photo by Annan Hepner/Phelps Media Group.

The Preliminary tests build on the exercises I wrote about last time, especially those found in the Modified B test. The Intermediate tests are also a logical extension of the material found in Preliminary, though this is the first time we see collection as a requirement so I will spend some time talking through that vexed and anxiety-provoking term. This will be a more “theory driven” article than my previous ones because the jump in expectations for Preliminary to Intermediate is one I think is frequently poorly explained. This is where the rubber meets the road for dressage riders — we see this shift from 1st to 2nd level — and most people navigating that transition do not understand it either – so don’t feel alone!

The first place I look when decoding a test is the directives listed next to each movement that indicate what the judges hope to see and which aspects of a question they value. This is an interesting exercise for me; often the exercises I think are especially challenging or interesting are not those the judges value most.

In dressage tests, the judges’ directives can be combined with double coefficients for some movements (though despite my attempts to understand their choices, I do not always get it). These often give riders a hint as to what movements are more valuable to them, so they’re important to pay attention to. Typically, these movements are also key building blocks for levels to come, so paying mind to the individual scores you’re receiving will help you understand what might need to be stronger before moving up.

So what is this collection thing? Collection is the increased organization of the horse’s balance over the hind legs with energy moving over a supple back and into a lifted wither. The horse’s neck will, as a result, elevate its arch. The horse will take shorter, more elevated steps than at the working gaits. From collection, the horse can push forward to medium gaits, which maintain the elevation of collection but add power and swing for a longer stride and frame. At the higher levels, when more collection has been achieved, the horse can perform extensions, in which the longest possible stride is demonstrated along with a lengthened frame.

Tamie Smith and Danito. Photo by MGO Photography.

A few things to note: the poll, not the third braid, should be the highest point, and the nose must stay on or slightly in front of vertical. This reinforces the important principle that collection is created through the organization of energy by the rider’s seat and leg to elevate the horse into the bridle and over — not against — the bit.

Fake collection, which we see far too frequently, is easy to pick out: the horse’s neck is artificially short, he is visibly tense in the back, the mouth and tongue might be busy, and the energy that should be coming from the hind legs and through the back stops under the saddle because it is blocked. Sometimes horses ridden like this maintain tremendous expression in their front legs, depending on their natural gaits, and sometimes they move like broken marionettes in front and behind. But the hind legs are always the giveaway: collected horses move with deliberate power and rhythm behind, and their backs are up and working. You can usually see the line of their engaged abdominal muscles lifting the back, along with engaged gluteal and hamstring muscles to propel them forward. If the only muscles you can see are in the neck, odds are the horse is not collected.

The cool thing about collection is that every horse on the planet can accomplish it. They might not piaffe, but they can certainly collect the basic gaits. So how do you, as the rider/trainer, help your horse — OTTB or dressage machine — learn this skill?

The first thing to do is think about muscle. How strong is your horse? Collection is the equine equivalent of weight lifting, and you will need to specifically address building your horse’s strength through dressage and cross training as you move from working to collected gaits. Here you have an advantage over many dressage riders who dislike defying gravity! If you are doing grid work in a good frame where your horse jumps over the back, you are building the right muscle.

The same goes for trot and canter sets, especially those done on hills. As long as your horse is pushing from behind over the back as you do your endurance work, you are accomplishing two goals at once. I do quite a lot of hill work with my horses, and I am fortunate to have very steep hills on the farm in New York.

Photo by Annan Hepner/Phelps Media Group.

One exercise to try: walk 1/3 of the way up the hill and, keeping your horse straight between your legs and reins, transition to trot. Go the next 1/3 up the hill, then transition to canter. Work your hills on diagonals as well as straight lines, so that you are getting the maximum effort from the weaker hind leg. Your horse will not thank you the first month, but the long term payoff is high. Do the same exercise from trot to bigger trot to smaller trot on the hill, and then repeat at the canter.

In the arena, a series of one stride high-sided cross rails will accomplish similar strength building. Again the caveat is that the horse must push from behind over the back for any of these things to work.

In the dressage arena, many exercises support collection. Any lateral work induces it, so you should play with long lines of leg yield and then start changing the bend to switch to half pass as you go. Shoulder-in, travers, and renvers — especially on circles — are excellent ways to locate and work the hind legs. Be careful with travers: horses tend to love it because they can shift their butts one way or the other while leaning on the opposite shoulder. This is not travers but instead “butt in”. Make sure not to accept too much angle if it cannot be supported by an equally elevated outside shoulder.

