Two Wrongs can make it Right
Posted by Lorraine on Jun 23, 2012
When your horse is going well do you avoid pushing him in case you mess things up? You’re not alone. Most riders would rather play it safe than push their horse but it’s the one time you can! When your horse is going well he’s listening and waiting for you to tell him what to do next. But if you don’t he won’t.
It’s easy to think if you sit quietly your horse will miraculously transform into a power house (or that a dressage judge will think him worthy of a 7) but unfortunately that’s never going to happen unless you push him. It won’t happen if you allow your enthusiasm to fade either. You need to stay consistent and keep topping up the energy at regular intervals. It doesn’t mean you have to start nagging. You just need to ask.
In Be a Lazy Rider and Great Expectations the emphasis is on getting your horse to take you forward with very little leg from you. Once he’s reached that stage you may find he feels ‘OK’ but a bit flat. What he’s lacking is power.
Using the ideas in Lazy Rider warm up and focus on getting your horse to move forward from as little leg as possible. This is the most important lesson a horse can learn. If he doesn’t move naturally forward then your lower leg will never mean anything other than ‘Go’.
In walk go large and ride a 10m circle at every marker. The aim of the exercise is to keep your calf muscles against your horse’s sides all the time until you pass the marker or touch the centre line. At those points you need to use both heels together twice. Use them as quickly as you can – as if you were tapping your horse on the shoulder to say “Wake up!” All horses are different so use them as hard as you need to get a reaction.
Your horse may jog, hollow or shoot forward a few paces but don’t panic. Keep at it and he will settle. Keep your fingers closed around your reins and keep your calf muscles against his sides. He’ll know from your contact that you don’t want trot and his hind legs will step further forward under his body.
It would be easy to get to the next point and avoid using your heels because your horse feels better all ready. Forget it! Stop thinking ‘That’s good enough’ and start to think ‘I want more’. Don’t worry about spoiling things – learn to relax and enjoy it. When things go wrong it means they’re just about to get better.
Ride a 10m circle at every marker on each rein before you even think about lightening your leg aids. You’ll be surprised how much your horse will give you when you ask. As his walk becomes more energetic you’ll be able to feel his hind legs digging into the floor through your seat. Use your voice to praise him – don’t lean forward to pat him enthusiastically and lose it again!
Use the same theory in trot and canter too. Set yourself points on any shape that will remind you to ask. On a 20m circle ask at A/C and X, or E and B. On a 15m circle ask on the track and the ¾ line. Ride three loop serpentines up and down the school using your leg every time you cross the centre line and as you reach the track. Where and when you do it is up to you. Just make sure you do.
Try the same approach through upward and downward transitions. Accept the fact the first few transitions are going to be less than perfect. Your horse is used to you riding forward and quietly allowing him to move into the next pace. He won’t expect you to give him a couple of taps with your heels as he does it. Your use of your heel is dependant on his reaction. Use enough to make him make more effort not send him into orbit!
You can be forgiven for thinking if you use more leg just as your horse goes from canter to trot or trot to walk he’ll rush or hollow but don’t forget what your legs are for. They push his hocks further under his body. If your contact is there to contain him he won’t go faster. His quarters will move nearer to his shoulders, he’ll round his back and his strides will become more powerful. Try it. He will surprise you.
In every transition wait for your horse to actually move into the next pace before you use your heels. There’s a fine line between too soon and too late. It can get confusing but stay calm. Don’t avoid the exercise. So what if you got it wrong? You’ll get it right next time because you got it wrong. Start to see your mistakes as a positive learning experience not as a disaster and see how quickly your horse improves.
When you’ve spent weeks teaching your horse to move forward from your leg, settle in your hand and relax it can be hard to upset things but this is a new step up. Think back to when you first started to sharpen him up to your leg. That must have been a shock to his system but look where it got you.
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.
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