At a show recently, I was watching my friend warm up for her first level test 3 class. Her horse, an OTTB, was being very tense and anxious with all the other horses. Her trainer took her to an outside, very quiet arena and told her to ‘just trot big’. She let the horse go very long and low in a pretty big trot doing circles and figure 8s. As the ride time got closer, they gathered and did a couple of trot to canter transitions. They really did not school any test movements. She actually scored high enough for a wild card invite to Nationals.
Should I consider warming up my horse like this?
I ride my guy 6 days a week. Mostly work though maybe a day of long/low walking easy stuff. I make myself wear jeans on the ‘7th’ day to discourage myself from riding that day. I love riding him though he can be a challenge. Would 7 days be too much?
BILL— That’s what the classical people say, but in real life sometimes it’s just not possible. Horses come to their riders in all orders of disarray and confusion. Some of them have been behaving that way for so long that the habit is deeply ingrained and not easily susceptible to re-training.
If you are having trouble with canter pirouettes, the solution is usually not to do more of them. The question, however, is what to do instead. My answer is to list all the elements of the relationship with your horse which you need to perform a pirouette correctly. Then remembering the Vending Machine analogy from DRESSAGE Unscrambled, devise specific exercises which test that each of the reactions you need are present in him.
BILL— Here’s the scoop on pirouettes. Most of the time if you’re having problems with them, it has to do with the quality of the canter. Is it collected enough? Is it balanced enough? Can your horse keep enough jump behind, maintaining the tempo while not being held back by the reins as you make his strides shorter? These are things that you must practice over and over, building his strength and confidence before you try to put him too much on the spot or do too many strides in a row.
BILL– As I related in DRESSAGE Unscrambled, many years ago Major Lindgren was giving a lecture on bits at the National Instructors Seminar. He had a graphic up on the board of all sorts of curb bits, and he asked the group how they would choose one over another. I was on the staff with him, and after the group remained painfully silent, I raised my hand and in my best Gunther Toody fashion interrupted, “Ooh ooh, I know!”
Somewhat bemused and exasperated he said to me, “OK. Why?”
“It depends on the weather,” I said.
He cocked his head, waiting for the rest of it…
“Because,” I finished, “In a storm, any port will do! “
BILL— I remember riding in a clinic in 1973 on a little OTTB mare whom I was eventing Training Level. These days it would be a First Level test, but back then we did Training 3. Looking to the future I asked the clinician if we could work on lengthenings in the trot. She made a non-committal, disheartened response. And now I know why. The horse was simply not enough on the aids—not enough between leg and hand—not through. Real lengthenings were implausible if not impossible. Without those qualities if you got anything at all, it was likely just to be hurrying. That was also a time when meaningful warmbloods were almost nonexistent in the US, so your horse’s natural movement and cadence were not going to help you very much.