Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Basic Dressage and the Training Pyramid

I have been reminded about the dressage training pyramid lately.  I just gave a beginning dressage lesson and have also been working with a young horse via another rider.

In the lesson the rider has to be able to start somewhere.  So even though rhythm and relaxation are on the base of the pyramid, things like connection, impulsion, straightness and collection are also needed but are not considered the base of the training.  This horse in my recent lesson is an Arab gelding and is willing to move out.  So in addressing rhythm and relaxation we worked on a couple of things.  We worked on walk halt transitions and trot walk transitions.  From there we worked on half halts and having the horse understand to follow his rider and find his steady relaxed tempo from there.  This worked really quite well.

This horse also liked to over bend his neck and leave his body straight and that would disrupt his balance.  So the other thing I had his rider work on was to keep his neck fairly straight with only a slight bend and then push him with her legs.  This is a straightness issue that helped rhythm and relaxation - so even though it is higher on the training scale, we worked on it as well.  One of the easiest ways to get the horse to start steering from your legs is to do some spiral in and out on a 20 meter circle.  We did that and talked about even bending. 

Another horse however, (a Quarab mare), likes to go crooked and fast and rush or sometimes stall out.  This mare really needs the up and down transitions and needs to follow the rider in her tempo.  The rider was worried about her straightness and I agree that straightness is important - but being relatively straight is enough at first.  It seems like if the rhythm and relaxation is addressed first that the straightness will come.  Perfectly straight is a goal that is critical as you go up the levels.  At first a basic relative straightness will be functional enough.

Each horse has its preferred way of going or of solving problems.  It is fun to help them all come to the middle ground and be more fun to ride.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Straightness and ability to collect

I rode in a clinic this fall and have been working on the concept of straightness and collection ever since.  I know many of you have read the theory about straightness and collection but I must tell you that if you are riding a very flexible horse the feeling of straightness and crookedness is not so black and white.

My advanced horse, Bacara has amazing flexibility.  Her gaits are very good but I have had trouble with her back locking in the canter and she just raises her head and neck and calls it collection.  So I have been having a goal to really focus on straightness and collection.

My test to determine if my horse is straight and collected has been to perform a canter pirouette.  If Bacara is straight she can easily increase her collection to step under and around.  If she is crooked, she has no chance.  I am getting to the point that if I ask for a pirouette and it starts with a little bit of difficulty, that I can just swing her shoulders into position and solve the problem. 

Oddly a simple warm up sets this up for success.  In the trot and canter 20 meter circles I work on straightness by slightly counter-flexing Bacara's neck and pushing her haunches out a little.  This is a straightening request - that has many benefits for the harder work as the ride progresses.  The best benefit is Bacara's shoulder is way easier to adjust and place in front of the haunches. It almost feels like yoga for the shoulder.

I have taken several clinics with this mare over the years and the clinicians have all wanted her more uphill in the canter.  This by far is the most kind and effective method I have ever been taught.  Her back no longer gets "stuck" in canter collection. 

Now if I could just get her trot as fancy as her canter.  I think that may be another focus of a future clinic.