Your first schooling show. If things don’t go perfectly, here’s what to do:

Dale Forbes:

Dear Riders,

It’s Saturday night before the big (schooling) show.  I had a moment, and thought of some things you might not know.   I’ve made a “hope for the best, be prepared for the worst” list for you.

Nothing dire, but as mistakes ALWAYS happen, it’s a good idea to know what to do.  We’ll assume it’s a recognized show with all the rules intact; though your schooling show may be a good bit less formal, you might as well practice for the real thing.

1. You’re leading The Beast out and remember you’ve forgotten your number.
What do you do?
Go back and get it. Even if someone is leading the beast on a halter, it must have its number on.

2. You go to the warm up arena and The Beast looks like it’s going to buck you off.
Can you longe?
Yes.  But only with straight side reins, unmounted.  No other artificial aids allowed (no running reins, martingales, V-shaped item) and nothing when you are up. Be careful Your Beast is not upsetting Betty’s Beast.

3. When you are longing The Beast you like to have as many boots as possible on it; is that okay?
Yes, as long as they are not the kind with tacks.  Remember, you can’t have ANYTHING on the legs when you go in the ring.
Have your groom take them off.

4. The Beast still looks too frightening; can you ask your local cowboy to buck her out a bit?
No.  John Wayne is only allowed to ride on long reins (as in your groom getting from place to place). If he is not signed in as your coach or trainer, he can’t school the horse.

5. You’re showing second level but you’d like to warm up in the double, as The Beast has a nasty habit of romping about in a new place.  Can you do this?
Yes, with caution.  (Generally yes, but it is up to the discretion of the TD (Technical Delegate).  Not advised if you are showing training level. . . Double bridles are officially allowed at third level.

6. You’re ready to get on–can you use spurs and whips?
Yes, except no whips in some qualifiers or international competitions.  But be aware there is always a maximum length for each. (Whips are currently allowed up to 120 cm, 47.2 inches, including lash. Shorter is okay if you want.)  You are not allowed to use two whips in the arena. (!!)

7. You go down the center line to salute and The Beast halts crooked or steps back. Do you make a correction?
Not generally.  Get it over fast and go on, remembering to work on it at home.

8. You go down the center line to salute and The Beast gets stage fright and tries to exit. Do you make a correction?
By all means. As long as it is done kindly and without temper.

9. You go left instead of right and remember you have gone off course before the judge realizes it. What do you do?
Turn around, make eye contact, and say, “I’m off course.”  Correct your error and go on.  (-2 points, no big deal.)

10. You think something funny is going on but can’t quite place it and suddenly you hear a whistle/bell. What do you do?
Stop.  The judge has alerted you that you’re off course: you either nod and smile if you remember where to go, or promptly (a quick trot)  go back to him/her and say: “I’m lost.”  He/she will explain your error and new starting point and send you on your way.(-2 points, also no big deal.)

11. The Beast attempts to buck you off. What do you do?
Stay on! (Then smile and navigate.) Get back on course as soon as possible. Judges have ridden Beasts too.  They have sympathy for this kind of thing. (-2 and we’re all glad you stayed on.)

12.  The Beast leaps (or steps) out of the arena. What happens?
You’re eliminated.  You make plans for the Grand Nationals (jumping steeplechase).

13.  Despite your good work and good hopes, The Beast really does not want to play the same game as you today and has shown it at every move.  You fear for your life.  What do you do?
You are allowed to leave early, but will get no score. Turn down the center line, stop in any place you can and salute, uttering the words after doing so,  “Please excuse me.”

Except for the last, I have done every one of these.   And several times in tests that I actually did well in.

Always remember: if one thing does not go perfectly, the next might be better.
Be on time, look your best, RIDE!!!!

I’ll be there.  D

The dressage whip. What it is for and how to use it.

Dale Forbes:

Under “tools of the trade” I have given you my favorite dressage whip and where to get one.  It comes in various lengths and sometimes (most commonly in the past)  has a white handle.  It is the Fleck Schultheis model and is distinguished by its good balance, stiffness, and humane end–which, when the whip is near the end of life, will often fray.  Time for a new one–the flexibility in the contact part is important.


