contact 1

Let's say you are practicing  something in particular. Maybe you are working on a trot to canter transition. Maybe you want to draw a 10 meter circle at the trot. Or perhaps you want to work on a walk pirouette into a canter transition.

Regardless of the figure, or exercise you want to perform, something doesn't go right. The transition doesn't happen at the particular place you wanted to aim for. The horse drifts out and the 10 meters quickly morph into 12 meters. Or the walk pirouette becomes a walk circle.

What do you do then?

Do you continue on to the next part of your ride?

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

Do you get frustrated or anxious and follow through too strongly to get what you wanted?

Do you pretend you didn't want anything in the first place, leaving the exercise and "changing the topic"?

In a previous article, I discussed changing the topic as a strategy to get out of a sticky situation - especially one which doesn't seem to be resolved by doing the same thing over and over. But as with so many things equestrian, opposite ends of the spectrum can be useful under different circumstances.

Stick With the Program

Some situations may call for repetition. Just like people, horses often benefit from several run-throughs and you may notice that improvement comes with practice. Horses have excellent memories and a capacity to learn from repetition. So use this to your advantage when you are practicing something new or difficult.

Starting over also allows you to build in time to develop accuracy and precision, both of which are indicators that your horse is on the aids and that you are moving together in unison.

Here's how:

1. Go right back to the same location.

When something doesn't go as intended, people often continue on. Don't. Ignoring the problem can also be confusing to the horse. 

Simply abort the rest of your figure and head straight back to the same place that you want to practice. This means that if you wanted a canter transition at A before heading into a 20 meter circle, and your horse just trotted faster and faster, then do not continue on to the circle. Instead, take a short cut right back to a point before the intended transition.

2. Give the horse room and time to regroup before attempting the movement again.

If your canter departure should have occurred at A (going right), then head directly back to B. Re-establish your trot rhythm, bend and flexion, and prepare again with the half-halts as you approach A. Then try the transition again.

3. Confirm your aids.

Don't forget to look inward at your own aids. What did you do, or not do, in preparation for the canter transition? Perhaps your timing was off. Perhaps you needed your outside leg to reach further behind the girth. Maybe you leaned forward into the transition, thereby throwing the horse onto his forehand and off balance.

4. Evaluate.

Prepare your approach and try again. If you feel this transition went well, or was an improvement over the last one, you have two choices at this point. You can continue on to the next part of your initial figure (in this case, the 20 meter circle). Or, you can go right back to B and run through the whole thing again.


Don't be concerned that the horse might sour from repetition. Horses become sour when they are stressed. So if you can just be matter-of-fact about it, your horse will patiently work with you.

Don't be stressed or tense about it. Your horse can sense your demeanor from the moment you think it! If you get strong or quick or tense, your horse will connect a negative connotation with the repetition. He might resist more in this case. So always keep your cool and a good sense of humor about any unexpected things that happen.

Do change the topic once things go well. Use the next figure as a way to say "yes" (or reward) your horse once you see some improvement. Even if you don't get the amount of improvement you want, go to something else and then come back to this exercise in a few minutes. Find the happy medium between repeating an exercise or not. There is no steadfast rule.

As you become more familiar with your horse, you will know when to repeat something and when it's time to change the topic. Always look for improvement in terms of relaxation, accuracy and attitude - both yours, and your horse's!

How do you use repetition while you ride? Do you change the topic often? Let us know in the comments below.

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.

Related reading:

7 Essential Aids For An Epic Canter Transition: The canter departure doesn’t have to resemble a rocket launch.

 Two Secrets to Easing Your Horse Into Suppleness: Two ideas to try when your horse feels like rigid cardboard.

Living (Horse) Life in the Basics: All movements share several components to them that are fundamental to the quality of movement.

How To “Flow” from the Trot to the Walk: Although we rely on our hands too much and initiate all movements from the horse’s mouth, there are many alternate aids we can go to, especially for a downward transition.

10 Tips for the Average Rider: Enjoy the following tips to get through those average rider moments that we all experience from time to time.


  1. When the repetition starts to resemble a “drill” I always cut it short and go on to something else. My horse doesn’t like to drill movements any more than a child would. I strive for improvement, but perfection will come in its own time. In the meantime, I reward the horse for an honest “try” with copious rubs on the neck and withers and lots of vocal “good girl” encouragement. Then I regroup and try to figure out how I can make my aids clearer. As long as I know I have the horse’s attention, I know any mistakes are mine, not hers.