The Preliminary Horse
By Nicola Young
12 December 2010 21:58
A Prelim horse is one that’s right at the beginning of his dressage career – maybe a youngster or an older horse new to the discipline. Within this level, the horse can be at different stages. If he’s only just started out it’s probably he’s not yet working in a true outline and he won’t have mastered self-carriage. As he becomes more experienced, his outline will become more advanced with a consistent contact, and he’ll be able to work in self-carriage more often – these are the things that’ll get the higher marks.
When judging a Prelim test, the judges are looking for the horse to be in a good rhythm with correct paces.
He’ll be seeking the contact and working forward but not in a hurried way. He should show he’s able to stay in balance most of the time – at this stage perfect balance is not expected.
The most common problems judges encounter in a Prelim horse are rushing, not being able to bend both ways or seeking contact, and lack of connection between leg and hand. Also, the riders can get uptight and concentrate too much on riding the movements rather than on the quality of the horse’s way of going.
1. The Bigger Trot
With a Prelim horse you can’t expect him to sit down, bending the joints in his hindlegs like a more advanced horse will, but you should expect him to step under with his hindlegs in readiness for him taking more weight on his back end in the future. In trot and on a 20m circle ask your horse for a slightly more engaged hindleg but without letting him rush off.
Use your legs to encourage his hindlegs under and don’t block with the hand – control the speed and rhythm with your seat. Once you’ve got control of this on a circle, go large and repeat. Be ready for him rushing down the long sides – half-halt in the corners and hold him with your seat before releasing him into the bigger but not faster trot. Get someone on the ground to check if he’s tracking up, under or over tracking, to help you understand how you need to ride him. The more he steps under in a dressage test, the higher the marks will be.
The humble transition is by far the best exercise for the Prelim horse. Riding correct transitions will encourage self-carriage, connection between the leg and hand, engagement, a consistent contact – plus lots more. Ride lots of walk to trot to walk transitions anywhere in the school. Don’t block him with your hand on the downward transition – remember it all comes from the seat and leg. If he dives onto the forehand, abort the movement and ride him on before coming round and trying again. Don’t let him lower his head or hollow in the downward transitions either – he should push with his hindlegs into the walk with his head staying exactly the same.
On the upwards transitions, expect your horse to move smartly into trot. Don’t accept any shuffle steps between walk and trot – ask him to trot and expect that he will go into it straight away.
3. Balance him
Working on balance at this stage will stand you in good stead when you move up the levels as balance is key throughout and you’ll need it for the more advanced movements.
Riding 20m circles in trot and canter may seem a simple exercise but it’s a good exercise to help with developing balance. Be accurate with the circle – in Prelim tests it’s not a major fault to follow the track on your circles but try, when you’re at home, to ride proper circles that only touch the track at four points. Make sure your horse works forwards into a consistent contact and use lots of leg to help – but again don’t let him run.
Three and four loop serpentines are also worth doing. Use your seat and legs to change the bend on the loops and be careful not to let your horse use your hands as a fifth leg – he needs to carry himself.
Outside distractions are inevitable, try to get your horse used to working with distractions and redirect the energy forwards. Remember you are always looking to correct forwards anyway.