The Magazine September 2023

Make flatwork fun

Posted 8th August 2023

No arena? No problem. Grass can make a great surface for practising your dressage moves, says Tom McEwen


In eventing, the dressage phase usually takes place in a grass arena, which is why so many eventers, including myself, like to train regularly on a grass surface at home.

While you might prefer a surface for most of your schooling, if you’re intending to go out competing, it’s essential that you do some training on grass as well.

In addition, being ridden on different surfaces is good for horses, making them stronger and more balanced, and it also improves their proprioception.

In this feature, I’ll offer some useful test riding tips to help boost your scores, as well as exercises that will not only improve your horse’s way of going, but make schooling more fun for both of you, too. 

You’ll need…

  • to mark out an area 20x40m or 20x60m in a flat part of a field
  • six poles


Learn to ride corners

There are plenty of corners to be ridden in every dressage test. However, clever corner riding is something to build up to gradually, and trying to ride 90-degree corners before your horse is sufficiently strong and fit will interrupt the flow of your test. Instead, it’s much better to ride an easier corner on a curved line and keep the rhythm, rather than risk losing it.

A good exercise to help you ride more balanced corners in the long run is to place a pole on a diagonal line coming out of the corner, then ride a downward transition either between the paces (trot to walk, for example) or within the pace (such as working trot to collected trot) as you approach it. Next, go up a gear again, come out of the corner and ride over the pole. Remember to do this exercise equally in both directions.


Allow your horse to take responsibility for his own natural balance – don’t be tempted to fiddle too much.

Discover Tom McEwen’s exercises for keeping flatwork fun and top tips for riding on grass in September Horse&Rider – grab your copy today!

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