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  • Critique/advice

    This is this gelding's third week in work after almost 5 months off. Before the 5 months off, he'd had a grand total of 3 'dressage' lessons, which were also my first ever dressage lessons, with a new trainer after 7 months of no lessons, coming from the hunter world. Needless to say, I'm quite happy with how good he's being! He's naturally very balanced and in my uneducated opinion, will be a very cute low level dressage horse.

    I've been doing "dressage" for about 6 months and obviously have no idea what I'm doing. This is the first video I have of myself in over a year and it's really helping me see what I"m doing wrong. I should note that I am NOT trying to get his head stuffed in a frame, despite what the vide might show. I really am trying to keep his throat latch open and not let him get stuck behind the vertical
    Things I already knew that the video tape showed:
    -Too low of hands
    -Not following enough with hands
    -Elbows out and hands turned in (grrr, can't break this habit)
    -Tense, unfollowing seat
    -Looking too far ahead in turns. Annoying habit I've had for years
    -Need more outside rein/leg in turns

    Things I did not realize I was doing
    -Choppy, 'stabbing' post-I need to soften and I bet he'll soften
    -Chair seat

    Any advice? How does his pace look? I'm focusing on keeping him forward without letting him rush, but I'm surprised to see that his canter looks so slow! I thought I was being good about keeping him forward. Oops!

  • #2
    Beautiful horse! Nice start....very focused work. Agree with the hands, sit UP bring you hands about 1" higher and CLOSER TOGETHER. He can't get a good connection as you are too far forward and not taking responsibility for your own balance/weight.

    When he puts his head down follow with the connection. He might have a good rhythm but he's not using his body 100%. I'm sure you will get more suspension/loft when you get the core/hands stabalized and shoulders back. Just don't arch your back funny when you bring the shoulders back---keep it flat.

    Shorten your reins about 4-6" and don't "reach" for them so much. I think if you lift the hands slightly that will help and BEND THOSE ELBOWS. Pick a hand position and keep it there, don't move so much (my bad habit too!). I don't mean to lock against the horse but if you have your hands in a certain "box" in front of the withers he needs to meet you at that rein length. I see a lot of floppy/movment in the reins and that is probably a big reason he is fussy. He isn't sure where you are going to be from one moment to the next. Keeping it light/soft is good, but consistency is key in being soft/light/throatlach open.

    He doesn't need more SPEED just more ENERGY.


    • #3
      Very nice horse and nice job for where you are in your training. Sure your horse is coming above the bit at times and yes, he could use himself better, but you have some really nice moments and it looks like you are working toward more of them.

      I think your saddle is putting you behind the motion (chair seat and your labored posting). You are landing on your bum and then have to climb out of the saddle each time you post.

      Usually, that is a sign that your stirrup bars are set too far forward for the length of your leg. Before you go out and buy a new saddle, you can make a slight adjustment by putting a rubber martingale ring over the bar before you put the leather on. This brings your stirrup position slightly further back.

      I think if you were able to have better balance (and it's mostly the saddle here) your hands would be steadier and he would take a more consistent contact.

      I don't always believe that the saddle is causing the problem with the rider's form, but in this case it probably is.
      Equine Ink - My soapbox for equestrian writings & reviews.
      EquestrianHow2 - Operating instructions for your horse.


      • #4
        What a nice boy! I bet he's fun to ride . I know from experience that it takes a looooooooong time to build the right muscles for dressage, for both horse and rider.

        The thing that really stuck out for me is that your saddle is putting you in a really obvious chair seat, with your heels very far in front of your shoulders, so it almost looks like you're water skiing on him. . Ideally, you want a straight line from your shoulders through your hips to your heels. Imagine what would happen if your horse suddenly vaporized while you were on him. You'd want to land on your feet, not your butt, right?

        Getting your alignment right will help with a lot of your problems. For one thing, it!'ll make posting much more balanced since you won't be coming from the very back of the saddle. To get the feeling of how you should be aligned, sit up nice and tall with your weight evenly on both seat bones Take your feet out the stirrups and let your legs hang down long from your hips. That's ideally where they should be to be most effective while you're riding.

        I'd suggest that in your next lesson, ask your trainer to help you get out of your chair seat position, and lots of other issues will get better fast.

        Good luck! Dressage is amazing!


