‘Holding’ the horse just treats the symptom
Are you one of the many riders of a dressage horse that struggles to achieve a natural outline? At the lower levels of competition it is easy to ‘fake’ an outline in a test, but this isn’t a long-term solution.
Horses need to carry themselves and develop that strange horsey term ‘throughness’ in order to relax into a contact, which means lots of schooling on transitions and tempo. ‘Throughness’ describes a relaxed, open vertebrae, and an energy flow that is powered from the quarters, up and over to the horse’s back, neck and poll. (The youngster pictured is starting to develop this nicely).
No short cuts in dressage
There are no short cuts! Successful dressage horses are strong in their core, and have self carriage – if they drop their back down, invariably their head comes up. However, ‘holding’ the horse in an outline just treats the symptom of the raised head, rather than the cause of the lack of carriage.
The difference between tempo and rhythm
One good schooling tip is to develop tempo control, which means being able to move the horse forward off the leg, and then go back to a more contained pace, without losing activity.
If you are unsure of the difference between tempo and rhythm, tempo is the beats per minute (or bpm), or the pace – imagine a ticking metronome, either going faster or slower, and this is your tempo. Rhythm is the pattern of the beats, or the pattern of the horse’s footfall. We all aim to achieve a consistent rhythm, no matter what the tempo or pace.
One way to achieve tempo control is to work in trot in the arena on a series of circles, and maintain a regular rising trot – imagine the horse coming forward to catch you as you sit down. This is the opposite of what many of us feel – as if the horse is ‘bouncing’ us up for the rise of the trot.
My top tip for achieving ‘throughness’-
Relax the shoulders and maintain a bend in the arms. If you ‘brace’ your shoulder, e.g. to stop the horse’s shoulder ‘falling out’, this can make your seat crooked. Also, have the confidence to believe that sometimes it is OK to do nothing with your hands – don’t ‘niggle’ at the reins. Ride ‘inside leg to outside rein’ – this means keeping a strong inside leg to create activity that is regulated by the outside rein; as indicated in the pic above, featuring ‘Heigh Hopes’ & Kate Tarrant, on a grass arena.
Jenny Richardson BHSAI is Equestrian Centre Business Manager at Ireland’s Castle Leslie Estate. This is a luxury equestrian riding holidays and training break venue in the heart of Ireland. The team welcomes riders of all abilities and age groups and offers expert tuition, gentle hacks, dressage tuition and exhilarating cross-country rides over an extensive XC course. Visit http://www.castleleslie.com