31 May 2011
Posted in Articles
For many people who watch the upper level dressage such as the amazing Totilas, it's is like a dream. It's something to watch, but you never think you could be that Gold Medal rider. I was that person years ago, thinking Grand Prix dressage was just for the elite and very wealthy, and that watching the lower level dressage is like watching paint dry. It just wasn't for me. Then I got into eventing with my wonderful jumper who could ace a cross country course, but we had no choice but to do Dressage-ugh!
So, I took lessons and tried to just get through the tests, but then a funny thing happened. My horse started getting better in his gaits and control, and I started becoming more aware of my body as a rider and how my seat influenced the horse. The more I rode dressage, the better everything became! Dressage isn't a destination. It's a long road, and even when you make it to the Grand Prix level the road doesn't end.
Unlike some disciplines, dressage is all about the training. You may have the best bred horse in the world with amazing gaits, but without good training you have nothing. Bad training can make a good horse look bad, and good training can make an average horse great! This is the beauty of the sport--if you have an average horse but ride well, you can still be competitive.
So what is good training?
The best riders and trainers in the world will tell you that good training starts with a solid foundation. Dressage is a systematic way of training both horse and rider to work and move in harmony. We start with the training scale. Dressage training concentrates on the following concepts, and each one must be accomplished before starting on the next.
Relaxation and Rhythm: When the horse is relaxed and rhythmic in its movements, It is more able to be elastic in its gaits. A relaxed horse is a happy horse, and a happy horse is more trainable than one that is tense. A horse that is rhythmic has a clear four-beat walk, two-beat trot, and three-beat canter, with the same size of step and speed throughout the ride.
Suppleness: This refers to the flexibility of the horse, both longitudinally and laterally. Longitudinal suppleness refers to how loose the horse’s haunches, back, neck, poll, and jaw are, which is necessary for him to be able to swing through his back and stay on the bit. Lateral suppleness means the horse can bend his body and neck to either side, either making a smooth circle or moving sideways in movements like leg yields or half passes.
Contact: Many people think of contact as having a connection between the rider's hands and the horse's mouth. However, there is also contact with the rider's seat and legs. A horse has good contact when its back is raised, the hindquarters are engaged, the poll the highest point of the neck, the jaw is relaxed, and the horse face is vertical or with its nose slightly ever so slightly forward.
Impulsion: This is a concept most riders recognize, but dressage horses are expected to have even more than many other disciplines. The impulsion should come from the hindquarters propelling the horse forward, not from the front end pulling or the horse just coasting along. The horse should step well under with its hind legs, taking energetic steps, its back should be swinging, and it should have the appearance of moving forward willingly.
Straightness: It is natural for horses to be crooked, as a result of one side being stronger or suppler than the other. The rider, then, must straighten the horse out. A common thing to look for is the hindquarters drifting inward at the canter.
Collection: This is the pinnacle of the dressage training scale and should not be attempted until all the other concepts have been mastered--and then it will come easily. In some disciplines, riders refer to their horse as being collected when they have a head set. In dressage, collection is only evident when the croup lowers, the forehand lightens, and the horse shorter, higher steps in the same rhythm as it uses in its working gaits.
It takes years to master all of these concepts, but through this series of articles, we will explore each step in the training scale. Every horse and rider can benefit from dressage training, even if they never perform a dressage test. During this series, I will provide exercises that will help you and your horse perform better, no matter what discipline is your main focus.
Patience Prine-Carr Patience has been riding horses her whole life, and she has done everything from halter to fox hunting to sidesaddle to dressage. She has trained with many top coaches, including Hans Biss, Gene and Ray La Croix, George Morris, Bea and Derek DiGrazia, Heidi Gaian, Lynn Roberts Johnson, Pam Nelson, and Juan Matute. She strongly believes in continuous education to perform her best and keep her horses at the top of their game.
Patience earned her U.S.D.F. Bronze, Silver, and Gold Medals, all on Arabians that she trained. She has trained and ridden horses to many National and Regional Championships in Hunter Pleasure, Jumpers, English Pleasure, Dressage and Side Saddle. She trains in all disciplines but specializes in the Arabian Sport Horse. Patience has amassed over 15 National Championships and Reserves in all Levels of Dressage from Training Level to Grand Prix. She is the only Gold Medal Arabian Trainer on the West Coast, and she trains out of her home facility, Glynnsong Farms, in Castroville, California. Learn more about her program at www.glynnsongfarms.com