Whoa You Fool Productions

ABOUT THE BOOK... with sample pages
An animation that shows "How to write a book..."
FEI Site
Networking Sites (International)

Abbreviated Contents:

Lateral Work: Shoulder-in
Lateral work: Shoulder-in and
Leg Yielding

Copyright Desiderata:

Whoa You Fool Productions is the work of Dr. Nancy L. Nicholson.

Dr. Nancy Nicholson is a USDF "L" Dressage Graduate With Distinction

Movies are the work of Dr. Nancy Nicholson, with videographers or authors cited where relevant.

All atlas graphics are original. Technical articles are cited where mentioned. Photographs are by the author, or are acknowledged in the relevant image captions. Please respect copyrights. Thank you.

Networking Around the World:
South Africa Equine
The ultimate equine website for buying & selling horses and much more!

(ethical horsemanship)Global Dressage Forum Site
•Dressage Terms
•Forum News

A web site for those who wish to design dressage freestyles

Ben-Lyn Anchorman
In memory of Ben Lyn Anchorman
(American Morgan Horse 1978-1995)
Biomechanical Riding & Dressage:
A Rider's Atlas
Table of Contents
Please note: there is original research by Dr. Nicholson on this site protected by copyright law. Please ask permission to use for any purpose.
Attention & Confidence those foundation qualities of a horse's training that build trust between partners... and how horses use their minds. Included is an iterative, interconnected training pattern as a classical system of riding. This page also includes an iterative version of the training PROCESS that has the CONTENT of linear or pyramid style "training trees." The diagram indicates relations of CONTENT skills to the PROCESS cycles of gymnastic plus mental development of a dressage horse.

Equine Social Intelligence: 12 tests based on the test series that rank canine social intelligence. There are references to other literature, if you wish to pursue animal ways of thinking.

Some thoughts about an iterated training program for riders wishing to adopt an independent spiral seat. The Independent Seat is complex and its dependence on "riding with your core" takes time to learn. It is very demanding of alert relaxation, a dancer's isolations and light, steady connection to a horse.
Classical Training: Self Carriage and Relative Elevation as complex qualities that embrace gymnastic and mental qualities of a horse's development.

Collection and Engagement versus Contraction: a modest proposal about the biomechanics of riding a horse forward to the bridle to create LIGHTNESS...

An illustrated discussion of why problems with transitions lead to a shortening of a horse's outline (tensioned riding with contracted gaits). Collection is based on straightness plus a horse's developed coordination at sustained lifting of its whole spine, or managing its posture (relative elevation). Engagement as increased flexion of the joints of the hind legs is illustrated for canter, along with its conseqences for the horse's forehand posture. Riding dressage transitions as forward, prompt and (at least) level with an understanding of how to achieve their multiple requirements of

•tempo (timing of strides, usually as "strides/minute")
•rhythm (pattern, timing of steps within a stride)
•phase shift of legs (symmetry breaking, passive and dynamic balance) &,
•velocity change

is one key to collection. Another key to collection is a rider's sense of timing for the aids, which requires an independent seat.

Classical Equitation and Exercises on Voltes (La Guérinière and Saunier): movies illustrate some exercises on square and round voltes.

Biomechanics of the Spiral Seat or Dressage Seat

•How aids affect performance
Cinchiness , placement of the saddle and how improper saddling may prevent bending
•A VERY brief illustrated history of saddles (from rump to withers...)
Feeling the spine and back muscles work for each gait
Half Halts as requests for the horse to rebalance its mass

The Independent Spiral Seat

•Selected history of humans riding horses
Movements of the independent rider's seat which follow the horse's back muscles (and an animation!)
•Riding the Elastic Ring and the Elastic Ring structure

On the Contact, On the Aids and On the Bit
The distinction between on the contact and on the bit (preferred term "on the aids") is technically the upward adjustment in posture of the spine that the horse makes in response to the aids, especially those of the rider's lower body. This happens when the contact between rider and horse is continuous through both their bodies. "On the aids" produces a unification through what some authors term "the circle of aids." "On the bit" is a term in common use, but it is a preference of this site to use "on the aids" or "on the contact". This series of pages has images representative of green and schooled horses.

