Henri Ruoste dressage clinic at Equestrian Centre Aino: don't overcomplicate things

It was a slightly surreal experience going to a dressage clinic where the 'superstar of the show' was your own big brother...! There was already a lot of hype beforehand and I already knew lots of friends and acquaintances who were coming to it, but honestly nothing prepares you for the onslaught of hundreds of dressage fans coming from all over Finland to see your brother teach ⭐️
Photo © Margit Ticklen from Horsemail.fi
The first lesson was the young horse group which had a pair of lovely young horses, and whilst the two riders were a bit nervous Henri just went as said "forget about dressage, just ride", which made both the riders smile and I think this is a good point, sometimes we need to take a step back away from 'dressage' and remember to actually ride! Once the young horses had to started to relax in the new environment, Henri made the riders do transitions within paces, both in trot and in canter and for young horses, the collection back into a smaller trot/canter is just 2-3 steps back and then go! (Note: remember you can't punish the horse if they buck or take off with you because you are wanting and asking forwards!) And coming back is just small steps - it doesn't matter if it's piaffe or passage or a Shetland pony trot, just as long as it is small tiny steps and the horse is reacting to you. Practising these transitions within the pace gave the riders a chance to play with the power and balance of the step  and both horses improved, and in my opinion of the horses became REALLY nice after this exercise. This simple exercise was actually amazingly effective for both riders, as during the transitions between the paces the riders had to become quicker themselves in order to get the horses to become quicker.

For Henri, he wants the horses to go when he asks them to go, he doesn't want to have to ride every single step for them and he doesn't want to have to think for them. And to achieve this? Each day the same rules! As a rider you need to be incredibly black and white with each horse, every day. This makes life so much easier for both of you. And remember that the best reward is for the rider to be still and not do anything - hands still, legs still and the rider not interrupting the horse's own paces. But then Henri reminded everyone that we don't want the horses to be ridden too empty, they need to enjoy their work and not turn sour when they see the arena, so stop before they are exhausted mentally and physically.
"I need to sit on top of a square that moves quickly from my aids"

Next up was the riding school group where the main message that Henri kept repeating was that riding does NOT need to be complicated!! We like to make things more complicated than they need to be, but don't confuse the horse with a million different aids. Keep the hands still to give a chance for the horse to take the bit and make sure that your seat doesn't bother/interrupt the horse - and that's it! Nothing more complicated than this ✌๐ŸปAfter the same forwards/backwards exercise as a warm up, the main exercise with this group was leg yielding. Leg yield is a fab exercise because you don't need to flex the horse, you're still on top of your square (the horse's four legs should be imagined as a square underneath you) and this is a good exercise for the rider to work on not using too much leg aids! Don't keep leg on for too much, the less the better as the aim is to ask for leg yield once at the start and then leave the leg off and horse carries on with leg yield. A good tip that I picked up for my own riding was to NOT ride the leg yield too steeply to help the steps of trot to stay good! Ride carefully side ways to ensure the quality of the trot (or canter) when you are at home and practising.
From L to R: Henri, Erkki Siltala (owner of Equestrian Centre Aino) and Hรฅkan Wahlman
There was a Finnish Horse group afterwards but I took this time to sneak off to the Aino Boutique to do some window shopping, and took the chance to grab some fresh air and go for a walk as by this point I'd been inside for nearly 4 hours and it was starting to get to me!

After the lunch break it was time for the eventer/SJ group. I thought that this group was a great chance to see how important it is for 'non-dressage' horses to do dressage based work, as both of these horses transformed in under 45 minutes and the eventing horse even managed to do a really good quality large working pirouette. For working pirouettes we need the horses around the leg, so you can do some prep work beforehand with shoulder in on a circle - this is done by keeping the hindlegs on your track but moving the shoulders in as this helps the rider keep the circle the same size and shape so that you ride a circle and not a wobbly egg shaped squircle!!! Another good tip that I picked up from this group was that straightness is THE key for flying changes, so sometimes it's good to practise flying changes by first doing shoulder-in on the diagonal to keep the horses waiting when they are trying to anticipate a change, then straightening and doing a flying change. By riding shoulder-in first you keep the horse busy and they don't have a chance to do a flying change before you ask them for one.

"You MUST be able to ride the horse with a longer neck too, they can't rely on their neck too much" 
We managed to get one of the VIP rooms! #antisocial
I was super looking forward to the advanced level group simply because I feel like this is where I am with Vallu (on a good day) so I paid attention the entire 45 minutes and wrote down nearly every single word Henri said ๐Ÿค“ But here is a brief synopsis of this group: 1. Remember to always start off with a small trot to let the horses relax, we cannot as riders assume that the horses will do good work until the are relaxed and it's easier to make a tense horse relax in a small, slow trot and 2. If a horse is hot he needs to learn to go with a soft contact and if they are too light with the contact then they need to learn to ride with a 'stronger' contact. 3. When you're in control you it feels like your horse could do either a piaffe or extended trot without any problems, or after a corner it could do a pirouette or extended canter no problem. 4. Remember to ride after the flying change and not just be pleased with having achieved a flying change which is just one stride of canter and then you still have to ride the diagonal afterwards! One of the horses in this group found the flying changes quite exciting, so the the straightness of the diagonal suffered afterwards a few times but after a few repetitions it was SO much better, leading to the final point that Henri made to this group which was to not compromise about the diagonal, it needs to be straight no matter what, whether you doing no changes, a single flying change or tempi changes. But the best exercise of the entire clinic in my opinion was the leg yield to half pass to leg yield on the diagonal. OH BABY this was a good one!! ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿป If there is one thing to take away from this clinic, it was this. I rode this yesterday and found out that it's a lot harder than it looks.

"YOU need to be quick to correct the horse otherwise you're too late and the horse won't understand why you are correcting him"
And the icing on top of the cake was the Intermediate/GP group ๐Ÿ˜ It was interesting that they started off with the exact same warm up from young horses to GP horses - small trot to relax, then some forwards and backwards transitions within trot and canter. During the drive home I did ask Henri if he actually does do this with his GP horses and he swore to me that he does because all horses need this to get them ready for work. You can see more of this lesson in the video above ⬆️ A quick tip which I was SO happy to pick up was that with a stressy horse instead of riding free walk on long rein when you're giving them a break, try riding an extended walk so they have to think and remained focused on you, but also stay calm and can get a breather!

"Your first trot step must be as good as your best trot step"
Photo © Margit Ticklen from Horsemail.fi

I'm so pleased for my brother that it went well and that people are really excited for him to come back to do another one ๐Ÿ˜ I had a brilliant time and it was SO lovely to be able to spend time with my big brother, it's a rare occasion that I get to spend time one-on-one with him nowadays.

 Oh and well done if you've managed to read this whole blog post!


  1. your brother sounds like a great teacher of both horses and riders. lots of good nuggets of info in here too, thanks for sharing! i really really (really) need to be better about practicing transitions within gaits, but it's so hard for my horse right now. the idea of just going for a very little bit (2-3 steps) at a time, esp to start teaching it, makes sense tho. perhaps i've been greedy by wanting to compress the stride beyond what my horse can reasonably hold right now? anyway lots of food for thought!

    1. I think 2-3 steps is totally possible with a baby horse. The youngest horse was 4 (turning 5) and even that tried to do the forwards and back steps, and was rewarded for just trying - even if it wasn't the best! Glad you enjoyed, my horses have been going super well after this clinic because of that exercise!!