Stuff I Discovered Climbing the Beanstalk

gustafson_-_jack_and_the_beanstalk-726768DRESSAGE Unscrambled (although it did not yet have a name) began in my head over fifteen years ago.  Not unike the brooms in Fantasia, once started, it was impossible to stop. So added to the original manuscript, here are more than 450 blog entries to cover a few things that I missed.

As before, the tales which follow are not arranged chronologically but in studied disorder. Some are meant to illuminate. Others to distract. Some just can’t stand to hide in the dark any longer. Light and Truth R Us.

                                       Get real, Sistah!

(posted 12-1-22)

There has been a flurry of horrified reaction lately on the Internet in response to the USDF‘s announcement that they are creating a medals “with distinction.” Since their inception, bronze, silver, and gold medals have been awarded on the basis of two 60+ scores at first, second, and third level. Those requirements will remain, but added to them is a new category where the target score at each level is 67%.

The hullabaloo-ists moan that this possibility will diminish the value of the original medals that they had worked so hard to achieve. Furthermore, they say, that placing the necessary scores so high makes the “with distinction” category out of the reach of normal amateur riders who don’t have six figure budgets for their horses.

Personally, I’ve been having trouble raising much sympathy for this viewpoint. As Jimmy Carter once said, “Life isn’t fair.“ As a college freshman whose high school French had been taught by Mrs. Quinn with her Boston Irish accent, I fared poorly against my classmates who had spent their summers in Switzerland practicing the language.

The unlevel playing field has been biting the less fortunate in the ass forever— Less good equipment, less time to practice, less qualified trainers. So it goes. The best you can do is pick the sandbox in which you can reasonably compete and do the best you can.

Of course, the rider’s innate talent matters too. Very occasional a fairytale does come true. That a young rider from the suburbs can’t compete with the Bloomberg kid or Jessica Springsteen in show jumping ought not to be a major shock. if you have a 3’6 horse in the jumpers or a six mover in dressage, you had better seek your glory not in the headlines but in achieving your personal best when you go out to show. Furthermore, it would be wise to pick a show where you aren’t hopelessly outclassed by your rivals.

                                  Embrace the Possibilities

(posted 10-21-22)

The premise I wish to begin with is that a horse which is truly “on the aids” should be able (appropriate to his level of training) to perform any movement you want anywhere and anytime you ask for it. That just seems reasonable, and it fits in with my notion of the horse functioning like a vending machine: equally ready to offer any desired result when you’ve put your money in. If he’s correctly on the aids, he won’t answer “Make another selection.”

How does that fit in with a six-figure horse I once tried in Germany? She had FEI credentials and could do all the movements of PSG. However, if I asked her to come down the inner track and halfway between F and P leg yield to the left to the opposite quarter line, she had not a clue and wouldn’t move over. Clearly that was not programmed into her memory bank!

So the question becomes do you just want to teach your horse how to do the tests, or do you want a horse who is soft, obedient, and willing to do whatever you ask whenever you want it? The answer is pretty obvious to me, and I hope it is to you also.

The above is all preamble to the mention of three exercises that appear in the tests and are often taught grudgingly and primarily just for the score. It’s easy to fall into this trap because they appear in the tests pretty much always at the same locations and always in the same gaits. The three: stretching the horse long and low which we see in the trot on a 20 m circle in Training and First Levels, very collected canter which is asked for over the centerline in Fourth Level Test One, and uberstreichen which is asked for on the 20 m circle in canter in Third Level Test Two.

But please, they are included in the tests not just so you will get a score but to remind you that performing them successfully are measures of how correct your horse’s training is, and as I mentioned back at the top, they should be available to you whenever you want. Moreover, the ability to perform them should be alive in every other movement

You should want to be able to perform them not just in those several places that the tests dictate but wherever you want and in other gaits as well. Recent USEA tests have incorporated stretching long and low into the trot serpentine and into the canter. Why not? Even in Collection the horse must think of reaching to the hand from back to front, not being ridden restrictively.

Likewise, the very collected canter is a balancing tool and should be available to you anywhere—in the middle of a half pass, for instance, not just as pirouette preparation. It can vary in duration and in magnitude. Think of it as a “Return to your senses and find your balance” interlude to share with your horse when things are unraveling.

And uberstreichen—the release of one or both reins for several steps with no loss of frame, balance, or tempo—is a demonstration of self carriage. Make it as doable in shoulder in or a canter pirouette as it is on a circle. Embrace these movements. Don’t avoid them. Use them to explain to the horse the relationship you are seeking. Find out if they work!

                                          Walk… Don’t walk

(posted 9-21-22)

A seemingly minor issue where you can gain or lose points in a test (or just make the judge crazy) is how you make your transitions in and out of the halt.

Let’s begin with Intro and Training Level rides where the directive permits transitions between trot and halt “through the walk.” In these cases it is not mandatory to make walk steps, but doing so allows the transition to be more fluid and less abrupt, hopefully with the horse staying in front of your leg. Having said that, it does not mean endless strolling or meandering into an eventual stop. A good number of walk steps might be two or three, but they should be attentive and marching and not a listless trickle as the horse runs out of gas and finally stands still.

The same idea applies in the upward transition where at those levels the horse needs not spring into an immediate, active trot but should still look involved and on the aids. Training Test 3 might be an exception where a whole score is devoted to the upward transition from Medium Walk to trot. Then you had better be crisp, sharp, and connected if you want to be rewarded!

At First Level and above, ideally the halt should be directly from the trot, and when it’s not you are apt to lose a half or whole point. That said, if the choice is a prompt halt where the horse inverts or a fluid one with a walk step, tactically you should choose the latter.

By the time you get to Second or Third Level, the transition with walk steps shows a lack of balance and hints at avoiding the required difficulty of the movement. Your score will reflect that avoidance.

Remember: assuming you can achieve acceptance and a degree of squareness, the ideas you are playing with are to make the halt both smooth/fluid and prompt.                         

The texts of past blogs which used to appear here have their own page. Access them with a simple click below