Dressage Horse Training: Finding and Fixing holes in your riding

Hello Everyone,

I rode Donzer today in my first Alfredo Hernandez clinic and it was just what I’ve been looking for at this stage of my riding.  From the beginning Donzer has been a challenge to connect from back to front.  Donzer has always ducked behind the vertical with ease and quickness.  I have a very ingrained habit to let me reins either get long or give my hands forward as a “reward” to my horse going back to my early days of reading and working on my own.  When flying airplanes we have two sayings.  One, What is learned first is learned best –for good or evil and, Two, there is a concept called negative transfer.  Negative transfer happens when you are transferring from flying one type of airplane to another and some muscle memory’s are not good.  I flew the T1 in training and this plan did not have hydraulics so I got used to a certain amount of force in my hands and feet to turn the plane.  In my first flight in the C-130, I overbanked past 60 degrees because I just assumed a much bigger airplane would need the same amount of control input.

With Donzer I know of some of  my riding “holes.”  I do not consistently use my outside aids, I give my reins forward are two prominent in my head today.  The saying is that you need 10,000 correct repetitions to create a habit and more repetitions than that to correct a bad one (negative transfer).  Alfredo quickly assessed my gaps and selected this exercise for today because you obviously cannot fix everything at one time.

Establishing a Connection to the Bit

We did the entire exercise on a 20 meter circle.  I had to pick up the reins a little at a time feeding the reins through my fingers instead of moving my hands so much.  At the walk we established my outside rein contact and made sure I kept the haunches on the circle (I let the haunches swing way outside at the beginning).  Donzer has a naughty habit right now of trying to pull the reins–just the opposite of going behind the vertical.  Alfredo had me open my inside hand by moving my inside hand sideways to my knee.  This changed Donzer’s balance, lifting the inside shoulder, putting more contact into the outside rein and brought Donzer’s head and neck back into a more correct contact without getting into any kind of wrestling match (another one of Donzer’s favorite things if you’re willing to play).  Next, we did a walk trot transition.  Alfredo had me open my hand before the transition and keep it open until we settled into the trot while using both of my legs to push Donzer forward into the contact.  Once I got my body to coordinate all these aids, Donzer and I were able to maintain a solid connection up.  The same applied for the down transitions.  In the trot, Alfredo made sure I was using my outside aides and then we did forward and back from shorter to longer strides and this solidified the contact over the back.  Anytime that Donzer tried to lift his head up I opened my rein.  The forward and back created some engagement over Donzer’s back and Donzer initially tried to avoid this work but settled after I repeatedly opened my hand to my knee as required.

This exercise is a long term kind of work because I will have to be very diligent on the 20 meter circle until I can unconsciously ride with this kind of connection.  I know this will have a positive ripple effect on the rest of my work.  Donzer understands moving sideways and many movements but working with this kind of connection will bring us up the next level.  I have lots of bits and pieces of all this work and I understand the theory.  Putting theory into practice is going to require some very good ground person help to keep me honest in my work.  It has been my experience that dressage is a process of rediscovering something you may have learned previously and then let slide off the daily work program.  Or, maybe it’s just that I have  4 brain cells and something needs to go when new info comes in  (ha ha,but really).

Good Riding,

Tara 🙂

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

Out of the Saddle

Out of the Saddle

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