Janet Foy Part 1: General Auditing Notes

Janet Foy's two-day Through The Levels clinic was intense. I took pages of notes, video, and photos to share with you, and that doesn't even count the information I gleaned from my own ride with her. There is so much information, I am going to break down this clinic into three separate posts.
1. General information on rules, basics of showing, and general tips and tricks.
2. Specific tips and tricks broken down by level/test. (Training level through GP!)
3. My ride, feedback, and takeaways.
Let me start by saying Janet Foy is an outstanding clinician. If you show dressage, you are missing out if you don't try to make it to one of her clinics. Audit or ride, both are great experiences. I would highly suggest trying to attend the entire clinic (if multiple days), as she builds her lectures on top of what the audience has already seen. 

Though she worked with riders from Training through Grand Prix, Janet made the progression of training very clear. She explained how the movements of the tests built, creating a track to the Grand Prix. Often, she references previous rides and techniques when working with another rider, just to show how one level is dependent on the one before. She also emphasized that many things are equal across the levels, accuracy and forward thinking transitions two prime examples.

Today I'm going to focus on the more general pieces from the clinic. These tidbits apply across the levels. I have them divided into three categories: Riding & Training Basics, Test Riding & Scoring, and Basic Rules and Regulations. Some of the simpler comments I have left as bullet points. Others I have tried to break down a little further. I know this post is wordy, but it's worth it. Enjoy!

Riding & Training Basics

Lots of laughing is good for your dressage riding... 

On rider position/mentality:

