Thursday, July 2, 2015

Seamless Changes of Direction

One of the best things about riding the lower level tests with my younger horses is it makes me take more notice of the very basic things that I may take for granted when riding at the advanced levels and it prevents me from overlooking the basic training and become preoccupied with riding movements. One basic principal I've found to be extremely important recently is having the correct inside leg to outside rein contact. Without establishing this connection correctly, changing direction with half 10m circles or serpentines can be a nightmare.

Often we think the horse is pushing into our outside rein and soft on the inside, but 9 times out of 10 if you change direction you will find that as soon as you ask for the old inside rein to become your new outside rein, and want the new inside rein to be soft, things don't quite go to plan. That awkward feeling down the reins, the head coming up and back at you, the horse's body feeling like a twisted plank... Just not nice! Then it takes another half a circle to get the horse back to feeling nice on the new rein, which unfortunately in a test is just not good enough.

Make sure both reins have an even softness for the horse
to willingly move forwards into
So I have a little tip to rectify this, and to get higher marks for every change of direction and serpentine in your test...

Make sure that when you achieve the outside contact, it isn't rigid and the horse isn't leaning on it. You should have a predominantly even feel down both reins but just slightly more of an inside leg/outside rein contact. If you lock your outside hand down to achieve this, when you change direction the horse is going to find it hard to suddenly release his mouth to that constant pressure when you want it to become a soft inside rein. Encourage the horse to move into a steady, yet soft outside rein which you could ask to flex to the outside with at any moment without any resistance.

Likewise with the inside rein, make sure the horse isn't just dropping away from that rein pressure and leaning into your outside hand. Always have a consistent, elastic contact with the inside rein that is able to yield when appropriate, but mostly stays in contact with the mouth. That way, when you want it to become your outside rein, the horse is already familiar with the pressure on that side of his mouth so won't resist or get a shock when you suddenly want him to push into it.

I like to think that you just create softness to the inside in order to make the horse more open to receiving a contact on the outside rein, one which as a rider you must keep soft, and secure for the horse to relax his mouth to.

The result is a constantly even, soft contact through both reins with seamless changes of bend and flexion with each change of direction. This also helps the horse to stay straight, as it prevents them from falling out through the shoulders and their hindlegs stepping crookedly away from the hoof print of the front hooves, a fault partly caused by uneven rein pressure which can block the hind leg from stepping directly through underneath the horse's body.

Hope this helps some of you get higher dressage scores, or even makes you think twice about how even your rein contact is between the left and right rein.