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  1. #1
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    Default More energy without tenseness

    I'm coming over from eventing land to ask you dressage gurus for some advice. I have a lovely 9-yr-old ISH mare who is doing great in her dressage training. At shows in the dressage phase, she's very relaxed, attentive, and quiet--maybe too quiet. I've received comments on my past two tests that she's nicely quiet and relaxed but needs more energy from behind.

    So, I've been working on this at home, trying to allow more energy (she does have it in her) by gently asking for more push from behind without goosing it out of her. I've introduced this concept just in small increments. She seems to get more tense though as we go along.

    At our show this weekend as I tried to apply the work we've been doing, she was more energetic but more tense--not terrribly so, but . . .

    Is this something that we just have to work through and she'll get more comfortable with me pushing her just a bit more? Do you have any tips that might help us?



  2. #2
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    Lots of transitions forward and back within the gaits. Even if your horse is not ready for lengthenings, you can trot on a little faster, then steady a few strides, and push on again. Every transition (if ridden corrrectly), both upward and downward, will improve the activity of the hindquarters. Basic lateral work will help also.

    Your horse was probably getting tense due to a loss of balance with the extra energy. Keep repeating the transitions back and forth and she will start to find her balance and get stronger in her topline.



  3. #3
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    How are you asking for more energy?

    The horse needs to learn to stay in front of the leg until the rider asks for something new. Riders legs stay lightly on the horse, not NAGGING or squeezing each and every stride.

    For a behind-the-leg horse, I would *bump* them once with my leg, and when they jump or go forward praise, praise, praise! If the horse does jump forward, that is okay - we want the horse to respond with forward. When they get behind the leg again, *bump* once, they go forward = praise. If they are really behind the leg you can try the quick bump, bump (twice).

    Does this help, or is the horse not responding at all to the leg?



  4. #4
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    I agree with the forward and back within gaits, but the horse needs to know forward first, and stay forward until I ask to come back within the gait.



  5. #5
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    IME with a quieter horse, one cannot always just ask for forward. I have personally found, though my experience is limited, that asking for crisp, sharp transitions, and LOTS of them, gets the good energy level up without having to constantly ask for forward forward forward. I have found that a transition every 5-6 strides gets the horse lighter and more responsive and more forward all on its own, pretty quickly too, with me only asking for the responsiveness (which is, I understand, part of asking for forward).

    JME
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  6. #6
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    The horse needs to learn to respond properly to the aids; to be in front of the leg. Transitions can be part of teaching forward, but the problem with a low impulsion/behind the leg horse doing upward and downward trans within gaits is that sometimes they .splat. loose it in the downwards.

    If the horse hasn't learned go and stay in front of the leg in the first place, then it is hard to keep them forwards within the downward (forward and back) transitions. They want to stall and not come back. Teach the horse that leg means 'go' first, and THEN start the forward/back within gaits (start of collection)/teaching the proper half halt (behind the leg horses sometimes want to .splat. fall apart halt in the hh, not "half").

    Behind the leg horses can easily be taught to be more forward. It's not that you keep reminding them forward, forward, forward. Ask for forward _bump_bump_ - horse shoots forward (that's the response you want) - praise, praise- a few times and even the most balkiest horses usually eventually learn, "ah, a little leg means go".

    IF the rider doesn't correct this, the rider ends up nagging the horse with her leg, and that makes the horse dead to the leg and behind it. We've all seen those riders who leg, leg, legs almost every stride. It doesn't have to be that way, and shouldn't be!



  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fantastic View Post
    The horse needs to learn to respond properly to the aids; to be in front of the leg. Transitions can be part of teaching forward, but the problem with a low impulsion/behind the leg horse doing upward and downward trans within gaits is that sometimes they .splat. loose it in the downwards.
    Agree. IME, if the lazy horse goes splat in the down tranny, he gets booted back up to try again.