The same principle should be applied to shoulder-in. If your horse adores chucking the shoulders in while leaving the outside hind leg hanging in the breeze or, when performing this movement off the rail, outside of the original line, you are no longer doing shoulder-in. Use your outside leg to control the outside hind leg and keep it pushing up and under. You should always be able to go straight with minimal effort from any of these movements, and you must always be equally able to transition up or down. That means your horse is ahead of the leg and responsive to your half halts, which equals “on the aids” and not against the bridle.

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When working on collection, remember that you also need to develop your medium and extended gaits. You can do this by experimenting over short distances — try not to just go booming across the diagonal, which tends to result in the dreaded “hocks out behind” and puts horses on the forehand. Instead, do a few steps medium, a few steps collected, a few steps extended, etc. to see what you can accomplish, when your horse loses balance, and how effectively you can rebalance.

The goal is eventually to be able to rebalance within the extension using tiny half halts to keep the hind legs pushing under the belly rather than allowing the hocks to trail. The more transitions among trots and canters you do at home, the more likely you will be successful at the competitions. There are never too many transitions.

Dressage is not a beauty contest, though it may sometimes seem that way. Every horse can do it and benefit from the work. That does not, of course, mean that every horse will score the same. This is the unfair and difficult part of this discipline. More talented horses with better basic gaits will, when properly trained, earn higher marks than less talented, equally well-produced horses. But even if your horse’s basic gaits are not Valegro’s, you can improve them by making them more elastic and supported by stronger hind legs. And then you can go JUMP higher and run faster, which makes it all worth while.

Allison Kavey. Photo by Annan Hepner/Phelps Media Group.

International Grand Prix competitor Allison Kavey founded Rivendell Dressage, Inc. in 2007 with Andrea Woodner. Allison has extensive experience teaching dressage riders from Training Level up to Grand Prix, working on position and basics to improve riders’ harmony with their horses. She also works with eventers through the CCI***** level and hunter/jumper riders looking to improve their position and flatwork. In addition to training and coaching her students, Allison develops and sells young dressage horses of exceptional quality. RDI horses have achieved many national championships and multiple top 20 placings in the USDF national standings since 2007.

The Ins and Outs of Training and Modified Dressage with Allison Kavey

We are pleased to welcome our newest guest columnist, Allison Kavey of Rivendell Dressage. Allison Kavey is an international grand prix dressage rider with a long-standing affection for teaching. Her eventing clients include professionals, such as Colleen Rutledge, and juniors and amateurs ranging from Beginner Novice and up. To read Allison’s detailed breakdown of Beginner Novice and Novice tests, click here. In this column, we take a look at the new elements introduced at the Training and Modified Levels.

Photo via Adobe Stock.

One of the things I really appreciate about the eventing dressage tests is how consistently they progress up the training pyramid. The questions asked in the Training and Modified neatly correlate with the expectations required for a horse competing at USDF levels and support the strength, flexibility, and scope needed to succeed jumping fences of 3’3” (Training) and then 3’5” (Modified) with additional technical and speed requirements. While the majority of the movements in these two levels are similar, there is a significant difference since the Modified tests are held in the large arena (20’ x 60’) while Training tests are in the smaller, 20’ x 40’ arena. This article breaks down the movements for these tests and provides some general thoughts on how to organize your geometry and school to prepare for your best possible performance.

There are three new trot questions in these tests that make it clear that you have stepped into deeper dressage water: 10-meter circles, leg yields, and lengthenings.

A diagram of dressage circles. Graphic via DressageToday.com.

10-meter Circles

I admit, I love 10-meter circles because they really require correct riding from the outside leg. If you use your outside aids to shape the circle, then your horse will remain balanced, not leaning in, and still nail the size. The key to getting this is practice.
Make sure you know exactly how big 10 meters is; set some poles as guidelines so you cannot get confused. Then, fervently devote yourself to repeating the following chant: “circles are round, not oval!” My first riding teacher, the amazing Mrs. Stanton of Tanglewood Farm in Jamesville, NY used to tell us that we would need to ride 1,000 circles of every size before we could do it proficiently – and then she would add with a grin that only the round ones counted.

The Training tests have half 10-meter circle questions. In Training A, make sure that you are going straight on the centerline for about two steps while you change your bend and then start the new half circle. For Training B, make sure the horse stays balanced between both legs as you complete the half circle and start your short diagonal back to the track. That exercise invites the horse to lean in, so be vigilant! Also make sure you look up and return to the track so that your horse’s shoulder is at the letter. There are no points for getting there early, and there certainly is no extra credit for a late arrival!

