Expressions of Classical Horsemanship, Part 2: Work-In-Hand

Last week, we started with a discussion of the riding expression of classical horsemanship. This week, we’re discussing the expression of the work in-hand. There are a few styles of work in-hand: the Iberian, the Viennese, Long-Reining, and the Pillars. Each one takes a different approach and has different advantages or disadvantages. The beauty of the work in-hand is that the rider has the opportunity to actually see what the horse is doing and correct issues they missed while riding. It is also a very bonding experience between horse and rider, though it requires a lot of coordination and stamina. As the rider works from the ground, the horse can develop strength and balance without the weight of the rider. There are several horses and riders who excel in the various methods of work in-hand, though all can benefit.

Iberian School

The Spanish and Portuguese approach work in-hand with the regular riding reins and a regular dressage whip. The rider faces the horse and walks next to the shoulder with the hands on the reins. Because there are no fixed reins, the rider can change the horse’s bend as well as perform all the lateral movements at walk and trot. The rider can also display the piaffe and some of the airs from this position. However, it is more awkward to change direction and perform the lateral movements in both directions, as the rider has to stop and move around the horse to do so

Viennese School

The Spanish Riding School approaches work in-hand on the cavesson with side reins. The rider has two options for their position. They can walk next to the horse in the same position as the Iberian school or backwards positioned at the horse’s head. The rider holds a rein to the cavesson in one hand and a long whip in the other. The advantage is that the rider can see more of the horse from this position and has less in their hands. However, the rider has less opportunity to work on the horse’s lateral flexibility. This method of work in hand allows the rider to develop the horse’s straightness and collection. Traditionally, riders have used this method for teaching the piaffe and the airs above the ground because of the rider’s flexibility in position. This style is often more suited to stallions that tend to get more playful with their rider, as the side reins help to keep the head straighter. It is also simpler for most riders, as the rider only has to worry with one rein.

Long reins

Not to be confused with ground-driving, the work in long-reins is the pinnacle of training on the ground. The rider walks behind the horse with two long reins and a dressage whip, hands close enough to touch the croup. The horse can perform all the Grand Prix movements (except the extended gaits) at walk, trot, and canter. It is only started after the horse is trained in these movements under saddle, as it is very difficult. Because of the close proximity to the horse, riders do not display the large airs above the ground like capriole for safety purposes.


In older days, training consisted of a lot of work between two pillars or at one single pillar. This is very rare to see, as it can be easily done wrong. However, it is fascinating to see what the horse can do in such a small space. The rider can work to polish the piaffe as well as some of the airs within the pillars. According to 19th century riding master Gustav Steinbrecht, piaffe in pillars was used to develop the rider’s seat.

If you would like to learn the work in-hand, come join us for a focused lesson! Several of our horses are excellent teachers for this work.