Dressage Insights and More From David O'Connor
I'm going to divide this post into three sections: Straightness/Impulsion, Horse Shape/Effective Position, and Rider Shape/ Effective Position.
|David lectures to his riders before they head out to the ring to get started.|
One of the first things David emphasized in his lecture was the importance of keeping the horse straight. He tied this in to direction and keeping a line, for striding purposes. However, straightness is also very important to both jumping and dressage when you consider its effects on the horses ability to create impulsion and "jump".
When you collect a horse, one of the biggest and most common evasions the horse will exhibit is a fishtailing hindquarter. Why?
Imagine for a moment a stick horse...
|Maybe not like this...|
To lift up the front end of the stick horse, the hind end has to be directly under the front in order for the horse to have enough strength and balance to lift itself appropriately. When you collect a horse, its hips tuck under a little, the hind legs come further under, the front end lifts up a little and more weight is put on the hind legs. That's hard. So, a horse will avoid the compression and weight lifting type of activity by shifting its hind end out slightly, making more room for its hind end. Often the rider is tricked into thinking the horse is collected, though it is not.
While this is obviously important in jumping, when you want the jump to be as easy and powerful as possible for the horse, it is also important in dressage. When you are asking for a canter lengthen, for example, it is impossible to get a big and uphill canter with the horse's hind end off to the side somewhere. He can't help but be flat and diving onto his forehand. There's nothing behind him to propel him up, you see.
Feeling the haunches swing out takes focus. When the horse is directly underneath himself, his back feels flat and even. When he's evading, there will be one seatbone that will have a problem connecting, or you may feel the horse is not in the rein on the side the horse is popping out. Without a hind leg pushing him into the contact on that side, he'll simply vanish.
Riding with mirrors helps develop feel, so does being aware of your horse's tendencies. For example, Pig is very likely to swing his haunches out to the right. He doesn't like loading his right hind stifle. Knowing that, I can be proactive in keeping him straight.
How do you keep a horse under himself? That varies. David suggested being aware of over or improper bending. Bend should come from the outside around the inside. The middle of the horse's body should be where the bend comes from, not the neck or the haunch. That means you should be keeping a steady connection between the outside rein and outside hind leg, and your inside leg should stay on so the horse doesn't flail to the inside. Working on the haunches/shoulder in can help you develop more tools for controlling the hind end of the horse.
Horse Shape/ Effective Position
David directly related show jumping to dressage when he discussed roundness. He wanted riders to understand that a round horse in dressage was quite different from a round horse in show jumping.
For jumping, the horse should be engaged (with tucked and reaching hind end) but up and mentally engaged in front. Meaning, specifically, the horse should have its head raised and be looking for and assessing the next obstacle.
Image via: http://rebloggy.com/blog/martinamirandaphotography
|Image via: http://luda-stock.deviantart.com/|
There's a difference in how these horses are using themselves. The top horse is lifting with his back and haunches. The second horse is lifting with not only his haunches and back, but also the base of his neck and through the withers.
David advocated lifting a horse's head as the rider collected them, to get the front end "lifted and out of the way." He was adamant that the horse look up and see where he is going, tipping the nose out. He should not be allowed to get heavy or drift onto his forehand. He suggested that when rider try to get their horses "round" they allow them to get onto their forehand.
One horse in particular tested DOC, until finally he hopped on the horse himself.
You can see DOC popping the horse off his hands and changing the horse's balance from front to back. One collected canter does not suit all. For those retraining jumpers (like me) or doing eventing, this bit of info should be really studied. Also keep in mind that in dressage, different canters are asked for at different times. There are times the more open canter is asked for. It's important to know how to change that frame.
Rider Shape/Effective Position
DOC's biggest point for me was the effect of rider conformation on riding style. When discussing cross country riding, he emphasized that riders with tall upper bodies (Ahem. That would be me...) need to keep their upper bodies very still. With so much weight and drag above the saddle, riders with longer upper bodies affect their horses balance easily. They need to be more aware of how their movement changes the horse. Asking us to envision William Fox Pitt or Boyd Martin's cross country style, DOC reminded us a rider's balancing aids should come from the seat and hips not from throwing the upper body around.
|How is he so still?!?!|
|Maybe a little less still in my hips, though! But, wow, we've changed so much since May.|