This is not a very fashionable idea, but I’m a little tired of hearing how we should keep telling everyone how wonderful they are, how well they are doing and gush with positivity in order to encourage progression.
Pff … what anyone who wants real success needs is to take a long hard look at themselves and critically evaluate where they are in terms of their goals and, if appropriate accept that they are not good riders.
This is a good starting point!
What is wrong with being told that, actually you are not very good and have some hard work to do to get what you want?
What is wrong with being told that, if you want to be a dressage rider you need to … lose weight, get fit, change your attitude, recognise that your skill set is currently lacking?
I wanted to ride well for many, many years, became very frustrated and nearly gave up altogether, until I recognised that I was stuck in my ways, needed to clear my mind and BE A BEGINNER again – as if I had never ridden, accept how badly I had been taught, by people who either knew no better or did not care enough, lose weight, get fit and rebuild my skills.
I have many tips to help you rebuild your skills – essentially the foundations have to be right to support the future work! This is the basis of my training system and I would very much appreciate any comments you may have.
Test of your training progress by going, rising trot and gradually drop your reins until you are on the buckle end.
Your horse should stretch down, but if he sticks his head up you need to rethink your training methods!
It is contrary to good hands to put too much effort into having your hands and forearms as the rulebook states!
This is putting too much pressure on you to be “correct” and thus stiffling your ability to feel.
The sensation should be easy and effortless, round your wrists slightly toward inside, nails facing, close your fingers, but in the same measure, keep them soft so not clamped closed. Good hands are the result of a good frame of mind!
Quick Tip to aid your accuracy in the arena.
To aid your accuracy before your schooling session, use a rake in the arena to draw a straight line from A to C and then again from B to E.
This will help you to work out if your circles and shapes are accurate. It will also show you if your straight lines are straight.
Don’t forget you will be penalised heavily by the judges if you are not accurate. It is the most basic of requirements and never the fault of the horse!
I like dressage in walk.
I can sit beautifully (!), I can establish whatever movement I want to do in Walk, I can actually do laterals properly – shoulder in, travers, half pass in Walk. And, I’m good at it … 😉 Moving up to trot and then canter is a different matter.
I remember an instructor of mine many years ago saying “any idiot can do it in walk” – nice!
Try this exercise in walk to improve your co-ordination and supple your horse.
- On a circle establish the bend
- Ask for shoulder-fore on the circle
- by bringing the inside leg forward a little to move the shoulder out
- capture the movement of the shoulder with the outside rein
- the inside hand should be a fraction higher than the outside
- look 3 metres in front of you across the circle
- it is essential that your shoulders are level with those of the horse
- you are looking for a little more bend than you would normally see on the circle
- Allow a quarter of the circle in shoulder fore and then release the shoulder and continue on the circle
- Next, you should ask for quarters-in
- by bringing the outside leg back a little
- again hold everything with the outside rein
- weight into the inside seat-bone
- shoulders level with the horses
- looking 3 metres in front of you across the circle
- again, just a shift in is sufficient, a little more bend than you would normally see on the circle
Alternate between shoulder-fore and quarters-in on the circle for about 6 circles, then go straight and give your horse the rein to have a good stretch. Perhaps pop into a stretchy trot to loosen and free everything up, before you go again on the opposite rein.
Then you can move up to the trot and canter exercises, knowing that your horse is capable of the flexibility required for the movement.
It’s just a matter of perfect practice to get it in the faster gaits. If you struggle, come back to walk, go through the movement again and give it another go and remember, your horse must put in as much effort as you. A clean, active, forward thinking walk is a must if you are using it to strengthen your progression.
Patricia – The Dressage Tipster
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Creating a happy horse is helped by making sure that you build the work gradually, both the quantity and the difficulty. Do not ‘over face’ your horse – you will not be rewarded.
You would not put up a huge jump for an inexperienced youngster, so why ask an inexperienced youngster to do advanced work that his body is not ready for?
This is particularly true for maintaining impulsion in the trot. It takes months for the horse to build the muscles and stamina to maintain a good level of impulsion. Be patient.
If you do not do sit-ups regularly, get down on the floor and see how many you can do today. Do the same tomorrow and the day after, they’ll be getting harder! Think of your horses development in the same light, it will get easier but it will take months for you to build up to 50 / 100 per day.
Think of each sit-up as the equivalent to your horses trot steps using impulsion. Start with 5-10 steps and build up very slowly until your horse is fit enough to easily execute this very, very demanding work.
Listen to your horse, if he cannot maintain the work, he could be tired, or have aching muscles. Let him rest and try again next time.
Think of your stirrups as snugly slippers, soft and warm and gently supporting your foot.
Then, forget about them!
Instead of driving your heel down and pressing on your stirrup, which will cause you to push off the stirrup when rising, (took me ages to stop putting too much weight in my stirrups!) try to imagine tightening the cords in back of your knee and/or achilles to RAISE YOUR TOE.
Try not to tip your ankle, keep it level, always with the toe forward. Think of your ankles as the soft and flexible antenna.
The stirrup has absolutely no use whatsoever other than somewhere to softly rest your foot!
As always, enjoy
• Breathe deeply and calmly in the canter. Expand your rib cage
• The upper body should not move back and forth in the canter. Instead, the lumbar back should become supple
• Don’t be content with just any canter depart. Improving the canter depart will improve the quality of the canter
• The less the rider moves, the better cadenced the horse is in the canter
• Maintain the seat in the canter – That’s all
Patricia – The Dressage Tipster
Until I embarked on this journey I had a bit of a phobia of being out of control of a horse. Don’t we all?
So ensuring my young horse is forward thinking has taken some guts, even though I say so myself! It all felt fast and furious and she kept popping into canter. For me that short striding, slow gait I had been used to seemed much more in control.
But a short striding, stuffy horse is not what I want. So I plucked up the courage to send her forward and allow her to go what felt to me like “too fast”. If she cantered I allowed her to do this and then within half a circle, half halt and back to trot.
For a while she did a funny half trot, half canter – The Tranter! which unfortunately isn’t actually a pace, which is a shame because she was very good at it and I think we may have got a 9 in the arena.
She was never “out of control” – just happy to go forward, which is great.
I was missing out for so many years and what’s more it’s not scary any more – feeling that power is awesome!
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It’s snowing, my horse has an injury so no Dressage for me!
Actually, no, this is an opportunity for you to consider all the other element outside of the actual riding that you need to perfect. There are many things that you should work on out of the saddle – ground work, horse/rider relationship, mental strength and training reflection. The mental aspect of dressage is crucial. Spending time honing the ability to think about 100 different things at once is time well spent.
- Firstly try to replay your riding in your mind
- What was good about it?
- What was bad?
- What do you need to change?
- What do you need to practice more?
By doing this, when you are in the saddle it will teach you to focus on feeling what is happening so that you can analyse it later.
And I don’t mean whilst cooking dinner or fetching the kids from school, I mean take time out, sit down and replay the videos in your mind. You may look like you are sitting doing nothing, but these images are crucial to being able to visualise how it should be and that will help you get there.
Patricia – The Dressage Tipster