Forward and Free: work on the loose rein

Riding Level 4: Forward Movement pt II

Last week, we looked at forward movement.  This week we’ll look at the remainder of checkbox #7 in your Level 4 riding assessment: the free walk and work on a loose rein.

The Free Walk

A free walk on a loose rein is a common element of dressage tests at all levels.  It usually occurs some time past the halfway mark of the test and often carries a 2x multiplier, so it’s worth working on.

The free walk is a movement of relaxation.  The horse should

  • stretch her neck forward and down, lengthening her frame with her poll at or below the withers
  • open the angle of the jaw and throat, reaching forward with her nose
  •  lengthen her stride so that the hind feet overtrack (pass the hoofprints of) the fore feet.
  • move forward freely with swing through her back and a relaxed look

Errors in the free walk include lack of a clear four-beat walk, undertracking, ‘jigging’, lack of relaxation, lifting the head or not extending the nose.

Getting a good free walk

The free walk is often done on a diagonal across the ring, with a transition from and to medium walk at either end.  To achieve the free walk:

  • on the short side check your connection with your horse during the medium walk with a few half halts
  • use your leg aids to ask for more energy, but don’t release the rein aids yet
  • as you turn onto the diagonal relax your legs and let the reins slide slowly through your fingers
  • the horse should ‘chew’ the reins gradually out of your hands over a few strides to reach a rein length where you still have a very soft feel for the mouth.

The free walk is a reward for a horse that has been working hard. Horses will often exhale and softly work the bit.  The ears often come forward as there is less contact from the rider for the horse to ‘listen’ to.

Work on the Loose Rein

The walk and trot on the loose rein is related to, but not the same as, the free walk.  In the free walk, the horse stretches the reins out through the rider’s fingers by reaching down and forward, and the rider maintains a very soft contact throughout.  By contrast, when working on a loose rein, the weight of the rein itself is the only contact with the horse’s mouth.  There should be a visible sag in the rein, which no longer forms a straight line from bit to hand.

At Level 4, we won’t ask you to perform complex or difficult movements on the loose rein.  You may be asked to walk or trot a twenty-metre circle or perform a simple change of direction.  We won’t be looking for precision in the movement:  just the ability to ride your horse without depending on mouth contact.  Here are some of the things we want to see:

  • the horse neither speeds up or slows down on the loose rein
  • the horse continues in close to the same frame.  Some relaxation may be expected, but the horse should not be rooting downwards or popping her head up and hollowing her back
  • you are able to direct your horse in walk and trot
  • your seat remains balanced, indicating that you were not relying on the reins for balance


The first time you ‘give away’ your rein contact you may feel like you have no control.  Without reins, what is to stop your horse from going off track, or speeding up?  However, reins are only one of your aids.  Your seat and legs can still tell the horse plenty.  If you have established a good working gait that is straight and forward, relinquishing rein contact should not affect your direction or your horse’s way of going.   After all, in mounted combat, it is often necessary to drop the reins entirely and it is reassuring to know your horse will still listen to you.

Make a habit during your regular schooling rides of testing your horse’s self-carriage by periodically giving a loose rein.  And when you have the arena to yourself, go ahead and knot your reins and ride hands-free to test your seat aids.  You may be pleasantly surprised!


Last week three of our students completed all the requirements for the Green Spur.  This rank requires you to be a triple threat:  students must earn Horsemanship 1 and Riding 1 in addition to all the Mounted Combat Fundamentals requirements.  Congratulations to Robert Borsos, Emma Hammond, and Jenn Orme who may now come out to our next rank exam on March 31st to be presented with their spurs.  Well done!

Upcoming Courses

Note that all the March courses are full, with the exception of regular weekly Mounted Combat Classes.  The next series of Riding, Horsemanship, and Mounted Combat Fundamentals classes begin in April.

