Dressage Horse Training: A Plan for PSG

Hello Everyone,
It’s been a while since I’ve written about my dressage journey and I will have some back filling to do but for today I want to share a brief overview of our spring training in Florida.  The quick recap is Donzer and I scored a 61.7% on our first PSG and then for the last five years have not broken the 60% mark.  When I tried to start working on quality versus just movements, it became clear we had a lot more to learn.  So, we went back to working on the 20m circle; counterflex-leg yield shoulder-in for a year waiting for Donzer to agree that touching the bit was not optional.  Then we spent the next two years using the reinback and then forward into connection to teach Donzer (and me!) how to carry and push from behind.  We’ve spent the last year building strength and  figuring out flying changes.  Donzer was pretty sure any change of bend meant change.

2018 is our year.  I decided to go back to my book, “Out of the Saddle: 9 Steps to Improve Your Horseback Riding” and take some of my own advice.  I sat down and wrote down my PSG Training Plan.  It was a bit unnerving to realize that I only had 25 actual training days when I took out necessary days off and my monthly trip to Little Rock Air Force Base for my monthly drill.  But, just like I said in the book–writing down a plan helps.  It helped me focus.  It helped me make every step of my daily rides count.  I had an epiphany to ride the PSG pattern at the walk for my warm-up each day so I got to visualize my test while I was warming up.  I selected my BREAK BREAK no more training date.  This was the day that all lessons stopped and I rode just Donzer and I like we would have to for the test.

We had a clinician come in and as all trainers experience, the clinician was able to pull some things together for me and Donzer and I progressed from a single change to doing 3s and 4s on a 20 m circle.  Again, I have many updates to write explaining all of these things and it’s so fun to finally break through this level of clarity.  Now, I know what my work is! I really understand where we need to build strength and what skills Donzer and I need to learn.  For example, it’s working much better for us to keep developing the trot from the collected canter.  We tried to work from walk up to trot and the progress curve was flat.  Working from canter to trot has been a boon for us.  You never know what the last piece of the puzzle may be.  It really does take a village.

I’ve included an excerpt of my PSG training plan so you can see what worked for me.  I will provide an overview of our rides from 58% to the awesome 63.8% that completed our USDF Silver.

Good Riding,

Tara

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

Out of the Saddle

Florida 2018 PSG Training Plan

My Vision is that Donzer and I now have the skill, communication, and strength to easily ride a PSG test.

My Intention is to create a plan for success to have the best performance for the show with our current skill sets.  The plan will allow for analysis of areas to improve to create focused training sessions.

My biggest concerns:

  • riding every day without a clear intention and understanding of what I’m creating and how I’m choosing exercises to support the elements of PSG
  • creating a trot that is tracking up and that I can sit, fine tuning the aides to allow for adjustability in corners, getting forward from Ava when she’s being lazy, changes need to be on the hind end and no running off

Timeline:  Show 10 March 18—Training days available:  13 Feb – 5Mar (17 Days) (Drill 2-4 Mar)

Show Prep:Plan to transition on 7 Mar from training to show prep.  From this point we take what we have and make it as steady and harmonious as possible.  I will not be tempted to work on “just one more thing.” I would like to create a solid strategy here—not really sure the best approach.

This Plan Includes:

  • Elements of PSG to work on (besides everything)
  • Lesson Plan for each of the 17 Training Days Available
  • Skills to introduce (Have Instructor share good exercises and discuss when to work them into the training plan flow)
  • Standardized Lesson Plan Format
  • Daily Lesson Plans

 

 

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  • Elements of PSG to work on (besides everything)

Canter:  Strength, Balance, Understanding of aides for transitions, lateral work, rating

Trot: Moving in a correctly balanced frame while tracking up.  This includes: Strength, Lateral balance, self-carriage up in the shoulders, tracking up, carrying and pushing from behind

Pirouettes:  On diagonal line three strides collected canter, three strides pirouette canter, pirouette almost at X, three strides pirouette canter out of pirouette, three strides collected canter and then through the corner

Half-passes: Shoulders first and then bring haunches

Each day of training should include:

  • Develop best possible quality of gait
  • Execute planned exercises within the quality of gait ie warm-up to find the pushing from behind and shoulder/wither lift while touching the bit, then take this canter to 1/pass, leg yield, circles, etc with the intention of building strength and endurance to move through movements in a quality of self-carriage

 

 

  • Skills to Introduce

(Have instructor  share good exercises/discuss working them into the training plan flow)

 

