Training Tips (Dressage) - Hoofbeats

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raining Tips

dressage with Mary Warren

dressage nsW High performance squad, national recognition squad member and nCAs level 1 dressage Coach


When it comes to competition preparation, in the week prior to the comp I tend not to change too much with my usual training program. I may add in a couple of lines from the test that need a little extra attention but otherwise it all stays the same. Consistency is vital when it comes to training your horse, a competition is just the place to show off your training.

Aids A nd responsiveness

The most common problem I find when it comes to coaching or riding a new horse is that they don’t naturally travel in front of the rider’s leg. When it comes to a lazy horse, the rider must be even more conscious about their leg aids and how effective they are. A lazy horse needs to be ridden with less leg.

TIP: To improve the horse’s responsiveness to the aids, ride lots of transitions within the pace – collect the trot/canter and then with a short sharp reaction from the leg push off into a couple of strides of lengthen trot/canter before coming back to collection.

B ALA n C e A nd HA r M on Y

Lack of balance and harmony is a common problem.

TIP: The rider has to remember to ‘let go’ and allow the horse to travel in self-carriage or to teach the horse to. If the horse goes to drop onto the forehand and lean down against the rider’s hands, make a half-halt to shift the weight onto the hindlegs and then straight away take the opportunity to release the pressure in the hand. You will likely have to make a fair few of these transitions to teach the horse to carry itself in a new way - sitting on the hindlegs and travelling in balance and self-carriage resulting in harmony between horse and rider.

sHoULd YoU Be ridinG A diFFerenT LeveL THAn YoU Are CoMpe TinG AT?

I know a lot of riders and trainers say that you should compete a level down to that which your horse is training. I don’t tend to make this a rule for every horse. If my horse is physically and mentally capable of performing at, say Medium level, I will enter at Medium level. I let the horse determine how much pressure they can handle at a competition at that current stage.

WeeKLY ridinG pLAn – WHAT To do on CerTAin dAYs so YoU’re noT doinG THe sAMe THinG

Variety is so important in our training system. Our horses will be dressage horses for hopefully up to 15 years or more so it’s vital to keep them both physically and mentally healthy.

Monday work in the arena

in the week prior to the competition don’t change too much of your usual training program, as consistency is vital when it comes to training your horse

My weekly training plan:

Tuesday work in the arena

Wednesday either hack out or cavaletti work

Thursday work in the arena

Friday work in the arena

Saturday day off for young horses/hack out for the older ones

Sunday day off

Stephen Mowbray photo

a dressage competition is just a place to show off your training

CoMpe TiTion dAY prepAre – Mind se T

When it comes to mentally preparing yourself for a competition, it is important to have faith in your training at home, and to have faith in yourself and your horse. A competition is just to show the judges the training you have worked on at home. The aim for that competition day is just to do the best job you can do in those 5-8 minutes in front of the judges.

TIP: Learn your tests back-to-front. Don’t have a ‘caller’, as you will be distracted listening to your ‘caller’ and you won’t be able to effectively prepare yourself for the next movements. To ride a test correctly, the specific geometry of the dressage arena must be in your head. And the best way to learn and visualise them is to draw your tests then ride them in your mind. Having the confidence in knowing the floorplan helps in your own confidence and preparation.

HoW MUCH TiMe sHoULd i ALLoCATe For ArrivinG / se TTLinG in / WArM-Up

Each horse is different – some need more warm-up time, others don’t. The only way you as a rider will learn what each horse requires in their warm-up, is practice and experience. The same applies to arrival times, some horses need a couple of hours to relax and settle in, others perform better on a tight schedule.

TIP: ridinG YoUr TesT

1. Use your centreline – enter bold and straight. It sets up a good impression with the judges straight away.

2. Use your corners.

3 Accuracy – hit those markers and ride those lines.

4 Look up!

5 Make hundreds of half-halts throughout the test. Little corrections to rebalance the horse onto the hindlegs

6 Always pat your horse at the end – whether the test was a success or a disaster!

One of the most common problems when it comes to riding centrelines is straightness. A handy tip is to prepare in the corner before you make the turn up the centreline. Look up where you are going – look past C. This helps the rider to hit

the centreline from the beginning and not undershoot or overshoot it. Then it is a matter of navigating your way down the centreline as straight as you can. The horse’s head needs to be in the centre of its body, the haunches not turning in one way or the other.

TIP: The rider needs to be very conscious about how straight they are in their own body, and then correct the straightness of the horse, keeping it even, in between the rider’s hands and legs.

r idin G Corners

Corners are so often not used to their full advantage – particularly in test riding. A corner can give you an extra couple of meters to set yourself up for the next movement and naturally makes the rider ride a half-halt to sit the horse on the hindlegs.

TIP: Make riding corners a habit by placing a trot pole or cone in each corner of the arena so that the rider has to actually ride into their corners.

Tr A nsi T ions

Transitions are vital when it comes to everyday training and test riding but they’re not the easiest to ride, particularly the downward transition. Rider’s tend to use just their reins to bring a horse into a downward transition but this results in tension through the horse’s body, which then makes for a poor quality transition.

TIP: For any downward transition push the horse’s body into slight shoulder-fore a couple of strides before the intended transition. This prevents tension in the horse’s body and naturally positions it to take more weight on the hindlegs. Then make a halfhalt with your seat and hands. The downward transition should result in being more fluent and forward thinking.

December/January 2020/21 - Page 61
C 6m 4m 2m 12m H M r s 20m circle Cir CL es vs Corners
Ho W To ride C en T re L ines
Reproduced with permission from the EquiDirectory Horse Owner Diary Planner Available from See ad page 51
Stephen Mowbray photo


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