Interference with the contact (canter)

Anatomy with radiographic material on the hyoid apparatus in context of "on the aids" and problems with breathing that may result from holding a horse's neck short. Includes citations from the veterinary literature concerning anatomy of injuries dressage horses experience from being ridden behind the vertical for long periods.

Adjustment of the Horse's Posture from the Lower Leg
•Yes, there is a Bend and more! There is roll, pitch and yaw. Horses exhibit very complex motions of their spines with each stride: in general, each motion axis is paired with another. For example, lateral bending in the spine is accompanied by some axial rotation. This pairing of movements reflects basic architecture of a vertebrate skeleton. A pair of piaffe in hand movies taken to show the activity of the back are offered here for illustration. Also included is the way dressage judges are asked to talk about flexion and bend. In addition, technical/scientific articles showing direct measurements of the horse's spine (bending is just one motion that a horse's spine makes in three dimensions) are cited at the bottom of each page as well as in the discussion context.
Bending combined with primary position and motions of the spine during each stride are shown with the data for walking and haunches-in (lateral bend, axial rotation, and flexion/extension).

NOTE: It needs to be made very clear that horses do bend and that the essence of this process is the placement of the inside hind under the inside hip so that they do not lean in on circles or when passing corners. Horses that lean through corners do not bend because they cross the inside hind under the body. This keeps the diagonal pairs spaced equally left to right (yes! all bending introduces asymmetry into the L ---> R spacing of the two diagonals). But dressage asks the horse to track with forehand and hindquarters aligned so that they are vertical when on a curved track, in lateral work or in pirouettes. Bending in the trunk/rib cage is accompanied by some axial rotation (as in the belly swing of the walk). Further, the rib cage system is capable of elastically changing its shape in three dimensions as can be observed from the front, rear and top. During these shape changes, viewers from the side see a compression of the trunk that shortens the measurable distance between the first and last ribs (concave shape) alternating with a lengthening of that distance (convex shape). I DID give permission for the CAVALLO magazine to use material from my book. I did NOT give permission for the MenSport magazine to interpret my material. Statements made by MenSport are their own responsibility. I would welcome a chance to clarify any misunderstandings.

Straightness; three kinds of straightness are discussed:

•Straight on lines and curves (hind legs follow front legs)
•Push and carry capacity evenly flow from hind quarters (dependency on throughness)
•Alignment of all sections of the spine (problems include clamping the jaw, tilting head, locked sections of neck or "on the muscle," stiff and hollow sides)

Gaits and Dressage:

Dressage gaits are a very special case from the spectrum of equine movement (diagrammed). This page also has an illustrated outline of a bit of the math that shows how and why the classical masters managed to pragmatically figure out an internally consistent system of riding. Practice, theory and what horses know is a dynamic, evolving system of learning. This system involves "first principles" of timing (tempo) and sequence of legs that define pure dressage gaits and point to the loss of timing in damaged gaits. In addition, true gaits (including pacing, which is NOT a dressage gait) maintain the legs in special relations to the body's center of mass. These relations are the foundations for forward, fluent and prompt dressage transitions.

Transitions in a sampling of dressage tests is HERE.

For the fanciers of gaits other than those for dressage, there is very limited material on this site. However, the graphic from Hildebrand's 1965 Science article is HERE, and it includes all the symmetric gaits (tölt, rack, pace and so forth). I have to finish my book in this lifetime...


•Collected, Medium, Extended and Free Walks with head bob in time with the contact of legs on the ground and the swing of hind legs
Four Dressage Walks
) Compared
•Collected and Ordinary Walks Compared
Walk - ordinary
Suspended Walk and the Spanish Walk): a comparison with dressage walks and the Suspended Walk movie
Walk Pirouettes and the effect performing them has on the character of the walk


Trot - ordinary: an animation of the elastic ring (without muscles for limbs) with definitions of swing, stance, suspension.


Canter - general comments, breathing and canter
Canter - right lead with colored muscles (animation)
Canters Compared on the free longe (Medium, Collected, School, & Pirouette)
Collected canter (Quicktime movie: working without saddle or bridle)
Flying Change of Leg at the Canter (with muscles)

Riding TRANSITIONS between Gaits

Transitions - (six combinations of ordinary walk, trot, canter) Includes a general explanation of DRESSAGE transitions and how they differ from other sorts of gait changes.
Transitions used to develop collection (movies with balanced dressage transitions and also with transitions on the forehand). Dressage transitions are level in balance, prompt and fluent. Data on this page show the velocities, stride rates for dressage gaits. Transition from trot to canter.
Transitions between collected walk and collected canter: developing canter pirouettes Part One
Transitions between collected walk and collected canter: developing canter pirouettes Part Two
•Some suggestions for working using changes of bend and transitions to supple a horse in canter.
Transitions between trot and canter demonstrate the relation of transitions to tempo and throughness.

