Here is a simple exercise for everyone as long as you have started asking your horse for simple bends (including those doing Grand Prix). At all gaits and with no fuss, using an easy inside rein that does NOT go toward the horse’s withers (an indirect rein), can you bend him a little left for four or five strides and then within one stride bend him a little right for four or five strides? He doesn’t turn because your inside leg prevents that. You should be able to do this ANYTIME – walking along the track, doing a leg yield or a half pass, or a canter pirouette. This should be easy and it is NOT wagging the head, but just a simple change of bend of the neck.
I taught my first lessons in a month recently and the lesson I found myself repeating often, and I hear other instructors repeating a lot, is the importance of the outside rein. This is a huge subject, but in brief… The concept of inside leg to outside rein is mega important. BUT that doesn’t mean one hangs on the outside rein or allows the horse to lean on the outside rein. If you were to give the outside so it goes loose for a stride, nothing should fall apart. On the other side is the importance of the use of the outside rein in general. The inside rein is generally the suppling rein as needed and also turns the horse’s head and neck. But the outside rein connects the horse’s body to his neck. (Many of you have been in the situation of trying to turn the horse where he doesn’t want to go and you pull his head practically to your knee and the horse continues to go in the opposite direction – just because his head turns doesn’t mean his body goes in the same direction.) So your most important turning aids are the outside rein and leg and the most important bending aids are the inside rein and leg. This is mega important on circles and corners to ensure that when you are bending the horse his shoulder doesn’t fall out.
Excerpt from Cavalletti for Dressage and Jumping (4th edition) by Ingrid and Reiner Klimke
Thank you to Martha Cook and Trafalgar Square Book for providing the below excerpt!
Cavalletti for Dressage and Jumping (4th edition) is available at Trafalgar Square Books. D4K friends can use the code D4K2020 and receive 25% off.
Cavalletti Work on Circles
Riding over cavalletti on circles and half circles makes a welcome change for young riders. The horse should already have a sound basic training and be used to working over cavalletti on straight lines. When working on both straight and curved lines, the horse must be straight. This means the hind feet must follow the tracks of the front feet. On circles, the horse is not straight if he makes the common fault of lifting his hind legs and moving them out to the side rather than stepping forward under the center of gravity. In order to avoid this, he must be flexed to the inside.
Cavalletti work on circles and half circles helps to loosen the horse, and can rectify stiffness on one side or the other, so the horse bends and flexes equally in both directions. If a horse is not straight, he will often lose rhythm – this is where cavalletti work can help by restoring elasticity and encouraging the placing of the hind feet under the center of gravity.
Over poles, the horse does not have the chance to step out to the side with the hind legs. The length of stride and pacing of the feet is so precise that the horse maintains his rhythm by himself. It takes very little practice before the hind feet step into the tracks of the front feet.
A figure of eight works the horse equally on both reins. Each circle requires four cavalletti set in a fan near the short side of the school. It is important to leave the track free so you can ride around the whole school on the track. In trot, this exercise is known as “changing direction through the circle.” It is not as useful in walk as it is in trot, but it is best to ride it in walk to start with, and you can revert to walk if you have problems.
Riding over cavalletti on circles is especially beneficial for training the horse’s inside hind leg to take weight. Because of this it can be quite strenuous, so avoid doing it for too long. Always tailor schooling sessions to the stage of training the horse has reached.
Straightness – A Challenge
Practically every horse has a natural asymmetry. Eliminating this asymmetry and thus straightening the horse is a central task of basic training.
Every rider must realize there is no such thing as an “absolutely” straight horse. This means that all riders, regardless of discipline or level, must rise daily to the challenge of straightening their horses.
The Corner – A Bending Line
It sounds counterintuitive, but what really helps is riding correctly through the corners. Every corner that the rider travels helps her straighten the horse. A corner is a quarter-volte, provided that it is ridden through correctly. How deeply you ride into the corners will depend on your horse’s age and, above all, level of training.
This means you won’t ride quite as deeply into the corners with a five-year-old (picture a 10-meter volte) as you would with an older and/or more highly trained horse. In this case, you could imagine a volte with a six-meter radius. What does experience tell us? Perhaps you are not riding the corners as quarter-voltes. The horse is not being positioned and bent through the corner. Often, the corners are ridden very flat and the horse does not come through with his hindquarters in the direction of his forehand. Often, the hindquarters fall out.