        • #5
          Boy, there's lots to change in the discipline switch! (been there, done that)
          #1 thing to focus on is the chair seat, because it's the major influence for the rest of what's going on in your position, and your horse's demeanor.

          lengthen your stirrups, and listen to the ol' GM mantra
          "sit to the front, legs to the back"

          Think about allowing your legs to drag in the sand so much that your feet are parallel with the ground without changing the angle in your ankle. Your leg needs come come back at least 6"
          when you do this, make periodic position checks that you aren't dropping your pubic bone or hollowing your back to get your leg back there.

          a great exercise is to stand in the stirrups... not half seat but straight up with soft knees. if it's tough to stay up out of the tack like that, it means your position is off.
          chaque pas est fait ensemble


          • #6
            What everybody above said.

            Some little tips:

            Forward means ahead of the leg, not faster
            Toes to the nose.
            Thumbs up...soft wrists and elbows
            Post up between elbows
            Post down, up up, down, up up. That will show you where you are balance wise immediately..if you can do that without stirrups..(best on the lunge if you don't use stirrups) ..just be careful.
            Chin between ears (look with eyes)
            Post without stirrups, toes in.
            Don't grip with knees.

            Definitely would be easier with a different saddle...lengthen stirrups until you have a different saddle, but make sure you have a little bend in the knee.

            Good job so far, beautiful horse!!


            • Original Poster

              Thanks everyone! I agree the saddle doesn't really fit me, but it fits the horse beautifully (or at least it does when he's in better shape) and originally he was going to be sold this fall. We bought the first saddle that fit him, because his previous saddle was causing huge problems. Now I'm planning to keep him until late summer/fall 2012, so it's not worth getting a new saddle.

              Bogie- thank you for the suggestion to change the stirrup leather placement, I'll try that tomorrow


              • #8
                Bending the elbows is a must... But dont think about keeping your hands in an L it just creates other problems... The hands have to follow the mouth and with a shorter rein... If he wants to reach down your hands have to follow him but towards his neck rather than down towards his wither and your lap.

                The tempo you have is a little bit quick legged at times, feel free to go downward in tempo and then re-ask the horse to go upward with more connection, and again and again (not so much that a ground person can really see TOO much difference) but where you feel the body do that lazy feeling of slower legs.

                The canter since he is such a good boy can be used to help his trot.

                Go downward from the canter to the trot and just gently ride and half halt that trot because it will be the biggest trot a horse at this stage will give. But ask him to be balanced very gently in your half halts... That is how to train the trot upwards really is going downwards until you find the forward in balance

                Then downwards again to the walk and ride up the walk big walk from trot... If he dies from trot to a very slow walk then back up to trot until you get a downward with super quiet hands and forward movement instead of that stall out feeling.
                ~~Member of the TB's Rule Clique ~~


                • #9
                  Love the horse. I like how well his back ties into his haunches.

                  I would remove that contraption that's supposed to be a caveson. When your hands follow and release better then he won't open his mouth to avoid the bit. Removing it will give you instant feedback on how well your hands are following and giving. If his mouth is open, think more in terms of vibrating the reins and releasing the pressure when he gives. It's requires you to be softer with your hands and have better timing with your releases. Incorporate a lot more releases into your ride time. Don't pull. Squeeze and release. Release is the main key here. More releases. They don't have to be so big that your rein is loopy, but it does have to remove the pressure on the bit. Release is his reward for listening to the bit and accepting pressure.

                  Drop your stirrups by about 4 holes. You can't get your leg below you because your stirrups are too short. That pushes your knee forward and the bottom of your leg follows. Ideally, when you drop your stirrups, the bottom of the iron should be about level with the bottom of your foot.

                  Turn your thigh inward. Lift your leg off the saddle, turn your entire thigh and leg pigeon toed, and set it back against the horse. This will help you use your whole leg. Right now, you appear to be holding more with the back of your calf. It should be the inside of the calf.

                  Get his teeth checked too. He seems very unhappy about the bit.

                  Last... I think you're a very good rider, very patient, and with a good attitude. You sit softly, your legs are very still and it doesn't appear you're overly 'grippy' with your knee or calf. Once your shoulders are aligned over your hips (and hips over your feet), then that stabby posting will go away. Your leg looks relaxed and appears to be working well as a shock absorber. You aren't inadvertently thumping him for no reason, and your leg aids are quiet and effective.