Throughness, a brief discussion and a movie or two as food for thought in terms of the relation of throughness to transitions between gaits of the campaign school and the high school. Additional ideas concerning throughness as more than "an unblocked state of the horse's musculature." Throughness is a positive attribute of skill of balance (poise). It is a capacity to maintain orientation in three dimensional space that replaces resistant leaning or bracing on parts of the skeleton. Included here is the trot-canter-trot transition as an example of the complex coordination required for throughness.

Lateral work: Shoulder-in and Half Passes and Leg Yield compared with shoulder-in on three and four tracks.

•Lateral work: Leg Yielding
•Lateral Work --- Classical Riding and the Old Masters: exercises on Square and Round Voltes

Placement of saddles so they do not interfere with the cartilage cap of the shoulder blade. In addition, the girth needs to be designed so it does not interfere with muscles at the bottom of the rib cage: these "bottom line" muscles are important contributors to the range of limb movement.

Long and low and other deep work that stretches the horse's spine while advancing the skill of the rider toward developing trust in an independent seat.
Remedial Exercises: some suggestions for repairing damaged gaits and bringing a horse back from illness or injury. Most of the work is unmounted and in walk, the foundation gait for dressage. This section approaches rider and horse coordination combined with relaxed, alert posture as having equal importance. Yes, that means riders need to evaluate their own concepts of contact and coordination patterns, especially for transitions, prior to mounted work. (under construction, not yet available)

PHI and the Golden Mean... as it applies to dressage

Il Cavallo of Leonardo da Vinci (foundry web site) PDF file
Il Cavallo discovery web site
Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned 500 years ago to construct an enormous bronze horse for Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, Italy. It was to be the largest equine statue ever built, standing 24 feet high. Leonardo's full-scale clay model was destroyed by war and the bronze horse was never constructed. (from the web site) By creating an overlay of all Leonardo's sketches that had been enlarged to precisely the same scale... but see my note below. FROM another site: Akamu (the artist recreating the sculpture) could discern the repetitiveness in his proportions. The difficulty was in blending actual equine anatomy with the vision she was developing for the statue. "What I tried to do was merge the aesthetic harmony of the piece and the anatomy," she says.

My Note: I have placed an image of "bronzed" Max next to Il Cavallo to indicate that the scaling of the head is not completely accurate (appears small). Leonardo Da Vinci was aware of the Golden Mean (see above) and its significance to animal proportions. Why this modification of head scaling was made by the modern artist was a decision for that artist to answer as she did above... but my preferred aesthetic is the natural proportion of head and body. Since when was the head not an harmonious part of the anatomy?

From the You're Not Gonna Believe This Department:
Robots in the saddle (OK, this is camels, but are horses next?)

•Ancestors of horses: fossil hunters at the Florida Museum of Natural History (free newsletter available from this site)

Horse evolution, the PBS site

and there was a time when birds ate horses... the terror bird (Titanis)

Biomechanics HOME Page

Networking Around the World:

(These links are presented for those visitors to this site who focus on classical equitation.)
Spanische Hofreitschule-Wien
English version of site

United States Lipizzan Registry

Royal View Farm
Breeders of Purebred Lipizzans

Noble Lipizzans
Purebred Lipizzans

For the Well-being of all Horses
Olympic winner Klaus Balkenhol and Hans-Heinrich Isenbart demand a change...

If - like us - you believe that
a return to the fundamental principles of classical equestrianism is urgently required,
only a supple horse can perform properly and remain healthy on the long-term,
an appreciation of physical and psychological connections in the training of horses has to be revived,
love of the horse and the aesthetics of equestrian sport should become a focal point once again,
horse-lovers throughout the world should unite in mutual pursuit of these aims. (SEVERAL LANGUAGES)

Association pour la Légèreté en Equitation
International Dressage & Equitation Association for Lightness

A great site with numerous pdf articles!
Classical training applies to driving as well!