The last post was about the rein, this one is inspired by the rain! We’ve got more than our share of it here in the Atlanta area. As Georgians we’re used to humidity but this is a bit too much! The arenas are waterlogged and unridable most of the time. So, instead of moping around and missing lessons, it’s time for dressage in the great outdoors! Out of the arena that is!
Too often, as dressage riders, we neglect to school outside of the dressage arena, and then look like beginners all over again once we are talked into our annual trail ride. Most dressage riders I know began as Three-day Eventers or Jumpers of some capacity, but after years of circling slowly around, confined to a ninety meter rectangle, the thought of a two-hour straight line is daunting.
A gently sloping hill is great for muscle and stamina building. Going uphill is a great way to allow the horse to go forward and a safe place for the rider to release the contact. The grade will regulate the speed, and the freedom offered the horse will allow him to enjoy himself. In the field as well as in the arena, all training should be enjoyable for the rider and the horse!
A spooky horse can be worked in a small area at first, perhaps even on a circle, until he is more comfortable. It makes more sense to slowly build his trust, than to bully him past every scary object on the trail. He does not have to learn to ride out in one outing, and it is best to keep it short and stress-free in the beginning. If treated with kindness and patience, he will soon learn that his rider friend can be trusted to see him safely back to the barn.
When teaching a nervous rider try to have her focus on her horse’s ears. When the horse loses attention, and pricks his ears at something in the distance, I ask the rider to touch him lightly with her right leg and watch his ears. Invariably, his right ear will cock backward halfway. We then repeat on left side – same thing, left ear cocks back. I explain that a horse is only capable of focusing on one thing at a time. This is why a twitch is effective. In the event the horse hears something rustling in the brush and tenses every muscle at full attention, it is better to bend him and apply leg to regain his attention. Once the ears are half-way cocked back, he is again focused on his rider. Many people err in thinking that if they stay really quiet and still, the horse will calm down as a result of this inaction, and they will be ok. Then, a rabbit runs out of the bushes and they’re off!
See if you can talk one of your friends out of the arena and go have some fun! Don’t panic, you can still practice your lateral work on the trail! You might even have a little fun doing it! Happy Trails!