A couple of weeks ago I went to a Dressage demonstration with a local dressage rider. It was a fascinating evening and I learnt loads. What I found so interesting was actually seeing how to progress your horse through the basics and on to learning the movements that we watch Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro execute so beautifully. It is worth remembering that what we saw as a progression would take weeks, months and years in reality.
The demonstration started by showing us the importance of light aids and suppleness. First by performing walk to trot transitions until the horse was reacting with nice light aids. If the horse does not react quickly and move into trot he is given another opportunity before a sharp tap with the schooling whip. If the horse does not go forward when asked the basis of all future movements will be flawed.
Once the horse is reacting to light aids (which may take several schooling sessions) the next step is suppleness. Using a long side to work the horse in counter flexion (ie: bending to the outside)this is a more exaggerated bend than you would need in dressage but it helps to build suppleness in the neck and body.
At this point it is not important to worry about straightness too much and if the hindquarters move in a little that is OK. He is learning to move his neck from one way to the other, moving his shoulders and going forward. Remember to do all movements on BOTH reins. The next stage from this is loops in from the track with the change in bend.
Finally with this horse we looked at tempo changes. This was about bringing the horse back to a slower (but active) trot and then pushing on for a longer striding trot. We then saw how the tempo changes work in canter ....
The next horse and rider in the demonstrations started by working on leg yield in trot. It is important when starting leg yield not to worry about it being perfect. At first it is just important that the horse is moving away from your leg, if they move through the shoulder this can be corrected later. Performing leg yield in trot is easier than walk because of the two time movement.
Shoulder in is the next step, firstly in walk....
... at first asking just for a baby shoulder in if your horse is not sure, allowing for too much flexion. On from there you would ask for a few strides before straightening up and then asking again. Then once they can get this in the walk the next stage is in trot.
Moving on from shoulder in, the next lateral movement taught is Travers (haunches in).
This should first be attempted coming out of a corner and asking for 3/4 strides before going straight. Of course as usual once they are relaxed and happy with Travers in walk you can go into trot.
Introducing half pass is the next stage and I loved watching this in canter which is Medium Level dressage.
Our demonstration moved on to another horse and the progression towards canter Pirouettes. Using Travers on a circle, and gradually decreasing the size of the circle. When starting them it is not a big problem if you initially lose some forward movement.
Some walk Pirouettes ...
To finish off the demonstration a few flying changes. To start these establish a good canter on the track, do a loop back on yourself and as you reach the track change bend and ask for the other canter lead.
Once they understand this you can go on to doing a shallow loop away from the track and asking for the change at the furthest point from the track when you also change the bend. Eventually you will be able to do changes on request!
I really enjoyed this demonstration and actually think I will try some of this with Baz. I don't expect to be able to achieve it all but if I follow this process and take my time who knows??
Until next time!