Walk and canter are your horse’s two most important paces, according to dressage star Charlotte Dujardin, who became one of Britain’s most decorated female athletes when winning dual bronze at the Tokyo Olympics last month.
“You can make these paces better through training, but you can’t alter them dramatically,” says Charlotte, who is a two-time Olympic champion after winning double gold in London and individual gold/team silver in Rio.
In a dressage test, as part of the collective marks, the judge will mark your horse’s paces. These are worth double marks (10 x 2), so being able to show them off at their best is crucial.
“Correct training will go a long way to producing a good horse – not how much you pay for him,” explains Charlotte. “My advice is to look for a horse with three good basic paces and a good temperament.”
Here is Charlotte’s top advice to help you eke out every mark you possibly can.
1. Let your horse move
Don’t restrict your horse with your position, in particular your hands. He needs to be able to feel he can move forwards freely to aid relaxation and impulsion.
2. Build a partnership
Dressage should be harmonious and look as though the rider is doing nothing. You’ll only achieve this with correct training, where your horse is in front of your leg and carries himself.
3. Be disciplined
It’s all about repetition, correction and being strong with yourself. As a rider you need discipline – you can’t let bad habits happen. If you make bad transitions at home just because you’re lazy or not really thinking about it, you’re going to make bad transitions in a test situation as well.
4. Is he listening?
Whatever movement you’re riding, your horse should stay listening to you and
not take over. Always have in your mind that you must be in control of each and every step he takes.
5. Don’t over-do it
It’s important not to overwork your horse, especially if he’s young. The aim is to have a happy, healthy and sound horse, so keep your schooling sessions short and vary his work so he’s not always in the school.