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Fit event horses being tense in dressage

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  • Fit event horses being tense in dressage

    I have a very good friend who is an R judge and does a lot of event judging through the top levels/BNT riders. We were talking about some of the recent event rides she has judged and discussed how hard it is, the higher level you go -- and the fitter the horse is -- to truly get relaxation and swing. Having said that, I know I saw some lovely event tests at WEG last year (thinking of Becky on Comet).

    Knowing that relaxation is the first stinking thing to achieve in the dressage, I myself am having trouble with my Training/Prelim mare who becomes tense just before and during the test. Mind you, we have some lovely, soft, round warm-ups, then it's often a whole different ballgame going into the test. In fact, this past weekend she had a little hissy fit outside the ring before we went in and the test really suffered. I thought part of it was me getting tense, but I have consciously used breathing and relaxation techniques recently and don't feel that I react in a tightening way.

    Anyone tricks or tips for handling the change from great horse in warm-up to $%^& horse in ring? Ride more aggressively to say "get up there you're being a pig" or try and relax myself more? I fear my program is moving toward spending a whole summer at dressage shows...

  • #2
    I have an OTTB who sounds exactly like you describe, except my warm ups were often tense too. I actually work with an R judge who really helped me get him started correctly, but there came a point where things were not improving anymore, so I went to another dressage judge in the area who I know has experience eventing with TBs. It really helped to have another opinion and I actually had her come with me to a few schooling shows to help me warm up. I still work with my other trainer on a weekly basis and see this newer trainer less often, but it's still very valuable. She really had me work on getting him to stretch.

    During the two times she came to a show with me (and during lessons prior), she had me really push his trot out on a circle, even if it became quick for a bit. It's like it gave him somewhere to take his tension. We also did a lot of canter lengthenings on a circle and transitions back. It's exhausting doing an hour of warmup, but it seemed to help. His last two dressage shows he scored quite well. He can still get tense as he starts to trot around the ring though. I have to make sure I don't change the way I'm riding when I get to the competition ring. Sometimes I change my posting and start to lose the swing in my hips. It helps if there's a place to circle at the end of the ring so I can get him listening to me. Any straight lines tend to work against us.

    This past weekend at Morven I was on my own and did an hour warmup. To my surprise, he was quite willing and relaxed within a half hour, so I just kept him moving and constantly stretching and making transitions within the gaits. He can still be a bit of a jerk with the free walk to medium walk to trot to right lead canter sequence. He flips his head and releases his tension that way, but lets it go as soon as we get on a circle. I've been avoiding that sequence at home, but I think it's time to start drilling it until he gets bored with it.

    Anyways, my advice would be to go to as many schooling shows as you can, even if it's multiple weekends in a row. Do two or three tests and find out whether doing them back to back is better, or maybe do one, then go back in the warm up and let her know whatever crap she pulled in the ring is not acceptable, then do another test. The important thing to remember is, it's a schooling show. Tell the judge you're schooling and that you might make an extra circle if needed. I found that helped me relax too when I was doing lots of tests every month. Then going to an event just felt like another dressage test.

    At the show itself, maybe pushing her forward in a bigger trot around the ring could allow her to release some tension (as long as she'll come back to a nice working gait).

    Does she work around other horses at home? That really works against us because I keep my horse at home where it's usually just me riding. It's a difficult thing for a tense horse to go from the quiet of home to a chaotic warm up ring, just to leave the group again and do a test.
    Lindsay

    Check out my blog at http://lindsayberreth.com

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    • #3
      The difference between warmup and test is the amount and frequency of the transitions. Lots more coming lots quicker in the test. You have to school those to work on the tenseness issue, I think. You can have the greatest warmup in the world and go in the ring and have bing/bing/bing three or four transitions within 30 seconds and my quiet, through horse is right in a pretzel with all those half halts and leg touches. Gotta school those multiple transitions to find out how to fix the tenseness. It's all training and conditioning. I have to teach my horse to relax WHILE going in and out of three gaits within 5 minutes.
      Proud & Permanent Student Of The Long Road
      Read me: EN (http://eventingnation.com/author/annemarch/) and HJU (http://horsejunkiesunited.com/author/holly-covey/)

