5 tips for the dressage newcomers
courtesy of Stephen Hayes Dressage
1. First off ‘Dressage’ is just a really big fancy name for training, whether you showjump, event, hunt or even happy hack, you need fundamental training skills in order to progress your horse mentally and physically in whatever discipline your in.
2. Tip two is break dressage training up into small sections, don’t think of certain exercises as one whole piece, for example, a simple leg yield, make sure you have a soft feeling down both reins, he’s reacting from both legs, pick your line, add a hint of flexion then start traveling him over to the destination you want, feeling down your outside rein each step. This way you end up with a smooth movement, otherwise it can all feel a bit thrown together if you think of it all at once.
3. Third tip I would like to recommend is to have patience and stick to your plan, it’s very important you stay consistent while training your horse. Stick to your training plan, switching things around all the time will make you and your horse feel a bit lost. If you feel you’re hitting a brick wall try something new and then see that through, even if you see a slight improvement it’s stills going in the right direction than previously. Remember your asking something new of your horse, just like going to the gym, it’s not all a breeze until your body feels capable of doing that certain activity.
4. Every single transition, every circle, every movement is teaching your horse, whether good or bad. If your horse makes a sudden stop during a downwards transition, if you let it go and carry on knowing it was badly executed, but think ‘I’ll do it good next time’, this is the biggest mistake we make. That horse then thinks that, that bad transition was how it is supposed to be, he thinks he did a great job, think like a horse, do you really think they think ‘now I’m going to make this canter-walk transition like a helicopter landing on a helipad’, I wish…. The next time transition he’ll think the of last transition being exactly how it was last because you didn’t tell him otherwise. Instead simply correct him calmly and positively to make that transition smooth and forward thinking, they thrive off positive reinforcement, a scratch on the neck, a touch from your finger, a low sound of ‘good boy’. He’ll know that’s what you want, and want to do it again for you.
5. Get used to riding with precision and putting yourself under positive pressure. A dressage test essentially is an exam, you and your horse go into a specific area, there is no second chance at anything. The moment you enter the arena you are being watched extremely closely, judges are marking you on many things including how precise you ride your test, how subtle you communicate with each other and how physically and mentally capable you both are of performing. Let’s face it, you have a half tonne animal in between your legs and the moment that bell rings you have 45 seconds to enter an arena which silently screams ‘Your now being judged’……. Your adrenaline will be rocketing, you have to keep it all together and ride every single step 100%, one wrong move can have a domino effect the rest! Who ever said dressage was easy, but my god what a sense of achievement when you bring your powerful four legged dance partner down the final centre line knowing what you have both just achieved was weeks, months, years of hard work and determination, that in itself is winning!
Stephen Hayes is currently touring the UK with his dressage clinics see his page for dates and venues, he also has plans to host clinics in Australia and Dubai!
Images courtesy of Angus Matheson