I`ve been doing some research and reading, and have got some new schoolwork exercises to play around with in my lessons – so watch out everyone!
I`ll list the exercises here briefly, but the main point I want to make in this post is the importance of preparation.
Exercise 1 – Stay on a twenty metre circle. Ride a ten metre circle within the bigger circle, so that the larger circle acts as a tangent to the smaller circle. The exercise becomes harder when small circles are ridden more frequently, and you can also ride a downwards transition immediately before the small circle, and an upwards transition upon finishing.
Exercise 2 – Stay on a twenty metre circle in the centre of the school. As you cross the centre line, ride a ten metre circle in the opposite direction before rejoining the large circle. To make this exercise harder, ride a ten metre circle in the same direction as the twenty metre circle at B and E, so you are alternating direction on the smaller circles.
Exercise 3 – Ride a twenty metre circle in trot. Spiral into the centre and make a walk transition. Immediately ride a half ten metre circle outwards to change the rein, upon reaching the larger circle make an upwards transition. Again, to make it harder it can be ridden in canter with direct transitions.
All of these circles really test the horse`s suppleness and ability to change their bend without losing their balance and falling onto the forehand. In order to best help the horse, it is vital that the rider prepares them.
So what preparation is needed?
A half halt to start with. I find that everyone thinks of half halts in a slightly different way, but in this instance I think it`s best to think of a half halt as a pause, or rebalance. When riding from a large circle to a small circle, the horse`s hindlegs need to come under them a bit more, and they need to lift the shoulder slightly. Thus, they are rebalancing their bodyweight so that more of it is carried by the hindquarters and less on the shoulders. The rider should apply the half halt with this in mind. So when they close the rein, they lift slightly, bring their shoulders back and shift their bodyweight so that it is closer to the cantle. You can think of sitting towards the back of your seat bones. Of course, the leg also needs to be applied in order to keep the energy and to encourage the hindleg to step under and propel the horse along.
The rider needs to be clear on where they are going. I always start these exercises by establishing the large circle first so that they get their eye in. It`s important that you don`t lose the basic shapes, such as ending up with an oval twenty metre circle, or drifting through the change of bend. As soon as the shapes are lost then you should go back a couple of paces. Perhaps walk it to get your eye in again, or remove the little circles. The rider needs to be looking in the direction they are going, apply the steering aids are the right time – immediately after the rebalance, and ensure that the aids are clear. Otherwise they risk panicking and grabbing the inside rein to haul their horse around the small circle.
I think these exercises are really useful for developing the rider`s balance and co-ordination; timing the half-halt, and giving clear turning aids so that the bend through the horse`s body adjust fluently. It raises awareness of the horse`s balance, and the action of the hindlegs. The transitions on the circles encourage the horse to step under more with the inside hind leg, so the rider will be able to feel it more which will help with transitions on a straight line. Because the circles and transitions come up so quickly they make the rider think ahead, and plan; encouraging multi-tasking. To me, it is a step towards riding elementary dressage tests. I notice that a lot of people struggle to make the step from novice to elementary, and I think it is because the movements are harder and come up quicker. Riding these exercises engages the rider`s brain and should make elementary dressage more achievable. Certainly, I`ve noticed an improvement to the riders that I`ve used these exercises with and the horses I`ve worked on this have become more flexible straighter; staying on two tracks around the circles and being less likely to fall out through the outside shoulder or wobbly on the changes of bends.