I was teaching a group of mixed abilities a flat lesson during the week which had an enlightening moment.
Previously I’d had them working individually, and I was trying to get the less confident riders to ride independently and focus on their position whilst the advanced riders were working towards improving their horses.
After I’d watched them all trot aimlessly around, riding a few circles, I instructed them to ride a trot-walk-trot transition over every dressage letter. For the novice riders it helped focus them on their transitions and to give them an exercise, and for the more advanced they could see how their horses improved by riding the transitions. In particular, was one rider who kept trotting around at one hundred miles per hour, catching up with everyone and pushing her horse onto the forehand. I had already repeatedly told her to think about her horse’s rhythm and to slow him down. As a teenager, she thought she knew best.
After a few transitions her horse started using his hindquarters to push himself forward, and had a more active, powerful trot. It didn’t cover the ground as much, but it was better balanced and more rhythmical.
So I asked his rider how the trot felt.
“Dead. Like, I’m not going anywhere.”
This is when it occurred to me that my rider had confused the words “forwardness” with “speed”. I tried to explain that a forwards horse had a desire to go forwards and could maintain his gait with little help from the rider. A horse working correctly has a constant and good rhythm (and tempo) which isn’t necessarily fast. A fast horse quite often lacks balance and rushes to escape his work.
I went on to explain that a horse works correctly when he is pushing himself along by his hindquarters, instead of pulling himself along with his shoulders, as her horse was doing.
I suggested that this rider counted her trot rhythm and tried to keep it a bit slower than she had been, but more consistent. I told her that circles and school movements would help establish the rhythm and engagement of her horse, and if she rode them with correct bend and in her rhythm her horse would become more supple and both would develop into established stages of training.
As a teenager, she obviously knew best and continued to ride her horse out of his natural rhythm had onto his forehand, but it made me realise that everyone interprets terms differently and often it is worth explaining every phrase so that we’re all reading from the same page.