The other end looks like this once you have added the Peacock rubber band, which you must buy separately.IMG_0165

I am going to illustrate this post with a group of winter photos, mostly taken on the first day it got above 25 degrees in three weeks here in Spokane.  Yes, it snows here, sometimes quite a lot:


This is a photo from four years ago with record snows when the Sport Horse arena collapsed.  Fortunately no one was in it at the time, and the very gutsy owner declared, “It’s just money,” made plans to rebuild, and went back to her job, where she works for every penny she gets.  (Round of applause from the local crowd.)


Here is the new and improved version, on a balmy day of January after they had given us a path from the manure spreader to assist in not breaking our necks on the ice floe.  Not all barns are that considerate!

But, back to the whips and the former by way of apology that our horses do not look so beautifully turned out just now.  And we are all dressed like snow people–the layered look, if you will.  But June will come.  We are hoping, anyway.

The purpose of your dressage whip is to quicken the hind leg–specifically to ask the horse to slightly abbreviate the backward swing of the leg and bring it up faster.  While it can be used as a quick reprimand in a tight situation, it is NOT meant to make the horse go faster, or “get in front of your leg.”  That is a more common use for a jumping whip, which is mostly held differently.  The purpose of the “tic with the whip” is to work on the timing of the legs.

(After note–re timing of the leg: it is obviously important to work on your timing which is precise, though not complex, and can be managed by the feel of your whip over the thigh.  If this is not clear, you might need to write and ask me on this one.)

But anyway, you are best to hold the whip in a way that you can use it lightly at a moment’s notice–over your thigh and slightly braced between your forefingers, the heel of your hand, and that same thigh.


Above, I am holding the reins in one hand and my iPhone in the other, riding the darling four-year-old Hannoverian Rosie (from Rotspon) who is accommodating the snow coming off the roof (THUMP!) with only minor leaping. You will see (if you look closely) that the whip runs through my hand, with at least a couple of inches of handle showing at the top (balance issue) on the upper side of the rein, with my wrist slightly turned to point the tail of it over my thigh, below.  I am wearing full chaps since, as mentioned before, it is frigging COLD up here.


Also below I have momentarily removed my glove so you can see the purpose and placement of the Peacock rubber band inside the palm of my hand (which would normally be closed around the rein/whip combination).  You will also see that my rein–a simple snaffle with this four-year-old–has been run between my pinkie finger and my ring finger.  This is not a must, but for me it makes it easier to support the whip upward with the small finger unrelated to the feel of the rein, which is obviously coming in the other direction.


Above all else, according to Rudolf, TAKE YOUR THUMB FROM THE WHIP!  If I had a nickle for every time he said that to me in the first season I was there, I would be able to go to lunch.  Yet another reason to feel dumb in the hands of a great trainer, but a good example of how much persistence it takes to weed out a bad habit once firmly established.

The thumb is for stabilizing the reins so they do not run through your hand all the time, not for balancing the whip.

So now, you might logically ask, with your hands in front of you and the whip over your thigh pointing a bit out as it must to come over the thigh, how do you actually USE the darned thing?

I was at first unwilling to hold the reins in one hand, the Iphone in the other, listening to the snow come off the roof and tap, tap, tap little Rosie to demonstrate this.  Instead we galloped around for a bit until she was happy and more relaxed, and then I went and picked up a draw rein in case of real snow crashes and gave it a try.

If you have a fast connection you may be able to look at this.  Apologies for the quality–this was not easy to organize.  The annoying little noise is the semi-half-humm I usually do when I am riding–particularly when there is snow falling off the roof.  What I am attempting to demonstrate–without actually hitting the poor creature–is the rotation of the hand and slight outward movement that brings the whip around your thigh.  Some folks describe this as like opening a door handle.  Indeed it is, as long as the whip is carried on your right side.  You should know how to do both, but you’ll probably always be better at one.

This obviously takes practice.

Getting tape of it while mounted obviously does as well . . .

If you want to note the slightly forward press of the hand in almost all situations, that is up to you, but it also came from a much-repeated “FORWARD THE HAND” comment from You Know Who. . .

