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Tuesday, 13 August 2019

The Six Scales of Dressage Training – Part 3: Contact

Photo credit: Paul Dobson Photography

Here we are, almost half way through the six scales of dressage training and in this part I’ll take a zoom into contact. The first thing to note which is very important is that you cannot achieve a true contact between you and your horse without establishing correct rhythm and ensuring that your horse is showing true suppleness.

Actually, that’s a very key point to all six scales of dressage training – none are as isolated as independents as this post series would make out. They are all connected and interlinked, and crucially they must be balanced for you and your horse to progress through the scales and advance your dressage training.

As with the previous two scale of training posts, let’s start by looking at the FEI’s definition of what ‘contact’ is – what does it mean and what does achieving it mean?

“Contact is the soft, steady connection between the rider’s hand and the horse’s mouth. The horse should go rhythmically forward from the rider’s driving aids and ‘seek’ contact with the rider’s hand, thus ‘going into’ the contact. The horse seeks the contact and the rider provides the contact.”

So this scale clearly promotes “going into the contact” but that should not mean that to achieve this you need to start pushing your horse out of his established rhythm. If you do so, you’ll lose not only your rhythm, but you’ll start to affect his balance, his cadence and ultimately his suppleness. To achieve contact, you need to think forward and get your horse to think the same without adjusting his rhythm or falling out of balance.

Just jumping back to the definition of contact, it could give you the wrong impression that contact is all about the hand and mouth, & by definition, it is. BUT… In order to achieve what is described between the horse’s mouth and rider’s hand, you’ll need to have a number of other body parts working in almost in a complete cycle.

A horse’s engine is like a fast super car – it’s at the back. So firstly, you’ll always need an active and engaged hind leg. The hind legs to be snappy to create the jump needed to achieve cadence, but should be engaged & forward and looking to land on the hoof fall of the front foot.  Your rhythm will hugely help you here. Next comes in the suppleness, as you need to ensure your horse is swinging and loose over his quarters, back and along his topline giving that lovely elastic feeling. Eventually, this feeling will arrive at the front & into the mouth where it travels back up the reins to the rider. The rider needs to also be soft and supple, not only in their hand, but in the body and down into their seat. If this is an uninterrupted connection, riders will be successfully be able to perform their aids through their seat and supporting hands, as well as continuing their driving aid and activating the horse’s engine. And there were come back to the engine and the active hindlegs.

Maintaining the cycle of contact as described above will prevent the reins, hands and elbows becoming a blockage in the system for achieving true contact. The contact ecosystem needs to work in unison and harmony to avoid independent parts blocking its achievement.

Discover the other scales of dressage training

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