horse that is working in a good rhythm will always take even steps
in all three of his paces. Before you decide what exercises to do
with your horse next, listen to his footfalls to see if he is in a
good rhythm and working evenly.
If the footfalls are uneven then there are a number of questions
you should ask yourself:
- Is he
simply being lazy?
- Is he
nervous or tense and tending to hurry as a result of this?
- Are you
pushing the horse out of balance?
- Is he
sound in all four feet? If not, he could have an underlying
- If your
horse is young or very green then he could be unbalanced until this
Always be confident in your riding - there is
no point in working on improving your horse until you feel relaxed
and confident enough to do the work.
When I get on my Pony I always have a plan in my mind of what I
want to improve or work on that day. As a child, I was told there
was no point in riding unless my horse was listening to me. Without
his attention I may as well sit on and let him do exactly what he
I was taught to do lots of walk to trot transitions, and then
halt to trot. If I get on and Ceaser feels like his mind is
elsewhere I will spend about 10 minutes on each rein doing this.
Usually I will do it at every letter around the arena to really get
him listening. Not only does it get his attention, but it also gets
them feeling very light off your legs and a lot lighter in
Ride plenty of transitions between paces, always ensuring the
horse stays forward in to your aids and responds immediately.
Dressage superstar, Carl Hester believes that you can never
do too many transitions.
Another thing I have always noticed whilst watching various
individuals at my livery yard is that people rarely use the whole
of the arena. Most will trot, canter and do transitions around the
outside but seem scared to introduce circles of different sizes in
I like to add variety and will very rarely use the
outside track. Why not introduce circles in to your daily
ride and other exercises? Don't be afraid to ride serpentines; both
three and four loops. Do a range of circle sizes at different
places in the arena.
One exercise I like to do is to get Ceaser working on a 20 metre
circle and whilst leg yielding, slowly making my circle smaller and
smaller until we are riding a 5 metre circle. Use your outside leg
to push him in to make the circle smaller but be careful not to
over emphasise the inside rein. You want to encourage him to work
off your leg and listen to what you're asking without yanking the
reins. Now, without stopping I then slow make my circle bigger
until we are riding a 20 metre circle again. You must now use your
inside leg to push him back out without pulling too much on the
outside rein. However if your horse isn't listening then just ask
and remind him by slightly lifting your chosen rein higher and
reminding him what you want. Remember to repeat this on both reins
though and not just one as this can be a good exercise to get your
horse bending more.
Once he gets the hang of this then trot a 15 metre circle, then
leg-yield out to 20 metres and back again. Be careful for your
horse trying to escape through a shoulder or his hindquarters -
keep him straight!
Another good exercise is to do circles in each corner of the
arena. I always choose to do a 10 metre circle in each corner of
the arena and on both reins.
Be careful not to
I remember watching someone ride and their way of getting the
horse working in an outline was to put their hands half way down
the horse's neck and so far apart you could fit a bus in between
them! This is a big no, don't do it! How many dressage riders
do you see riding like this? None!
Firstly, sit up and relax. If your horse is difficult to get
working in an outline or refuses to, then start working on a circle
and asking him to slightly bend around your leg. To do this lift
your inside rein and open it slightly. Ensure you keep your outside
rein in the correct place so you're not opening both reins and
simply asking him to come down.
Remember to keep your elbows bent and hands in a nice position.
Ensure your back is straight and heels are down. Always think of
there being a straight line from your head, down to your heels.
On the forehand
A young, green or untrained horse's balance tends to be "on the
forehand", but with simple training you can help him achieve
horizontal balance. If I am riding a horse that is on the forehand
a little then I ensure I have my heels down and my hands a little
higher. Having this balance is not only important in order for the
horse to cope with the more advanced dressage movements, but can
improve his show jumping and will make him a lot more sure-footed
when out hacking too!
Down the long sides of the arena, ask your horse to shorten and
lengthen his strides. I usually ask Ceaser to lengthen down the
long side and then shorten across the short sides.
As you approach corners, think of riding forward into the
corner, asking for more impulsion. If you don't, your horse will
then use the corner to slow down and come out of it lacking even
more energy. This is extra important if you want to pick up extra
marks in a dressage test.
Once you have worked on trotting exercises you can introduce the
canter. One thing that really annoys me is to see people always
cantering in corners. What happens when you come to riding
somewhere differently like the beach or in a field? You will not be
able to canter in a specific corner. Get your horse used to
cantering in different places, like down the long side or over X.
Don't be afraid to test the waters and do something out of the
ordinary - your horse will enjoy doing a different exercise!
Start simple by cantering the whole of the arena, and then try
circling at A, then at C. Once I have done this I start to
introduce various sizes of circles around the arena. One of my
favourites to finish off with is cantering a figure of eight in a
20 metre circle.
To begin with, try cantering a simple figure of eight in the
whole of the arena. Upon hitting X ask for a simple change of leg,
either through trot or walk. It may not feel nice the first time
you do it but after a few tries it will feel better.
Rest him once he has worked hard!
This should keep you going until my next update. Once your horse
has done enough ensure you praise him for working hard and let him
relax. I would rather Ceaser do 20 minutes of good work than an
hour of something not so good!
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