Therefore, you must give the task of riding bend through the corners special attention. When you can get successful “straight bending work” in the corners, it helps you correct the horse’s asymmetry and improve his straightness. At the same time, you are improving the horse’s obedience to your leg aids, which is especially important for the horse’s durchlässigkeit. This should apply regardless of how deeply you are riding through the corners.
If the rider goes large around the whole arena and rides through every single corner correctly – that is, her inside leg is driving the horse to the outside rein and she has the feeling that the horse is bending around this leg – she is on the correct path. Every time she rides through a corner, she must be able to feel forward with her inside rein, without this changing the horse’s connection and balance.
Thank you to Martha Cook and Trafalgar Square Books for providing this excerpt. Ride Better with Christoph Hess is available at Trafalgar Square Books. D4K friends can use the code D4K2020 and receive 25% off.
Photo credit: Harry Furey.
This suggestion is for those riding and those who are not able to ride. I find it surprising how often I have to teach riders how to shorten their reins. Seems easy, right?
First of all, normally one should not shorten the reins by dropping and grabbing the rein with the hand on the same side as the rein – right hand jumps forward or even crawls forward on the right rein to make it shorter. This causes the contact to be dropped and then often grabbed back or at the very least to wobble. One should reach across with the thumb and top finger of one hand, pull the rein through the other hand – taking the rein on top of the thumb and first finger of the opposite hand. And when you shorten the rein your hand should slide forward on the rein. Usually we do not shorten the rein to make it tighter, but to have the hand further forward. The hands should normally be in front of the pommel. If you hold your hands too wide or too low, this will be impossible to do easily. Your hands should be held near each other.
So my challenge to you is to play with shortening your reins and think carefully about what he horse feels on his mouth; remember the bit at the end of your reins lies on his bare gums. He should not know you are shortening your reins. Those of you in the house, get some narrow belts or twine or reins if you have them, and have someone else hold one end, or tie them to the back of a chair. Now see if you can shorten the reins without the other person feeling it or having the reins get looser or tighter as you do it.
As I was looking for a video to share I was surprised to find people telling you to shorten the reins the way I tell you NOT to – and you can see in the videos how the contact gets tighter and looser as they do it.
This one explains it the way I think you should shorten your reins: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUCvR0gIR5E.
Meghan Benge Photography.
If you have your boots at home, check these things out. Look at the wear on the inside of your boots. Are both boots the same? Is the wear on the inside or does the wear go into the seam on the back, which tells you that you probably ride with your leg turned out too much? It means your toes are out, but that most often starts at your hips. If that’s the case, start some hip opening exercises.
A quick thought for those riding
OK – today’s subject is s big one – half halts! But in a nutshell. Half halts are a prompt call to attention and rebalancing or reorganizing. Before you can do a half halt you must have a prompt go from the leg – as in, you say go more with your leg and the next stride is bigger or faster. And you say whoa with your hand/back/weight and the next stride is shorter or slower. Without that quick response you will not have a half halt (I wish that was all there is to it, but first check that out). Then can you make exactly one step bigger/faster and one step slower/shorter. Check that out today and then we’ll add to this.
Thank you, D4K family, for being patient concerning our upcoming activities. We will keep you posted as decisions are made. In the meantime, stay well and let’s all help each other get through this challenging time.
We have already cancelled the first three TEAM clinics of 2020. I know we must be careful keeping each other safe and healthy, but that many of you are still able to ride your horse in your back yard or are at a stable where you can keep six feet away from all humans at the stable. Best of all we can still hug our horses. One of the parts I’m sad about is that many of you were looking forward to getting some instruction. So I thought I would regularly send out some very simple ideas of things that riders of all levels could check on in their own riding. Nothing deep in theory — just little check-ups that any rider can do that will improve your riding.
- In one way the easiest, but we know bad habits are hard to break and this is a VERY bad habit for many. Keep your head up at all times. Have anyone watch you (they don’t need to know anything about riding). Can you have your head up and your eyes up no matter what you are doing (picking up your reins, transitions, looking at the spot you want to reach in a leg-yield or a half pass)? We know this has a big effect on your upper body and your ability to develop a strong back.
- Keep a soft fist – if your fist is tight your arm will be tight and it will be extremely difficult to keep an elastic arm and to follow the motion of the horse’s neck. Your rein is stabilized by your thumb and top finger and your other fingers should be able to open and close slightly to speak to your horse – to give an aid. Remember the idea of holding a child’s hand? Don’t let the child run out in traffic (with an open hand) but he’ll be screaming if you squish his hand too tightly.
