Posts Tagged ‘Spanish Riding School’


Alois Podhajsky with Norman.


Colonel Alois Podhajsky was an Olympian and Director of the the Spanish Riding School in Vienna for 26 years. Podhajsky was known to bring out the best in each horse he rode, and to rely on patience, understanding, and affection in the training process.

Podhajsky detailed his riding, training, and competitive experiences in the renowned book MY HORSES, MY TEACHERS, which was first published in English in 1968. By sharing the stories of each of the horses he worked with over the course of his career, we learn his methods, mistakes, and discoveries. One horse he writes of was an eight-year-old, part-Trakehner gelding named Norman, who helps us learn the lesson that sometimes we have to go back in order to go forward.

Norman had been taught quite a number of things by his breeder in Germany. He knew how to perform lateral work, flying changes, and even some sort of passage…most of it was superficial…. Once again I met in Norman a horse without sufficient urge to go forward unless pushed and often he offered a passage without its being demanded. But his passage was not the artistic solemn movement but a tense sort of hovering trot which had its origin in his reluctance to go forward. It is a great temptation for the rider to accept an exercise that the horse offers but would have a very negative effect on the rest of the training. The idea of dressage is to cultivate and improve the natural movements of the horse so that he executes them upon the slightest aids of the rider. If he anticipates these aids he proves that his obedience is not sufficiently well established. Besides, a horse will anticipate only to make work easier for himself and execute the exercise incorrectly. Consequently the standard of work will decline. If this is the case the rider must interrupt his present work and go back again to the basic training until it is well consolidated. 

We had the greatest trouble making Norman strike off into the canter from the trot. Either he tried to run away or he offered his “passage.” He had been taught to strike off into the canter exclusively from the walk and became nervous and excited upon this unusual demand. However, it is a very important exercise which improves suppleness and helps achieve the correct activity of the hind legs in response to the actions of the reins. It also furthers the will to go forward and establishes obedience and is therefore a necessity in thorough gymnastic training. Besides, it is much more natural and easier for the horse to strike off into the canter from the trot. Nevertheless it took quite a long while until Norman understood this unaccustomed exercise and I had to allow him his lapse of time because I did not want to confuse him or make him nervous.



Walking Norman on a loose rein.


Once again I relied on my proven remedy—good for anything and everything, one might say—which is to teach the horse to move correctly and with suppleness and balance, to make him understand his rider and follow him without reserve. I began to take Norman on the same course of training I pursued with my young horses, with the exception that I spent less time on the various phases. That is, I moved on when I saw that he had understood and was able to execute my demands. Of course I observed him closely all the time and found that I could establish his confidence much more quickly after a few rounds at the walk on a loose rein at the beginning of work and that he paid much less attention to his surroundings than if I had had begun our daily session with the reins applied.

In this way, Norman had a chance to look around in the open-air arena and the adjacent paddocks, and when he was satisfied with what he had seen, he would concentrate entirely upon his work. The rider should always give his horse a chance to look around before beginning serious training. His horse will never become “fed up” with dressage if the rider respects his particularities and allows the freedom of mind necessary for concentrated work.


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You can read more of Alois Podhajsky’s stories in MY HORSES, MY TEACHERS, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.


CLICK HERE to order now.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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Arthur Kottas-Heldenberg was accepted as a student at the Spanish Riding School of Vienna in 1960 and rose rapidly under the tutelage of Colonel Alois Podhajsky to become the youngest ever First Chief Rider in the history of the school. Internationally respected, Kottas has successfully trained many horses and riders to Olympic standard in dressage. Here he provides easy-to-try solutions for three of the most common problems found with the horse’s walk.


Problem 1: Breaks Rhythm (Pacing)
Common cause: Tension in the back.


  • Using poles or low cavalletti can encourage freer steps and regularize the rhythm. An average distance between poles for walk work is 0.9m, but be prepared to alter this to suit the horse’s stride length.
  • The rider needs to be able to feel what is going on in his horse, otherwise the timing of the aids depends on luck, and this can affect the clarity of the gait. If the rider does have difficulty feeling the movement, he can practice calling out the leg sequence. Riding without stirrups and with a deep seat will help the rider to feel the horse’s motion and leg sequence clearly.
  • Riding up and down hills is useful. A forward stride downhill normally improves the walk to four clear beats.
  • Ride transitions from free walk to medium and to free walk again. This will encourage relaxation of the horse’s back muscles. (Note the rider must take care to retake the rein contact carefully, so as to keep the relaxed quality in the medium walk. Taking a strong hold will create tension that will affect the walk rhythm.
  • Riding a walk shoulder-in is a good way to clear the pace to a correct four-beat rhythm.
  • If the gait is very hurried, this can cause the walk to become lateral. Try slowing the walk right down until the walk becomes four-beat again.



