DT Clas­sic: From Rhythm to Ca­dence

Eques­trian Team rider Kath­leen Raine dis­cusses how to make your horse move with bet­ter rhythm and more ex­pres­sion.

Dressage Today - - Content - By Kath­leen Raine with Beth Baumert • Il­lus­tra­tions by Sandy Rabi­nowitz

Kath­leen Raine, for­mer U.S. Eques­trian Team rider, ex­plains how to im­prove your horse’s rhythm for in­creased ex­pres­sion and ca­dence.

CA­DENCE: The marked ac­cen­tu­a­tion of the rhythm and (mu­si­cal) beat that is a re­sult of a steady and suit­able tempo har­mo­niz­ing with a springy im­pul­sion. —USDF Glos­sary of Dres­sage Judg­ing Terms.

Ahorse with ca­dence is ath­letic and light on his feet. He looks and feels as if he’s danc­ing. That ca­dence, or “marked ac­cen­tu­a­tion of the rhythm,” makes him move with more ex­pres­sion. You cre­ate ca­dence by de­vel­op­ing the gait, start­ing with the dis­tinct two-beat rhythm of the work­ing trot or the three-beat rhythm of the can­ter. You add power, in­creas­ing the mo­ment of sus­pen­sion and mak­ing the beat more de­fined. The word “power” re­minds me of the horse’s hindquar­ters—the source of power that de­vel­ops ca­dence.

Some horses have nat­u­ral ca­dence be­cause they are loose in their backs and have more sus­pen­sion by na­ture. For th­ese horses, col­lec­tion is eas­ier be­cause

they’re nat­u­rally en­gaged so the rider doesn’t have to work hard to con­sciously de­velop it.

In this ar­ti­cle, I’ll show you sev­eral ways to help your horse de­velop or im­prove his ca­dence in the trot. The first ex­er­cise is over cavel­letti. The next two ex­er­cises are in a cir­cle and on a straight line, dur­ing which you’ll ask your horse to go for­ward and then col­lect. Th­ese ex­er­cises can be tai­lored to help your horse’s can­ter, too.

Be­fore be­gin­ning, take a care­ful look at your horse’s train­ing. If he isn’t ready for col­lec­tion work, stick with my pre­lim­i­nary cavel­letti ex­er­cises in the work­ing paces. (For ad­di­tional cav­al­letti work, see “De­velop a Work­ing Pace At­ti­tude,” DT, April ’00.) It’s also worth men­tion­ing, be­fore be­gin­ning, that in my mind, ca­dence doesn’t re­fer to the walk. There’s no ca­dence in the walk be­cause there is no pe­riod of sus­pen­sion. If there is, it’s not a cor­rect walk.

Build­ing Blocks to Ca­dence

Be­fore start­ing the ex­er­cises for de­vel­op­ing ca­dence, check that you have two ba­sic qual­i­ties: a cor­rect, rhyth­mic work­ing trot and an ef­fec­tive half halt. Let’s look at each pre­req­ui­site.

1. A rhyth­mic work­ing trot will lay the foun­da­tion for fur­ther de­vel­op­ment of the gaits. When you be­gin your ride, con­cen­trate on de­vel­op­ing a def­i­nite rhythm—first in the ris­ing trot so it’s eas­ier for your horse’s back to come up un­der­neath you. Close your legs so his hind legs keep com­ing un­der as you rise.

After you’ve warmed up in each di­rec­tion, go to sit­ting trot. When you changed from ris­ing to sit­ting, did your horse’s rhythm change? Did his frame or the con­nec­tion change? If so, im­me­di­ately re­turn to ris­ing again. Re­peat the se­quence: Rise and sit, rise and sit. Soon your horse will be able to main­tain the same rhythm, free­dom, frame and con­nec­tion whether you’re ris­ing or sit­ting. Go­ing from ris­ing to sit­ting helps main­tain the rhythm and de­velop greater free­dom and through­ness. Even­tu­ally you’ll want to do all of your trot work sit­ting, but many horses aren’t strong enough in the be­gin­ning to carry a rider very long.

If your horse is not very strong, then con­tinue to work on this ba­sic ris­ing–sit­ting trot ex­er­cise, but hold off on any­thing that re­quires col­lec­tion for now. When your horse be­comes strong enough to main­tain qual­ity rhythm as you sit, you can ex­pect to have an ef­fec­tive half halt and more in­flu­ence from your seat.

