I’m still adding to this page, but thought to let members who have signed up an early glimpse as I’m working on int…

Kelly Sigler rang me today from the USA.
She’s in the middle of the Georgia Rider Biomechanics Clinic,
and having an amazing time (anyone got photos)?
We got to talking about “what comes after what”.
And we thought you might enjoy this

Philosophy – what judges want.

"What Judge's Want"Colleen at the Women in Horse Industry Conference Nashville TN

“What Judge’s Want”
Colleen at the Women in Horse Industry Conference Nashville TN

Judge’s want four things: 1. The Gaits (Paces). Regularity, rhythm, tempo, how they step, do they grind, do they look comfortable to ride, or is it a bumpy looking horse. 2. Impulsion. Not just out of control speed, but the power of the gymnast. Think of the floor gymnast at the Olympics. The BURSTS of speed, but then ultimate control of it. It’s the power that gives the “bounce” to the stride and the “jump” in the canter.

3. SUBMISSION. Not behind the vertical!  That’s not submission, it’s very bad submission, and although a lot of powerful riders have tried to push it’s OK ,it’s VERY MUCH NOT OK. The rule book is VERY CLEAR when it says “slightly in front of the vertical”. Even if it’s slight, it’s not SELF CARRIAGE, it’s not the horse coming out on the bit even if they didn’t have a bridle on. It’s turning and stopping and being obedient to every single lighest aid of the rider.  The rider that has the lightest contact and correct position and is able to turn looking like they have no bridle on…that’s the 10 right there!

4. RIDER. The rider must make it look easy, look like they’re selling the easiest horse in the world to ride.  The rider that has to kick (the heel must be the lowest point of the rider), or pull (without apparent effort) will score vastly lower than the rider who can show the horse in self carriage and SELF FORWARD, not kicking to go, or using whips, but really committed to forward.  That rider will score so highly because it’s so rare. We must also look here at the biomechanics of the rider: heels, thumbs, elbows, where to sit, thighs and knees…they’re all mentioned in the rule book.  It’s a rare rider that could pull the entire description together, but we can try!

The purpose of all these fancy moves…

Have I lost you yet? That’s when judging becomes a trained profession and takes years to develop a good eye, punching out marks with confidence and with quick yet sympathetic comments.

To make it simple, the purpose of all these fancy moves is to strengthen the horse for battle. This is the original military training of the horse. And the horse in battle had to be fast, he had to be sound, he had to SIT to be able to jump, he had to stretch his legs just that 1 inch longer than his enemy, and if the horse could do 1 inch longer stride than his competitor then that army would get to the next town faster!

The same remains today. We want the horse to be fast, sound, engaged, and stretched/lengthened – and that’s in EVERY sport.

How Biomechanics helps you get it


The easiest to get is impulsion. With the GO and SLOW exercise, and my article “How Anyone can make a horse go, and if it really doesn’t I’d check every health issue you can think of.


In the beginning it’s all about TURNING. Can that horse really turn from the rider’s body position, or do we have to go back to the reins. And also is the horse on the bit (contact, slightly in front of vertical, light elastic hock action) and then keeping the contact and not just “flopping down” in the free walk on a long rein. Is the horse’s nose so far down it’s on the floor? It shouldn’t be below the horse’s knee.


Just ride to music, then extension and collection over poles and you’re done!


Well we’re working not only on just sitting up straight and looking cute (which we do anyway LOL), but USING our body for engagement not our hands…USING our body for turning not our hands…USING our body for go, not our legs.  Doing it all invisibly, and the thumbs, elbows, heels, thighs, those rules are just here to help us.

Where do I start?

It’s very important to know the order of things. If we get them out of order, or if we miss a step, we’re bound for problems, sometimes serious problems.

For example…at higher levels, if you dont’ do travers BEFORE half pass, the horse is being forced to stretch, or won’t stretch at all.  I can’t remember how many times as a judge I said “not enough bend”. I was a nice judge though, and always tried to give helpful tips, but I could understand when we see these dead straight horses in half pass, even WRONG bend or flexion, that thehigher level judge might considered giving a “0”, which means not executed, because it’s basically the wrong movement. Wrong flexion is exactly what we DONT want, so it could be considered that it was exactly to opposite to the movement, and therefore the movement we asked for was not executed.

