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Finding a More Engaged Trot & Cantor

Engaging Your Horse by Dr. Cesar Parra

It’s important to maintain an engaged cantor and trot, but engagement takes practice. Polework can help encourage your horse to want to work, even outside the arena. Keep your training regime fresh with these exercises.

First, set up 4 trotting poles approximately 4-5 toe to heel steps apart, depending on your horse.

Always start with a warm up to get your horse’s blood pumping and muscles feeling loose. Once you’re both sufficiently warmed up, begin a trot in a 20 meter circle over each pole keeping the speed even and your horse off your leg coming out of each pole, maintaining consistent rhythm. You will find that if your horse is either behind the leg or rushing, the poles will knock. By establishing the right rhythm, your horse should stretch over the back and neck to the contact in both reins.

Next, stay in trot over the poles, but this time, pick up canter immediately after the poles, and complete your circle in a canter. As you approach the poles again on your next circle, go back to trot. Once over the poles in trot, go back to canter. Repeat the exercise a few times to allow your horse to commit the movements to muscle memory.

By learning to maintain relaxation over the back and gaining more engagement, this exercise will help to correct a horse that is tense or runs into a canter, and the downward transitions will reinforce proper form as the horse starts to sit back in preparation of the trot poles.

Simple exercises like these should be a regular part of your training regime. Creating suppleness will ultimately lead to a more engaged canter and trot.

Perfecting the Walk, Trot, and Canter

Perfecting the Walk, Trot, and Canter by Dr Cesar Parra

Walk ~ 3 – 5 mph, 1-2-3-4 Beat
Trot ~ 8 – 9 pmh
Canter ~ 11 – 17 mph

When riders are first introduced to horse riding, they are taught three simple gaits at which the horse may move: walk, trot, and canter. However, many never perfect them, in large part because of a common misconception about how to shift the horse between each.

Many riders today believe that when switching between gaits, there needs to be a transfer of energy to the horse, almost as if the rider is stepping on the accelerator pedal and injecting more energy into the horse. However, this sudden injection of energy makes the transition awkward and abrupt, the opposite of what we want to achieve in dressage.

When competing in such a precise environment like dressage, it is crucial to make each movement as fluid as possible, with little to no excess movement. Rather than abruptly communicating a change in pace to the horse, speed should be increased gradually in order to give the movement a smooth and effortless appearance. You should be using your posture, which should be relaxed yet firm, to communicate these changes, not a sudden charge in energy.

Do not let too much energy flow into the horse when increasing speed, but rather maintain energy and simply let the speed increase gradually. Implementing a firm body position on the horse will need to be practiced, as it will take some getting used to. The horse must learn from the rider and must also have time to adapt to the new changes.

A second area to work on when perfecting the different gaits of a horse involves the transitioning positions when increasing speed. Be sure to practice consistent transitions as the horse will be primed when making the next move. Be sure to allow the horse to gradually pick up in speed, slowly altering the steps. It is crucial to avoid hurried steps in the gait because this may look unbalanced and will also cause stress on the horse.

Also, keep in mind that when halting, transitions are key as well. Slowing the horse with an outflow of energy is crucial to make the movement fluid and precise. Maintaining consistent power on the decrease is going to be a bit tougher than controlling it on the increase.

Overall, the key to perfecting the different gaits of riding lies in the body positioning and the perfection of key transitions. These two aspects of riding and performing are fairly simple, but can make a lasting impression on judges when done correctly.Dressage is a sport of controlled power, so understanding where these movements come from will be key in understanding how to control them. In every aspect, fluidity is key.

Nutritional Supplements for Dressage Horses

Nutritional Supplements for Dressage Horses

New research from the University of Surrey and the University of Nottingham suggests there is reason to believe that dressage and eventing horses may benefit from a daily dosage of nutritional supplements to prevent and treat a variety of ailments. Joint and mobility health are among the top concerns for nutrients, but overall stamina and fitness can also be aided through the use of antioxidants and vitamins.

Joint and Mobility Health

Many horse owners are beginning to test different supplemental doses to help prevent and treat the inevitable muscle and joint damage that comes with eventing and dressage. One of the most important physical features of a horse is it’s legs, and preserving those features can prove worthwhile in giving the horse the best life possible. Some common supplements include:

Glucosamine – A dose of glucosamine provides the natural building blocks for tissue, to assure the cartilage surrounding joints is healthy and mobile. It acts as a strong foundation for repair and growth of joints.

Chondroitin – This supplement preserves cartilage as long as possible by helping slow the enzymes that reduce the elasticity of joint cartilage in horses. This is more common for race horses, but eventing and dressage horses can also reap the benefits of using chondroitin.

MSM – This organic state of sulphur helps combat irritation consistent in an aging horse. MSM also possesses benefits that aid the mobility system as a whole and not just one specific joint.