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      • #4
        the thing that works the best for my mare, and ultimately for me, because i don't have time to think about being nervous/tense myself is warming up each gait ELASTICALLY. like, push push push that trot bigger and give her somewhere to reach with all that energy. then make it small small smaller until its almost a passage- and as SOON as she gets comfortable in one type of gait, change it up until she is LISTENING and WAITING for my aids. with a mare thats fit, athletic, smart, and likes to make the decisions, it really benefits us because she has to look to me for whats next and all the while she is burning off our extra exuberance. by the time we enter the ring, she is obedient and workmanlike- which is key for showing off her actual abilities!

        good luck and i hope you find something that works for you!
        Jazz- 4.9.01 OTTB, loved since 12.6.09
        Skip- 3.3.91 APHA, i miss you buddy

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        • #5
          Go to dressage schooling shows and experiment.

          For example, skip the warm-up. Just take a walk instead, then go straight into the ring.

          This works for some horses, like last year's Burghley winner Lenamore. (One of my mares did not jump warm-up fences. If you asked her to, she got angry and rather demonstrative about it. She would always jump in the competition ring.)

          Another idea: go straight from the warm-up to the dressage ring at the trot or canter. Keep the mare busy with laterals (or transitions, but these can disrupt your rhythm and make the horse tense). Explain your plan to the clipboard person well in advance so that when they call you, you'll be all set to go.

          Also, don't worry too much about a tense horse. Just try to relax, and don't let the scores/comments get you down. If your schooling is going well at home and your jumping phases are going well, then your training is working. The performance in the ring may come with time, but even if it doesn't, you can still event successfully.

          (My horses never like dressage. )

          Comment


          • #6
            Ugh, I can so empathize!! My TB pony has some REALLY nice dressage work in him (we school 3rd/4th level at home), but all goes to hell when trying to put in a lower level test. I'm actually the opposite of retread in that I don't think there are *enough* transitions and things to do in the dressage tests. My pony is the typical think-ahead and anticipate type, so I'm constantly doing something different and changing things in order to get him working better and more through. Once we're into a boring dressage test with big circles and diagonal lines, he gets tight and locked. It probably doesn't help one bit that I expect him to be horrible the second we step into the ring and I start getting upset about how stupid I'm going to look.

            To tell you the truth, the best dressage test I had was my last show of the season when I laughed walking over to the dressage ring and literally said, "Screw it. I give up. Come what may." Go figure I ended up getting a 30.5! Though my horse didn't look nearly as nice and put together as he does at home (though, at the same time, that's not exactly appropriate for a novice dressage test), me being that relaxed caused him to be relaxed and appropriately connected and soft.

            I've heard over and over that the best way to get better at the dressage test is to go to boatloads of schooling dressage shows so that being in the ring becomes boring. I bet that advice is 100% true...I just need to get over my fear of looking like a total ass and actually DO it!
            "Last time I picked your feet, you broke my toe!"

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            • #7
              Totally agree with JER - I love the ideas about warm-up experimenting...

              I was more thinking that it's possible she says "hell with it, this ring is the last thing I see before the jumping starts, just get it over with". Go to a dressage schooling show and ride 3 tests over the day.

              I had a little Training level arab who, while still doing Novice, that the dressage ring meant in a little bit he'd get to go run and jump.

              I laughed to myself when we took him to a dressage show and, after finishing his first test, he got to hang out for a bit and then, much to his dismay, we were back in the dressage ring again! And then again! It definitely did the trick for him though - he went out in a big Open Training field that same summer and beat out all the big horses!

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by piaffeprincess98 View Post
                He can still be a bit of a jerk with the free walk to medium walk to trot to right lead canter sequence. He flips his head and releases his tension that way, but lets it go as soon as we get on a circle. I've been avoiding that sequence at home, but I think it's time to start drilling it until he gets bored with it.
                Glad to know I'm not the only one on an OTTB who cannot seem to make sense of this sequence. It's mind-blowing because it's so simple, right? And yet I always blow it.