I’ve seen it when Spanish Walk and Piaffe are taught at the same time…what a mess!  I’ve seen GREAT horses ruined. In this order of things I will go up to Olympic level, and later refer to Anneke Roodt what comes after that in order of Levade, Corbette etc.

The order of things:

1. We need the horse obedient.

To have control of the nose, left and right equally, so the first level is all about turning. How easy was it for you to do that 20m circle (the largest, easiest circle).  That’s why the 20m circle is in there…can you show the judge you can turn invisibly…freely, without touching those reins or that spur.  Can you do it between a combination of impulsion and submission. Have the “go” and having the turn are the basic things tested at this level.

COLLEEN’S TIP: Ride impulsive large trot circles, make sure your heels are down, and you’re not leaning in, and with a long, light contact, but with contact, put your inside hand behind the crook of your leg.  You get not just control of direction and bend, but the head also LOWERS, relaxing the horse and getting more on the bit.


We want to know early in the horse’s training if the horse is strong enough, and straight enough to go to higher level work. From now on we are going to put more and more pressure on the stifles,  hocks and fetlocks.  The horse is probably on the forehand most of the time at this level, and IT’S BEST TO STAY THERE UNTIL YOU’VE GOT THAT HORSE STRAIGHT!

  • The tests of straightness: center lines, long sides, short sides are obvious, but you can also tell a lot by “where are the ears?”.
  • The reins are “train tracks” and the horse shouldn’t lean on one. Often a horse can look pretty straight, but when you look up there’s an unequal BULGE in the horse’s neck. You can see this in the center of the horse’s neck….about where injects are given.  Let’s call that the “injection point”. At that side of the neck the rein runs up the neck, and it SHOULD be equal on both sides, but often you see the neck touching one rein, and sinking away from the other. One one side of the neck the horse touches the rein, and on the other side the rein is loose away from the neck.


is practiced with diligence for one year.  This is training level/level 1 year.  Look for:Colleen Kelly and Saint Pink Ears!

  • HEAD TILT. If the horse were wearing a pink bonnet like Saint here – is one ear higher?  is one ear more forward? Must be dead straight on a straight line
  • FOOTPRINTS. Are the back feet equally stepping into the track of the front foot.  Watch the tracking up. Watch the arena surface, look for the footprint, and train your eye to WATCH FOOTPRINTS – not just the feet.
  • TAIL.  What’s the tail doing? Is it relaxed, are the vertabrae straight? Is it kinked off to one side (bearing in mind some breeds do this, and that’s OK if it’s natural) in pain in the back or tail? As the horse goes up the levels, look for the tail swinging equally left and right over the hocksl

But now in the bridle, not on the long or short lines
This develops contact on the ground, and on the ground we start teaching shoulder in & ravers – all in the bridle on the ground.


Now we have strengthened the hocks for ONE YEAR in loops loops loops in canter especially, we’re ready to overload ONE hock at a time. If you try it before really strengthening hocks, you do so at your peril (or worse, the horse’s ultimate peril – how many horses have injected hocks & stifles!).  Now we’re ready for shoulder in – SOFTLY – in the corners, cutting the long side and with flexion and bend and softly falling out.  You may wonder why I didn’t say leg yield next, well leg yield is fine, but shoulder in is better.  With beautiful soft bend and flex you get wonderful stretching exercises for the outsider of the horse.

COLLEEN’S TIP. Shoulder in is just a bad circle. Every time you fall out of ANY circle it’s a baby shoulder in.  And, start with the baby level, don’t slam it up the wall and wonder why the horse fights. We only do it up the wall because that’s one of the harder ways to do it, and we can show the judge are we booting it up the longside with our legs, or do we have enough impulsion and rider position to be able to do it “invisibly”, almost with no apparent aids!

I find, and horses find, half pass on the ground EXTREMELY easy! If…they have good contact, and good contact requires good impulsion, so if way back when you didn’t get the impulsion, or if you lose it and don’t go back to the impulsion exercise to fix it, and try to fix it within the movement, it probably won’t work. Half pass on the ground makes easier for both you and the horse to understand where the reins need to be, at what angle to hold your hands. You’ll learn where your horses sweet spots are, because one inch off and some horses just won’t do it. Then it’s great to put the rider on, and do it in hand again so they can know where to put their body.