Walking up and down hills can help fix rhythm issues in the walk. Photos from the book DRESSAGE SOLUTIONS by Arthur Kottas.

Problem 2: Walk Too Fast (Breaks into Jog)
Common cause: A nervous or excitable horse.


  • Be very patient and spend long periods in walk on a long rein to relax the horse.
  • The rider must sit very still and quietly, so that eventually the horse tunes into the rider’s calm state and begins to relax, too.
  • Some horses become tense when they feel the rider’s legs on their sides. Keep your legs very light, so that he will gradually accept them without becoming tense.
  • Some young or cold-backed horses benefit from being longed before ridden work. This gives them time to relax without the disturbance of the rider’s weight on their back.
  • Use half-halts and frequent transitions to a square halt and walk again to gradually settle the walk.


Problem 3: Lazy Walk
Common cause: Dullness to the aids; poor rider position or aiding.


  • Try giving alternate leg aids, coordinated with each hind leg stepping forward. You should feel the moment through your seat bones. Apply the leg just before the hind foot on the same side leaves the ground.
  • It is important that the rider is not tense or stiff in his back, or it will inhibit the horse’s freedom to walk forwards freely.
  • Strong rein contact can have the same effect. Try making small forward yields in the reins and keeping the wrists relaxed, to remove the “handbrake.”
  • Legs that constantly kick or grip tightly will dull the horse and make the walk feel lazy. The rider should keep a light touch with his legs on the horse’s sides and use the aids sparingly, supported by a touch from the whip if necessary. When the horse responds, the rider must cease the aid and sit quietly with relaxed legs that “drape” around the horse’s sides.
  • Riding over ground poles can improve the activity of the walk. Once the horse is negotiating them calmly, the distance between them can be slightly lengthened to encourage a longer stride. Pole work or low cavalletti can introduce some variety into the schooling and many horses enjoy this and we can therefore achieve improvements and give the horse some fun in his work.
  • Making frequent transitions up and down will help bring the horse onto your aids more attentively.

For more training and riding advice from Arthur Kottas, check out DRESSAGE SOLUTIONS, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.


Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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The "Flying Horse": Neapolitano Santuzza in a capriole in hand.

The “Flying Horse”: Neapolitano Santuzza in a capriole in hand.

When I outgrew my first (“free”) pony, my parents, who were not horsey and who didn’t have a lot of money, found an Appy mare that was effectively “out to pasture.” She was unused and unloved, and they could get her cheap. I remember my first reaction, as a child who reveled in the long-maned, thick-tailed, glossy horses of girlhood fantasies—she’s not pretty…she’s not going to be any good. It is so easy to judge a horse’s worth by how he looks—and to get it tragically wrong.

That mare stayed with me until I went to college. She was the safest, most surefooted mount I may have ever ridden. She packed me many, many miles on lonely mountain trails, always bringing me home to my worried parents just before dusk. She was game for every jump (up to a certain height!) I threw at her, and she put up with the half-dozen neighbor kids to whom I gave lessons, patient, quiet, and honest until the end.

My experience is certainly not uncommon. A far more striking and illuminating example is one described by Colonel Alois Podhajsky, the Director of the famed Spanish Riding School in Vienna for 26 years, in the book MY HORSES, MY TEACHERS:

One of the most brilliant caprioleurs at the Spanish Riding School was Neapolitano Santuzza. By appearing in the performances and having pictures taken of his tremendous leaps, his fame certainly spread farther into the world than that of most of the other stallions of the School…

He was born in 1936 at the Lipizzaner stud farm in Piber in the green mountains of Styria and came to the School in Vienna together with nine young stallions of the same age in the autumn of 1940. Here he experienced the first disappointment of his life. While his brothers were admired by all riders for their beauty and their good paces and were flattered accordingly, nobody even paid any attention to Neapolitano Santuzza. On the contrary, suggestions were heard that he should not be kept at the School because he was obviously not worth any serious work. I am sure he felt like the ugly duckling. It was true that he was rather small and his head was just a trifle too big for his conformation. Nor did his eyes express the ardent temperament expected from a Lipizzaner. His paces were mediocre but his character was of an indescribable good-naturedness and docility…

