Suc­cess Through Pre­cise Rid­ing

LET PRE­CI­SION GET YOU to 4hird level and be­yond with Le­hua Custer.

Dressage Today - - Content - By Le­hua Custer with Pa­tri­cia Lasko Pho­tos by Bar­bara Bella

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

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BWhen you do the turn, it is im­por­tant to main­tain the walk rhythm and the horse must be bent in the di­rec­tion of travel.

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