I’m going to call it haunches in, and I’m going to make it a WHOLE SEGMENT DIFFERENT from travers. I have been using the terms interchangeably for years.  However I think a distinction should be made between “BABY STEPS” – let’s call that Haunches In…and the more advanced travers requiring a LOT of stretch on the outside of the horse.

COLLEEN’S TIP: 1. Straight ears 2. Inside leg forward 3. Look to the outside 4. You might need inside “belly button rein” to keep the ears straight. 5. A whip HIGH ON THE OUTSIDE, up near the hip will help. 6. If you run out of impulsion…stop doing the exercise. Dont’ fix the problem within the movement, go back to the go and slow.


IT’S JOB – BEND! Or should I say STRETCH. Stretching the outside of the horse. The word BEND to me somehow comes out as “pull on the inside rein somehow, use inside leg and MAKE the horse bend’.  That’s not self carriage. That’s making the horse do it, that’s not the horse so fit and so strong that bend to the wall is a breeze.

Come down the long side in trot or canter… turn down center line …keep that bend ….softly move the horse to the wall – WITH THAT BEND you got from coming onto the center line. This is a soft easy beautiful exercise and if you have enough impulsion and submission and lightness you’ll be able to do it with your vision and weight aid only. Your backup aid is your outside leg. But the whole purpose of the exercise is to see how much BEND we can get the horse to hold IN SELF CARRIGE (not us making the horse). So…if you use the outside leg you’re MAKING the horse do it. If you use your impulsion, submission, vision, weight aid all together, this exercise is easy. And, it’s the rider that can get a horse in self carriage like that, that’s the rider that gets the 10.

COLLEEN’S TIP: Don’t get stressed.  This is the real first sideways and engagement and forward and bend exercise. RELAX! If your horse doesn’t make it back to the wall, thank him for the steps he did give – don’t punish him for not having the strength to pull it off. He will tomorrow!  Enjoy one little step!  And reward!


Purpose: Liften the forehand, overweight the hind quarter. Test how strong the hind quarters are getting. Can the horse still keep stepping? Keeping rhythm and tempo with the back feet. Not a “grind and spin” where the back foot doesn’t move, but a real STEPPING. And, if you want to get fancy, stepping also at the same height in each direction.  If you’re doing left pirouette and the inside hind (the right hind) is lifting off the ground one inch…then you turn around and do a pirouette in the opposite direction, so now you’re on a right pirouette, so the inside hind is the right hind.  If the inside hind is lifting off the ground 4 inches, then you’ve got a problem!  And, it’s often rider caused, and we can fix that!

Riders lean in, that’s what they were meant to learn NOT to do back on the 20m circles and straightness, but they still do lean in!  In response some horses step backwards, or grind their inside hind foot in the sand and not lift, not keeping it stepping in time…they might step out of the circle, or not really want to lift, stretch and lighten the forehand, with the ultimate test – WHAT DID THE INSIDE HIND FOOT DO?

I can almost judge a pirouette just by looking at the inside hind foot.

COLLEEN’S TIP: Start on a 10 or 15m square, learn to NECK REIN, around the corners, and practice that a lot. Then go back to the travers, and do a little travers, and then neck rein. Then, over months make the square smaller and smaller, and don’t force it, and you’ve got it.


Purpose: to go BAST straightness to counter bend and flex, counter canter introduction.  These are loops, but now we’re making them fancy. You can use the “go” and “slow” exercise, go down the long side and use your BODY (eyes up, nose up, chest up, toes up, hands down to help the horse not panic and throw their head.  Then, on the short side, as much engagement as you can get WITHOUT USING THE REINS.  Then, GO down the longside again, and eyes up to bring the horse back for shorter on the short side.  And, if the horse DOESNT COME BACK – then SAFETY CIRCLE as the horse might get really excited!

