Lise Roberts Dressage
 Lise Roberts Dressage 

Food for Thought

Discipline and Happy Horses


A horse that knows its boundaries is a happy horse.  Just like a child, a horse needs to understand its place in the world and for this it needs discipline and consistency.  This does not mean we need to be harsh and uncaring; we must be clear and consistent, and teach our horses that all actions have consequences.  Once a horse understands what we consider to be acceptable behaviour, it will find navigating its way through life in general so much easier, making it a much happier horse!

Quotes from Ulrick Schramm’s ‘The Undisciplined Horse’.


“Sensitive, emotional horses require very disciplined riders, justifiably confident in their competence to impose a degree of resistance commensurate with the degree of disobedience of the horse, for too much leniency can be as pernicious as harshness.”  


Also: “It must be said that a horse’s awkwardness is all too often the consequence of the rider’s lack of concentration, of logical inconsistency or of insufficient determination and firmness.  Horses must trust their riders, but they must also respect them; pampering horses by allowing them to have their own way when this conflicts with the rider’s requirements is as sure a recipe for unruliness as is brutality.”


And: “Before resorting too quickly to punishment, we must always remember that we cannot expect unquestioning compliance to our orders if a horse does not understand what it is meant to do, or if it is physically incapable of achieving the performance expected.”



Several incidents in the equestrian disciplines at the Tokyo Olympics resulted in a call for a ban of all equestrian competitions from the Olympic Games and with this in mind, a study group from the French National Assembly has produced a report titled “Equine Welfare Recommendations for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, April 2022”, which includes 46 recommendations for making Paris 2024 the Olympic Games of Equine Welfare. 


For the full report, translated into English by, click here:


These recommendations include:


RECOMMENDATION #12: Prohibit the use of running reins (draw reins) throughout the entire Olympic Games precinct.


They state “At this level, riders should be able to make do without them, and they are a bad model for all the lower level riders who do not understand the potential danger these reins pose to horses.”


And RECOMMENDATION #31: Enforce the prohibition of intentional or unintentional infliction of unnecessary suffering or discomfort, and of an overly constrained posture or frame.


From the report: "Hyperflexion is a head and neck posture that is imposed by the hands of the rider via the reins, where the horse curls the neck placing the nose line behind the vertical.


"The negative effects of hyperflexion are documented: restriction of the field of vision, contraction of the head-neck balance, consequent reduction in the diameter of the pharynx, significant difficulty in breathing and swallowing, obstructed jaw, lack of relaxation, signs of discomfort and conflict behaviour, post-inhibitory rebound, hyper submission, learned helplessness, reduction in the horse’s ability to learn, trauma (in particular to the nuchal region and the nuchal ligament), increased mobility in the lumbar region, compression of the vertebral bodies and intervertebral discs, increased cortisol (stress), restriction of breathing, change in back mechanics and pathologies of the forelimb and feet, blood circulation of the tongue impeded by the pressure of the bit (blue tongue).


"In addition, horses whose training is based on hyperflexion, show a denaturation of gaits, in particular a loss of diagonalization in the trot, passage and piaffe. The walk becomes lateral. They are unable to maintain a halt correctly, nor keep the poll as the highest point of the neck; the neck ‘breaks’, the 2nd or 3rd vertebra becomes the highest point in collected gaits and movements. Often, these horses struggle to maintain the nose in front of the vertical during the dressage test."

Feeling Hands


The following is an extract from Sylvia Loch's book "The Classical Rider".


"The hands should not move independently of the body once the horse is working forward from behind.  When all is as it should be the “give” though the rein comes through a fine easing of the fingers and of the rider’s shoulders and elbow joints when the hand is in place.  To a less obvious extent, but equally important, “give” also comes from the suppleness of the rider’s lower back and the subsequent projection of their waist. 


"Jiggling to and fro with the hands, as though they have a life of their own, is counter-productive in every way and people who set out to “follow the movement” usually promote far too much movement and disturb the balance of the horse’s neck as well as being a constant irritant to his mouth. […..]


"Sadly, riders have become so steeped in the idea of moving their hands to follow the horse that they are absolutely horrified at the suggestion of bringing the horse together and actually feeling the horse’s mouth at the end of the rein.  Riders must be educated to communicate more through their fingers in order to say, “No, I don’t want you on the forehand; this is the contact I wish you to take; please work into this frame,” or “Thank you for coming together, now you may stretch down and forward again.”  It is too easy to forget that communication is about interaction.  As well as permanent passivity, which can be read by the horse as easy compliance, we are quite entitled to make polite requests.


"In order to accomplish the latter, particularly through the transitions, the rider must learn to take up a fairly exacting contact where the horse can accept the hand without contracting the neck.  At the same time, however, there must be sufficient asking or resisting through the fingers and seat to prevent the horse wanting to pass through the hand and drop on to the forehand.  It is the ability to combine all these requirements which brings out the true artist in equitation. 


"Riders need to be aware that the more one gives, the more the horse will take – and that a properly mouthed horse will, indeed, always try to follow the rider’s hand.  The old adage, “You give the hand, and it’s not enough, he’ll take your arm!” could easily be applied to horsemanship.


"It is up to the rider, therefore, to establish the parameters within which the horse is to work.  Giving and giving and giving only results in taking and taking and taking and, in the way of rude, uneducated people, the unschooled horse may take to such an extent that he spoils things for himself.  If he is not to spend the rest of his life miserably on the forehand, it is for us to show intelligence and establish the guidelines. 


"Although initially difficult, this will eventually lead to the horse regaining his natural carriage and grace so that his life can be prolonged in a healthy and useful state.  There is no benefit to either horse or rider in remaining forever on the forehand.  On the contrary, it generally guarantees early arthritis or breakdown in the horse’s forelimbs and is totally in opposition to nature’s way of organising his natural locomotion."




Positive Riding


Often riders don’t understand why their horse won’t go more forward or pick up canter when asked, and the reason is that the rider doesn’t really believe in what they’re asking for, and the horse knows it.  If a rider asks for canter but thinks “I don’t really want to,” the horse will read their intentions over their aids.  If you want your horse to go forward with positive energy, you must believe this is what you really want.


The following quote from Lt Col A L d’Endrody in his “Give Your Horse a Chance” book elaborates:-


“The mere performance of certain physical actions is not enough in giving signals, as they are only poor and spiritless movements.  They have to be enforced by the rider’s will, coupled with his feeling, in order to endow them with live and aiding power.


“The ‘will’ is the rider’s determination to execute his plans.  This determination must be firm and resolute, and the signals must clearly reflect this spirit when demanding that a certain task be fulfilled.


“… The rider’s capacity to pass on his ‘will’ and ‘feeing’ to the horse, and accommodate himself to it in using them, is the clue to mastering the art of riding.”



Freelance Horse Riding Instructor and Dressage Trainer for Dressage Lessons and Riding Lessons

in and around Rugby, Warwickshire and the Midlands

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