Category Archives: School Exercises

Strength Training in Dressage

Recognising that your horse may not have the strength to perform the work you are asking for is key to ensuring he remains sound and willing throughout his Dressage career.

StrengthConsider this: If you embarked on a program of stretching, joined a yoga or pilates class or even joined a gym how would you feel after your first session?  Perhaps a little sore, perhaps a little tired.  How long could you do and how often would you need to go before it became easier and enjoyable?

What would happen if you jumped in at the deep end and did the ‘body blast’ class?  My guess is you would be laid up for a few days and probably wouldn’t want to go again.

Why Use Strength Training?

Continue reading Strength Training in Dressage

12 Dressage Tips for Christmas 2014

In 2013 I bought you 12 tips over 12 days on The Dressage Tipster Facebook Page.  This year I have amalgamated all 12 into one post for those of you who had not discovered The Crystal System last year.
A bit of festive fun and some useful stuff in there too …dressage tips
On the 1st Day of Christmas the Dressage Tipster said to me

Guess“Above all else ensure that your horse is forward. As long as the horse goes forward, he will not have time to think of evasions. Whenever you get a problem of any description, think of my favourite ‘F’ word” 

 On the 2nd day of Christmas the Dressage Tipster said to me …

Straightness

StraightnessThe Law of Straightness says that everything must be straight or else the world will explode!  Whilst this is little tongue in cheek, for me getting a little obsessive compulsive about straightness is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to your riding!

Every horse is naturally asymmetrical, just like every human they are left or right handed.  Every horse has a natural tendency to bend left or right, just like every human will favour leaning on one leg or another.

Every horse will naturally carry more weight on the front legs than on the hind legs, causing uneven distribution of the weight over the four legs.  It is down to you, the rider to recognize and correct these imbalances with the goal of developing the horse symmetrically because a crooked horse is an unbalanced horse and an unbalanced horse becomes tense and resistant.

When the horse feels discomfort or pain, automatically he develops compensation in order to avoid that problem and to maintain optimal performance.  Here is where you will begin to see short choppy strides, behaviour resistance, and disobedience in your horse.  Why? because it hurts.  The muscles become irritated and may spasm, losing the ability to function effectively over time.  Compensation occurs with the issue being passed to other muscle groups.   

It follows then that crookedness should be addressed so that each hind leg bears equal weight if we wish to avoid muscular compensation.  You cannot sit straight on a crooked horse, nor can a horse move straight under a crooked rider.

Without doubt, straightness is a quality that distinguishes the skilled rider from the average rider.   The good news is that analysing yourself for straightness and addressing it are relatively easy things to do.  You can observe the level of straightness in every rider you watch and in every horse you ride.  If the front of the horse (shoulders) or back of the horse (haunches) deviate from a true line your horse will lose impulsion, suppleness, lightness and flexion.  Straighten again and the purity of the gait will be restored.  Of course, this presupposes that you as a rider have the necessary skills to recognise the deviation and deal with these fluctuations whilst aboard your horse.  It can demand a strong seat and leg aids to prevent you simply being pushed out of the way by the horse.

Straightness is the perfect ideal.  So in order to ensure that you have straightness you must have control over the front and the back of the horse, however, if riding a horse straight created a straight horse it would all be very simple.  It is not.  The best way to ensure that your horse is flexible enough to move on a straight line with the hind Rider Asymmtreylegs following the forelegs, is to use lateral work in the form of shoulder-fore, shoulder-in, travers and renvers, thereby gaining the necessary skills to manoeuvre the shoulders and quarters of the horse and ‘place’ them where you need them to be in order to correct the horse should he veer off the straight and narrow!

Image reproduced by kind permission of Anne Bondi BHSI – www.saddleresearchtrust.com

Straightness Check List

This list can serve as a checklist in determining the horse’s natural crookedness, i.e. his hollow and stiff sides.