2. In ad­di­tion to this for­ward at­ti­tude in the work­ing trot sit­ting, a ba­sic half halt must be es­tab­lished so that you can de­velop col­lec­tion and the re­sult­ing ca­dence in the trot. To half halt, sit deep, close both up­per thighs and both hands, em­pha­siz­ing the out­side hand. Your horse will be­come more ac­tive be­hind and en­gaged.

If you bring your lower leg back more than usual, it will em­pha­size the need for quick­ness be­hind. You want your horse to be soft and steady in the hand after the half halt. If your horse is drop­ping the bit, his back may be tight. If he’s pulling, his hind legs prob­a­bly aren’t en­gaged.

Be­cause of your es­tab­lished ba­sics, your horse will work through the lev­els, be­come stronger and be able to carry him­self with more and more ex­pres­sion. A Train­ing Level horse does not have the strength for the ca­dence of a Grand Prix horse, but he can have the ba­sic build­ing blocks for the de­vel­op­ment of it. If you’ve passed the tests so far, here are three ex­er­cises I use to im­prove ca­dence.

Cavel­letti Ex­er­cise

I use cav­al­letti with young horses to es­tab­lish a good beat in the trot. The cav­al­letti alone add more ca­dence to some horses with a flat stride. They teach your horse what you want, and they also give you the feel­ing of ca­dence. For this ex­er­cise, use be­tween five and eight cav­al­letti or as many as you have (see side­bar, p. 48). If your horse is new to go­ing over cav­al­letti, start with them at their low­est set­ting. Set them in a straight line, the proper dis­tance for your horse’s stride. The dis­tance be­tween the cav­al­letti for trot is be­tween 4 feet 2 inches and 5 feet. By grad­u­ally mov­ing the cav­al­letti in or

out, de­ter­mine the cor­rect dis­tance that suits your horse’s stride.

Ride over the cav­al­letti, do­ing the same ris­ing and sit­ting trot ex­er­cise that you worked on to es­tab­lish the rhyth­mic work­ing trot un­til your horse stays round, on the bit and in the same frame. Feel the rhythm of your horse’s de­fined steps. It’s a nice feel­ing. The horse’s stom­ach mus­cles lift, and you can feel his back come up un­der you. Your goal is to get this feel­ing with­out the cav­al­letti.

When you are very con­fi­dent go­ing over the cavel­letti on a straight line, put them on a 15-me­ter cir­cle. The space be­tween the cav­al­letti will be smaller on the in­ner side of the poles. To ride through the cav­al­letti:

1. Clearly de­fine where you are go­ing through them by men­tally di­vid­ing the poles in half. First go through the cen­ter of the cav­al­letti. As you go through them, get a good rhythm in the ris­ing trot un­til it feels like a nor­mal, nat­u­ral stride. Then ride slightly to the out­side of the poles.

2. As your horse’s rhythm be­comes con­firmed, go to the sit­ting trot. Sit­ting at this point will help you and him with the rhythm and en­able you to help your horse col­lect.

3. Next, spi­ral the cir­cle slightly to the in­ner side of the cav­al­letti. This will en­cour­age your horse to col­lect his trot. To do this, he has to take shorter, more el­e­vated strides. Es­tab­lish ca­denced col­lec­tion in one di­rec­tion, and then change di­rec­tion.

4. Fi­nally, raise the cav­al­letti so that they are slightly off the ground. This will give your horse even more el­e­va­tion and ca­dence.

For­ward-and-Back Ex­er­cises

Go­ing for­ward and back adds power and lift to your horse’s col­lec­tion by trans­form­ing push­ing power into car­ry­ing power. This de­vel­ops ca­dence. Within the dres­sage tests, there are in­vi­ta­tions to im­prove car­ry­ing power and ca­dence. In Fourth Level, Test 1, you ride a medium trot on the di­ag­o­nal, do a tran­si­tion back to col­lected trot

at X for a few strides and then ride a medium trot to the end of the di­ag­o­nal. This is in­tended to help you and your horse reestab­lish bal­ance half­way through the di­ag­o­nal and to get your horse en­gaged and in a good po­si­tion to push off again.

How­ever, horses and rid­ers rarely ex­e­cute this ex­er­cise well. As prepa­ra­tion, you can ride this ex­er­cise first on a cir­cle and then on the long side (see di­a­gram, p. 50).