I admit, I felt sorry for the little chap who looked at everybody with such gentle eyes and of whose presence nobody took any notice. What had been mere pity at first slowly developed into a deep affection, which made me protect him…I assigned him to a rider of very modest ambitions who demanded very little from his horses and consequently would not do any harm to him. In this respect he led a quiet life but also progressed so slowly in his training that as a twelve-year-old he was still not advanced enough to appear in a performance. Again it was suggested we get rid of him and sell him to some private stable. But he had become so dear to my heart that I was reluctant to make any decision and wanted to give him one more chance…

In 1949 I decided to work him personally in hand…I tried to teach him caprioles and was very pleased with his reaction to my aids. Although he was of a very calm disposition he possessed an extraordinary gift for this spectacular school jump. It was surprising to everybody who had followed his training to see how quickly he understood what I wanted, which was yet another proof of the importance of sympathy and mutual understanding for any successful cooperation…

A year later, in 1950, Neapolitano Santuzza appeared in public for the first time…[his] debut was a great success and the beginning of a brilliant career. From 1951 on there was no performance in which he did not take part. He received the name “the flying horse” and pictures of his capriole in hand circulated throughout the world. Our relationship became closer all the time; he never let me down and it seemed in all those years as if nature had endowed him with everlasting youth. He never declined in his abilities and his performance remained unaltered in beauty and exactness.




Read more about Neapolitano Santuzza, and many other horses that contributed to the life of Colonel Alois Podhajsky, in MY HORSES, MY TEACHERS, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.



—Rebecca Didier, Senior Editor

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of horse books and DVDs, is a small, privately owned company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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Arthur with his daughter Caroline.

Arthur with his daughter Caroline.

When your horse is slow or reluctant to respond promptly to your leg aid, he’s not “in front of the leg.” We all know how much work it is to ride a horse that isn’t in front of the leg—it feels like no matter how early you prepare the horse for the upward transition, how much you indicate with your seat or squeeze with your legs, he still shuffles forward on his own schedule or ignores your aids altogether.

In his new book DRESSAGE SOLUTIONS, former First Chief Rider at the renowned Spanish Riding School and international trainer and clinician Arthur Kottas-Heldenberg explains the many causes of this problem. He also gives us clear and easy-to-implement ways to improve the horse’s reaction time and get him solidly in front of the leg.


Cause: The horse may not understand what is being asked of him, therefore is hesitant and lacks confidence, making him slow to react. Consider whether the aids are being applied correctly and with good timing.

Solution: If the rider’s lower leg swings around, the horse will feel it accidentally bumping his sides in different places. He thinks this is an aid, responds forward, but the rider pulls on the reins, not realizing he was the cause of it. This confuses the horse so that in future he does not know whether to respond to the leg in case it leads to another pull on his mouth. In this example the solution clearly lies with the rider and he must work on his seat position in the saddle to improve the stability of his lower leg. This could include work on the lunge without stirrups and ensuring that the lower back is supple so that a deep seat can be maintained at all paces.


Cause: Strong hands can be the root of the problem. Again the rider needs help with his seat, trying to improve his balance so that he does not use the reins to keep himself in the saddle. Only a rider who can remain in balance independent of the reins and stirrups for support can achieve good hands. Behind the leg can also be a tack issue—ask yourself, “Is the bit too strong for my horse?”

Solution: The horse may have a sensitive mouth and be afraid of going forward if the bit is severe and the rider’s hands are not subtle. An experienced trainer can advise whether a milder bit would be more suitable and encourage the horse to relax and go more freely forward from the leg aids. Our aim should be that our horses go happily in a simple snaffle bit with a cavesson noseband, or a correctly fitted drop or flash noseband if he opens his mouth. Later the double bridle can be introduced, but only when the horse is accepting the snaffle correctly and the rider has achieved a level of sophistication in his riding skills. The double or full bridle should never be used as strong brakes, or to manipulate the head and neck carriage into an arched position. When our horse has been trained to a level where all the work can be achieved harmoniously in the snaffle bridle, then the double can be used to add refinement to the aids.


Cause: A lazy or phlegmatic horse may be slow to react to our leg aids.

