What is Classical
The Training Scales  
of Horse and Rider
& Its Evasions 
How and Why Not?
& Auxillary Equipment

The Saddle


The Bridle & Bits


Other Equipment




Other Useful Equpiment

Not Necessary, But Sometimes Quite Practical Stuff


For the Horse:

Bandages & Polo Wraps
Lunge/Riding Cavesson

For the Rider:

The Do & Don't Buys
Riding Boots, Short Chaps...
Riding Gloves
Breeches - Full Seat or Jodphurs?

For the Horse:

Bandages & Polo Wraps

Hard shell leg protection
Hard shell leg protection.

There are all kinds of leg protection devices out there in the tack shops. Most of them are made to protect the horse's legs from either his own hooves, or from poles and obstacles hitting the leg and causing bruises, inflamation, woulds, pain, etc. This is all good. Even for the dressage horse this is good, since an unbalanced horse simply trying to move along in regular gaits very easily can hit his own legs with his hoofs because he is unbalanced. Now, I hope you understand that the hoof does not bend up and hit the leg it is attached to. That would be terribly unnatural. But the left foreleg's hoof can hit the right foreleg. Or it can hit the left hindleg. Or even the right hindleg. It is more common for the hindlegs' hooves to hit the forelegs or each other, or for the frontlegs to hit each other. Muscular imbalance can cause the legs to slant inwards and the hooves to be placed tighter together on the ground and not on two separate tracks. Their line of travel can also be affected by muscular imbalance and move the trajectory towards the other side instead of in a vertical bow. But I will not go into that here.

Soft wrap leg protection
Soft wrap leg protection.

Polo wraps or bandages can protect from that too, although not as well as for example a shell made from leather or plastic lined with neoprene or fleece. Those kinds of splint boots work like a helmet on the horse's legs. In a bandaged leg, you do not have the outer shell that spreads the impact for the lining to absorb the shock.

Bandages can protect from brushing injuries which are small cuts in the skin. But splint boots are sometimes better, at least if they fit. If they don't fit, sand and gravel can sneak in between the leg and the wrap and cause abrasions and blisters.

Bandages and polo wraps can cause blisters as well. If you wrap them too tightly, or the pads are misaligned, or they are too loose and shafe. It is an art to wrap correctly. Wraps can also cause serious accidents if they come undone. The loose end can scare the horse, or he can step on it and trip. He can also get caught in fencing or other things and tear the whole place down, fall and land on top of you, etc, etc. Horrible.

Those accidents are however rare and keep getting rarer because the fastening devices on bandages are getting better and better. 40 years ago, they were two little cotton strings that one tied in a bow. Neat, but hardly safe. Now we have velcro. Amen.

The stress on the fetlock joint
The stress on the fetlock joint.

But, to be honest, most dressage riders don't use polo wraps to protect the leg from the other legs. They usually use them to support the leg that is heavily loaded. Now, what is it that is being protected, here? Well some say it is the tendons at the back of the leg. The wraps are supposed to keep them in place and support their position. The thought might be nice, but it does not work that way. The tendons are kept in place by strong sheaths of ligament and other tissue. This is doing all the work. If it needs support from some flimsy fabric on the outside, the horse is desperately lame and needs operation. Think about it - horses land from 5 feet obstacles, usually on one leading leg. Imagine the impact of the entire warmblood horse plus the rider's weight. The tendons take this, and the sheaths keep them im place. As the horse lands and loads the legs like this several times a week, the tendons and sheaths are reinforced becoming stronger and stronger. If a horse can withstand this, what extra can relatively loosely wrapped fabric do to aid it? The answer is - Nothing.

The dressage horse is not under such strain, ever. He is also supposedly more meticulously trained, and his tendons are really strengthened over the years.

Tight, tough neopren wrap
Tight, tough neopren wrap.

Some say that the bandages support the fetlock joint. The wrapping will stop the fetlock joint from overbending as the leg is loaded. But again we are talking about much greater forces than fabric can handle. It will simply stretch or compress the skin and the padding to allow the give that the weight of the horse will cause in the fetlock. Science has even tried to construct devices that can be scientifically proven to lessen the give in the fetlock. These devices are made from 1/3 inch thick neoprene, reinforced with nylon webbing and velcro fastenings, and are wrapped around the leg with fantastic effort. The wide velcro fastenings have to be extremely firmly tightened in a precise crossing position under the fetlock, to have any effect at all. So what will some semi-loose bandages do in comparison? Nada.

