Do you find it hard to keep your horse straight during a dressage test? International dressage rider Hayley Watson-Greaves has an exercise to help.
Straightness and balance
Riders often wonder why their horse wobbles in a test, when he is fine at home. Nine times out of 10 it’s because he can’t balance himself. Most horses are used to hugging the fence line, but in a dressage arena you don’t have walls or a fence to rely on, there are just little boards around the edge.
By doing exercises off the wall, your horse will learn to balance himself, which will help him gain straightness.
Start with basic leg yield. It’s important to be very black and white at first, so when you put your right leg on, they move away from it to the left and when you put your left leg on, they move to the right.
Always use your leg first, but if they don’t respond you can back it up by slapping your boot with your whip to make a noise, so it comes from the leg area.
Once you’ve got him off each leg you can start adding rein aids, and ask him to flex to the inside. You’re not asking for anything else, just little bit of flexion to the inside, so be really basic with the aids.
I start on the outside track, almost pushing the horse into the wall or fence of the arena with my inside leg, while asking for flexion with my inside hand.
Through to both reins
Then do the same exercise, working away from the fence to encourage him to find his own balance. When you touch the rein it doesn’t mean he has to turn left or right, you want him to stay on that line, keeping straight through his body, with a little bit of flexion to the inside.
I’m a great believer a horse can’t be straight unless he is through to both reins. A horse is normally crooked because he is hanging on one rein or loose on the other. By doing these exercises off the wall they learn to balance themselves, which helps them gain carriage and straightness.
For more great advice from Hayley don’t miss her Masterclass Xtra, which premieres on H&C Play on Friday 26 May at 9pm.