Isabelle Santamauro working on a head-to-the-wall leg yield under Peter’s watchful eye. Photo by Joan Davis / Flatlandsfoto.

Leg Yields

Leg yield tends to terrify people because it is SIDEWAYS, but I bet you have been doing it all along. Every time you have moved your horse sideways with your leg to get to the middle of a fence (or back on the centerline), you were leg yielding. The essential parts of a leg yield are not losing the forward swing of the trot and maintaining a relatively straight line with the shoulders no more than half a stride ahead of the haunches.

The haunches should not lead in this exercise; there should be minimal bend in the horse’s body as she progresses away from your inside leg. Use your outside leg and rein to keep the shoulders from getting too far ahead. If your horse tends to get over eager in her front end response, push her shoulders back toward the inside with your outside leg and then begin again. You can practice leg yielding anywhere in your arena, both away from and toward the walls. I also like to change the tempo within the leg yield to make sure my horse is ahead of my leg. This is an exercise that is exceptionally useful and should be a regular part of your schooling sessions.

The leg yield question in Modified test B is much more challenging than those in the other tests. You are required to leg yield from the wall to X, then back to the wall. This invites loss of straightness and tempo, especially when you get to the change of bend at X. To nail this exercise, you need to leave the wall one step before the corner before F, where you need to change your bend, and begin your leg yield one step before your horse’s shoulder reaches F. Perform your standard leg yield, aiming for two strides before X. This gives you time to be straight on the centerline and then change your bend before heading back to M. In that leg yield, your horse will begin lusting for the wall, especially as you near the quarter line. Keep your outside leg on to maintain straightness.

Holly Jacks-Smither and Candy King. Photo by Joan Davis/Flatlandsfoto.

Lengthenings

For everyone who has ever attempted to teach a still-growing baby mammoth — I mean equine — to lengthen and shorten the stride on the diagonal in a short arena, I salute you! The key to success for these young horses, including horses who are coming off the track, still growing, and developing their trots, is not to attempt to explode out of the corner like you are riding Totilas. Save that for later!

Especially when you are planning your move up to Training Level, take the trot exercises I mentioned in the last article, where you do many transitions within the trot, and start experimenting with them first on circles (you’ll need to do this anyway at the canter) and then on straight lines—quarter lines and diagonals – so you have to work to keep your horse straight, not the walls!

The key to a successful trot lengthening is to show length of stride and frame. Getting faster always means getting shorter. Work instead on gradually lengthening the step by adding leg while adding height to your post—this helps the horse differentiate between longer and faster. This is a great opportunity to work over cavalleti as well. Find your horse’s regular trot stride and set 3 or 4 poles in a row for that step. Set another 3 or 4 poles 2-3” longer. Then get brave and see what happens if you add another 2-3” over another set of poles.

The more you practice this, the easier the lengthening will get for your horse. Do not panic if the first few (or many) repetitions over cavalleti are not successful. If you are all rockstars at the gym the first day you attempt new exercises, please do not come hang out with me! Repetition will help your horse develop the strength and confidence to produce a clear lengthening of stride and frame.

Kurt Martin and D.A. Lifetime. Photo by Shannon Brinkman for Erin Gilmore Photography.

Canter Questions

There are three new canter questions in these tests: the canter lengthening on a circle, 15-meter canter circles, and the introduction to simple change (canter to X and then trot). I really loathe the eventing tests’ fondness for canter lengthenings on circles for two reasons: they invite motorcycling and tend to produce less good canter lengthenings.

Here is how to produce a good outcome for this quirky little exercise. Set up 4 poles on a 20 meter circle: one on each wall and one at each centerline. Develop your lengthening after you leave the first pole, maximize your lengthening for poles two through three, then begin to shorten after pole three in tiny increments so you will be back to the working canter by pole four. Remember the following: this exercise invites your horse to lean on her inside shoulder and lose the push and balance through her back and speed is not lengthening. Make sure you stay very squarely centered on your horse throughout and aim for the center of each pole so you can monitor her balance. If/when you feel her leaning in and down on the inside shoulder, use your inside leg to push her shoulders up and out. Half halt, rebalance, and proceed. It will get better, and as you practice, you will find your transitions to and from working canter will get more efficient and require less time. Remember you must be back at working canter BEFORE you return to the wall in the Training Level tests and Modified A. Modified B lets you lengthen on the wall, but you only get to do so for ¾ of the length of the wall. Maintain a slight shoulder-in throughout this exercise so that the outside hind leg remains available for the down transition.