So do they have really no effect whatsoever?

Well, no. They do have one effect that is positive. And when you think of the origins of wrapping horses' legs, you see why. The whole wrapping tradition comes from English thoroughbred racing. They always wrap their horses legs, during work or at night in the stables and so on. Why?

Not because it supports the tendons or the fetlock, but because it warms the leg and promotes circulation. The racing industry is a fast one. Horses are not exactly warmed up with 10 minutes of walk and then a jogging trot to get the juices going. They are taken out to the track, the jockey is shoved up and away we go!

Dressage horses are not ridden that way, or at least they shouldn't be. Dressage horses don't need wraps, because they are supposedly constructively trained, and are warmed up slowly to get the synovial fluids going.

Lunge/Riding Cavesson

A lunge cavesson with its firm upholstered noseband
A lunge cavesson with its firm
upholstered noseband.

It is harder than one would think to find and use a good lunge cavesson. First of all, most of them are budget manufactured, meant for horses started in lungeing and after just a few weeks, leaving that behind. No need for high quality, here. Some are even made from nylon and are very unstable. Second, most of them are upholstered to such an extreme extent, that they become loose-ish no matter how tight you buckle them, and can rotate around the horse's head when he polls on the lungeline. They really shouldn't do that, because it harms the horse - he gets the side piece from the other side-piece in his eye, when the noseband rotates your way (to the inside). Bad. Thirdly, they hardly ever have the double set of jaw straps that they need, to keep the thing in place to avoid the eye accident.

A riding cavesson with its thinner, sharper noseband
A riding cavesson with its thinner,
sharper noseband.

Most riders don't know it, but you can use a lunging cavesson, or preferably one that is more adapted to riding, for just that - riding. Riding a young horse learning to go forward, and possibly bend, can just as easily be done in a cavesson. There are cavessons from the iberian tradition, that are used instead of the snaffle, even up to the double bridle niveau. Because the rings at the sides can attach the reins and let them do exactly what the snaffle should, bend and position, you don't need to put a bit in the mouth. The rein aids can have no effect on the jaw, but more of an effect on the sideways bend of the poll, by actually pulling the front ridge of the head to the side. Very effective positioning. One must, of course, know how flexions can make the horse arch his neck. Otherwise, the reins are just a balance strap, like the snaffle reins are for many riders.

Some horses are really hot, and the beginning of strating under saddle has the one goal of slowing do´wn and restoring calm. A riding cavesson can be really good in such circumstances, because it does not add pain to the equation. It can, however, feel a bit powerless.

A lunge cavesson with double jaw straps
A lunge cavesson with double
jaw straps.
Bit attachment on the cavesson
Bit attachment on the

There are usually extra hooks on the sides for attaching cheek pieces for a snaffle. This is for lungeing with a bit in the mouth, as in, "I'm a 3+1/2 year old greenie and need to get used to things". Don't use the nose-ring for the lunge line and then go strap on sidereins to the bit or something like it. Why are you using a cavesson in the first place? To save the mouth! Don't ruin it by attaching sidereins to the bit! There are 3 or more rings on the cavesson, and if you for some reason feel it necessary to strap your horse together with sidereins, do it by the rings, not his mouth.

For the Rider


Different types of spurs
Different types of spurs.

I will begin with clearly stating that I do NOT regard spurs to be gadgets. Spurs are legitimate pieces of equipment, like a bit or stirrups. Some riders ride without a bit or without stirrups as well, and that's fine with me, but reaching for the goals of a classically trained dressage horse, bits, stirrups and spurs are needed.

How can I say that I need spurs? That would be awful to say. Well, the thing is that I don't really need them like I need air to breathe, but that I need them so that I will not have to move my feet about when giving the leg aids.

You must have your leg placed toes forward, and only slightly rotate it for an aid
You must have your leg placed toes forward,
and only slightly rotate it for an aid.

Moving the lower leg so that the heel touches the horse's side moves the entire leg. The knee will need to turn out, rotating the thigh, and if the horse chooses to disregard the soft pressure of the heel, you might even need to draw the heel up some to get more "sting". This causes tension in the whole leg, and it causes the horse to start to ignore your leg aids because they are cumbersome, and because your body is not ready for their reaction in the horse with that turned leg.

