As I read U.S. dressage Olympian Lisa Wilcox’s profile this month, one section in particular caught my attention. Returning to the United States after many years in Europe, Lisa discovered that a common problem was horses being ridden from front to back rather than back to front (page 30). This was partly because their riders weren’t remembering to give in the half-halt. If a half-halt doesn’t work, you give and then “come with a little stricter half-halt,” Lisa says. “But is has to be an impulse. If you hold until you feel a give, they will never give.”
These comments were similar to those of USEF “R” dressage judge Karen Adams, also in this month’s issue (page 46). When judging, she says she often sees a misunderstanding of how to achieve a rounder, more collected gait and shape. “When I see backward pulling or sawing on the reins or holding the horse’s head down … these indicate resistance.”
In their articles, both Lisa and Karen give suggestions on how not to fall into the pulling trap. Karen shares two “rubber-band” exercises—gymnastic exercises that work opposites against each other. One is changing back and forth between an inside and outside bend to loosen your horse from side to side. The other is asking your horse to reach forward and down into the bridle and then asking him to come back up into a rounder connection while you channel his active energy straight between both of your lower legs, seat bones and hips into receiving aids. Lisa gives helpful insights on how she taught her students when she first returned: She had them on circles, doing transitions and spiraling in and out. She explains that most of the training holes she sees in the U.S. happen because riders want to move quickly up the levels. She reminds students “that patience and trust in the classical training system always produce the best results in the end.”
Other articles in this issue—coverage of a clinic with six-time Olympian Robert Dover (page 38) and dressage rider JJ Tate’s advice on how to ride an accurate circle (page 66)—show how adhering to the classical training system benefits both horses and riders. So if you’re having challenges in your training or you’ve hit a plateau (been there, done that!), don’t hesitate to return to the 20-meter circle and check how you’re schooling your horse. Revisiting and solidifying the basics will end up being a faster way forward.
Take care. Editor