And here is the view of Miss Rosie walking out after her big photo op.  Next time she wants a hair dresser–but she IS a bit of a Sorority girl at heart.


(Anyone in AZ looking for a beautiful gray mare, she asks?)

She wanted me to post a summer shot so you don’t get the wrong idea. . .


(Photo by her good friend Melynnda Thiessen)

Student skills 10,000 hours

Dale Forbes:

This post is about setting goals and being realistic about what the sport takes, namely quite a bit of money–and an astounding amount of time.  All of which can be enhanced by the correct approach.

Good article in the New York Times:

January 19, 2013

Secret Ingredients for Success


Here is a paragraph I liked:

“In interviews we did with high achievers for a book, we expected to hear that talent, persistence, dedication and luck played crucial roles in their success. Surprisingly, however, self-awareness played an equally strong role.

“The successful people we spoke with — in business, entertainment, sports and the arts — all had similar responses when faced with obstacles: they subjected themselves to fairly merciless self-examination that prompted reinvention of their goals and the methods by which they endeavored to achieve them.”

Dale’s note: This sport is too expensive not to think about what you are doing.  Self-evaluation and goal setting are good disciplines to add on to the seemingly-endless practice dressage takes.

Here are some examples, stories, and books:

At a clinic in Maryland in the early nineties, where Michelle Gibson first rode Peron with Rudolf Zeilinger, we sat around outside the barn after the day was done.

Rudolf was quiet, sitting on the tailgate of a pickup.  The subject was not horses, it was teaching. He had been basically silent, and after a while he made a restless movement.  The gathering began to break up.  As he got his things he turned to me and commented, “You Americans, you always talk about the teacher!  In Germany it is not so much the teacher that is important, but the student!”

He had appeared a bit annoyed or puzzled that day–I could not tell which.  The riders included not just Michelle, whom he knew and liked, but also a group of other riders–a fairly typical American clinic at the time.  One was a young child, on a beautiful dressage pony, practicing her flying changes.

Rudolf is a superb rider and can fix about anything fixable on a horse, but not at 13 hands.  At 6’5″, his feet would drag.  So when the young rider had trouble, he said to her, “You have to do this, I cannot help,” explaining to her what the problem was, looking good natured, but also a little bored and annoyed.

I figured on some level he would be impressed, naively thinking that lots of German “Wunderkind” did flying changes on fancy ponies all the time.

I asked him later about the child and her pony. What had his riding life been as a child?

He commented with some heat, “Sure, I rode, but not like THAT!”

Yet again I was puzzled.  The Germans rule the sport; didn’t they all start like the Hungarian gymnasts at “Dressage training camps” in their youths?

Rudolf continued, “Yes I rode, but I rode out in the country, I jumped things!”  He fumed a bit more, “She will never last,” rather grumpily taking his leave.

I think I understand this better now, looking at how the Germans really do start, and how Americans used to commonly start.

And how many, many American dressage riders fail to start at all.

(Yes, I said it, bad Dale!)

I read two very good books last year on this subject.  The first is the very insightful  Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin.

And the next is The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle.

The tagline of this very good book reads, “Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How.”

Having read the book, I find this funny and well-stated.  In his chapter on coaching, he says that good coaches consistently give their students very specific goal-oriented advice on how to do very small pieces of the task at hand.  Small details that, done correctly over time, will actually lead to the right outcome.

Note: This does not seem a quick fix, but really doing the details right is always the shortest route.

Another note Colvin makes, beyond burnout of child prodigies, which Rudolf would probably appreciate, is the number of hours it takes to achieve mastery.

I think the figure was 10,000 hours.  That’s ten years at 1,000 hours a year.

But wait!  That’s fine for football players, but who gets to ride three hours a day?  So maybe for us that’s twenty years riding two horses a day.  And that does not mean you are going to the Olympics–it just means you will be very, very skilled–provided you have practiced, mindfully, the correct small actions.  If not, not so much so.  No wonder dressage is practiced by adults!

So, given it takes a long time, goals are good, and talking about them is a valid thing to do.

Here is the typical conversation in the US:

Teacher: “What are your goals?”

