Balance and self carriage

Balance is a pre-requisite for self-carriage. Whether you are working on a straight line, a curving line or moving sideways, balance of horse and rider requires constant attention and, of course, the point of balance for your horse and degree of self-carriage that's possible, will be different depending on his stage of training and general development. Here is a selection of videos made with top British dressage riders working with younger horses up to medium level, that will give you plenty of food for thought and ideas to try with your horse at home.

There are more videos on this subject in the Library. Alternatively, try a video search on the Home Page (or in the Video Library) if you are looking for something specific.

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Hannah Biggs trains Torri on self-carriage
A year on from filming Torri for the first time, the 8 year old Spanish stallion has progressed, though not as much as Hannah would have liked due to time off for stud duties. Given the size and strength of Torri's front end, Hannah focuses on creating self carriage. Riding with invisible aids, she works on suppleness in all gaits using flexion, lateral work and pirouettes. Hannah stresses the importance of riding with her brain and making sure that everything she asks Torri, has the aim of improving his way of going. Hannah's body awareness and clear explanation of the aids, provides a fascinating insight into her sensitive approach to training.

Teddy works on balance with Laura Bechtolsheimer
Personal fitness trainer, Jon Pitts, takes another session with our 'Guinea Pig' riders, Laura Bechtolsheimer, Louisa Brassey and Annabel Wigley. This time, he creates testing exercises for increasing 'pelvic strength', which Jon says is the key to core stability on a horse and maximising the effectiveness of your seat. Again, no gym required and not much equipment for that matter. Handy fitness you can do at home. Presented by Fiona Price.

Klaus Balkenhol trains Laura Bechtolsheimer on Dan
Dan’s education is progressing noticeably. Klaus Balkenhol gives Laura a lesson in German and Dr Bechtolsheimer translates! Dr B explains that Dan is much more grown up and is showing more expression in his work. He is also capable of greater self-carriage and collection and is more confident in tempi changes. Klaus says Dan looks "increasingly beautiful in his work" and, according to Laura, "he is a happy horse I love to work with". Dan’s boundaries are pushed a little with the start of piaffe but he is obliging and rises to the challenge!

Maria Eilberg & Ferdi work on Woody's balance and carriage
Working with father and trainer Ferdi, Maria rides the 8 year old stallion Worldwide who started life as a show jumper. Attention to detail in the transitions is vital. "From the first step, the trot has to have enough engagement", says Ferdi. In the free walk, Woody naturally carries his head and neck low, indicating the need to change his balance so he can carry himself in a higher frame for medium work. "Energy in the trot must be turned into lift and fluency", says Ferdi. In the lateral work, he asks Maria to look after the carriage but ensure the hind leg remains active. In the half pass Maria must prepare early and show the direction with the head and neck.

Gridwork - Julie Tew Laura Bechtolsheimer teaches Christian to hold his balance
The five year old homebred Christian is a big youngster who finds it difficult to hold his own balance through the transitions. Returning to work after a break, Laura refreshes his understanding of the basics and introduces him to some new trot moves including shoulder in which, she says, is the tool for everything to come. "In teaching Christian new movements, it's vital he maintains his rhythm", says Laura. To stop Christian from leaning on her, Laura times her transitions carefully and uses her voice first. As she builds the power behind she is careful not to let it out of the front. The contact and Christian's balance improve as he works through more.

Gridwork - Julie Tew Lunging therapy for Norris
Intermediate eventer Norris has spent the last two years in rehab' as a result of feet issues. During this time, Horse Hero's Fiona Price has done a lot of creative lunging to keep him in work and aid his recovery but, she says, "I have been careful to take only what he could offer whilst remaining in balance". This has meant working a lot in a jog-trot and thinking laterally when lunging his stiff side! Fiona is a fan of body language, to enhance communication, and favours lunging on a square to help with balance. Her aid for a walk-canter transition is a little unusual (and might prompt a chuckle) but it's effective. What a sweeetie Norris is!

