When the Dressage Training Scale Comes to Life

Blogger Pam Stone reflects on the beauty of dressage theory—and the reward that comes from its correct application.
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Do you know how it warms the cockles (what are those, anyway?) of my heart to see a young horse, particularly an Off-the-Track Thoroughbred, that arrived for training displaying this sort of unbalance and insecurity at the canter, go from this…

voodoo canter 1

to this, a mere two months later?

voodoo canter 2

Dear Theory, I would marry you, I truly would. Because it was simply by following the Training Scale and carefully addressing the areas that needed suppling (jaw/poll/neck/hips/sacrum) in order to gain access to the entire horse that gave us this lovely transformation of Voodoo.

I have enjoyed every ride on this fellow, even during those first couple of weeks when he had no concept of diagonal aids and trying to move him off my inside leg was like trying to push a car that had run out of gas. It was such physical exertion that he had to be my last ride of the day, otherwise I would be too tired to then effectively work the other horses I had in training! 

As mentioned in previous blogs, my approach with Voodoo was to teach him jaw flexions both unmounted and unmounted. Once I had a relaxed and supple mouth at the end of the reins, I could gain access to the poll which also presented itself as rigidly set in stone. There are various exercises I employed that target the poll. When he no longer felt like the ’Tin Man’ who needed oil, I began to have the ability to ride his neck wherever I wanted: down in a stretch or back up during transitions, or perhaps a bit rounder. And that is the doorway to bringing up the back to lift and swing.

Every four-legged dancer needs a partner and I was both impressed and delighted by how seriously his owner, Tommy, took his own commitment to improving. He began watching YouTube videos at night viewing the best of the best Grand Prix riders. He asked questions. His hunter and western background hadn’t prepared him to ride a horse truly forward into a connection, not to mention into an outside rein. And so he listened when I stated emphatically that it wasn’t possible to progress with flat hands, straight arms and a lower leg that swung back to clutch Voodoo’s barrel. He needed to keep a flat back and let his shoulders relax and drop. That’s an awful lot to correct on your own. Yet when he arrived for his turn to climb aboard and take Voodoo for a spin, I couldn’t help but to call out, “You must have taken a dressage pill last night!”

voodoo canter 3

I mean, ya’ll, Voodoo is only five years old. He’s nowhere close to being any kind of schoolmaster. Tommy is going to have to ride with an exemplary position every stride, every ride, when he takes his horse home next week. It’s why the masters told us “The rider forms the horse.” 

Form and function are utterly entwined in dressage and a horse will always respond correctly to a rider’s correct position. And you know what? Tommy’s all about taking that challenge. As he cantered a straight and relaxed Voodoo around the arena his face was wreathed with smiles. And all you have to do is take a look at Voodoo’s expression in every photograph to realize this young Thoroughbred was just as delighted. That’s what it’s all about for me, pricked ears and shining eyes. On Voodoo, too!

voodoo trot 1

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