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Those who trained horses to upper levels...

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  • Those who trained horses to upper levels...

    ...what were you typically working on with your "first level" horses?


    I am new to dressage as a discipline, and know there's a LOT I don't know. Right now I've trained one horse up to schooling 2nd level pretty nicely and another schooling first, so I'll call them my training level and first level horses. Ultimately, though - I don't care what their current level is - I care about doing the right things to move upward (at least with the more advanced one... the other is my mom's trail horse I'm playing with, and I question if she'll be capable of going beyond 2nd - we'll just play and see what happens.)

    What should I be working on that as a newbie I'm likely to miss?

    My 1st level horse is a fire breathing dragon away from home, which is actually great as it has really made me aware of some ineffectiveness in my seat. I've mentioned the rider boot camp I'm forcing on myself this fall, and that I'm riding with a biomechanics instructor as well as taking longe lessons with my normal trainer. My trainer and I are also trying to work out going up to work with a GP trainer out of town, because she agrees with me that getting different perspectives helps you find the holes just one person is likely to miss.

    Right now I'm working on improving balance and strength at the trot with my horse, because canter is definitely his better gait. Strong half halts at the canter get massive sit and the feeling that pirouettes will be EASY. I do a lot of transitions within the canter to get that responsiveness, followed by lengthening the canter, back to collected, into working, etc. We're starting lead changes and half pass, too. The canter work is just easy for him, which makes it incredibly fun.

    Trot work... not as much. Shoulder ins seem to help his lengthening, and haunches in is making a huge difference on his topline. We do lengthen and shorten, but as I noted in another thread he is naturally geared toward collection. Trot lengthenings don't necessarily exist... but mediums do, from a collected trot. I'm working on developing consistency and more sit in response to half halts at the trot, but it's certainly not as advanced as our canter work. If I have to correct him for not responding to half halts, he will often offer up half steps, though, and seems fairly inclined toward wanting to passage if asked to really use his back end a lot. In the middle of all this work, he really gives me a nice, soft, rounded stretch when I check to make sure our connection is still good. I do often have to back off to re-install relaxation on him, because he's short-backed and it's probably his biggest challenge.

    I feel like we're on the right path... but I'm just looking for gotchas that I may be missing in our work. Do you have any tips and secrets you found to help others avoid repeating the mistakes in your past?
    Originally posted by Silverbridge
    If you get anything on your Facebook feed about who is going to the Olympics in 2012 or guessing the outcome of Bush v Gore please start threads about those, too.

  • #2
    I haven't, but my instructor/horse's trainer has and I would just like to affirm the shoulder in/haunches in that you've incorporated. She told me last night that we'd be working on that way past the time I'm sick of it I'm not sure if this is how you're doing it, but she's a proponent of shoulder in TO haunches in (and back if you get it right fast enough and have room/time on the long side).

    In addition to the strengthening you noted, it's helping ME get a more accurate feeling of bend ... too much, not enough, when the haunches are leading and when (oh so important) the shoulders are leading versus when they're really "in". Also, I found, excellent rider exercise for accurate leg positioning.
    *=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=

    Comment


    • #3
      When you say "strong" half-halt at the canter, what exactly does that mean, or what are you doing differently then as opposed to a more "normal" half-halt? Does your "strong" half-halt work equally well on both directions in the canter?

      Comment


      • #4
        The key to the upper levels is the basics. I know that sounds really boring but it is true. So the things to concentrate on are

        1. The contact: is your horse steady in the contact at all times through all paces, transitions within the gaits and between gaits, changes of directions and into and out of lateral work? If they aren't then that's something to work on till it is steady at all times.

        2. Obedience: can you move through the gears in every pace (so from small trot to working trot to medium trot to the biggest trot) instantly and smoothly with a steady contact at any time, on any corner and move up and down the gears within 1 stride of asking quietly? If you can't its probably a balance issue (for downwards) or an in front of the leg issue (for upwards).

        3. Lateral balance: Does your horse move sideways from small aids in all paces as easily as they do forwards? Can you change the direction of lateral travel effortlessly without a major reorganisation between leg yield or half pass left to leg yield or half pass right? If you can't your horse is probably not correctly balanced over all 4 legs as they go sideways and may be falling through their shoulder in the lateral work.

        4. Halt: Will your horse halt immediately and quietly from walk or trot and stand square and stay on the bit? And will they move off quietly and immediately into walk or trot within half a second of a quiet request to move? Can you ensure that when you ask them to move off into walk they don't give trot and vice versa? Do they remain steady in the contact throughout this transition?