                  Your horse looks like he's in front of your leg aids, and listening well to them. The canter looked great, and I wouldn't ask for anymore forward at this point. I would try a little counter bend, then true bend to soften his poll in the canter.

                  Your upper body appears to fall forwards at times and at other times you're sitting very tall and upward. I'm sure the leaning forward is the result of the too short stirrups though. Otherwise, you appear very balanced in your upper body, and have a strong core.

                  I'd suggest riding without stirrups for a few weeks to work on lengthening your leg. I would also start stretching exercises for your hips and upper thigh muscles 4-5 times a week at home so that you'll have the flexibility in your hips to allow your lower leg to fall beneath you.

                  My biggest concern with your horse is that he's going to be extremely hard to teach how to use his back. He's good at faking it since he's so compact and balanced already. You might want to see if you can ride someone else's horse that is using their back correctly to learn how that feels. Then you will know when Sailor is using his correctly or not.


                  • #10
                    Nice horse. Transitioning from hunt seat to dressage is an interesting challenge, isn't it? Your list of things to fix is correct -- and it's great that you've identified things you can work on.

                    I agree with the previous posters who suggested lengthening your stirrup leathers. Have you seen the photos in Anne Kursinski's book where she shows the ideal leg position for flatwork? That's the leg position I'd suggest -- just pay attention to the angle at the knee rather than the relationship of the leg to the saddle, and adjust for your own body.

                    You're right that your horse isn't really using himself. I don't know if that's because you're not asking or because he's dull to your leg. If he's dull, use your whip to reinforce your leg until your leg means something. Sometimes, just a tap on the shoulder with a crop does the trick.

                    Regardless, I'd drop the whip if and when you don't need it. I think if you do, you'll find it much easier to improve your hands, shoulders and elbows. Best of luck on your journey!
                    The aids are the legs, the hands, the weight of the rider, the whip, the caress, the voice and the use of extraneous circumstances. ~ General Decarpentry


                    • #11
                      There is no way you can get your body into correct allignment for dressage in the present saddle. You need a dressage seat saddle, not a forward seat, which this one appears to be. When we ride a forward seat in hunter, our goal is to get our center of gravity forward over the horse's center. That is the reason the stirrups are set forward. In dressage, we are seeking to stay positioned, and through the process of training and eventual collection, bring the horse's center both higher and more to the rear, which places it into allignment with our own center.

                      Lowering your stirrups in this saddle will not help you. You might be able to get by with one or two notches longer, but after that, you will have trouble keeping your feet in the stirrups. That still will not fix the fact that the stirrups are hung too far forward for dressage. You can do the levels of dressage in which you can post all trot movements in a forward seat saddle. But, when you begin the sitting trot, you absolutely cannot sit properly in a forward seat. In addition, since the posting trot has a slightly different balance point in a forward seat than in a dressage saddle, when you must learn to sit the trot for dressage, it will become a problem because you will have your pelvis incorrectly tipped forward, placing you on your crotch.

                      In dressage, you want to be able to barely have your heels lowered for any forward moving motion...not jammed down as your do for jumping. The reason is because you want your ankle flexible, so that you can deliberately change the weighting on the stirrups by changing your weight aids which affect your feet. This is going to be a difficult thing for you to relearn.

                      Forward in the dressage sense is not about your speed/tempo. It is about keeping the horse in correct balance rather than on the forehand.

                      In your posting trot, you are trying to get the horse moving faster by flinging yourself up over his withers. This is actually putting your center ahead of his, which causes him to be on the forehand to a greater degree, and actually slows the motion. Allow the horse's motion to throw you into the air and do not force that upward movement of your body as if you are coming off a hot seat. In the posting trot, the only time you have to move the horse forward is as your seat comes back into the saddle. It is the downward movement of your torso that drives the horse's hindquarters forward into your hands.

                      You canter was not too bad, but again, the saddle is not helping you find a correct canter seat for dressage. In the forward seat saddle, the rider's upper body actually slightly leans forward, taking the rider's buttocks away from the saddle. In the dressage saddle, you want to stay perfectly erect with your torso, rounding your seat under you slightly so that there is never a flop at the end of each canter stride.

                      I hope you are able to get a new saddle sooner rather than later as I think your horse has lots of potential.