My advice for the smaller canter circles is a lot like my advice for the smaller trot circles. Figure out the correct size and practice nailing it while maintaining your horse’s balance. The same is really true for the introduction to the simple change through trot.

Begin your diagonal in a normal canter and then start half halting at the first quarterline. Maintain a balance between your core muscles bringing the hind legs under and the shoulders up and your leg saying “keep cantering”. Two strides before X, allow your outside leg to move forward and soften your inside leg while adding a bit more core muscle for a gorgeous, uphill trot transition. Then do a 10-meter circle in either direction before proceeding across the rest of the diagonal. You need that 10-meter circle to make sure your horse really is balanced and uphill! This will help you prepare your next canter transition, which (gift from test writing gods here) is NOT at the end of the diagonal, giving you a bit more time and a friendly corner to help you nail that uphill transition.

Graphic via Equine Ink.

The Rein-Back

The other new movement in these tests is only in Modified B: the rein back. Everyone has their own method for teaching this. I do a lot of babies, so I start it on the ground when they are foals. Then I integrate it into their riding work once they reliably go forward from the leg. You can start it from the ground with an adult horse too, and it is not a terrible idea if you do not know if she can rein back.
A few easy mistakes to avoid: pulling hard and simultaneously on both reins, flinging both legs very far back, and leaning forward. Just experiment with your horse to see what works best. And practice trotting off after some rein backs to make sure that you can, as this exercise tends to discourage forward impulsion. I do not practice the number of steps required in the test every time, instead being happy with one or two good steps at first and then adding more as the horse gets more confident.

I hope that this has been a useful overview of the new questions asked in these tests. Remember that Modified B is a significantly more challenging test than the other three and looks a lot more like Preliminary than Training.The other three tests are quite similar and should be easily mastered with some practice and attention to detail. The same is true for Modified B, but it is one to approach with more caution and interest because it is an invitation to the higher level tests. Best of luck!

Allison Kavey. Photo by Annan Hepner/Phelps Media Group.

International Grand Prix competitor Allison Kavey founded Rivendell Dressage, Inc. in 2007 with Andrea Woodner. Allison has extensive experience teaching dressage riders from Training Level up to Grand Prix, working on position and basics to improve riders’ harmony with their horses. She also works with eventers through the CCI***** level and hunter/jumper riders looking to improve their position and flatwork. In addition to training and coaching her students, Allison develops and sells young dressage horses of exceptional quality. RDI horses have achieved many national championships and multiple top 20 placings in the USDF national standings since 2007.

Breaking Down Beginner Novice and Novice Dressage with Allison Kavey

We are pleased to welcome our newest guest columnist, Allison Kavey of Rivendell Dressage. Allison Kavey is an international grand prix dressage rider with a long-standing affection for teaching. Her eventing clients include professionals, such as Colleen Rutledge, and juniors and amateurs ranging from Beginner Novice and up. We begin our series with Allison at the beginning, by breaking down the fundamental elements of the Beginner Novice and Novice dressage tests.

Annabelle Sprague and Meadowlark competing at the Novice level. Photo by Joan Davis/Flatlandsfoto.

The fact that every single combined test or event begins with dressage must seem brutally unfair to event horses. I have had the pleasure of teaching and riding many of these wonderful athletes, and while they are remarkable for their willingness to diligently participate in “sandbox activities”, they are not subtle in their preference for gravity defiance and galloping. Their riders are often the same! But the reality is that dressage translates directly to the jumping phases, and by paying close mind to each element of your test you can create a more balance horse and rider for the (decidedly more fun) jumping phases. I’ll begin by talking about the Beginner Novice and Novice tests, the questions they ask, how you can best present the exercises for higher dressage scores to lower your overall score, and how they can translate into better success in the run fast-jump high parts of your weekend.

I like to think of events as a prison break. Dressage is the part where you, in full Shawshank mode, carve a long tunnel to freedom using only the spoon you pocketed when you were on kitchen duty. It is the slow, diligent expression of your desire to be free to run and jump.