  1. Falling over the outside shoulder and going against the rider’s outside knee and thigh.
  2. Falling onto the inside shoulder.
  3. Over-bending laterally, creating a bulge at the shoulder
  4. Counter-bending on a circle, sometimes locking the jaw on the inside.
  5. Cutting corners.
  6. When you are on the center line or on the quarter line, he will tend to drift with his entire body.
  7. In transitions to the halt one hind leg will tend to be out behind.
  8. He will tend to show a faulty haunches-in, because his croup will tend to fall in against the riders’s inside calf.
  9. In the shoulder-in it may be difficult to get his shoulder to leave the wall.
  10. In the shoulder-in it is easy to get the correct angle, but it is more difficult to achieve the correct bend.
  11. Haunches-in and half passes appear to be easier on one rein than the other.
  12. In severe cases, the horse may not want to canter on one lead initially.
  13. When you lengthen the strides in the trot, the horse may frequently break into the canter.

Achieving straightness is one of the most fundamental demands in training horses, because a crooked horse will never be able to develop impulsion or self carriage.  But what may be worse is that a crooked horse will not remain sound in the long run, as any imbalance creates stiffness and bracing which translate into unnecessary wear and tear on joints, tendons, and ligaments.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

help@likecrystal.com

 

Take a Deep Breath

Without question the most underestimated, undervalued, unappreciated, under-rated tool in the rider’s toolbox is breathing.  I should know I am guilty of not tapping into the power that correct breathing gives you.  I have been told to learn to breathe properly and virtually ignored the advice.  Really can’t tell you why, it seems that I know best and I consider being advised to breathe as no advice at all.

I’ve written some posts on how to breathe when riding, paying lip service to it really.  I’d be interested to know how many of you have thought “Wow, that’s a real corker, I’ll go an give that a go”- I’ll wager not many of you.  However, now that I understand clearly the benefits of ‘good’ breathing I have to say that I am more than a little miffed with myself that I didn’t take it more seriously much earlier in my training and have been looking around for someone to blame for not instilling in me just how significant it is.  On this basis I am not going to be the one who does not tell you!

Breathing has proven to be one of the easiest and most effective ways to foster relaxation, build confidence, and direct focus.  Breathing oxygenates every cell of your body, from your brain to your vital organs.  Without sufficient oxygen your body becomes more susceptible to health problems. In a study published in The Lancet, cardiac patients who took 12 to 14 shallow breaths per minute (six breaths per minute is considered optimal) were more likely to have low levels of blood oxygen, which “may impair skeletal, muscle and metabolic function, and lead to muscle atrophy and exercise intolerance.”

BreathSo you see, every time I struggled to keep going, through lack of oxygen to my muscles and my lungs and quickly became exhausted, every time my vast efforts sent me purple in the face, every time my muscles ached through sheer exertion, could have been avoided with a) a few basic exercises to improve the way I breathe and b) an awareness of how my breathing affects my ability to work with my horse.  Deep diaphragmatic breathing raises levels of blood oxygen thus improving physical fitness and mental performance.

If you are anything like me, you want me someone to give you that magical positional tweak that will revolutionise your riding and God knows I’ve given you enough of those in my blog posts over the past year or so, but as my training progresses and things click into place, we are looking at refining everything, relaxing everything, making it more subtle, stripping it back to its heart and as a result I have had to learn to control my breathing whilst in the saddle.  It seems that every breath I share with my horse is an authentic cue either to relax or not.

Breathing correctly means your chest will expand; your ribcage will lift; your vertebrae will re-align; your muscles will soften; your jaw will relax; your elbows will unlock and your legs will hang long and soft.

Breathing correctly means that the oxygen gets to your brain and you are able to think more clearly; communication is calm and responsive.

Breathing it seems is a bit of a lame suggestion in the face of all that you need to do to ride well, such an insignificant idea barely warrants a try doesn’t it? But in my opinion that does not make it any less of a phenomenon but more of one.  It is simple and as such should be embraced because ‘simplicity is the key to brilliance’.