  • Riding with emotion, and especially losing your temper, is counter intuitive to training. The rider must stay objective to be effective and fair.
  • The horse isn't the same every day. So rider has to be the same every day.
  • Rider have to stop accepting too little. Stop coddling your horse. If you put your leg on and get no response, demand one. For a couple of weeks it'll be ugly, and you'll feel mean, but if you want to improve you have to raise your standards. 
  • Don't stop when you get disorganized, especially when the horse makes a mistake. Riders must learn to organize and keep going, otherwise you're rewarding the mistake. Strive to be faster and more confident.
  • Your trainer was right, you do need to keep a bend in elbow. But your trainer didn't tell you to glue your elbows to your side and never move them. So don't lock them to your hip. Ideally you want your hands in front of the saddle pad. Your upper arms should feel like they're squeezing boobs together... you know... like you did in college when you were trying to get a free drink.
  • Be aware of your balance. Lots of riders have their weight too much to one side or another. It's important to keep your weight centered towards middle of the saddle, except when needed to give a specific aid. 
  • Keep an active and strong upper body. You can't ride so relaxed that you're floppy, but you also can't ride tense. Think about stretching up with your upper body, and point your chest up and out. If it helps to imagine you have a new obscenely large boob job you want to show off, go right ahead and show those puppies off.
  • If your horse is reactive, you have to be able to switch between active relaxed tension and resisting tension. Don't be so loose that your horse is able to toss you around when it reacts. Your job is to stay stable and balanced and consistent, no matter what.
On the aids:
  • In general, the rider's seat shows the horse how to use its energy (collection/extension/balance); the rider's legs are the rebar, giving the horse a channel to move between; the reins only show the horse the space he has to work in and give directional cues (bend).
  • The inside rein should never be pulled back. It's use is for bending the horse, not for stopping.
  • Bending aids: outside leg/inside rein.
  • Engaging aids: inside leg/outside rein.
  • The only aid that has active aids on same side is flying change. There you close the new inside leg and get the new inside bend. If you are using active aids on the same side in the counter canter, you will get a swap. Be aware of which aids are on.
  • Half Halts
    • The half halt starts with seat, then rein. Otherwise your transitions are too abrupt. Think of it as using the front brake on a bike going down a hill. Don't flip over the handlebars.
    • There are three main aids for a half halt
      • First use your inside leg to "displace the dining car," or move over the ribcage of the horse.
      • Then, use your outside leg back to "keep the caboose in," or stop the haunches from falling out. Think bending the hind of horse around your inside leg.
      •  Finally, there are the reins. The outside rein is the final part of half halt that puts the horse on the bit. It's not the entire half halt, nor does it start it. The inside rein keeps the horse flexed in the direction of the bend.
    • There is more than one kind of half halt; those for different purposes are different. Subtle, but different. The differences depend on what you want to achieve.
  • You can't use an aid without getting a reaction.
  • Everyone pulls their horse entirely too much. If your horse won't go? Why are you pulling?! Don't pull back to "organize" for a better transition. Kick that sucker into a gallop. If you tell a horse to go and then pull back when it doesn't, you're giving conflicting aids.
  • Riders must be quick with their rein aids. You can take a 100% hold, but then you have to release. 
  • Your active leg should be used like knocking on a door. Don't clamp your leg on and expect a good response.
  • To get more forward swing at walk, use alternating leg cues.
  • For turning: The rider's weight should go to the inside. The outside leg goes back to keep the caboose in. Think about the bending aids, the weight tells the horse where to move.
  • Dressage rides don't use the rein of opposition (that is when you cross the inside rein over the wither). It pulls the shoulders out, we always want the shoulders in. If you feel like you need the rein of opposition, you don't have control of the hindquarters.
  • The rider's shoulders move where horse's shoulder should move. The rider's hips move where the horse's hips go. This is especially important in lateral work (shoulder-in, travers), but also in straightness.
  • Sometimes you have to let go of the reins. Just to see what will happen. It's a good test of your horse's submission and understanding. But that doesn't mean you just give them away all the time.
  • You have to have the same contact in both reins. Yes, you should use your outside rein, but you shouldn't then throw away your inside rein. The weight in both reins should be equal.
You should always be aware of what aids you are using. You can't evaluate your horse's reaction if you don't know what you were doing.
Training tips:
  • Horse training is black and white. You can't leave gray areas. You can't explain something to a horse like you would a toddler.
  • If the horse makes a mistake, it's usually because the rider made a mistake. The horse usually takes your aids extremely literally. Often that means they get confused, and make an error. Then rider punishes. That's not right. If you aren't positive the horse deserves punishment, then don't. You'll do more harm by punishing when you shouldn't than the other way around.
  • If you do need to punish the horse, you have to act quick. You have 3-5 seconds to get after horse, or you'll confuse them.
  • For trainers of people: Try to put the right habit on from the start, It's harder to break a bad habit. Don't teach someone a bad habit "just for now," that's making everyone's life harder.
  • Studies have proven you can work a muscle constructively for only 4-5 min. When you are working your dressage horse, think about having him do weight lifting reps. Forward/back for 4-5 min. Then walk on long rein/stretching. Also, turnout and days off are important for rebuilding muscle.
    • Most adult amateurs don't have to worry about over working their horses. But driven riders and trainers have to be aware. 
  • Straight lines are for generating impulsion. Curved lines are for developing collection. 
  • Riding Corners:
    • corners are for shorter/higher steps. Think half steps.
    • long sides are for bigger/longer strides. Once you come out, think bigger. 
    • Engage horse by riding straight deep into the corner; then, think about turning the shoulders around engaged hind. 
    • Start at the walk, then trot, then canter. Think about controlling the steps and compressing the horse into the corner. Halt in the corner, then turn. 
    • Teach horse to wait for you to aid for the turn. So many horses are on auto pilot in corners, and you lose a place to balance and collect.
    • After horse started pendulum work (forward and back work):
      • work this on a circle/square. Half halt into more uphill/collected steps inside the corner, then release for bigger steps out of corner. 
  • With a speedy horse, do exercises that slow him down and put him in balance. Curves, lateral work, and circles are your friend. Smaller circles are good for slowing those speedy suckers down. 
  • When you start to ask for more bend, expect to lose cadence. After you get the bend, you can work on the cadence. This is why you don't work on this sort of thing at a show.
On the horse (breed, mentality, suitability):
  • You can pay for as many chiro adjustments as you want, but at some point you both (horse and rider) gotta sweat. Otherwise no one will get trained.
  • All horses usually spook more off the stiff side. That's where you have less control, and they can escape. This is why suppling the horse is so important.
  • If your horse is upset, you've given them something too advanced. Break it down. Show them the movement in parts, and find what they don't understand. Don't try to fix a movement in the more difficult movement. (I.e. Turn a half pass into a leg yield to fix sideways. Turn haunches in into leg yield on wall.) Take away the difficulty until the horse understands everything you are trying to say.
