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View Full Version : Cross-training the dressage horse: do you? how? for which mental/physical benefits?



Cat - OnceUponADressageDream
Oct. 1, 2009, 06:01 AM
I have been thinking about the importance of cross-training the dressage horse a lot lately, particularly as I've noticed my own horse getting a bit dressage-sour in recent weeks! He has been progressing really well but was seeming a little bored and cranky in his work even though the quality was good. So today I put his jumping saddle on for the first time in months and had a bit of fun mucking around like we used to before I got all Dressage-Queen on him! ;)

So it made me wonder - how do the rest of you cross-train your dressage horses, and how does it change as they progress through the levels from young horse to FEI?

While I'm very happy with how Lou's flatwork has been coming along (his canter feels like a completely different horse these days!), I've been thinking about what sort of cross-training program to devise for him to keep him happy and relaxed.

Frustratingly, I agist in a fairly congested suburb barely out of the city, and while I don't mind riding out on roads, I'm not prepared to do it on such busy streets teeming with totally unhorsey kids on bikes, yapping unrestricted dogs, and people driving cars up the horse's backsides, either not knowing or caring that they could cause a serious accident.

So that leaves me with the options of:
-trot poles/gridwork in the 40x40 metre jumps arena (we do our flatwork mainly in the 60x20 so it is physically a different space to where he has to think "dressage")
-walking around the property and through the small paddocks to cool out (i try to do this after most rides - we are not allowed to actually work the horses in the paddocks though)
-going to an instructor's place for a lesson instead of having them come to me...a dressage arena, doing dressage, sure - but at least it is a different setting!
-riding around local riding club grounds - they are usually well fenced and accessable during the week
-finding other outings that vary the program a bit


I'd love to hear all your ideas - tell us about your horse's program, ratio of flatwork to other work, and the mental and physical benefits it has had for your horse.


~Cat~

pintopiaffe
Oct. 1, 2009, 06:26 AM
Long slow distance, generally on pavement (for me) but trails will do.
Hill sets/cardio sets

I use an endurance model of conditioning. The key is to not stress the same muscles or systems two days in a row. You tend to arrive a little more quickly at overall fitness in the long run, and really can make a difference in soundness.

butlerfamilyzoo
Oct. 1, 2009, 07:52 AM
I like off the wall stuff. My ponies have worked cattle, winter time means parades, we hit the trails when we can, and i dont mind the occasional open show and ride around the hunter ring in dressage tack either. ;) The more they see, the better they will be.

"I" get bored staying in the ring all the time, i know they have to. Our local riding club has fun days that they play weird games and do mini trail rides, etc... I also love to go camping with the girls.

goeslikestink
Oct. 1, 2009, 08:08 AM
I have been thinking about the importance of cross-training the dressage horse a lot lately, particularly as I've noticed my own horse getting a bit dressage-sour in recent weeks! He has been progressing really well but was seeming a little bored and cranky in his work even though the quality was good. So today I put his jumping saddle on for the first time in months and had a bit of fun mucking around like we used to before I got all Dressage-Queen on him! ;)

So it made me wonder - how do the rest of you cross-train your dressage horses, and how does it change as they progress through the levels from young horse to FEI?

While I'm very happy with how Lou's flatwork has been coming along (his canter feels like a completely different horse these days!), I've been thinking about what sort of cross-training program to devise for him to keep him happy and relaxed.

Frustratingly, I agist in a fairly congested suburb barely out of the city, and while I don't mind riding out on roads, I'm not prepared to do it on such busy streets teeming with totally unhorsey kids on bikes, yapping unrestricted dogs, and people driving cars up the horse's backsides, either not knowing or caring that they could cause a serious accident.

So that leaves me with the options of:
-trot poles/gridwork in the 40x40 metre jumps arena (we do our flatwork mainly in the 60x20 so it is physically a different space to where he has to think "dressage")
-walking around the property and through the small paddocks to cool out (i try to do this after most rides - we are not allowed to actually work the horses in the paddocks though)
-going to an instructor's place for a lesson instead of having them come to me...a dressage arena, doing dressage, sure - but at least it is a different setting!
-riding around local riding club grounds - they are usually well fenced and accessable during the week
-finding other outings that vary the program a bit


I'd love to hear all your ideas - tell us about your horse's program, ratio of flatwork to other work, and the mental and physical benefits it has had for your horse.


