Grand Prix Dressage Training

The buttons are there; now I need to get with the groove.
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The buttons are there; now I need to get with the groove.

Last weekend had perfect weather for our first scheduled show of the year but unfortunately we didn’t get to enjoy it. My mare loaded like the lady she is, but her companion flipped out for some reason – went on the trailer fine and then lost her cool. I have never seen a horse so angry.

Trading short shanks for long shanks.

Trading short shanks for long shanks.

Fortunately, we had a crew of horsemen on hand who were both experienced and calm, so no one was hurt except for a few scratches on the culprit. But, we were so shaken up by our close call that we decided to stay home rather than make the long drive to the show with just the one horse.

It’s now back to the drawing board with the training. My mare spent the winter in Florida working on basics to establish FEI Grand Prix movements. She now has some “buttons” in new places, especially further forward toward her girth area and elbow. This means that I need to learn a new vocabulary for my leg aids to keep up with her sophisticated responses.

The upside is that using aids close to the girth is preventing me from raising my heels and likewise raising my seat. The downside is that I have to think too much. This just isn’t automatic for me yet.

One solution we are trying is to substitute long-shank spurs for my regular short spurs. The idea isn’t to use stronger leg aids but rather much lighter leg aids, usually with my calf but with a light touch of the spur if necessary. It isn’t really a kick but rather a curved movement, sort of like the Nike swoosh. Ideally, this will encourage my mare to more easily contract her stomach muscles and raise her back, bend around my inside leg and raise her shoulders.

When I do it right, I find that the canter, especially, gets lighter and more collected as everything behind the saddle starts working more efficiently. I can also use my outside rein aid with a light touch to mobilize the shoulders. All this is helping the passage steps for Grand Prix to elevate.

While the canter strides (and the pirouettes and half passes) have also improved, I still can’t get down the timing for the one-tempi changes (flying changes every stride). I have no problem with two-tempis, but the one-tempis are an entire different ball game, since you have to be giving an aid while the horse is still changing from the previous aid. Perhaps the most important quality is straightness; if either the horse or rider is crooked, then the timing for the aids on each side is different and the horse goes 1-2-1-2 or something equally frustrating.

We’ll play around with all these Grand Prix goodies for the next month and then power down two weeks before our next scheduled show at Intermediate I, so that the mare isn’t confused by the requirements of the different tests, especially the tempis. The neat thing is that all this collected work is helping to make her stronger and should make her strides more expressive for the lower-level test.