What? Why? How?

What? How? and Why? are the three big questions that every rider asks herself constantly and thatoften seem to be very difficult to answer. What should I do? How should I do it? And why should I do it? The reason why this information seems so elusive is on the one hand that many good riders make these decisions on a purely intuitive level without being able to render the decision making   process transparent or to explain it. - That was not really part of the traditional teaching paradigm, because it relied very much on the schoolmaster horses. In the old riding schools the trained schoolmaster horses were the true teachers. On the other hand, these decisions are often not that easy to make. Since we usually don’t have well trained Grand Prix horses as lesson horses nowadays, we have to find other solutions.

But you can narrow these decision making processes down with some systematic considerations that bring some light into the darkness.

WHAT should I do?

This question can be answered by the goal you are currently pursuing. And it’s not so much the grand, long-term goals (I want to train my horse to Grand Prix) that are suitable, but rather the specific short term goals. Such a specific short term goal could for instance be the improvement of a transition. If a horse inverts every time you ask him to trot, you could try and improve this issue through exercises. Or if the horse frequently canters on the wrong lead, you could solve this problem with gymnastic exercises. Another possible goal ist the improvement of the half pass or teaching the horse to piaffe. When you discover a stiff area in the horse’s body, your goal could become to dissolve this muscle blockage. Another scenario could be that you have observed that a horse has poor body awareness or poor balance, so that you have to improve these skills first beforeit make sense to work on upper level movements. It also happens that you are working on a certain topic and the horse “suggests” a different topic by offering the canter, or piaffe steps, or a flying change. You could then change your plan and pursue this train of thought for a bit together with the horse to find out where it leads.

You can group these specific individual goals together into certain systematic categories.

  • Solve a specific problem
  • Teach or improve a certain skill (body awareness, coordination, balance)
  • Teach or improve a certain movement
  • Mobilize a certain part of the body
  • Pursue a certain train of thought

This list was assembled somewhat spontaneously on the spur of the moment and can of course be expanded and changed. The advantage of such lists and categories is that you learn to think systematically and functionally.


Every exercise, every movement, every turn, and every transition has a specific function within the system and a specific effect on the horse’s gait and posture.

If you think about the function and gymnastic effect of a movement, turn, or transition and analyse them, your understanding of the connections will grow and deepen considerably.

At any given time there are many different things you can work on productively. A systematic,  functional approach helps identify and choose goals that make sense, as the understanding of thesystematic connections makes it easier to ask the right questions. Good questions lead to good answers. If we ask the right questions, the answers will lead us into a productive direction.

HOW Should I Do It?

Riding Technique
Riding technique informs us how we are supposed to sit and aid in order to create a certain change in the horse’s gait and posture, or to ride a turn, a transition, or a movement.

However, you should regard the aids that are described in the riding manuals as very generalized patterns that you won’t be able to use exactly the way you have learned them in many cases, but that need to be adjusted and customized to each individual case.

There are certain guiding questions here as well that will lead us to the right answers. The answer to the question: How am I supposed to sit and aid, or which exercise should I choose to reach my goal? can be found by asking questions about certain details:

  • Which leg of the horse do you want to talk to? A front leg? A hind leg? An inner leg? An outer leg?
  • What do I want to do with it? Send it in a different direction? Put more weight on it? Take weight off it?
  • Which exercise might fit?
  • Which combination of aids might fit?
  • Which pelvic position of the rider fits?
  • Which weight distribution of the rider fits?
  • What is the suitable moment in the footfall sequence for the aid? Supporting phase? Thrusting phase? Airborne phase?

These and other highly specific particular questions guide us in our decision making processes of choosing the right technical tools.

Here in particular, we have to leave the rigid traditional ideas behind that place a certain cookie cutter pattern above the horse’s needs and the requirements of the situation. The old familiar rules originate in the military, where the trainers assumed that the riders didn’t possess a very high degree of intelligence or the ability to learn. They assumed that the horses were correctly trained and that horse and rider are both symmetrical. That’s why they are very simplified and generalized. However, reality is much more complex. It is, therefore, important to observe how the horse is behaving and how he responds to the seat and aids, so that you can adjust them to the individual situation.

WHY Am I Supposed To Do It?

The reasons behind the choice of the specific aids and exercises for a certain goal are derived from physics and equine psychology. Biomechanics explains the connections between causes and effects, as well as the diagnostic and therapeutic qualities of exercises, movements, and arena patterns. A functional knowledge of equine anatomy helps the rider to understand how the individual parts of the body work together and how they influence each other. This enables us to follow the surface level symptoms (horse inverted, or curled up, no bend, no sidestepping, flying change not through, etc.) back to their roots.

Once you have found the cause for a symptom, you are able to design gymnastic exercises that remove this cause, so that the surface level symptom disappears as well. Very often you will find that one and the same cause was responsible for several symptoms, and you may be pleasantly surprised that suddenly other problems have disappeared, too.

For many riders it is initially difficult to understand that the root cause of a surface level symptom may be located at the opposite end of the body. For instance, the rein contact may be faulty because the hind legs don’t engage enough and don’t flex enough under the body. Or a horse doesn’t respond well to driving aids due to a muscle blockage in the neck or throat latch, which impedesor blocks the energy flow.

In finding the connections between causes and effects you can also help yourself by asking certain questions to narrow the options down:

  • Which demands does your request place on the horse?
  • Which prerequisites should the horse fulfill before he can execute the task at hand?
  • Which mechanical elements are contained in the task?
  • Which horse leg is moving where and how in this exercise?
  • Which horse leg has to support the majority of the weight during the crucial moments?
  • What is preventing the horse from doing the exercise?

With the help of these considerations and suitable questions you are able to detect the causes of problems by formulating a working hypothesis, testing it with specific exercises, and then closely monitoring and analysing the results. Every exercise you ride delivers new important information that contributes to approach a solution.

We have re-opened the doors of our "What, Why, How" online course for two days and we will not be re-opening again until the end of 2018 or early 2019.

I know that many of you were waiting for a Spring re-opening to enroll. That will not be happening.

So if you do not want to wait until later 2018/early 2019 to get in, this is your chance. And I want to make it work for you, so read on...

Even if you are not riding right now because of weather, horse, personal/health reasons, etc., let me tell you why this is the right thing to do. This course is about so much more than just the exercises. There is so much you can learn right now while you are NOT riding. There is no reason why you cannot just jump in with riding the exercises at any point later down the road. The opportunity to post in the group for help, feedback, etc. does not end at the end of the 30 weeks of the course. The opportunity to attend the Q&A calls does not end at the end of the 30 weeks of the course because you can attend any of the future calls, as well. You can essentially work through the materials at any pace that suits you, and you can participate at any pace or level that works for YOU, YOUR horse, and YOUR situation.

I have been listening to your requests... some of you wanted me to provide the option to pay in US dollars or Canadian dollars. These options have been added.

PayPal is only available in the checkout process if you are paying the full amount, BUT you can contact me by emailing me at [email protected] and we can set up a payment plan through PayPal or Überweisung if you are in the EU.

Seize the opportunity and turn your disadvantages into advantages.

If you don't see a package or option that works for you, don't assume this can't work for you. Contact me and let's see what we can do. I will do what I can do help you make it work.

Here is the link: https://courses.artisticdressage.com/p/what-why-how

You have 2 days. I am shutting it down for good at 9:00am CEST Tuesday November 21.