  • Don't just buy a high level schoolmaster. "I have seen so many schoolmasters trained to be forward and sensitive enough for Grand Prix that are tortured just trying to figure out what the hell their unschooled rider is trying tell them, and getting punished for misunderstanding. A lower level schoolmaster is great for learning the basics on. You don't need the top horse.
  • Your regular amateur shouldn't buy Dutch horses. "They're too much for most. They are too smart and too sensitive and too hot. It won't be fun. Buy a Hanoverian."
  • Friesians are often very strong in contact. If you have one, you have gotta get them to get that neck down
Janet Foy talked a lot about friesians. She mentioned some of her student's great successes with the breed, but also said she won't ride them any more because she doesn't like to have her arms pulled off her body. She had a great eye for what worked for each horse's individual build and temperament.
  • For a horse with a short neck: make the neck longer by shortening one side, other side has to stretch longer. That's how you get this kind of horseon the bit. Otherwise it can just lock its poll and say "hell no."
  • Whatever your horse does naturally, work on the opposite. Horse good at extending? Work on collection. Horse good at straightness? Work on bending/lateral work.
  • In the modern tb type warmbloods (or a horse with a naturally good canter), you can't hang out in the counter canter too long. It's often better to teach changes first (around 4, or Training level). If you hang out in counter canter too long, they tend to get mentally stuck and the change freaks them out. They have to understand that changes are okay.
Test Riding & Scoring
  • The goal is to make the judge want to ride your horse.
  • Make a good impression. After Training Level, you can't halt through the walk. 
  • A step back in the halt is a 6. At maximum. Halts must be forward thinking. In order to get a good forward halt, half halt a few times before halting, and be sure to give with the rein in the halt.
  • You don't get extra points if you do something harder than a test asks for.  (For example: trot/halt/trot in Training Level, or walk pirouettes instead of turns on the haunches) If you try something harder and fail, though, it will cause you to lose points. 
  • You will only want show something you're confirmed in. Most horses and riders are nervous at shows, and it's hard to show off something you are still working on.
  • What you do in the show ring is going to effect your horses training. Pay attention.
  • For many, a level a year isn't feasible. This is especially true of someone who isn't experienced in the levels.
  • If the warm up is good, but the ride deteriorates in the show ring, you're over facing the horse. In the show ring you can't take time between difficult movements, or take the pressure off. If the horse isn't ready for that, issues will crop up.
  • The submission score says it reflects how well the horse accepts the aids. Judges often look at how easily you are able to achieve bend in order to make a decision.
  • The impulsion score comes from the demonstrated ability to carry weight. 
  • Don't leg yield into your corners. This lightens the inside hind, which removes the engagement. Instead practice the corner exercise (listed in the above section).
  • Everyone shortens reins too soon in free walk. Go till your horse's nose hits the finishing letter. Then shorten the inside rein first, and leg yield until the horse drops into the outside rein. Now shorten the reins. A supple and bent horse won't throw its head up.
  • Know your ring geometry. There are 12 meters between the letters on the long side, and 6 meters between the last letters (M, K, H, F) and the respective corners. So, a circle touching all the letters is not 20, but instead 24 meters. You have to aim a couple of meters from the letters, especially when circling in the middle of the arena.
  • 15 meter circle points are ½ way between quarterline and rail.
  • Position your circles so that each side is evenly split on either side of the starting letter. If you screw this up, don't try to average out the size of the circle. Just do a circle of the proper size.
  • "Accuracy points are stupid points. Don't throw away points on simple mistakes." Some simple and common mistakes are:
    • not using your corners.
    • not changing bend on loops.
    • not keeping bend in stretch circle. 
    • misshapen/sized circles
  • You can get an 8 on rider position, but if your accuracy is off you'll get a lower effective score. 
Accuracy is incredibly important. Don't miss your centerlines. 
  • Read judges comments with critical eye after your test. A judge is only commenting on a moment in time, not you or your horse's history. Know what can and cannot be improved. Ask yourself “Can I do that?” If you can't, that's okay. Just accept it and move on.
  • Don't readjust your life in the halt. Judges "hate watching you readjust your underwear and check your lipstick before you salute."
  • "Judges can't be afraid to give 10s. It's only 'excellent'."
  • If the free walk score is higher, judge can up the gait score.
  • In the turn on the haunches or walk pir, one stuck step drops your score to a 5. Two stuck steps leaves you with a 4.
  • If you have choice, allow horse to step forward into halt. That's better than stillness, and much better than stepping back. Judges won't count off if your horse stutters forward a step to square up. 
  • Any movement ending before a turn, must end before the turn starts. See: Shoulder-in, renver, traver. Straighten out before turning.
  • Jogging in the walk work is no longer the end of your score. Instead, each time  your horse jogs,  the movement score will simply come down a point. 
  • If the judge sees more in your extensions (trot, canter, walk), they can justify going up in the collective gait score. That said, they shouldn't take that to mean they can go down if they don't see an extension.
  • If your extended/medium work is not great: Accept the 6 on the mediocre extended. Don't try to make that better. You'll just make it worse. Instead, make the transition amazing. You can nail the trans without a good medium. You can get a 6 on the medium and an 8 on the transition. That's possible.
    • You will want to collect your horse as much as possible on either side of the extended gait to show the largest difference possible. But, ride those downward transitions tactfully forward. You do not want to dump the horse at the end.
  • Rider's don't get 8's by sitting there looking pretty. The effective score is just as important as how you look, but effective riding gets you many of the other points.
  • As long as it's legal, your tack and equipment doesn't matter. The equipment that works best for your horse is what you should use. You aren't going to get more points for doing GP in a snaffle or riding without spurs.
Halts must be forward. Releasing into the halt helps open up the front door in the halt. Janet explained that taking a step forward to square up is not penalized by the judge, but taking a step back is going to lose you a couple of points.
Basic Rules & Regulations & Miscellaneous 
  • Watch your corrections. You can't put the reins in one hand and whack your lazy horse with the whip while in the ring. If it gets to the point where you need to do this, excuse yourself. The low score isn't worth it. Go school.
  • Be sure to read your rule book. There are some fairly minor issues that judges are required to eliminate riders for (wraps on horse, coats are waived and collar is closed...) Know the difference between must and can eliminate rules. When a rule says "must eliminate" there is no discretion. When it says "can eliminate" the judge can decide on each case.
  • Double Bridle:
    • You need a lot of power from behind to use the double.
    • The double is used is so you use less aid to get same result. Smaller movements to get reaction.
    • The Fillis hold can help when just learning double and is totally legal. It separates out the use of the curb and snaffle well.
    • Those with small hands may want to experiment holding the snaffle and curb reins two fingers away from each other for more separation.
Tomorrow! Specifics from each level!


