Training Tip of the day – Stretching

Forward and downward
Stretching Forward and Downward


Consider the art of riding Dressage a dance between horse and rider.  Dancer’s spend a great deal of training time stretching.  We need to stretch as riders, and the horses need to stretch too.  It is best practice to allow your horse to begin each workout with a forward and downward stretch at the walk and trot.  I use this stretch for my horses between difficult parts of the workout, when we both need a break.  The end of the training session always included an active, forward downward trot.  This allows the horse to stretch out his neck and back.  Encourage your horse to maintain a swing in his gait while he stretches.  In the walk, encourage him to overstep the footprint of his front feet.  This is a must as increasing levels of difficulty in our sport ask the horse for more longitudinal flexion.

Riding Acurate Figures Helps your Horse….

from the home of…your Calgary Alberta area portal to all things Dressage…

I didn’t believe it at first.  It’s true.  Learn how to ride a circle.  In Dressage, we start with a 20 meter circle, because that is the width of our competition ring.  A circle is perfect.  It is very difficult and takes a great deal of focus and attention for a rider to ride this figure.

Learn it.  That’s all I can say.  Take string and a stick and scribe a 20 meter circle in the arena footing and ride on it.  You can set up cones or buckets on the circle line and practice.  Whatever you need to do to train yourself  (the rider) to understand the way to ride a circle, it’s worth the effort.  You will be rewarded with better marks on your circles in Dressage tests for sure, but this is only the beginning.

If you can use the circle properly, or at least ride the circle accurately,  amazing things, will happen.  Your horse can  find his balance because  he  has a set track  to follow and  can work  carrying  things through without you “picking at him”.  You, the rider,  can use the circle to feel the horse responding to the aids.  The  horse can soften and  move through the circle in an active working trot rhythm.  The circle can turn into a figure 8, change direction at the top of the circle and repeat on the other rein. 

We know that anything we practice gets easier for us to perform.  In this case you must ride a circle.  Riding an egg, oval or any irregular attempt at a circle-like figure will not do.  Only riding the circle line works.  Try it, it isn’t easy, but well worth the effort.

Remember:  establish the rhythm of the gait, let the horse relax and become supple, then you can establish contact.

(Rhythm-Looseness-Contact)  Good Luck.

Kim Cox

“” your local portal to the world of Dressage

Kim and Roderick
Kim Cox

We had a very good training ride today, in spite of it being -22 C or -8 F.  It sounds colder in Celsius.

I lunged Roderick (using Triflex side reins) for 10 minutes to warm him up.  After mounting, we worked on rhythm and suppleness at the walk. I have learned not to waste time at the walk, but to be more demanding and ask for a consistent medium walk right away.  We work figures like 1/4 turn on the haunches on a square, then leg yield out, and immediately go into a  1/4 turn on the haunches.  The leg yield sets Roderick up for the turn on the haunches beautifully.  It keeps him forward. 

I also work turn on the fore hand to tune him into my leg aids.  I ask for the halt, do a 1/4 turn on the forehand (with a tap tap of the dressage whip to back up my leg if necessary).  The 1/4 turn is immediately followed by asking him to march forward.  Roderick can be a bit hesitant to move off the leg, so this exercise really helps.

Trot work  begins with rhythm, suppling the big guy, and then asking for more contact.  This is all about consistency and maintaining the rhythm.  Once this is established, I move onto asking Roderick for shoulder in on the long side, straightening him , and then  shoulders out without letting his hind end swing off the track.  Easier said than done.  My coach tells me how important it is to learn to control the horse’s shoulders.

Then we do an exercise that I really like.  I’m not sure Roderick thinks it’s his favorite.  We do a 10 meter circle at the start of the long side, travers for about 3 or 4 steps and then go medium trot.  If we loose the bend in the travers, we throw in another 10 meter circle to re-establish the bend before trying the travers again.

We move on to trot half pass.  This is a nice exercise also. It is quite basic, so I can focus on the half pass and not on the pattern.  We do  half 10 meter circle at the end of the long side and simply half pass back to the track.  We have really improved on this.  There were times when I thought we weren’t going to get it.

Canter work exercise today was first  forward in medium canter back to collected canter on the 20 meter circle.  Sometimes we work on a multitude of canter trot transitions, but not today.  Now I am working on setting Roderick up for the changes.  We do  half a 10 meter circle to the center line, almost walk, and ask for the change and canter on the other lead to complete the figure 8.

We ended up with counter canter to canter half pass.  This is always easier on one side than the other.  With Roderick it is better to try right canter, walk, left canter, walk or ask for the changes on the long side. I refresh the canter on the short side and repeat the exercise.

Believe me, it’s a lot of work.  We completed all of this in about an hour.  It is so great to have a knowledgeable coach on the ground to guide you. I can work through training on my own during the week , but having someone you trust work with you and your horse is invaluable.