                Although I will freely admit that most of the tension in my tests is coming form me. Now the mare deserves her share of the blame, but I know that I am far from relaxed.

                The dressage trainer I've been working with has basically given me the same drill as piaffeprincess. Unfortunately, I haven't had her at any shows, which is where I need the routine.

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                • #9
                  If you can set up a dressage arena at home, I highly recommend it. It's so much easier to get that nice forward, relaxed, over the topline stride in the bigger warm-up space that, for me at least, going into the arena to do my test always leaves me with a rushed, "oh-no-I'm-running-out-of-room-quick-canter!" feeling- which definitely contributes to my horse's tension (no matter how calm we are when we initially enter the ring). Having whole lessons or rides by myself in a small arena makes me, and my horse, more comfortable with the smaller space so that when we get to the show, it's manageable.

                  If you don't have a dressage arena, make one by using jump poles- two poles at right angles to make up each corner. I measured out my 20x60 m and put markers on the arena posts so I didn't have to measure each time I wanted to "build" my high tech dressage ring .
                  Balanced Care Equine

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by faybe View Post
                    If you can set up a dressage arena at home, I highly recommend it. It's so much easier to get that nice forward, relaxed, over the topline stride in the bigger warm-up space that, for me at least, going into the arena to do my test always leaves me with a rushed, "oh-no-I'm-running-out-of-room-quick-canter!" feeling- which definitely contributes to my horse's tension (no matter how calm we are when we initially enter the ring). Having whole lessons or rides by myself in a small arena makes me, and my horse, more comfortable with the smaller space so that when we get to the show, it's manageable.

                    If you don't have a dressage arena, make one by using jump poles- two poles at right angles to make up each corner. I measured out my 20x60 m and put markers on the arena posts so I didn't have to measure each time I wanted to "build" my high tech dressage ring .
                    I was about to say this too. It really helps to set up an arena at home. Some horses just freeze or tense up the minute they trot through those white boards - probably due to rider doing the same thing, or memory of rider doing the same thing.

                    I have one who tends to tense up and shorten his trot once he starts to go around the arena and I use a lot of shoulder-in to try to keep him stepping through and staying with me before entering. My husband competes a TB who can be very hot and spooky and it generally helps to give him a good work out the day before and then if neccessary lunge him when getting to the event before riding. He is fit enough to take that much work.

                    Bribery with polo mints can help too - I just reach down and hand them to them. It can help to keep their mind on the rider.

                    I watched Lenamore in the trot up in Badminton last year and it looked like Caroline had to keep feeding him treats to keep his mind on her. Apparently he has managed to turn himself upside down in a trot up in the past, purely from acting up!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Agree with JER - and sometimes less is more. My driving pony will be 15 this year (major recycle/rehab after a long history of being driven incorrectly). The warm up that is currently working the best for us is about 20 or so minutes of trotting and cantering on a loose rein - loosening up the body parts. I may school tiny bits of the test, but if he is only capable of correct work for 10 minutes, why not let that take place in the ring. The bell rings, then I pick him up and go to work. My trainer is fond of reminding me that if I didn't bring it with me to the show, I am not going to find it in the warm up.

                      There is also a difference, I think, between being "fit" for cross country and having the muscle to carry oneself in dressage. My pony is very fit - he is currently competing at preliminary level which requires about a 14 kilometer effort on marathon day. I find that "fit" for dressage, i.e. building the muscle that it takes requires a lot more time.

                      Just tried this out with my husband's very green OTTB and it worked like a charm.
                      Last edited by pegasusmom; Apr. 5, 2011, 07:24 AM.
                      www.amiddle-agedmadwomantakesthereins.blogspot.com

                      www.pegasusridge.com

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by archieflies View Post
                        Glad to know I'm not the only one on an OTTB who cannot seem to make sense of this sequence. It's mind-blowing because it's so simple, right? And yet I always blow it.

                        Although I will freely admit that most of the tension in my tests is coming form me. Now the mare deserves her share of the blame, but I know that I am far from relaxed.

