Dressage Today - - Ask The Experts -

If pos­si­ble at all, avoid us­ing dif­fer­ent aids in the first few weeks or months of your young horse’s train­ing. Your goal is to ex­plain the aids to him and achieve that he ac­cepts, trusts and fol­lows your aids will­ingly. This train­ing phase is the ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion of the young horse and it should be based on the Train­ing Scale, es­pe­cially with re­gard to the first three com­po­nents—rhythm, re­lax­ation and con­tact. It will take about one year to com­plete this phase.

You ap­pear to have taken the first steps in the right di­rec­tion to help your horse un­der­stand the aids by work­ing him on the longe line. Cor­rect longe­ing in­tro­duces the horse to the driv­ing aids (us­ing the longe whip to move your horse for­ward) and to the re­strain­ing aids (us­ing the longe line). Us­ing your voice in a calm­ing or en­cour­ag­ing way is an im­por­tant tool to sup­port the driv­ing and re­strain­ing aids of the longe line, for ex­am­ple, en­cour­ag­ing your horse to move for­ward or re­duc­ing the tempo.

If your horse has learned to walk, trot and can­ter and stay rel­a­tively bal­anced with a swing­ing back on the longe line, it’s time to in­tro­duce side reins to es­tab­lish a con­nec­tion be­tween the girth and the horse’s mouth. This pre­pares your horse to es­tab­lish con­tact from the rider’s hands to the bit un­der sad­dle. In­stead of a com­mon side rein, I pre­fer to use the so-called Vi­enna or tri­an­gle reins, which en­cour­age the horse to stretch long and low over the topline with­out short­en­ing the neck. In any case, the side reins should not force a con­tact. Leave the side reins long enough so the horse can stretch into them with a slightly long neck.

The very first few rides should also be per­formed on the longe line. The main goal is for your horse to find his bal­ance with the rider’s weight on him. At this very early stage of rid­ing, the driv­ing and re­strain­ing aids will be pri­mar­ily given by the per­son who is longe­ing the horse. How­ever, the rider will have a con­nec­tion be­tween her hands and the horse’s mouth: a very soft con­tact to the bit. The right amount of con­tact con­veys se­cu­rity to the horse, which he is al­ready fa­mil­iar with from the longe line. Once your horse moves freely for­ward and is re­laxed on the longe line, the rider can grad­u­ally ap­ply her aids to­gether with the tools the per­son who is longe­ing the horse uses. For ex­am­ple, walk–trot tran­si­tions with the help of the per­son who is longe­ing the horse are suit­able ex­er­cises to in­tro­duce the for­ward-driv­ing leg aids.

The dis­ad­van­tage of rid­ing on the longe line is that the horse must bal­ance the rider’s weight on a bent line. Be­cause it is more dif­fi­cult for the horse, it can have a neg­a­tive in­flu­ence on the horse’s mo­ti­va­tion to move for­ward. For this rea­son, af­ter you and your horse have es­tab­lished a cer­tain de­gree of com­mu­ni­ca­tion on the longe line, con­tinue rid­ing off the longe line. A per­son on the ground car­ry­ing a longe whip should still be there to help to move the horse for­ward. Since the horse is al­ready ac­cus­tomed to a longe whip, you may ride with a crop to sup­port your leg aids to en­cour­age your horse to move for­ward. I don’t rec­om­mend spurs at the early stage of a young horse’s train­ing as they may cause the horse to be­come dull to the leg aids and may cause a sen­si­tive horse to panic.

The rein aids play a ma­jor role dur­ing the first few rides off the longe line to steer the horse. To in­tro­duce turns, move your in­side hand away from the horse’s neck into the di­rec­tion you want to go. In the be­gin­ning of teach­ing your horse to steer, keep it sim­ple by us­ing the

whole arena, large cir­cles or di­ag­o­nals.

Voice com­mands are quickly un­der­stood by the horse and very help­ful to train a young­ster, but be care­ful not to overuse them—just like any other aid. For ex­am­ple, a calm­ing voice helps to slow the horse down, a more up­beat, en­er­getic tone en­cour­ages the horse to move for­ward and a kind voice con­veys praise.

Although your goal is rid­ing with fine and sub­tle aids, in the first few months of train­ing it is of­ten un­avoid­able that you’ll have to in­crease your aids un­til you get the cor­rect re­sponse. This will teach your horse to re­act more quickly be­cause he wants to avoid the pres­sure. How­ever, make sure that you are not go­ing to harm your horse by pulling ex­ces­sively on the reins or over­do­ing the whip, etc. Re­mem­ber to im­me­di­ately praise your horse when he re­sponds cor­rectly.

The train­ing of a young horse shapes the en­tire de­vel­op­ment of your equine part­ner. It re­quires time, em­pa­thy and pa­tience. The train­ing should be per­formed by an ex­pe­ri­enced rider with a bal­anced and in­de­pen­dent seat and sen­si­tive aids.

Cor­rect longe­ing in­tro­duces the horse to the driv­ing aids (us­ing the longe whip to move your horse for­ward) and to the re­strain­ing aids (us­ing the longe line).

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