It is true, that with a well trained horse, one barely uses the spurs. It is also true that the spurs should never be used to nag the horse in the sides repetitively, or be constantly "on" the horse. Used in such a way, spurs can inflict serious injuries to the horse's sides, not to mention his feelings. I remember with horror the news report of a fairly famous Swedish rider getting "noted" for having jabbed holes in the sides of his GP dressage mount! He was no disqualified, he only got a reprimand from the judges.

A swallow spur, unneccerily sharp
A swallow spur, unneccerily sharp.

Spurs also shouldn't be sharp. They aren't meant to hurt as in pain, only to prick and to be felt. There's no need for pointy, sharp arrow heads.

Contrary to many peoples reactions the roweled spurs common in dressage today is not at all as "bad" as they first look.

A rowel spur, not as sharp as one might think
A rowel spur, not as sharp as one might think.

This is so, because the points of the rowel are not sharp - they are rounded. Second, at no time does one single point only touch the horse, there are always several, making the area of contact larger. And thirdly, and this is the whole reason for their use - they never catch the skin to draw it up in a wrinkle like unroweled spurs might. This pulling action on the skin of the horse hurts and increases the risk of injury. The rowel just rolls over the skin, like a wheel.

You can see this if you ride a thoroughbred or other horse with a flimsy coat. That horse might get marks from regular spurs if they are used alot, but does not get rubbings from roweled spurs. You don't need to have a jagged edge on the discs for this beneficial effect, smooth discs are just as good.

A turned up swan neck spur
A turned up swan neck spur.

The length of the knob of the spur depends on several things - the riders degree of skill, length of leg, the horse's depth, placement of the spur on the heel, etc. The shape of the knob is also dependent on this. In the FEI rules, it says that spurs should always be pointing downwards, rather than upwards. This is to discurage from using spurs like hooks, catching the skin. But not all upward spurs are like that.

At the SRS they use upward turned spurs almost exclusively. The Swan Neck type. Which brings to mind another story of sadly lacking insight by some upper level riders. A bereiter I know, trained at Flyinge stud and everything, used to ride with swan neck spurs, but have them upside down, pointing down. I remarked that they had those at the SRS, and she looked interested, so I added that they have them the other way around because of the long legs of the gentlemen, and the not so full depth of the smallish horses. And her instant reply was "No, that's so cruel!" And this comes from someone who rides habitually in drawreins and a thin bradoon.

How much does the foot need to turn to engage the spur?
How much does the foot need to turn to engage the spur?

Now, back to spur function. When the leg is in its neutral position, the spurs should be away from the horse's sides. The amount of foot movement generated by the horse moving should also be taken into account. Legs are not perfectly still, even on a very skilled rider. The toes always point more or less to the outside, and thus the heel points inward. The belly of the horse is wider further back so the horse is tapered and the sides are not parallel.

Next the spurs must be long enough to do any good. Small pealike knobs really are of very little use. When the knob is long enough that you only have to wiggle the foot sideways to touch the horse's sides, you're about right. And this is how that aid should be given. Turn toes out, heel still down. Do not draw the heel up since that causes unnecessary tension. Do not swing the entire lower leg back - you will prick the horse in the flank where it does no good.

The Do & Don't Buys

Useless stick-on/fall-off spurs
Useless stick-on/fall-off spurs.

The sharp swallow spurs mentioned above are out of place. If you want to hurt your horse, come right out and say so. The same goes for sharp jagged rowels. Also avoid straight cut off knobs - choose rounded ones.

Don't be fooled by the deceptive simplicity of stick-on spurs, either. It looks really cool in the locker room, but they come off, and especially when you least want them to. That is why so many sell them on eBay - only used once. They don't work.

The snug fitting ultra-fit spurs
The snug fitting ultra-fit spurs.

Brass spurs. Brass is a soft metal. Unless you buy really heavy thick spurs, they will bend and warp in your tack box, and start to look less and less pleasing pretty soon.

The tweaked ultra-fit attachment
The tweaked ultra-fit attachment.

What does work, is Sprenger's Ultra Fit system. Their strap insertion has been bent out to make this part of the spur less bulky, and it works. Unfortunately, they only have this special design on their Ultra Fit line, which is cheaper and thinner metal with the knob riveted on(!) at the back. I wish they had it on the heavier aurigane Balkenhol line. That would look so much nicer.