Dressage rider:  “I want to be as good as I can be.”

T. “What level would you like to train this year?”

D.R. “I really don’t know, but eventually I’d like to go all the way, do the Grand Prix.”

T. “How many times a week can you come?”

D.R. “Once.”

T. “How often do you ride?”

D.R. “Three times a week.”

The conversation about horse choices and budgets often runs in a similar vein.

There is nothing wrong with taking one lesson a week and riding three times a week.  If you want eventually to be a good First Level rider. And that is a good goal.


Rick says it in a simple way:  The difference between a dream and a goal is a date.

In other words, to make the dream of Grand Prix real, you have to put a date on attaining First Level, then Second, and so on.  And that can be scary and disappointing because not reaching our goals is something we Americans tend to think of as failure.  It’s not–as Rudolf also once said to me,  “Not knowing how to do dressage is not a character flaw.”

Well said. Refusing to be realistic might be though. . .

Another thing Rudolf said to me once in the context of pressing his students too hard was, “I used to think everyone could ride like I do–they just had to practice. Now I don’t think that so much.”

I bet not.  How’s a normal person supposed to catch up?

Rudolf cheated. I cheated.  Many professionals are cheaters.  We grew up riding.

I rode three to four hours a day when I was a child. I was independent in the saddle by the time I was three.  I’ll bet so was Rudolf.  That’s about a thousand hours a year for 17 years to make it to twenty years old.  Then I went to college and Rudolf went the Schultheis where he was a gawky kid–until, with five hours a day under instruction, and another five hours a day sweeping for eleven years, he became what he is:  a brilliant rider.

After college, and more riding, I went to Rudolf, riding once or twice a day under instruction when I could be in Germany, six to eight horses at home–for eight years before I rode my first competition Grand Prix.  And why did I go to Rudolf?

That’s easy: when my French stallion ran off across the indoor in that first clinic, bucking and leaping, I was so embarrassed I smiled.  (And it was really embarrassing!)  Everyone else’s horse was being good.  They were practicing fun, elegant-looking “movements.”  But heck, I could ride a donkey and a Shetland Pony full speed at five years old, so was I scared when the beast  leaped off with me?  Not really.

And Rudolf said the the trainer sitting next to him, “Now THAT rider we could do something with.”

So, starting with 20,000 hours in the saddle is a big plus when you start trying to be a dressage rider.  Sure there are things you have to unlearn, but it is an advantage.

However, if you don’t have that, do not be discouraged. There are ways to speed the process up.  It’s not quick and it’s not easy, but if you want to do it and will put in the time it can be done.

And if you know how to run barrels or jump something I am very proud of you!

You might enjoy dressage, and be good at it.

So make a plan. If you only ride three hours a week, consider four.  If you can only afford instruction once a week, get it and then install some mirrors.  (If money is an issue, skip the clinics for now.  They are expensive and dramatic and sometimes fun, but they are basically for that purpose.  If you can afford them, okay. If not, go watch.) If you live a long way from your coach, bribe your kid or the stall cleaner into taping you. Pay to send the tape along for critique.  Use technology.  They made Face Time and video in your phone for a purpose.  Use them!

Tools of the trade.

Dale Forbes:

When, many moons ago,  Rudolf appeared with some regularity for a group of us in the United States, he began to bring with him two items that were useful and that we could not find locally.  These were the Schultheis-designed Fleck whip, and small cans of a mysterious substance to be daubed on boots.  He also brought his saddle and some gloves.

(On the export side, he always took back several pairs of deerskin gloves, which he said at the time were far superior to the ones he could get in Germany.  I believe this is called “balance of trade.”)

The Germans, by the way, are also one of the main importers of the American Quarter horse.

Apparently, some of them just want to have a nice walk in the woods, and at times find warmbloods challenging.

Go figure.  Er, so do we. . .

But, back to the tools of the trade!

Here are some things that will likely make your riding life easier.IMG_0163

Guter Sitz


A Fleck Whip of the Schultheis Model

IMG_0165A rubber band of the Peacock style usually used on safety stirrups, in this case wrapped double or triple mid line in the balance point of your whip.  I am going to write a whole post on the correct use of the whip, but for now, this is the one you want for dressage.