        The list of basics goes on and on. Once you get into them training the basics is fascinating. When they are in place the upper levels are easy. When they aren't if you move onto harder work from an unbalanced or braced way of going all you will do is teach your horse how to do a half pass or pirouette or extended trot badly. When you're first teaching a horse half pass its much better to be in a big arena, work on getting the trot or canter just perfect, apply your aids, readjust the balance and softness if needed then ask for just 2-3 steps of half pass before riding out of it onto a circle and always ride out of it if the horse braces or comes above the bit or loses their balance or runs or trails their quarters or leads with their quarters or loses the softness or.... you get the idea.

        Comment


        • #5
          I bought a 3 yo in 2001. I earned my bronze and silver medal on him doing all of the riding myself. At the time, I was living in an area where I did not have easy access to good trainers. I got a lot of ideas and inspirations from books and dvd's.

          dvd's thst have been especially helpful:

          USDF Conrad Schumacher (available through the USDF site)

          the "Training with Kyra" series. The dvd on the flying change (I believe #6 is amazingly helpful)

          the "Schooling a horse" series by Rudolf Zeilinger

          I also have found Mary Wanless dvd's very helpful.

          I have a ton of book recommendations as well, but the dvd's wre really helpful to SEE how things work

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by stolensilver View Post
            The key to the upper levels is the basics. I know that sounds really boring but it is true. So the things to concentrate on are

            1. The contact: is your horse steady in the contact at all times through all paces, transitions within the gaits and between gaits, changes of directions and into and out of lateral work? If they aren't then that's something to work on till it is steady at all times.

            2. Obedience: can you move through the gears in every pace (so from small trot to working trot to medium trot to the biggest trot) instantly and smoothly with a steady contact at any time, on any corner and move up and down the gears within 1 stride of asking quietly? If you can't its probably a balance issue (for downwards) or an in front of the leg issue (for upwards).

            3. Lateral balance: Does your horse move sideways from small aids in all paces as easily as they do forwards? Can you change the direction of lateral travel effortlessly without a major reorganisation between leg yield or half pass left to leg yield or half pass right? If you can't your horse is probably not correctly balanced over all 4 legs as they go sideways and may be falling through their shoulder in the lateral work.

            4. Halt: Will your horse halt immediately and quietly from walk or trot and stand square and stay on the bit? And will they move off quietly and immediately into walk or trot within half a second of a quiet request to move? Can you ensure that when you ask them to move off into walk they don't give trot and vice versa? Do they remain steady in the contact throughout this transition?

            The list of basics goes on and on. Once you get into them training the basics is fascinating. When they are in place the upper levels are easy. When they aren't if you move onto harder work from an unbalanced or braced way of going all you will do is teach your horse how to do a half pass or pirouette or extended trot badly. When you're first teaching a horse half pass its much better to be in a big arena, work on getting the trot or canter just perfect, apply your aids, readjust the balance and softness if needed then ask for just 2-3 steps of half pass before riding out of it onto a circle and always ride out of it if the horse braces or comes above the bit or loses their balance or runs or trails their quarters or leads with their quarters or loses the softness or.... you get the idea.
            THIS!

            Comment


            • #7
              Ditto StolenSilver (Fantastic post!).

              Also, I started from the beginning training my horse to the seat (turning with the seat, going forward and coming back with the seat, etc.)

              Each horse is different. Mine has automatic tick tock rhythm, so I didn't have to train that. She is also very foward/naturally in front of the leg. I had to train alot of "waiting". I spent a number of months in walk to halt to wait. So when I work transitions with her, the harder transition is the downward one and we work on waiting. To this day, I have to structure schooling so that she waits and doesn't take over--halt before a corner and walk through it instead of her taking me through the corner like she is on rails--half pass to center line and WAIT and maybe no flying change--halt and reinback or no reinback, but wait. Etc. Some people have to spend more time on the lesson of the leg (forward means forward).

              I also started working on straightness fairly soon. Shoulder fore for EVERYTHING.

              Counter canter as soon as the canter is balanced enough. You can start it on a loop. The counter canter gets them really balanced and carrying in the canter. As soon as the counter canter is balanced enough--the flying change.

              Carl Hester's books are really helpful for giving you a plan on what to do. He loves transitions, hundreds of them. But the transitions have to be quality or they are not helpful. Make sure the horse uses the hind legs for the downward transitions and doesn't fall on the forehand; and pushes off the hind legs for the upward transitions and doesn't pull with the shoulders... Focusing on this little bit alone will give you a good prep for the upper levels.

