Saturday, November 21, 2009

Keeping our expectations high

We all feel that we must keep riding better and better. Fix the leg position, correct our hands, have a better seat etc and that is all true. Every ride we must access our riding and work on the areas that are weak. We also though, must keep our expectations of our horse high. How ourselves as riders progress is totally up to us, but to move up the levels successfully, we also must take our horses along for the ride. Every rider must also evaluate the horse, in terms of their fitness level, strength, understanding of the work and also the reaction to the aids every day. For the horse to progress they must get stronger, react not only quicker but react quicker to a quieter more subtle aid. This is where our expectations must increase. If we allow the horse to stay status quo there is no improvement. So it is up to us to evaluate and also push on to make the horse stronger, fitter and more reactive to our aids. The best lesson I ever learned was "A horse can feel a fly" , so if you think about that, no matter how weak our leg is, it is certainly stronger than a fly. When a horse is truly on your aids, it is effortless, when not, it can be riding a plank with fur. To many riders say, "oh, my leg is not strong enough" I say nonsense, your horse is not responding and doesn't feel he has too. It is up to us to ensure the horse understands the appropriate response and offers it immediately, so keeping your expectations high about that response is what increases your ability to move up the levels and ultimately get more collection from more power, create activity and therefore correct contact and generally improve on what you have. If you lose sight of that goal, by lowering your expectations there is no progress. It must also be maintained at every ride. Horses understand consistency, so by changing your expectations from high to low gives the horse the understanding that sometimes their reactions can vary. Again, that is in the hands of the rider to ensure that the same requirements are expected and improved upon daily, not that expectations can be lower on somedays and higher on others. When riders refer to an easy ride one day, it should be a shorter ride with less difficulty, not lower expectations. An easy ride for me, maybe shorter, may not work on anything new or extremely difficult but does not allow lower expectations from the horse. That to the horse, is confusing. One may I must, and the next day I don't have too. This is a message you never want to send.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Riding straight

Straightness seems to be one of the most elusive feelings in dressage. Because all horses are to some degree crooked by nature, the rider must then "fix" this by making them straight through training. Many books discuss the importance of straightness but rarely do you actually understand how it feels and how it is done. I always think of riding the outside shoulder of the horse. If mother nature tends to have the horse with it's shoulder going out and it's inside hind leg travelling to the inside, then the key is to bring the outside shoulder in and the inside hind leg under. So, having said that how does that happen. If you think of the movement "Shoulder-in".
we displace the shoulder of the horse to the inside track using our outside rein and leg aids while maintaining the bend, and forward motion with our inside leg and a little inside rein but the dominent aids are the outside aids to move the shoulder. Shoulder fore (which really just means straight) is a mini version of shoulder in. So, if you can do a shoulder in , you should be able to ride the horse straight at all times. The "feel" for straight can also be elusive. When the horse is truly straight, they do not feel heavy on one rein or the other, they feel lighter on their feet because the hind legs are working under the horses body not out to the side so more pushing power is being created and the horse does not lean on the inside rein. A true test of correctness is that you can soften the inside rein, and still have correct inside bend, with the horses neck coming straight out of the shoulder and inside flexion. Then they are straight. There is a visual difference too. When the horse is crooked, the movement is less, the expression is less and the overall picture is uncomfortable looking, usually for both horse and rider.