Success Through Precise Riding
LET PRECISION GET YOU to 4hird level and beyond with Lehua Custer.
In dressage training, everything we do with the horse is about preparing him to perform all the movements required in a test with ease while keeping the long-term goal of training for the Grand Prix clearly in our minds. Each test level prepares the horse for the next.
Moving from Second to Third Level is a huge step in the big picture of your horse becoming an upper-level competitor. For example, Second Level is the first time collection is required. Third Level is the first time the horse is asked to do a flying change. So here are a few lessons I’ve learned to help prepare the horse for the tests at Third Level and beyond.
How to Train for Precision
Learn from the Directives: There is so much to learn about precision by reading the Directives printed next to each movement on the test and using this information to make a training plan at home as well as for the show. Directives tell you exactly what the judge is looking for. For example, in Third Level, Test 1, the Directive for the “half 10-meter circle left, half
pass left,” says the judges look for “Shape and size of half circle; alignment, bend, fluency and crossing of legs; engagement and self-carriage.” (See “USDF Definitions,” p. 45)
How do I do all that? By practicing correct repetitions and by tackling each movement individually, breaking it down into little chunks that are more manageable to deal with. Here is an example: As in many tests, the first movement is to halt on the centerline. The Directives of Third Level, Test 1, list the following as important: “Engagement, self-carriage and quality of trot; well defined transitions; straight, attentive halt; immobile (min. 3 seconds).”
I begin by practicing halts on the wall or rail. This helps me keep my horse straight. Once he is straight, I halt on the centerline. I sometimes halt before or after X so the horse doesn’t anticipate the halt too much. With a very tense horse I will end a ride with a halt on centerline and immediately dismount.
To get smooth transitions in and out of the halt, I make sure my horse is in front of my leg and listening to my seat and other aids and responding immediately. It may sound basic, but you need to spend time working on these kinds of details. In Third Level, Test 1, the coefficients double for the walk transitions and the two half turns on the haunches. These give you more points per movement than the entire half pass.
The turn on the haunches. Another way to teach your horse to become better balanced (and therefore quick to your aids so you can be more precise) is by doing turns on the haunches, which are always done at the walk. This movement improves your horse’s balance and eventually sets him up for the canter pirouette. When you do the turn, it is important to maintain the walk rhythm and the horse must be bent in the direction of travel.
One way to school the turn on the haunches is to begin on a small circle with haunches to the inside. As the horse becomes comfortable bending around your inside leg, move him off the circle in half pass in the same direction. Then bring the shoulders around the haunches in a half-pass feeling on a small half circle. As the horse becomes more comfortable with the work, the turn on the haunches becomes smaller.
Big faults happen if the horse steps backward or sideways to the outside with the outside hind leg or if he turns with a “stuck” hind leg. To help ensure the horse doesn’t stick a hind leg and pivot during a turn on the haunches, first I make sure my walk is very active and then I begin with only quarter turns so I don’t lose the rhythm of the walk and risk a stuck step.
The flying change. One of the major challenges for Third Level is that it’s the first time we ask the horse for a flying change. The horse can get a little mentally sprung when he does the first flying change in a test. To keep that under control, start with walk–canter transitions because they make the horse think about the balance he will need to do a flying change. To do a successful walk–canter transition, make sure your horse steps evenly through from behind and isn’t beginning to jig or get tight in his back. He needs to be in a proper medium walk, rounded to the connection, accepting the contact and straight. If you give the canter aid and the horse is crooked, he will have a crooked transition, lose the connection and run off into a working canter with a frame that is too long.
Once a horse understands canter– walk–canter transitions and is relatively comfortable with counter canter, I begin schooling flying changes. I don’t like the horse to be too established in counter canter before I school flying changes. I will generally teach the changes and then take small training breaks to reestablish the counter canter. To make sure the horse is under control, the training can’t always be linear. On days when I school flying changes, I first begin with a few simple changes. Then I set the horse up for success by riding simple changes of lead across the diagonal, and when the horse feels relaxed with this, I try one flying change each way. If there is tension in the horse’s response, I generally change my aid to a simple-change aid so the horse understands that the goal is the other lead.
In the beginning, if the horse tries to switch leads but changes only the front or hind legs, I praise him anyway even though it is not a clean change. Over the next few weeks I become a bit pickier and insist that he change both sets of legs at the same time (a clean change). And after a few more weeks, I’ll expect all the changes to be clean.
At each stage of this process, when I feel the horse has tried his best, I immediately end the training session, especially when a flying change occurs. I am not usually a treat feeder, but I always give lumps of sugar when teaching changes.
The first flying changes asked for in dressage are in Third Level, Test 1, after a 10-meter circle and across a short diagonal. In Second Level the simple changes are asked for on a similar line. So you can
Directives tell you exactly what the judge is looking for. For example, in Third Level, Test 1, the Directive for the “half 10-meter circle left, half pass left” says ěJG ęTFIGS ĚOOL HOR ¢5JCPG CNF SKYG OH JCĚH EKREĚG =DGĚOV? CĚKINMGNě DGNF ĝT ency and crossing of legs [right]; engagement and self-carriage.
1. Begin on a small circle with haunches to the inside. 2. As the horse bends around your inside leg, move him Oė ěJG EKREĚG KN JCĚH PCSS KN ěJG SCMG direction. 3. Then bring the shoulders CROTNF ěJG JCTNEJGS KN C JCĚH PCSS HGGĚKNI ON C SMCĚĚ JCĚH EKREĚG AThe turn on the haunches teaches your horse to become better balanced CNF ěJGRGHORG QTKEL ěO XOTR CKFS SO XOT ECN DG MORG PRGEKSG 6JKS MOUG MGNě KMPROUGS XOTR JORSG¥S DCĚCNEG CNF GUGNěTCĚĚX SGěS JKM TP HOR ěJG ECNěGR PKROTGěěG
1 2 3
BWhen you do the turn, it is important to maintain the walk rhythm and the horse must be bent in the direction of travel.