- TRAINING -
- dressage training with Peter Storr -
Words: Ashleigh Kendall l Photos: Show Circuit
Peter Storr works with Willa Aitken on getting her pony, Ted working over his back and swinging from behind, as well as being more supple and accepting of the contact.
Move with a rhythmic
To get Ted working over his back and swinging from behind, as well as more supple and accepting in the contact.
Warm him up!
Willa stays in rising trot in the warm-up, a good thing to do for any level of a horse while their backs and bodies warm up properly. “We just need to work more on stretching him over his back so that he becomes looser,” Peter explains. “We need him to start to swing a little bit more through his back, so just look for a nice, easy trot for him to start with and concentrate on getting him to have a nice, even rhythm, trying to make him more supple and working into a steadier, softer contact.”
Peter warns Willa to be careful when she is trying to get Ted to stretch that he doesn’t just become too long and strung out in the wrong way. “You want him to be rounding his back and becoming looser,” he explains. “Use your walk and trot transitions just to get him to come together a little bit.”
He gets her to make a transition to walk and then trot again before another transition to walk to push him together more and get him better in between the leg and hand. At first, Willa and Ted take too many steps in the trot-to-walk transition, and it isn’t as direct as it should be, which makes the exercise less effective in achieving the desired outcome.
“Try and make those transitions to walk a little more direct so that we encourage him to become a little shorter through the transition,” Peter says. “Don’t let him take too many steps before he makes that transition. At the moment he’s taking about nine steps before he finally walks - but it needs to be about one, maximum!”
A transition from trot begins the moment the rider goes into sitting trot. “I would rather you have a little more of an abrupt, direct transition - just to say to him ‘you have to respond quicker’,” Peter insists. “The whole point of doing transitions is to encourage your pony to be a little more between your hand and leg so that he stays in a bit more of a closed distance between your hand and leg. You don’t want him just maintaining the same body shape that he’s trotting around in now.”
The transitions start to improve as Willa concentrates on making them more direct, but Peter still wants to achieve a better result. “That was much more together, but can you feel he still trot…trot…trots into it? What we are working on now is like a basic, easy, strung-out half halt. Doing trot-walk-trot transitions is like a baby spaced out half halt. So the horse learns to become obedient to the slowing down aids to walk,” he says. “The rider then releases the slowing down aid in walk and pushes for the added impulsion aid with the leg to speed up to trot.”
This is a useful exercise for any horse, he says, as the point is not only to get a more direct transition but also to get the horse trotting better between leg and hand. This will bring him more together and create a more manageable ‘package’ for the harder work later on.
Trust him to do his job
Next, the pair moves on to the shoulder in, another exercise to improve Ted’s suppleness, swing and contact. Again, Peter reminds Willa to do the odd downward transition to keep her pony in a nice little package. “When you come around your corners, remember to use your inside leg to outside rein to think about controlling and supporting the turn,” he says.
When Willa is ready, she asks Ted to move into shoulder-in. Initially, they have a little too much bend in the neck and lose the shoulder, so Peter reminds her to catch the shoulder with her outside rein to achieve the correct positioning. He also warns her against over-riding Ted in the shoulder-in. “Think about putting him in the right position and then just letting him trot rather than kicking him along.”
Be sure not to ‘shout’ your aids at your horse, he says. Trust him to do his job well, and while you should correct him if he doesn’t, you still need to give him the chance to make a mistake.
“If you keep kicking to make him do it, then he will only rely on your kicking. You need to try and keep your aids quieter and more invisible,” he explains. “Don’t do anything when he is in the right position - leave him alone and just let him travel.”
That sideways feeling
Once Ted is warmed up, Peter asks Willa to turn down the centreline and leg yield back to the track to further improve suppleness and the connection between the back and front of the pony. “Encourage him to take bigger steps sideways, controlling the outside shoulder with the outside rein,” he says.
He also reminds Willa to include transitions in between her leg yields to keep Ted together and between her leg and hand. “Just because you have moved on to another exercise, don’t abandon what you’ve been doing. Remember that you can still combine other exercises to improve the quality of the work. It’s no good improving the horse with transitions and then moving onto lateral work and forgetting about all the good work you have just done, and letting the horse go back to square one! Be strict and stay focused on your goal. These exercises are just there to help you improve the overall quality of the work.”It is essential in the lateral work that you remain aware of straightness, and ride each movement correctly. “Make sure that you are aware of keeping him parallel in the leg yield, so he doesn’t lean through his shoulder or lead with his quarters,” Peter reminds Willa. “Think about the straightness and then leg yield. Now the quarters are leading, so you have to take the shoulders with you a little bit more. See how it is important that you manage the positioning?”
Always turn down the centreline and ride straight before asking your pony to move sideways, Peter adds. Don’t cheat and just let the horse drift over back to the track.
Extending continuously in the same direction without curving.
The fact or condition of a muscle being stretched.
Stretch him out
By this stage, Ted and Willa have been working quite hard, so Peter encourages her to go into rising trot and let Ted stretch down. “Let him stretch, but be careful not to let him poke his nose too much,” he says. “He needs to go lower and stretch over his back to get a benefit from it. When you start to have him more between your leg and hand, he will stretch more willingly down, whereas right now he wants to poke his nose out a bit too far forward and not stretch properly. He will stretch long-ways, but he needs to stretch down as well.”
The main issue Willa has with Ted is that he doesn’t want to stay supple in her rein and stay together. His default mode is to poke his nose and become too long. “Although you don’t want to have him behind the vertical, you want him to be remaining on the bit,” Peter agrees. Willa brings Ted right back to walk to give him a break on a long rein. “Give him a complete walk break on the buckle and walk around the arena without having to nag him. It is essential that when you give him breaks, you let him stretch his neck forward,” Peter explains. “He is resting, and you are resting, and here you need to train him, so he stretches and stays forward. His walk is better quality now that he is walking in a more relaxed way.”
