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Ashley Haffey


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Want to Canter Like a Dressage Rider? Ride the UP

Tired of riding a runaway freight train of a horse? Is your horse heavy in your hands and on his forehand? Is your horse ignoring your half-halts? There are a lot of ways to fix your canter (like half-halts, shoulder-turns, and squares), but in this post we are just going to talk about changing your seat.

A canter is three beats, and you will move your seat in three ways. You have UP, DOWN, SLIDE. Sometimes it’s easier to think of it as UP, and then DOWN-SLIDE as a unit.

If you jump horses, you know SLIDE, because that’s how you adjust your horse’s stride before a fence.

If you ride dressage, you know UP, because that is how you collect and create more volume in the canter.

If you ask for a transition down from canter to trot, you do that with your half-halts coordinated during DOWN. But if you want canter-walk like in your simple changes — ask during the UP. Pro-tip: If you do that on the DOWN phase of your posting trot with your outside rein you will have a perfect square halt too!

Do you ever get jealous of those people riding around with a perfect and quiet collected canter that looks effortless? I sure do. I spent one summer showing a pony that the judges would put “off to the races” in the comment box and I just thought it was because she was spicy. It was actually my seat! I was pushing her too hard during the SLIDE phase of the canter and it was driving her too much.

Instead, I had to learn how to ride the up, which is more of a lifting phase of the canter. As soon as I learned how to ride the UP, my horses could magically slow down and collect their canters. Funny how that works! (But obviously if you have a torpedo butt and never sit in the saddle you have to sit in the saddle and start riding the down-slide before the UP..just sayin’.)

The bottom line…if you want to look better in your dressage test and have more influence over your horse, start riding the UP phase of your canter.

Ashley Haffey is a dressage rider living in event land (Aiken). She competes in dressage, trains and sells horses, and also travels to teach dressage. You can find her website at

The Secret to Nailing a Perfectly Square Halt

Photo by Karley Tenburg.

Do you ever get jealous of those people that can ride down centerline and halt squarely and effortlessly? You’re probably thinking dang … they just got an eight on their first movement … and now you have to ride perfectly and get a nine … but hey, no pressure!

Getting a square halt is one of those movements that you have to practice at home, but there are also a few tips and techniques that can help you finesse it in the dressage ring. First, you need to make your horse leg specific. That means if you touch your horse with a whip they should be able to pick up the leg that you touch. You should be able to do this and your horse squares up.

Second, when you’re under saddle your horse should be able to square up by you distinctly telling your horse which leg to move. That means if you position your leg forward, the horse moves the front leg, and if you position your leg backwards, your horse steps up with his hind leg. If that is a cluster or there is miscommunication, you need to go back to the ground work and make your horse leg specific.

The BIGGEST secret to getting a square halt is to half halt on your DOWN part of your posting trot with your outside shoulder and outside hand. If you do this in the down phase of your posting trot (meaning, you apply the half-halt when you’re sitting) you will very likely have a pretty square halt.

A few other tips from experience:

  • If your horse takes a step backwards you’re screwed and that’s a four. Don’t hit the brakes too hard to make that happen. If you mess up, take the uneven step before risking going backwards.
  • Second, check your submission. Your horse needs to stay round and submissive during the halt. If his head pops up, inverts, or looks around, just imagine your points going down.
  • Lastly, make sure you trot up and out of that halt with effortlessness and impulsion. It’s halt-trot, no walk steps included. Good luck!
 Ashley Haffey is a dressage rider living in event land (Aiken). She competes in dressage, trains and sells horses, and also travels to teach dressage. You can find her website at