Ex­er­cise 1: For­ward and back on a cir­cle

1. Start by rid­ing a medium trot on a 20-me­ter cir­cle. Each time you reach the cen­ter­line op­po­site C or A, ask for a few strides of shoul­der-fore to col­lect him. Also, any time your horse starts to feel un­bal­anced, you can bring him back to col­lec­tion. Then ask him for a medium trot again. Re­peat.

The ex­er­cise may not feel good at first be­cause rid­ing the medium trot on a 20-me­ter cir­cle is dif­fi­cult. How­ever, rid­ing it will get your horse en­gaged, mak­ing it eas­ier and much im­proved when you try it on a straight line.

Ex­er­cise 2: For­ward and back on a straight line

1. Start at C, trav­el­ing to the right. As you ap­proach M, ride shoul­der­fore. Half halt with your out­side rein and close your inside leg. Main­tain the pas­sive out­side leg back so the haunches don’t swing out.

2. After M, straighten your horse and ask for five or six strides of medium trot. Close both legs and lighten your hands.

3. A few strides be­fore B, bring your horse back to shoul­der-fore. Sit into him more, deepen your seat, use your inside leg and half halt with your out­side rein.

4. At B, ride a 10-me­ter cir­cle. This is es­pe­cially use­ful if your horse is dif­fi­cult to bring back to shoul­der-fore.

5. After re­turn­ing to B, main­tain the shoul­der-fore for about three strides after com­plet­ing the cir­cle.

6. Ask for medium trot again for five or six strides. 7. Be­fore F, re­turn to shoul­der-fore. After re­peat­ing this ex­er­cise sev­eral times, your horse will step un­der au­to­mat­i­cally and main­tain light­ness in your hand when you bring him back.

The ul­ti­mate step is to ask for the medium trot but not al­low it. In­stead of ac­tu­ally per­form­ing a medium, keep him col­lected. That is, ask for a medium, but don’t let him go out the front. You’ll push for more, but half halt to keep the trot to­gether in col­lec­tion.

The re­sult will be a more ex­pres­sive, ca­denced and col­lected trot with more life un­der­neath you— main­tain­ing the en­gage­ment and the light­ness in front.


As you ride the ex­er­cises, keep in mind that you may en­counter some of the fol­low­ing chal­lenges:

1. Some­times the trot be­comes ca­denced, but it’s through ten­sion. Then your horse’s back gets tighter be­cause he isn’t en­gaged. You want the sus­pen­sion to be cre­ated out of re­lax­ation and en­gage­ment, not out of ten­sion.

It’s very im­por­tant to keep your horse’s back re­laxed through­out the process, which is why you might have to go back to the ris­ing trot of­ten so your seat isn’t driv­ing his back down. Use of cav­al­letti

en­cour­ages your horse to use his back in a re­laxed way.

2. Ca­dence at the ex­pense of thor­ough­ness is power with­out hon­est con­nec­tion. Your horse has to be through, sup­ple in the con­nec­tion, bend­able left and right and able to be col­lected.

To im­prove through­ness, I do a lot of work on a cir­cle and also ride shoul­der-in, which au­to­mat­i­cally gets my horse to step un­der with his inside hind leg, com­ing from be­hind.

3. Some­times a horse will trip and crash through the cav­al­letti be­cause he isn’t aware of where his feet are or be­cause the rider lost his bal­ance. Just try again. Be sure you aren’t ask­ing for too big a trot or too small a trot by plac­ing the cav­al­letti too far apart or too close to­gether. Set the cav­al­letti so they are a nat­u­ral stride for your horse.

4. Per­haps your horse loses bend, soft­ness in the hand or for­ward­ness to the bit. If he backs off and isn’t in front of your leg, re­fresh the work­ing paces un­til he is hon­est.

By pa­tiently rid­ing th­ese ex­er­cises and work­ing on the chal­lenges you’ll en­counter, your horse will im­prove his rhythm and de­velop ca­dence. And then you will feel as if the two of you are danc­ing. Kath­leen Raine is a two-time Olympic dres­sage com­peti­tor, FEI Na­tions Cup Sil­ver medal­ist and FEI World Games Bronze medal­ist. Kath­leen and her hus­band, David Wightman, own and op­er­ate Ad­ven­ture Farms train­ing fa­cil­ity in Mur­ri­eta, Cal­i­for­nia.

This ar­ti­cle was first pub­lished in the March 2001 is­sue of Dres­sage To­day. Olympian Kath­leen Raine of­fers sev­eral ex­er­cises to help de­velop or im­prove a horse’s ca­dence in the trot. She also presents the chal­lenges rid­ers may face and how to over­come...

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