                        The dressage trainer I've been working with has basically given me the same drill as piaffeprincess. Unfortunately, I haven't had her at any shows, which is where I need the routine.
                        Likewise! And I just saw that is comes in the prelim tests too, so we better get used to it. At this point, I start to get tense just in this sequence because I know what's coming, and then he feels it.
                        Lindsay

                        Check out my blog at http://lindsayberreth.com

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                        • #13
                          I used to have horribly tense dressage tests. The warm-ups would be lovely but the minute I turned down centerline, it all got blown to heck. After a while I figured out it was me. I put so much pressure on myself for the test to be perfect that I would tense up and hold my breath. I came out of tests sounding like I'd run a marathon.

                          Since I was holding my breath and expecting the worst, my poor horse spent the whole test thinking there were horse eating monsters hiding behind the letters.

                          So I started going to a bunch of dressage schooling shows and my trainer had me really work on just riding the test one movement at a time. If you blow one, oh well it's in the past, move on and focus on the next.

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                          • #14
                            My mare gets super tense as soon as we start circling the ring, even when we had great warm ups... I've tried everything from stretching to breathing exercises to schooling shows and just couldn't get the tension out. My most recent tactic has been in warm up to work on getting her really fully relaxed, as if were just going out for a hack and slowly putting her together from that. Her 'happy place' is her giant lengthened trot, which she chooses to do on her own if I loosen the reins and just post with her. As we slowly collect and get her together from about 10 minutes of allowing her to enjoy her trot, I use it as almost a reward, so when she really stays relaxed as we collect, I allow her to stretch out again on a long side... If she stays nice through a transition, same thing. So basically I use her happy place as a reward, and she has begun to understand and seems to work for the reward now, even when we go in the ring. I'm not sure what gait or pace your horse's 'happy place' may be, but might be worth a shot to try rewarding with his favorite type of movement. And if its lengthening like ours, it makes some brilliant in-test lengthenings!

                            Good luck!
                            www.tabeventing.com
                            http://www.tracey-eventblog.blogspot.com/

                            "A canter is a cure for every evil." - Benjamin Disraeli

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by flaxenmane View Post
                              Ride more aggressively to say "get up there you're being a pig" or try and relax myself more?
                              I know with my old TB the more I tried to relax the worse he got. In hindsight I think the reason was that I was equated "relax" with pulling my leg off of him and trying not to "bother him." Then when I needed to ask for something it involved not just the aid but also putting my leg back against his side so when I did use my leg it was too much, too sudden, too involved.

                              We make the mistake of thinking our hot horses are already forward so don't need as much leg. Wrong. The hotter they are the more important it is to put your leg on and keep it on. If at home they learn your leg is their security blanket at a show it really can help with the tension.

                              So not so much "get up there pig" as "this is my leg on your side with contact and the more tense you are the more I'm going to use it to push you forward."

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                We worked out tense by lots of shows, and me giving less about the score and more about the ride. FORWARD sometimes worked and SLOW sometimes worked. Depended on the day. But the main thing was communication. And Drat- those transitions where you're saying :HERE: rather than "this feels good, Now, let's walk...nice and balanced" because in the test, :HERE: is the transition.

                                My change in dressage came when I rode with Marjo and she made sure that I got that message loud and clear. Balance is great, and important for schooling rides, but for the sensitive ones, that sudden "this is where we have to do this" seems to put the horses (and for me, ME) into a tail spin. So many points are based on accurate movements in areas defined by the test. If it's between E and K, okay, usually could work on that a bit. It was the "Canter at M" that would get me and my ponies. Yeah, probably me, but I too felt fairly relaxed going in to the test, but it fell apart because of precision.

                                And when they say "F^5$7 you", you might have to say "well, okay, but I feed you, so for this 7 min, it has to go my way. So, Side, meet leg. Forward, pony...now." (this is a paraphrase after a dressage ride before G. Butts who was more annoyed with Taco than I was by the end of a test where he was much more concerned about something outside the ring than what I was asking him for in the ring)

                                Nice pics, btw!

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by subk View Post
                                  We make the mistake of thinking our hot horses are already forward so don't need as much leg. Wrong. The hotter they are the more important it is to put your leg on and keep it on.

