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The first few pages from the chapter on accuracy – Start Of Accuracy
What should an intro/prelim/training horse look like?
We all try so very hard to ride well and get our horse looking correct. Should you find your horse tense, cramped, going over-bent and becoming short in the neck, it may be that you are expecting too much at the level you are at.
The picture attached is of Milly riding Soley Magick Tinkerbell who is an intro level pony, soon to be moving to prelim/training level. Its always difficult putting up a picture as you are putting up work in progress but I hope this photo gives the general idea of correct work at this level.
Criticisms are this photo are that I would like to see a little more energy and muscle tone in the horse, but bless her we just don’t have enough time for her.
Praise for the photo, the mare is going reasonably forward (though a tiny bit off tracking up), freely. The neck comes nicely out of the shoulders upwards, ending up with the nose being vertical and a nice space where the gullets is. Milly is doing a good job keeping her hands forward in front of her. You will also notice that if we were to take the horse out from underneath her, she would land in balance on the arena floor.
She is doing riding/posting trot and is half way from the top of the rise to the bottom. This photo is being used to help people see the kind of outline they should be looking for. If this were maintained around the arena on an accurate circle consistent I would give it an 8 with the comment, needs a little more energy.
One of the things worth remembering when training your horse, especially if you are learning too, is that this is just as strange for him as it is for you. Both horse and rider must learn new neurological patterns and change existing ones. They must both learn new habits and break old ones. The rider has the luxury of both knowing the reason for these changes and has the ability to choose them. The horse on the other hand is simply trying to do what it is being told in an attempt to please the rider, he has no idea why this is happening or why he feels strange. So it is worth remembering that should your horse get confused, or a little tense, or finds something difficult, its not a moment for additional pressure or punishment, but some gentle reassurance in recognition of how strange this must be for him, and how you appreciate his efforts.
Riding up the centre line.
In diagram 5, at the A end, you can see two curves joining the short end of the arena to the centre line. These curves were taken from a 10m and a 6m circle. There are a number of tips I can offer to get you onto the centre line and straight.
Choose the distance from the letter A you wish to start your turn. In effect we are choosing the radius of the quarter circle for the turn. Choose a radius that you know your horse can make and stick to it for a while at least.
Learn the angle at which you must leave the track for the radius you have chosen. This will give you the best chance to hit the centre line. This will take some practice.
Once you leave the track, make sure you keep your eyes on C and be prepared to keep making small adjustments to get your horse straight onto the centre line. And KEEP turning… remember there should never be any drift, you are making a conscious turn, just the same as a corner. Once more think about the balance beam on the turn. Your horse should step the path of the quarter circle equally balanced through both shoulders. If you are finding it difficult to make the turn, choose an easier radius. The horizontal bars on the centre line in diagram 5, mark where the curve meets the centre line. If you can correctly complete your turn at the marker, you will be set up to be straight – keeping the C marker between your horse’s ears.
If you find yourself wobbling on the centre line, it is likely you have overshot by allowing your horse to drift and not completing the turn or you have undershot by not choosing the appropriate radius or distance from the A marker.
After making it onto the centre line we have to turn left or right. Whichever turn you are making, we face the same decision, we have to decide the radius of the quarter circle we will use as the turn.
Typical Rider Mistakes
I see a lot of mistakes at the lower levels and even more persistent mistakes into the higher levels from riders. In this small section I want to increase your understanding by talking about some of the typical mistakes in position and application of aids when schooling a horse. There are a lot more than I can list here, I just want to cover the most obvious ones as I see it.
Shoving with the seat
The rider has probably heard that they must go with the horses movement, be supple or perhaps that they must drive the horse forward with their seat. I often see riders attempting to encourage their horses forward by using their seat. Let’s take a step back and have a look at the likely consequence of doing this.
As we push our seat in the saddle, this is likely to increase the pressure downwards and forwards onto the saddle and therefore into the horses back. The horse will hollow its back and attempt to rush forwards and away from the uncomfortable pressure it finds there. In effect the rider has achieved the desired outcome of the horse speeding up. However other much less desirable outcomes occur. The horse hollows his back away from the riders seat, he lifts his head and neck up away from the riders contact, lengthens his underneath and speeds up by going faster with his forehand doing all the work.
The terms ‘using the seat’ or ‘driving with the seat’ are the most misunderstood, but most used terms in dressage. They mean many things to different people and the vast majority of interpretations are erroneous. The riders seat should be still, as if the rider grows out of the top of the horse like a carousel pole. The is no shoving or pushing and the rider remains molded to the horses back.
I often ask my pupils a trick question “Who is responsible for keeping the horse going forwards”. Inevitably they say “I am responsible”. However the truth is the exact opposite. It is the horse’s responsibility to keep doing what you last told it to do. If you ask your horse to move forwards, it should keep doing so without constant reminding. The leg asks the horse to move forwards, not the seat, the seat allows this to happen.
Dressage is an amazing game! Its fun, rewarding and hard work. It keeps you fit, it engages your brain and bring you a whole new appreciation for your horse. Dressage requires of you the things you do not naturally have. If you are impulsive, you will need to learn to be patient. If you are somewhat timid, you will need to take more command of the situation. If you are highly strung you will need to school your reactions, and develop an inner calmness. When riding well it can feel like you are on a knifes edge, you have a narrow path to walk of power and control with you as the peaceful center.
Let your horse be your guide because, as a rule, horses are out to please you. Perhaps they can be a little wily as they try to get away with doing the minimum amount of work needed but there is no malice. Your horse will tell you when you need to get help, to learn more, to increase your skill set. The moment things become frustrating, tense, difficult, and there seems nothing you can do, it is usually your horse saying “Hey you, you aren’t doing it right!” . A lot of people would think this a tough pill to swallow, but I know horse people – we love our horses, we devote huge amounts of our time to them and beyond all else we want the very best for them.
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