Walk before you Run!
I often have people contacting me in search of their dream horse, and I love to help, but sometimes I get frustrated for a simple reason.
I will show a nice 6 year old, and they will ask is he doing flying changes or passage, and I think “I hope not”.
It’s common in the dressage world these days to see horses at 6 already performing exercises that require high levels of collection, and this is not good for the physical nor mental maturity of the horse.
I would prefer 1000 times over a 6 year old that can walk, trot and canter on a straight line , and that bends evenly to both sides, than a 6 year old who can do all the tricks, because a 6 year old that is doing all the tricks for me just means that it will take 12 to 18 months to undo what has been done.
Nuno Oliveira used to say that “No complicated riding before the horses are going truly forward. In dressage, the difficulties are often created by a lack of good basic work (which is the foundation of the house).”
He is right of course, and yet people underestimate the value of waiting until the horse is ready, or are not aware of what “ready” means in terms of dressage training.
Does the horse move easily off the leg. Is the horse light on the contact? Is the horse straight? Does the horse bend to the left and right evenly? Is the horse moving forward alone or is the rider pushing every step?
Can the horse bend correctly on a 20, 15, and 10 metre circle, at walk trot and canter? Can the horse stretch out the contact without losing the rhythm, balance and engagement of the gait, in all three paces?
If the answer was no to any of these then the horse should not be advancing to any collected exercises until the above is achieved and consolidated.
And yet time and time again we hear people who want to learn the flying changes, and when they are asked to do a canter to walk transition, it is a complete mess with little or no engagement, and the horse falls on the forehand, and without this transition the hope of the horse learning to change correctly will be limited at best, and still people want to just get on with it.
It’s as if they want to get to the end of the story before they have even come to introduce the characters, and that may be all well and good if you don’t really care if you get it right or not, but in terms of the health of the horse, this is like putting a toddler on a high beam and asking him to cartwheel.
If you want to teach your horse the flying change, great! Work patiently and with commitment every day, on getting the horse straight, and even, and engaged, and with transitions from walk to canter, canter to walk, and then one day you will ask for the change and the horse will have everything in place to give it to you.
I hear people tell me that their horse doesn’t do flying changes, or that their horse loses rhythm in the passage, or that when they ask the piaffe he just stops, and I find it hard not to ask them if they know how to ride a circle.
The simple things take time, the tricks are the icing on the cake. If you get all the other elements in place, the rest will be easy.
If you have a 6 year old, he is 6, he should be learning to mentally and physically cope with the demands of training, not the demands of collected exercises on top of all that.
Go slowly, be kind, reward the smallest improvement, and let your horse grow up!
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