Sunday, July 12, 2009

Cross Training

When most people think of Dressage, they think of competition, judges, and scores; precise movements with rhythm, cadence, and balance. Few things are as beautiful to watch as a Grand Prix dressage test but I would like to suggest that we look beyond pleasing judges and audiences and start looking at the purpose of these movements.

I don’t speak French, but I am told that Dressage means training. And although they are beautiful performance movements, they carry even greater value for training. Thus, it is a pity that many riders do not bother working on these movements unless they are considering competing in a dressage test. Furthermore, if a horse is not considered to have the potential for competition, it’s common practice to exclude him from the practice of Dressage. But for me, it is precisely these horses with low potential that need the training most of all. For I believe that the purpose of training is to effect improvements, and the lower the potential, the more improvements are needed.

To illustrate this principle, let us say that a horse has trouble picking up a particular lead in the Canter. Horses are one sided as much as people are right or left handed. They always have one side that works better depending on the exercise and the horse. One side will always have a tendency to be stronger, or more flexible. We can help horses be more symmetrical with lateral movements. The lateral movements include Shoulder in/out, Haunches in/out, Side Pass, Half Pass, and Leg Yields.

All horse will have one side that picks up the lead more easily than the other. But when a horse becomes excessively resistant to picking up a particular lead, then it may need training to develop the weaker side. The question is, how are you going to train that weaker side if he never picks up the lead. You have a catch 22. He is weak because he never does it, and he never does it because he is weak. The solution lies in the dressage laterals. A Cantering horse drives himself forward with the outside rear leg. That is the leg that needs to be built up. You can do this by performing the Haunches in, and the Half Pass. These movements to the left will strengthen the outside right rear leg by forcing it to reach deep under the horse, and propel by driving far out the side.

The following are a list of common problems, and suggested corresponding lateral movement solutions.

Problem: Horse drops his inside shoulder on a circle.

Solution: Shoulder out.

This encourages the horse to pick up his inside shoulder and reach straight forward with the inside foreleg. It strengthens the inside fore, loosens and develops flexibility and discourages weakness and tightness from dragging the horse into the circle.

Problem: Horse spirals in on circles, and cuts corners.

Solution: Haunches in.

Keeps the driving force of the horse inside the circle and drives the horse back out to the outside of the circle.

Problem: Crooked back up.

Solution: Shoulder in and out.

Crooked back up happens when horse shoves himself back with his front legs, instead of pulling himself back with the hind. So the hind quarters end up getting pushed out of the way and the back up becomes crooked. Many riders will try to straighten the back up by moving the hindquarters back inline to straighten the horse instead of moving the forehand. I recommend shoulder in/out to loosen and school the shoulders to the cues, then during the back up, use your command of the shoulders to straighten the horse. When the shoulders can be moved laterally during the back up, the horse will be forced to use the hindquarters to pull himself back, and the back will be straight and powerful.

I mentioned earlier that few things are as beautiful to watch as a Grand Prix dressage test. But even more beautiful to watch is a down hill, one sided, shuffling, long backed, iron mouthed scrub, transformed, through a systematic process of conditioning, drills, and training, into an uphill, high stepping, light, responsive and agile poetic verse in motion.


Post a Comment