“Relax!”, “Stop holding your breath!” Whilst these phrases are intended to be helpful, what affect do they really have?  When you hit difficulty the first thing to go is the quality of your breathing, perhaps you hold your breath or begin breathing in short, shallow breaths, irregularly, very different from your breathing when you are calm, confident, and in control when your breaths are smooth, deep and rhythmic.  Deep breath

Take a Deep Breath!

The bizarre truth is that learning to control your breathing is not some 10 week course in which you need to seek professional help, pay exorbitant fees and work hard to achieve.  All you need to do is take a deep breath.  Basically, the emphasis is on breathing from the diaphragm (or belly) instead of the chest, as this produces feelings of being calm and relaxed.

  1. Inhale deeply and slowly through your nose – feel your chest expand top to bottom. Feel your belly push outward as if you were inflating a balloon.
  2. Hold for a moment before exhaling – concentrate on feeling calm and patient.
  3. Exhale gently through your mouth at a steady rate – be sure to exhale for a beat longer than you inhaled. Feel your belly flatten. Feel the muscles in your arms and shoulders relax while your body melts gently towards the ground. Let your muscles enjoy this moment of relaxation.

Drop your shoulders and let go. Breathe deep, expand your rib cage to give your heart room and exhale the calm. Inhale. Think of what you want to achieve in a positive light.  Exhale. Inhale. We will do a fabulously flowing shoulder-in today.  Exhale.  The deep breath is actually an act of self-confidence in itself.

Taking a deep breath can be used effectively in a lesson, before going into the arena at a show, during any breaks in your schooling or even during a hack It helps you maintain your composure, control your anxiety, keep your focus, and aids your body in getting the oxygen it needs to operate to its full capacity.

What could be more natural than an act that we do some 20,000 times each day?  So, do you know if you breathe correctly?  It is a fact that the majority of us take our breathing for granted.   Given that often the very act of taking a deep breath brings your focus to something that you have complete control over (your breathing) by utilising ‘taking a deep breath’ you have taken proactive steps and decided not to simply wait for things to happen.  Your breathing technique can create relaxation and rhythm.  Isn’t this the essence of all things Dressage?

Aaaaand, breeeeeeeeath!

DressagePatricia – The Dressage Tipster

help@likecrystal.com

Have you invested in The Crystal System Book yet?  Click on image to buy …

How to Achieve a Slow Canter

Slow Canter Swap the words slow canter for unhurried canter and we understand each other.

One thing that holds its elusiveness for the novice rider longer than any other is the ability to effectively control the canter.  Many, many times I have been asked “how do you get the horse to slow down the canter?”  It is a very, very common problem.  Of course my instinct says ‘you don’t want him slow, you want him forward’ which is absolutely right and so easy for me to say now.  But if I take myself back to the early days of my training one of my many issues was getting and sustaining a controlled and relaxed canter.  Just couldn’t do it, simple as!

I also know that you will never be able to encourage your horse forward in the canter until you have control and in order to have control, you have to slow the canter.  It’s a case of, which comes first? Chicken or Egg.  Well, the first consideration is the horse itself.  Your horse must be strong to lift his entire weight off the outside hind in the canter and carry you at the same time.  If it is a young horse there could be a strength issue.  He will have difficulty maintaining balance and a quiet tempo in the canter.  He will only be able to maintain a quiet tempo if he has natural athletic ability or the rider is skilful and does not interfere with the balance.  Also, if you are retraining an older horse, it will take time to build the physique that your horse needs to carry your weight with ease and therefore steadily.

Of course, the other major issue is that many riders don’t ride well enough to give clear aids. If the rider’s seat, legs and hands are not correct, the communication cannot be clear.  To the horse, it’s chaotic and he may have learned to put up with the chaos and thus tune you out and that means one thing – he’ll ignore your aids when you think you are giving them.

