Friday, September 30, 2011

Dressage Rundown

One of my goals for this month included changing the way I warmed Izzy up. I got the ideas from an odd amalgamation of sources, really--Cathy (dressage trainer) wanted her relaxed, Susan (backup rider) wanted her moving laterally, and Stephanie (event trainer) wanted her Forward.

All of the methods seemed to have their strong points, but since I'm the one who spends the most time with Izzy, I found a way to put them all together that just works for us.

We start out walking on a long, loose reins. It's no pressure, just easy going. She's forward, but not enough to stress her or make her think about breaking into trot.



Almost immediately, we start leg yielding across the long sides of the arena. Off the right leg, around the corner at a forward walk, off the left leg.

I try to sit squarely in the saddle, use the reins only to keep her straight, and activate my outside (inside?) leg, but reinforce with the whip as needed. If she feels particularly sticky, I'll do a turn on the forehand or haunches to loosen her up.

As this exercise progresses and expands, we start moving gradually more forward and take up a tiny bit more contact.

Then we move into the trot. I keep the reins long and make no attempt to put her together from the front. We just go FORWARD. Big, loose, moving strides, covering a lot of ground. If she starts to run on the forehand a little, I sit up more and ask her to push from behind, but again, keeping it loose.

We start out looking about like this. Forward, ok, nothing special.

We gradually move into this frame as her balance changes and her tempo steadies. She's starting to stretch herself, just a little bit.

Each day I ask her for a little bit more--more from behind, more balance, bigger tempo. This is all seat/leg though--the point is to warm her up and keep the reins loose.

After trotting both directions for a roughly even amount of time, we roll into the canter.

As you can see, the reins are flying in the wind.

I'm staying in a light 3 point seat, really trying to allow her to use her back and reach under herself. The focus remains on forward--big, rolling strides are what I'm looking for.

Gradually, I start to pick up the reins, keeping in mind that before any rein contact, I have to add more leg to avoid just pulling on her mouth. Izzy starts to come up and relax a little bit more.

I develop a good, strong, forward working canter, which is a sign of the end of our warmup and moving into work.

I bring Izzy up in front of my leg, hold a steady contact, and just hold slightly with my seat--and voila! We are trotting.

Because of our methodical warmup, Izzy is now forward into the contact and carrying herself. BOOM.

At this point, I'd say we maybe training-level-schooling-1st, so we don't do anything too complicated, but we work on leg yielding and shoulder in both directions--here's the kicker--without losing any of that lovely forward momentum.

She's definitely sharpening up her leg yields, and when I feel her start to loose steam in the should in, we do a big, forward circle, then come back to it. The quality of the movement is more important than it's duration.

I'm starting to play more with the lengthen/shorten aspect of her gaits to prepare for 1st level, but it's so hard to teach yourself to shorten without altering the contact even a tiny bit. Yikes! We'll get there.

Once I have her established at the trot, we move back into canter, this time to actually work. We don't do a whole lot yet, since I still want to develop our comfort level with bigger, longer, bouncier strides, but I try to throw in the occasional leg yield to remind her that everything is still loose and flexible.

And back to trot again. I absolutely love this picture. At this point, we are so connected that it's ridiculous--I'm finally to the point where I'm starting to feel the difference in my position and how it affects her, not just what it's supposed to look like.

I put a little more leg on, ask her to stay up in front, tighten my core a little...

And we're walking. After she takes a few polite, forward walk strides, we're done. I like to cool her out with a few laps around the arena, then just head out and wander the entire barn area. It's a more interesting view for sure.

So there you go. It's nothing breath-taking or earth-shaking, but it's where we're at and I'm really happy with it.

That said, I would -love- to have a dressage lesson right now. Last time we had one... was maybe April?


  1. Ok, look at your first two canter pictures. In your first picture you said your reins were in the wind, your second picture said you then ask for the contact, but here is the thing. Even on the loose rein you DO have contact, look at her reaching down, and I get you can feel it to. She is looking for the contact. Although it might not be a high and mighty head set, less rein, or 'pulling on her mouth'. You are getting the contact at the loose rein, that is sooooo good! She has been looking so good. Even in the warm up trotting pictures you have contact. You don't have to be 'round' to have contact with her mouth. She looks great!

  2. I LOVE LOVE this post! Super nice photo - that second to last one. So textbook - poll at the highest point, holy cow is she tracking up, nose on the vertical, a clear, through connection. Very nice!

  3. Great post, something to aspire to! If I started off trotting or cantering with no contact we'd be off on a high speed sprint to Canada.

  4. I agree with Karen - that second to last picture looks very nice!

  5. WOW you guys look amazing! Great job! Now I am jealous ;)

  6. Great post!! I'm looking forward to see if this works for my girl!!

  7. Lovely lovely job you've done! I know you are bursting with pride for your girl, as you should be. It takes a lot of work to get there. There is so much feel and self-awareness involved in it, and the horse always tells the truth. Go wondermare!

  8. You both look fantastic! I am going to try to replicate your warm up for my girl.

    So...dressage competition on the horizon?

  9. Getting the right warm up is my never ending quest. Thanks for sharing yours. It looks really good and I think it would work for Rogo and I. I like your reminder to focus on the quality of the gait, not the movement. I have to say, it isn't just Izzy who's improving. I can see a real difference in your seat and you both look fit and 'on'. Really nice.

  10. Well done. This is an excellent approach to getting her on the bit in a good, methodical way.

    She looks super there at the end and that is clear proof of just how well your technique is working.

  11. Hey.... great pictures... who took those? ;) jk

    But seriously. It took me extra long to edit them because I couldn't stop staring at how awesome you guys looked.

  12. Awesome photos!! You guys look so great together. :) Such improvement.


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