How To Ride Dressage
Charlotte Dujardin At London Olympics
What is Dressage?
There was once a time when the only way to learn how to ride dressage was to get yourself a mentor and apprentice yourself. The process is long and arduous and for those who have access to top riders and stables is probably still the best way to go. However times they are a changing, and with the advent of video and the high speed internet new possibilities are opening up.
Some of you may even have seen my lens on the DVD Happy Horse Training lessons put out by Jane Savoie. This is still the only complete video course from the very bottom levels to the very top. So what exactly is dressage? Simply put it is the correct and proper athletic and gymnastic preparation of the horse for any discipline! That means that in fact all riders should dressage their horses no matter what their discipline is. It is all about balance, rhythm and connection.
Dressage therefore is actually the oldest method of training the horse, and it was first written about by Xenophon who was a Greek General around the times of Alexander the Great. Even at this time he wrote about the need to use no force at all in training the horse! Since he was training horses for war this insight was amazing, or perhaps they had arrived at this method because it was the only correct and logical method for training a horse?
This lens is far too short to actually teach you how to dressage a horse the process is long, it takes about 6 years for a top trainer to dressage a horse, these trainers start at around age 3 or 4 and it is unusual for a top dressage horse to be fully trained until it is between 8 and 12 years old. Consequently the lens will attempt to show you some of the best dressage, and point out some of the controversies and mainly to point the reader to the best available resources for obtaining training material, so you may dressage your horses correctly.
Picture Charlotte Dujardin winning The Olympic Dressage Gold Medal - Photo FEI Press Release when she took the World Top Ranking becoming the first Briton to do so.
The Book That First Laid Down The Principles Of Dressage
Xenophon was a Greek General who was an enlightened rider and put his training principles into writing for the benefit of his cavalry officers.
Xenophon was the first person to write a proper treatise on the reasoning and correct thinking in terms of the balanced and gymnastic training of the horse. His methods have stood the test of time as they are the foundations of the training pyramid seen in this lens, and which all correctly trained Dressage Instructors use to underpin their thinking and practices in their daily training routines.
The Basis Of Dressage
The Training Scale or Pyramid
There are 6 levels to correctly dressage a horse, Rhythm, Suppleness, Contact, Impulsion, Straightness, and Collection. These are often placed in a pyramid starting with Rhythm and finishing at the top with Collection. However they are not mutually exclusive, but are rather the building blocks that comprise the complete training of the horse.All exercises for the horse are designed to work on one or more areas of the pyramid or scale, and the aim of the trainer is to gradually improve the horse in all areas until it goes in a way that exhibits all of these features.
I am not going to attempt to teach Dressage here as it is a long process and others can do this far more effectively than I. What I hope people will take away is the fact that Dressage is not a way of riding but is in fact a training method, it is the only complete training method that exists. It is the foundation of all disciplines, every horse needs to be correctly and effectively dressaged in order to perform at its best.
The system is all about producing a horse that is correctly balanced and muscled so that it can move with correct rhythm, it is supple, maintains contact with the bit, and it moves with impulsion, carrying itself straight and in collection. (If you do not know what this means refer to the picture of Charlotte Dujardin who is demonstrating all of this perfectly).
Training in Dressage starts from leading the horse and is based on the concept of pressure and release. You want the horse to move away from pressure (it will start initially by moving toward it). You start with the young horse by getting it to shift its front feet, lean into it until it moves away then praise profusely, keep doing this until it is moving away from the lightest touch and reduce the praise gradually too, until just the words "good horse" suffices. The same principles are going to apply to all stages of the training. Do not rush anything and remember that it takes a long time, so set goals, but remember that the attention span of the horse is short! Using 20 minute intense training sessions 6 days a week is far more effective than using 2, 2 hour sessions. In fact long sessions will drive the training backwards, as horses bore quickly, and you will lose their attention. I know many frustrated horse owners due to this.
Remember you are building layers and you need to warm up correctly so every session should start with walk then trot, and only canter when the horse is exhibiting all of the levels in its training up to this point. The warm up session should be kept to 15 to 20 minutes for most horses, and the work about the same, try to keep the total time at the stable to no more than an hour to 1 1/2 hours total, with the horse. The horse needs to eat and drink pretty much all the time it is awake so be considerate of its needs, and it will respond better to you. If only Corporate bosses would treat their staff like we need to treat our horses!
The picture is a wall chart available from the US Dressage Federation. the picture links to their site, and I am not an affiliate so will not get paid for any Sales.
Dressage Training Online
The First Effective Online Dressage Training
The Internet has allowed the top Dressage riders and trainers to come together and solve your Dressage training issues through video training and demonstration rides, available direct to you over the internet. Top riders and trainers such as Walter Zetl, Edward Gal, Jan Brink, Shannon Peters etc. etc are all now available online for you to learn from.
DressageTrainingOnline.com, is an educational dressage training site. Feauring over 1300 (15) minute training videos with top trainers, riders and judges, Members get to see how they train on a daily basis. Judges explaining how the scores are given, and the reason they scored each movement the way they did, based on real events. Additionally, Dressage raining Online are partners with various federations and organizations and feature their sponsored content, such as forums, conferences and clinics.
Dressage Training On-Line
Dressage Training On-Line Link
- Dressage Training On Line
The best riders, trainers and experts are all putting their training tips on video and they are accessible from Dressage Training On-line. This is a must have resource for the serious dressage rider interested in improving their riding.