I would love to hear from you with other suggestions I can share with everyone. Those of you who have used my goal sheets know my favorite questions: “What have you worked on all year that you should have fixed by now? Why haven’t you fixed it?” Share with me what that is and go out and fix it.
Stay well and happy riding.
To be eligible for the scholarship award, applicants must have participated in a Dressage4Kids program.
The Children of the Americas Dressage Invitational includes 2 days of training followed by 2 days of competition for children ages 12-14 from Canada, the United States, Mexico, South America, and Central America. Riders compete in the FEI Children’s Preliminary Test A and the FEI Children’s Musical Freestyle.
Scholarship applications are due by May 22, 2020.
About Dressage4Kids Inc
Dressage4Kids, Inc. is a non-profit organization incorporated for the express purpose of providing educational and competitive opportunities for youth riders and the adults who support them.
Saturday, October 13th from 5:30-9:30pm
Dressage4Kids is celebrating its 20th anniversary and we would like to invite you to join us in celebration!
Over the past twenty years, Dressage4Kids has touched the lives of thousands of dressage enthusiasts who have developed into our present international competitors, professionals, and lovers of horses.
The party will take place on Saturday, October 13th, coinciding with the 2018 NEDA Fall Symposium featuring Olympic Gold Medalist and World Record holder Charlotte Dujardin.
The Dressage4Kids celebration will be held at The Boylston Rooms in Easthampton, Massachusetts and will commence following the conclusion of Saturday’s activities. Attire is casual – guests are welcome to come directly from the Symposium.
The Dressage4Kids celebration will include food and festivities by Myer’s Catering and DJ Rob Alberti.
For tickets, to make a donation, and for more info, go to: https://dressage4kidsorg.presencehost.net/news-events/20th-anniversary-celebration.html.
Lendon Gray with her Dressage4Kids students at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival.
Saugerties, NY (August 22, 2016) – Since 1999, riders ages four through 21 have gathered to compete in the multi-faceted competition of the Youth Dressage Festival, the flagship of Lendon Gray’s non-profit organization Dressage4Kids. The Youth Dressage Festival furthers Dressage4Kids’ mission of crafting true horsemanship in the future generations of high-performance dressage. Dedicated sponsors who share the organization’s mission, such as The Horse of Course, stepped up to help make this year’s Youth Dressage Festival – held on August 12-14 at the HITS-on-the-Hudson show grounds in Saugerties, New York – a success.
The Horse of Course is a premier full-service tack shop led by CEO Beth Haist. The company has been a longtime supporter of dressage competitions across the United States. Although based in Claremore, Oklahoma, The Horse of Course is outfitted with a traveling mobile unit that is always on the move, and was a popular attraction this past weekend at the HITS-on-the-Hudson show grounds. The Horse of Course is known for its collection of fashionable and functional equestrian gear offered at affordable prices.
As an official sponsor of the Youth Dressage Festival, The Horse of Course donated polo wraps and embroidered saddle pads to the top placing ten riders of each of the 25 divisions. The event saw over 325 young riders compete in three phases – a written test, an individual dressage test, and a group equitation ride. When not displaying their talent in the saddle, competitors were also taking part in in-hand classes such as the Handler Class and Judging Sport Horse Conformation Class. The youth also had the experience of practicing their vet jogs for feedback.
The Horse of Course was delighted to sponsor the event, and enjoys constantly giving back to the sport of dressage to benefit all ages and levels of riders. Molly Lane, the Sponsorship Coordinator of Dressage4Kids and the Youth Dressage Festival, said, “I cannot thank The Horse of Course enough for their wonderful support of this unique and extremely popular event. On behalf of all of us on the committee, thank you!”
After rewarding the developing riders at the Youth Dressage Festival, The Horse of Course now continues to travel to equestrian events across the country. Next up will be several of the Great American Insurance Group/United States Dressage Federation Regional Championships. First, the Horse of Course will travel to the Region 4 Championships in Mason City, Iowa, then to the Region 1 in Williamston, North Carolina, and finally to Region 8 back in Saugerties, New York. The Horse of Course will also return to the hotly anticipated Dressage at Devon in Pennsylvania this year, as the company has been a loyal supporter of this show for over a decade.
