Millwood, Va.—July 1
After establishing that the outside rein is king on the first day of her clinic at Fairview Dressage Training Center, Lisa Wilcox spent the second day encouraging riders to use the hand to help the horse rather than hinder it.
“Don’t go backward to go forward,” became a running theme as Wilcox reminded riders that while they wanted to keep a steady connection through the outside rein at all times, it didn’t mean they should be pulling back, as that restricts the horse and creates tension.
“Never hold the fist until he gives,” she said. “Squeeze and relax and keep driving with the leg, so that the under neck relaxes. You have to teach that muscle to relax through squeeze and release.”
She wanted riders to think about keeping their outside hand near the second braid as they neck reined through the turn, so they didn’t shorten their horse’s neck. Going off of that, Wilcox prompted riders to keep the inside hand near the wither and not pulling back.
“When the inside rein gets long and going backwards, you block the canter,” Wilcox told Liz Hattenburg. To help Hattenburg keep a consistent feel in both reins and keep organized, Wilcox had her hold the reins in a simple bridge, being careful to keep the distance between her hands at two inches apart.
“Don’t pull back,” Wilcox stressed. “He can’t canter when you pull back.”
In the same vein, Wilcox cautioned against completely throwing the inside rein completely, as the horse might start running to keep their balance.
“When they’re used to you holding them with the inside, don’t throw it away because then they lose their balance,” she said. “Just relax the fingers, so they stay stabilized until they learn differently.”
Just as she didn’t want riders to restrict their horses with the hand, Wilcox cautioned against clamping down with the leg as well.
“Restrictive legs is what it turns into, not motivating legs,” she said. Instead of shoving the horse into the outside rein with the calf, Wilcox wanted riders to instead utilize the “bump” to move forward.
“When bumping, lift the thigh,” she stressed. “The calf can’t get through if the thigh is locked down. Lift your leg and train him it means bump, and he’ll learn to beat you to the punch, so when you lift your leg, he’s moving over. If he reacts, don’t bump, but if he doesn’t, bump.
“It’s one crisp bump, and then you’re done,” she reminded riders, encouraging them to avoid nagging their horses with the leg because eventually the horse will tune them out. “Always test the waters. Start small and then bump a bit more if you don’t get a reaction.”
Simplify At The Walk
With temperatures rising into the 90s, Wilcox didn’t want to exhaust the horses fighting for relaxation and correct reactions to the leg and hand in the trot or canter. Instead she told them to simplify things and start with the walk. If the horse didn’t have the correct response there, it would be exponentially more difficult at a faster gait.
“Utilize the walk to be productive before moving to a faster gait where you have less balance,” she said.
And one of those exercises was to think about their outside rein as a side rein, with a fixed point (near the second braid), however Wilcox stressed that they needed to make it a giving rein by squeezing and releasing the fingers, keeping the thumb on top to maintain a short rein length. And when the horse softened in response, riders should give by just relaxing their grip without throwing their hand forward.
“When he yields, keep opening and closing the fingers,” she told Claudia Camp. “Don’t wait until he holds again to start your work again.”
Productivity Despite Tension
With auditors lined up along one side of the ring, it’s unsurprising that some horses had difficulty focusing on that side of the ring. After Michelle Gross’ mount Herzwind got anxious—and naughty— on that side of the ring yesterday, Wilcox told her to stay within the quarter line to find a place where “Harry” was relaxed. Only once he was working correctly over his back and listening to her, could she move closer and address the problem.
“If it’s in a test, don’t let them look in the booth,” Wilcox said. “Go in with better bend and flexion and keep him focused on the other side, not what scares him.”
And when they got closer to the auditors, and Harry spooked, shooting forward and breaking the canter, Wilcox told Gross to take things slow and not chase him back into canter immediately.
“ABCD, everything has to be correct before you move on,” Wilcox said.
Likewise Hallie Ahrnsbrak’s mare Bella held her tension in, working up a nice lather. Wilcox told Ahrnsbrak that she needed to find a way to release the tension rather than clamping down and containing the mare.
“Think of the reins as pressure valves,” she said. “You’ve got to let the steam out by opening and closing the finger to release the tension.”
• In order to train themselves to carry the outside shoulder forward, Wilcox told riders to go through their position checklist several times during a ride. “If you go through it regularly, it will check your aids,” she said, “and you’ll be aware if they’re functioning properly.”
• “Overflexing is only going to force the shoulder out and create bulging,” said Wilcox.
• “When you’re going to ride a transition, you have to reposition yourself automatically so that you have to sit up.”