The Dressage Training Pyramid for Mere Mortals

We have a special treat this week! My good friend and fellow equestrian Lauren Baker and I are guest posting on each other’s blog. I’ve known Lauren since the late 90’s. She is the former editor and publisher of Flying Changes Magazine, a Northwest sporthorse publication and my favorite regional horse magazine. Lauren did that for 21 years before handing over the reins to new owner, Lorna Lowrie, in March of 2014. She now works as freelance writer and blogger. Lauren has a fun writing style that I’m sure readers of this blog will appreciate.

 The Dressage Training Pyramid for Mere Mortals

By Lauren Baker

 Any dressage rider worth their salt has seen the dressage training pyramid. Some people even remember what it says. I had to look it up.

It looks like this:

USDF Training Pyramid - Copy

So, collection is the ultimate goal. Rhythm is where you begin.

But what about the real-world training pyramid?

In the real world, we generally start with Survival.

If the rider is focusing on stay-alive skills, there’s no room for rhythm … unless we’re talking about the kind of rhythm that comes from hyperventilating. Who of us has not had a ride worthy of hyperventilation?

Once we’ve ridden our horse enough (or sent him off to training camp) and feel our life is not in immediate danger, we can work on Go … quickly following it with the all-important Whoah.

Whoah is so important that I use it in non-horse-related emergencies, as well as barn-related opportunities. I’ll yell ‘Whoah’ in a potential bicycle accident or a near-miss pedestrian/motor vehicle incident.

People look at you strangely when you yell ‘Whoah!” outside of a barn but when, when used with enthusiasm, you get results.

Once Go and Whoah have been mastered, preferably in a small space where you can’t get run off with, it’s time to move on to Steering.

If you’re riding a horse that doesn’t steer, it’s important to advise other riders in proximity that they are in mortal danger, soley responsible for their own safety. Again, you’ll get strange looks—but it’s better than killing someone.

Beginning steering should take into account the horse’s general lack of knowledge. Don’t expect any sudden turns unless they are accompanied by a buck, shy, or rear. Green horses are so much fun!

To summarize, before we can get to the lofty dressage goals of Rhythm and Relaxation (the baby steps of dressage), we must first achieve the following:

Survival Pyramid

 

No offense, USDF, but I think your training pyramid should be expanded to include those of us with young and green horses. It kind of sucks to find yourself completely off the chart.

Once we have the survival basics, THEN we can move on to the beginnings of finesse. Until then, focus on keeping yourself breathing and moving in Rhythm, in a Relaxed manner. Try to Connect to your horse in a level appropriate to his green-horse nature but expect that connection to be fluid and dynamic (aka: wildly erratic). Ask for Impulsion – but not too much unless you’re an adrenaline junky!!

You should definitely stay Straight (as in not drunk or stoned) and Collect your thoughts. You’ll need your wits about you, trust me.

Check out Lauren’s new blog Dressage for Mere Mortals – a blog for “ordinary people, who love & perhaps struggle with the intricacies of dressage.” Good stuff!

Planning for Perfection

On Lesson #114 we attempted to recreate Lesson #113: a perfectly pleasant winter’s day ride. However…

The temps were actually single digit – this time without the benefit of literary license. These days, we’re happy enough if we don’t see the minus sign in front of our numbers. As Gerry (on Habakuk) and I (on Windy) discovered as we followed Karin (on Charley) lemming-like through the Kiddie Trail, the footing was less than ideal. Discretion being the better part of valor, we headed inside. The Chicken Part of my brain – science calls it the cerebrum – insisted.

Within the confines of the Great Indoors, Windy and I performed some dressage moves. These included “Snappy Salute at X” and “Precisely Perfect 20 Meter Circle.”

Anyone who knows anything about dressage knows that after you enter at “A,” you proceed to “X” and make a Snappy Salute. Anyone who knows anything about the English alphabet knows that “X” should be “B.”    

I’m wondering if the letter-sequencing discrepancy has something to do with the roots of dressage itself. While the Germans and miscellaneous Europeans developed dressage into the sport/art form we know today, it was the Greeks that first came up with idea. Way, way, way back. Its origins are in fact attributed to the writings of a gentleman named Xenophon who was actually an army guy. Xenophon and the Greeks had their own take on the alphabet with letters that were simultaneously very pretty and very confusing to look at. Kind of like the script you might see on the back of the One Ring to Rule Them All. The one that Karin wants.

After Snappy Salute, I performed a Precisely Perfect 20 Meter Circle and announced that I had done so.

Karin expressed partial disagreement: “That wasn’t 20 meters.”

“Really, Karin? It’s the 20 meter part of that you object to?”

“Bob… a meter is three feet…”

Well so much for precision.

“… and the arena is 72 feet across. That leaves you six feet on each side…”

Her calculations were exquisite. In all honestly, my Precisely Perfect 20 Meter Circle had been probably closer to an 8-meter version of the Greek small case letter “phi.”

40px-Greek_phi_Didot_svg

Karin then demonstrated to Gerry (who didn’t ask) and me how to make a “change through a circle” and a “change out of a circle.” They are two different things that can put you in different directions, so it’s something you have to know if you want to do dressage without an awkward early exit.