                                  So not so much "get up there pig" as "this is my leg on your side with contact and the more tense you are the more I'm going to use it to push you forward."
                                  This x1000. When they are hot and spooking and looking it is the hardest thing to put your leg on and go forward into an accepting hand - but it does actually tend to improve the situation. Ask the giraffes-on-crack I've ridden how I know...

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    The best phrase in my head (for my hot spooky, known to bolt in the ring guys), "put your legs on and *push* him to slowness"
                                    OTTBs rule, but spots are good too!

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                                    • #19
                                      I feel your pain.

                                      Vernon brought a whole new level to the meaning of "tense." Even on his "best" days (his test at Millbrook comes to mind), while he was obedient, he moved like a sewing machine and felt a little like a ticking time bomb through the whole test. I think part of what got me the obedience was the fact that he got the snot ridden out of him at the venue twice the day before his test and once the morning of. Same could be said for his mostly obedient test at our P3DE in October (rode him quite a bit the days before and the day of). However, most of our tests (especially at 1 days) were explosive and just bad...and we had no good warm ups, either. Of course, Vernon is moving on to a new career because of his disgust for the little sandbox, so he is a very bad example.

                                      The thing I HAVE found that helps the tense horses is repetition. Get out and find low key dressage shows where you can just keep going in and doing tests- if you're sweet to the secretaries they may even schedule your tests close together. I've had this work on other horses and it worked to a degree with Vernon (he went to one dressage show where he was very naughty in one test then went right back in and scored in the high 60s in his second!). For the event horses it sometimes seems to help them realize that jumping does not always come after the dressage...sometimes more dressage comes after the dressage, so you might as well put your head down and get over it.

                                      Another thing the dressage trainer who helps me some had me do with Vernon was to go to dressage shows and do OTHER tests, NOT our prelim tests. She thought some of his naughtiness and tension stemmed from anticipation. We did the same 2 tests so often, that he KNEW what was coming. That's why I got the scores I got at the one show- instead of prelim A and B, we did First Level 3 and 4. He was thrown for a loop (also why I think he was mostly good at the P3DE...new test!).

                                      Other things: warm up more or less (might require experimenting, but one tense horse we had did better if he basically walked from the trailer/stall to the dressage ring); don't stop moving her feet- go from warm up to the ring with out losing a beat so she doesn't have a chance to think about her nerves; practice in a dressage ring when you can/as much as you can- if she gets used to the ring and so do you, it might relieve the tension you both may have at shows; keep her attention- if she is a spooky type, don't let her attention wander.
                                      Amanda

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                                      • #20
                                        I'm reading this thread with interest, because my eventer-turned-dressage horse was horrid at our last show. He's an OTTB - he keeps fit beyond his 6 hours/week under saddle. And as we're working he's getting stronger behind, too... which means if tense we now do this forward leap thing which makes him appear to be preparing for the Spanish Riding School.

                                        A couple weeks ago we had a two day show. Trailered in the day before, longed, my trainer and I both rode him. (I have her showing him specifically so she can ride him too and we can try to work through this... I have too much of a tendency to laugh at him instead of correcting him!) 9:10 ride the next morning, we longed, then I cantered for 40 minutes before my test. Or I should say, reared, cantered, bucked, cantered, spun, cantered.... We never lost brakes, and I could steer the front end so as long as I left room for his back end to fishtail since it was going faster than the front, we were ok. We barely made it in the arena for our test, but had a kind judge who gave us more than the 45 seconds normally allowed. As we went, he behaved better and better. As we left the test he walked for the first time that day, in a semi-relaxed state. My trainer showed later in the day and he was not great, but better behaved - and they scored in the 60s. He should be scoring in the 70s at first level based on how he is at home... but the 60s were generous that day! The next day he was sore/stiff from his acrobatics the day before, and happy to get out and work, just not able to do well. He was far better than the previous day, but not good. Hopefully continuing to go out to as many shows as possible will help him behave from the start...

                                        He actually used to be good at events, and at his last event with warmup in an enclosed area he was t-boned by someone (and the horse who ran into him fell down) while warming up for stadium. We have a theory this is part of why he is misbehaving, and that he needs to just get out and see that he's fine and nothing's hurting 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.

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