We all know achieving dressage success is no free-walk on a long rein in the park. It takes time, patience and productive training to achieve the marks you want. If you’ve found yourself in a bit of a schooling rut lately, never fear – follow these simple exercises to get your horse moving in a forward rhythm, a supple frame and with an elastic contact.
Warm-up: Long and low
Encouraging your horse to warm up in a long, low frame – stretching throughout his body with an extended neck – means you can coax him into a forward rhythm while asking him to seek the contact. Don’t start with your reins at washing-line length, though – allow him to gradually take the rein down as you work, incorporating simple shapes such as 20m circles and 5m loops to give him an active contact to work into and to occupy his mind. Don’t worry if he’s doesn’t have a beautifully arched neck, as you’re aiming for a forwardness and feeling your horse at the end of your rein. Besides, a curve in the neck doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve achieved a good contact!
Exercise 1: Bend and listen
This serpentine exercise is a real test of your warm-up. If your horse is moving forward and seeking the contact correctly, you should be able to gradually pick up a shorter rein and maintain that lovely, elastic feeling with an active step. Your job is to maintain this feeling around the curves of your serpentine and for your trot-walk-trot transitions over the centre line.
Start on either rein and establish an active trot and with horse listening to you. Preparing your turns is key, so make sure your line of vision anticipates the movements you’re about to make, your inside leg supports the turn, and your outside leg maintains impulsion and guards against falling out. Meanwhile, your outside hand should permit the stretch to the inside through his neck.
Before your transition, half-halt to prepare your horse and remind him to keep seeking the contact before asking him to come forwards to walk, keeping your core engaged and your leg secure to prevent hollowing. When you ask for trot again, make sure you don’t throw away the contact and keep looking for your next turn. Next, step things up by trying the exercise in canter.
Wrapping it up: Super circles
In order to ride a correct 10m circle, especially in canter, you’ll need a horse who’s forward enough to maintain his rhythm, supple enough to follow the curve of the circle through his body and accepting enough of the contact to guard against rushing, breaking and falling out. If you’ve not done this exercise before, start with a 15m circle and work your way down.
To ride a correct ten-metre circle, you need to leave the track just after A, touch D at the top of your circle and re-join the track again just before A. You might find you need to use more leg than on your serpentine curves, but don’t let this encourage you to collapse your position or throw away your reins – focus on riding your horse in a way that allows him to move forward and bend around the circle without rushing.
Heading to a dressage competition soon? Get yourself kitted out with Bridleway’s range of jackets, saddlecloths and more, visit bridlewayequestrian.com