Vicki Thompson-Winfield works on collection with Beltoni Vicki Thompson-Winfield works on collection with Beltoni
Following the warm-up with 8 year old stallion Beltoni (in a previous video), Olympian Vicki Thompson-Winfield progresses to advanced exercises in canter. The transition up from walk must come from the positioning of the outside leg aid only. Shoulder-in helps with straightness and Beltoni must remain forwards and connected in the half-pass and flying changes. The main focus is to create smoothness moving out of the collected work. "Being elevated and sitting is easy for him but due to his big movement, going forwards again and covering the ground is difficult", says Vicki. "He needs to work out how to use his tremendous action."

Vicki Thompson-Winfield works on basic paces with 5 yr old Serrano Gold Vicki Thompson-Winfield works on basic paces with 5 yr old Serrano Gold
5 year old Serrano Gold has highlights and extremes according to Olympian Vicki Thompson-Winfield, which make him a little tricky at this stage of his training. "He has a lot of action and energy which needs moderating so he can find an even tempo, balance and rhythm while remaining forwards into the contact", says Vicki. Improving the basic paces requires Serrano Gold to become more accepting of the contact and steady in the outline, which is noticeable once he is swinging and working through from behind. Vicki explores his natural ability to collect but says "it's nice to know it's there, but it's important not to ask too much, too soon!"

Laura Bechtolsheimer and Dr B develop Teddy's power and balance Laura Bechtolsheimer and Dr B develop Teddy's power and balance
Teddy is now 8 and his work is more advanced. But at nearly 18 hands and boystrous at times, Dr B says their approach is tactful! The work begins with stretching on the bit, in small and large circles. In walk pirouettes, breaking the move down into sections helps Teddy keep going and balance himself. The pace and cadence varies between more and less collection in lateral work and regular breaks help to relax the muscles and let Teddy switch off. Dr B helps Laura with the start of piaffe, where confidence and strength must be built together. Teddy learns to shorten his huge canter but "his size dictates the pace of his training" says Dr B.

Dr Bechtolsheimer helps Lara develop Kristjan's balance and strength Dr Bechtolsheimer helps Lara develop Kristjan's balance and strength
The 7 year old home-bred Kristjan is competing successfully at Medium with the Bechtolsheimer's yard rider Lara. Braving the rain, Dr B says "the aim is to transform Kristjan into an athlete and he now needs to develop more balance and strength." Transitions on a circle from a regular trot into a balanced canter and going forwards and back, build strength in the hind leg. Simple lateral work supples the rib-cage and ensures the weight is carried behind. Baby pirouettes must remain active with short steps. Canter changes are a work in progress. Dr B says "some days they are better than others but the key is not to make an issue."

Hannah Biggs progresses her training with 5 year old Archie: Part 1 Hannah Biggs progresses her training with 5 year old Archie: Part 1
Five year old Archie is competing successfully in young dressage horse classes with Hannah Biggs and has made good progress since appearing as a four year old on Horse Hero. In walk, Hannah gets his attention through halts. In trot, she ensures he is connected with enough impulsion to move evenly into both reins. Sepentines improve balance by bending in both directions and they supple Archie's body. Hannah explains the positioning of her hands and the horse's neck, as she gradually lifts the outline. Corrective leg aids help Archie to become more self-motivated and work from behind, especially through the transitions.

Hannah Biggs progresses her training with 5 year old Archie: Part 2 Hannah Biggs progresses her training with 5 year old Archie: Part 2
Having warmed-up in Part 1, Hannah picks up a competition outline with the 5 year old Archie. Using transitions and 'nearly transitions', Hannah aims to sharpen his mind and change the shape of his body. She wants to see his neck grow infront of the wither and Archie must remain balanced and forwards through the transitions, without falling onto the forehand. Nearly transitions build collection and create swing through the back. In a slower tempo Archie maintains the rhythm which, Hannah says, is like doing squats for horses! Transitions and basic lateral work will help make Archie's trot more elastic, more expressive and extravagant!

