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).
It is “a change or slight difference in condition, amount, or level, typically within certain limits.”
Everyone knows that there are 3 recognised gaits in dressage – walk, trot and canter. But we also have variations within these gaits – medium, free, collected and extended walk; working, medium, collected and extended trot and canter.
It is the phrase ‘within certain limits‘ that you must hold in your mind when training variations within the gaits. You need a holistic approach to teaching your horse variations because, whilst the lengthening and shortening of your horses steps is important, this element (the length of the steps) is only important in relation to the overall outline or frame; elevation of the steps; raising of the forehand and neck and lowering of the croup.
All these elements are thoroughly interconnected and should be considered as the ‘certain limits‘ you must set yourself. So, you would not set out to simply lengthen the stride when beginning in with the working to medium trot, you would set out to lengthen the frame, encourage more power from behind, raise the forehand and so on. This is an important point for you to get into your head, because too many people send the front legs flicking out without engagement of the hind quarters and the way you approach the training will set you up for success.
Developing your horses ability to vary the gaits relies on your ability to do your transitions well and this in turn relies on your ability to recognise the absolute purity of the footfall within each gait, consistent tempo and regularity of the rhythm at all times – especailly throughout the transition.
Here’s what to do …
Looseness is the essential aim of the preliminary training phrase and by this I mean relaxation of all of the joints and muscles. Only when your horse is supple can he create impulsion, be straight and have balance with a swinging back and self-carriage. Looseness is not achieved overnight, particularly if you have started with a horse that has a degree of stiffness anywhere in its body and/or legs. Laterally the horse should be able to bend his body from poll to tail without falling in on the shoulder or swinging out the haunches. The only means you have for acquiring lateral suppleness in your horse is lateral bending.
Longitudinally (length-wise), the horse’s joints should bend and straighten equally on each side of its body with each stride; he should be able to lengthen and shorten whilst maintaining rhythm.With supple muscles comes strength.It is the act of contracting and stretching the muscles that makes them strong and supple and it is with bending and flexing exercises; lengthening and shorting of the paces that we can do this. Here’s what to do … whatever your level of training try to incorporate shoulder-fore, shoulder-in, renvers and quarter turns into your warm up and regular traiing. It will serve you will to master these lateral movements in the early stages of your training.Play a little with lengthening and shortening your horse’s paces too.Just like your own stretching regime! cough, cough! Your horse will benefit from exercises which are intended to stretch and contract the muscles, but you must do it regularly and keep it up, otherwise he will become sore.
Patricia – The Dressage Tipster
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 as more and more emphasis is being put on the horse’s ‘way of going’. It is no longer sufficient to simply do the movements; you must demonstrate relaxation and willingness from the horse.
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, we turned to paces, regularity and freedom, the first of the collectives to be given marks and my post the collective marks – paces and regularity – the walk takes you through the rule requirements and what is being looked for in the walk element of your test.
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.
So, onto Trot – the two beat pace of alternative diagonal legs separated by a moment of suspension.
The trot should show free, active and regular steps
It is the quality of the trot that is being judged. By assessing the regularity; elasticity of the steps; cadence and impulsion the quality of the gait originates from the horse’s supple back and well-engaged hindquarters. Rhythm and balance will be assessed with all variations of the trot.
At all times the horse is required to be ‘on the bit’. For the observer, a horse is on the bit when you can draw an almost vertical line from his nose to his forelock when viewed from the side. Yet, there is so much more associated with the horse on the bit that many riders are not aware of.
So, today we worked on teaching my young horse Trot Extensions and the essence of the matter is preparation.
The corner before the extension, assuming you are making the extensions across the diagonal is absolutely vital. It should be forward, balanced and primed.
- Half halt, make sure you have a good bend and use the corner well
- After the corner, half halt again to let your horse know something different is about to happen (a transition into extended trot)
- Sit up and apply your leg aids – BOTH – gently and off again, whilst giving A LITTLE with the rein, from the elbow.
- Remember you are not aiming to go faster, just longer strides so don’t give away the contact. The Horse should have a consistent contact so that he/she doesn’t run and simply lengthens the stride.
- In the early days, talk to your horse – Tell them to trot on as if you were lunging, this will help to stop them going into canter
Allow it to happen.
Expect it to happen.
Feel it happening.
And when it does, lots of praise to reaffirm the horse is doing good.
Patricia – The Dressage Tipster