The foundation of Dressage for the rider/horse is rhythm. I define that as a balanced combination of relaxation and forward. It sounds deceptively simple.
A rider/horse can not sacrifice forward for relaxation, or relaxation for forward. The art of riding is in negotiating the balance of the two in both the rider and the horse. Forward must be consistent; sometimes the rider relaxes the horse and sometimes the horse relaxes the rider
One of my clients always asks for homework. At the end of the lesson I sit on the mounting block writing out exercises for the week in her notebook. Then she copies them legibly and carries the paper with her when she rides. They have made great progress.
Last week she asked for 20 ways to relax her horse. I wanted to do a more dimensional list. Cues and transitions can come in pairs -one for the rider and one for the horse. (Riding is a kind of stream of consciousness poem of movement, so bear with me English majors.)
The ride begins with a deep breath. And a thought: I love this! (horse+air=reality.)
Give up controlling the universe -let go of adversity. And develop a swinging free walk.
Think about Reiner Klimke (or another dressage genius.) And let your sit bones ask for a happy forward.
Dismiss critical thoughts -then dismiss them again. And be grateful for your horse’s effort, reward each try generously.
“As long as he stiffens his poll, he also stiffens all of his other limbs.” (E.F.Seidler) And ask your horse to loosen his poll. Do yourself the same favor.
Smile and breathe into the bottom corners of your lungs. And let him stretch his neck low as he marches forward.
Ask lightly for more forward. And require a response.
Practice dialing your energy up and back. And ask for frequent transitions.
Get your horses attention so he can mentally relax. And give simple directions with a small release at every opportunity.
Think of picking up your reins, but resist for a while longer. And walk on.
Drop your stirrups and breathe into your knees. And feel the forward swing of his energetic free walk. (When you pick the stirrups up again, ride like you haven’t.)
Say good boy or sing an insipidly cheerful song. And allow him trot on a long rein.
Repeat “less is more” often. And let your horse do the work.
Ride circles, feeling your horse’s barrel. And ask his ribs to contract and expand with relaxation and bend on the circle.
If something goes wrong, slow down and dismiss critical thought. Feel your horse’s breath with your calves, engage yourself. And begin again; send him forward.
Remember the very best ride of you life. And smile, ride just like that.
I love this! (horse+air=reality.) And warm up is done, we’re ready to work!
(Because if your horse isn’t happy, neither are you. Or is it the other way around?)
Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.
(Photo: Jet and Sherri, relaxed and happy -might have a note in her pocket.)