When I was training with Dietrich von Hopffgarten, we often heard the term “gymnasticize.” Medium trot and medium canter on a circle took place almost every day, forward and back like the swinging of a pendulum, so the horses’ bodies worked through a spectrum. We rode mild and moderate increases and decreases of stride, encouraging the lengthening of the topline and neck, more often than not on a circle, since the horses had a far harder time rushing and taking over on a circle.
Any time a horse gets unlevel or uneven in an extension, strong or crooked, wide behind or on the forehand, he generally isn’t carrying, staying balanced and increasing with harmony. All horses are crooked. All horses have a stronger and weaker side, and all horses have a hind leg they would rather push than carry with. The mediums and lengthenings on circles isolate and strengthen the weaker side of the body, which becomes instantly obvious when alternating direction of the circles. With quiet training, you’ll strengthen the weaker side, so later, on straight lines, it’s easier for the horse to manage its thrusting and carrying powers.
With no clear beginning or ending to the circle, you avoid the rushing and jerky start-stop of the straight line, the “blast out of the corner and run to the end” mentality. With the mindset of it being a continuous circuit with no end or beginning, it’s easier to make the hotter and more anxious horse feel at ease and to allow a horse that needs to burn off energy to do so in a productive and balanced way.
Dietrich was a stickler for being able to ride lightly with the hand and was often telling us to release and let go to check our horses’ self-carriage, with the medium work as no exception. Time and time again we were instructed to go “mild medium, now lighten up, release, keep going, now come back.” We were made to train medium and extended paces with horses that could carry themselves, and we were never allowed to ride bigger or more forward than we could either sit comfortably or release, so our horses were trained to extend and be held through the seat and core of the rider with little to no, or very light, rein contact.
I often see today that the lightness has been traded for power, which my teacher would say can be attained together, but most people don’t take the time to produce this. Just because you can use the word “gymnasticize” in your teaching or riding, doesn’t always mean you are doing it.
JEREMY STEINBERG: Grand Prix trainer and competitor Jeremy Steinberg was the U.S. Equestrian Federation national dressage youth coach from 2010 to 2014. The 1996 FEI North American Young Riders Championships individual dressage gold medalist, he is a former U.S. Dressage Federation Junior/Young Rider Clinic Series clinician. He credits much of his dressage education to the late Dietrich von Hopffgarten, his longtime friend and mentor. Today Steinberg runs a boutique-type training business in Aiken, South Carolina, and travels the country giving clinics. Learn more at steinbergdressage.com.
This is a sidebar from Jeremy Steinberg’s Between Rounds article “A Few Key Components Of Training,” which appears in the Dec. 10 & 17 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse. If you’d like to read more great content like this, you can subscribe and get online access to a digital version and then enjoy a year of The Chronicle of the Horse and our lifestyle publication, Untacked. Or you can purchase a single issue or subscribe on a mobile device through our app The Chronicle of the Horse LLC.
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