Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Dressage Differently

They say dressage is the basis for every riding discipline, that it in truth only means 'training'. For dressage is to train the horse so it can better carry a rider, to be more beautiful and graceful under saddle. So that when a horse is well trained it looks as if the horse is doing the movements on its own without noticeable direction from the rider.

So that is in theory anyway. 

I do not go out and tell everyone oh I am a dressage rider, there are too many negative stereotypes that go along with that label. You hear of dressage queens who never ride outside of the arena, their breeches never have a stain on them. Their horses must be expensive warmbloods, their noses strapped shut with the latest fad in crank noseband. Even without draw reins and a curb bit they are able to achieve extreme flexion of their horse'a neck while complaining of him being behind the leg.

Okay that isn't every dressage rider or trainer, but you probably know someone who fits that description or part if it.

I strive to be that rider whose horse moves effortlessly, whose aids are subtle and quiet. This isn't an easy task, back to the Denny Emmerson posts, his favorite seems to be Jack LeGoff's saying: a rider needs 3 things-
A good seat
A good seat
A good seat

To have independent hands you need a good seat, a good rider doesn't bounce in the sitting trot. (No I don't read every Tamarack Hill Farm post on Facebook, nope.) It all comes back to having a good seat. I was watching a video of someone riding, their hands were bouncing, their seat was bouncing and overall they just looked uncomfortable. (been there!) So I had to go find a video of myself riding to see if I bounce at all. (this usually happens when I watch someone riding and notice something such as hand position, bouncing etc) Then I go through and pick out everything that I need to improve on, but my hands are independent of my seat/posting so I must be doing something right.

A good friend of mine told me to stop downplaying my riding skills. We are our own worst critics. Then I have people allowing me ride their horse, out of the blue after watching me ride Journey on one of her bad days, because I have soft hands. I don't pull and yank, I allow.

My goal is to dressage differently, more classically, following what is necessary for the horse to become a high performance athlete. Dressage speaks of self carriage, self carriage is not the horse holding their head in. No, not at all. Self carriage is 40 miles into a 50 and you are riding on a loose rein with the horse working off of his hind end, relaxed and using his body correctly and effectively.  That to me anyway, is the purpose of dressage. It is far from getting the horse's head in a certain position or being able to piaffe or passage around the arena. Horses are amazing in what they do despite the factors against them. They try so hard to please and do the most they can even when it is physically detrimental to their health and well being.

No not every horse is ridden incorrectly or is used up before they are fully mature, but it by far, is the trend. We see youngsters doing advanced movements, jumping huge fences, and disappear before they are 10. There is a sad saying that 'if it was a Quarter Horse it would be lame by 5!' Five!!
Horses that are ridden behind the vertical are common in almost every barn and show out there. It is rewarded and therefore perpetuated by the next group of hungry riders and trainers. New shortcuts are devised to achieve the results faster, sell horses for more money, win more prestigious events.

Not for me. I want it done correctly, but I am not a perfectionist about it. I want to set the horse up for success, not be detrimental to it. I would rather take the long slow approach, giving the horse the ability to be calm and relaxed under saddle. This is what riding from your hands cannot teach a horse, it builds tension instead of relaxation.

Over this past weekend I took Diesel to a dressage show. I had been looking for one to take him too, but hadn't found one that worked with Quick's endurance ride schedule. When I found out this show was happening it was less than two weeks away. Diesel hadn't been in an arena in two months, he had been working on his long slow distance base. So I made arrangements to haul him into an arena and get some arena work done!!

The thing that had been bothering me most was not being able to get him to stretch, everybody I ride stretches. The 3 year old filly stretches far better than he does. (note we did have a saddle fit issue earlier this year, which took a while to resolve because nothing was WIDE enough for his shoulders. I finally found a saddle that we thought worked, had great sweat patterns out on the trail. Although I do not believe it is a perfect fit for him.) Not to mention, Diesel decided to jump out of the field he was in and into a small area with Journey, who was in raging heat. (she has been known to corner and let those heels fly....) But both were fine, much to my relief. Bad jumping pony!

Thank you Dena Stockdale for this wonderful photo!!

Diesel did fantastic, we did 3 tests. Intro B, Intro C and Training 1. Our worst test by far was probably training 1, because I still hadn't gotten him to stretch on the trot circle at A. And of course, I had to get the blue in somewhere, although I did pull out my old Charles Owen helmet, tall boots and light colored breeches. (yes, breeches not tights!) 

Intro B
Thank you Paula for the video.

Intro C
Thank you Margo for the video. 

Training 1
Thank you Margo for the video. 

I felt a lot of personal pressure, I started this horse and have done all of his training. How he does is a reflection on where I am at with my skills. Yes there are a TON of things I can work on, but I am pretty damn proud of this boy. Even with the llama, goats and minis next to the arena (I think it was the minis that bothered him most actually) he did awesome. Diesel is a 5 yr old Akhal-teke/ Arabian cross. 

This horse has been brought along slowly, with more miles on the trail than in the arena and lots of time to grow up. 

2nd in intro b, 1st in intro c and 4th in training 1

I am not saying anyone is wrong or outright condemning a training method. We are all at different places in our relationship with horses, I respect everyone even if I would never let them ride my horse. It is my choice to 'dressage differently', it is what I had learned from the horses I have worked with and the trainers and friends. It works for me, and I can only to continue to learn and grow as a rider and trainer.