A Sustainable Gait

Once you’ve mastered control of the basic gaits, things get harder and you have to master a range of gears in each gait. Furthermore, your horse has to develop the strength, balance and stamina to work in each gear. This was illustrated perfectly at the Pony Club Conference a couple of weeks ago.

The demo riders were riding a simulated cross country exercise; jumping a triple bar at speed to imitate jumping a simple cross country fence, before making a turn and jumping two bounce fences from a slower canter.

The first rider galloped at the triple bar, popping it easily, and slowed down a bit for the bounce, but jumped it a bit too fast really and it was only her pony’s deftness which got them over the two elements. She rode the exercise again, this time circling between the two questions until she’d collected the canter sufficiently. It took her a few circles but she really collected the canter up. She approached the bounce, but her pony refused.

The reason? Her new collected canter wasn’t sustainable. He could collect that much on the flat, but he didn’t have the impulsion and strength to jump from this canter. She rode the exercise again, and circled until she got the collection. Then she opened up the canter slightly, relaxing so that she moved up half a gear. The pony jumped the bounce beautifully. Because the canter was sustainable and the balance between collection and impulsion was right for jumping.

I thought it was a brilliant example of how the gears to your canter will vary as to whether you’re on the flat or jumping, and in relation to your horse’s level of training. For example, a horse who works at prelim level may be able to collect their canter slightly, but will struggle to have the energy and balance to jump from that slightly collected canter, whereas an elementary level horse will be able to sustain that slightly collected canter for longer and with less effort, so will be able to jump easily out of it.

I’ve already mentioned the word “sustainable” to some clients, but I think it’s a worthwhile term to bring into every day conversation. It can be a measure of development too because a canter gear will feel more sustainable as the horse improves their balance, suppleness and impulsion. We can talk about shortening or lengthening strides; feeling if the horse stays in balance, and also how long they can remain in this balance. A horse learning how to collect may only sustain collection for a couple of strides whereas a more established horse will maintain the collection for a full circuit of the arena. So add “sustainable” to your equine dictionary, and start taking it into consideration when you reflect on your horse’s work.

Collecting Up


This is another fairly nostalgic blog post, I apologise but it is probably brought on by my visit home.

When I learnt to teach I was taught to use a lot of twenty metre circles; at the ends of the school, and then to make it really hard, in the centre of the school. Then when you look at all prelim dressage tests, they predominantly use twenty metre circles.

So we use a lot of twenty metre circles.

I recently wondered why a lot of riders and horses I see find medium trot a challenge. Yes, sometimes their horses are too much on the forehand, or not established enough in working trot, or the rider may be at fault.

But anyway, we used to ride extended trot a lot on our ponies, in preparation for the show ring with the Welsh Cobs, but it used to come fairly easily to us, and we didn`t have the technical teaching – we just rose faster and kicked until we realised that we needed to keep the rein contact to stop getting canter.

Then it twigged. Once we had progressed from closed order, we used to ride in open order and one of the instructions we had was “ride a ten metre circle now”, which usually meant keep your eyes peeled so that you didn’t crash, but also so that your pony made his own circle, and didn`t follow the nearest one.

Riding a ten metre circle requires more collection than riding a twenty metre circle, so our lessons where we rode umpteen ten metre circles were actually engaging our horse`s hindquarters as well as improving their suppleness and balance, so it meant that when we opened them up into extended trot they found it easy and were quite uphill with their lengthened strides.

From this I started incorporating more ten metre circles into my teaching; in the corners of the school to begin with, and before and after medium trot to help improve the horses I ride and the people I teach.

Looking back, it`s amazing how much you can teach children or young adults without getting too technical, and you see it with kids in daily life too who have been subconsciously taught a theory without ever being sat down by their intellectual parent and it being explained directly.

Excuse the trainers – I hopped on after my Mum had ridden. Matt`s extended trot is lovely, and it`s sometimes hard to believe that I managed to teach him this without the knowledge I have now.