Friday 24th of January 2020

Dressage Decoded

Are the technical terms used by your instructor or the comments made by the judge on your test sheet sometimes a mystery? Here trainer and event rider, Harriet Morris-Baumber tries to demystify some of the jargon.

If your horse is ‘behind the vertical’, his nose is tucked in close to the chest

The terminology used by equestrians can at times be viewed as a foreign language. Do you often look blankly at your instructor when they ask you to perform a half halt or feel like you need an interpreter to understand the judges’ comments on your dressage test sheet?

After-all your instructor is trying to help improve your riding and the judges’ comments are designed to be constructive so you know what areas you need to work on to gain more marks, so it is vital you understand what they mean.

Harriet Morris-Baumber is well-placed to help us understand these often confusing terms as she is experienced in being on the receiving end when she competes herself, as well as actively trying to simplify her language when she trains others.

Half Halt

The Half halt is basically when the rider gives the horse an aid to slow down a fraction but not stop completely, ideally without losing any power or activity. More like a ‘whoaa’ than a ‘stop’.


This is when the horse has unlocked his mind and body and is free of tension or resistance, allowing the energy to flow from his engine (hind legs) through his body into the connection at the front. Imagine a hosepipe with no kinks or knots, the water will flow seamlessly ‘through’ from the tap to the end.

Falling In or Falling Out

Falling out, is when your horse fails to stay in the middle of an imaginary corridor. He might feel like there is a magnet pulling him to the outside edge or like he is being sucked into the middle if he is falling in.


This is a term used to describe your horse if he feels pliable and manoeuvrable and can be used in relation to various parts of the body, for example, ‘soft in the hand’. This means the horse is not rigid or resistant in the feel he is giving to the riders’ hands.

Soft in the neck would mean the horse has a floppier, bendy neck that could easily be manoeuvred or positioned by the rider.

Behind or In front of the Leg

If your horse is described as ‘behind the leg’, there is a delay between the rider’s leg aids and the horse’s reaction and he responds in his own time.

When he is in front of the leg he responds almost instantly when the rider uses the leg aid.

Ahead or Behind the Vertical

Being ahead of the vertical is how you would describe a racehorse crossing the finishing line, the nose is the first thing to cross the line, therefore well ahead of the vertical.

If it is behind the vertical the horse’s nose is tucked in more and closer to the chest.

Against the Hand

This is when the horse resists a rider’s hands and is refusing to accept the contact.

When a horse resists the riders hands, it is described as ‘against the hand’

On the Forehand

Collectively the forehand is the head, neck, shoulders, withers and forelegs, and being on the forehand means your horse is travelling along with his weight over this area and can give the appearance of a ship sinking down, nose first into the water.

When your horse is on the forehand all of his weight is over the front end

Harriet is available for dressage, show jumping and cross-country lessons at her base near York.

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