The Beginner Novice and Novice tests provide you with the tools you need to start digging your tunnel – the spoon and the first crack in the wall. They are remarkably similar to the USDF Training Level tests, in that they repeatedly address your ability to perform the most fundamental aspects of dressage: bend and rhythm in various shapes and across all three gaits. You have two big advantages over those of us in the dressage ring: you do not have to halt on your first centerline (which means you are much more likely to continue all the way down it because your horse will not have been given five seconds while you salute to consider better options), and you compete in the small arena, which forces you to keep your horse very focused on your aids.

Photo by Penny Wilson.

The Centerline

Think of centerline as your very best friend. It should be part of every dressage school you do because it tests your ability to keep your horse straight between your legs and going from her hind legs to the bit without you spreading your hands or pulling on either rein to achieve this feat. Integrate centerlines into every schooling session from the moment you start walking onward. You can use the centerline much like a long diagonal as a means to change direction at walk and trot and it is a perfectly fair exercise to practice rhythm and straightness at the canter.

Make it a goal this year to replace every long wall you planned to ride down with a quarterline, centerline, or diagonal. It will maximize your practice time and get you really good at being straight without the wall crutch. It will also help you remember to keep your rhythm while using your legs to maintain straightness. You will be rewarded with higher scores on your centerlines and diagonals and fewer comments of “wandering” and “losing straightness”.

When you turn onto centerline, remember to use your outside leg and, to a lesser extent, rein to create the turn while keeping your inside leg just behind the girth to prevent the horse from tipping over and provide her with something to bend around. You will notice your horse tends to turn “wide” one way and shallowly the other. For the side the horse prefers to turn wide, think of making an 8-meter rather than 10-meter turn by using more outside leg to yield in as you make the turn. For the side your horse likes to turn too quickly, use more inside leg and think of leg yielding up and out to your outside rein. This will ensure your accuracy.

If you do the exact same preparation for your turn off of centerline, your horse will bend around your inside leg rather than leaning or bulging and you will have an excellent first corner. Once you are on the line, stare straight at the end of the arena at your eye level. If you are anxious about dressage – and who isn’t? – consider setting up an elevated table at the end of your arena and making a scarecrow judge. It only seems stupid until you try it. It is a great way to accomplish two things at once: acclimating your horse to the often-terrifying judge’s box and making yourself practice being really straight on every centerline.

Now I am going to bore you with the obvious: straight, rhythmical centerlines are setting you up for straight, rhythmical approaches to jumps. This is why you should canter them, too.

The 20-meter Circle

20-meter circles at trot and canter are common to both Beginner Novice and Novice tests. They are discipline building taskmasters when done correctly. The principles of rhythm and bend you demonstrated on your turns onto and off of centerline are tested again here, but added to those now is geometry.

The size, shape, and placement of your circle needs to be accurate and consistent to earn the highest marks. For a circle at C or A in a small arena, you need to begin at C/A, not go into the next corner, touch the wall between the H/M or F/K and E/B, touch the centerline at X, touch the next wall between E/B and H/M or K/F, NOT fall into the corner, and conclude at C/A.

I know this sounds like gibberish, but it makes sense if you look at an image of a short dressage arena. For Novice test A, you will take that very same circle and make it into a figure eight to do the inaptly named “two loop serpentine” from C to A. This exercise requires that you ride your first circle at C, then develop your new bend approaching X, and ride your next circle to A. The geometry remains the same.

Now that you know the correct size and the points to ride to on the long walls and centerline, the shape actually becomes less of a challenge. To practice riding 20-meter circles well, you can use ground rails to mark the four places you will need to reach to create four equal arcs. Ride the outside of the rail at C or A, the outside of the rails on the two long walls, and the middle of the rail at X.

Novice Test B tests a different skill: square turns at E and B. This is preparation for when you will see again in the higher level tests. The square turn requires the same outside leg-inside leg balance you developed practicing your centerline with the additional challenge of a quick change of bend over X without losing straightness, thus further assessing your ability to effectively balance your horse between your legs.

Allison Kavey. Photo by Annan Hepner/Phelps Media Group.

Transitions

Transitions are the bane of many dressage tests, especially in the short arena. They come up quickly, which makes riders tense and that translates into fussy horses. Part of this is because when we are schooling, we usually do transitions when we feel the horse is ready and will do them well. That’s all well and good, but it does not translate into horses who are consistently on the aids.

The Beginner Novice tests are very clear in their directives for transitions. They almost always occur between two letters, which seems like a generous gift because you have all that space to get your horse to walk, trot, or canter. No, you do not. You are expected to perform the transition halfway between the two letters.

