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Wednesday, 16 October 2019

October's Dressage Exercise of the Month

Let's face it, winter feels like it's going to last forever when it first arrives, and technically October isn't even winter! I find if I am super strict with planning my weekday evenings in the arena, complete with goals and objectives to each individual one, we're able to stay focused, motivated and feel like our goals coming out in the spring are achievable. 

Over the next six months, I'm going to share with you my favourite exercise each month for you, why we use them and how you can get going with them yourself! Mostly the exercises will be aimed at flatwork or polework, but I'll throw in the odd showjumping one too. Give them a go yourself and let me know how you get on...

I always give Louie a couple of week's rest leading up to the winter before clipping him and starting on our winter training. So this exercise is a great one to help you get back into the swing of things in the arena whether you & your horse have had a little break or if you've just been enjoying a summer of hacking!

Improving suppleness and straightness

Start by making sure you have an active & engaged trot on an accurate 20m circle from E or B. The key is accuracy on this larger circle first, so really make sure that it is truly circular and that you are meeting and leaving the track at E & B as you should.

Make sure your horse is straight around the circle and not over bent to the inside or outside. As you progress through the exercise, you'll use your travel along this main 20m circle to straighten your horse after using bend on the smaller circle so it's important your horse can ride straight around a circle.

When you are ready, take the four clock points of your 20m circle with one being at E and one at B. When you ride around your main 20m circle and approach your first clock point, prepare to ride a 10m circle from that point. Remember to balance your horse - half halt are going to be your best friend in this exercise!

As you start around your first 10m circle, make sure to look around your circle, keeping your 10m circle accurate and landing you back at the clock point on your main 20m circle. Accuracy is key if you want to be able to ride a 10m circle at each clock point; four on every 20m.

Don't let your aim be to ride four on your first attempt, instead aim for a good quality trot around an accurate 20m circle and then aim to ride only one accurate 10m circle. If you're finding it difficult, try riding the 10m at E or B so you can use the track for some support. If you get it wrong, don't ride it again right away, trot back onto your 20m circle and try again at the opposite clock point.

Once you're happy with your first 10m circle, you can start adding more in, whether you prefer to do so at opposite clock points, or trying all four on one circle. From my experiences learning to balance for this exercise, being inaccurate on one 10m circle will put you off for at least your next one. Don't worry, just build up to managing four throughout your full 20m.

If you are struggling with balance on your 10m and they are generally a little untidy, you can change up this exercise so that you just ride two 15m circles - one at E and one at B - before moving to doing your 15m circles in the middle clock points without the support of a track. Maybe pop in a 12m circle once each time around your main 20m circle until you feel you can make two at 12m, then add a 10m.

If you are finding it difficult to ride this exercise, do it in walk first to get a feeling for your 20m circle, where each clock point is, practice balancing your horse coming into the 10m circle & asking for the correct bend on it, and importantly, get used to looking around your circle to make sure come back to the main 20m circle track where you should.

Don't forget to ride this exercise equally on both reins. Most of us will find this much easier on rein, but it's important to ensure that you don't use a lot of you 'getting used to it' time on one rein. I ride this where each time I complete a full 20m circle, I change the rein & repeat.

What should be happening during this exercise?

Firstly, your horse should be straight on the main 20m circle but showing inside bend while travelling on the 10m circles. The outside aids should be turning the horse and he should not be pulled around by the inside rein. Make sure you as the rider is sat centrally, well balanced and not leaning to the inside. 

You should be using the half halt prior to each 10m circle to balance your horse and ask for him to take more weight onto his hocks. If you progress this exercise to canter, you'll typically see him lower his haunches as he rides around the 10m circles.

Make sure that when you are asking for the inside bend, your horse doesn't simply tilt his head. If he does, use more outside aid to guide him around the turns and your inside leg to ask him to bend his body (not his head) around your leg. 

I personally find this exercise not only a great one for supple work with Louie and working on our straightness around a circle, but also to practice very basic elements such as our half halts to keep his attention and awareness for a direction (instruction) is coming.

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