    If the horse hasn't learned go and stay in front of the leg in the first place, then it is hard to keep them forwards within the downward (forward and back) transitions. They want to stall and not come back. Teach the horse that leg means 'go' first, and THEN start the forward/back within gaits (start of collection)/teaching the proper half halt (behind the leg horses sometimes want to .splat. fall apart halt in the hh, not "half").

    Behind the leg horses can easily be taught to be more forward. It's not that you keep reminding them forward, forward, forward. Ask for forward _bump_bump_ - horse shoots forward (that's the response you want) - praise, praise- a few times and even the most balkiest horses usually eventually learn, "ah, a little leg means go".

    IF the rider doesn't correct this, the rider ends up nagging the horse with her leg, and that makes the horse dead to the leg and behind it. We've all seen those riders who leg, leg, legs almost every stride. It doesn't have to be that way, and shouldn't be!
    I agree. I'm just saying that I have found a very valuable part of teaching this is to ask for many transistions in a row. Get a HOT reaction off the leg, and do it again. That's different from asking for the hot reaction and then continuing to ask for that same energy for 5 times around the ring. Get a reaction, come back and get another reaction, come back and get aonther reaction, over and over and over. I'm never talking about nagging

    Once you get a hot go reaction, it's easier to get a better down tranny, IME. You can't necessarily work on both things at once, because asking for a proper, forward down tranny at the same time as trying to teach a hot go reaction might be confusing. It sometimes helps to break it down more simply - get a strong go reaction so that you have some energy to work with. That's all I'm saying.
    ______________________________
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  8. #8
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    The reason I suggested the constant forward and back transitions instead of simply asking the horse to zoom out in front of the leg, is that the OP mentioned an increase in tension in the body when asking the horse to be more forward. Meaning the horse may not be quite physically or mentally ready to move that forward with a rider on it's back. The horse sounds worried about it's loss of balance. The transitions push the horse only briefly out of it's comfort zone, and build up the strength, engagement, and balance necessary to eventually be able to do so. As well as giving you more chances to work on the proper response to the leg aid....go NOW, but only for a few strides at first before balance is lost. The horse will soon be able to go longer and longer confidence wise.

    To a sensitive horse who either lacks the strength or balance to carry a rider while staying that forward, or has never been asked to be that forward before, it can feel a bit like running in a dark alley to them.



  9. #9
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    Often tension creeps in when the horse is being asked for more go, but is out of balance or trapped into the hand. Transitions, while they might work, often can put the horse more onto the forehand. BEFORE a transition get and effect hh (hindlegs fold, horse come more up and open and energetic. Reward that. Then, if you want, use that energy for longer strides (just a few at the beginning, then more). You have to compress the joints (like tightening a watch spring) and then allow the thrust to be released which is the strength factor).
    I.D.E.A. yoda



  10. #10
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    A horse has to be forward from the leg before a half halt will work, and IMO the basic transitions are what give the tools for the half halt.



  11. #11
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    So, I've been working on this at home, trying to allow more energy (she does have it in her) by gently asking for more push from behind without goosing it out of her. I've introduced this concept just in small increments. She seems to get more tense though as we go along.

    --I really don't think it's necessary to be so tentative and do it in small increments and all that. Get a feel from a good instructor exactly what level of tempo/energy is appropriate for this horse right now. Pick the tempo/pace you want to maintain and simply maintain it. If training is to be successful, there will ALWAYS be an energetic, active lifting of the feet from the ground going forward, so may as well get started now.

    --By doing 'small increments' and trying to be so careful, you're probably making the horse tense. Now it has to try and figure out what sort of tempo/pace you want to maintain THIS TIME, and it's changing all the time, what the horse is shooting for it has no idea, it's changing all the time - even in 'little increments', very, very nerve wracking for horses.

    -- They want a simple, direct, straight up answer. Pick a tempo/pace, stick to it. Horses LIKE a steady, active tempo, which makes their work easier. Activity helps the horses to balance, to bend, and to use their bodies effectively and efficiently.