The loops can become more and  more fantastic, then can get DEEPER, they can go out to the 15m line, that’s 3/4 of the way across the arena, in canter, without losing balance or straightness, without having to use the reins to turn, the horse turning on it’s own, just following your vision and weight aid.

And, you can add in half pass back to the track, you can even add in ways to help your flying changes. And, there’s the famous 15m loop with the circle in the middle. Have a look at the rule book on www.fei.org for descriptions.

From the loop and half pass back to the track comes the flying change.

COLLEEN’S TIP: Miss these loops, and you will never have a straight horse. Try to loop just by looking at the inside ear, then looking at the outside ear, not touching the reins!


Purpose: may seem obvious – to get on the other leg, but it does have a more profound affect on the horse. It’s purpose is to really get that hind end strong, as weight really rocks back on the back legs, it’s an incredible test of straightness, as soon the series of changes come in, so at this level having STRAIGHT changes is vital.

Some horses get VERY stressed doing changes (or is it the rider?) so it’s a great way to show your horse isn’t stressed, it’s relaxed and soft and light.

A lot of horses have difficulty changing. It’s because the rider’s riding on the forehand, or not enough impulsion, or not enough submission SIDEWAYS. If you don’t have good sideways, if you haven’t practiced half circle return to the track in half pass, then the muscles are going to find it REAL HARD to change.

Of course there are GREAT horses that just change, and you love them, and you’re lucky, but what of the horse that changes like a sewing machine, that often disunites behind or goes so quick in the changes left – right – left right like a freight train out of control. The answer is in the “Go” and “Slow” exercise, and lots and lots of it!  And, all those problems DISAPPEAR!  I’ve had hundreds of horses like that, and we fix them.

COLLEEN’S TIP: Flying changes are all about SIDEWAYS!  Good sideways = good changes.  I test for higher level horses is to put a pole EACH SIDE of the center line, making a channel to go down. While looking in the mirror ahead, do the flying change in between the two poles…now that’s straight!


Only when your LOOPS ARE ESTABLISHED, then canter pirouettes are ready to play with!  You need the loops PERFECT first before attempting, otherwise all of your canter will be quarters in from now on and you wont know how to straighten the horse.  The Loops put the horse in counter bend, opposite bend, and somewhere between inside bend and outside bend is straightness, we “over do it”, and find straightness (and relief for the horse) in the middle.  So, if I know my horse rides canter loops, then on about a 15m circle start looking to the OUTSIDE from time to time, keeping the ears on the circle.  Imagine you’re on a big apple pie, and the ears MUST stay on the rim of the pie plate, they can’t look outside and they can’t look too much to the inside, and drible on the pie.  Once the ears are really good, in SELF CARRIAGE then from time to time look to the outside to bring the horse’s hind quarters in. If you carry a stick or whip, carry it high up on the horse’s hip knobble, not pointing down, as you look to the outside your whip could accidently  bump the the horse’s hip, helping him understand (move your quarters in).  This is the easiest movement in the world if you’ve done everything above.

COLLEEN’S TIP: It’s all just about quarters in and neck reining, and it’s easy.


After learning from what I still consider to be the great Gods of Piaffe, I really think of piaffe from day 1 of training the horse. Getting the horse to pick up their feet just by looking at them! Then we build and build over years to piaffe in hand. And we train BOTH ON THE GROUND AND IN THE SADDLE!  You need both.

It’s just trot. That’s all it is. And when you see riders starting to do bizarre things like jump up and down in the saddle or bump their hands up and down in an attempt to make to he horse “jump” have basically lost all their beginning training, or they never achieved it in the first place!

It’s just trot: still hands, lots of impulsion, on the bit, and LOTS of engagement.

COLLEEN’S TIP: Practice the “go” and “slow” exercise till the cows come home. On the short side, the horse will keep walking, but over time they’ll hold the trot better and better, and the longer they can learn to hold the trot, and not fall back to walk, the closer they are to these two smallest trots.


All the movements have a purpose: shoulder in gets them to “sit down” it gets the inside hind to stretch

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Join the conversation! 3 Comments

  1. This is fantastic. Thank you.

  2. I want to to thank you for this great read!! I certainly enjoyed every bit of it.
    I’ve got you book-marked to check out new things you post…


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