Tailor your training like dressage supremo Carl Hester, using his 10 top tips from Your Horse Live.
1 Embrace dressage
Think of dressage as something you do each time you ride. Whether you’re hacking out or riding a test, you’re moving your horse around with your legs and hands and that’s dressage – enjoy it!
2 Structure your work
Each schooling session should have a start (stretch), middle (teaching) and an end (stretch), with regular walk breaks on a long-rein. These breaks give your horse a chance to relax, stretch his muscles and will help him to keep motivated.
3 Go straight
Test your straightness by riding off the track. If you have arena mirrors these will help you check how straight you are, or ask a friend to watch you ride and check for you.
4 Relax your legs
Your legs communicate with your horse but if you clamp them onto his sides you’ll restrict him rather than allow him to move forwards freely, so remember to let your legs breathe!
5 Test his self-carriage
One of the key things you’re aiming for when training your horse is self-carriage. You should be able to push your hands forwards towards your horse’s ears to release the contact for a moment and your horse should remain in the same carriage and rhythm. It’s a good idea to make regular checks to ensure you’re not holding your horse together – it’s an easy habit to get into. Just a subtle softening of your contact will test that you’re riding with a light hand, for example every 20m. You don’t want to look like you’re water skiing!
6 Think transitions, transitions, transitions
Most horses naturally carry more weight on their forehand and our training teaches them to lift and lighten in front. The only way to do this is by riding lots of transitions – not just one or two; we’re talking the more the merrier each time you school. Walk to canter transitions are particularly effective, you just need to ensure that your horse lifts up through his shoulder during the upward transition and doesn’t run forwards.
7 Perfect his halt
Some horses aren’t keen to halt and can get tense. If your horse likes to fidget, try asking for smaller and smaller steps of walk and then halt to keep your horse in balance. It may seem tedious and boring, but horses learn by repetition, so keep trying until your horse understands.
8 Get engaged
Riding shoulder-in is the first step towards engagement, but it’s important you ride it correctly and bring the shoulders in, not push his hindquarters out. The rhythm should stay the same throughout. Make sure it has a start, middle and end, so you prepare in the corner, ride the movement and then straighten as you ride out of shoulder-in.
9 And relax!
If you allow your reins to become longer, your horse should stretch forwards. Remember that you can’t force him to stretch by jiggling with your hands, he must follow the bit and your horse will only be able to do this if he’s ridden on a contact correctly.
10 Motivate his trot
If you horse finds medium trot difficult, take him into an open field and keep him trotting until he gets the idea that he needs to reach forward from the shoulder and push more from behind.
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