Youth Riding & Horsemanship

This course for kids aged 6-13 will introduce your child to ponies and horses in safe, fun, and friendly series of six classes taught by Pony Club qualified instructors. Each class contains a riding lesson as well as a horsemanship lesson where students will learn to handle, groom, and care for ponies and horses. Curriculum follows the Canadian Pony Club D level lessons and will prepare students for testing Academie Duello Mounted Combat Riding 1 or Pony Club D Level.

Thursdays 4pm – 6pm
30 Mar – 4 May
cost: $300 + gst for 6 classes
instructor: Kate Landels

Mounted Combat Fundamentals

This 6-week series of classes is intended to give you the basics of swordplay from the ground to prepare you for fighting from horseback.  Participants at this level will practise from the ground and the falsemount to achieve the combat skills needed to attain the rank of Green Spur and participate in Mounted Sparring clinics and tournaments.  Students who have their Riding and Horsemanship Level 1 and who attend all five classes can reasonably expect to attain their Green Spur by the end of the series.  Once you have your Green Spur, you can sign up for Intermediate Mounted Combat, and can spar in our regular Playday event, as well as competing in our annual Carosella tournament.

Sundays 1pm – 3pm
23 Apr – 28 May
cost: $135 + gst for 6 classes
instructor: Clinton Fernandes

Register here, or bundle with Riding & Horsemanship and save $36.

Ongoing Mounted Combat Classes

These 2-hour sessions focus on the weapons skills needed to progress from Green to Blue Spur.  Regular tuition includes classes taken entirely from the ground (no riding skills necessary).
Sundays noon – 2pm
cost: 2 hours tuition
instructors:  Clinton Fernandes / Jennifer Landels

Beginner Riding & Horsemanship

If you’ve never been on a horse, or if it’s been a long time, here’s the place to start.  When you arrive at the barn at 11am, you’ll begin with a horsemanship lesson, familiarizing yourself with the horses and their tack, as well as how to groom, handle and tack them up.  Then you will have a riding lesson, working through the requirements of Riding Level 1 — the prerequisite to most of the fun stuff we do on horseback!

Saturdays, 5pm – 7pm
22 April – 27 May
cost: $300 + gst for 6 classes
instructor: Stephanie Laversin

Register here, or bundle with Mounted Combat Fundamentals and save $36.

Riding & Horsemanship Level 2

This course is intended for riders who have taken classes through the program and are comfortable tacking up their own horses.  Riders should arrive at 9:30am, to tack up and warm up their horses before starting their riding lessons at 10am, followed by Horsemanship Level 2 or 3 lessons at 11am.

Saturdays, 5pm – 7pm
22 April – 27 May
cost: $300 + gst for 6 classes
instructor: Stephanie Laversin

Register here, or bundle with Mounted Combat Fundamentals and save $36.

Riding Level 3+

This class is intended for independent riders who have achieved Level 2 or higher.  Riders are expected to be tacked up and warmed up prior to class.  Your own helmets, boots, and half chaps are recommended, as are safety vests for the occasional cross-country class, weather permitting.

Saturdays, 4pm – 5pm
22 April – 27 May
cost: $200 + gst for 6 classes
instructor: Stephanie Laversin

Horsemanship Level 3
Saturdays, 5pm – 6pm
22 April – 27 May
cost: $200 + gst for 6 classes
instructor: Stephanie Laversin

Mounted Combat Membership

Our six-month and one-year membership packages are a great way to get more out of the program.  With a membership, you get two free practice rides a month, a 10% discount on all Riding, Horsemanship and Mounted Combat courses, a $5 discount on private lessons at Red Colt Co-op, and free weekly Mounted Combat Practice sessions on Monday nights.

6-month membership, January – June 2017: $200 + gst
1-year membership, January 2017 – December 2017: $300 + gst

To acquire a membership call the front desk at 604 568 9907 or email



Jennifer Landels Jennifer Landels heads up Academie Duello's Cavaliere Program. She has been swordfighting since 2008, and riding since before she could walk. She started the program as an excuse to combine those passions.
Read more from Jennifer Landels.