None of those are very helpful to me right now as they almost always look perfectly executed. I still need help with the basics. Don't get me wrong. We're getting there. But I want to have the basics down, and I mean solidly down. Better to be really good at one thing than to stink at everything!
So I watched the Introductory and Training Level Tests, repeatedly. I even took notes. Here's what I saw ...
I compared the A and B rides from the DVD to my own A and B rides and feel pretty confident in how we're doing. When I got to Test C, I gave an immediate Uh-huh! Yep, that's our problem, too. The rider from Test C illustrated perfectly where Speedy G and I are struggling. I wrote down the trainer's comments in the hope that JL can help me apply them to my own riding. Here are the trainer's comments:
The horse needs to stretch into the rider's hand.
I understand the words, but using my aids to actually get Speedy to stretch into my hand has been tough, especially since I am not exactly sure what that stretch feels like. At our last lesson, we worked on getting Speedy to reach forward through leg aids that ask for forward movement with a squeeze, squeeze, squeeze. His reward for striding forward was that I stopped squeezing. If he started "running" forward, I used my outside rein in a half halt to slow down his front end. When he sucked back "behind" the bit, I asked for forward again. Does this mean I am teaching him to stretch into my hand?
The horse needs to cover more ground.
Speedy can cover the ground pretty decently at the trot, but when he drops behind the bit, he stride shortens. Again, squeezing him forward would seem to encourage him to cover more ground. The free walk is something that we also struggle with. On the trail, Speedy can do an awesome free walk. His back swings, his tail swings and his head and neck swing. In the dressage court he gets pretty "ploddy." More squeezing needed?
The horse needs more forward energy and more reach.
I think that forward energy, achieved by squeezing, will create more reach which will in turn encourage the horse to stretch into a rider's non-restricting hand. JL's method for having me establish the contact (without restricting) is to allow a slightly loose rein as I squeeze Speedy forward. As he reaches forward from behind, I slowly pick up on the rein, lean back slightly, and tighten my shoulder blades. If he avoids the contact, I try not to pull back, which restricts his forward energy, but instead keep my hands where they are. I repeat the leg squeezes until he comes back up to the bit. When he does, I relax my shoulder blades and return to a more vertical position.
The horse needs to be more between the leg and rein aids.
Again, these are words that probably have more meaning than what I currently understand. To me, it means that the horse isn't leaning on the inside leg. He's also not falling out to the outside leg. He's staying right between the rider's leg. He's not over bent to the inside. He's not twisting his head to the outside. He's even between both reins with a steady amount of weight in both hands. At some point in my riding, the expression between the leg and rein aids will no doubt have a more complex meaning.
The horse needs to take hold of the contact.
This one is quite tricky for me. I don't know if this is a literal statement, or more of a metaphorical one. Do I really want Speedy to hold the bit? What I imagine this means is that he needs to remain steady in the contact. He shouldn't suck back, he shouldn't pop his nose out. Is there a different meaning? And this goes hand in hand with the trainer's next comment ...
There is an insecure connection ...
I think the trainer was describing a horse that isn't steady in the contact, but instead is coming behind the bit, or popping his nose out.
The horse needs to step more under.
I think this is just another way of saying that the horse needs a longer stride, especially from the hind legs. When he steps more under himself, he will certainly cover more ground, and later, he will have a better base of support when he begins to lift his front end. At Introductory Level, I am guessing the trainer just wants to see the horse moving with a longer, freer stride.
The trainer finished her explanation with two final critiques.
The rider needs to keep the connection more stable.
Even I could see that the rider was fussing with her hands quite a lot. JL feels that I have fairly quiet hands myself, although I have a tendency to drop a hand, or carry one too high. My hands have always been fairly quiet, but I did have to work pretty hard to keep them still at the trot. Learning to bend my elbows has nearly fixed that problem.
The horse doesn't fully understand holding the bit.
As the trainer said this, she gave an immediate explanation, acceptance of contact. This made her critique more clear. This horse still needs to work on accepting the contact without evasion. This is the very challenge that faces Speedy G and me.
The trainer used another phrase throughout the videos that I found to be spot on. As the riders and horse worked, she would say, the transition to trot is more confirmed. Or that the canter departure is not yet confirmed. Or that the free walk is less confirmed than the medium walk. The use of the word confirmed is very non-judgemental and conveys the sense of a work in progress.
I am delighted with the videos and will no doubt watch the tests many times. I already have. I am a "studier" by nature and love to do research. My approach to dressage has always included a heavy academic element. I've read many of the dressage classics and find that theoretical knowledge gives me a base to draw on when I am having a lesson. If you are a dressage rider working on a particular test level and want to include a theoretical approach to riding, this video will do it.
I'll write about the Training Level tests when we get to them. Hopefully it will be sooner than later!