Tag Archives: rhythm in horse riding

Tension Mnemonic

I had a note from Anna who is struggling with tension in her horse and all the associated issues and whilst I have regularly written on the subjects of Rhythm and Relaxation it occurred to me that I have not really addressed tension and how to deal with it.

The enemy of harmony is tension; rhythm and relaxation are at the base of the dressage training scale and the biggest challenge to relaxation is tension.  It is both mental and physical the tension that causes tightness in a horse’s body which in turn makes the horse uncomfortable and unhappy.

T – Train

E – Extra Work

N – No Doubt

S – Shallow Loops

I – Inhale, exhale

O – On the side

N – Nurture

The little mnemonic above might help you remember some strategies whilst you are riding, that will assist when the dreaded tension creeps into your riding.

T is for TRAIN

As you ride be aware that you are sitting on your horse’s spine and that spine extends from poll to tail without interruption; just as the muscles do.  The muscles of the top-line: neck, back and croup merge into one another and besides their individual function, work as a whole. Continue reading Tension Mnemonic

Dress it for the Vertical by Aspire Equestrian

My dear dressage enthusiasts, I got to thinking, maybe you are not all blinkered and utterly obsessed with dressage – bit odd but might be true.  Vertical 2Maybe some of you, dare I say it, actually jump your horses over something more than a cavelleti.  Well, if this is the case and despite me knowing absolutely zilch about jumping, today I have a treat for you.

It is my absolute pleasure to introduce to you Wiola Grabowska.  Wiola is a freelance coach and founder of Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy which focuses on thorough rider education at grassroots levels of dressage, jumping and eventing.  I asked Wiola to do a guest post, for me focussing on how dressage training benefits the show jumper and to my delight she has given us 2 dressage exercises that will make a real difference to your jumping.

So, for those of you who actually ask your horse’s hind legs to leave the ground, here’s what she has to say.  Enjoy …

Dress it for the Vertical – Two dressage moves that every jumping rider needs to do very well

There are at least five things that matter to you when you turn around the corner in your lovely three beat canter and head straight for colourful vertical waiting for you across the long diagonal of the arena and these are: Continue reading Dress it for the Vertical by Aspire Equestrian

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

 

 

 

R – IS FOR RHYTHM AND RELAXATION – R&R

R

The rhythm that a horse maintains in all its gaits and paces is fundamental to Dressage riding.

Rhythm and relaxation go hand-in-hand because it is nearly impossible to have rhythm without relaxation.

When considering relaxation of the horse we must think about the horse’s mental state; calmness, without anxiety or nervousness and the also his physical state; the absence of muscular tension (other than the contraction needed for optimal carriage) strength, range and fluency of movement.

RhythmRelaxation of the horse’s emotional and physical state also goes hand in hand.  Rhythm is the first element of the training pyramid and contributes significantly to work at the upper levels.  Preparing the horse mentally and physically is vital to your horse’s future as a dressage horse.  No exercise or movement can be considered good if the rhythm falters.

Developing rhythm and relaxation

Your training should be designed to gradually strengthen the horse to be able to do the movements that will require great physical strength later in the training.   It is this looseness that enables the horse to work free from tension or constraint.

Suppleness plays an equally important role in the horse’s relaxation. A horse that is stiff or rigid in any part of his body will not be capable of utilizing his body effectively, thus resulting in irregular gaits, unwillingness and a general displeasure in his work.

What to do … The first major test of relaxation is to find out if your horse will stretch its head and neck forwards and down in all three gaits.  In order to work effectively on R&R you need to work on your own balance and not rely on the reins or gripping with the legs for support.  (long and low)

As ever, have fun with it!

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

help@likecrystal.com

H – IS FOR HARMONY

HarmonyHarmony is to fit together, to join, like the relationship between different pitches in a song.  One note on its own is good, two notes with slightly differing pitches together sound better.  (More musical connotations).

In your training you are aiming for a harmonious picture, but what does this actually mean?  Well, think about being equal in thought, attentive, sensitive, listening to each other where every muscle you use, every thought you have results in a reaction, either by the horse or you.

What the judge is looking for and therefore, what you should strive for is HARMONY.

When this is achieved, the communication between you and your horse is barely perceptible; Harmonyyou will appear to move ‘as one’.  The horse should be reading and responding to your body language, his heart rate will rise and fall with yours.  The two minds, that of your horse and your own fully synchronised.

Imaging then that you are frustrated, angry or anxious – this will, without doubt, have an effect on your horse. How important then for your mind to be quietly focussed in the present moment? – The Here and Now.

So, how do you achieve this state of mind?  There have been many studies on the subject of sports psychology and as always the answer is through practice; you cannot stop the feelings of frustration or anxiety so you should notice them and without being judgemental about yourself, control your reactions to them.  It is when in a relaxed state of concentration that the sense of effortlessness comes.  Only then can you become fully immersed in the feeling of the ‘Here and Now’ because you are not reacting to the feelings or thinking of the consequences.  This is called being in a ‘flow’ state.

HarmonyNo matter how you are feeling, learn to say ‘Hi’ to those feelings but pay them no attention.  Park them and continue with your training.  They can sit and watch you ride well!

Here’s what to do … focus wholly on the current exercise, this will serve to optimise cooperation and harmony between you and your horse.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

help@likecrystal.com

 

C – IS FOR CADENCE

CCadence is the rhythmical movements of the horse’s stride.