The Horse of Course is dedicated to providing riders with the highest quality products at affordable prices, and the company’s knowledgeable staff is skilled in all areas of horse tack. The Horse of Course has an impeccable reputation for finding the perfectly fitting bit for horses, and also has professional saddle fitting, flocking, and repair services available. To see the company’s full mobile schedule and for more information on the services and popular brands available at The Horse of Course, such as Pikeur, Vespucci, Cavallo, Passier, and Sommer, visit www.thehorseofcourse.com.
Alexa Derr partners with Versace N, donated to her by Everglades Dressage through Dressage4Kids (photo courtesy of Alexa Derr).
Reinholds, Pennsylvania (March 19, 2015) – “As a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, we are able to accept horse donations which we then match to a home with one of our riders,” said U.S. Olympic Dressage veteran Lendon Gray, founder of youth-driven Dressage4Kids (D4K) and Winter Intensive Training Program (WITP). A recent horse-and-rider match made between Dressage4Kids rider Alexa Derr and Versace N., the 13-year-old, 16.3-hand, bay Prix St Georges Dutch Warmblood gelding (Sandor Hit x Harina) donated to Dressage4Kids by Bethany Peslar of Everglades Dressage, turned out to be a perfect fit.
“Versace N. is such a great horse. Now it’s his time to make dreams come true for a young rider. He and Alexa are a great match, and I’m happy that Everglades Dressage could give back to our dressage community while paying it forward to the next generation,” said Bethany Peslar.
“This could be an Under 25 Grand Prix horse for her,” said Gray, who has watched Derr on her former Young Rider horse, Just Livingston, grow as an equestrian over the three years that she has been riding in Gray’s programs. “When Bethany offered Versace N., the timing was amazing. Alexa had been riding through the D4K, WITP, and Emerging Dressage Rider programs on a very nice Young Rider/Intermediate horse — whose lease was up almost the same day that Bethany contacted us.”
“My stomach dropped when I received a text from Lendon to call her as soon as possible,” the Florida Young Rider Division Youth Champion Derr said. “The text came a few days after I was told the Young Rider horse I was leasing had a buyer, so I was sad and in limbo about my future. I am still in awe that Lendon and Dressage4Kids thought of me to be the rider of such a well-bred horse.”
The two have been getting to know one another since January. “Versace is the highest quality horse I have ever had the opportunity to ride. I was attracted to his sweet personality and expressiveness under saddle. His playfulness and curiosity are really beginning to show as he begins to trust me. He’s already found my weakness, which is his puppy dog eyes and gentle demeanor. It gets him cookies every time!” Derr, of Reinholds, Pennsylvania, laughs.
“I will forever be grateful to the Peslars and Everglades Dressage for donating Versace to Dressage4Kids. Their timing was impeccable. I was just starting my search for a potential FEI partner,” said Derr, who represented the 2014 NAJYRC Region 1 Young Rider team in Kentucky and competed at the USEF Festival of Champions and Region 1 Finals. “D4K has opened doors to train with Olympians at the Courtney King Dye Horse Mastership Clinic, be a member of the Emerging Dressage Athlete Program, and compete at Lendon’s Youth Dressage Festival — all of which have shaped the horsewoman I am today.”
Gray added, “I know Alexa will take good care of him and get the instruction they’ll need to build a great partnership. They’re working well together. She’s an excellent rider who will take the time to get to know him — she’s more interested in the partnership than the show ring. The rest will be up to them.”
“I am continually humbled by the generosity and support of the horse community. It is so important that we stay connected and empower each other to move forward. When someone like the Peslars donates to Dressage4Kids, who then pairs a horse with someone like me, it gives talented, dedicated riders a chance to apply all they have learned and dreamt about. I want to show my gratitude through more than a thank-you or how we perform in the ring. So once my college semester is over, I plan to host a fundraiser for Dressage4Kids. I want my opportunity to lead to opportunities for other riders,” states Derr.
Everglades Dressage, title sponsor of the first CDI ever held in Florida — the Palm Beach Dressage Derby CDI-W — is owned and operated by Bethany Peslar. For Peslar, supporting her sport is a way of life: In addition to sponsoring the Derby, Everglades Dressage has been supporting competitors at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival by presenting Everglades Dressage Rider Achievement Awards throughout the show series to salute those who demonstrate excellence in the show ring, improvements in their riding, or strong efforts and dedication to working well with their horses.
“Partnership is elemental to dressage. I’m so proud Everglades Dressage could play a part in bringing Versace and Alexa together as a perfect fit,” Peslar said.
To learn more about Everglades Dressage and Grand Prix rider and trainer Bethany Peslar, visit www.evergladesdressage.com.