Enhance your dressage with advice from Carl Hester

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The training you do at home will have a big impact on your competition performance. Putting together a progressive training plan with key areas to focus on will ensure you and your horse progress and also avoid injury.

Olympic gold medallist Carl Hester shares his five essential tips to successful training.

1 - Transitions, transitions and more transitions

Carl uses lots of transitions when he’s training. Transitions between paces should be used for obedience, building strength, accuracy and timing.

“It’s fundamental riders incorporate many transitions into their sessions,” says Carl. “They need to be ridden well and accurately.”

2 - Core strength

“I recommend working without stirrups on occasion,” explains Carl. “They help you measure how independent your seat is from the horse.”

Carl goes on to say it’s imperative you don’t rely on your horse’s mouth for balance and security. Having the ability to ride independently will help your horse balance and develop correct self-carriage.

“A seat independent of the horse is the difference between a good rider and a great rider,” he says.

3 - Testing self-carriage

Teaching your horse self-carriage is a big part of his training. He shouldn’t rely on you to keep him balanced; he needs to learn to do this on his own.

“The give-and-retake exercise helps teach your horse to maintain his pace and self-carriage,” explains Carl.

Throughout your training session it’s a good idea to regularly ride a give-and-retake. This is to check that your horse isn’t using your contact to prop himself up.

4 - Arena tricks

Clever use of your arena walls helps you teach your horse new exercises. “Often at home, we use the walls alongside the arena to teach flying changes and to gauge whether the horse is straight,” Carl says.

He also suggests using the short sides of the arena as a schooling aid. They help you get a feel of your horse’s stride length, especially the collected and regular canters.

5 - Variety is the spice of life

To help keep your horse fresh and interested in work, it’s important to vary what you do with him.

“My horses spend a lot of time on the move,” says Carl. “We hack them out, they’re turned out and it’s important to me that a horse lives the life of a horse.”

Schooling sessions at Carl’s yard rarely exceed 20 minutes and often include a hack down the road or through the fields before and after. All horses hack twice a week and Sundays are a day of rest.

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