    At our show this weekend as I tried to apply the work we've been doing, she was more energetic but more tense--not terrribly so, but . . .

    --Keep in mind that 'a normal tempo' is probably going to feel to you like the horse is 'nervous' and 'going really fast'. Any difference from what we're used to seems huge.

    --MANY people think that when a horse is going forward cheerfully, with obedient, prompt responses to the leg, that it is 'nervous' or 'tense'. If they are used to a slower tempo with a slower reaction from the horse, it seems 'nervous'. In fact, as the French say, the horse should fly from the wind of your boot, instantly, so that the horse responds when you just are THINKING about using your leg. That's where you want to be, believe it or not.

    Is this something that we just have to work through and she'll get more comfortable with me pushing her just a bit more?

    --I think you're going about it the wrong way. All the little changes and increments would drive me nuts if I was a horse. I'd be all, 'Make up your mind, mom!'

    Do you have any tips that might help us?

    --Work with a trainer to establish a good, active working gait tempo, and then stick with that tempo. If you like, get a metronome, and set it at the tempo the trainer picks - and work to keep your horse up to the tempo of the metronome.

    --There are many 'truths' tossed around here - that it's always bad to increase one's tempo and energy, that no reins or leg should be needed in training horses, that reins should hang down loose all the time, but most of all, that forward is bad.

    --The first job we have is to discard all that; then we can do some dressage.



  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by slc2 View Post
    --I really don't think it's necessary to be so tentative and do it in small increments and all that. Get a feel from a good instructor exactly what level of tempo/energy is appropriate for this horse right now. Pick the tempo/pace you want to maintain and simply maintain it. If training is to be successful, there will ALWAYS be an energetic, active lifting of the feet from the ground going forward, so may as well get started now.
    But isn't a small increment of increased tempo/energy exactly what might be "appropriate for this horse right now"? It's not all about what the horse's body is physically capable of - what's appropriate involves the mind as well. I'm not being argumentive, I'm trying to figure out exactly what you're talking about here.

    It may be a much smaller increment than you'd ask for from a horse who's exactly the same in every way, but is laid back and nonplussed about being asked to go forward. But that's the difference in the appropriateness between these 2 horses - the mentality of each horse.
    ______________________________
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  13. #13
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    "but isn't a small increment what would be appropriate?"

    for a hack, maybe, not for dressage.



  14. #14
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    That doesn't help.
    ______________________________
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  15. #15
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    Wow! Thanks everyone for your thoughtful responses and discussion.

    lstevenson, I think you're on to something with the balance/tenseness issue. Her walk and trot are actually pretty good--could always be a bit better. I find the tenseness occurs mostly in trying to get a more forward canter, working from her hind end, while staying round. She can maintain it for awhile, but reading your post makes me realize that as she loses balance, she gets tense. I should emphasize that her tenseness isn't huge, but it's there.

    When I said small increments, I mean I ask for more engagement, get it for a few strides, and then come back. Wash, rinse, repeat. If I ask her to just keep it up, I can't keep her balanced. So, I only ask for what I think she can give me and before she gets tense and breaks, I ask for a downward transition, get reorganized, and try again. Not drilling her for long periods. She's definitely progressed as we've worked this way, with longer periods of engagement.

    Also, want to add, she's not really behind the leg, but I should work on making her more responsive to the leg. The comments I'm getting in tests are that she's lovely and quiet but could have a bit more oomph (that's a dressage term, right?) Believe me, I'll take that over the comments I've gotten with my other mare (judge hangs head out window and yells "Well, at least you have forward!"--that's apparently dressage judge-code for "OMG, your horse is a lunatic!")

    It's so funny because the mare I'm trying to get more energetic in dressage was such a little pistol when she was younger--lack of energy was never a probllem--the direction it was taking could be. However, she's always been so good and amenable in her dressage work--go figure.

    I need to reread all the suggestions and digest. Thanks again for all of your insight.
    Last edited by Snapdragon; Jul. 14, 2009 at 07:39 PM.



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