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How to stop my horse from getting behind the vertical for western dressage?

Original Question

Hi Angie,

I have one problem that follows me and that is that my horses get a bit behind the vertical and especially in western dressage I get penalised heavily for it.

My horses are both soft and not jammed up but when I get my results the judges have even gone back and deducted a point for every mention of behind the vertical.

I know it isn’t correct but it ends up worrying me so much that I don’t compete.


Do you have any tips? One of my horses has to deal with doing a wide variety of riding too?

Thanks again,



John and Angie’s Answer

Hi Anne,

Great questions, this is a common problem with many western trained horses because they are so soft on the contact and can go behind the vertical. 

To help overcome this problem we would suggest lifting your hands up and also take them out wider which will make it a little more uncomfortable for your horse to sit behind vertical.

Then as soon as they are on the vertical reward them by softening your aids. Then ride them back up into the bridle again with your hands up and wide if they fall behind the vertical.  You just have to keep repeating this until they find the new ‘sweet-spot’ of softly taking the contact and sitting on the vertical not behind it.  It is always easier with someone on the ground until you can feel it, but this is unfortunately not always an option for many riders…

This may not be your problem, but some horses are very forward so some rider’s tend to use too much reins to hold their horse back and as a result their horse can get behind the vertical.  A few things to overcome this exercise is to balance your ‘go and who’ by doing HEAPS of downward transitions, and teaching your horse to stay more on your seat.  Every time they rush forward back them up (re-bound), until this takes the forward out of them and they stop rushing.  Then you can use your hands for contact not to slow them down. 

To get your horse ‘on the bit’ your horse basically needs to let you lean a little on his mouth and him take you forward without rushing.  This can be a tricky thing to teach a horse that has been taught to be super soft to contact OR a horse that is very soft by nature. 

Another thing that we do to get them more elevated in front and up on the contact more is little bumps with our legs to engage the horse’s backend.  We think about riding our horse into an uphill frame (on the bit).   You want to imagine you are lifting and elevating the front end of the horse up.  Imagine bouncing their front end up while jumping the backend so it sits and pushes.  You will probably also need to take your hands a little higher and wider and bump a little with your legs to activate your horse’s hindquarters as they ride up to the contact.

As for competing, I know it is disheartening but it would be great if you could keep competing while you work through this and disregard the comments and only take on the positive comments.  Try go and just have fun with your horse, I know that is harder said than done but the photos of you and your horse look lovely!

Hope this helps,
Angie and John



Angie Wicks

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