~Cat~

i do mixed events with all my horses from sponsored rides to show jumping to eventing to ht pc activities rc actitivies x/c, general hacking ,clinics trec, showing and dressage my horses and ponies are all rounders so i do what ever i feel like when i like

horses love to work they are not bored by doing one thing at any one time so dont get sour they are fit and healthy i tend to go out more than stay in as you can school just as much outside as inside

exvet
Oct. 1, 2009, 08:38 AM
We do 5-10 miles a week trail riding on moutainous trail. I will practice dressage movements while out on the trail - SI, HI, half pass, etc here and there. My herd also competes in competitive trail challenges which gives us a good break. I will also use cavaletti's and jumps to break up the monotony and help work on hind end issues/building up the hind end/hind leg.

rabicon
Oct. 1, 2009, 08:48 AM
I do c/t events with mine. Low level stuff to keep him from getting bored. Next year we are going to do mainly dressage but throw in jumping for fun. We also trail ride and do hill work. Look at your local sites and maybe try some local shows for fun to change it up. Some hunter classes or eq classes at local shows. I also work on some western type of things. Rollbacks really helped with the walk pirouttes and on me relaxing into my seat. Some side passing, riding around the house opening gates and closing them also. That really doesn't help with fitness but it gives him something else to think about. We also will set up a barrel pattern and pole bending pattern at times with jump standards for fun and trot around them and canter them. Keeps him fresh and on the aids at all times. Alot of places will have group trail rides that you can get in on also. Check local listings to find one and you can haul out for rides and meet new people.

LD1129
Oct. 1, 2009, 09:13 AM
I ride out in fields or do hill work when the weather is nice with my 5 year old. He loves to get out now and then.

millerra
Oct. 1, 2009, 01:10 PM
I actually do "low level" trot and gallop sets w/ my dressage horse (e.g for a novice event horse) w/ 3 5 min trot sets and 1 or 2 3 to 4 min gallops. he also does hill work at the walk and trot. Nothing seems to break his back loose again as much as going for a good gallop. [you should see our free walk after galloping :winkgrin:]

I do jump him and do cavaletti but he's SO bad at it I really don't like jumping him too much (his nickname when jumping is Lurch...)

NoDQhere
Oct. 1, 2009, 03:44 PM
Cavalletti, Trail riding and Jumping, both X-Country and Stadium are so good for the horse, physically and mentally. We keep things interesting for the horse just as much as possible.

suzier444
Oct. 1, 2009, 04:12 PM
I don't have a horse, or any qualifications whatsoever to be doing any kind of experimental training --cross or otherwise -- but I've always wondered how the concept of plyometrics as used by human athletes would translate for horses, especially dressage horses. I'm intellectually interested in how advances in human-athlete training would or could apply to equine athletes.

Bravestrom
Oct. 1, 2009, 04:32 PM
hacking - we go to a regional forest, down the road or through the fields - we always see something interesting and it blows his mind sometimes.

We go on family hacks with the boys and my husband.

We have seen llamas, sheep, goats and today we saw a 10 pt buck - with a hug rack - he was amazing.

Garbage day hacks are always really interesting.

Let your horse roll - my horse rolls after every ride - we also go for short hacks after every ride if the weather permits.

PennyChrome
Oct. 3, 2009, 04:04 PM
Absolutely! All of the above, and also interval training & hillwork. A horse is a horse afterall! There is nothing natural to it about going round and round an arena. I always try to remember that the root of dressage is cavalry riding. Big ups for Foxhunting!

HappyHoppingHaffy
Oct. 3, 2009, 06:52 PM
I do a lot of trail riding and I'm a member of our local hunt. We go first flight and do almost all the big jumps with the big guys.
My horse can be a bit of a worry-wort, and hunting him has given him oodles of confidence. Plus it's tons of fun. He's very refreshed and eager to try new things in our dressage lessons and schoolings after he's had a chance to let it all out!

quietann
Oct. 3, 2009, 07:19 PM
My girl's an eventer at heart. I can't jump her (yet, again) but she is just awesome on the trail. If we're with someone and the other horse is balking, I can put her in the lead, and she'll be fine, especially if it's something that reminds her of cross-country courses, like jumping off a drop.

