A Passion for Dressage
Now that the horse is acquainted with the basics of dressage and jumping we can add another factor: field work. Work on hills really helps the horse to find his own balance and strengthen his muscles. It helps develop the horse’s cadence, and also is an aid to collection and extension and even lateral work. Field work is also the preparatory work for combined training or "the complete test" as it is sometimes known. Most of what I include in this chapter I learned from Camilo O'Kuinghttons, to whom I am very grateful. It is given here as a basic introduction.
It is good to start exercising the horse by walking, trotting, and cantering cross country and building the horse’s endurance, rhythm, and cadence. At first we will work with loose reins until the horse has found a good equilibrium with its rider. When the horse has started to move well we can work on the bit.
The rider will ask his horse to walk, trot, and canter up and down hills and take jumps in the field, including those where the horse jumps into and out of water. Following are several basic exercises. As with anything else in riding, introduce new exercises slowly. While many of these are extremely easy exercises, and very much fun, overdoing them could potentially cause harm to your animal. Allow the horse to build up the required new muscles. Rotate all the exercises below with other already learned exercises. A few of these exercises constitute a high or very high danger potential. Riders should not attempt these without a riding instructor present.
Choose a ditch that is very slightly bigger than one your horse will jump straight across. Something generally around 3 or 4 feet at the deepest point and 5 or 6 feet in total length. Approach the ditch at a walk and allow the horse to slide down into the hole and pull himself back up onto the other side. After the horse is comfortable at the walk, try it several times at the trot (Figure B-1a) and finally at the canter. Potentially, the horse can either slide down into the ditch or can jump across it (Figure B-2). That is part of the fun and the rider learns to follow the horse through without interfering. When the horse jumps across it the rider feels the animal collect himself for one definite push and take-off across the ditch.
Figure B-1a. Approach a ditch at a trot
Figure B-1b. Approach and dropping down ditch at a trot
Figure B-1c. Drop into ditch and coming out of ditch
Figure B-2. Approach a ditch at a trot and jump over it
Once these small ditches are conquered the rider can look for inclines of varying slope for canter, trot, walk, and slide work. Riders should choose a perpendicular line to go down or up hills to avoid slips and falls. Little by little, increase the difficulty of the slopes and include plenty of transitions between slopes of different degrees. The horse has to learn how to adjust for the changes of incline and maintain a perfect equilibrium. Both working uphill (Figure B-3) and downhill (Figure B-4) the rider leans forward. Leaning forward on the way down allows the horse full and unencumbered used of the posterior train or hindquarters. Leaning forward going uphill allows unencumbered use of the hindquarters as well as helps the horse with the center of gravity.
Figure B-3a. Trotting uphill
Figure B-3b. Cantering uphill
Figure B-4. Trotting down an incline
The steeper the incline the slower the rider will take it (Figure B-5). If the incline is steep enough the horse will go down the slope by locking all legs (Figure B-6) and sliding down. One exercise could involve changing degrees of incline (Figure B-7).
Figure B-5. The steeper the incline, the slower the horse will take them
Figure B-6a. If the incline is steep enough, the horse will lock his legs to slide down
Figure B-6b. Very steep incline
Figure B-7. Negotiating inclines of different degrees of slope
The most dangerous exercise, probably, is the canter downhill. Riders who do not have a perfect balance and contact on the reins should not attempt this. If the horse lowers his head the rider will greatly lose his balance and fall. One rider who tried this without an instructor’s supervision broke her jaw bone and had to have it wired for weeks.
Drops & Banks
In drops the horse has to fall from one level to another (Figure B-8). Or climb up a bank (Figure B-9).
Figure B-8. A drop can be similar to a ditch
Figure B-9. Jumping up a bank
When jumps are involved, the horse jumps but falls at a different level at the other side. All these exercises build much feel into the rider. The best way to approach drops and banks with jumps, is by starting small and building up as the rider and horse’s confidence increase (Figure B-10).
Figure B-10a. A bank with a jump can be constructed so there is a shallow end and a deep end as the horse advances in training
Figure B-10b. Increasing the difficulty of a jump on a bank
The horse will soon learn that the obstacles it will find in the field are real, non-collapsible jumps. The rider should take simple jumps on the flat at first and keep the horse calm and obedient over these.
When taking a jump that is set on a hill going down it is a good idea for the horse to first be able to handle the downward slope easily without a jump there. The horse should learn to come to a halt (Figure B-11) on the descent whenever the rider calls for it. When the horse responds well to the halt it is then possible to add a jump downhill and it is good to demand the full halt after the jump at first. Later on the rider will use a half halt to bring the horse into control when going downhill. No rider should canter downhill who doesn’t have a balanced and independent seat. The reins must not be used for balance of the rider but for a very sensitive give and take as required to bring the horse into full equilibrium.
Figure B-11a. The rider can test his horse’s responsiveness by bringing the horse to a halt after a jump
Figure B-11b. Higher jump in an incline. Rider can test horse’s responsiveness by bringing the horse to a halt after jump
Horses must come to enjoy the water and lose their fear. If you have a lakeside or oceanside beach to walk, trot (Figure B-12) and canter (Figure B-13) across, that will help the horse, otherwise, you can trot inside of sandy ditches. Be sure to carefully inspect terrain before having the horse work on these. A water jump (Figure B-14) is much like the bank where the horse first bounds over the obstacle but lands on a lower plane only to jump over another obstacle and then land on a higher level. Just add the water! A horse can also take a jump in the water (Figure B-15).
Figure B-12. Trot through water
Figure B-13. Canter through water
Figure B-14. Jump into water
Figure B-15 A jump in the water
As a general rule, one can collect the horse going downhill but needs to move the horse out going uphill (Figure B-16).
Figure B-16 In general collect the horse going downhill and move horse out going uphill
Finally, Camilo O'Kuinghttons warns that "when going from light to dark, horses have very bad vision and blind spots. Horses slow down with change and a jump in the situation is harder. Therefore the rider must anticipate the situation" and make the proper adjustments (Figure B-17).
Figure B-17 In going in and out of shady situations, the horse had to put more trust in the rider as it takes time to recover vision
This chapter is based almost strictly on Camilo O'Kuinghttons work. It is good to start exercising the horse by walking, trotting, and cantering cross country and building the horse’s endurance, rhythm, and cadence. At first we will work with loose reins until the horse has found a good equilibrium with its rider. When the horse has started to move well we can work on the bit. Inexperienced riders should not attempt these without a riding instructor present.
Potentially, the horse can either slide down into the ditch or can jump across it. Riders should choose a perpendicular line to go down or up hills to avoid slips and falls. Both working uphill and downhill the rider leans forward. The steeper the incline the slower the rider will take it. If the incline is steep enough the horse will go down the slope by locking all legs and sliding down. The most dangerous exercise, probably, is the canter downhill. In drops the horse has to fall from one level to another. In banks the horse jumps up onto a higher level. Jumps can be added to either drops or banks. The horse will soon learn that the obstacles it will find in the field are real, non-collapsible jumps.
© 1999-2010 Gregorio Billikopf
All rights reserved.
19 May 2010