Everything Else International Event Forum

International Eventing Forum – The Not So Easy Dressage Horse – Christoph Hess & Nicky Roncoroni

_MG_2176Nicky Roncoroni was the next in on the 10 year old advanced gelding Stonedge. Nicky was part of the FEI nations cup team for GB and when asked to discuss the horse admitted he had a very high opinion of himself and Nicky told the audience that her goal was that of getting to Blair for the European championships. As host nation, Great Britain will be able to have 12 riders participating at Blair.

Nicky started trotting Stonedge round the arena while Christoph looked on and commented that the horse had ‘nice rhythm and relaxation’. Christoph then suggested that Nicky use the whole arena using shoulder in. Christoph highlighted that shoulder in was for all horses, not just advanced horses and even 4yo horses were capable of doing shoulder in.

From this Christoph had Nicky doing leg yield from the centre line to the track because this is now in 1* tests. Christoph commented that Nicky needed a bit more impulsion.

‘Riders should maintain the tempo throughout, sometimes the rider rides in a nice way and yet when we add lateral steps they lose impulsion and quality of the gaits.’

_MG_2179‘This horse is a bit lazy off the leg, the horse should always be in front of the driving aids. Many riders use the spur but the driving aids should always be off the calf. Riders who use the spur should get low marks in the collectives. As trainers, it’s vital that we teach horses accept the calf and not the spur.’

From here Nicky was asked to demonstrate travers. Travers is now on the diagonal in the 2* tests.

‘Maintain the quality especially into lateral work. Quality also helps balance and helps with flexion and bending.’

Christoph Hess said he liked the way that Nicky Roncoroni was schooling her horse. At this point Nicky was asked to walk.

‘Use inside leg and not inside rein. The horse is behind the leg and to ride the walk more. The horse needs to stretch the neck a bit more. Its important that you produce the walk through driving aids so the horse is marching. Sensitive in hands and go with the movement in the direction the horse is moving.’

_MG_2216It was clear to the audience that Stonedge was lazy to the leg particularly the left leg. Christoph told Nicky to keep her heels down as they kept lifting in order to get a reaction from the horse with her heel. Christoph was very keen that Nicky stretched the neck more and had a longer rein but still with a contact.

‘Neck out in front in walk. More nose in front. The horse should be able to move with maximum potential in walk.’

Christoph highlighted that there should be activity in the walk, a clear rhythm and then over track. Christoph had Nicky riding the walk with a leg yield tendency as the horse was lazy to the leg in the walk.

The next stage was to get the horse off the leg.

‘To get in front of the leg, start in medium canter, work on getting him forwards. Lengthen the strides and ride in 2 point seat. Then on the long side ask for trot into medium without using the reins.’

_MG_2223We saw that the medium trot was improved but the horse was running slightly in the medium trot.

‘Watch they don’t run. Problem is he is behind the leg and then runs. Lengthen the steps – don’t over ride the horse. Open the neck. The more you do this the more the horse will be happy.’

‘Active but not fast. When fast you will have short steps. Lengthen the steps on a circle. This horse needs to be more sensitive in front of you.’

Nicky was asked to put both her reins into her right hand and then to let go by pushing her hands forwards.

_MG_2231‘The horse uses its neck. The more you produce for eventing with the inside leg the less you will need to use the spur and the more you will be able to ride with the calf. This horse is now in front of the leg. Riding one handed is a good test of proper connection and it stops you using the inside rein.’

‘Many riders don’t do basic work for long enough. Challenge the horse to be more sensitive to the calf. This is a small detail in the well trained horse.’

In discussing Nicky more Christoph said that Nicky should work with one hand more as it kept her hands quiet and still. The horse’s nose did not always remain in front of the vertical when Nicky had both reins.

‘Ride into the walk, the walk is now very much improved.’

It was clear to those watching that through these simple exercises of getting the horse off the leg and then encouraging the stretch through the neck by getting Nicky to ride with one hand that the horse went from looking smart to being a top contender in the dressage arena.

_MG_2257Christoph Hess asked for Nicky Roncoroni’s thoughts and she seemed a bit negative when she said it was ‘different’. She did not sound terribly convinced by what had happened. ‘So neck open is good. I will play at home with it.’ For those watching there had been a distinct change in the way the horse had gone and I think when Nicky Roncoroni views the videos and the photos that she will see the change that, we, the audience had the chance to watch.

