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  Equestrian Coaching

  Hilary French on Elvis

Understanding the inter relationship of the scales of training-Schwung

The ultimate aim of the training of any horse is one that moves with rhythmic paces, relaxation, straight and in self-carriage and the over-riding impression should be that the horse is moving with Schwung. This means that the horse is transmitting energetic impulsion which has been created by the hind legs in a forwards movement of the entire horse with an elastically swinging back. True collection produces more Schwung and cadence in the strides and not just a shortening of the steps.

If the elasticity and correct training is compromised then the straightness and quality of the paces will be lost, particularly in the lateral movements as this is when the hind legs are not always stepping forwards towards the centre of gravity on a narrow track. That is why the lateral movements (with the exception of leg-yield) are not taught until the horse is capable of consistently bending the hind limb joints evenly, carrying weight and having the hind stepping straight under his body (ie the horse must may able to show the requirements of Durchlassigkeit that will be a feature in the January update) .The highest movements (piaffe & passage) should never be attempted until Schwung has been developed in the trot and canter (walk does not have Schwung as it does not have impulsion but should always have relaxation and activity).

Sometimes in the tempi changes, the horse can become used to the movement and start to perform it in a robotic slightly automatic way so loses Schwung (and consequently will lose engagement and the changes will not gain enough ground) and this is often the difference between a 6 & 7 or 7 & 8 for two correctly counted and secure lines of changes. By putting variety into training programmes, so that the horse is genuinely on the change aids and not over-anticipating the exercise. Similarly it is easy for the horse to lose Schwung in the pirouettes if they are not fully established so the rider must always prioritise re-establishing the Schwung in the canter immediately they have ended the pirouette. In training if the horse increases the weight on the inside shoulder in the pirouette then the rider should always ride out of the pirouette and work on the Schwung again.

True collection can only be developed through correct training and as a rider it is always your responsibility to make sure that Schwung is maintained throughout your work. If it is not then you need to review your training as there will be a flawed step somewhere.

Kim On Late O'Leary - Winter Championships  

Understanding the movements-Simple Changes

The simple change of leg is a movement that is designed to be a starting point towards teaching the flying changes. In addition the effect of the preparation of the downwards transition would be preparation for the collection of the canter. The requirements are that the horse moves softly and smoothly (like a butterfly landing on a leaf) from the canter to the walk and walks positively forwards in an active and rhythmic walk for 3-5 steps (not strides) and then moves directly and actively into the opposite canter.

The best time to ask for the walk transition is when the horse is in the rising/lifting phase of the canter, and the canter should be asked for as the inside shoulder goes forwards. The rider needs to ensure that they do not over prepare the transitions- use the adage, Think Prepare Do and use it in a rhythm.

Before you start riding the simple changes, make sure that you can ride the canter-walk-canter on a 10 metre circle staying on the same rein. Give the horse confidence by allowing him to walk as soon as you have asked and ensure that you do not keep the downwards transition aid on for too long so that you ride the downwards transition with too much hand. Once you are confident in those transitions then you can ride the simple changes –using the 10 metre half circles on to the centre line is often an easy place to start but in time you need to ensure that you can ride the simple changes both on a straight line (e.g. on the short diagonal) and from the counter canter which is more difficult as the horse will be less balanced in the counter canter than in the true canter. Always pay attention to the walk as it needs to be relaxed and active and in a clear rhythm and ensure that the upwards transition is direct. The walk transition should also be direct but if there is some trot/jog in the early stages then this is a lesser fault than the upwards transition being progressive

I once asked Andrew Gould , what his aids were for a downwards transition from canter and he said that he just pushed down on to the stirrups if he wanted trot, harder if he wanted walk and even harder if he wanted halt. The system was clear to him and to his horses. As aids are a system of communication then you always have the choice as to what system you use as long as you can use them in the dressage arena and as long as they are clear.

(by kind permission of Ian Barr Images- see links)


Improving the Feel

When I ask a rider to describe a movement such as shoulder in or a corner they either describe how it looks from the ground or they describe the aids to get it. Rarely, if ever, do they describe how it feels. The result is that many amateur riders tend to spend too much time looking at what the horse is doing which over rides the sense of feel. In addition it also means that they are not taking enough notice of the path they are taking in the school.

There are two exercises to do to improve your feel - firstly arrange to be lunged, preferably on your own horse by a confident and experienced person. Once you feel comfortable and confident, close your eyes. Allow your body to feel your weight distribution, the weight in each rein, how the horse is moving underneath you. Do the same in all paces, feeling for how each leg moves in each pace, for the best time to ask for the transitions, feel what your body does, how balanced are you? Do the same using lateral movements on the circle- describe what you can feel- do you feel the horse taking more weight on one leg than the other?

The second exercise is for you to ride a session without looking at the horse, you can either look up and away from you look in detail at the lines you are riding, does the horse try to turn the corners before you are ready? Or you can look downwards at the pommel of the saddle – but only if it is safe to do so with the other riders around so that you can focus on the feelings you are getting and not be distracted by what is happening around you. Ride transitions- remembering what you felt on the lunge- feel for the best time to ask for transitions both upwards and downwards, similarly with the lateral work.. To help you become more aware of moments when you look a the horse, tie a piece of coloured wool half way down the mane- every time you see it, you’ll be aware that you aren’t keeping your focus- and imagine, if you are conscious of looking at it when you are supposed to be looking at your lines just imagine how often you look normally!

If there are specific articles that you are interested in then please send me a contact form

Rona Willicott of Sound Schooling with Flynn

Goal of the Month: Lateral work on the circle (1)



Working on the circle to develop the lateral work is a way of preparing the horse for greater suppleness and collection. The most basic of these exercises is decreasing and increasing the size of the circle but this needs to be ridden with care to obtain the maximum benefit.

We will start by decreasing the size of the circle. Whilst some people advocate moving your weight to the inside. I prefer riders to keep their weight even on your seat bones whilst you deepen your inside leg- if you move your weight too much then you can start to lean or even become stiff in the back so think of stretching into the stirrup but keep even weight on your seatbelts. Take your inside hand a little more to the inside but making sure that you do not try to pull the horse sideways, merely guide the horse. The bend will get smaller as the circle becomes smaller but should never be created by a restrictive and backwards inside hand. The movement of the rein can become smaller and smaller as your horse becomes more and responsive to the leg aids. Move the outside leg a couple of inches further behind the girth- ensure that you do not move it up and back as this will alter the evenness of the weight on the seat bones and you want to make the horse sensitive to the smallest clear aid you can give. The forehand should always be slightly in advance of the quarters and the inside leg will also be used to maintain the forwards energy.

If the horse tries to evade the collecting effect of the exercise by falling out throught he outside shoulder and bringing the quarters in then you will need to increase the use of the outside rein and inside leg. The small circle is hard work for the horse so do not remain in it for more than 2 circles before increasing the size of the circle again. When starting this movement, think of a shoulder-in movement, and take the horse out with the inside leg and outside rein on a spiral towards the line of the original circle. The effect of this will be to bring the horse more securely on to the outside rein so ensure that you maintain your weight squarely on your seat bones but the weight on the inside stirrup should return to normal rather than the increase that you created to go into the circle. Make sure that your reins stay even and that you keep the inside hand to the inside and that you do not cross the hand over the withers towards the outside as this can change the balance too much on to the outside shoulder.