Flatwork vs. Dressage

Flatwork is the adaptation of the schooling movements and principles of dressage to the needs of hunters, equitation horses, and jumpers. While dressage encompasses difficult maneuvers such as the passage and piaffe, in which the horse’s steps have a tremendous amount of suspension, these movements have no reasonable application for horses being shown in the hunter, jumper, or equitation divisions. Consequently, hunter seat riders must choose the dressage exercises which are the most beneficial and disregard those that are not helpful in achieving their goals.

Basic elements of flatwork are pace, bending, and transitions. Pace is the speed at which a horse travels in each gait. Bending refers to the horse’s body being positioned on a curve to either the left or right. Transitions are the brief periods of change between one gait and another and are categorized as either upward transitions, which are changes to a faster gait, or downward transitions, which are changes to a slower gait.

Advanced concepts of flatwork are impulsion, collection, and lengthening. Impulsion is the degree of thrust, or power, a horse has as it moves. Collection is the increased engagement of the horse’s quarters for the benefit of lightness and mobility in the forehand. Lengthening is the forward swing of the horse’s limbs in free and moderately extended steps, demonstrating impulsion from the hindquarters.

Work on the flat can be physically difficult, confusing, and frustrating to learn. This is because good flatwork requires precise coordination of your legs, hands, and weight. Once you are proficient on the flat, however, daily exercises will be enjoyable and fulfilling as your horse progresses. You will then view flatwork as a logical process which enhances the horse’s abilities and miinimizes its weaknesses, allowing your animal to be the best athlete it can be.

It is important to note that the flatwork movements required in hunter seat equitation have increased in difficulty in recent years.  For example, the USEF Talent Search Class has always asked for the working walk, working trot sitting, working trot rising, working trot with a lengthening of stride, working canter, working canter with a lengthening of stride, and counter canter.  You’ll see in a video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WaEf6BXOW8&feature=related, entitled “USET Finals Flat Phase 2008,” that when judging the USEF Talent Search Finals, the judges also called for a “shoulder in and shoulder out exercise,” a “half pass with a flying change of lead,” and a “haunches in and haunches out exercise.”  You can find these movements in the sample chapter of my book on this website by going to http://annamullin.com/lateral-exercises-at-the-walk-and-trot.