Skip navigation
13Jul 16

A healthy contact rein is better than a bent neck and an upset horse

Some years ago I gave the odd clinic for the Cornish Dressage Group. It was thoroughly enjoyable, especially because Derowennek is such a lovely indoor school with its large windows overlooking a beautiful valley. Occasionally an elderly but very fit lady turned up, called Elizabeth and I can't actually remember her surname, who had a small bay horse which she loved very much; that was clear from the moment I met her.

When I asked her what she would like to get out of her lesson, she said that she didn't feel very competent in a dressage arena as she had hacked most of her life. I asked her, like I always do with a newcomer, to show me a walk, a trot and a canter on both reins and to take her time. Most first-timers are always in a hurry, probably because they are trying too hard to make a good impression.

Well, it was just lovely, basic, but so rhythmical and balanced. The little horse's eye was attentive, relaxed and confident at the same time. It really made my heart beat faster for enthusiasm.

I asked the few people watching what they thought of this and, I could have guessed actually, the first response was that the horse wasn't sufficiently round. True, but it did not bother me in the slightest. Especially not as Elizabeth was the last pupil of the day and four of the other seven I'd seen were round with either a broken neck or so grumpy and backward that I wondered where to start in order to make their hour productive without making their world fall apart.

When will it sink in that a round neck does not count when it is not the result of the horse being forward and balanced?

What Elizabeth showed that day was that a relatively inexperienced but forward and rhythmical horse on a contact rein at the beginning of a lesson, with a little bit of help will be a round horse in a correct fashion, still forward and balanced towards the latter part of the session. If she would have had the desire to take up dressage in a more serious way it would have been so incredibly easy for a trainer to turn that into a success. The basics were all there! 

When she asked me how to continue, my return question was what she actually loved doing most with her horse. 'Oh, I shall be hacking most of the time and try to school once a week.' As she was not going to have regular lessons I advised her to continue what she was doing and not change anything, other than to add the serpentine and 15 meter circles, which we had been practicing that hour.

When she left with a big smile, her horse happily following her back to the trailer, I thought, 'Lucky horse...' 


Picture: Sadly I do not have a picture of Elizabeth, but my home-bred little Tegen, then a green four year-old, together with Emily Noszkay, is showing here over poles exactly that forward balance on a contact rein. They turned out to be a great team together, both a touch mischievous and gutsy, which worked well for them during their eventing career together





Dressage Training

Dressage training needs variety, including pole work

Dressage Training

Dressage training needs variety, including pole work

About Liz Barclay

Her love for horses together with her dedication made her into the trainer and dressage rider she is, today. She is versatile and inventive and likes a challenge; whether it is a technical training question, a confidence issue or a problem involving the management of the horse or pony.


My book 'THE FARMER, THE COAL MERCHANT, THE BAKER...' with the subtitle 'A Personal Impression of the Development of the Gelderland Horse World' has been received with more enthusiasm than I possibly could have hoped for. Click here to contact me and I will send you a copy. £7.50 + postage, or click here to order from Amazon.