Ever wondered what your horse would say to you if he could? What is he thinking as you pull his mane, tighten his girth, sponge his dock? How does he feel as you enter the ring for a lesson or competition?
Professional performer and Grand Prix dressage rider Yvonne Barteau has spent a lifetime learning to figure out what horses are trying to tell us, and in The Dressage Horse Manifesto, she gives us the skinny on the dressage training process—straight from the horse’s mouth.
Here is your chance to ride a Training Level dressage test from the horse’s perspective. Luna, a 10-year-old Oldenburg mare takes us through the first few movements:
“A” Enter Working Trot, “X” Halt, Salute, Proceed Working Trot
Relaxation and rhythm. Let that be your mantra as you “ride me uphill” toward “X”, and we make a straight, immobile halt. Straightness is the thing on the centerline (if you are doing this right, the judge sees only my two front legs), so do not let me wobble and weave our way to and from our halt. Momentum and impulsion help with straightness, so keep your arms and connection soft and use your half-halts right when you need them to get the halt.
“C” Track Left, “HXK” One Loop from “H” to “X” to “K”
I always stand still and relaxed if my rider allows it, so just sit tall and easy in the halt, and do not tighten yourself before you ask me to trot off. The test we are riding has a left turn at “C”, so ride straight on your line without drifting right. (That will be an easy loss of a point!) Keep the connection, rhythm, and bend in the turn and then right into the shallow serpentine that follows. During this movement the judge is looking for good rhythm, a clear change of bend through my entire body that matches our line of travel, and a workmanlike trot. Let’s show the judge what he or she wants to see!
Between “A” and “F” Transition to Left-Lead Canter
In the far corner it’s time to pick up left-lead canter. Try not to make a big ceremony out of the transition, and just use the few strides before to balance me a little more “uphill” in the trot; clear me off my inside (left) shoulder with inside suppling and inside leg aids. When it is time for canter, stretch yourself up and back over my inside hind, keep me connected on the flexion (inside) rein, and with either a little inside leg at the girth or a combination of your inside leg at the girth and your outside (right) leg back, ask for the change of gait.
Once I am in canter, ride a few more steps with balancing half-halts and inside leg (an aid similar to how you asked for the change of gait) so I will commit to the kind of canter that will get the most points. Once I am doing what you want, don’t nag at me with your legs or try to hold me together with your reins, because first I will lean on you and then I will quit trying. Instead, vary the use of your aids by being “quiet” in real time, as needed.
“B” Circle Left 20 Meters
A 20-meter circle in the middle of the arena is next. Look up; stay tall, soft, and centered over my inside hind leg; and concentrate on riding me in an accurate circle without losing rhythm, balance, or impulsion. Here is where I need to be ridden in shoulder-fore, which requires you to sit over my inside (left) hind leg while using your inside leg to keep me from trying to avoid engaging my inside hind leg under my body. Use your outside (right) connection rein and inside flexion rein to try to position my outside shoulder slightly to the inside of the line of travel so my inside hind leg has a chance of carrying both of us in a slightly more “uphill” manner.
My canter certainly looks better when I achieve this, but it is quite a bit more effort than just cantering how I normally might (which is about the opposite of what I’ve just described…).
This excerpt from The Dressage Horse Manifesto is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com).