And of course Body Glide, which I have told you about, ad nauseum, in another post.


I can hear you clamoring:  WHAT is the stuff in the orange can?

Okay, I will tell you, and sadly it is now sold in plastic tins; but here is the scoop: Guter Sitz Durch: it is glue.

Well, adhesive really. (Translation, Better Sit by–meaning: sit better by using this!)

Ever heard the phrases, “Sit like glue?”   “Sit tight?”  You got it.  But, take heed, it is not used on your butt, but very sparingly on the inner side of your unpolished boot to create a very slightly tacky feel.  Works by far the best when using a saddle with a flap strap.  But on any saddle, use too much and you will never do a flying change (or canter transition) again.  It’s that good.  But, not as good as a product that we Americans produce and one of my riding students found an “off label use” for.

Here is the story.  I had a riding student once who had a background playing college football.  Played in the Rose Bowl, I believe.  And one time when I was off in Germany, having abandoned the whole tribe to do something or other–ride?–he started to think.  And he was a good thinker, and the more he thought about trying to sit better, the more excited he became about an idea and eventually headed off to the local purveyor of football things and bought himself a can of the spray adhesive that the folks designated to catch the ball spray on their gloves.

Not telling his wife, he crept guiltily off to the barn, where, before mounting, he generously sprayed the inside of his boots. Then, leaning over (I am sure with a sly grin), he equally generously sprayed his leather riding breeches, the interior of his thigh up through the crotch, around the butt, and down the other side.

He then hopped on his horse and had what he reported was “the ride of my life.”  Sitting was not an issue.  He felt powerful and in control–finally.  Problem solved.  He was in, as he later put it, “sticky butt heaven.”

Then, with thoughts of reuse and patent rights, he attempted to dismount.

And suddenly, as if in some grim Norwegian fairly tale, he understood that he could not get off.

Moral of story: Never mind American ingenuity, sometimes more is not better; and when I say use a little Guter Sitz on the interior of your boot, I am really quite serious about it.  A can should last you roughly the rest of your life.

You can get one here:

As well as a good whip, rubber ring for it, and excellent tack cleaning products like Bienenwachs.

I’ll fill you in on the darned whip use another time.

How to adjust your double bridle

Dale Forbes

How to fit your. . . .. double bridle:


(Originally from our other website, but on the move:)


But, re the double. I can hear it now:  “If you are using a double bridle you ought to know how to do this already! ”

This is a catch-22 that we don’t need to get into.  Here’s how it works:

If you are putting together a double bridle with two bits, the strap that hangs the snaffle part is a separate thin piece of leather with the same kind of attachments as your cheek pieces, but usually only one adjustment, mostly kept on the near or left side as well.

The curb bit is always held by the main crown piece, not the smaller extra strap.  This is because part of the curb action depends on poll pressure and a wide pressure is kinder than a thin strap—never mind that the leather is stronger.

Two notes here about equipment.  Padded head stalls sound like a great idea.  They are not.  Poll pressure in a double bridle is supposed to be felt and interpreted by the horse.  Padding this is not a kindness and leads in almost all cases to a gummy, heavy feel in the hand.  Think of it like holding the reins with huge overstuffed mittens.  You can’t feel anything subtle.

Note re size of the bits:  The bradoon (snaffle bit with smaller rings) will be the size your horse normally wears in his or her snaffle..  Thinner, of course, and with smaller rings, but basically the same width. The curb, which does not bend, should be one size SMALLER than the snaffle bit.  You see a lot of horses in the US terribly bitted when it comes to their doubles, and a lot of rider guilt and ignorance about how this tool is introduced, used, and fitted.

Anyway, the snaffle in a double bridle hangs above and behind the curb.  When you put it on, the curb chain runs  between the two bits, under the snaffle, and over the curb.  People make a mistake with this frequently (usually running it over the top of the snaffle—ouch!)  and it is not nice for the horse.


(This is a detail from where Melynnda shows her prowess as both a rider and a web designer. . . . .  Good JOB!)