  1. The point about resting muscles, etc. is something I make sure to always take to heart. I'm a driven rider, but I give Fiction a lot of time off during the week. I know how I feel after an intense gym session. I'm sure he feels the same. Love these points - excellent post. Thank you!

    1. I'm bad about that. I'm probably in that percentage of amateurs that rides like a pro. I will push and push and push and forget to take time off. In fairness to my horse, I also do that to myself.

  2. Pretty sure my brain got overloaded and I'm going to have to read this about 50 times to actually process everything. Awesome post!

    1. Hahaha. I tried to clump the bits together by subject. So maybe just focus on the bits that most apply and come back for the other parts later.

  3. "In the modern tb type warmbloods (or a horse with a naturally good canter), you can't hang out in the counter canter too long. It's often better to teach changes first (around 4, or Training level). If you hang out in counter canter too long, they tend to get mentally stuck and the change freaks them out. They have to understand that changes are okay." THIS IS MIKEY. He was flabbergasted that we changed the rules and he did NOT agree. I'm still for teaching Penn the changes early since he is mostly TB.

    Also, this post has so many good notes in it that it requires a read, think, and reread. It's not the first time I've heard a couple of these points, but I especially like the corner exercise and that's something I can work on without fuzzing Penn's brain.

    I'm so sorry I missed her! I was so sick though, your notes are so much better than anything I would have heard in my fuzz brained state.

    1. Totally agree with the changes thing. I would have been better off training Pig the difference between his hunter changes and dressage changes before putting on the counter canter. Buuuuuuut... I wasn't a good enough rider yet. However, his swapping and auto-changing has lead to me having a better understanding the counter canter (and therefore renver) aids, which I have to appreciate. Even though that understanding came through a lot of sweat and tears. ;)

      Her point with the TB types is that their canter is already good. With a horse that has a crap canter, you have to improve the quality of the canter before you can do the change. My thought is that in improving the canter, you already teach the horse that you have control over the gait. With that TB/canter-dominant horse, getting that control can be harder if you've already taught the cc.

  4. So much good stuff!! I found myself nodding along and "amening" as I read! Definitely a post to come back to later.

  5. Replies
    1. Argh. I know. Organizational fail. There's so much more to come that is a little better put together. But so much of this stuff was so good, I just wanted to get it out.

  6. Thank you for sharing this lesson with us. I really appreciate it. :)

  7. So so so much good information in here! I feel like I saw something where Janet Foy is going to be in my general area- I'll have to double check, because I want to audit!

  8. This is so great thank you for sharing! I think I will be rereading mulitple times!

    1. Bookmark away! There is so much in my notes that I had already forgotten much of it by the time I went to write it down.