Edward Gal Morland Totillas World Record Ride - YouTube - And Charlotte Dujardin Olympic Gold Medal Winner
The First Video is of Edward Gal setting his World Record, the second is Charlotte Dujardin winning the Gold Medal at the London Olympics 2012 and the third is the correct way of training a dressage horse. This is what is really meant by long round and low, compare this to the Rollkur Photograph! in the next section.
The Current Controversy In The Sport
Roll Kur as Opposed To Long Round And Low
The sport of dressage has been plagued by controversy in recent years. This all really got started with Anky Von Grunsven and her husband Sjef Jansen, and it was unfortunate as Anky was regarded as one of the top Dressage riders of all times. She has won championships on several different horses.and set many World records. Due to this success their training methods were copied by many riders and even Edward Gal who set the World record score was trained out of their school.
I included both the current top rider in the World and Edward Gal's World record ride for a reason. The Roll Kur is the habit of training the horse held down forcibly by hand pressure, so that its nose is almost touching its chest. The fact that top riders were doing this in practice came out when a spectator at the Sydney Olympics filmed Anky Von Grunsven doing this and posted it on You Tube.
The practice is extremely uncomfortable for the horse and is done solely for the purpose of producing the long forward outstretching of the front legs at the extended trot. Charlotte DuJardin does not use this method she prefers the traditional form of riding, which includes riding long round and low in training, but with a loose rein. This practice is now seen to be better by the judges and they score these riders more highly now. The differences can be seen if you watch the videos back to back. Charlotte's transitions are far more subtle and the hands more relaxed and gentle.
The reason Roll Kur was done is to maximise the score for those parts of the test that have the highest marks, and because in looking spectacular it influenced the crowd and judges alike so better scores were achieved. The practice and attempts to ban it all together were started by the Xenophon Society. Klaus Balkenhol and Dr Gerd Heuschmann were early members and the hope was to ban the use of all force in the training of horses. Gerd Heuschmann who was the vet that really started the movement has unfortunately since been discredited for using excessive force while training his own horses!
However the Xenophon Society has continued under the capable chairmanship of Klaus Balkenhol, who has worked closely with the current British Dressage team riders. The practice is forcing the horse to overstretch its muscles and you can see the distress of the horse in the picture. In practice riders often ride their entire warm up in this way as Anky did with Bonfire at the Sydney Olympics. The Dutch couple claimed they only did this for short periods of time no more than 5 minutes, but the YouTube video ran for 27 continuous minutes, I believe the video has now been removed and the matter is still contentious.
However the effect of the Rollkur is the over extended trot which you see in Totillas, and the correct extended trot seen in Valegro the difference is in the legs the front and rear legs should be parallel, or the front just slightly ahead of parallel if the horse has great extension. In Rollkur horses the front leg is well above the parallel. Horses that are Rollkured will eventually become stiff and sore, which will show in their other gaits.
Dressage is the correct gymnastic development of the horse and leads to a well balanced performance from both horse and rider. It is a matter of physiology hyperflexion (The technical term for Rollkur) is not appropriate in any horse, at any time as it is going out of balance and rhythm. Both the IOC and FEI have been slow to enforce a total ban on Rollkur due to the number of top riders that are involved? It could also be due to fear of long drawn out legal battles over who is and who is not doing it. It currently looks as if the Xenophon side is winning slowly, as practices can now be observed and riders will not be permitted to compete if hyperflexion is evident at that time.
The true meaning of long round and low is demonstrated correctly in the third video above, which is a training video from a top trainer who really understands the correct meaning of this terminology.
Rollkur picture is from http://www.dressage-academy.com/images/rollkur.jpg
The Book That Really Got The Rollkur Out in The Open
Dr. Gerd Heuschmann was responsible for forcing the FEI and World Dressage Forum to discuss the harmful practice of Rollkur, when he published this book. It is a physiologically based treatise against using the Rollkur.
The practice of Rollkur was gradually undermining the iintegrity of Dressage as an International Horse Sport it was contrary to all of the old established principles of Dressage that have been being passed down from trainer to rider ever since the times of Xenophon.
Dressage Books on Amazon - A Great Way To Add To Your Knowledge
There are a lot of good books on Dressage, it is hard to specify which will suit you, all readers and authors have their own style, likes and dislikes.
The whole point of dressage is getting the horse to feel your aids and reducing pressure to such a low level that the aids are hardly noticeable. It is all a matter of feel!
Jane Savoie Dressage Trainer
This book is Jane Savoie's Introduction to the world of dressage. This is the type of riding that every rider should know about and it is all about being kind to the horse and keeping it happy. A great read for any serious rider.
This is probably the best basic book on learning to ride Dressage.
Linda Tellington Jones Trainer
Linda is one of the British greats as a rider and is famous as a trainer in particular her T Touch methodology. She is another trainer that believes all riders should dressage their horses.
Dressage is riding your horse with more than just your aids the Mind Body and Soul have to be involved too. This book shows you how.
Isabell Werth Rider
Isabell Werth was one of the top riders in the World in the field of Dressage for many years. In this book she explains how to do the movements that the top riders are expected to perform. Her years of experience can help you learn too.
It is always useful to have the how to guides for anything and this book is the source for all dressage movements and tips as to how to get there.
Avoiding The Wrong Ways To Dressage
Like in any other fields there are right and wrong ways to do things and sometimes we need to know what is wrong in order to avoid doing them. This book is aimed to help do just that.
Part of learning is avoiding the things not to do and that is where this book is coming from.
A Little Help In Doing Things For Yourself
A do it yourself book for anyone setting up an English riding facility, including dressage.
Dressage Items On eBay - Items That It Might Be Fun To Bid On
Dressage equipment can be expensive so biding on eBay can be a good way to get it more affordably.