If you’re used to asking your horse to move forwards or slow down only to be promptly ignored by him it’s easy to become disheartened. An immediate response to your leg is important and something you shouldn’t let slip but the good news is, it can be improved with simple simple schooling. Instant reactions make for smooth transitions, tell you your horse is listening, confirm that your aids are on the money and give you a better chance of success when competing. Sharpening them up doesn’t depend on the exercises you do but more the way you ride them so read on for dressage pro Michael Eilberg’s expert advice.

Teach him to answer first time, every time

Using your leg, ask your horse to make a few forwards transitions. If you don’t get a reaction first time, use a stronger leg aid or, if necessary, give him a small tap with your whip. This will bring his attention back your legs and, if you’re consistent, teach him to listen your initial request, every time.

If your horse needs slowing down rather than speeding up the same rule applies, only this time you’ll be asking with your contact on the reins. To ask your horse to slow down and bring his weight back onto his hindquarters use a half-halt by pulling back on one of the reins. If this doesn’t work, take a stronger contact on the reins. When your horse responds, reward him by softening the contact. Only ever increase the strength of an aid once you’ve tried asking with a lighter one.

Speed up his response

A great way to sharpen up your horse’s reaction to your aids is to skip a gait when riding transitions between paces for example, ask for transitions from walk to canter, canter to walk, halt to trot or trot to halt. This will really get him working from behind, bringing his hocks underneath his body.

To ride an upward transition from walk to canter place your inside leg on the girth and your outside a bit further behind the girth. The impulsion to ask your horse to do this will come from you through your leg aids and seat.

To ask for downward transition e.g. from canter to walk or trot to halt, sit up tall, gently apply pressure down the reins and maintain your normal leg position.

More about our expert

Michael Eilberg is an international dressage rider who formed part of the British bronze medal winning team at the European championships in 2013.