Olympic eventer Aoife Clark improves 7 yr old Paddy Junior's trot Olympic eventer Aoife Clark improves 7 yr old Paddy Junior's trot
Top Irish eventer Aoife Clark (7th, London 2012) demonstrates her dressage warm-up for 7 year old Paddy Junior, who is still developing strength. Paddy starts tight in the neck and a bit overbent, with short trot strides. Aoife asks him to stretch as low as he will go. Keeping the work simple, she says "the base of the neck needs to come below the withers, so Paddy can open his shoulder and take bigger steps." After doing the same in canter, Aoife picks up the outline. A 10m loop on the long side gets Paddy moving away from the outside leg, and a little leg-yield supples him. By the end of the session, Paddy's trot is balanced, soft, rhythmic and straight.

Olympic eventer Aoife Clarke works on straightness for jumping: Part 1 Olympic eventer Aoife Clarke works on straightness for jumping: Part 1
Irish Olympic eventer Aoife Clark (7th, London 2012) warms-up the 7 year old Pikey, who is in his first season eventing. The focus is on straightness and suppleness for jumping. Starting long and low, Aoife asks Pikey to stretch but maintain rhythm and improve his ground cover. It's hard work as Pikey is still developing strength but improvement is noticeable after a canter. Aoife adds exercises such as working on a diamond to get Pikey to push off both hind legs, a loop on the long side and transitions on the three quarter line. "Crookedness comes from tightness and not pushing evenly behind" says Aoife. (In Part 2 moves on to jumping.)

Marne Martin-Tucker & Natalie Allen train the super-athletic Royal Coeur Marne Martin-Tucker & Natalie Allen train the super-athletic Royal Coeur
Amateur Grand Prix dressage rider Marne Martin-Tucker works the super athletic 7 year old State Premium mare Royal Coeur (Riva), with the help of Grand Prix rider and trainer Natalie Allen. Riva went to the World Young Dressage Champs in 2011 and is now working at Advanced Medium. As she is so expressive, the emphasis is on balance to control the power and enable her to relax into her big rhythm. Lateral work exercises such as shoulder-in, circle, travers assist with controlling the bend. In half pass Natalie says "think ears, thumbs, marker". Cantering on a square helps Riva to sit and controls the shoulder and tempo.

Karen Rohlf teaches Reveal bio-mechanics on the lunge Karen Rohlf teaches Reveal bio-mechanics on the lunge
Natural dressage trainer Karen Rohlf demonstrates how to influence Reveal's bio-mechanics on the lunge, using the 'basic alignment exercise'. "A lot of mucking around will help to find the place where he feels freer and more balanced," says Karen. First she observes the 10 year old's natural posture and alignment on a circle, without any interference. Reveal falls in, so Karen pushes the haunches out, then the shoulders, then the whole body before sending him forwards again. Karen also plays with the energy levels. "When Reveal feels more balanced he will also be relaxed" she says. "The best movement should come when I do the least!"

Karen Rohlf teaches self-awareness for horse and rider Karen Rohlf teaches self-awareness for horse and rider
Natural dressage trainer Karen Rohlf explains her teaching method which is designed to empower students to know when they are doing their best work and to continue working confidently alone at home. Karen asks Sally to ride Bertie in walk and trot and to explore the boundaries, eg. what's ' too slow' and 'too fast', in order to find out what works best. Questions such as 'can Bertie stretch or do a transition' help Sally identify the feeling place. Once the working gait is established, Karen focuses the pair's attention on self-carriage. Sally improves Bertie's way of going through a process of trial and error rather than relying on the trainer.