We're doing poles -- more than one at a time, now that we are at the new place. And she carries herself beautifully over poles (http://annsrats.com/horses/feronia/cutter_01oct2009/newsaddlepoles.jpg). We will move up to cavaletti soon. Small jumps are almost definitely in the future, though she gets very worked up over jumps and is wicked fast. We do a little hillwork, too, in service to keeping that little Morgan butt muscling up.

We were supposed to go to the beach tomorrow for the first time, but the weather is not good. We will get there soon enough... I have no idea how she will feel about the beach, but I am willing to try.

She is a lot happier now that we have more things to do.

slc2
Oct. 3, 2009, 07:46 PM
That is such a gorgeous mare.

Sorry, I keep saying that, LOL, but she has more muscle now and one can see better how elegant she is.

meupatdoes
Oct. 3, 2009, 09:02 PM
I do all of the above.

My horses go on on trail rides (45 min to well over an hour, not just going for a wee stroll around the property) and jump regularly.

With young horses, I find the trails can be a wonderful place to work on canter departs.

I also find that if a horse is starting to get a little vertutzt in the contact or needs some lenthening/loosening over the back, cantering over a little course with a quiet, rythmical stride and the neck long and the nose poked out a little can do wonders for relaxation and elasticity.

I mean, I know they are Completely Opposite Counter-Productive Disciplines and everything but breaking up days of practicing leg yield and introducing shoulder-in on a youngin' with days where we just lope over some little jumps in an easy two-point canter has served me and my horses well.

cameo976
Oct. 4, 2009, 01:47 AM
I cross train all my horses and ponies. It's great for their minds and there bodies, not to mention the benefits for the rider.

My QHxTB horse was not great at jumping (though he did enjoy it) so we used to do a lot of western-style stuff that I found was awesome for building up his back end. He loved barrel racing and chasing cattle. He also did a lot of trail riding and road riding.

With all mine we generally do a moderate amount of jumping - I get bored with just flatwork! I also think that there is no point in having a horse that can ONLY do dressage. I like training versatility and it's a great way to mix it up when you're both sick of the 20x60 arena.

BayHorseUK
Oct. 4, 2009, 07:25 AM
I do all of the above as well, and I like to think of cross-training for the mind as well as the body. Even things as relatively unrelated as in-hand showing or group riding club classes can have a remarkable benefit on mental maturity.

Cat - OnceUponADressageDream
Oct. 4, 2009, 08:10 AM
Interesting to see all your responses, and that you all tend to do a fair bit!

I find it difficult to understand riders who only ride in the arena, 5-6 days a week. It is the quickest way I have seen to ruin a horse, and as I said in the OP, I noticed the difference in my own horse's attitude to work when bringing him back after a spell, and only doing flatwork for a while. This has mainly been due to my nerves (I had a back injury sustained at work back in May that put me out for a while, along with a few other things I saw happen with other horses that scared me...this all meant that I've been nervous about leaving the arena - I'm getting there though, jumping the other day was fun instead of scary!). Prior to my injury, I used to do all sorts on Lou - forest rides, showjumping, I even attempted mounted games against the novelty ponies at one show, on my 16.3hh OTTB! :D

A couple of years ago now, I used to regularly ride out with an FEI rider - she didn't do anything except pure dressage at home but we'd ride out with her top horse and my old horse once a week, and every now and then she'd bring out one of the younger horses too. Unfortunately she got a fright one ride when her horse spooked into mine, and mine kicked out at the other horse. She decided then that she didn't want to trail ride a valuable horse who was about to transition into FEI, and as far as I know, that was the last trail ride she ever did on him. After that, the horse only ever got worked in the arena and she'd bring out her pleasure horse instead. I moved away and didn't see her for some time, until a competition earlier this year. I was so excited to see how the horse was progressing, and instead I was bitterly disappointed. The horse who was once a delight to watch (and AMAZING to ride, as I'd been lucky enough to find out once) looked like he should barely be competing First Level, let alone FEI.

I know another successful rider who is competing 4th Level, whose horse has always had a tendency to rear when asked for collection. She has a very good program for him, that includes jumping and trailriding, as well as hillwork for fitness each week. When they stick to the program, the horse doesn't rear anywhere near as much. And when he does, the first thing she does is to send him forward, even if that means galloping him until he stops the rearing and happily listens to her aids.

Sad to say, many dressage riders I know around here don't do enough cross training, if any at all. And for no good reason other than they can't be bothered, or they think the horse will be better off schooling straight dressage, every ride. Poor horses!