Christoph ended the session with Nicky by saying that it was another step towards the Euros and that the horse had a winning face as had no reaction to the crowd clapping!

Some videos from the session with Nicky:

From the beginning of the session

Getting to move forward off the leg

From the end

At this point there was a ‘questions from the audience’ session.

How would you deal with a horse that was high in the neck? Ride leg yield in a positive way. It will help to open the neck. Shoulder In is not a special movement. A 4/5yo is perfectly capable of having it introduced. It’s a basic move which develops the inside leg and with the leg yield the horse is accepting the sideways leg. Circles into the corner and then into shoulder in. The preparation is important with this exercise.

Use of poles? Poles will help – the German word is cavaletti. Before you use poles you need to make sure you are going to have a positive reaction and to get a positive reaction you need to make sure that you have positive control first.

Lengthen Stride? Always have the scales of training in mind. Rhythm is combined with tempo. It’s 100% vital to maintain good tempo. If something goes wrong the horse’s head comes up and the horse’s head must be in front of you to get lengthened strides consistently.

From this we moved into the new FEI tests which are being introduced on 1st March.

There are six new tests entering into circulation from 1-3*. The new 4* test will arrive next year. Chris Bartle designed the new tests and then a team of experts looked at the tests and examined them. The point of the new test was to help riders become better at cross country and show jumping with more obedient horses.

Sam Griffiths came into the arena on his stalwart 4* campaigner Happy Times. Sam was going to ride some of the new movements from all six tests in front of the audience so they could see what was required and what good looked like.

Christoph Hess mentioned that in 1* and 2* tests that the extended trot could be ridden in either sitting or rising.

Christoph commented that riders needed to school the counter canter on the bend as the horse should be able to maintain the quality of the canter.

‘The serpentine on a long rein will need schooling which is in the 1* test.’

‘Within the 2* test the half pass in trot and travers across the diagonal will show judges if the horse is balanced.’ Riders should maintain the inside leg on the half pass. When you ride a proper half pass the rider should feel like they can immediately ride the shoulder in. A great exercise is to do shoulder in, half pass, shoulder in, half pass.

In the half pass Christoph told Sam Griffiths to look in the direction he was travelling within the half pass.

From 2016 both 1* and 2* tests will only be able to be ridden in a snaffle. A double bridle will only be able to be introduced for 3* and 4* level.

For the turn about the haunches do it in medium walk. Come in shoulder in then ride the turn on the haunches just for a 1/4 turn to help train. They should be sensitive but under control.

Within the 3* test A there is an extension from A to E before moving from medium canter on a half circle to collected canter. Sam made this look very easy on Happy Times. They then moved into the B test movement of shoulder in to medium trot on a diagonal into zig zag half pass.

Jennie Loriston-Clarke asked why the extended canter into flying change had been added into the new 4* test when this was abandoned with Grand Prix horses let alone fit eventers. ‘Will it not blow brains?’ Christoph answered that it made riders positive and forwards into the flying change. The movement has certainly produced lots of discussion with judges!

All in all the Christoph Hess demo was fantastic. What he wanted was very classical and simple, yet in so many ways we often forget to keep things simple such as making sure the horse is off the leg, relaxed and open through the neck and supple to the inside leg.



About the author


An amateur rider who produces all her own horses. I have competed at novice level and sadly never got further due to bad luck with horses but I am still ambitious to achieve a lot more. I have a riding qualification in UKCC2 and a diploma in NLP. Sports science and particularly the mental game fascinates me. For a day job I work for a large multinational brand.


  • Really good concise write up of what was indeed a very “different” session for both Max and me, though disappointed I came across as negative or unconvinced… That really wasn’t the case! When put in a situation with a totally new trainer asking you to do something totally new and alien sometimes it does not feel wonderful at the start because you are out of your comfort zone and establishing new training methods don’t happen in half an hour! The pictures and video are clear to see that the outline and engagement improves massively from the start to the end of the session, but it would have been good to have picked up the reins and ridden some movements with these improvements. I would have been lying if I said it had felt amazing, but it did feel different yes, in a good way and it has sewed a seed that I hope will grow in to a mighty acorn which might help push our dressage marks to where they need to be! Loads to think about, learn from and practise at home!

  • Well done Nicky being brave enough to Put yourself in that position in the first place! Lovely horse and you both looked amazing. The improved picture was sticking to those watching, but must have felt really odd. Thanks for being there. Good luck, and hope to be cheering you on up the Blair hills