By the way, tipping the top part of the curb backwards helps make it easier to do up the curb chain.  After you have done this, make sure the snaffle part is still sitting in back of the curb. Pull on it and put it there for your horse.

Other things people frequently have questions about in clinics are correct use of the dressage whip. More on that later.

Tack cleaning








Dale Forbes

Photo: A number of years ago, my good friend Sally Sovey and I, at a World Cup qualifier.  (She was foolish enough to sign on as my groom.)   As you might imagine, there was a good deal of scrubbing involved.

Well after that, we had too much wine one night and thereupon decided to promote a new product: Wooly Washers–which are great, by the way, but that’s not what I am here to talk about. (My editor Joanie is going to just LOVE that sentence. . . every punctuation problem you can imagine. Knock yourself out! ) [Note from Joanie: Thank you. I have done so.]

But anyway, I am here to redirect you to an article I wrote a number of years ago about tack cleaning, which, though not rocket science,


some of you may be interested in:

Go Visit:


The object that looks like a dead cat toy above is actually a Wild Wooly Washer (felted saddle soap), which we invented and still sell.  When used enough, these items cause visitors to declare, “Ewwwwwww!” on spotting them in the bottom of your tack box.

I have never understood this sort of person.  Dead mice phobia.  We hang out in barns. A dead mouse is rather a good thing. Okay, maybe not in the tack box.  But anyway, the “Ewwwwwers” are probably  the same folks who find the trail of “poo over ice” that we do up here in the north to get to the indoors in two pieces–one horse, one would-be rider–gross.  I’ll get you a photo later.  It is impressive.

And while we are at it, here is a tack cleaning item you should not be without.  You literally can’t get it anywhere else outside of Germany, so prick your ears:


Fabulous for places that tend to get wet–like cheek pieces.  You can get it here:

More generally, this small tack shop has all the good stuff.  Why?  Because they listened to what we wanted and went to the ends of the earth to get stock.  They are great.

On the page after the one you are directed to above, there is also some information on how to break in tack and adjust a double bridle.  I’ll give that info in another post.  Many people don’t know how to do it. Enjoy the ride!

Snake Oil


Dale Forbes

According to Wikipedia, this is what Snake Oil is made of:

Mineral Oil

1% Fatty Oil (presumed to be beef fat)

Red Pepper



You may be relieved to hear no snakes were harmed in the production of this product.  And probably not surprised to hear there are still a lot of people out there selling it–except most of the time now there is not even a product to go with it!

Webster’s definition of “charlatan”:

“A charlatan is one making usually showy pretenses to knowledge or ability.”

I am going to tell you my bias right up front.  I love alternative medicine–quackery, if you will.  In the right hands and in moderation, it can have a great effect.  In the wrong hands–well-intentioned or not–it is not a good idea.

Do I like and use: Homeopathics?  Yup.  (Get the right one and it’s great.) Massage therapy?  Absolutely. Been Rolfed probably 100 times and I am a certified equine massage therapist. Took the course.  Energy work?  You bet.  I have trained through level 2 Reiki, which means I think I can direct energy through my hands as well as send it over distance. Chiropractic?  Wouldn’t want to be without it.  Acupuncture? Ditto.

But if I am in an auto accident I want none of these and I do want an emergency room, hopefully with a skilled staff ready at hand.

I have a vet, three of them in fact, and I use them as the basis for my routine with my horses and my pets.

In my humble opinion, there are quacks with and without a DVM behind their names; but you tend to see them less often in the truly professional fields because I think to get through medical school you have to have some significant humility.  And the actual practice of medicine reinforces that.  Sometimes things do not go as planned–often, in fact.  And it is very obvious when they do not. This breeds humility.

If there is one thing horses teach us, it is humility.  Think you are a pro?  Try to catch a Shetland Pony.


(If this photo does not make you feel helpless, then you have never been a child in a field with one of these things.)

So humility, observable results,  genuine care for the creature, AND the well-being (financial and otherwise) of the human involved are all important.

Here are some important examples of quackery:

Problem: Horse arrives at barn with $400 “corrective shoeing,” consisting of four non-shapeable, front foot, nylon-shock-absorbing-spongy things.  (Is understandably finding it difficult to walk.)

