Flatwork Tips and Tricks with Heidi Ford Eventing

Over the next couple of weeks we will be looking at flatwork schooling. Our #greatthings ambassador Heidi Ford Eventing has kindly given us her tips and advice for super schooling and trouble free training!  To begin with we look at transitions and some basic school figures.


Transitions are such an important part of any dressage test and also your horses work ethic. Transitions make up such a huge fraction of work and really highlight the horses weaknesses whether it be they hollow, fall behind your leg or misunderstand your aids. They help with getting the horse working over the back and are especially useful for horses who aren’t off the leg. The key to a good transition is preparation. For my upward transitions, I always take sitting trot a few meters before the transition and this is useful for horses who can become tense. Watch Video_8 to see what i mean.

For downward transitions, make sure you tell your horse something is coming with a half halt combined with the leg, making sure your horse is through and soft in your hands. Sit into your saddle and bring your weight back keeping the leg there. For upward transitions, keep the horse through or they may hollow, sit into the saddle and tell your horse something is coming with a half halt with leg, make sure your rhythm is steady and the horse is soft in your hands before asking with a clear aid. If your horse doesn’t go off your clear aid use a harder one and repeat this until your horse understands.


These can be asked in different sizes, the standard size is 20m but it can go down to 8m at the highest levels. A circle should be a continuous turn and the sides should mirror each other in shape. There are 4 points where you meet the edge of the circle, and you should be one step (or point) ahead of where you actually are so you can ride an even, prepared circle. You need to keep a good, regular rhythm on the circle to show maximum evenness. If you are having trouble with the circle size, you can draw one out in your arena or on grass so you can visualise it. You can watch my trot circle in Video_20.


This is an exercise I made up to engage and get the horse listening to you. I primarily do this exercise in trot with walk transitions, on a 20m circle. Make sure your trot starts steady. Make sure the horse is light in your hands and use your seat to sit in to your downward transitions with lots of leg. As soon as you achieve walk put your leg on staying back in your seat as you go into trot and repeat. If you have not finished the circle and have already done 8 transitions you can keep going and aim for more.


These patterns test the horses relaxation, throughness and suppleness. They can be ridden in any pace and with transitions. Make sure your horse is listening to you and your leg with half halts. For the change over make sure you change your diagonal beforehand & sure your horse is around the leg of the rein that you are on, before you change over and then change your body language. As you change direction, keep your hands soft and put your new inside leg firmly around the horses side, Some of the most common mistakes are that the horse comes against your hand and becomes less rideable. This is why you need to do lots of preparation. Have a watch of Video_11  to see a loop.


Another exercise I made up, it helps the horses ride ability, adjustability & transitions. The idea is a compromise on both rider and horses part. Start by riding a figure of 8 in trot and at each corner of the circle you should make a walk transition for 2-4 steps before proceeding in trot. At X you should make a halt transition. Meanwhile you should be allowing the horse to take the rein down into a long and low contact, and when they are soft, pick the rein back up into your ‘normal’ outline. When they are soft again allow the rein and repeat. Remember to not change the horses outline until they have given over their back, this will help horses who like to go tense.


Here the judge likes to see straightness and evenness down the rein, so the horses head is flexed straight. All tests will have a halt on the centre line at some point and the higher tests also have another halt at the start, staying straight is down to practice, but a great way to help you is to think “2 legs 2 hands” on they way down so you are even through your body and holding the horse in a straight line. It is also important to ride a good turn onto the centre line so you’re straight before you start. You can watch Video_18 here .

The rein you enter for is down to preference and your horses needs, but make sure you have a plan. Also remember to keep smiling!


Coming down the centre line, make sure you have your horse straight and active (so it can halt correctly). Keep an even, fair contact down the rein and then use your leg on to push the horse up into the bridle which will encourage their hind end to come underneath them when they halt. Make sure you are even and giving even and regular aids to get the best out of your horse. You can watch Video_19 here. To help your horse halt square, practice practice and practice in the arena some more, just like Jess Gale in the image above.  Make sure to show the horse when he has halted squarely and when he has not by kindly correcting him. Any time he halts whether it be on the ground or under saddle, encourage him to halt square so he understands the concept.



Lots of fantastic points and exercises for us to try over the weekend.  We would love to see your videos or pictures if you recreate any of Heidi’s exercises, tag us in your posts or send them over to us with the #greatthings – have fun everyone!


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