The Big Picture

I think the biggest problem I have when teaching, especially children or teenagers, is teaching the breakdown of a movement and getting them to understand the importance of different elements, in particular, preparing their horse and themselves for each change in direction or transition.

Whilst driving home tonight I mulled this over, and the closest analogy I can come to is one of my favourite jigsaw puzzles.

The jigsaw is a large picture of a lion, but it is made up of hundreds of little photos of big cats.

Now my approach to this jigsaw is to create clusters of little pictures, by using the clues in the tabs and blanks.

Then all of a sudden I can match two clusters, and then three, and suddenly the large picture can be seen. This is the only puzzle I do without doing the edge first.

So where am I going with this analogy? 

Some people see a movement – let’s say a serpentine – as beginning at A and ending at C. Or vice versa. However, I tend to see it as individual loops, and depending on the horse and rider’s ability, I may break the serpentine down to include straight lines. 

I find that breaking the serpentine down into different stages helps the rider focus on each element, so the loop becomes more accurate, the horse stays balanced, and the change of bend becomes easy.

The task also seems more manageable, so the rider is more likely to succeed with it.

In the same way, all circles or changes of rein can be broken down into the preparation, movement, and exit. If not enough attention is paid to the preparation then then movement is affected, and by not paying attention to the exit means that the next movement is harder. 

You can look at dressage tests in the same way:

1. Enter at A in working trot and proceed down the centre line without halting. At C turn left.

Really you can look at this as

1a. Turn onto the centre line in working trot.

1b. Ride straight down the centre line to C.

1c. Prepare to turn left.

1d. Turn left.

1e. Ride out of the turn.

When practicing you can focus on a different element each time round until it is second nature. In the same way, getting into the habit of meticulously preparing a movement it soon becomes second nature and you can begin to think about the bigger picture; either the more complicated movement, or the series that make up the dressage test.

This can be taken forwards into a showjumping arena; courses can be broken down into individual fences, the approach and getaway, and the lines between two fences. This breakdown should help a rider keep calm and tackle each fence individually. Hopefully the pair are then more successful, and if there’s a problem you can see why it occurred and can work on the specific problem to solve it.

Going back to my analogy of the jigsaw puzzle, it can be easy to forget about the individual components when looking at the bigger picture, and get caught up in the moment, but by breaking it into each element it is easier to perfect and improve each aspect and then the overall picture gains clarity.


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