Stamina and Fitness

A horse’s stamina is based heavily on diet, and there is actually little research showing that stamina and energy may be affected positively from supplement use. Many owners attribute a horse’s stamina and energy levels to different training programs and the overall age of the horse. Although there isn’t an individual supplement that will affect stamina and fitness, horses may benefit from natural antioxidants to increase muscle repair and strengthen the horse’s immune system.

Final Thoughts

It is important to note that the supplemental doses supplied to horses are always at the discretion of the trainer and owner. Nutritional use in horses in fairly new, and this research is considered to be in the early stages of formulation. The results of further research will not only help horse owners understand the different ailments that horse’s experience, but also how to prevent and treat them.

Horse Safety in High Temperatures

Horse Safety in High Temperatures by Dr Cesar Parra

As a responsible horse owner, it’s important to understand the effects different climates can have on a horse. As we enter summer, our horses become vulnerable to the most common ailment these animals experience: heat exhaustion. It is crucial that riders, keepers, and trainers all know the warning signs of heat exhaustion as well as how to effectively prevent it.

Travel Safety

When traveling with horses, it is important to know that horses simply cannot be stuck in traffic. Traffic jams can be times of intense stress for the horse and also can be a time of high heat in the summer. Leaving in the early and late hours of the day can be a great way to travel in normal temperatures and also avoid traffic. Some more advanced horse trailers may have air conditioning installed, but it is still smart to avoid traffic jams at all costs.


The next thing that can be done to assure your horses health involves acclimating the horse to temperature changes over time. Gradually exposing the horse to exercise in warmer temperatures over a two week period is the most safe and effective way to acclimatize them. Focus on the cooler parts of the day to begin, this is usually the morning and night. Then gradually work into the regular hours of each day where the temperature is most extreme. The horse will be able to adapt to the temperatures this way and will also feel less stressed.


In times of high heat, allow the horse to always have access to clean water. This will allow the horse to stay hydrated and also aid in the regulation of the horse’s body temperature. Be sure to have extra buckets of clean water on standby because it is very common for horses to drink excessive amounts of water in times of high heat. The common myth is that cold water can harm horses, but this is completely false; it just may be harder to drink at a fast rate.


If a horse is getting overheated it is actually fairly easy to cool them down and regulate their body temperature. Simply dump cold water all over the horse’s body. Focus on getting the water spread all over the body, especially under the saddle.

Warning Signs of Heat Exhaustion in Horses

Always be able to identify the warning signs of heat exhaustion, so in the event that it does happen, appropriate measures can be taken.

You should keep an eye out for:

  • Fast Shallow Breathing
  • Flaring of the Nostrils
  • Dark and Reduced Urine
  • Muscle Spasms
  • Irregular Heart Rhythm
  • Long Recovery Times after Workouts
  • Lethargic Demeanor
  • Raised Rectal Temperature
  • Stumbling
  • Rapid Pulse
  • Excessive sweating and salivation

Avoiding heat exhaustion should always be of utmost importance. In the event that a horse does start to experience heat exhaustion, aggressively cool down the horse and call a nearby vet immediately.

7 Ways to Boost That Dressage Score

7 Ways to Boost That Dressage Score by Dr. Cesar Parra

Dressage is considered one of the most skilled forms of exhibition riding in the equestrian world today. With highly skilled competition comes highly skilled judging. It is obvious then that correct execution on even the littlest things in dressage can make a big difference. Here are seven quick tips that can dramatically improve your score.

  1. Always assure accuracy when performing circles and loops. If a rider performs sloppy loops, it lets the judges know that they haven’t properly measured 15m and 5m paths when practicing. Poorly timed loops can also throw off the rest of the movements which may spiral out of control, resulting in a poor score.
  2. Be sure to give time for preparation when making a transition. Allow the horse to process each transition. If the call for the transition is late, then the transition is definitely going to be late. Smooth movements can ultimately rely on responsible timing.
  3. Put an extra emphasis on circles and loops. An unnatural circle shape can cause the horse to lean in and look off balance. All loops and circles should be a fluid stroke, creating a smooth uniform movement.
  4. When riding in competition, avoid the medium paced trot. Always be able to present a clear difference between a slow trot and a faster paced trot. Once a horse gets into a medium trot it can also be hard to pull them back into control.
  5. Fully understand the “give and retake.” Riders have created many variations, so it can be beneficial to learn the official movements and definition as outlined by the FEI.
  6. Remain calm when making a mistake. This is the top factor that makes riders come off as inexperienced. Always maintain composure and focus on the next movement. One blow movement is better than ten. Horse dressage is just as mental as it is physical, so be in control of your emotions as much as you are in control of your horse.
  7. It’s essential to avoid overshooting the center line. This, again, makes the horse look unbalanced and stressed. Do not start too close to the marker, and always allow the horse to anticipate the movement.

The most important thing to take away from this is to always allow the horse to anticipate movements. It is your job to prep them for that anticipation. Always start transitions and movements a tad bit early and practice those movements prior to competition.