THoughts on Refinement

Just lately I have been helping a lot of my students with advanced work. My intention with this article is to try and define refinement as I see it. To me when impulsion, respect, flexion, and submission all come together we have a recipe for refinement.

 Let me list the ingredients a rider needs to help refinement work.


When a rider can free all 7 places that a horse can brace their body ( the jaw, the poll, the neck in front of the withers, each front leg and each hind leg) we now have a horse that is soft throughout its body.


The rider can ask the horse to go simply by squeezing the horse with their toes pointed out the rider can achieve forward movement right up to a gallop if necessary, in several strides!

Conversely, the rider can ask their horse to stop, using the rein back position (legs forward, toes in) within several strides without using strong hand signals. impulsion is when whoa equals go…


The rider can achieve both upward and downward transitions simply by changing rhythm.


Collection can be achieved either by riding the horse in self-carriage using a concentrated rein or on a loose rein by using the rein back signal to bring the horses hindquarters under him.


The horse can be lifted at a halt or any of the gaits simply by holding the reins on a contact and asking with the legs wrapped around the horse, for the horse to lift his spine and shoulders.


The horse moves forward holding itself in self-carriage, hind legs driving well forward, back rounded, poll the highest point of the horse’s body, head giving softly to the bit either on or slightly in front of the vertical. This is a product of the horse working correctly through its back. Not a product of forcing the horse to work on a contact.



The horse will move laterally in a leg yield or halfpass, easily and softly, bending its body freely at the will of its rider.


Hindquarter yields both ways, turn on the haunches (forequarter yields) both ways freely at the riders request.


When the rider has to do little more than think what they require of the horse and the horse responds, when the aids are so refined it takes four ounces of pressure or less to achieve all of the above.


The rider understands the horse’s needs and takes care that the horse is never placed in a situation that can lead to the horse being hurt or frightened. The horse knows this, trusts the rider, respects the rider, sees the rider as its leader and cares enough to want to please the rider.

When all these things come together, when communication between rider and horse is so refined that the aids cannot be seen, when the horse willingly holds itself in self-carriage and offers soft feel, the body is soft and flowing. The rider is sitting straight up in the saddle, the horse is balanced, the rider is balanced -they are working as one. This is refinement!!!

When you see this picture- the picture of a rider and a horse together, the horse up in a round frame, the poll rounded, the horse carrying soft feel. All of it voluntarily, cantering circles -soft, round and happy with a soft eye. This is refinement, a picture that you struggle to drag your eyes away from. This is the ART of the horseman, this is what I want my students to achieve.