Last week my first two tips for riding a great dressage test were about the importance of memorizing your test and what to do to make a great entry into the ring.
The tips this week focus on riding your corners and diagonals properly and how to prepare for your transitions.
3. CORNERS AND DIAGONALS
Okay, you're in the arena. No matter what level you're doing, you have to ride corners. The general rule for riding corners is that you don’t have to go any deeper into the corners than the smallest circle done at each level.
So, the smallest circle you're asked to do for First Level is a 10-meter circle. That means you need to get into the corner to the depth of one quarter of a 10-meter circle.
At Training Level, the smallest circle you're required to do is a 20-meter circle. So you really don’t have to get into the corners any deeper than the arc of a 20-meter circle.
But if you can show a difference between the line that you follow when you're going into a corner and the line that you follow when you’re on your 20-meter circle, you show the judge that you’re a savvy rider.
If that's pretty simple for him, try to show a 3-meter difference between the line you'd follow if you were going into a corner and the line you'd follow if you were on a 20-meter circle. That shows a real clear difference between getting into the corner and being on a circle.
Your rule of thumb is to ride into the corner as deep as your horse can manage. That is, he can keep the same rhythm, tempo, balance and quality of his gait.
The next things that all the tests have in common are diagonal lines. Here's what I'd suggest. First, ride deep into the corner before you turn onto the diagonal. Then look at a point about a half-meter before the final letter on the long side. Aim for that spot when you go across the diagonal. By looking a little bit before the letter, you’ll have more time to really balance your horse for the next corner.
Another thing that all the tests have in common is that you have transitions from gait to gait. And with the more advanced tests, you also have transitions within the gait.
First, let's look at transitions from gait to gait. Always prepare for those transitions with half halts. However, the particular version of the half halt you give depends on the way your horse feels prior to the transition. This is because a transition can be no better than the stride just before the transition.
If your horse is well schooled, obedient, and is solidly on the bit, you can give what I call "Preparatory Half Halts". That's a momentary closure of seat, leg and hand–Take/give, take/give, take/give.
Direct those half halts to the inside hind leg. Give the half halts when the inside hind leg is on the ground just before it's ready to push off. You need to time these half halts when the inside hind leg is on the ground because that's really the only time you can influence a hind leg. Once it’s in the air, it's already committed to its flight.
Your goal is to engage the inside hind leg prior to the transition. Give three Preparatory Half Halts prior to the down transition. Let’s say, for example, that you want to go from trot to walk. When you feel the inside hind leg on the ground,
say something like, "Engage, engage, engage, walk". Or you can say, "Now, now, now, walk".
So you might ask me at this point, "Well how do I know when a hind leg is on the ground?" When a particular hind leg is on the ground, your horse's hip will feel higher. You’ll feel your inside seat bone either being pushed up or being pushed forward.
When I'm getting ready to do a downward transition, I tune into my seatbones. I feel which of my seat bones is being pushed up in the air or forward.
So I get into the timing of the inside hind leg being on the ground. Then, 3 strides before the letter, I give my half halts. I'll say, "Now, now, now, walk," or if I’m cantering, and I want to trot, I'll say, "Now, now, now, trot."
It's pretty easy to feel the inside hind leg in the walk and in the trot. In the canter, feel the moment when your seat is deepest in the saddle. It's also the moment when your horse’s mane flips up. So you can coordinate what you see with what you feel.
That's how I prepare for transitions so that I ride a very accurate dressage test. I know how much ground my horse covers with each stride. So, when I'm 3 strides away from where I'll be doing a down transition, I give my 3 Preparatory Half Halts–a momentary closure of seat, leg and hand directed to the inside hind leg being on the ground.