Before you can begin to control the tempo of the canter there must be relaxation in your horse both mentally and physically.
A horse that rushes isn’t relaxed. The horse must be supple and swinging through his back.  He must have clear acceptance of the bit and the aids. Once you have these elements, you’re on the right path.

What’s to be done?  I want to look first at what is NOT to be done.

  • Stop thinking in terms of putting on the brakes
  • Don’t give your horse mixed messages
  • Don’t program your horse to ignore your aids
  • Stop holding onto the reins
  • Don’t get a more severe bit
  • Don’t push your horse through movement in your seat
  • Don’t grip with your legs and knees

Because the hindquarters provide the impulsion for a horse’s movement, we want to actually use the hindquarters to control, or slow, the horse’s forward thrust. It is the horse’s ability to carry more weight on his haunches and not to run on his forehand that needs development and understanding.  To aid your horse’s balance concentrate on keeping his neck straight at the base, in front of the shoulders and the rest of the body will follow.  Thoroughly practice this in the walk and trot, in straight lines and on circles. Include many transitions and changes of rein in walk and trot and suppling exercises before you try the canter.  You should genuinely feel improvement in the rhythm and tempo of the trot before you attempt to slow the canter and this is because you are working to help the horse carry more weight behind and balance himself, as the trot improves so will his ability to steady the canter.

Quick Tip: If you want to build your horse’s hindquarters you could do some walking up and down hills/inclines in a controlled manner. Straight Circle

NOTE: Being straight on a circle is one of those horsey idioms that, in my view, are just designed to confuse.  Keeping the neck straight on a circle means following the line of the curve of the circle, so we say that the horse is ‘nicely straight’ if he has executed a good bend and the hind legs are following the line of the front legs.  What it does not mean is that the horse’s neck should be ‘straight’ as a board.

You need to establish exactly what is happening in order to fix it.

  • Does your horse ignore your aids and resist downward transitions?
  • Is he on the forehand, heavy and pulling on the reins?
  • Is his tempo faster than you are comfortable with, even though it may be right for him?
  • Are his strides bigger and more powerful than you can comfortably sit?
  • Or is he running in a tempo that is faster than he should?

Then experiment with the following:

  • Have horse on the aids before the depart, self carriage is important
  • Use your seat to hold him quiet and steady
  • Tighten your abdominal muscles
  • Practice lots of transitions
  • Ride many canter departs and always bringing him back to a walk when he starts to rush, you will increase his strength. Canter to walk, walk to canter are invaluable for helping with tempo.
  • Ensure your shoulder’s are parallel to the horses
  • Accept only a few strides of the slower tempo if your horse offers them and build gradually to longer periods.

A horse may run from a tight, unyielding hand.  Even if your horse learns to accept unforgiving hands, you are teaching him a bad habit.  You have nowhere to go, if you have ‘pulled’ your horse together and he is not carrying himself, you will be restricting the horse’s motion, his back will be hollow and his neck short and with a short neck comes a short stride.  This is a horse that rushes.  Like not having the ability to half-halt and balance a horse that has no energy in its paces, how can you ‘check’ a horse that is already heavy in the hand.

Use the Half-Halt

I can’t really do an article on slowing anything without tipping a mention to the half-halt.  The half-halt is the balancing aid and should be used before you ask your horse to do anything.  It is a very important influence in making your horse obedient, balanced and up in his way of going.  I have already stated that the horse must be supple and swinging through his back.  The half-halt will check that swing momentarily and thus slow the tempo.  Once you have mastered the half-halt, you will have all you need to slow the canter.

To summarise you might want to ask yourself …

  1. Is the horse strong enough to carry you? Do you need to do some strengthening exercises?
  2. Are your aids clear? Are you ‘making’ your horse rush?
  3. Have you got your horse relaxed and on the aids in the trot before the depart?
  4. Is your horse straight?
  5. Are you using too much hand?
  6. Are you able to use your seat to influence the paces?
  7. Can you employ the half-halt effectively?

