Training the Grand Prix Dressage horse – Snowdon Faberge – ‘Fabio’

Fabio is a 17.3hh, 9yr old dark bay gelding we are training towards Grand Prix Dressage. We purchased him as a 4yr old from a family friend. What I initially loved about Fabio was his super walk and canter. His trot, although not big and flashy, has a very good, active hock. He also had lovely natural rhythm in all three paces and good balance.

Fabio is currently competing at Small Tour Level which is Prix St Georges and Intermediare 1 but at home I am currently working on the Grand Prix movements and hope to compete at Big Tour level in 2016.

Don’t forget the basics

My focus over the winter is to establish more strength in his Piaffe and Passage. I am also continually working on his longitudinal and lateral suppleness. With all my horses, regardless of their level of competition, I am constantly working on the basics.

My warm up with Fabio consists of lots of transitions between the paces, ensuring he is reactive off my aids while still working over the back and ‘through’ the neck. I also like transitions within the paces.

I like to add to the degree of difficulty with Fabio by asking for greater degrees of collection ensuring quickness of the hind leg with engagement but at the same time ensuring his neck does not become too tight or too high which is something he tries to get away with! He must do this without me ‘holding’ him together so that he learns to go in self carriage. It also encourages him to become more supple over the back which enables him to ‘tip his pelvis’ and obtain a higher degree of collection which is so essential for the Piaffe and Passage.

Training Piaffe for Grand Prix Dressage
Fabio tips his pelvis which allows for a much more engaged hind leg in Piaffe

Working on the higher level Grand Prix Dressage movements – Piaffe and Passage

Fabio is still on a learning curve with the Piaffe and Passage. The Piaffe is a highly collected trot which should remain on the spot or nearly on the spot. At the moment my focus for him in the Piaffe is half steps, because, with half steps, which allow some forward movement, he does not have to take so much weight on his hind legs he just establishes the rhythm. I use half steps as they help to get the back to come up and really swing.

For a horse without the necessary strength developed yet, this makes the work much less demanding. During my workouts I allow him to travel, especially at the beginning of my Piaffe work to allow him to find the rhythm but, as my workouts progress, I encourage him to carry more weight behind.

The Passage is a very collected, cadenced trot that is characterised by elevated movement of the horse’s legs. It has a prolonged moment of suspension. Exercises that I use to help develop the passage begin at the very basic level. It all stems from an understanding of the half halt.

Training Passage for Grand Prix Dressage
It is a great help to have someone on the ground as a ‘spotter’ for straightness and rhythm, whilst also helping to maintain the energy in training Passage.

My focus on transitions in all of my work help my horses to develop this understanding of the half halt. From my trot-walk-trot transitions I begin to integrate the trot-almost walk- trot transitions. This exercise helps the horse to understand the aid for the half halt but to also create a longer moment of suspension in the trot. It is a process of going forward, then back again, forward and back, until the horse starts to get lightness and elegance in his trot.

At this point it is important to remind the rider that Passage is not a movement achieved through pulling back on the reins but rather riding your horse up to the hand. When I feel Fabio give me these Passage-like steps I always reward him by allowing him to trot on forward afterwards. This also reminds him that the Passage is a forward thinking movement. These movements require an enormous amount of strength resulting in a build-up of lactic acid. It is so important for the rider and trainer to know when enough is enough, not to be greedy, and when to allow the horse to stretch out and absorb the lactic acid build up.


What level of dressage are you currently training your horse at? Feel free to comment below and add your thoughts on this article.

If you have any particular training related questions, Kate would be happy to answer them – we could write a future article about a particular issue you might be facing with your horse! Please just email

Kate and Maureen are also available for dressage training from their base in Co. Meath.


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