Natalie Allen trains Casual to contain her huge power and collect Natalie Allen trains Casual to contain her huge power and collect
Having warmed the 18 hh Casual up (in a previous video), Grand Prix dressage rider Natalie Allen works on walk-canter transitions on a circle, then moving forwards and back in canter to ensure the mare is on her seat. Shoulder-fore helps with straightness and simple changes test this. Once the shoulders are under control and there is sufficient jump in the stride, Natalie rides half-pass to increases throughness. In the collected work, the mare must stay active and quick. Natalie explains how she uses core strength, rather than her hand, to contain Casual's power - no mean feat as Natalie is so tiny! Natalie stretches Casual in sitting trot to end.

4* eventer Emily Llewellyn works on collection with Junior: Part 1 4* eventer Emily Llewellyn works on collection with Junior: Part 1
Eventer Emily Llewellyn (prolific medal winner on GB youth teams) trains 12 year old Junior for dressage. Junior was filmed at the start of his career and is now aiming at 4*. Emily says "his main issue is taking the weight behind, while maintaining activity in the hind leg and keeping the shoulder up". Junior is cheeky and looks for ways out of the work, which he finds difficult, including going behind the leg, against the inside rein, lifting his back and tucking his chin in. Emily's corrections are quick, clever and sympathetic and she provides a superb narration of the process from warm-up to self-carriage. (Part 1 of 2)

4* eventer Emily Llewellyn works on collection with Junior: Part 2 4* eventer Emily Llewellyn works on collection with Junior: Part 2
Having warmed-up and worked in canter in Part 1, Emily focuses on the trot which Junior finds more difficult. The issues are similar, taking weight behind whilst remaining even in the contact and active. Junior must maintain rhythm and cadence through the corners, in transitions and lateral work but he uses crookedness as an evasion, which Emily is quick to spot and correct. She says "it's essential that Junior remains active in the hind leg in all gaits and movements but I have to be careful not to push him out of balance." Gradually, Emily is able to shorten the frame and Junior achieves more self-carriage. Her narrative is masterly!

Erin Williams and Dynasty channel the power, with Sonia Baines Erin Williams and Dynasty channel the power, with Sonia Baines
GB pony team member Erin Williams works with trainer and Grand Prix dressage rider Sonia Baines on harnessing Dynasty's huge movement. Blondie (as she is known to her friends) is "a horse in a pony's body" says Sonia. The warm-up is about getting the mare supple in her back so she can channel power from the hind end, through the shoulder into a still head and neck. Erin uses bend and lateral work to achieve this, as well as moving the mare forwards and back. A working pirouette helps Blondie collect, as do half steps in the trot. "Blondie has a huge trot which earns her high marks but the challenge is keeping it in balance" says Sonia.

Nikki Crisp trains dressage basics with the talented Blackie: Part 2 Nikki Crisp trains dressage basics with the talented Blackie: Part 1
GB Grand Prix dressage rider Nikki Crisp trains 7 year old, 18hh Blackie, who has mostly done strengthening work out hacking for the last few years. He is now ready to do more school work. Blackie is supple and easy to train but Nikki starts by making sure that the suppleness is on her terms! He's also forward going, so Nikki steadies him by spiraling down on a circle and alternating going forwards with coming back. Working on balance in transitions, Nikki provides crystal clear explanations of mistakes and how she corrects them. She also offers essential insight into how she uses her body to ride such a big horse!

Nikki Crisp trains dressage basics with the talented Blackie: Part 1 Nikki Crisp trains dressage basics with the talented Blackie: Part 2
Having worked on improving suppleness and forwardness with 7 year old Blackie (in Part 1), Grand Prix dressage rider Nikki Crisp focuses on balance, impulsion and engagement, in a calm and easy way. Travers and half-pass improve Blackie's understanding of bending around Nikki's leg, and switching between the right and left bend helps to lift his back and engage. "A good trot creates a compact walk" says Nikki. In the canter, the aim is to spend more time in the air and achieve a softer stride. Nikki says "I shouldn't hear much footfall when Blackie is balanced on his bottom." Playing with the flexion in canter also aids relaxation.

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