When I get asked ‘how do you get the horse to slow down the canter?’ most riders expect me to say, just do this or do that.  Sorry guys.  Controlling the tempo in canter is a long and diligent process and there is no ‘quick-fix’ button for you to install.  You have to start by assessing the horse’s general way of going and build the fix(es) from there. In my view once you have mastered the ability to control the canter strides you have developed a good many skills and you are well on your way to becoming a competent rider.  So worth the effort, yes?

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

help@likecrystal.com

dressage lessons

Precious Dressage Lessons

We all need that special someone who can guide us through the minefield, help us focus, work with us to achieve our dreams but there’s no getting away from it, dressage lessons with instructors are not cheap.  Of course, it’s all worth it for that rosy glow we get at the end and the injection of enthusiasm we experience as a result of doing something right, (or wrong and working through it) on our way to achieving our ambitions.

dressage lessonsI’d like to share with you my view of how to get the very best out of your dressage lessons because as someone who spent a long time in search of the right mentor and therefore, wasted a great deal of time, effort and money on the wrong training, I have learnt that there are a number of things you can do to get the absolute best from the precious and not inexpensive time you spend with your instructor.

I am guilty of all of these ‘faux pas’ and I’m sharing so that you don’t have to be.

1. Share your vision.

The first thing you need to do is ensure that both you and your instructor are absolutely clear about your riding ambitions.  It’s no good being disappointed with the lesson outcomes if you have not communicated and agreed what it is that you need/want to work on and agreed some medium and long term goals that are achievable.

2.Warm up.

It is right that you should expect to have somewhere to warm up and do your usual routine before you even begin to engage in your instructor’s time.  That way you won’t be spending your hard earned having him/her watch you warming up!

3. Show some respect

Every equestrian has a certain level of knowledge but there is nothing more tedious than a pupil who thinks they know how to do everything.  You may not agree in that moment with what you are being asked to do, but at least do your instructor the courtesy of listening and trying out their ideas, you have to trust that they are there to get the best out of you, and have your best interests in mind.

4. Clock In-Clock Out

dressage lessonAs you enter the arena you are working.  Clock In.  Put every ounce of your energy and focus on your aids and your horse whilst in the lesson, do as instructed and try not to think too much.  As you leave the arena – Clock Off.  There’s plenty of time after the lesson for discussion, whilst riding, empty your mind, concentrate solely on what is happening in the ‘here and now’ and forget what might happen if!

5. Up your work ethic

All too often you see riders who stop to ponder what is being asked.  The horse who has been putting in all its efforts to abide by the aids is all of a sudden let down and is now standing whilst the rider gets his/her head round things.  Then its pick back up and expect to do better.  Do your very best to ride through the instruction and feel what you need to do.  My mentor’s favourite saying is “show me what you’ve got when you’ve got nothing left”.  It is in these moments that you can produce brilliance, just at the point where you think you can’t do it anymore, one more push of effort ‘et voila’ it all becomes worth it.

6. Shut up!

When your instructor is with you in the arena resist the urge to talk. If you want to natter with them, take them to the pub.  In the arena they are working and you should be too.

7. Have Fun

Try not to take it all too seriously.  Enjoy the learning process and smile.

Since adopting these strategies I have had more fun with my learning.  I’ve come out of sessions absolutely beaming and unable to sleep at night because my little horse has given me so much and I can’t stop thinking about it.  But it’s not me who benefits the most, it’s my horse and that feels good.

Anything to add?  Crystal System BookI’d love to hear of your dressage lesson experiences, please feel free to share in the comments section.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

help@likecrystal.com

 

 

Struggling with Travers / Haunches In

Haunches In HandsI am constantly amazed at how the very, very small things make such a huge, huge difference.  Here’s one of those such things.

