Posted on Tuesday, November 4, 2014 by Heather Dodd
by Demelza Hawes
I’ve been invited to write some articles for CHN What’s On about the most common errors and problem areas I see, both when judging and training riders. So, over the coming months I will discuss with you the areas most riders stumble upon when competing and educating their horses, whether it be in dressage, their flatwork for show jumping or eventing, or just pleasure riding. Let’s face it our horses can always improve in their movement…as can we.
But first, here’s a brief introduction to the team that is HawesBordas.
Both Nicolas (Bordas) and I trained in Saumur, which is the birth place of the French National Equestrian School, home of prestige and tradition in classical equitation. There, we trained a minimum of 3 horses to be ready for advanced level competition in each discipline of Dressage, Show jumping and Eventing. Training with the elite Cadre Noir masters was a real education.
We both compete here in the UK and have worked in a variety of different yards for many top riders and Olympians in Europe. Training the horse correctly according to his structure and biomechanics is our passion.
Intro over…Here’s the first article:
I have to say, THE most common fault I see, is riders over riding their horses in the pursuit of “impulsion” or “more activity”. Resulting in speeding!
Regularly I see riders, not only in their test but also in their warm up working with a walk and trot that is too fast, and often a canter that is either way over-pushed or too held together and bouncing on the spot.
In a test this results in paces looking rushed in the attempt to show activity and it pushes the horse out of balance, forcing the rider to “steer” with their hands and using too much contact. You see how this can spiral out of control leading to a hollow back and lack of suppleness. The work you do as a rider ends up being harder and harder, whereas, it should become easier and easier.
So, with all this pushing to show off the paces, the judge never gets to see the horse’s natural movement, or way of going. This is then reflected in the marks due to balance issues, odd shaped patterns and also your collectives will be sorely hit.
Rectifying the Problem
Unfortunately the problem cannot simply be solved by just slowing down in the test, although this will give a sticking plaster effect short term.
Whether you have a pony, a cob, a Connemara cross or well bred sports horse, we can all achieve to improve or let out what is naturally there. The biggest factor in achieving this is to develop the rider’s feel for the paces. This means doing exercises with no pushing involved and no pulling, just letting your horse move. Try this:
- Riding with your eyes closed in all paces, especially over walk and trot poles. With a long rein and a slow rhythm.
- Learn to compare your horses walk and trot in the school, and when out on a hack, across fields or on a road/track. The same for the canter, question yourself as to what FEELS more active and naturally forward. Is it more comfortable for your horse outside or inside? I bet I know the answer!
These are easy steps to develop your feel and also to really know your horse’s movement and stride length, so can be practised regularly. Do be sure to understand that this development is a progressive learning and something that never stops and so must always be encouraged and checked.
By increasing your feel you will begin to understand the difference between speed and impulsion.
SPEED = Running, heavy on your hand or light and behind the vertical, downhill and often irregular strides.
IMPULSION = Feeling the horse move easily under you, feeling his hind legs working behind your seat, with activity and desire. Increased manoeuvrability of the shoulders through your contact is then felt as a by product. The back lifts under you and through to the withers.
To develop impulsion with your new found feel:
- Warm up – make your first steps in walk trot and canter, natural steps. Don’t touch the mouth and make him move forward off your leg with oomph! Follow his strides, light seat and guiding, wide and light hand/arm. Half halts keeping him ultra slow, so he waits and pushes.
- Begin taking up the contact. Sit taller, robust and agile through your core, maintain natural rhythm and steps. Hands following his head/mouth.
Now he is connecting in natural steps to a soft following hand. Please note the head must act as a counter balance to the hind quarters, so the neck must move. DO NOT BLOCK THE FRONT END. If you are worried about a forward contact, put a neck strap on to build your confidence.
Now to add impulsion, simply make many transitions.
PACE TO PACE – smooth, waiting steps to the next pace, half halt before and ride forward in the new pace.
INSIDE PACES – keep smooth, subtle, but at the same time reactive to the leg. Maintain your balance, and ride forward after the half halts. Add to a circle to question suppleness.
LATERAL WORK – progress once you have spent time making him confident to working all types of transitions to leg yields, shoulder –in, travers etc.
Be as imaginative as possible, keeping the balance and the rhythm. Try to find all the gears in each pace.
You will find with these quick repetitions your horse will really push more from behind and the engine will really be firing now so all you need to do is point and go…and balance yourself and him! Do these changes in pace just before you enter your test to keep him listening and waiting for you and keen to do the job.
To find out more about how Demelza could help you and your horse, visit www.hawesboardas.com