The dressage arena – Part 2

Hotshot 2Considering that a lot of horses have lost the swinging, long, relaxed, powerful free walk due to being overworked backwards from a short, restricting rein, it is advisable to start each schooling session on a long or loose rein with little connection and strong forward driving aids from the leg and seat.

The reins are like the strings on a violin, which need to keep up a consistent, soft connection with the horse’s mouth, providing feedback to the rider’s hands. Working in conjunction with the warming-up movements mentioned in Part 1 and doing transitions between the variations of walk, the horse will soon regain his natural free and loose movement.

What goes wrong?

It is worth a thought as to why so many horses who were once ridden well and fetched high prices so soon exchanged a free, long walk for a short, hurried wooden walk! The reason for this is the forced collectio from the hand, instead of getting the horse to engage and ‘sit’ more on the hindquarters. The horse no longer steps through and under his point of gravity, but becomes hollow.

When the neck is shortened by the hand, and the head carriage is forced high, the horse no longer tracks up energetically as the centre of gravity has been shifted back, and consequently the engagement of the hindquarters is lost. It is vital to go back to basics and work forward from behind, and downward. Here the long neck and deep head carriage encourage the horse to thoroughly track up over the heavily weighted forehand.

The thinking rider

Helmut believes in positive reinforcement to keep enthusiasm levels high

Helmut believes in positive reinforcement to keep enthusiasm levels high

Very few riders really love to penetrate deeply into the theory of riding. One must strive to achieve harmony in progressing both theoretical understanding and practical application.

Generally gymnastics require the building of muscle, strength and suppleness. Sadly, dressage often includes the use of force to achieve submission, which makes schooling a painful process for the horse.

There are two types of equestrians: those who have patience and feel, who bring on a horse systematically, logically, step-by-step; and those who are quick-fix, shortcut trainers who work the horse with undue force. The latter may appear to achieve results in the short term – the motto ‘Time is money’ is a primary motivation. However, horses trained in this fashion don’t show long-term success. Sooner or later ‘the wheels come off’, manifesting in lameness, bad vices and disobedience as soon as the horse is passed on to a rider who is less experienced, less severe and less demanding.

Fortunately there are, among the trainers of young horses, those idealists who take their time and conscientiously bring on the youngster correctly. These horses can be ridden by less accomplished riders and are less likely to develop problems as the foundations are solid. It is very important to know who to buy a horse from! It is not enough to watch the horse being ridden. The prospective buyer must lunge and ride the horse on both reins – if the horse does not work willingly on both reins, he has not been correctly brought on to work ‘through’ and over the back.

Calvero Hotshot is the picture of a happy athlete

Calvero Hotshot is the picture of a happy athlete

Tremendous reward

If you are remotely competent, there is tremendous reward in buying a young horse and bringing him on yourself. Schooling is enjoyable when you have a sound fundamental knowledge of the theory required and the practical experience to implement it. Remember though that the dressage arena is not a rigid institution. First and foremost it is a school to transform the young horse into a supple, balanced, strong and happy athlete!

Text: Helmut Wagner
Photography: Charlotte Bastiaanse

The full article appears in the May issue of HQ. The next part of this series will appear in the June issue.