Recently, I have had an influx of new students. Whenever a new rider comes into my program, vocabulary plays a big part in the first several lessons. Creating a standardized set of terms to communicate about training is crucial. Which got me thinking about of how much dressage-ease differs from standard English. For example:
Relaxed = Attentive
Light = Steady
Submissive = When the horse lets you control of each of their body parts easily.
Suppleness = Adjustableness. In other words, can the rider control the wiggle?
Connection = When the reins have a steady taughtness to them that allows the horse to use their topline correctly to re-circulate the power from the hind legs over a swinging back.
In front of the leg = The horse’s energy is under the rider’s control, regardless of the speed or the tempo. The test of “in front of the leg” is when the rider puts the leg on the horse should make a polite change in the feel in the hand.
Behind the leg = The rider is not in charge of the energy. Sometimes it presents as the horse going too slow, sometimes it presents as the horse getting quick and running from the leg.
Bend = Creating and controlling an even curve along the entire horse’s spine, and placing that curve in front of the inside hind leg. Some parts bend more easily than others, so sometimes creating bend means straightening the neck. When the curve is placed in front of the inside hind leg, the power of the hind leg helps push the withers uphill. The amount of bend is determined by the line of travel – ie, a 10 meter circle needs more bend than a 20 m circle. The most extreme example of bend is walk and canter pirouettes. In those movements, the inside hind leg always steps straight, never crossing the outside hind.
Collected = Lots of power held back a bit by the balance and angle of the rider’s seat. Since the horse really wants to GO, the rider sits with their core tight and pelvis angled in such a way so the horse’s desire to GO becomes uphill balance.
Uphill = When the energy created by the horse lowers the croup and causes the withers to lift. Sometimes it can be felt by a change in the balance of the saddle. Sometimes it can be felt by an increase in shoulder mobility. Sometimes it can be felt by an ease of the movements. Sometimes the mirror is your best indicator.
Plus there are a few golden rules of dressage in our barn:
When in doubt, do the opposite. When the horse feels stiff and all you want to do is hold the bend, move them in and out of the bend. When they feel quick and you want to hold them back, put leg on and push the energy forward, then allow the horse to come back.
It takes more leg than you think. Particularly when the horse is learning collection. Or learning leg yield. Or pretty much anything, for that matter.
This is a sport. There are times you’ll be tired, times your abdominal and thigh muscles will be sore. Times when the best thing to do is spend some time off of the horse cross-training your balance and core muscles.
This is supposed to be fun. No matter what, enjoy the ride.