The young riders were an impressive group. Each rider came in with a strong work ethic, a fit horse (or pony), and an open mind. The fourteen ponies and horses were of all different shapes and sizes and at all different stages in their training – from Training Level through Grand Prix.
Despite the differences in body type and stage of training, some common themes ran throughout the training sessions, with an emphasis on rhythm, relaxation, and connection, which are otherwise known as the foundations of the Dressage Pyramid of Training.
Without rhythm, relaxation and connection, there could be no chance of success within a movement or in the show ring.
Some of the horses were at a point in their training where the riders could start to ask for a greater degree of impulsion, but the horses sometimes struggled to maintain their rhythm during this challenging new work. In these cases the instructors asked the riders to go back to finding the rhythm (with their seat and not with their hands) and then to gradually incorporate the impulsion, never asking for more than the horse could give and always coming back to the basic rhythm if the horse started to lose it.
The Pyramid of Training was also vital to the flying changes work. Some of the horses tensed or started to run during the changes or tempi changes. For these horses, the first step was to make sure that they were in fact ready in their stage of training – that during their normal work the horses were relaxed, accepting of the aids, and through. The next step was to check that the rider could control the canter making it smaller and bigger, could counter canter, and could complete simple changes through the walk (canter-walk-canter). Then finally came the work of the flying changes themselves. The instructor would ask the rider to do a flying change, then incorporate lateral exercises like travers or half-pass or even a working canter pirouette to help the horse relax and come back into the connection, and then to ask for another flying change (or set of tempis depending on the situation). Instead of approaching the changes as “I’m working on changes now” and doing line after line of tense changes, it was important for the rider to think of the training and to find a way to encourage the horse to maintain the relaxation and suppleness, often through the use of lateral work.
Some other insights from the week included the following:
In the posting trot sit like a snowflake gently falling and rise up as if with springs.
Ride the transition through into the new gait – the transition isn’t complete until you have a beautiful new gait.
Remember the three stages of a movement – transitioning into the movement, riding within the movement, and transitioning out of the movement.