Your horse is said to be expressing cadence when you appear to be moving in harmony with the horse with well marked regularity, impulsion and balance.

I like to think of cadence with a musical connotation.

Cadence

Think of the metronome used to produce regular, metrical beats (clicks) and used by musicians to keep a steady tempo, it is used to work on issues of irregular timing, your horses paces should be regular 4 beats for walk, 2 beats for trot and 3 beats for canter, regularity of the paces being fundamental to dressage.

The first level of the German scales of training, rhythm and relaxation is the where we start to ensure we have cadence.  Without relaxation you will not achieve the spring in the gaits that you need to show cadence.

Additionally, when a horse is not in balance (See B is for Balance) and transferring too much weight to the forehand, cadence issues and flat gaits will result.  Athleticism and energy are needed but cadence comes from developing the engagement of the hind legs.

Here’s what to do … you will not go into the arena to work on cadence; you will work on rhythm, you will work on relaxation, you will work on balance and when you have achieved a certain level of each, your horse will be expressive and will show cadence in his paces.

How do you know if you have cadence?  As ever … you will feel it!

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

help@likecrystal.com

 

ON THE BIT

on the bitHello there Dressage enthusiasts …

I have received a message from a ‘Real Life Rider’ who is “struggling with a green horse curling at any contact and getting anxious and rushy when asked to rebalance and slow the tempo”.

My Advice: 

Maintenance of the contact or for your horse to ‘accept the bit’ she must have total trust and be relaxed with your hands (via the reins) in the mouth.  To truly have a horse on the bit or to have your horse accept the bit will take many months of hard and sometimes frustrating work.

Curling, or over-bending is the lesser of the evils associate with bad contact.  You must keep your horse going forward and as you say work on the tempo. However, don’t be tempted to slow too much with a horse that over-bends; much better that you stay forward, even TOO forward initially until the curling is sorted.  Slowing will just settle the horse into a false sense of security and will be more difficult to deal with.

So, send her forward and give forward slightly with the rein from the elbow.  If she leans or pulls – work on transitions.  You should, as soon as possible, take a light but positive contact with the reins.

You should work on short bursts of hard work.  Take up the contact, send her forward, be real steady in your hands, hold her in position, work the arena to keep her thinking and then, back to walk and drop the contact to the buckle end allowing her to stretch.

If she has worked hard enough her nose will hit the floor!  This will start to build the top line and musculature she needs to hold herself in the contact.

If your horse pulls on the reins in an effort to go faster, then you should do many (and I really mean many) downward transitions and repeatedly give and re-take the reins.  This will encourage balance and rhythm on a lighter contact.

Use the exercise of spiralling in and out of a circle laterally. i.e. Making the circle smaller, say 10 meters, with the outside leg, then make the circle bigger, say 20 meters, from the inside leg and a soft or giving inside rein.

on the bit

Change the rein often.

When you feel your horse has stopped pulling on the inside rein, use your inside hand with the inside rein to stroke your horse’s neck. This has two benefits.

  • Firstly it rewards the horse for not pulling on the inside rein.
  • Secondly it will prove to you that you do not need the inside rein to bend or turn your horse.

If you are struggling with contact issues, enter the word ‘contact’ into the search at the top of the page and you will get all my posts relating to this issue.

Here to help!

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

help@likecrystal.com

COLLECTIVE MARKS – PACES AND REGULARITY – TROT

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.

1

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.

Continue reading COLLECTIVE MARKS – PACES AND REGULARITY – TROT

IS IT ME OR IS IT MY HORSE?

Another of our Real Life Rider series, where our rider wrote to say she is currently training her 3-year-old Warmblood and is having difficulty with getting her ‘forward’.  The horse is always behind the leg and when she loses the forward the horse then becomes crooked and starts to rear and protest.

A rider may struggle to properly apply and coordinate their aids without fully knowing or understanding that they may be the root cause of the horses lack of forwardness. As a rider you should constantly ask and answer a persistent question when the horse does not respond as you intend.

Whether you are training at the very highest level or a beginner ask yourself …Is it me or is it my horse?

horse

This basic question never goes away, even for the most experienced rider. To answer this ever present question you should automatically run through a check list related to your basic position.

So, in sequential order … check out the following Continue reading IS IT ME OR IS IT MY HORSE?

I GOT RHYTHM … Correct Canter Lead

“Teaching my young horse to strike off on the correct canter lead on the left rein was proving difficult”

Sounds like a reasonable thing to say, but this statement is wrong on so many levels. Firstly, I have no need to teach my young horse anything. Apart from the fact that she is very talented, without me on her back she balances herself and strikes off correctly every time, even on the lunge.

So what the statement should say is …

“Teaching myself to be in balance so that my young horse can strike off on the correct canter lead was proving difficult”.

Tips:Rhythm

  • Only ask for canter when you are completely happy with the rhythm of the trot.
  • Check your canter aids are soft and you are not putting in too much effort which could be unbalancing you.
  • Slow the trot initially before the canter strike off (you can keep the tempo later in the training, once you are sure that your balance isn’t being affected).
  • Sit up and wait – Don’t start pushing with your seat! a couple of seconds allowing the horse to respond is perfectly acceptable. The canter will come and the quality will be better than if you had allowed the horse to run into it.
  • If it all goes wrong, try again – re balance the trot, ask very quietly and simply wait.

Try not to get frustrated if it takes a while, a good transition is a joy, feel it, love it …

Remember, rhythm, rhythm, rhythm !!!

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

help@likecrystal.com