Picking Ted up from the walk back into working mode is also something that should be approached with precision and discipline. “Okay, you have given him a walk break. Now try and remember the feeling of the walk you have had as you are picking the reins up,” says Peter. “I bet you will have to start fiddling and kicking to make him walk on a contact and you need to avoid having to do that. Maintain the walk you have now as you pick up the reins. He should continue to walk forwards and accept your contact. When he does those little joggy steps, it’s because he’s resisting closing between your leg and your hand, and accepting the contact.”
Perfecting the travers and half pass
Next up is some work on improving the travers, which in turn not only helps the suppleness and contact but also will help to improve his collection. “Make sure to use your corners before coming down the long side into travers. The positioning isn’t bad, but you need to make sure you aren’t leaning to the outside. You should be thinking of pushing your weight to the inside step, and slightly leaning your body into the direction you want him to go - a little to the inside.”
Half pass is, simply put, travers on a diagonal line. Once Ted is feeling comfortable in travers, Willa turns down the centreline at A and makes a half pass, returning to the track at B.
“When you are on the diagonal line, I want you to ride straight along that diagonal, to begin with, and then ride travers,” Peter explains.
This is a fantastic way to position the half pass, as it eliminates the chance of the horse falling around the corner and the rider just bending the neck and kicking the horse over, starting straight results in a more fluid movement and overall a much nicer picture.
“That made a much nicer positioning - that’s all you need to think of when you ride half pass,” Peter tells Willa. “Ride straight on a diagonal line and then into travers - simple!”
Next, Willa rides down the long side and then into travers again before asking for her next half pass. “Now where is his head looking?” Peter asks immediately. “It should be looking exactly down the track, not looking in off the track. Just then you made the common mistake of bending him in more than he can cope with. It’s good to ride the travers on the long side because you can use the track and the boards to stay focused. His neck, shoulders and head should stay on that track, and the quarters should come in. Focus on a point at the end of the track that you are riding to.”
Once again, Peter reminds Willa to ride some transitions in between her lateral work to keep her pony together and honest in the contact. Some horses will get a little longer in the lateral work as they find it hard, but it is imperative as you school through the movements to put them together and keep working on engaging the hind legs.
“Use your transitions to squash him together if he gets a little long in the lateral work or wants to poke his nose out,” Peter says, reminding Willa also to keep paying continuous attention to whether her pony feels supple and easy to flex, and whether he’s taking her contact nicely. When it comes to improving the half pass, Peter reiterates his earlier instructions to give Ted a chance. “Put him in the positioning for the half pass and then just manage it from there. You don’t need to be constantly reminding him of what he should be doing,” he tells Willa. “You just have to trust him that he is going to remain in the positioning and you don’t have to keep kicking every stride.”
“Being a pony, he finds it a bit harder than a big moving horse to take a big elastic stride, so that’s where working through the stretching, transitions and lateral work is going to help him to become not only better in the contact, but also more elastic in his movement. If you try and push a pony into taking a bigger step, all that happens is they end up looking choppy and hurried.”
A regular repeated pattern of movement.
Find the rhythm!
As they have been working through the transitions and exercises, Ted has become suppler, is swinging better through his back and has improved in the contact. Peter explains that he often sees riders on ponies trying to create bigger movement by pushing the pony forward, but unfortunately, that just creates the opposite effect, and they get too quick.
“You need just to get one rhythm,” he explains to Willa. “You said that you try and get that bigger trot, but then you lose it in the lateral work. He’s got to be more between your hand and leg, and he’s got to be supple in an easy trot before you can develop a bigger trot. You mustn’t have one trot for ‘going forwards’ and then another trot for your lateral work - it all has to be the same trot. The rhythm is looking better now, and he’s starting to look a little bit easier and swinging,” he praises.
“If you try to make him look like a more significant mover than he is, you just make him look rushed and tight, and then the judges will say ‘short steps and hurried’. He is only going to be able to have a longer step if he is swinging. However, the main thing to work on is keeping him more together between your leg and hand, so that he’s giving you more of a swinging feel - then the trot starts to look nicer anyway.”
Improving simple changes
In canter, Peter reminds Willa, not to over-manage Ted in front. “Keep your hands still, so you aren’t fiddling with his head every stride. He has to come to terms with giving in to a more stable contact, rather than thinking you have to fiddle him in all the time,” he says.
Down the next long side, keeping the same collected canter, Willa rides Ted in travers. Horses can find this exercise tough in canter and sometimes will fall back into trot. “Remember - if he tries to break, just stay sitting and pick up the canter again as soon as you can,” Peter encourages. “Keep him together and collected. When he goes to break on you, half halt and bring him back, so he isn’t just running through your hand in the canter.”
Willa rides a simple change over X, but Peter isn’t quite satisfied. “You survived it, but there wasn’t enough collection going into the transition,” he says. “See how much you can slow the canter down; try to get it back to walk speed before you walk. I want to see you correct him when he goes to break, rather than panic and just stop.”
Always teach your horse the right thing to do; he reminds her, and don’t reward an incorrect response. “See if you can collect him a bit more, half halt and stay on the circle in this exercise. Try and get him to collect more, and when you are ready, then slow down and walk. He is still falling through trot a bit, and we want to see a direct transition to walk from canter. Find your timing again and then walk when you feel ready to walk again.”
Willa gets a better transition, and Peter is quick to affirm it. “Now that’s coming better, give him a long rein.”