That’s the biggest thing I learned about dressage circles: there’s context to them. They don’t just come out of nowhere and end up nowhere. Striving for perfection means you have to plan ahead.

Twenty Fifteen

The other night, Karin held a “Vision Casting” for Legacy Stables. This involved a gathering of her staff, volunteers, students, parents of students, board members – anybody with an interest in Karin’s Horse Connection. So I went.

The gathering served as an assessment of where the operation is, where we want it to go and what we were going to do this year to get it there. A collective New Year’s Resolutions list for the place. The evening was both fun and productive and now we’re all excited about 2015.

It got me thinking about my own equestrian goals for the coming year. I mean beyond my primary goal of Just Showing Up and Seeing What Happens.

It’s not that I haven’t set goals in the past. It’s just that I’ve been less than diligent in actually doing anything about them. Setting goals is fun. Actually doing the work to achieve the goal is another matter.

One strategy is to define your goals in such a way that you can say you’ve met them without really doing much of anything. The key here is vagueness. Relative terms such as “better” or “more” (“I will ride more this year,” “I will pay better attention to my instructor”) are very useful if you like your goals with a lot of wiggle room.

This year, I think I’ll try to be a little more specific. A list of Micro Goals that I can put an actual checkmark next to as I accomplish each one. Little bits that may or may not help support the larger Just Showing Up thing.

So here is my list:

  1. From what I understand, there might be some Dressage going on at Legacy this year. My goal is to do at least one pattern all the way through. Bonus goal: resist the impulse to move the letters around the arena just to spell a word.
  2. Attend one local open horse show and write a blog post about it.
  3. Conduct an investigation into what’s going on with my riding breeches! Specifically, why do I start to pass out right after I put them on? They didn’t do that when I first got them. There is something wrong with them.

    They didn't bother me before.

    They didn’t bother me before.

  4. Learn how to properly apply a surcingle
  5. Read one book about equestrian vaulting.
  6. Develop my own free-style vaulting routine – at the walk.
  7. Visit Chicago Vaulting in the summer and do a blog post on their new lungeing training program. Bonus goal: determine once & for all the correct spelling of lungeing.
  8. Learn how to neck rein.
  9. Walk over a cavaletti.
  10. Sponsor one horse or student at Legacy Stables.
  11. Only talk about stretching during a riding lesson if I’ve actually stretched before the riding lesson. Bonus goal: eliminate the word “should’ve” from my vocabulary.
  12. Learn to recite the names of all of Legacy’s horses to the tune of Amazing Grace.
  13. Polish my riding boots.
  14. Complete the Fundamentals of Photography course that I bought two years ago.
  15. Set up at least one riding lesson for granddaughter Aubrey. We have already discussed this.IMG_0256

I think that should keep me busy for a year.

Jamie Gives a Lesson

As I scaled the heights of Mt. Samson (we used the mounting block), I had Hiliary’s recent riding videos of me very much in mind. If nothing else, I was going to keep those heels down. Or try to.

I hope she was telling me to put those heels down...

Jamie was there to help. And help turned into a lesson. Which is good, because I need all the lessons I can get.

We tried this once, a long, long time ago. I recall being on one of Jamie’s horses and having everything from Xenophon to George H. Morris presented to me in less than two minutes.  I felt like an old Star Trek computer that short-circuited and threw sparks and made smoke because it was receiving data too fast from some super-speedy alien computer. I dismounted with a headache.

The instruction begins.

Jamie has come a long way as an instructor.  The average male brain is capable of processing only one instruction at a time – at the very most – and this has to be repeated multiple times.  Language can be such an annoyance to us and it takes a moment or two before we realize that the irritating noise that is buzzing around in our ear is actually a form of communication intended – sometimes – to help us. I think she picked up on this over the years.

My main problem on Samson was that I kept bringing the right rein across the top of his neck to turn him to the inside.  Jamie told me to stop it.  “He’s a dressage horse, Dad.”  I was instructed to use my outside leg to cue him.

So, I dutifully used my right leg to cue him for the turn.

And then, on the next turn, I brought the right rein across his neck.

Jamie told me to stop it.  And I did.

Then on the next turn, I brought the right rein across his neck. Again.

Jamie told me to stop it. And I did. Again.

Then on the next turn, I brought the right rein across his neck.

And again.

And again.

And again.

Finally, I glanced down to make sure it was my right hand that was actually doing this and that my arm was still connected to my body. It was maddening.  The Errant Hand and his accomplice, The Arm were doing what they wanted and were ignoring what my brain was trying to tell them. They just weren’t list…en…

…ning…

Ah… so that’s what’s it like.

Apparently The Errant Hand was putting up some form of last-ditch resistance.  A bitter-ender representing the final vestiges of male incorrigibility.  The Hand was listening to my ego and not my brain.

I think I was enjoying that 19 hands of elevation just a little too much.

I thought Jamie might jump up there, grab a leg and drag me off Samson, but she was very patient.  She calmly repeated the instruction as if each time was the first time. And the few instances when I managed not to bring my right hand across the horse’s neck was cause for celebration:

“Good job, Dad.”

“Now you’re getting it!”

“Way to use your leg!”

It was a good lesson.