Flatwork Formation (or Why Every Rider Should Be Doing More Flatwork)

Flatwork Formation (or Why Every Rider Should Be Doing More Flatwork)

Jumping used to be the only thing I ever wanted to do. Before I even had a concept of what “training” or “foundation” meant, I knew one thing: those girls I saw jumping over massive obstacles, across the country? I wanted to be them.

So perhaps it was somewhat fortuitous that my mother expressly forbade me to even think about leaving the ground on horseback. Knowing that I simply wanted to learn how to ride, I began instead learning about this craft called “dressage”. Here was a way for me to ride, while still following the (silly) rule my mom had laid down.

My next step was to call the barn down the street, a high-end hunter/jumper barn that also employed dressage trainers. My cheeks still color red when thinking about that first conversation.  

“Hi, I’d like to learn more about taking dress-age lessons,” my mispronunciation of the word likely placing me firmly into the eye roll category to the person on the other end of the line. 

But they obliged me, and thus my education began. For the first two years of my riding life, I followed the rules. All four feet on the ground. I worried I’d be bored – but I wasn’t.

Now, I look back on those formative years with gratitude. It’s not that I felt I wouldn’t have gained the same foundational education had I started out right away with the jumper trainer in residence (but, I also feel that this education is missing from many such programs), but by dedicating myself solely to dressage at the outset, I learned more about what it meant to connect with a horse and how to use my body and my mind to influence her way of going. 

When I use the words “flatwork” or “dressage”, they carry much of the same meaning, though I understand most people use them as separate concepts in many ways. And while not every rider who jumps will want or need to learn how to, say, do a lovely half-pass with a perfect amount of flexion, it’s really the fundamental elements of flatwork and dressage that apply to all of us.

I watch riders like Josh Nichol or Tik Maynard incorporate flatwork into the work they do with their horses. I watch eventers like Boyd Martin and Allison Springer focus more on footwork and flatwork than they do  jumping massive fences every day. I watch Olympic jumping riders like Peter Wylde ride on the flat as an integral part of each and every ride. 

Surely, these riders are doing something right. And I think it starts on the flat.

This month, NÖELLE FLOYD and Equestrian Masterclass are focusing on flatwork as a fundamental foundation (yes, I love alliteration, if you couldn’t tell). 

We created new training content with Equestrian Masterclass coach Peter Wylde (if you haven’t checked out his Masterclass on Quiet Riding, you can do that here) which features several guided rides and video demonstrations about flatwork for jumping (or not!). We also recruited 5* three-day eventing rider Allison Springer to help us with a new Guided Ride Mini-Pack breaking down some fundamental flatwork tools for you. 

Allison's program just launched yesterday, with Peter's coming very shortly, so make sure to check them both out!

Looking for some more flatwork practice in the meantime? Here are a few of my favorite flatwork-focused training materials currently available in Equestrian Masterclass:

Masterclass Courses:

  • Laura Graves: Troubleshooting Common Flatwork Woes
  • Mette Larsen: Dressage for All Disciplines
  • Karl Cook: Creating an Adjustable and Rideable Horse

Guided Rides:

  • Amy Skinner: Developing Leg Yield and Responsiveness in Walk and Trot
  • Andrew Welles: Go-To, Effective Flatwork for Rideability
  • Chelsea Canedy: Following Workout for Supple Seat and Hand