I want to share with you what it takes to ride like a dressage professional. A leading golf trainer once said that in his sport there are certain things that must be done correctly. To do them only approximately correct is not enough. In training and competition, do not battle against the symptoms. Instead, search for the true causes of the mistakes. I believe the same applies to dressage training, and over the years, I have developed rules that all great dressage riders must live by. Last month, I presented you with this list of things that must be done correctly in order to succeed in riding proper dressage work--to ride like a dressage professional. They include the balance and seat of the rider, building correct connection in the horse, reading the horse’s body language, proper flexing and straightening, and gymnasticizing the horse. In Part One I also outlined the first two goals. Through exercises and further explanation, we will now cover the remaining three ways to ride like a dressage professional.
Reading Body Language
If we do not read the body language of our horse, we cannot ride dressage correctly. A happy dressage horse is one that can work with the dressage rider. In turn, it is the dressage rider’s job to learn when a horse is feeling encouraged in his work. Some of these signs are more obvious, including a swinging tail and soft eyes and ears. Others are not as easy to translate. You have to pay attention to things such as whether or not your horse seems stressed in the walk. Is he calm or bored in his work? Do not underestimate the horse’s ability to tell you his feelings simply with his tail. If you are working on an exercise and he starts to swish it, you know that he is not as happy as he was when it was swinging. The same holds true for his ears, mouth and breathing. Notice how they change as you continue in your work.
I always find it interesting to see how a horse reacts to making mistakes. If you watch his body language, you can usually tell if he has had negative discipline in his training. When I am judging and a horse makes a mistake and the rider uses his aids to give a positive correction that directs the horse to getting back on track, I give high scores and the rider can win the class. I score very low if the horse makes a mistake and the rider’s correction doesn’t result in the horse knowing what is being corrected. For example, if your horse breaks into trot when he should be walking, do not punish him with the whip. Apply the slowing aids to regain the walk. If you punish a horse, you only show him what you do not want. When you correct a horse, you show him what you do and do not want. As a judge, I think it is my responsibility to make sure that the horse is getting rewarded with scores if he and his rider are on the right track.