A State of Independence

Riding Level 4: Rhythm and Independent Work

Cast your mind back to many years ago on this blog when I first discussed the training pyramid and its base layer, rhythm.  In your Level 4 exam we are looking for

4. All paces, feel of rhythm.  Independent work.

In Level 3 we wanted you to demonstrate rhythm and forward movement in all three gaits; at Level 4 you need to demonstrate it all paces, which means you will be asked to lengthen or shorten your horse's stride within the walk, trot, and canter.  We won't be looking for true collection or extension, but we do want you to be able to vary the pace within each gait while maintaining rhythm and relaxation.

Independent Work

Jo dressage rally 2016What does 'independent work' mean?  In a nutshell, we want you to be sensitive, responsive, and proactive.


You must be able to feel, without videos, mirrors, or being told by an instructor, how your horse is going.  Is she fast and choppy?  Sluggish? On the bit or above it?  Behind or in front of your leg?  Is she working through her back and engaging the hind end, or is she hollow?  Of course, you won't be able to tell this on your own at first — that's where the hours of coaching, video, and friends with good eyes come in.


Identifying an issue is one thing; being able to fix it is another.  For example, if you feel your horse is stiff on one side, are you able to implement some flexing and counter-flexing exercises during your warm-up?  Perhaps you need to employ frequent transitions to wake up a horse who is slow to respond to your leg.  Of course, you don't want to do this during your test, so it's your responsibility to take care of these tune-ups during your warm-up phase.  When something unforeseen happens during the exam — say, your horse decides there are monsters at 'M' — we won't penalize you for it.  And we will look favourably, on it if you ask to take a moment to calm him down with some stretchy circles or whatever he needs to get his brain back.

Jack warm-up
Give yourself time in the warm-up ring to work out nerves and spookiness


Even better than responding to your horse's physical quirks or mental meltdowns is taking steps to address them before the examiners step into the ring.  At this level, we don't mark you on your warm-up, but we do expect you to have performed one.  This means knowing what types of warm-up exercises work best for your horse.  Does she need a lot of long and low work to relax and stretch?  Do circles and serpentines help her focus?  What exercises work best for helping her relax her jaw, engage her hind end, or lift her back?  The warm-up is not the time for schooling or correcting flaws.  That needs to happen in the weeks and months before your test.  However, it is the time for refreshing your schooling with selective work that tunes your horse up for the best possible ride.

Spend time watching more advanced riders schooling, warming up, and performing.  It will help you identify the characteristics you're striving for.  Like art, it's hard to define the minutiae of what makes a sensitive and independent rider, but we know it when we see it.

Current & Upcoming Courses

Classes started up again on Sunday, and most of them are full.  However, there is one space available in Beginner Riding & Horsemanship, as well as some spaces in Mounted Combat Fundamentals.  It’s not too late to start, and signing up for the course will still save you money over drop-in rates or private classes.

NEW! 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. The 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 4:30 – 6:30pm
2 February – 9 March
cost: $300 + gst for 6 classes
instructor: Kate Landels
register here

NEW! Ongoing Mounted Combat Skills

Karissa vs Britt 2Also beginning in February, weekly Mounted Combat Skills has been added to the classes you can attend with regular tuition.  These classes 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); a $50/month surcharge applies for those students with riding skills who wish to take part in the mounted section.

Sundays noon - 2pm
cost: basic tuition + $50/mo for horse use
instructor:  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!

Sundays 11am – 1pm
22 January – 5 March *note: no class 19 February
12 March – 16 April
cost: $300 + gst for 6 classes
instructor: Stephanie Laversin

Register here, or bundle with Mounted Combat Fundamentals and save $26.

Riding & Horsemanship Level 2

A quiet, upright seat will help your horse balance through turns

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.

Sundays 11am – 1pm
22 January – 5 March *note: no class 19 February
12 March – 16 April
cost: $300 + gst for 6 classes
instructor: Stephanie Laversin

Register here, or bundle with Mounted Combat Fundamentals and save $26.

Riding Level 3+

jumping positionThis 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.

Sundays 10am – 11am
22 January – 5 March *note: no class 19 February
12 March – 16 April
cost: $200 + gst for 6 classes
instructor: Stephanie Laversin

Mounted Combat Fundamentals

Sword Drills

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
22 January – 5 March 2017 *note: no class 19 February
12 March – 16 April
cost: $135 + gst for 6 classes
instructor: Stephanie Laversin

Register here, or bundle with Riding & Horsemanship and save $26.

Mounted Combat Membership

DevonJennMCtackleOur 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 info@academieduello.com.


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.