Cure: Take “the sneakers” off, trim and balance his feet, and quit “correcting.”  He’ll be better off for it.

Problem: The Local Witch Doctor proclaims, “He has trouble in his neck because he cribs! The nuchal ligament is in terrible shape!”  Hmmmmm. . . Diagnosis contained a word you had never heard so you are ignorant.  But you have had horse in the barn for months and never seen him crib.  (His teeth are rounded on the front from grazing too close a pasture. Noted on pre-purchase.)  But, is there really any trouble in the neck?  Not that you noticed, but you COULD be wrong. . . Seeds of doubt equal transfer of cash from your account to that of Local Witch Doctor.

Cure: Take a deep breath (this is not horse abuse) and say Thanks, I’ll keep an eye on that.

Problem: Vet in large dressage barn populated by uber-rich riders with imported horses  comes once a month to inject eight joints in each of twenty horses, “because they all need it.”  All of them?  Really?  Shouldn’t you be doing that too?

Cure: Accurate diagnosis of condition that would warrant such invasive and risky “care.”

Problem: Horse “not quite right” under saddle.

Cure: Do the basics. Go to your trainer first (before Snake Oil Salesperson).  Check the fit of the saddle, the girth, the horse’s teeth.  Get a vet out, do flexions and see if he is actually lame.  (I know you don’t really want to know he is lame: that diagnosis is expensive and has no sex appeal.  But do it anyway.  Modern equine meds are a darned sight more effective than Bute these days.  If you are really strapped for cash, ask your trainer to help you do it. It’s a place to start.)

Once you have ruled out these actual problems you can basically go one of two routes:

1. The body work route: Employ and pay vast numbers of “helpful professionals” to work on your horse.

(Or, with healthy skepticism, dip your own toe into alternative therapies–slowly at first, by finding a good, certified massage therapist.  Alternative therapies can be helpful–like most things, in moderation and with a grain of salt.  Consider being Rolfed.)


YOU!  Not the horse.

2. The ride better route: After you have gotten connected to your own body, employ a very good trainer who knows something to help you improve your riding.  Because, yes, riding better is very often the key to problems on the “other side” of the saddle.

The Germans do know this–you can’t buy your way out of learning to ride.  (Please see post on Saddle Sores. .  .)

Take-home message: Be very wary of people who want to envision (and perhaps profit from) an invisible, undiagnosed problem with your horse.

A sore subject. (Rated X–gals only)

Dale Forbes

There is a well-known phenomenon in other fields: If you put together several experts on the same subject to collaborate–say, three economists, for example–the opposite of what you expect happens.  And that is, almost nothing.

But, if you put together several experts from different fields–say, one economist, one engineer, and one chemist–you are likely to get some interesting results.

So this last year, when I began on my goal to ride a bike to the barn every day–something that took a few months to accomplish, as there is a 600-ft elevation change between here and there–I experienced a much more defined (and commercialized) attitude from bike riders about saddle sores than I ever did in the dressage riding world.

Re us dressage riders: It could be the cavalry influence, but when it comes to sores in the nether regions, I am reminded of Miss Manners’ priceless advice, which was that there are only a limited number of audible things that emerge from ladies and gentlemen of polite society.  The hiccup and the sneeze, I think.

What about the others, you might ask?

What others?

Melynnda and I began talking about saddle sores last summer when she confessed that one of her lady riding students had wailed, “I’ll never have sex again!”

Well, that’s one of the areas in which you can certainly suffer saddle sores, and it’s about time we talked about it openly!  The lady bikers have no such compunction, speaking of which, you should see what the motorcycle riders have come up with:


Apparently there is a lot of, er, vibration and friction to the southern parts of the typical Harley enthusiast.  Who knew?

Well, if they can talk about it, so can we.  So here is what can happen, why it happens, and how to prevent it.

#1. Wear appropriate clothing.  There is a reason the sports bra was developed, and the same goes for riding breeches and boots.

#2. Wear sensible things under your appropriate clothing:


Well, okay, unless you are pregnant, you don’t need to get the maternity ones–or the heels.  (If you need to dress up your look, you have spurs!) These are made by a company called Spanx and as Melynnda says, “They prevent friction and make you look better in your breeches–what’s not to love?”

