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How to Sharpen up a Lazy Horse

How to Sharpen up a Lazy Horse

Not every horse is as enthusiastic about dressage as their rider, and although the judge is looking for relaxation and calmness in the horse’s way of going, impulsion is also required for high marks.

This can be a problem for those with equines of a laid-back disposition.

So, how do you go about sharpening up your lazy dressage horse?

Read on for some helpful tips.

Quality of life

In order for a horse to be enthusiastic about his work, it’s important that he is ‘happy’ in his day to day life.

Put yourself in the horse’s shoes and imagine for a moment that you were asked to do the same job every single day, whilst living in a small room all by yourself and with no interaction with others.

You would soon become bored and disinterested in your work and with your life in general.

Keep your horse happy by ensuring that he has plenty of free time to just enjoy being a horse!

Ideally, this means providing him with turnout and company for at least a few hours every day.


Good dressage performance comes from the systematic training and development of the horse along the Scales of Training, and this means that your horse’s schooling regime will include a fair amount of repetition.

This is also necessary to enable him to build up sufficient physical strength and suppleness in order to carry out the movements required and to build up enough stamina to cope with the demands of the longer, more challenging tests.

However, it’s important that you include variation within your horse’s work to prevent him from becoming stale.

A bored horse won’t work with enthusiasm for you; he will merely trudge through the exercises because he has to.

Keep your horse interested in his work by including alternative activities in addition to his schooling.

Pole work

Try incorporating pole work into one of your weekly schooling sessions.

Trotting poles are great for developing the horse’s strength and coordination, for teaching him to lengthen his stride, and for encouraging increased flexion of his hind leg joints.


Most horses enjoy becoming airborne from time to time.

You don’t have to tackle huge obstacles to give your horse a fun training session; just put up a couple of cross poles or build a small grid of cavaletti.

Jumping encourages the horse to use his back muscles and helps to develop hind leg strength and general fitness.

If you don’t like taking to the skies yourself, loose school your horse over small fences built in a jumping lane.


Most horses find a change of scenery exciting.

A spin around the bridleways or a trip to the beach for a pipe-opener are great ways of adding more fun to your horse’s routine.

Try incorporating a little bit of schooling whilst you’re out and about and your horse is more forward going.

Fit for action

It’s unrealistic to expect your horse to work forward and with enthusiasm if he’s totally unfit.

Incorporate fittening work into your schooling programme to make sure your horse is fit for action.

Lungeing is a useful addition, as is hill work.

In the school

Here are a few tried and tested techniques for generating more enthusiasm from your horse in the school:

Less is more

Resist the urge to continually squeeze or kick your horse in an attempt to generate more energy.  Horses very quickly become unresponsive or ‘dead’ to repetitive aids.

Instead, sit still and ask your horse to move forward from a polite squeeze of your lower leg.  If you receive an inadequate response, remove your leg and immediately give your horse a really hard kick behind the girth with your heel.  This should generate a more lively reaction.

Now, sit still and expect your horse to continue working forward.  Every time your horse drops off your leg aid, repeat the exercise.

As soon as your horse moves forward, sit still and reward him with a pat so that he understands that he’s got it right.


Some horses become bored very easily, and endless 20-meter circles in working trot just encourage them to switch off.

Instead, spice things up by including lots of transitions between the different paces and within them.

This tactic can help to keep a lazy horse’s mind on the job and encourage him to think more forward.

Tally Ho!

Another effective ruse you could try is to incorporate sudden bursts of extended canter down the long sides of the arena.  This is a great exercise for waking up a horse that’s switched off!

It doesn’t matter if the canter is unbalanced or untidy as long as the horse delivers the burst of energy you wanted and maintains it during the remainder of the session.

Artificial aids

Don’t be tempted to resort to using a schooling whip and/or spurs to make your horse go forward.

The dressage judge is looking to see that your horse is in front of your leg, not going forwards under sufferance of artificial aids.

It’s also worth remembering that, in many championship classes, you are not allowed to carry a whip.  Having said that, it can be a useful tactic to wear spurs or carry a whip every now and then to back up your leg aids if your horse is beginning to switch off.

In conclusion

There are many different tactics for sharpening up a lazy horse, and it’s a matter of trial and error to determine what works best for yours.

Keep your horse happy in himself, provide a varied work routine, and look forward to higher marks for impulsion!

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