  • -Pirouette pattern—lay down at walk
  • -Ride entire test pattern at walk for my walk warm-up? I should be able to accomplish the same balance and thoroughness goals I’ve been doing with 10 meter circles, leg yield and half pass and I can practice the pattern each day.
  • -Canter-halt—Exercise?
  • -Halt-trot—Exercise?
  • -Build solid working trot to medium and back—Exercise?
  • -Maybe we should plan 5 min each lesson to discuss an element of the test, strategy for riding and exercise to practice

 

  • Lesson Plan for each of the 20 Training Days Available

Working backwards from show on 10 Mar, 5 -6 Mar last two ride days after drill. 7 day off and 8-9 Maris the break from training to show prep, identify milestones ie ride full trot work, full canter half-passes, pirouettes, etc.  The work is beginning on 7 Feb with building the gaits (strength, balance and understanding changes).  The canter work for changes will include quarter pirouette turns, daily rate change transitions from collected, working and medium trot/canter.  I’ve created a standard Lesson Plan Format to set a clear intention for each lesson, the exercises we will use and why we are using the exercises.  The goal is to create a clear plan to build the PSG and a communication tool for lesson planning and to clarify in my mind so I can communicate clearly to the horses what I an envisioning.  If I’m not crystal clear then there is no way the horses can execute.

  • Standardized Lesson Plan Format

Intention:

Geometry:  Focus on ½ halt into corner, three strides leg yield through corner, ½ halt out of corner at all gaits; use letters to ride very correct circles, pick definite lines to ride ie from K to X versus vague diagonals

Warm-up:  at walk do shoulder in, 10 meter circles, leg yield and half pass until I have a nice steady contact in the bit, feeling of pushing from behind and elevation in the withers (approx

Exercise:

Why:

After action write-up

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  • Daily Lesson Plans

7 Feb 18 Lesson Plan

Geometry:  Focus on ½ halt into corner, three strides leg yield through corner, ½ halt out of corner at all gaits; use letters to ride very correct circles, pick definite lines to ride ie from K to X versus vague diagonals

(Approx 15 min) Warm-up:  at walk do shoulder in, 10 meter circles, leg yield and half pass until I have a nice steady contact in the bit, feeling of pushing from behind and elevation in the withers (approx 10 min)

(Approx 15 min) Canter:  Ensuring a good depart ride three 20 meter circles to right, then add ½ pass to quarter line and leg yield back to wall, then down centerline and leg yield to wall keeping outside shoulder straight and creating jump (bring back to walk as necessary to show the muscles how for good neuromuscular development);

When the connection feels good, then add baby canter (pirouette canter) back to working and then to medium at least once each direction (building each day another lap)

Exercise: countercanter w/shoulder in—13x around switching leads each; goal is to feel the release of the back muscle, then add impulsive to engage over the gooey back muscle and have more acceptance of the collecting ½ halt; riding quarter line to quarter line the turns are practice pirouette turns, initial measure if for the exercise to feel easy and to feel like there is time approaching and through the corners instead of feeling like the corners are rushing up and we are being squeezed

Why:  This exercise explains the level of straightness to horse and rider needed for changes.  I can feel how the back muscles lock up when asked for the shoulder-in so this allows me as the rider to target the weak area, allow the horse time to feel and engage the muscle correctly, and for me as the rider to feel what “good” feels like.  The trainer/coach can explain what need to happen but ultimately the horse has to show the rider when it’s correct (like landing an airplane). This exercise addresses the horse’s natural tendency to anticipate so I can explain that the change of bend is not the aid for the change.  This exercise creates a discussion tool for the horse-rider-trainer group to zero in on what is confusing for fuzzy.

Exercise: pirouette on 15 meter circle haunches in, straight, back and forth focusing on keeping connection over topline instead of disconnecting with the change of bend; then do a quarter turn and forward (3x each direction) NOTE: Did not do this exercise as we spent 13 minutes on counter canter/change exercise

Why: This exercise builds strength, confirms the lateral aids and the strength/balance needed for horse to be an accordion longitudinally in their body.

(Approx 15 min) Trot:  Start on 20 meter circle and use shoulder in to leg yield and rein back to bring shoulders up into a good connection in hand.  When this feels good add in transitions from baby trot to working trot to medium.  Take this to the serpentine and bring together elements of good corners, change of bend, tracking up—this will take the time it takes but once it feels good then complete 2 full serpentines

Why: Trot is the most challenging gait to ride.  As a rider your core has to be strong, engaged and supple.  The horse must be in front of the leg or a trot really is hard to sit. The 20 meter circle allows you to establish the correct frame/balance especially from back to front.  The serpentine challenges the little muscles along the spine to remain engaged for direction changes.  Donzer and Ava want to drop and change instead of staying engaged for the entire ride.  This is how I taught them and how we are relearning that there are no breaks until we’re on the buckle for a break.