If you are struggling to get a soft flowing travers (Haunches In), turn your inside hand over slightly (like turning a key).  It must be very subtle so as not to draw the horse to the inside or bend the horse’s neck … but OMG! What a difference it makes.

Other essential elements are forwardness and ensuring that you are not crooked with your upper body, but try the hand thing.  It’s a gem!

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

help@likecrystal.com

Other Eureka moments include :

Eureka – Open your Hips

All Together Now – Eureka moment

Why I want to feel the Force of my horses hind legs in my Ass

 

The Thorny Problem that is Leg Yield

Seems whenever I explain to anyone that I do not do leg yield, I get furrowed brows and protestations and have to go into my full spiel about why not.  Well mostly, sometimes it’s all I can do to muster up … “I just don’t find it helpful”.

leg YieldClearly the reason why you should hassle yourself and your horse with the exercise is because you need to for the Elementary Test and as such it seems impossible to grasp how the ‘all knowing dressage superpowers’ can possibly include an exercise in the progressive test process that will do anything other than aid your progression!  And, yes, I know, I understand why you would think this; I am not telling you what to do; I am advising that in my current enlightened state, having followed many methods for many years which ended in me becoming a frustrated dribbling wreck, with all of my horses potentially for sale and the very real prospect of taking up cross-stitch as my primary hobby, I have found that I agree with the classical purists who sit firmly on the side of the fence that says leg yield has no benefits to the scale of training and may even hinder progress.  Cross StitchFor me, it simply does not help.

Often quoted as being a pre-cursor to more advanced lateral work, leg yielding is controversial because its biomechanics are often not understood.  Clearly, there is a benefit to teaching your horse to move forwards and sideways, however, in leg yield the hind quarters do not take more weight and your horse will struggle to remain light in the forehand, often the very act of leg yielding will put the horse onto the forehand.  In leg yield your horse will be bent in the opposite direction to how he bends in the more advanced lateral movements so for me it is counter-productive to spend time on the exercise, much better to skip leg yield and move straight onto two-track exercises to develop suppleness than to incorporate an exercise that actually (in my view!) produces stiffness in the horse. Continue reading The Thorny Problem that is Leg Yield

Travers – Use it to supple your horse

There are a number of exercises you should master in order to improve your horses ability to bend laterally (sideways), his overall suppleness and encourage engagement of his hindquarters.  One of them is Travers (or haunches in).  This lateral exercise is where the horse moves on a straight line with the quarters on an inner track and is essential for those who have already mastered shoulder-in and are ready to move up to half-pass.

You should begin asking for Travers in walk by ensuring that the walk is active with free and flowing movement.

It is important to be conscious of this so that you do not lose the rhythm or tempo and the gait is not be impaired in any way as the Travers begins.

Travers

  • Use the corner of the school to help you set up or ride a 10m circle
  • As the horses shoulder comes out of the circle, give the aids …
  • Both you and your horse should be looking forward in the direction of travel
  • Move your outside leg back slightly behind the girth to ask the horse’s hindquarters to move inwards to a 30 degree angle.
  • The outside rein should balance the horse and control the bend.
  • Keep your inside leg on the girth to maintain impulsion and flexion to the inside.
  • Your inside rein will maintain a soft contact and flexion.
  • Ride a few quality strides only, straighten the horse and ride away until you are able to maintin Travers along the whole side of the arena.

Try Travers …

  • On a circle
  • In trot
  • In canter
  • Up the Centre line
  • Ride a half 10m circle and return to E or B in Travers
  • Ride shoulder in along long side to E or B, 10m circle followed by Travers for the rest of the long side.

DO NOT …

  • Look behind at the horse’s quarters
  • Collapse your inside hip
  • Allow your upper body to become crooked
  • Swing your outside lower leg too far back
  • Allow the impulsion to wane
  • Ask for too much angle
  • Allow the horse to look to the outside

So, there you have it the do’s and do nots of Travers.  Take it slowly, really think about your body position and how it affects the horse, be quiet in your aids and expect it to happen.

