Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Saturday, January 9, 2016 08:25 PM
This time of the year is usually when people make new resolutions and start to look forward to a new show season. Either you are working on moving up a level or you want simply to improve your riding one of the ways to do it is to review your basics. I find December/January are the best months to really brush up on the basics for me and my horse.
I have spent the whole December riding outside in the fields because my arena froze and then snow came. Without walls and precision of letters I had a chance to simply focus on my seat. In the fields I spend 80% of the time checking myself. I like to talk outloud like I am coaching myself. I know my issues and I remind myself of required corrections in a positive "what to do way" not a negative "what not to do way". I find it very helpful to talk to myself. I even praise myself when I do particularly well balanced turn, or well timed half-halt, or stay relaxed in my lower back during canter work :) Here is an example of the conversation I have with myself while doing a shoulder-in: look up, sit centered (which actually means different things for me depending if it is left or right shoulder in), relax lower back, seatbones down, lift with the core, inside leg down and vertical (this is more important to the left), outside leg behind but quiet and draping, my shoulders level and square, elbows bent equally, hands level in front of me (I have a tendency to pull right rein down), relax. Now I check on the horse: feels level and bent, light and equal in contact, pushes from behind and steps under, swings through the back, shoulders feel pushing upward, neck is round and in the middle of the shoulders, the movement feels effortless.
As you can see the list is quite long and by the time I finish checking it I already covered quite a distance and having a freedom to go longer gives me a chance to put everything together if there is an issue. You can do the checks in the ring too. However, limited distance and necessity to ride corners interrupts the movement. Transitions in and out of the movement are absolutely essential for the correct training. However, having a chance to do the movement for a long stretch is a great tool too. This is one of the reasons why dressage riders worship a circle :) Circle is exactly that - continuous, uninterrupted movement that you can ride as long as you need to. No other figure offers that in a ring.
Every time you want to move up a level or teach your horse a new movement there is a great chance you discover a hole in the basic training of your horse. And the higher you want to go the better you will understand the importance of basics for your horse and yourself (correct seat). Nothing will work well if the horse cannot easily stay regular in the rhythm, allows you to regulate his tempo, flex left and right, stay light, half-halt through on either rein, engage each hind leg under himself upon request from corresponding rider's leg, allows a rider to position his ribcage, go forward and come back, move sideways equally well in all gaits including canter, etc. A well trained horse should do 20 m circle way better than a Training level horse because it is more supple, more through, more balanced, straighter and more obedient. It sounds very obvious but if you pay attention and keep the standards very high aiming to develop the horse to do a 20m circle like a Grand Prix horse rather than a Training level horse this aim by itself will be the driving force behind your training even if you never reach a GP level. Riders often focus too much on repeating movements without comparing themselves with the best. And why not! Watch your favorite rider regularly to get inspired to learn to see what creates a great ride. And evaluate and ceaselessly work on improving everything including stuff that already feels good. Make it great by checking on the basics and noticing if you can make it straighter, lighter, add more power, more engagement, more effortless transitions. If you start raising standards for your horse make sure you raise them for yourself and work on your seat and posture all the time. 90% of the time I can improve my horse's way of going by checking on myself and finding a flaw or a glitch somewhere. Even small gestures like one hand always want to be a bit lower than another or one elbow is sticking out a bit has it's reasons somewhere in the seat balance, in asymmetry of muscles strength and flexibility, etc. If you find why it is happening to you you will become more balanced and thus more effective. Do not ignore small stuff! I find it very interesting when a rider tells me about her idiosyncrasies like it is a final statement and nothing can be done about it. Do not fall for that. With enough determination, focus and time every bad habit can be at least improved if not eliminated. Human body is equally adaptive to bad habits and good habits.
Hopefully, I have inspired you to develop more observant attitude of yourself and your horse when you ride. To keep standards high regardless of your and your horse level of training, regardless of his talents. To pull out of yourself the absolute best in terms of how you worked on the issues, what you discovered, what lessons you have learned from the ride and what the next step will be. Happy 2016!!! :)
Happy riding...
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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