#3. Ride better.  (You knew it was coming.)  If the horse is constantly falling out from under the saddle, it creates problems for both of you.

#4. On open sores–or ones you don’t want to get opened–Band-Aids work.  Think knees and butt.  (You should see the looks I got from my Rolfer, adorned with these on one occasion.)

#5. For places where a Band-Aid would not be appropriate: Forget Vaseline or aloe; there is a product we really, really like.  It is made for runners and you can buy it from our local tack store below–along with about everything else we recommend on this site.  It comes in two sizes and it’s inexpensive–under $10.

Get some:

(They have it in stock–if you can’t find it on the site, just ask.)


This is really good stuff. I don’t actually put it on my body–I put it on the inside of my clothing.  Works GREAT.

Another good place that sells it, Long Rider Warehouse with gear for endurance riders, says the following:

“Body Glide ~ for horse & rider, before & after chafing!

“Popular in other sports such as running and biking, BodyGlide is quickly becoming a mainstay of equestrians, too! Prevents chafing by creating a barrier that protects skin from friction and moisture. You will be very happy with the results! Non-staining, 100% hypoallergenic, it penetrates for long-lasting protection, anywhere… knees, feet, fannies, you name it! Ahh, no more saddle sores!

“Does your horse have girth gall, rubbing from his breastplate or loin rubs? BodyGlide very effectively prevents galling and chafing on your horse as well!”

It’s  a stick, not a cream. . .  Here at Dressage Snob, we recommend that you have two–one for you and one for the beast. . .  ‘nuf said.

Preventing conflict at home

Dale Forbes:

(This is going to sound stupid and uninteresting–particularly in light of the post I have planned next about preventing sores in your seat area, but listen up!)

You like to ride and you also like your partner, child, job, etc.

There are no pictures here–this is your life, not mine.  But this is the most important part of riding well–getting it done with good communication with your human partners.

Because without that you cannot do it and be happy.  End of story.

Rule 1. Make a money budget: Be plain about it, get agreement, and stick to it.

Rule 2. Make a time budget: Be clear about your goals.

Rule 3. Do what is important to you with your time.

If in the “X” amount of time you have, talking to the gal in the next stall about her divorce is important, then do it.

If brushing the tail is a good thing right now–and it can be–then also do it.

Just keep in mind your agreement about “X” time.

And that you are in charge of what happens in that time.

I like to ride, so I don’t talk much with people in the barn.

If you want to, and have the time to talk, it is no issue–do it.

But, with my magic wand I hereby (with all the dubious powers of the Dressage Snob) absolve you from guilt if you politely go about your business.

It’s okay.  Just smile, be polite in your other ways, pat the noses, and go on with things.

“Feets in your bottom!” What to do with your seat now that you have found it.

Dale Forbes

At one point Herr Schultheis said in my hearing, “You must develop feets [sic] in your bottom!”  And indeed you must.

If you have read the post about finding your seat (, you know where your seat is supposed to be–one side of it evenly on each side of the saddle, your torso lightly stretching up, the leg relaxed downward anchored softly by the calf, and the horse swinging nicely under you–here is how you are to use it.

The fluid, following or leading (really “matched” is a better word) seat serves as a template for the movement of the horse.

The fluid, following or leading (really “matched” is a better word) seat serves as a template for the movement of the horse!!!!!!!

(Yes, you are to think I think this is important–Thank you.)

Slightly retard the movement of the seat–the horse is supposed to slow up the tempo.

Slightly quicken–an indication to step faster.

Weight more on one side–go that way laterally.

One seat bone forward, one back–adopt a slight angle.

The combination of the regulating or allowing seat with the the backup of the leg and rein aids gives the horse the relaxed look of connection and confidence–the horse is “on” the rider–connected.

As Rudolf said, years later, to me: “You never use just one aid–hand, weight, or leg–there is always an interplay.”

This is a very dramatic example of a horse following the rider’s seat–also one of Rudolf’s horses and riders.

The late Blue Horse Matine with Andreas Helgstrand