When I decided to embark on this dressage thing with Spot I did what any other rider would do, look for a good trainer.
There are quite a few dressage trainers in my area and being the technical and science-y person I am, I really did my research on a handful of them. I took lessons with a few of them but they always kept on asking me to take more and more contact while asking for more forward to push Spot into the bridle. After having been ridden by heavy handed riders in polo Spot doesn’t stand for it and she would charge around with her head in the air going “Nope”.
One day when cruising the craigslist I thought to myself, “hey! I look for almost everything I want to buy on craigslist, lets see if I can find a dressage trainer!” Lo and behold, a trainer’s post popped up out of the search so I went ahead and emailed her to get some more information. This trainer, Trainer A, wrote me back and told me about her experience and how she had trained with Karl Mikolka (a previous principle rider for the SRS) for 6 years and was the assistant trainer to Anita Adams, Karl’s 1st and long time working student. This got me excited as I wanted a classical dressage education. The thing that got me in her email was her attitude towards training and teaching. This is what she said:
“I started many horses, trained through Prix St. George, worked with “problem horses,” and horses from other disciplines. In regards to teaching, I have worked with students from the ages of 14 to 72 (!), with a miriad of goals. Some wanted to show internationally, some wanted to learn to enjoy riding again, and some just wanted a horse they could stop. At my peak of teaching, I was giving about 8-12 lessons/wk while riding 4-8 horses daily.
As an instructor, I approach each horse and rider pair individually and always leave them with things to work on while riding on thier own. There are numerous exercises, so it is never monotonous, and I can approach each concept in a way that suits your learning style. My goal is to provide insight into developing a wonderful riding relationship for both horse and rider.”
After reading that, I knew I had to have her come out. Our first lesson with Trainer A was just about developing Spot’s rhythm and tempo in the trot as a lot of polo ponies don’t really have trot gear. Most polo ponies just canter off and rarely trot, so their speed goes sorta like this: walk, canter, and warp speed. While working on the trot, Trainer A just had me maintain a soft, but consistent contact to eliminate any ‘static’ in my rein communication as I had a bit of the floppy rein syndrome. A went on to talk about how a lot of people now a days misinterpret contact as the need for a heavy feel in the hands and the horse driving into the hand. When in reality it should just be a consistent, solid, but light feel; that you should be able to feel your horses mouth and not feel like you have 10 pounds of pressure.
Within our first lesson, Spot started to stretch out in her trot, relaxed her neck, and started to come through over her back…it was amazing! And best of all, Spot was totally with the program and was relaxed and willing during the whole thing; which was a huge difference from previous lessons where she was tense and fighting the whole time. After that 1st lesson, I knew Trainer A was the one for us!
So the exercise I want to share with you all today was the 1st thing Trainer A had me do in my lesson. It is a great one to develop your feel for your horses stride and how to halt on a specific leg. Knowing when each leg is on the ground is the moment you can influence that specific leg. This is really valuable because for example, we want our horse to strike off in the canter from the outside hind so being able to communicate the aid for the canter, we have to know which legs are on the ground at what point. Ok! Hopefully that made sense, so lets get to it! I’m going to call this the ‘Individual Leg Halting Exercise’.
Individual Leg Halting Exercise
Note: If you can have someone help tell you when each hoof touches the ground when you do this, it will help tremendously. Also, if you have mirrors that would work too.
Step 1: Start with a forward walk going to the left while maintaining a consistent contact, no loose reins!
Step 2: Start with picking out when the left hind leg touches the ground, have your helper shout out when it happens. It should be kinda like this “Now, Now, Now”. Go around a few times like this so you can get the feel of it.
Step 3: See if you can call when the left hind touches the ground yourself without your helper calling it out. If you can, great! After you feel you have that leg down, move on to the left front leg. You should go through the pattern like this: Left hind, Right Front, Right Hind, Right Front.
*Note: Don’t peek when learning to call out the front legs! You don’t want to be leaning down watching your horses legs, you won’t be able to feel the movement in your seat and legs.
Step 4: Now to put it all together! So say we want our horse to stop on the left hind leg. The pattern goes like this:
1. When the left hind foot is on the ground, step in your left stirrup and squeeze the left rein.
2. When the right hind foot is on the ground, step in your right stirrup and squeeze the right rein
3. When you come back to the left hind leg is on the ground, step into both stirrups and close your hands on both reins for the halt on the left hind.
Notes: When you step into you stirrups its just a light step, maybe 1 pound of pressure if that. No need to stomp into your stirrups.
Step 5: Repeat the same pattern for the other legs. With your cues being: same side, opposite side, then both together for the halt on the specific leg.
I usually do this exercise before when we are warming up at the walk. It helps Spot tune into my aids and gets her focused.
Hopefully this all made sense! Maybe give this a shot next time you ride and see if you and your horse pick it up. 🙂 I’d love to hear from people who try this to see what their experience was like. If I didn’t explain something too well please comment and I’ll try to explain.
Till next time!