To finish do super collected trot and halt; repeat until square then pat and get off

Why: Goal is to find self-carriage to settle into square halt.  Donzer wants to dive onto his shoulder to halt instead of settling back on his hind end to halt.

After Action write-up:  The timing of the warm-up, canter and trot work was approximately 15 minutes each to equal a 45 min ride.  Intentionally adding in the focus of circle geometry, correct corners (1/2 halt, 3 strides leg yield through corner, ½ halt and then forward) beginning in the warm-up created more “time” in the ride.  This will help use the horse’s natural anticipation for good.

Canter work was effective.  Adding in the baby canter to working to medium helped with thoroughness.  Both horses have a habit of disconnecting when they move forward to use the underside of their neck so I did several transitions until I had a solid connection over the topline.  I took a 2 min break with Kris giving some positive feedback and then we did the counter-canter/change exercise.  I established a counter-canter on the quarter line.  This took a couple laps to establish straightness before the short side.  I also focused on riding good quarter turns from quarter line to quarter line.  As a rider this was taking extra focus because at first it didn’t feel like we could get it done.  But, it got easier with each short side and the horses were also accepting the ½ halts.  Next, I added the shoulder-in and held until the back muscles released and then went back to straight.  This took a few laps.  Then I asked for more forward in the shoulder-in once the muscle had relaxed.  Then I did shoulder-in, forward, straight, ½ halt, change.  Both horses were understanding the exercise better.

The attention to geometry is really going to add ride ability to my daily practice and help with overall test prep.  For next ride I need to keep being very clear with my position and ensuring I swing my leg back for the canter depart aid as this is also the aid for the changes.  Kris noticed that I do not swing my leg back for my walk/canter departs very clearly. In the interest of time I will use the quarter turns to cover my pirouette work until we have this muscle memory developed.  I think it will only take 3 more rides until this can be an exercise I touch on in the ride but do not need to dedicate the bulk of the ride to accomplish.

Trot work was better:  Previous to my 6 Feb lesson I was only adding in the trot serpentines at the end to establish some balance and tracking up effort.  Today I started on the 20 meter circle with a few good halt-trot departs.  Sit up straight, bring shoulder blades together for the ½ halt and then scootch seat and lightly squeeze with both calves.  Then I did shoulder-in, leg yield forward.  The shoulder-in was activating the trapezius muscle in front of the withers and the sliding effort is still challenging for both horses.  The shoulder-in also allowed me to connect my inside sits bone with the inside hind leg and visualize a longer stride.  The leg yield did some rebalancing and both horses were locking up their shoulders in the shoulder-in position.  For the leg yield I had to ask the hind leg to move sideways and also open my outside rein and ½ halt for the rebalance.  When I next asked for forward, both horses still have the muscle memory of dropping their shoulders and pulling themselves forward and lifting the poll but disconnecting just in front of the withers.  The same way I used my inside leg/outside rein in the rate changes at trot on the 20 meter, I needed to use this aid to ask for forward push from behind.  This will take repetition and consistency on my part.  Every time I allow the horses to do it wrong just adds onto the number of times I need to repeat it correctly.  Once I had a good feel on the circle I did the baby trot to working trot to medium trot and back.  When this felt better I took the medium trot to the serpentine.  I initially focused on the geometry of the corners (1/2 halt, three steps leg yield, ½ halt) and the change from shoulder-in to shoulder-in to change the bend.  This initially causes the stride to shorten.  Once I had some agreement for the geometry, I focused on lengthening my body from top to bottom, connecting my belly button core area to the hind legs and visualized bouncing the stride up and forward.  I also visualized bringing the inside hind stride longer with each shoulder-in.  Another feel that seems to help is to focus on the downbeat of the trot to set the rhythm I want.  Once I had what felt like our best effort I completed 2 serpentines in our best effort.  I would like to be able to have a reliable trot harmony for the test instead of hoping for short segments of good moments.  I finished up with baby trot to halt.  Still figuring out the square halt.

8 Feb Lesson Plan

Intention:  Dinging to create the energetic feel of forward over the topline and have the horses find their balance while tracking up at trot.

