Dressage Horse Training: Aug 2013 Day 2 Prix St George Ride

Hello Everyone,

I promised to share how day 2 of our show went after creating a plan for the warm-up.  I can tell you that it is interesting because we had an even lower score but I am very happy with the test.  One thing I share with my students is that they need to have personal goals to measure their success in a test over and above the score from the judge.  The judge is a snapshot in time and their feedback is very valuable.  Even more important is your person sense of accomplishment in the context of your training plan.  You DO know the back story and can mark off successes independent of a score.

The Warm-up

The warm-up plan worked as I’d hoped.  Even in the beginning long and low trot, I keyed in on whether Donzer was moving over his back.  I suggest you get help if you have not felt this but I can feel it between my thighs a slight lifting in my seat, the trapezius muscle in front of the saddle gets bigger and Donzer leans forward into a more honest and steady contact (he’s not a puller-quite the opposite).  It was readily apparent how much I did not do this on Friday’s warm-up because we bounced between back up and down like I was dribbling a ball.  So, although I can create this with Donzer, I clearly don’t live here yet in my muscle memory and when I become distracted by other things, Donzer takes a chill and drops his back.

I added some walk serpentines just to give myself time to focus on Donzer’s back.  My biggest mantra is anything I can fix at the walk without momentum I will.  Like the quote about flying airplanes “A superior pilot is one who avoids situations which require superior skill” – just insert riding into the quote.

I brought Donzer up into the contact but kept it a little bit lower as I focused on the feel in his back.  Donzer was quick to try to lift his poll up very high and disconnect (drop) his back down and I got to practice creating the connection. Donzer did start to hold his back up a little better as I maintained consistency.

Based on the warm-up plan (see last post) I next did canter walk and walk trot transitions and Donzer was on his back end.  I was paying attention and he did it!  A few years ago Hilda Gurney told me in a clinic, “You have a nice horse, you really should learn how to ride him.”  In progress, Hilda :).  I quickly moved on as a reward.

Pirouettes were next at the walk on a 10 meter circle.  Donzer did these easily without sticking.  I added in canter and actually had a few very amazing canter pirouettes that were completely on my seat-glimpse of skills to come.

Next, we took a breather break and felt in a really good place.  I decided to finish the warm up with a canter half-pass just to make sure he had this in his recent muscle memory and Donzer decided he’d worked hard enough for the day.  It was not unexpected that I would get some push back from Donzer after upping the degree of difficulty overnight.

The Test

Although we got a lower score today, Donzer was through his back.  On Friday he was hollow, arguing with his head and broke on both trot lengthening’s from tension.  On Saturday, today, he was through and had some head bobbing from lack of strength–this is acceptable as it is a time thing.  Donzer did  have submission issues.  What I find is that we can do each individual movement quite well in practice at home, and even in the warm-up, when we compress the timeline and have to execute the movements at the letter performance falls apart.  I need to modify how I do my daily riding because I do tend to practice things independently i.e. trot, then canter, then half-pass, etc.  I need to start stringing movements together and insist Donzer do it when I ask–whether he got the memo or not.

I definitely need to get a few rides under my belt before we try to show again.  The time it will take for Donzer to agree to be my partner at this next level is unpredictable.

The Way Ahead

1. I will keep the new warm-up in place.  I solidified my feel of the back today and was able to translate it to Ava in our ride.

2. I need to create a better plan to bring in the “DO IT NOW” factor into my riding.  Donzer will have some issue with this next level of difficulty and my task will be to remain calm yet clear and with high expectations.  This work will have to be done when I have plenty of time so I can do the patient sigh and let Donzer know I’m not getting off until we make progress.

3. I need to keep bringing the back into my crosscheck so I am schooling Donzer correctly each day.  This will build his strength and diminish the head bobbing.

4. My position-I was leaning forward in the canter and this is not normal for me now.  I need to keep my hips moving, sit up and I do need to have my jacket refit.  My shoulders have gotten bigger and I felt a little constrained.  Correctly fitting equipment is a very doable fix.

5. Changes will continue to be a work in progress.  Changes are about the canter at this point.  Donzer wants to run off like a horse going over a jump and we did an exercise of change and then pirouette to keep Donzer waiting.  Obviously if I let myself get forward like I did in today’s test, that doesn’t help changes either.

So, overall I am very happy with today’s ride.  I was able to execute the warm-up plan and have significant “feel” changes.  I am very clear on what needs to be worked on over the next few weeks (besides everything).  My goal is to share the process with you in a clear way so you can spend time in the saddle finding the accompanying feel to go with the academic understanding.

Good Riding,


Author, Out of the Saddle 9 Steps to Improve Your Horseback Riding


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