The advantage is that you have a bit more time to prepare and, often, a corner to help you do it. The training plan to conquering those transitions is simple: do more of them. Start your ride with walk-halts in which your horse stays straight and round. Do them on centerline. Do them while you practice your 20-meter circles. Do them until the mere tightening of your core muscles and slight push forward of your upper back brings your horse to halt and the release of those core muscles and tucking of your lower back brings her to walk. Walk-halt should not involve rein pressure, and halt-walk should not require that you release the reins or kick.

Hot horses who dislike halting need to practice doing it. Dull horses who like to ignore your leg need to practice obedient takeoffs into the next gait when you take your leg off to ask for it. Practice will make this so. You can then take this exercise to trot-walk-trot and trot-walk-halt-trot transitions, and then trot-canter-trot and trot-canter-trot-walk transitions. Soon you will start noticing how little physical effort is required to half-halt your horse and how annoyingly simple these transitions are. To keep yourself challenged, you can add in half transitions, in which you practice shortening and lengthening the trot and canter. All of this will translate into better pace regulation in your jumping work and a lot less dependence on the reins.

Allison Kavey. Photo by Annan Hepner.

The Free Walk

Free walks on the long rein are always fun, especially when the hapless child designated to run scores comes trotting out from behind the judge’s booth or someone falls off in the stadium ring just when you are at the closest quarterline. But they are very important – they are the only double coefficient that stays in dressage from Training Level through Grand Prix, though they earn the lofty title of extended walk at Second level.

This is an extension of all that transition work you just did. Practice shortening and lengthening your walk while you are working on your walk-halt-walk transitions and integrate shortening and lengthening your frame while you do so. Of course the goal is a walk that lengthens stride and frame symmetrically and a “10” would be awarded for a horse who stretches her neck forward, maintaining her nose ahead of the vertical, and downward at least below her knees as she marches across the diagonal.

Free walks are not pleasant saunters in the sun; your horse must maintain her rhythm with added swing and intention. As you progress across the diagonal, maintain the rhythm with your leg and back but do not shove with your seat as it shortens the stride and can make the walk lateral. As you hit the second quarterline, begin closing your core muscles and shortening the swing of your back and gather up the reins as the shorter stride transitions into a shorter frame. By the time you get to the end letter, you will be back in a working walk with nicely gathered reins and ready for the next exercise. This is a great thing to practice as you warm up and cool down your horse, as well as throughout your regular work sessions.

William Nilsson Fryer and Joel (SWE) tackle the stretchy circle. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The Stretching Trot

Stretching trot circles test the exact same principle as the free walk explained above, though you do not want to demonstrate a significant change in stride length in this exercise. It is, however, a nice place to show off all of the work you have been doing on trot transitions. The goal is to demonstrate that your horse can lengthen her frame and trot with her nose ahead of the vertical and at or below her knees while you maintain some rein connection.

I like to practice this exercise by dividing the circle into quarters. I develop the stretch in the first quarter, show maximum stretch for the second and third quarters, and shorten the stretch in the final quarter so I have my reins back and a happily trotting horse at the end of the circle.

Start by developing that first section. What happens when you close your leg, add your core muscles, and slowly push the neck away? If your horse speeds up, you need more half halts. If her neck goes out but not down, you need to add more lower leg to keep her hind legs marching up through her back. As you confirm your ability to consistently produce one level of stretch, you can then ask for more. Should your horse fall apart, half halt, reorganize, and start again.

Repetition will be required because this is not an easy movement: it tests your ability to balance the horse from side to side and back to front while maintaining a rhythm and bend. The more you practice it throughout your schooling, the easier it will get, and the earlier you can begin practicing this, the better.

If you practice all of these things, I hope you will notice they become easier, more comfortable for you and your horse, and less daunting. They should also translate into your having a more adjustable, turn-able horse in stadium and cross country.

Allison Kavey. Photo by Annan Hepner/Phelps Media Group.

International Grand Prix competitor Allison Kavey founded Rivendell Dressage, Inc. in 2007 with Andrea Woodner. Allison has extensive experience teaching dressage riders from Training Level up to Grand Prix, working on position and basics to improve riders’ harmony with their horses. She also works with eventers through the CCI***** level and hunter/jumper riders looking to improve their position and flatwork. In addition to training and coaching her students, Allison develops and sells young dressage horses of exceptional quality. RDI horses have achieved many national championships and multiple top 20 placings in the USDF national standings since 2007.