A well-groomed and smartly turned out horse just might give you that extra edge in the show-ring
Article By Sharon Biggs
You ride into the arena and look around you, taking in all the beautiful western pleasure horses groomed and saddled to perfection. Suddenly, you see yourself in the reflection of the arena windows. You are sitting on your beautiful bay American Quarter Horse gelding, resplendent in his Roy Rogers parade saddle complete with tapaderos and Mexican-silver conchos. His hooves shimmer with bright, glittery paint, and roses braided into his long, flowing mane match a bright-pink bow tied into his forelock...
Wait a minute! Fear strikes your heart as you realize that you don't look like any of the other riders — not a tapadero or rosebud in sight. The judge beckons to two men standing by the in-gate and then gestures at you. The audience begins to laugh as the men escort you from the ring. Yes, it's the fashion police. You've committed a terrible crime and now you are going to pay...
Suddenly you wake in the middle of the night, drenched in a cold sweat. You turn on the light, look around your room and see the brand-new woven-wool saddle pad draped over your closet door and the beautiful double-eared bridle with its silver conchos hanging on the doorknob. You fall back to sleep, relieved that this fashion faux-pas was merely a horrible dream.
If you’ve studied dressage in the past, you may have learned the training scale, a six-level pyramid of increasingly advanced concepts. The first three levels are the building blocks to connection, or getting your horse on the bit.
RHYTHM: The first requirement is rhythm, referring to the pattern of your horse’s footfalls. The set pattern in the walk, trot and canter should always sound the same, although the tempo can be changed by speeding up or slowing down the footfalls.
“Part of being in a working gait—where your horse most easily balances himself—is a regular rhythm and a comfortable tempo; not too fast and not too slow,” says dressage clinician and author Jane Savoie.
SUPPLENESS: Once a horse has developed a steady rhythm, the next goal in training is suppleness. “This refers to your horse’s ability to smoothly change his balance forward and back and side to side,” says Savoie. “This requires both lateral suppleness through his side and longitudinal suppleness over his topline.” Your horse’s muscles need to be loose and elastic through the poll, neck, shoulders, back and hips to accomplish this (See “Keys to Suppleness,” pg. 42).
CONTACT/CONNECTION: “You should have ‘inviting’ or ‘sympathetic’ contact before you try to put your horse on the bit,” says Savoie. “When you give the connecting aids to put your horse on the bit, you’re asking him to go forward into your hand, so your hand must be inviting and sympathetic.”
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This article originally appeared in the January 2010 issue of Horse Illustrated. Click here to subscribe.
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