Solution: We can sensitize this horse to our legs by making many transitions, both between the gaits and within them. By doing this we focus the horse’s mind, and the frequency of the transitions will bring him onto our aids and can also make the hind legs active. If he is dull to our leg aids, kicking his sides is likely to cause resentment and further deaden his responses. Keep the legs light and, if he ignores the aid, tap him with the schooling whip by your inside leg. It is important to time this with the leg aid so that the horse associates leg and whip as meaning the same thing. This way we can teach the horse to respond to light touches from the legs. If the horse is feeling sluggish, then we can raise his adrenalin levels with some canter work. After warming up, try some canter in a light seat. Encourage him to make some tempo changes, whilst maintaining control and balance. The priority is to activate our horse, as it is his energy we channel when we put him on the bit, and without controlled energy we have nothing.


Cause: Some horses can become stale and lethargic if their routine never varies. For them we can vary the day-to-day work program.

Solution: Include some hacking in the country once or twice a week. Use some small cavalletti. This can be fun for the horse and sharpen his responses to our aids. It is also a good way to gymnasticize the horse, so that we achieve one of our aims in a different way than usual. Take your horse to different arenas occasionally. A different environment may make the dull horse brighter and easier to ride. Some horses thrive when they are worked in company and this may help improve his responses to the aids.


Cause: If the horse is young or physically weak, fatigue can slow his reactions to our legs.

Solution: Consider changing the work program to shorter sessions so that you can finish while he is still fresh and enjoying his work. If possible, ride twice a day but for shorter periods so that he can recover his energy in between. Continuing to work a tired horse is a mistake and can lead to evasions. Review the horse’s diet, to ensure he is fed a balanced regime that provides all the carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals he needs to perform his work. If you are not sure, then seek the advice of an equine nutritionist.


Both the new DRESSAGE SOLUTIONS and its predecessor KOTTAS ON DRESSAGE are available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.



Need help from Arthur Kottas in person? Riders and auditors can now sign up for his June 2014 clinic at Windhorse Dressage Farm in Sherborn, Massachusetts, and Bear Spot Farm in Acton, Massachusetts.



Tuesday, June 24, Wednesday June 25, and Thursday, June 26

Windhorse Dressage Farm

34 Great Rock Road, Sherborn, MA 01770


Friday, June 27, Saturday, June 28, and Sunday, June 29

Bear Spot Farm

276 Pope Rd, Acton, MA 01720


The cost per ride is $290 per lesson. Riders and grooms are welcome to audit all day for free.

The cost to audit is $30 per day ($15 per day for current NEDA members). Rider spots are assigned on a first come, first served basis. Contact Irene Greenberg with questions at either 603-770-0939 or irene.e.greenberg@gmail.com.


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TSB author Arthur Kottas is a unique individual, equally well versed in both the classical and competitive sides of dressage. Kottas joined the Spanish Riding School at the age of 16 and achieved the top position of First Chief Rider in 1994, eventually retiring in 2003. He is also a recognized dressage judge and has trained and ridden competitively since childhood.

Kottas is known to be a fantastic teacher—knowledgeable, open, and accessible. His recent book KOTTAS ON DRESSAGE has received rave reviews—check them out!

“The best [book] to be written this century.” —British Horse


“Kottas-Heldenberg’s years of training experience shine through in his book. It’s organized extremely clearly, making it an excellent reference guide that you can refer back to without much page-flipping . . .Timeless dressage lessons for both horse and rider.” —Horsemen’s Yankee Pedlar


“There are various reasons why I loved this book, but a main one is its extraordinary clarity, in part a result of that organization. . . . If for some reason I was forced to abandon my considerable dog-eared dressage library and was allowed to take with me only a single book, this one would be it.” —Dressage Today

KOTTAS ON DRESSAGE is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is always FREE.

Click here to read Arthur Kottas’ thoughts on measuring degrees of collection on Equisearch.com.

Arthur Kottas is teaching clinics in two New England locations next week: October 16, 17 & 18 at Capstone Farm in Madbury, New Hampshire, and October 18, 19 & 20 at Bear Spot Farm in Acton, Massachusetts. Auditors are welcome (the audit fee is $20 per day for current NEDA members and $30 per day for non-members) and there are a few openings for riders. If interested, contact Irene Greenberg at 603-770-0939 or irene.e.greenberg@gmail.com.
Unable to attend a Kottas clinic? Read this great piece by Kottas about measuring degrees of collection on Equisearch.com, and don’t forget to get his book KOTTAS ON DRESSAGE.


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