              Comment

              • Original Poster

                #8
                Originally posted by angel View Post
                When you say "strong" half-halt at the canter, what exactly does that mean, or what are you doing differently then as opposed to a more "normal" half-halt? Does your "strong" half-halt work equally well on both directions in the canter?
                He's super sensitive so a "normal" half halt barely means even holding at all w/ the reins, where a "strong" one means being more demanding and holding as much as I would for a downward transition but with more forward asked for. His half halts are usually almost 100% off the seat - with plenty of response, and no change in the contact at all.

                Originally posted by stolensilver View Post
                The key to the upper levels is the basics. I know that sounds really boring but it is true. So the things to concentrate on are

                1. The contact: is your horse steady in the contact at all times through all paces, transitions within the gaits and between gaits, changes of directions and into and out of lateral work? If they aren't then that's something to work on till it is steady at all times.

                2. Obedience: can you move through the gears in every pace (so from small trot to working trot to medium trot to the biggest trot) instantly and smoothly with a steady contact at any time, on any corner and move up and down the gears within 1 stride of asking quietly? If you can't its probably a balance issue (for downwards) or an in front of the leg issue (for upwards).

                3. Lateral balance: Does your horse move sideways from small aids in all paces as easily as they do forwards? Can you change the direction of lateral travel effortlessly without a major reorganisation between leg yield or half pass left to leg yield or half pass right? If you can't your horse is probably not correctly balanced over all 4 legs as they go sideways and may be falling through their shoulder in the lateral work.

                4. Halt: Will your horse halt immediately and quietly from walk or trot and stand square and stay on the bit? And will they move off quietly and immediately into walk or trot within half a second of a quiet request to move? Can you ensure that when you ask them to move off into walk they don't give trot and vice versa? Do they remain steady in the contact throughout this transition?

                The list of basics goes on and on. Once you get into them training the basics is fascinating. When they are in place the upper levels are easy. When they aren't if you move onto harder work from an unbalanced or braced way of going all you will do is teach your horse how to do a half pass or pirouette or extended trot badly. When you're first teaching a horse half pass its much better to be in a big arena, work on getting the trot or canter just perfect, apply your aids, readjust the balance and softness if needed then ask for just 2-3 steps of half pass before riding out of it onto a circle and always ride out of it if the horse braces or comes above the bit or loses their balance or runs or trails their quarters or leads with their quarters or loses the softness or.... you get the idea.
                Essentially, the above is what we're working on. The movements we're getting are a result of getting the above working well. They aren't all 100%, of course, but everything we're doing is what he offers as a result of those basics, and as they improve everything else gets better.
                Contact has been a major weakness, and I feel like right now it is finally where I want it to be all the time - but now that it is, I keep having to re-instill in front of the leg, as he seems to have trouble accepting both at the same time. Typically this means a lot of forward canter work on contact when he starts to back off... which is pretty fun for me anyway, as I love his canter more than any horse I've ever ridden. I've actually been dealing with more naughtiness from him lately - that "I'm strong, and this is FUN, let me do my thing!" kind of attitude, which has been interesting. I think we may be getting past that from consistency, but it's nice to see him developing a confidence he didn't used to have.

                Right now I think lateral balance is probably our biggest problem as the contact has improved, and it's what gets the most focus both from my trainer and with the biomechanics clinician.

                Interesting comment about arena size - our arena is the length of a full size arena, but nearly as wide (170' instead of ~200') and I have found I absolutely love the size for an ability to work on something and incorporate either forward or a circle or whatever is needed to remind him of balance/impulsion as what we're working on starts to be less perfect.


                Thanks for all the comments - what we're up to seems to jive with all the posts so far, which is good! We've focused on the basics from the start, and despite the fact I'm working very hard to try to improve my riding, it still feels like everything has been too easy so far. I keep waiting for something to jump out at me... my weaknesses as a rider are many and varied, and I absolutely know I have to continue to improve for the upper levels, but so far I haven't been able to find holes in what I'm working on with my horse that will hinder his ability to get there.

                I think it may just come down to what everyone here preaches... finding a horse who is suited physically and mentally for the job. He LOVES dressage, practices in his pen on his own, and as he gains strength everything just seems to come naturally to him.
                Originally posted by Silverbridge
                If you get anything on your Facebook feed about who is going to the Olympics in 2012 or guessing the outcome of Bush v Gore please start threads about those, too.

                Comment


                • #9
                  My only suggestion is don't be in a hurry.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    To work on your trot work, you need to ride partial squares...meaning a figure that ressembles a 90 degree angle from the long side, going across the middle of the ring, and do the 90 degree angle to go on the other rein down the opposite long side from that on which you started. When you can do it crisply on the longer track, then start the movement going quarter line to quarter line. You want to be able to get the same quality of "sit" that you are achieving in the canter. The corners will almost feel like a pause as you turn.

