How come I can ride trot better than canter?

Or, conversely, how come I can ride canter better than trot?

Rudolf used to note that some riders are more skilled at the trot gaits.  (I say “gaits” plural because piaffe and passage, never mind rein back, are also diagonally paired gaits.)

And of course some riders are more skilled at the canter.  I would say as a gross generalization that riders skilled in jumping are generally better riding the dressage canter than riders who have never jumped.

How come?

I will make this very very simple as it is so obvious–after one has been told!

The motion of the rider’s pelvis is different for each of these gaits, and if one takes the advice given to ride one correctly and applies it to the other, then trouble is likely to result.

Passage is a subject to itself, but in the basic trot a looseness of the thigh is important because it allows the riders pelvis to follow (or lead) the horse’s swinging back.  If one clamps the thigh inward (or levers it incorrectly under the knee roll to force the seat down) the pelvis is stabilized too much and will be “against” the horse in one phase of the back swing or other.  (Think brick.)  This is why Rudolf looked askance when I tried to show off how well I could post without stirrups in my first week in Germany.

“We don’t do that here!!!”

(Better luck next time for an ex jumper rider.)

Why don’t we do that here?  (Rising trot without stirrups)

German answer: Well, because we don’t.  You think about it.

Okay, I did.Please see all those other posts about use of the seat and how the pelvis is put together.

So strive for relaxed flexibility in the hip in the trot, but when a dressage rider canters, some contraction/closure of the thigh (rhythmically!) is needed.  If one loosens the thigh entirely for 100% of the stride, the rider tends to get behind the motion, “wallowing” in the saddle.  This will generally cause the horse to flatten and run rather than jump in the canter.  The rider actually leads the lift of the horse in the canter–can’t do that from the rumble seat.


(This for those of you who did not learn to ride with Fran and Joe  Dotoli,  jumping with Young Entry Stables in Massachusetts,  is a rumble seat.  Also Fran’s image for a rider hopelessly behind the horse approaching a fence.)

And this lack of getting “left behind” in the stride, is why jumper riders tend to find it easier to learn the dressage canter–though they often have to learn the moment to relax the thigh to allow the seat to settle.  They usually know the other skill.

The trot is in fact harder to learn to ride correctly than the canter, and a great deal of rider influence is also possible in this gait,  Which is often why you see some very skilled riders–Rudolf is an example, and so was Schultheis–who uniformly ride beautiful trots into their horses.  The riders influence of the diagonal pairing is very profound.

So, please trot differently than you canter, and canter differently than you trot!

See, that wasn’t so hard or complicated.

Practice, practice, practice. . . .

The Girth Shield Project



Last summer a clever student asked me why so many horses seemed to experience discomfort at girthing?  How come they made nasty faces, tried to nip, then walked out stiffly, or stayed tight in the back–particularly the young horses in canter?  We have a gazillion saddle sizes to choose from, clean pads, no sores, and we are always very considerate about girthing slowly.  Very frustrating.

My answer was far from satisfactory.

I did what we all do when we don’t really know, and said it was a problem, I was not sure of the answer.

Then I related that the so-called “cure” was that the horses had put up with it for years, and might well continue to do so–if they had enough grit. (Bad answer!)

And, that  they were not allowed to actually bite us! (True, but has nothing to do with what they are saying.)

I elaborated what I felt at the time–that it was a major issue for almost all dressage horses, and largely unresolved.

Further, lots of marketers had tried lots of things that really didn’t seem to work.

And, like specialty saddles, (though to a smaller degree), one could spend a ton of money on the newest thing and then be left with a pile of equipment that functioned no better (and perhaps worse) than before.

So with a shrug I went on–though I know that was not right.

But that question also spawned an answer because it came to bother me that some of my favorite and very successful horses had been bothered by their girths.

That solution required a lot of purchasing of different girths and a lot of sending back those failed trials, getting closer, and then some new creations based on what we found.  (We found there were some better than others, but the answer was not out there on the market for us to find.)

Now with a pile of experience–and  a several thousand $$$ pile of trial girths that did not work as hoped–we have an answer.

So TM in place, Patent pending our next year’s final drawing, here it is–an opportunity to participate


This is anything but slick marketing, but that is not what we are about. You can  check to see if we have anything ready made in your horse’s size:

And in another related post I have written the story about how we did it.  It was not too hard–it just took a LOT of time.


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Congratulations to Melynnda on Her Silver Medal!

Melynnda, as some of you know got a new horse last fall.  He’s really a good mover.  Expressive and elastic, sensitive but not silly.  Older, had some experience at the Grand Prix.  Half TB, bred from an old stallion of mine, Watson.  Spent his life in California and Germany.

A couple of weeks ago, first show of the season, Melynnda accomplished a personal best at the Prix St Georges, handily upping her past averages by almost five points and got the second score she needed for the USDF Silver Medal award.

Great work–we are all really proud of her!

Isn’t it great getting a new horse that is a better mover?

Well, yes indeed it is, except the horse she got the score on was her 14.2 downhill Mustang mare, Mariah.  The same horse she got her first score on as well–eeking out the sixty last year once  instead of this year nailing it with room to spare.  (It was a really nice test)

I don’t know how many FEI Mustangs there are, but I bet it is not a handful.

How did she do it?  Hard work over the winter, the new horse is teaching Melynnda a lot.

AND we have found a way to make that little horse happier than she has ever been in her tack.  She’s being ridden better, but she’s more comfortable as well.  Five points up, first show, how often does that happen?  Dressage is not so easy for that little Mustang.  We made her happier.  It paid off.

And finally, something if you are interested in we can help you with.  Yes, finally, something you can buy at Dressage Snob!  You know we know what we are doing.  Happy to share: