A few years ago I had a student eventing at the training level that came to me for help with her dressage. Her goal was to move up to preliminary that season and she was certain her Thoroughbred campaigner had enough jump to get around a prelim course, but he was anxious and inconsistent in the dressage phase. When I sent her out to warm-up, it became clear that she was missing the Three R’s – relaxation, rhythm and regularity. Her horse was so tense and inverted at home that she struggled to get him to walk calmly and correctly with 4-evenly spaced walk beats, so her solution was to just bypass walk altogether and only work in trot and canter. She recognized that she had a problem, but how she thought about the problem, “He’s just nervous and he’ll calm down after I canter him enough to tire him out,” led her to spend her time riding the symptom and not correcting the underlying issue. Meanwhile, her horse got fit and never learned how to carry himself and her correctly in relaxation with a long neck and lifted back and she was seduced into trying to fix the problem with her hands. To make a long story short, going back to fix the hole in her horse’s foundation was a long, slow process that involved lots of leg yield on a circle and lateral work at the walk. Even more importantly, helping her to realize that flawed thinking was at fault and that attempting to ignore the first 2-steps of the Training Pyramid (“Rhythm with Energy and Tempo and Relaxation with Elasticity and Suppleness”) was the root of her problem, was essential in convincing her to put her jumping work on hold and focus on mastering rhythm and relaxation in all 3-gaits first.
So what is the moral of this story? First is to realize that the way you think about your riding problem greatly influences how you go about solving that problem. Ask yourself how your specific issue relates to the Training Pyramid and then address the larger, over riding precept (Rhythm, Relaxation, Connection, Impulsion, Straightness, Collection) that is missing. When you address the underlying problem, you will ride differently than if you were riding the symptom and that puts you one-step closer to overcoming your problem. In this rider’s case, constant reminders to insist on the Three R’s (relaxation, rhythm, and regularity) set the stage for the change they needed.
Next month, I’ll explore additional ideas on how successful riders utilize the Dressage Training Pyramid.
- Susan Moody, IEO President