You may have noticed the term “fluency” mentioned in the directives on your dressage score sheets. Although it’s a crucial component of the overall impression of the test, fluency is a little understood term that’s often overlooked by riders.
In this article, we tell you everything you need to know about fluency, including why it’s so important in dressage and how to achieve it.
What does fluency mean?
The word “fluency” is taken from the Latin word “fluentem,” meaning “to flow.”
In dressage, fluency refers to the horse’s overall way of going, transitions, medium or extended strides, and the harmony between the horse and rider. Everything the horse does should appear smooth, effortless, flowing, and graceful.
What is the dressage judge looking for?
In dressage tests, fluency is applicable to every movement and transition. So, the judge will look for:
- Smooth, even rhythm and tempo in all the paces
- Effortless, balanced, and flowing upward transitions and downward transitions
- Light, cadenced footfalls
- Suppleness through the horse’s back
- Harmony, and mental and physical relaxation of and between the horse and his rider
How to improve your dressage test fluency
There are many different aspects that go into improving the fluency of your dressage test performance, but they all rely on the basic dressage Scales of Training being in place and the horse working correctly along them.
So, in a nutshell, to present a fluent picture, your horse must:
- Work in the correct, regular rhythm for each pace and at an appropriate, even tempo.
- Be loose and supple through his back without any signs of stiffness or tension.
- Work into an elastic contact and round frame without showing any resistance to the rider’s hand.
- Work forward from behind with plenty of controlled energy to an uphill balance.
- Remain straight on straight lines and show a uniform bend around circles and through turns.
- Remain balanced through upward and downward transitions.
Now, let’s take a look at a selection of movements in dressage tests in the context of good fluency.
When the horse makes an upward transition from one pace to another or within a pace, the transition should be sharp, responsive, and executed without hesitation. The horse should not lurch abruptly into the next pace, or become hollow, or crooked.
The overall impression should be of a smooth and seamless transition, i.e., a fluent change from one pace to another.
How to do it:
- Make sure that the horse is working forward and is listening to you.
- Give a half-halt before the transition to engage the hind legs and balance the horse.
- Check that you have the correct bend or inside flexion.
- Sit up straight, look ahead, and apply the aids.
Related Read: How to Ride a Good Upwards Transition
Downward transitions are often not fluent, largely because the horse loses his balance and falls in a heap.
So, in a fluent downward transition, the horse will go from one pace to the new one in one fluid movement, without falling onto his forehand or stopping abruptly.
How to do it:
Give a half-halt before the transition, and don’t stop riding forward. You need plenty of impulsion in a downward transition to engage the horse’s hind legs and encourage him to step underneath and push himself forward into the new pace.
Similarly, if you don’t ride forward into a halt, the chances are that the horse won’t halt square and will most likely trail a hind leg.
In a nutshell, if you simply slam on the brakes without using your legs, a downward transition will be rough, unbalanced, and not fluent.
Related Read: How to Ride a Forwards Downward Transition
Medium/extended trot and canter
Medium and extended paces often lack fluency because the rider fails to prepare for the transitions into and out of the extensions.
The horse should move seamlessly from the working or collected pace into the medium or extended strides without losing rhythm or balance and likewise back again.
How to do it:
- Prepare your horse by riding deep into the corner before the movement.
- Use a half-halt to balance the horse and bring his hind legs more underneath his body so that his balance remains uphill.
- Build the impulsion, but don’t fire the horse abruptly into the medium steps! Make the transition smooth and balanced by gradually easing your hand forward to allow the horse to lengthen his steps and frame fluently.
- Keep the steps regular, even in tempo, and balanced before asking the horse to come back smoothly into the working or collected pace via a well-timed half-halt.
- How to Ride Medium Trot
- How to Ride Medium Canter
- How to Ride Extended Trot
- How to Ride Extended Canter
Lateral exercises, including leg-yield, shoulder-in, travers, and half-pass, should appear effortless, smooth, and flowing. There should be no loss of rhythm, no jerkiness, or variation in tempo or positioning, and the horse’s legs should cross fluently as he covers the ground sideways.
How to do it:
Riding fluent lateral exercises is all about preparing and positioning your horse correctly for the movement.
Use a half-halt to prepare the horse, look where you’re going, keep the horse working forward through his back into the bridle, and concentrate on keeping the rhythm throughout the movement.
Crucially, you must make the horse straight for a stride before and after the movement so that he doesn’t trail his quarters at the start or fade out of the movement at the end.
The key to riding a fluent dressage test is to train your horse correctly along the dressage Scales of Training. Once all the elements of the horse’s way of going are securely in place, his performance will be fluent.
Do you have any other tips on how to ride a fluent dressage test, or have you received positive comments from a dressage judge about the fluency of your horse’s performance? Let us know about it in the comments box below.