Expert advice from HORSE magazine on gaining the maximum marks from your dressage test

Q: I have been schooling my horse over the past few months and he is going really well. I now feel that we are both ready to tackle some unaffiliated dressage tests this season. The dressage tests I am intending to ride contain the movement, “free walk on a long rein”. Could you please explain the difference between free walk on a long rein and free walk on a loose rein?

Janet Simpson, Norfolk

A: While working, it’s important you allow your horse to relax and lower his head and neck forwards and downwards as if he is seeking the contact, even to the extent where his muzzle may only be a foot from the ground. This stretches and frees all the muscles of his back and neck and relaxes the poll.

This exercise can be used periodically throughout your horse’s training as a means of ensuring he remains supple and loose through his back, shoulders and neck.

In order for your horse to be able to perform this well, he needs to have learned to respond willingly to your leg aids, yielding to the rein contact on his mouth without resistance.

In a dressage test, free walk on a long rein is a pace in which you allow your horse the freedom to lower and stretch out his head and neck, so relaxing and lengthening his stride.

You should encourage your horse to take the rein gently through the fingers without any snatching or resistance, while always maintaining a light contact through the rein.

It is also important that your horse maintains long, free, purposeful strides and is not allowed to become lazy. The tempo of the walk should remain unchanged.

Free walk on a loose rein is when your horse has responded, but you have allowed the reins to slide through your fingers to the point where you no longer have any contact with your horse’s mouth, or are possibly just holding the buckle of the rein.