Only 10% of the iceberg is above the water. 90% of its mass lies below the water line, and it is this large mass that is affected most by the ocean currents. It's the bottom part that is the foundation of the iceberg.

Looks like horse riding is a lot like an iceberg.

We see the tip - but we fail to recognize the path that horse and rider had to take to get there (even if that final tip isn't world class level or picture perfect - whatever that means).

Let's take an example.

You see:

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  • the horse and rider flow smoothly from one movement to the other.

What make a ride look effortless?

There are five factors that go into creating that harmonious ride. You'll notice that these components are the fundamentals of riding in general - but really, this is precisely why we're always working to improve the primary skills, even at the higher levels.

1. Consistent Balance

Both horse and rider are able to maintain balance through turns, transitions and changes of pace. This means that the rider doesn't tip forward through transitions, fall backward against the horse, or lean into turns. She stays tall and toned and moves right along with the horse. 

The horse is the same: no tipping forward in downward transitions, no hollowing of the back before a new movement and no dropping of shoulders to drift through turns. The body outline stays consistent regardless of what the horse is doing. 

2. Consistent Pace

Two things can happen with the pace: the horse can be sluggish, feeling like he's going to stop any second. Or conversely, the horse can be a run-away, rushing off in response to every leg aid. The rider would have to constantly adjust her position to counterbalance the variations in pace.

It can be quite a challenge to maintain a consistent pace, but it can be done. Add a half-halt before and after turns, corners and transitions. Add seat and/or leg after the half-halts to keep energy up and hind legs striding well underneath the body. The key is to recognize what ground-covering, round, powerful movement feels like and then time your aids to maintain it.

3. Smooth Transitions

Well-prepared transitions make all the difference. Teach your horse that he doesn't need to rush or tense into a gait change. If you can anticipate what you need to do to prepare your horse just enough so that he can respond smoothly and easily, you'll be well on your way to developing that effortless ride. Maintain an uphill balance, step into and out of gaits boldly and evenly, and you'll literally feel (and look) like you're floating along in tandem with your equine partner.

This is where "dancing" with your horse begins.

4. Ease of Movement

There is no greater feeling than the horse moving freely under saddle.

The idea is to let your horse move at his best tempo with a fairly large, active stride while you avoid interfering. Your job is to allow the freedom through your body while maintaining your balance. You also need to be the effective rider that knows just when to support the horse (mainly through half-halts) and when to encourage the horse with your aids.

5. Accuracy

I've added this as the final aspect because when everything else is in place, accuracy becomes easy and effortless. At this point, you've developed the necessary communication to have contact and connection. You've developed your balance, aids and quality of movement to be able to change things up when you want, where you want. While accuracy is necessary at a competition, it's something that is the icing on the cake even at home. 


Just like the iceberg, a ride becomes effortless only after all of the fundamental parts fit together into a harmonious whole. It's everything being done well all at once that creates the foundation. Just one missing factor will be enough to make the ride appear to be less cohesive - for both the horse and the rider. 

During your next few rides, after you've done your warm-up, see if you can work on a series of movements with the intention of developing this iceberg result. Use one of the transition exercises I've written about before and work on balance, pace, transitions, ease of movement and accuracy while you stay on pattern. Even if you can't be absolutely consistent, work toward it every ride. While it's not an easy task, eventually, both you and your horse will learn to put it all together.

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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.

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Read more here:

A Question Of Imbalance: Can You Tell? At some point, it becomes essential to be able to feel what is happening so that you can hopefully address it sooner than later.

Dressage As A Healing Tool: Even at its most basic level (or perhaps, especially at the most basic levels), dressage holds a value to horses of all disciplines.

Perfecting Perfection in Horseback Riding: We will never really find the perfect horse, nor will we ever be a perfect rider. However, of course we try for perfect!

The Pinnacle of Horseback Riding: Riding toward the ultimate release – this is the stuff riders dream of.

Riding is Simple, But Not Easy! Let’s face it – all we want is for the horse to do what we want, when we want, where we want, with suppleness and strength!