                    Comment

                    • Original Poster

                      #11
                      Originally posted by angel View Post
                      To work on your trot work, you need to ride partial squares...meaning a figure that ressembles a 90 degree angle from the long side, going across the middle of the ring, and do the 90 degree angle to go on the other rein down the opposite long side from that on which you started. When you can do it crisply on the longer track, then start the movement going quarter line to quarter line. You want to be able to get the same quality of "sit" that you are achieving in the canter. The corners will almost feel like a pause as you turn.
                      That's an interesting one I hadn't heard. Sounds like something good to work on. We do squares instead of circles but the way I'm understanding your post is almost like a squared off serpentine with changes of direction.

                      We're getting more and more sit at the trot, but certainly not there yet! And Silvia - if anything, I'm trying to slow him down! He offers a LOT, and I'm constantly backing up and asking for relaxation where he wants to just keep offering more, making the trot bigger or with more sit, without relaxing. He's short backed enough tenseness really affects his movement, so I try to remember and revisit the training scale at all times.
                      Originally posted by Silverbridge
                      If you get anything on your Facebook feed about who is going to the Olympics in 2012 or guessing the outcome of Bush v Gore please start threads about those, too.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        My advice is that if you know where you are going you will not care about the small things. It is not a strict linear process.

                        For example a first level horse may not have a good, swinging leg yield but take correct and straight steps (at this level it is the rider more than the horse). And that same horse may learn to relax with work and strength and maturity to have a good, swinging half-pass. That horse might have needed time. It is a mistake to drill the leg yield here. Shoulder in and haunches in probably improved the first level leg yield and to keep the horse at first level would be to make a mistake.

                        You must instill good basics but you must keep an eye on where you are going and what the stregnths and weaknesses of the individual horse are. And the horse will ultimately rise to the potential of the rider and cannot go further than the rider. Ride many horses at many different levels and make yourself the best you can be.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Love this thread i also advise not to be in a hurry, make sure all boxes are ticked before moving on....Training scale is such a good reference to go back on.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            StolenSilver: Standing clapping!

                            Comment

                            • Original Poster

                              #15
                              Originally posted by Swing View Post
                              Love this thread i also advise not to be in a hurry, make sure all boxes are ticked before moving on....Training scale is such a good reference to go back on.
                              Or weeks like this one, get basic obedience instead of spook and run. I think all the steps back to return to basics just make everything stronger in the end, so we'll get where we get when we're supposed to get there.
                              Originally posted by Silverbridge
                              If you get anything on your Facebook feed about who is going to the Olympics in 2012 or guessing the outcome of Bush v Gore please start threads about those, too.

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                Every horse is different. Just like children. But your USEF levels and tests were designed to provide you with a blue-print to follow. Things are introduced in a way that builds on everything that preceded in a logical and progressive way. Build a solid foundation and then step by step make your way to GP. Be sure to get good regular eyes on the ground, and realize that problems come when you run out of skill or knowledge.

                                Comment

                                • Original Poster

                                  #17
                                  Originally posted by thedressagechronicles View Post
                                  Every horse is different. Just like children. But your USEF levels and tests were designed to provide you with a blue-print to follow. Things are introduced in a way that builds on everything that preceded in a logical and progressive way. Build a solid foundation and then step by step make your way to GP. Be sure to get good regular eyes on the ground, and realize that problems come when you run out of skill or knowledge.
                                  Yep!

                                  I keep saying - I am the limiting factor in my horse's future. So much is so natural for him, and following the training scale, the tests, what the trainers I work with have me work on - all has him progressing faster than I expected he would. Just working on one thing has made him offer the next, without me trying to teach it. I didn't understand when I started out quite how well that would work - how half halts and balance would lead to collected gaits would lead to pirouettes/half steps. I think it helps that he is a trier, so if he gets the concept of shifting weight back he'll just lower his haunches even more when he's strong enough to do so. So far the training scale, USEF tests, etc., have him advancing simply because he offers what is supposed to come next when he's ready. That's what I would consider my #1 revelation on this journey. How much if you get your basics, everything just keeps coming.

                                  I don't know how anyone can advance without help. There are too many things I am only learning to feel which I wouldn't be aware of without proper instruction from the ground. We tend to make a lot of progress between lessons, but those lessons are super important, too!
                                  Originally posted by Silverbridge
                                  If you get anything on your Facebook feed about who is going to the Olympics in 2012 or guessing the outcome of Bush v Gore please start threads about those, too.

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