go and no
Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

Do you ever get stuck in the same rut ride after ride? It is true that finding a routine is a good idea because it gives you and your horse a sense of structure that you can build upon over time.

But there are times when you want to spice things up before you pack it up!

Use the 10/5 Challenge when:

- you're both done with that 50th loop around the rail and want to do something completely "off the wall" (pun intended!)

- you feel that everything went right in the ride and there's still more left in you and your horse for a bang-up last effort

HL Five Years
HL Bundle
HL Goal Setting
HL Book 3
HL Book 2
HL Book 1

- you want to get the kinks out and release tension in you and your horse

- you want to develop hind end engagement and larger hind end strides

- your horse is feeling a little lethargic and "uninspired"

- your horse is too pumped up and needs to put his energy somewhere

- you want to fine-tune your aids and transitions

- you want to play a little with a "last dance" before you're done for the day

In any case, this exercise will help both you and your horse work out of your tightness. It encourages your horse to loosen over the top line, work out his balance and engagement, and in general, become better able to work through any transition.

The 10/5 Challenge

The idea is pretty simple. You want to do 10 strides of one thing and then 5 strides of something else.

For example:

- 10 strides canter/5 strides trot

- 10 strides left and 5 strides right

- 10 strides canter/5 strides walk

- 10 strides leg yield/5 strides shoulder-in

There really are an infinite of variations you can use.

But I love the first one the most, especially for beginner to intermediate horse and riders, so let's break that one down more for an example.

The 10 Strides Canter/5 Strides Trot Challenge

1. Canter

Go into a canter. Make sure you have a "decent" canter to start - encourage your horse onward if at all possible.

2. Count strides.

The idea is to hit the transition on that 10 mark, and be absolutely picky about changing gaits in the 10th stride.

3. Transition to trot.

You might have to really prepare for this transition at first. Chances are, your horse will not be expecting such a downward transition so soon, so be ready to reinforce your asking aids as soon as you can. The idea is to stay in that 10 stride number. So be picky.

4. Transition to canter.

But watch out! Don't "sit" on your laurels! Those 5 strides are over before you know it, and you have got to get back into the canter on the fifth trot stride!

And there is the real challenge. This exercise requires you to be sharp, accurate and physically in sync with your horse. The quickness of the transitions will jolt you into a higher level of accuracy and timing. The physicality of the transitions will have you both huffing and puffing in no time. Just remember to keep breathing! You might solicit a nice body-shaking snort from your horse in the process. That is a good sign.

5. Do it again!

The first time is probably going to be the easiest for a while. The next bunch of tries will really highlight the areas that need to come together for a better transition. As your horse starts to realize that there will be more and more transitions, he may go through some tension and resistance before he can gather up his strength and balance to be able to smoothly make so many transitions.

You might discover a few issues as well! Initially, the transitions come up very quickly. You might feel overwhelmed and thrown off balance a bit. Keep at it. If you find yourself not making the 10 strides, do 12. But aim for 10. Figure out how to adjust your timing for the transitions. You might have to do the "ask" for both the upward and downward several strides before.

Practice. Stick with the program 10, 20 times even if things don't go well. You will get better at it and your horse will become more balanced. Things will start falling together. The next time you try this, you might discover that the horse has an easier time with the transitions and responds more smoothly and efficiently to the aids.

Of all the exercises I've used, (click here if you'd like to see more of these sort of ideas in my first book) I'd recommend this one the most for anyone to try at any level. It works well with an advanced horse/rider combination as well as for the beginner rider or horse. You can make it a very basic exercise of one simple transition or complicate it as much as you would like. If the canter/trot is too simple, move onto something that challenges both you and your horse. Do the transitions while you change directions. Change leads and then break to the trot. The variations are limitless!

If you have tried the 10/5 Challenge, let us know in the comments how it worked for you. What went well? What problems did you run into?

Finally! The Ultimate Rider-Centered Program!

Ready for something completely different? If you liked what you read here, you might be interested in the new Horse Listening Practice Sessions. 

This is NOT a program where you watch other people's riding lessons. Start working with your horse from Day 1.

Click here to read more and to join one of the most complete programs on the Internet!

Horse Listening

Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

Buy the book for many more riding tips! Horse Listening – The Book: Stepping Forward to Effective Riding

Available as an eBook or paperback.

Horse Listening Book 1

Why You Don’t Need to Panic When Your Horse ‘Falls Apart’: Even if you are not thinking “panic”, your body might be communicating it by either being completely passive or too reactive after the horse is off balance.

Demystifying “Contact” in Horseback Riding: Does “contact” have other-wordly connotations? Here is why effective contact is within reach of the average rider.

Interpreting the Half-Halt: This topic is a tricky one but here is a shot at it.

Stop Kicking the Horse! Kicking your horse only stuns, disturbs, imbalances, and hurts. Once you have better balance in your seat and a more consistent contact with the bit, aim toward using your legs with more purpose.

How to Ride Your Excited Horse in 5 Easy Steps: Let’s face it – horses aren’t always calm and accommodating. There are times when they can be… shall we say… a little over-exuberant!


  1. I do a variation of this exercise I call the count down. Start with 10 strides walk, 10 strides jog and when that is comfortable, do 9/9, 8/8, etc. See if you can get down to 2/2. Gets your horse listening, is good for balance and hind end engagement and improves your own timing!

  2. Haven’t done that particular exercise, but a similar one I do like a lot is to go on a 20 meter circle using trot and canter strides and changing from one to the other at each quarter of the circle. It’s probably somewhat easier than the exercise you describe because the horse will eventually figure out where the transitions are going to happen and help you out a bit!

  3. I have used a 10/10 exercise with walk/trot and trot/canter. The 10/5 will be a new and even more challenging exercise. I look forward to trying it.

  4. Dear Horse Listening,
    I have been reading your blog for quite a while, and I absolutely love it! Thank you for all of the great tips, tricks, and exercises that you share with the world.
    I have recently moved to a new barn, and the horse that I have been riding is sluggish and slow on the flat, but gets uncontrollably fast over jumps. When I ask for the transition to the canter he crow-hops, and when we have the canter, he drops it quickly, so the cycle begins again. I don’t know what to do, and on top of this, I’m also adjusting to a new trainer. Do you have any tips? It is discouraging me and making me feel like I’m a bad rider, even though the trainer has said that I am good. I’m using a dressage whip and am going to be trying small spurs (like Tom Thumb or Prince of Wales) soon, but I’d really like to fix the problem with my position and natural aids.
    Do you have any suggestions for me? I don’t like it when it feels like I’m not doing something to the standard that I normally do it, it feels like I’m losing that thing.
    Thank you

  5. This has the added advantage of teaching your horse to count (if only in a very specific context). 🙂

  6. I have used a version of this and it works very well. It teaches transitions in any location of the arena. Riders have a habit of picking preferred corners or spots to ask for transitions and this breaks the habit. It also keeps the horse from becoming bored.

  7. I have done this with my pony, and find that he anticipates the upward transition. At the point I should be asking for the upward transition I am bringing him back from a volunteered gait. Maybe I will do the 5/5 that another poster suggested.