Monday, August 11, 2008

Dressage light bulb moments

Light bulb moments can come from anywhere -- a non-horsey friend, the back page of Dressage Today, a judge, a book, a video. I'm going to share a few of mine...

  • A trainer I occasionally use, Kristen, was helping me to get the correct feel in trotwork, as Harv tends to offer a sweet, compliant, but sort of "fake" roundness. She wanted me to get the feel of the horse correctly stretching into the bit. She said, "Your horse should feel like he's looking over the edge of a cliff." What a great metaphor! Along the same line, a COTH poster described how her trainer told her to "get the horse's ears as far away from you as possible."

  • This isn't really a quote, but a good observation from a trainer. On a trot circle that day, Harv wouldn't give, he just stiffened/went hollow when I asked him to move into the bridle. The session was rapidly disintegrating into a niggling argument. My trainer called out -- "I can SEE the tension in your arms, just RELAX them and do NOTHING." The instant I followed her instructions, Harvey actually sighed as he softened over his whole topline. I was embarrassed and angry with myself, but it was enlightening. The trainer later told me it's easy to see tension in my arms (a long thin forarm muscle protrudes). I learned to recognize/be more conscious of that tension, and my riding improved.

  • Here's a simple one, from a Gabriel Armando clinic I attended years ago. When riders in this clinic had trouble working on a circle -- a broad variety of problems, really -- GA often just said, "put more weight in your outside stirrup." Magically the problem(s) disappeared. I asked him later why he made that suggestion for what looked to me like numerous, dissimilar problems. His answer was short and a bit vague. I suspect that the outside stirrup 'fix' helps to center the rider more over the horse and improve straightness. At any rate, I found it's a nice easy tool that usually helps and never hurts.

So what are your dressage/riding epiphanies?


  1. Funny - my daughter got the same outside stirrup suggestion recently in a dressage lesson on a HUGE for her horse that was constantly gravitating to the rail instead of staying on circles.

    Seemed counterintuitive that weighting the outside stirrup would alleviate that particular problem, but it nipped it in the bud.

    A good friend and dressage rider/trainer told me when I first came back to riding after many many years off that I had to remember to breathe. In her lessons most of her instructions were things like "take a deep breath" or "think half-halt but don't DO anything."

    She really instilled in me that we often do way too much. The solution to many problems is to get quieter, NOT louder.

    I tend to hold my breath when I'm asking the horse to do something. I know I'm literally blocking whatever request I'm making by holding my breath. I need a recorded "breathe" that just randomly repeats. :)

  2. Ah, yes! A was having a problem with my TB, when I asked from a transition from canter to trot, he just kept cantering slower and slower. Looking back I was doing a million things wrong, but a friend said to "think TROT" but don't do anything. Voila!

    Thanks for re-reminding me of this.

  3. All helpful tips, it's always good to see what phrases other trainers use to get their point across. I like the 'looking over a cliff' metaphor.

  4. One good image that has helped my arm position alot is to think of holding a beach ball in my arms. This helps keep me from keeping my arms locked to my rib cage. The breathing and doing nothing are good ones. I haven't heard of the cliff one, but for canter, I like the image of being on the crest of a wave. When I feel that feeling, I know he's up in front and round through his back.

    Love your blog, btw. Lots of good info.


  5. it's funny how these visual images help us - being so visual myself it makes a huge difference - when we change our mind our body shifts without us knowing it - but the horse sure does! I love the looking over the cliff one as it stretches the whole body forward - i am going to try that one today - have a great one

  6. After weekly lessons for a year and a half, my 16 year old dressage riding daughter took one look at me,walked up and placed my leg behind the girth. "Keep it there," she said. It sounds so simple, but it was revolutionary. I'm sitting straight, I'm off my horse's shoulders-- he loves it. I've spent all summer just focusing on my seat and having soft, responsive hands and yesterday I had a ride so good it felt like an epiphany. It all started with her hand on my leg. I am so grateful.

  7. Not dressage, but in a jumping clinic I ate a fence twice and cantered up to it the third time... clinician stopped me and asked me what I was doing. I said jumping; he asked me if the track I was one worked the first time I tried it. I said no. Did it work the second time? No.

    "Then do something different! Anything!"

    Best advice I ever got, hands down. No point in having a toolbox of techniques if I keep trying the same thing and waiting for it to work.

  8. I took a beginner Yoga class. It should have had nothing to do with dressage or horses at all. But I started becoming more aware of my position and my breathing while riding.
    Cross-training for humans?


Hi Guys, Your comments are valued and appreciated -- until recently I never rejected a post. Please note that I reserve the right to reject an anonymous post.