This week's Training Tip is brought to you by ShowChic. OK, we all get told at some time that our horses are not Forward enough. I certainly did when I went to train with Wolfram Wittig in Germany this summer! I told him that my lovely mare was much more forward than a few months previously, and he asked me (only slightly joking) “were you doing it in slow motion before?” So, off we went for a gallop! I think forward is not always the best term, because it is easy to confuse fast with forward. And while we dressage riders really should desire that our horses are always forward, they should rarely be really fast. Fast means that the horse speeds up the tempo of the gait - and if the tempo of a gait is too fast, there is very little time for a swinging back, suspension or cadence in the gait. Thus the quality, balance and beauty of the gait is lost. A horse can be fast without being forward.
This sounds weird, I know, but it’s not if you know our dressage definition of forward. Forward in a dressage sense means that the horse reacts instantly to the leg aid, and responds with a forward desire and flexion of the hind legs. This can be apparent (or very apparently not) in piaffe, which has almost no forward motion.
What we dressage trainers really want most of the time when we yell more forward! is actually more in front of the leg! Yah - sometimes it is just that you need to go faster, but more often we want your horses (and ours, believe me) to react quicker and more correctly to your leg aid. I tell my students that I don’t want the horse to even think about your leg aid, I would like to bypass the thinking part and have an unconscious reaction trained by consistent repetition. I don’t believe horses think about the fly that just landed on them before swishing it off with their tail - they just react. Why do they react? Because if they don’t, their subconscious knows that in a split second that fly will nibble them. So their body just reacts, as the brain has learned the consequences of not reacting (chomp!)
A horse that is correctly in front of the leg is a dream to ride - the rider doesn’t have to push all the time to create energy, so instead the rider gets to focus on all sorts of fun stuff, like relaxation, throughness, balance, suppleness and swing - all those things that make dressage riding like dancing with your horse, and a joy to watch.
Shannon Dueck is a contributing writer to the ShowChic News monthly newsletter
International Grand Prix trainer and competitor Shannon Dueck is a Pan Am Games Individual Silver Medalist, and has competed at both WEG and the World Cup Final. She has trained with Bert Rutten of the Netherlands, Kathy Connelly, Lars Peterson, Hubertus Schmidt, Robert Dover, and most recently, Wolfram Wittig while in Germany this past summer.