Good luck!

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

help@likecrystal.com

Pure Gaits

 

 

GET IN RHYTHM … STAY IN RHYTHM

Imagine your horse ambling along in walk, jogging instead of trotting, stumbling through a test constantly breaking the three beat canter.  Not often do you see all of these faults in one horse but sure as night follows day you will experience these faults, at least to some extent, if you have not focussed your training on rhythm.  Because in this small, rather oddly spelled word (should be ritham, right?) you have wrapped up a whole host of skills you and your horse must master; energy, even tempo, clear and regular paces, balance, rein contact … the list goes on!

RhythmIf you consider that impurities or irregularities in the rhythm, tempo and stride length are serious flaws in your horse’s ability to perform you can begin to appreciate that not only should you begin to focus on rhythm, but you should remain focussed on rhythm throughout your riding career.

The walk is the gait that is most prone to impurities.  You can have considerable influence on the way your horse walks which means that you can induce faults too.  So, if you over ride the walk and push your horse into a faster, bigger walk than he is capable of, he will fall onto the forehand and tighten his back.  Likewise if you attempt to collect more than your horse is capable of, his back will tighten and the walk will become irregular.

Consider your ‘free walk on a long rein’.  Your horse needs to show a clear, pure, four-beat walk and most likely is able to – as long as the rider is not touching reins.  Then immediately the rider picks up the reins, the horse responds with unequal strides. This happens as a result of the rider using too much rein; not enough leg support and usually too heavy a seat. Go figure!  Relaxing more and reducing the demands will in most cases restore the clear four beat rhythm.

The safest way out of jigging is to start the working trot afresh, if it is a walk push the horse up into a working trot, establish the rhythm and relaxation and when the hind legs have started thrusting and the back has started swinging again, the walk will most likely be improved as well.  The important point I would like to make here is, as with many, many other issues, you will not be able to regulate your horse’s paces without a good forward thrust, so first of all check that you have a forward thinking and willing horse, otherwise you will not have anything to work with.

The majority of young horses and horses that are being retrained need to be reminded periodically not to slack off the forward propulsion; left to their own devices they will gradually fade after a few strides with good effort and that means the power with which their hind legs propel decreases, the gait loses its intensity and becomes dull.  The result?  the horse’s back stops swinging and the trot deteriorates into a jog, loses its gymnastic value and the horse’s musculature development over his haunches, back and top line is hindered.

RhythmThis, coupled with the potential issue of losing forwardness on the corners if the horse is not strong enough or trying to avoid the flexing of his joints  (see Slowing Down and Speeding Up – Check the Flex) you may have to go back to basics and that means rhythm.

Most untrained horses assume that the leg aid means ‘speed up’, so they increase the tempo as soon as the rider asks, thus losing rhythm.  It is up to you to ‘clarify’ with your horse that the leg aid means ‘put more effort into your work, but keep your tempo’.  This is achieved using an effective half-halt. (see Heavy on the Forehand for more tips about the half halt).  So it is through systematic training that the horse should learn to adjust the tempo, adjust the stride length and adjust his energy levels independently of each other.

Loss of impulsion and slowing of the tempo often happens because keeping the impulsion and tempo requires more strength from the horse.  Pay really close attention to the regularity of the tempo, stride length and energy level throughout all exercises, patterns, and movements in order to develop the purity of the gaits to the highest level and to develop the horse’s strength and suppleness to its fullest potential in the process.

You have to be progressive in your training.  Your horse will respond with little and often.  It will take six weeks for him to build the muscle power and stamina required to be able to efficiently execute new and demanding exercises.  Too much too soon could result in injury.

Here’s some food for thought, like your heartbeat is the ‘rhythm of life’ so rhythm is to your horse’s gymnastic development.  Without it … not gonna happen!

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

help@likecrystal.com