Dressage Horse Training: The Energy you Bring to a Ride

Hello Everyone,

I am in the middle of my last horse show of the year and it is a mix of emotions and learning.  Making the switch from training to showing is not insignificant. Donzer and I are at the stage where we can do all the parts of the Prix St George fairly well and putting them together for the test is another whole level of performance.  For our test on Friday my warm-up plan was focused on a lot of suppleness and feel good stuff.  We did half-pass and then a break.  We did canter pirouette and then a break, etc.  I brought him up for a trot and shoulder in and the back was tight and I was out of time in my warm-up.  So, I did go into the test knowing that I didn’t have his back well enough–better than the last show but still not enough.  Donzer was very naughty in the test with some airs above ground.

So I revised my plan for my Saturday warm-up.  I pushed Donzer into a higher frame earlier in the warm-up and also rode the entire test in the warm-up.  Most of my feedback says not to ride the test in the warm-up but Donzer has historically always needed a warm-up test.  I was able to get some 3s and 4s in my warm-up.  I was pretty happy.

The test was night and day better–3 percentage points higher overnight! The overall problem in our test was an unsteadiness in his head throughout the ride.  This is a combination problem.  One, he is not strong enough to easily perform an entire Prix St George test.  Two, he likes to express his distress with working harder by shaking his head.  The challenge with the head shaking for me is that he will do this side-to-side without pulling on my reins so I honestly don’t always know he’s doing it.

So for tomorrow, out last ride of the season this is my plan.  I am going to give Donzer a pass on the strength issue–he can only do what he’s strong enough to do and has the mental agreement to do.  This will be fixed with time.  I am going to keep feeling when Donzer is on the bit, shaking his head, getting behind the leg and identifying these deviations sooner.  As my self-awareness grows, I feel these things happening but am still a few stride behind before I correct them.  I don’t think this is something an instructor can fix for me beyond pointing out when it happens.  Steffen Peters did say in a clinic that by the time he can see a required correction from the ground, it’s too late.  I had a volleyball coach that used to yell at us to quit “watching TV” as the ball was coming over the net and to start positioning ourselves on the court to return the serve.  I think this is what is going on with my riding and I’m still in the “watching TV” stage of my progression.

My warm-up plan will be the same as today with one minor change.  I will do suppleness at the walk. Work on some 20 meter circles to feel that Donzer’s hind legs are tracking with his front end instead of his preferred position of slightly haunches in.  I am going to ride a full test in the warm-up to make sure I’m bringing the same intensity and energy  to my warm-up that I’m bringing in the show ring.  And, I’m going to try shortening the reins to see if this helps the unsteadiness. If not, I’m going to push my hands a little forward and allow Donzer to have a slightly lower frame to see if this helps him be more steady.

I want to capture and be able to explain all of these learning levels of dressage so it will be easier for the next rider.  Suggestions are always welcome, too.

Good Riding,

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

Out of the Saddle

Out of the Saddle



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