Geometry:  20 meter circle

Warm-up:  A few circles of walk and allow a baby trot until the muscles behind the saddle pad start to move instead of being a solid lump

Exercise: 20 circles at trot and canter each direction.  Success at trot is when the poll is slightly highest point and the nuchal ligament over withers to poll is clearly engaged, the trapezius muscle is engaged and the energy feels forward.  The hind leg is tracking up and the low back is tucked to allow the stifle engagement so it feels like the stifle is moving through the body over the top of the withers to the poll.

Success at canter is similar.  I will also look for definite belly muscle engagement and for the hind legs to swing forward under the belly rather than with an out behind tendency. I am pushing the energy forward until the topline is fully engaged.  Both horses have an ability to “phone it in” and collect behind while disconnected in front of the withers while bringing poll up in a false headset.

Why:  Dinging gives me a change to really see how the horses are moving.  Done correctly this is just riding from the ground.  It is allowing me to practice projecting my energy more effectively.  Dinging allows the horses to find their balance without a rider and by setting the goal of 20 laps, this is like our coach used to have us do for track practice.  Once your form is good, then you have to get strong in the correct form.

After action write-up:  Ava quickly moves into a good trot but will hold back slightly in her push.  It’s almost as much of a feeling as anything physical I point directly to watch.  When I ask Ava to come, she’s adding a bit more effort likes she knows I caught her offering 60% instead of 80%.  Canter is more challenging.  Ava is lazy and with her long body and long legs looks like she’s working fairly well.  But, I pushed forward until I felt the same effort I did when I asked for a medium from the saddle.  Then I let her settle back a little.  What I saw was more low back swinging, hind legs reaching further under her belly and then Ava searching for where she wanted to carry her head.  I let her know good when she found the spot with the topline neck engaged and the poll highest point.  And, underside of her neck fairly relaxed.

Donzer, with his short body is a completely different picture.  His muscles are short, tight and with his short legs, he has to be offering true effort through his core to track up where Ava’s longer legs can create a picture that is not taking as much effort.  Donzer takes longer to warm up about 12 circles before he was ready to stride out.  Same energy feel through the neck to the poll.  After 12 circles I stated focusing on his hind legs looking for more space between them to show longer strides.  Donzer’s a bit trickier because I also have to ask him to keep his poll up because he’s happy to just roll onto the forehand.  Then he wants to falsely lift his poll and disconnect so we have to go round and round a bit more.  But, dinging is riding from the ground so the time to solve this on the longe will translate to the saddle.  At circle 18 I got the right frame, energy feel I wanted at trot.

Canter was interesting.  Donzer is now fit enough that I can push him more.  After allowing him a few circles to warm his muscles he settled into the frame he knows I want but it still felt a bit “stuck.”  So, I pushed him forward like to do when riding to a medium effort canter and it was ugly for about 6 circles but then it was like he broke free in his shoulders and the effort was moving through his body.  He is short but he can get his low back tucking under to get his hind legs more under his body and allow the energy to move through his rib cage, shoulders and over the withers to his poll.  His belly muscle very clearly engages as well.  I think he likes this level of effort and we just need to establish it as correct.

 

 

9-11 Feb (Drill in Little Rock)

12 Feb Lesson Plan

Intention:  Dinging to create the energetic feel of forward over the topline and have the horses find their balance while tracking up at trot. Get back to work after 3 days off and feel their muscles/balance before lessons with Julio Mendoza or if I’m back in time from airport—ride

Geometry:  20 meter circle

Warm-up:  A few circles of walk and allow a baby trot until the muscles behind the saddle pad start to move instead of being a solid lump

Exercise: 20 circles at trot and canter each direction.  Success at trot is when the poll is slightly highest point and the nuchal ligament over withers to poll is clearly engaged, the trapezius muscle is engaged and the energy feels forward.  The hind leg is tracking up and the low back is tucked to allow the stifle engagement so it feels like the stifle is moving through the body over the top of the withers to the poll.

Success at canter is similar.  I will also look for definite belly muscle engagement and for the hind legs to swing forward under the belly rather than with an out behind tendency. I am pushing the energy forward until the topline is fully engaged.  Both horses have an ability to “phone it in” and collect behind while disconnected in front of the withers while bringing poll up in a false headset.

Why:  Dinging gives me a change to really see how the horses are moving.  Done correctly this is just riding from the ground.  It is allowing me to practice projecting my energy more effectively.  Dinging allows the horses to find their balance without a rider and by setting the goal of 20 laps, this is like our coach used to have us do for track practice.  Once your form is good, then you have to get strong in the correct form.

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