“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”
Teardrop Turn – demi-volte to long side
The history of dressage is vast and fascinating, full of intriguing words and quotes from the ‘masters’ that you may or may not be able to make sense of. The Volte was traditionally ridden over 12 strides in circumference (using the inside hind leg as the counter). However, this was later decreased to 6-8 strides in circumference (6 meters) and is therefore, only used when a horse has developed the ability to collect. Of all the circles, the volte requires the most balance, engagement and power.
However, changing direction through a 10m half-volte is something you need to master for the preliminary test and is a quite significant movement, which should not be overlooked or thought of in any way as simple; there’s more to the tear-drop turn than meets the eye.
I 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
Other Eureka moments include :
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”.
Clearly 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. For 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
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!
If 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.
This, 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
You are struggling with balance issues in canter, your coach says – “ok, let’s try some counter canter then” Eh? Why would I try something perceived more difficult when I haven’t got the basic pace right?
Well, in order to improve your horse athletically you must always ask him to perform at a higher level, without going past his limits physically, mentally or emotionally and if you develop the counter canter, through a series of exercises it is the very, very best was to improve the canter; not only balance, but straightness and your horse’s attention to the aids.
So, what exactly is counter canter?
When you deliberately ask for the opposite lead from the direction in which you are going. Counter-canter is a pace not a movement. Your approach to it will have a huge effect on your horse.
Where to start …
- Firstly, please be mindful not to allow your horse to string out, keep him up and with you. You should avoid stressing him (or you) and keep the canter fluid and flowing.
- Let’s start with a simple change of bend on the long side whilst keeping your horse on the same canter lead.
- Moving on, you can make that change of bend into a shallow loop on the long side as shown in the diagram.
- Next, pick up the correct lead, canter around arena and then on the long side ride a loop to the quarter line and back to the track, keeping the same lead. Your horse will be in counter canter when he rejoins the track. Make the join up with the long side gradual and slowly make it sharper.
- Once you are happy that you can execute the previous exercise, canter a large figure of eight, maintaining the same lead throughout.
- Finally, you will be able to pick up the figure of eight and on the second half of the movement continue in counter canter on a 20m circle.
Counter Canter Aids
It’s all about confidence. Treat it as you would your usual canter and your horse will do the same. Most issues occur on corners, turns and changes of rein, so try not to freeze or take your leg off – never good, whatever exercise you are doing.
- Ensuring the canter is forward is the key.
- Keep your horse straight (nose an inch to the inside is more than enough).
- Ask for transitions on the long side as you need your horse to be able to pick up any lead.
- Once you are in canter do nothing but steer with your seat
- If it goes wrong, don’t panic, stay calm.
- Cut off the corners to make it smoother and easier to get round.
The counter-canter in itself is a straightening and suppling exercise, hence its ability to improve the true canter. Relax and ride forward, the worst thing that can happen is that your horse will break to trot or change legs – hey, ho! If you don’t relax he’ll do that anyway. Have fun,
Patricia – The Dressage Tipster
To develop suppleness, engagement, balance and obedience; to help your horse achieve self-carriage try riding him ‘on and back’ by asking him for a few lengthened strides before asking him to come back to his working pace and repeating it several times in a session (transitions).
To set up the lengthened strides …
This is the fourth blog in my series on Collective Marks. As I have stated in all three of the previous posts, the importance of how you understand and focus on the collective marks cannot be emphasised enough. If you pay lip service to this you will not have a full appreciation of the aims of your test.
The collective marks allow the judge to give an overall score for their perception of how you and your horse performed throughout the test. It is their opinion as to how you, as a combination, conducted yourselves and the overall impression you left them with as the test progressed.
The first post in this series – Collective marks – Scoring, explained the way the collectives are scored by the judges. Moving on, I turn to paces, regularity and freedom, the first of the collectives to be given marks. Your score will be either an individual score for each of the 3 paces (walk, trot and canter) or an overall score for all of them, depending on your training level.
The canter is a three beat pace, where in the canter to the right, for example, the footfall is as follows: left hind, left diagonal (simultaneously left for and right hind, right fore, followed by a moment of suspension with all four feet I the air before the next stride begins. The canter, always with light, cadenced and regular strides, should be moved into without hesitation.
The quality of the canter is judged by the overall impression that you give the judge. So the judge might comment something like ‘pleasing canter’ which means that the overall impression that you give is good.
They are looking for: Continue reading COLLECTIVE MARKS – PACES AND REGULARITY – CANTER
Dressage is a thinking sport, riding is about strategy. Following on from my P is for Preparation post – what do you consider to be the most important aid on a horse?
No, not your legs!
It’s your brain and how quickly you are able to process the huge amount of information you need to ride and perform Dressage and indeed work your body at the same time! You have to be quick and sharp. In a dressage test there are a succession of movements, one after the other, all requiring different thought processes, aids, body movements in which the aim is to do as little as possible.
Here’s what to do … be a mind-ful rider, be alert and focused, constantly evaluate and re-evaluate the merits of what you do. A non-thinking rider is mindless! Proof is found when you stubbornly stick to one solution, even if it does not appear to be working!
You need to take steps to increase your awareness; think about why the exercises and skills you need are important; learn why you need to do what it is you are doing; take responsibility for yourself; keep track of your goals; try to be open to different and creative problem solving; be in charge of your own riding destiny.
It takes time to develop confidence in your own decision making and problem solving ability, just as it takes time to exercise the muscles of the body so it takes time to exercise the brain … don’t be too harsh on yourself if you don’t think you have developed these skills yet, it will come. You will get quicker!
Patricia – The Dressage Tipster
My ethos for The Crystal System is about giving you the tools to be your own riding coach.
Becoming ‘instructor dependent’ is a soul destroying place to be! I know – I have been there, hopelessly unable to replicate the good work that I got when having a lesson. Why? Because your instructor is not allowing you to feel your way, you are too mechanical in your aids.
What the Crystal System blog is aiming to do is to steer you to find a path through the overabundance of information that is out there; so many methods; so many viewpoints on how it should and shouldn’t be done; so many opinions.
In my research for The Crystal System I have read hundreds of books about riding and dressage (really, there are that many). What I discovered was that each and every one of them had something to offer, but that none of them had it all. It showed me that I needed to keep an open mind, listen to others and then make my own decisions about whether I wanted to do it that way or not. No rights or wrongs, just is this for me or not? (well, a few wrongs but hey, I’m trying not to be judgemental!)
My conclusion? – The Crystal System could not be another method of training – a do this, do that system; a this is right and this is wrong style, but needed to help the rider find their own way and develop their own system that works for them, by asking – what are you struggling with?; by encouraging experimentation; by suggesting good ways of doing things and giving feedback when things are not quite right. Blindly following the system that works for someone else, who has had fantastic results, will not necessarily work for you!
The Crystal System is about finding your own way to train that brings the results you want. This means accessing all sorts of resources, instructors, coaches, methods and taking from them only what you want, only what you need, only what you can use and then … making it your own!
This is why I am investing in arena mirrors from Mirrors for Training
I am a visual learner, when I explain something I have to have a picture or I say … ‘imagine this’, I start doodling and drawing to show people my point. If I am to become my own coach, if I am to be able to train my horse myself, if I am to become independent of my ‘instructor’, I need a visual feedback. I NEED mirrors.
So, here’s what to do … If you can only afford just one mirror you should invest in one, if you can afford more, get more!
I am not saying that they are essential, clearly not as I have come this far without them, but if you really want to wean yourself off that instructor, replace him with your own ability to train your horse and become your own coach, mirrors will, without doubt, aid that process.
Patricia – The Dressage Tipster