This is quite a nice moment: The 9-year-old mare is picture almost at the moment of suspension in an energetic trot lengthening with the rider sitting up well and maintaining good contact. The rider’s legs and seat appear in good driving position, and the mare is able to lift her forehand quite well and achieve good reach with the left foreleg and steps well under with the right hind.
The rider writes, “If I ask for more, it seems we give up something else such as a vertical frame or my position suffers, especially my hands and arms.” I can picture what the rider describes. What probably happens is that beyond this degree of extension, the mare loses her balance, begins to come above the bit , and the straight line connection from bit to elbow is lost with the hands bearing down in an attempt to keep the mare on the bit.
I suggest working on making preparatory half halts when the mare’s inside hind leg strikes the ground, before you ask for the lengthening. But, before practicing trot-lengthening transitions, prepare by practicing trot-walk transitions in this way: Feel for the moment the inside hind lands in the trot. Say out loud, but softly, “Now…now…now…” when the inside hind lands. Listening to your own voice, for three or four final strides at the trot, give the half halt aids followed by a softening of the rein contact. Then ask for a transition to walk. The aim is to practice several transitions from the trot to the walk in this rhythm. Again, trot on and feel for the landing of the inside hind. Repeat this trot-walk-trot transition several times until the timing is easy and the mare begins to understand. Also, in the downward transition, use a light touch with the whip (also carried in the inside hand) in the same rhythm to ask for engagement and activity. Giving half halts at that particular moment encourages the mare to lighten in front and push off more strongly from behind into the trot with the diagonal pair of her inside hind and outside fore.
Then, using the exact same timing and preparation, as for your trot lengthening instead of a walk transition. If the preparation is done correctly, you will be able to ask for more effot from the hindquarters of the mare. She will become more engaged and a little lower behind than in this picture, and she will stay in better balance. Although, she may not be able to maintain her balance for more than a few strides, in time she will be stronger and more able to keep the engagement and thus her balance. Don’t forget to ride the same preparatory half halts for the downward transition.
This article first appeared in the June 2000 issue of Dressage Today magazine. Please note that in all current issues, we require all riders to wear helmets.
An American Horse Shows Association “R” dressage judge, Cindy Sydnor lives in Snow Camp, North Carolina, where she teaches, trains and competes. She is an examiner for the United States Dressage Federation Instructor Certification Program and a popular clinician. She has trained with H.L.M. van Schaik, Egon von Neindorff, Karl Mikolka and Col. Bengt Ljungquist. She was long-listed for the 1975 Pan-American Games and the 1976 Olympics.