Riding Boots, Short Chaps...

Hard-shell boots
Hard-shell boots.

Some riders, even big name trainers and Olympic contesters, claim that you must use hard-shell boots when riding, to get the right contact with your horse. That is absolute rubbish. You may need them to stabilize your lower leg, to get any kind of contact at all, but that's a personal challenge, not a universal truth. I prefer to ride without any boot or short chaps just because I feel the horse's sides extremely well without multiple layers between me and him. He is also a very hot horse, and it's good for me to feel the quality of the slightest nudge I give him, because he certainly does.


Tall boots, and especially hard shell tall boots, can hide your vices for years. You can crunch your toes, turn your soles in, even stand on the ball of the foot without it beeing seen from the outside because the hard shell of the boot remains the same. Boots are also usually very tight in the beginning, making it hard to bend in the knee, and after they have softened, they skid down an ich and bunch up around the ancles, and make you stiffer there.

Short chaps
Short chaps.

If you like boots, fine. Use them. But don't let anyone tell you that you NEED them to ride correctly. What you need, in that case, is some seat training.

If you use regular breeches, with the velcro closing at the bottom, you need some kind of protection over the leg. They tend to slip up the leg leaving your lower leg bare. Then, the stirrup leathers, the girth or the saddle can chafe you.

I know some people who use those high plaid socks only. That's probably OK. You can also use short chaps. They cover your lower leg from just below the knee, down. They can be of thicker leather or suede or they can be really thin or even made from canvas. Whichever, you will need a pair of paddock boots, or some kind of lower boot to go with it. Or hey, sneakers might do? Oh, no. That's right. You need some heel.

Riding Gloves

I read in a Q & A column in Dressage Today, where someone asked about gloves, a reply that baffled me. A prominent American/Canadian olympic rider stated that you must use gloves to get the right sensitivity of the hand. As usual, there wasn't even a hint of an explanation as to how that is so. Basically, because there is none. Well, one: If you use notched, braided, rubber noduled or webbed canvas reins and do some quite heavy handiwork, you will rub your hands raw. That will increase your "sensitivity" immensely, so much so that you will start to hold the reins longer out on the fingers with opened hands. That makes for less sensitive contact.

Riding bareback REALLY increases both the rider's and horse's sensitivity. Because there's nothing between the contact surfaces. Usually, there's a little too much contact in specific places to please both horse and rider, so a saddle is used to save bum and back. But then you get LESS sensitivity, everyone who's ever ridden bareback knows that. The same goes for gloves.

If you have ever ridden with bare hands on smooth leather reins, and with a soft contact, you know the inside of your horse's mouth. You feel him swallow, chew the bit, and the tinyest forms of resistance.

I have yet to see padded gloves, or those lined with gel cushions to spare the hands of the poor rider. But I'm pretty sure I will see it, sooner or later.

Breeches - Full Seat, Fabric Seat & Jodphurs?

Some people will tell you that you need full seat breeches to ride, too. That they will "secure your seat". They probably already have you in an extra deep dressage saddle with huge knee rolls and thigh blocks, as well as ask you to use knee pressure constantly, for drive or something else. The only chance you have of an un-secure seat, is that the horse actually unseats you. And if he wants to, believe me, he will do that even if you wear glue on your buttocks.

Leather, suede or their imitations are not necessary for breeches. If you have a good balance, you will stay on the horse with balance, not ass-friction. They can actually inhibit your correct seat by making you stick to that wrong place that you happen to go sometimes. It's hard to scoot to the right place without getting up into the stirrups.

The only good that they do in my opinion, is that the pants don't wear out so quickly. They last more than double as long, provided the rest of the pants ar of good enough quality. Poor quality pants wear out in the waist, zipper, velcro, knees... etc.

Boot cut breeches
Boot cut breeches.

I like icelandic boot cut breeches, or jodphurs, as some call them. For a long time, I thought I was the only non-icelandic rider who liked them, but then I saw baroque rider Bent Branderup wear them, and he looked very nice indeed. We are in good company, since Richard Wätjen of the SRS also wore them, as did Nuno Oliveira. They didn't need the stability of the hard shell tall boots, did they?

The Saddle


The Bridle & Bits


Other Equipment



Copyright © 2001-2005 Theresa Sandin