Millwood, Va.—June 30
Whether you’re riding first level or Intermediaire I, Olympic bronze medalist Lisa Wilcox had one piece of advice for every rider who attended the first day of her clinic at Fairview Dressage Training Center: If you can get your horse onto the outside rein, then everything becomes easier.
It’s a principle we all learned early in our riding careers: inside leg to outside rein. But sometimes the instinct to use the inside rein to steer overrides that knowledge. To combat this Wilcox encouraged riders to think about neck reining their horse with the outside rein, so they could turn while maintaining the connection.
The caveat there was that the rider needed to ensure that when doing so they weren’t restricting the outside shoulder.
“If I took a tape measure from the wither to the poll, it’s longer on the outside than the inside, so you want to carry the outside hand forward, so you don’t take away from the length of the neck on the outside,” Wilcox said.
To help establish that feeling, Wilcox encouraged riders to exaggerate putting their own outside shoulder forward, a position you could take to riding the shoulder-in or shoulder-fore as well.
“Your shoulders have to be riding shoulder-fore too,” she stressed.
And when teaching a horse to take the outside rein—or even reminding a horse to stay light on the inside aids while stepping into the outside—Wilcox wanted riders to say off the rail, so they wouldn’t get stuck.
“Don’t pull [inside rein],” she told Michelle Gross. “Pat him with the inside rein and keep the outside rein steady. When you have a wall to be the outside rein, then you can pat him with the outside.”
For increased sophistication of the aids, Wilcox told riders to put weight into their inside seat bone, especially when the horse was resisting outside contact. By putting up to two-thirds of your weight into the inside stirrup, it pushes the horse to the outside rein without nagging with the calf.
“I think about it like a skateboard,” Wilcox said. “The skateboard is under my inside foot, and I’m propelling him with the outside.”
But when a horse gets fussy in the bridle, it’s not the hand that’s ultimately going to solve the problem, but the leg, seat and core.
“Through the leg is the only way I’m going to get him on the hand, especially when he’s resisting like this,” Wilcox said as she rode Sandra Brannock’s Sirocco Rouge. “When he’s against the bit, the correction is to drive him to it until I can get him to accept it.
“When he roots, sit up,” she stressed. “Don’t go left/right with the hand, sit up and keep coaxing with your leg. What you don’t want to do is squeeze your thighs. Instead I go after him with my core and seat bones.”
Even when the horse accepts the outside aids as Gardy Bloemers’ Intermediaire I mount Crusador did, Wilcox wanted the rider to think about using her seat and core to keep an active gait rather than relying on the leg.
“My seat bone and vertical core are telling him to go forward, not my calf,” Wilcox said. “Don’t grip; the thighs are loose. I’m propelling with my core. If I need more, then I use my calf, but I never grab with my thigh. You have to keep the hip flexors loose.
“[Often] instead of using our core when they pull, we use the thigh which puts our balance up higher,” she continued. “You need to find a balance that’s low in the stirrup. If your balance is high that puts you [in danger] in a precarious situation].”
It’s a concept she took forward to canter-walk transitions because tightening the thigh only served to create an up-and-down canter rhythm.
“It has to come out of a natural canter rhythm,” she said.
And once Bloemers had a consistent rhythm in the canter Wilcox reminded her to time her down transition correctly to reduce torque on the gelding’s coffin bone.
“Do the half-halt when the poll is up,” she said. “That means the inside hind is up. You want that to land first, before the front end.”
Bonus Pearls Of Wisdom
• “You don’t ever want to use a hard aid to get him going. You use a hard to wake him up.”
• “Don’t lean forward to go forward. Sit up to go forward. When you get too forward, you come out of the driving seat.”
• “You’re driving the hind legs into your hand, and you’re sculpting that connection. Sculptors have to have fine hands. You can’t shorten the stride with the hand; it has to be a driving leg to the hand.”
• When you make a tack change, give it time to work. Oftentimes when horses are uncomfortable with something, they don’t immediately notice you’ve made a change because they’re expecting that feeling, but eventually they’ll learn to release the tension.
• When a horse is over reactive to your leg or spur, “bump and then graze the spur along his side, don’t dig in, graze, like swiping a credit card, cha-ching, cha-ching,” said Wilcox.