Dressage Horse Training: Getting unstuck and moving forward again

Hello Everyone,

Since my last show I’ve been working with Donzer on connection.  Specifically, inside leg to outside rein and stretching forward into the contact.  I was particularly having trouble with the left leg to right rein connection.  When I would focus on the hind legs I could feel the hind end skidding back and forth like a frog on ice and when I would ask Donzer to keep aligned from a hindleg through the outside rein, Donzer was not happy and we would do some jumping around.  So I went  into my lesson this week with 2 questions.

1. Is my feel improving and I am noticing more deviations from straight or am I regressing?

2. What should my work in this moment be?

What I learned is that Donzer and I are in a normal phase of strength and submission development and I am feeling what is happening.  Like riding at all levels, as I get better, I will be able to correct the deviations from straightness more quickly but as it stands, we are on track for a horse and rider in the learning process.  One thing that is happening in this moment is that I’ve been working so much on collected movements-canter pirouettes, half-pass, etc that Donzer is tightening his back in preparation.  I need to teach him to keep reaching forward to the bit and help him to develop the strength to do this even in the collected movements.  This isn’t a magical process but one that takes time. We spent the lesson on a 20 meter circle beginning at walk and focusing on straightness.  Donzer was tossing his head about and tightening his back.  To correct this I was using my seat to activate his hind leg to stretch into the contact.  This wasn’t working.  We positioned my hands forward in front of the saddle and kept still allowing Donzer to bounce between on the bit and upside down.  I did correct him with a tap of my whip when he started being rude with his head.  To push him forward into the contact I used my calves and whip instead of my seat.  I actually relaxed  my seat until it was just following.  It took several minutes of Donzer inviting me to play with my hands before he settled into a nice walk.

I felt when it was good so my faith in my feel has been restored!

To unstick Donzer overall, we did very forward trot and canter.  In the trot I posted to invite Donzer to lift his back and we found the balance of covering ground without running.  When the gait was good, I would gently sit and Donzer would almost intermediately stiffen his back.  We did this over and over until Donzer allowed me to sit and kept swinging his back too.  This is the next thing I’m going to learn to feel–a swinging back even when collected. Any descriptions or analogies out there?

We did the same at the canter and it took some more work to bet the bascule in his back.  I have to admit that I enjoy any reason to gallop my horse.  I spent time in a two point finding the same balance of forward but not really galloping and found a really nice jump in the gait.  Again, it took several attempts before Donzer would allow me to sit and keep the bounce in his gait.

My next step will be to establish this good back and then start going bigger to smaller or surging.  I need to teach Donzer that we can collect with the hind end but still keep stretched over his back to the bit.  I have felt this a few times but have not spent a lot of time actually teaching this to Donzer.  So, I will be tracking how I make this another skill to teach the horse and I think this is one of those things that can be started at the walk.

The unfortunate part of this ride is that I’ve strained my left groin muscle (from big gaits I guess) and am taking a few days to hopefully recover.  Two years ago I pulled this muscle and was unable to ride for a few months.  It is surprising your muscles will allow you to work hard enough to fail like this.  You’d think there would be some kind of stopping mechanism.  I guess this is a reminder to monitor the work I do with Donzer and to quit well before he has a similar muscle failure.

Good Riding,

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

Out of the Saddle

Out of the Saddle

Share on Facebook
Be Sociable, Share!