  9. She really is a wealth of information. Love that you gleaned different points from her than I did when I audited!

    1. I feel like I missed 50% of what she said, and I still wrote down a TON!

  10. I loooove this! I want to audit/ride with her so bad! Ugh I saw on her website that the closest clinic to me is in Seattle and all I want to do is drop everything and get in the car.

    I'm going to take the fact that horses spook on their stiff side and the fact that my baby horse spooks equally on both sides to be a sign that he is equally supple on both sides. Or equally stiff? Either way we're doing good! lol

    1. Lol! Doing great. :)

      FYI. The horse she was talking about spooking with actually was the friesian. She suggested EVERYONE go out and buy an ear bonnet with padded ears (those are legal now, all the time), not earplugs but padded ears, and show in them exclusively if your horse is the least bit spooky.

      So ... go shopping for padded ear bonnets. She also says to get one covered in sparkles, because sparkles are great.

    2. Oooo I was actually thinking about getting him an ear bonnet just because it's adorable so now I have a good excuse to buy one. It's so funny what she said about friesians because the three I've ridden (TC included) have all had super soft mouths. Two of them though (TC included) have had a grab-the-bit-and-leave element to them. Hopefully that will go away soon though.

    3. I think that's more of what she was talking about. That they'll have no problem leveraging that periscope neck against you when they want... They're oddly good at making their necks both long AND short, it's disconcerting sort of magic.

    4. This ^^^ and mine is only part friesian - can only imagine what she might do if she was 100% ;-)

  11. My brain is definitely a little overwhelmed, but most of this makes sense to my hunter/jumper brain too and is useful. The bit about not overworking your horse makes sense, but it's so hard. I keep reminding myself that if I ride 4-5 times a week at least one of those needs to be short and sweet and not a 50-60 minute super intense ride with a lot of heavy lifting. But I want to badly to improve, and my little tb has so much try, that it's easy to forget that and overwork him so that eventually we end up with a ride that is pretty tense and frazzled. I'm excited for more details!!

    1. My horse also will keep right on trucking no matter how tired. In fact, he gets HOTTER the more tired he is. Maybe I need to develop a better internal stopwatch.

  12. "If you feel like you need the rein of opposition, you don't have control of the hindquarters." This was basically my riding lesson this morning lol.

    1. I feel like I spend my whole life in the saddle convincing myself not to put my left hand on the right side of my horse. Sigh.

    2. Same...where did we all get this reflex reaction?

  13. I think I really like this post the most because it mirrors a lot of what my trainer says and reestablishes the feeling of having a good trainer :)

  14. Great write up. I loved the stuff about riding corners. My own trainer says the exact same thing. She loves the word compress. I think I'll come back and read this post again. :0)

    1. Compress gives such a great visual. I love it too!

  15. Love the detail- lots to take away for someone who doesn't dressage also!

  16. I read this twice and made a new folder on my bookmarks bar called "super important blogs" and put it in there. I will read this a billion times. Never leave me. I will not live without you.

  17. Yay I finally got to read this post! Great points, looking forward to the rest :)

  18. Another fab post that I'm going to bookmark to check back to. So many teat tips & gongs to think about!

    1. Oh gosh typos! *blush*
      Great* not teat & things* not gongs *sigh*

  19. I'm keeping this saved forever.

  20. wait. what? both of these are in the notes on the Janet Foy clinic:

    The rider's shoulders move where horse's shoulder should move. The rider's hips move where the horse's hips go. This is especially important in lateral work (shoulder-in, travers), but also in straightness.

    In shoulder-in and travers you need to keep your shoulders perpendicular to wall. You are riding a 10m circle bend down the wall, so look down the wall.

    So I in travers the horse's shoulders do stay perpendicular to the wall, but aren't they angled away from the wall in SI?

    1. You bring up an interesting question. First of all, I wonder if we have a confusion with perpendicular and parallel here. It is a common fault to leave the shoulders entirely on the rail for travers, traveling with them parallel to the wall. However, travers is a 4 track movement, meaning the shoulders cannot travel exactly parallel with the wall. They must come off at a slight angle to allow for the bend through the ribcage.

      You are correct that the shoulders do need to be angled away from the wall in shoulder in, but I would actually argue against myself and say that exactly parallel or perpendicular is probably way too much for the movement (also way too much for travers). I think what I am trying to explain in the second comment is that sometimes riders over-exaggerate the movement and positioning of their shoulders. The rider's shoulders need to indicate to the horse the bend and direction of their shoulders, but they need not be so exaggerated as to completely twist the body.


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