QOTM: I try to ride my mare on a loose rein so she’ll relax. When my trainer gets there she tells me to shorten my reins a lot because my horse is too quick, borderline running away at the trot and no where near being round or on the aids. She wants my horse to basically ‘earn’ a longer rein by going slower and giving in. Will that really help relax her?
Bill— The most obvious answer is that it’s a matter of intent. Being on the outside lead by accident gets you no credit. However, that heightened level of obedience to your aids which allows you to choose your lead—true or counter— ensures that your horse is not taking his lead by rote or on autopilot.
BiLL— “Clouded judgment is bad judgment.” I think Al Roker said that. Regardless, it is certainly true that if you are grumpy, depressed, irritated about some other facet of your life, or just plain off your game, it’s not going to help your riding or your horse!
I recently went to a schooling show that offered hunter/ jumper and dressage classes. I am thinking of trying some dressage so I went to watch. There was a very fancy horse doing 4th level. I talked with the rider after and noticed the horse’s whiskers weren’t clipped. I asked if she didn’t clip because it was a schooling show and she told me she had stopped clipping years ago and really didn’t know anyone who clipped whiskers or ears anymore. Is this ok in dressage??
BILL— It is more than totally OK in dressage, even at the biggest recognized shows. At the moment there is no specific FEI rule, but in some European countries where dressage obviously is very popular, it is literally against the law to trim whiskers or inside your horse’s ears. This is a horse welfare issue, not an aesthetic one. A horse’s whiskers are part of his tactile sensory apparatus, and to deprive him of them seems unfair and unkind. Many top trainers in the US have a European background, so it seems perfectly normal for them to allow the whiskers to be natural. In the dressage world you won’t get a sideways look.
(This is posted out of order. It was published in November of 2019)
BILL— to a degree, most everything, but my secret pet peeve is when novice riders describe their horses’ random bad behaviors in classical terms. I’m sorry, your nervous, neurotic horse was not piaffing on the trail. He was just anxiously prancing about, most likely in no coherent rhythm.
Nor did he perform a levade, a balanced “crouching,” very collected movement with extreme bending of his hocks. He was just standing on his hind legs. That’s very different!
These are not just semantic disparities. To endow them with classical names doesn’t give credit to the time it takes and the degree of difficulty involved in training those actual movements.
BILL— Among beginnerish riders it’s probably because it’s the instinctive way that they think they should turn their horse. Fairly early on riders get past that stage, yet the problem persists. This is usually because they underuse their supporting outside aids. We have all heard many, many times “inside leg to outside hand,” but this mantra neglects the importance of the outside leg which keeps the horse from bulging out.
BILL— In dressage seat equitation there is mention of the posting diagonal, nowhere else in our discipline. Consequently there is no such thing as an “incorrect diagonal.” In several books of eastern European origin a theory is even espouse that riders should rise on the inside diagonal.
As an instructor have you ever (or should you ever) make a student do something against his or her will?
QOTM: I need flying change exercises. I’m currently doing them sporadically whenever I can just pick up the canter and just go until he’s not thinking about it and then throwing one in. Ideas?
BILL— Flying changes are complicated “until they aren’t!” There are a whole bunch of exercises, but which can be most useful often depend on your horse’s attitude towards the whole project.
Yes, a balanced counter canter is a major steppingstone. You can take advantage of a certain amount of anticipation by doing them a few times in the same place, then changing things up enough that you are sure he will wait for the actual aids and not get too far ahead of you.
I prefer doing them in the beginning at a point where it is clear he should come to the other lead – that is either at a corner or at a turn where you can simultaneously change the direction and the lead. Examples: counter canter on the long side with the change at F before the corner turning towards A; cantering the diagonal and holding the lead through the corner. Changing before the second corner as you turn onto the next long side; turning across the arena on the perpendicular from E to B and asking for the change at the second quarterline before the right turn.
It’s also helpful to be pushing the horse a bit laterally into the direction of the old lead (which will become the new outside after the change). In a space larger than a standard arena, ride counter canter on the 20 meter circle. Ride an expanding half pass pushing the horse onto a larger circle and into what will become the new outside leg. Be sure to change your leg position a stride before you want to give the actual change indicator. That new outside leg behind the girth is the “cue,” but support it with the new inside leg active at the girth.
One thing to remember is that if you don’t get the change, most of the time the solution is NOT to use stronger aids the next time. instead, go back and use other exercises which will sharpen him without making him angry— quick trot/halt/trot transitions, leg yield and counter leg yield a few steps each emphasizing how promptly he will shift his balance and answer your seat; combinations of forward then yield then halt then back then forward then yield the other way. Anything that quickens him to the aids and makes his balance more readily adjustable.
Another good one is to ride counter canter and leg yield him away from the rail to the quarter line. Immediately half pass back out to the track. Do it twice and the third time instead of leg yielding, change the bend, turn onto the beginning of a 10 or 15 meter half circle and immediately ask for the change.
Asking over a ground pole In the beginning can also help him understand and not worry too much.
Try those for starters. Which ever ones you use—and there are plenty more—a critical factor is to be sure that your hips and the horse’s motion are in sync. Even just for a single change, always count down to it. Don’t just count down “intellectually,” but feel the count through yours and your horse’s bodies. “THREE TWO ONE CHANGE!” On the three and the two be making your horse straight and balanced with half halts in the rhythm of the stride. At “one” move your former inside leg back to become the new outside leg. At “change” firmly use that leg behind the girth while your new inside hip slides forward, your new inside leg at the girth activates the inside hind, and the new outside rein half halt makes the old leading foreleg wait.
BILL— The right tempo depends on what you are trying to accomplish at that moment. If you are in the show ring, there will be a tempo – not always the same for each horse – that shows off his gait the best. There are always a bunch of qualities which factor into your choice. While you don’t want your horse to be quick, sometimes one which has a less engaged, expressive trot will track up a bit better if his tempo is slightly faster. If you make it too rapid, however, it just looks tight and unsightly. At the other extreme if he has lift but not much thrust, he may appear to hover. Then a bit more tempo can invite him to cover more ground.