Great Expectations

Posted by in about horses, attention, Blog, consistent, energy, engage, equestrian, forwardness, get your horse listening., go forward, goals, riding forward into your hand, schooling, schooling for lazy horses, train your horse, training, training your horse, transition problems, transitions on May 5, 2012

Is your horse responsive? How responsive? Will he do as you ask as soon as you ask? Or does it take a few seconds for the penny to drop? Some horses are sharper than others but before you blame him look at your expectations. How quickly do you actually expect him to react? You may think ‘immediately’ but do you really?


Imagine you’re walking up the long side and you want to trot at E. You’re walking towards E and gradually increasing the amount of leg you’ve got on so he knows something’s coming. (You’ve probably shuffled your fingers up the reins too.) Just before E you give him an extra push with both legs … and then he trots on. Not exactly immediate – is it?


Your horse should always be waiting for your next aid. When you give it he should go the instant your leg makes contact. That’s responsive. To get him there takes more than leg work. You need to raise your expectations.


As a herd animal your horse needs a leader. Make sure it’s you. You won’t gain his respect through soft or aggressive behaviour. You need to be consistent, firm and fair. Everything that happens on the ground will have a knock on effect when you ride. Make some simple ground rules and stick to them.


The way you approach your horse in the field or his stable will have an instant affect on his mood. Bounce down the yard and wish him a cheery good morning and he’ll be pleased to see you. Drag yourself down to his door and slump over it yawning and don’t be surprised if he doesn’t even look round from his hay net.


If your horse is in the way when you walk into his stable then he should step back or move over for you. It sounds simple but do you expect him to? How many times have you asked him to move over and then ignored the fact he didn’t and ducked under his neck and worked round him? Have you ever squeezed between him and the door? Teach him that when you ask you expect. Be consistent. It will help your schooling.


When you lead your horse from the stable do you allow him to stretch his head and neck out towards you before he deigns to put one foot in front of the other? It may seem funny but if he’s struggling to get motivated to leave his stable what hope have you got in getting him to canter? AND if you’re happy to laugh at him for being lazy on the yard aren’t you being unfair when you smack him for it in the school five minutes later?


Lead your horse from the stable to the school with purpose – not as though you’d rather be at home. If he’s lazy it will inspire him. If he’s nervous or young he’ll relax because you’ve taken charge.


From the second your foot hits the stirrup expect your horse to give you 100% concentration. There is never a time that shuffling round the school is beneficial. Expect him to walk forward every time you ride and he will.


Ride with your calf muscle against your horse at all times. It gives a nervous horse confidence and it tells a lazy one you mean business. There’s a split second before you put your leg on when you’ll relax your muscles. That’s when he should realise that a transition is coming. It should be all the warning he needs if he’s listening. When the pressure goes on he should be moving already. If he isn’t use your whip.


Your use of the whip is essential to your horse’s reaction to your leg aids. It isn’t there to punish. It’s there to make your leg aids clearer. If he’s slow to react then one tap behind your leg should be enough. If not you haven’t used it hard enough. Ten small, irritating tickles with a whip don’t equal one easily understood tap. Every horse is different. Use it hard enough to provoke a response. And use your voice to praise him when he does.


Whether your horse is sharp or lazy he needs to learn to accept and listen to your leg. And YOU need to learn to ask him to! Ride round the school asking for halt and walk transitions at every marker. Halt for a couple of seconds and walk on again. Use your thigh and knee squeezed into the saddle to stop him and a single nudge with both heels to ask him to walk on. However quickly he responds double it! Use your knees harder and your heels quicker. Focus on speeding up your mind and his.


As with the whip all horses react differently to the leg. Use as much pressure as you need – once – to get a good response. It’s an interesting exercise to use with a sharp horse because the more you stop-start the more you start to concentrate. Give it five minutes and you’ll realise that you’ve got more leg on than you’ve had for years.


At this stage you can spend an entire session in walk and halt. Start to speed up your horse’s reaction to turns too by using three and four loop serpentines, figures of eight and last minute changes of rein. Be clear with your aids and be positive.


Introduce other paces and transitions when you feel happy in walk and halt. Use direct and indirect transitions on and between markers. The more you can do the better. If you’re not left behind in the upwards transitions it’s not good enough! It’s as much a test of your expectations as your horse’s reactions.


You may find your horse clams up. It is acceptable that he feels confused but that doesn’t mean he can slow down his reactions. Make things easier by sticking to two transitions/paces for that session but not by allowing his response to be slower.


Any horse can be taught to be more responsive – even yours. Raise you expectations and he might just surprise you. And remember. If you don’t ask you won’t get!


Good luck and enjoy your schooling.

If you have a problem with your horse don’t hesitate to get in touch via the forum –!/forum/

or email me at

There are three series of downloadable schooling guides in the shop all designed to make it easier for you to school your horse on your own.At just 99p they won’t break the bank either!

For a more detailed look at getting your horse more responsive check out Teach Yourself 1 –

OR brush up on your aids with Get Started 2 –



  1. May 7, 2012

    Super article. Thanks very much. I found that as soon as I started riding to the markers it helped me up my game. You suggest that you do transitions to markers. It helps us make sure that we don’t just walk anywhere if we are doing a downward transition etc. It makes sure that we are that much more accurate and don’t just accept any timing from either the horse or ourselves. I had thought that I was getting a response and accurate until I set myself to markers and then found that I was ‘far off the mark’!

    • Lorraine May 8, 2012

      Thanks, Tanya. I’ve always found things take at least two strides longer than they have to – especially when you don’t have a marker to gauge it by. Works wonders. 🙂


  1. Loud and Clear? | School Your Horse - [...] his sides how can he really understand the difference between keep going and canter now? Check out this post…
  2. Walk it Out | School Your Horse - [...] sharpen up his response to your leg [...]
  3. Walk it Out | School Your Horse - [...] sharpen up his response to your leg [...]

Leave a Reply