Prepare to advance to the next level
By: Lynn Palm
Now that you’ve gotten into Western Dressage you’re eager to do well. But what are the best ways to improve your horse at his current level so you can advance to the next level?
As you ride each day, make a plan before you get in the saddle. You are teaching your horse every time you work with him, whether you are taking an actual lesson or not. Be sure he’s learning something positive!
For starters, get your horse totally warmed up before attempting more complex maneuvers. I follow these “Golden Rules” for warm up:
- Change directions often for lateral suppleness of your horse.
- The working trot is the best gait for warming up. You should post to help your own body prepare and warm up.
- Do transitions often for the longitudinal suppleness of your horse. This also helps build strength and flexibility in your horse.
- Do some simple lateral training to loosen up your horse.
Now that you’re ready to work, here are some suggestions to help you accomplish your goals:
- Have a plan of what you want to work on and follow it. Use the level/test you are presently working on to formulate your plan.
- Each lesson, use a figure to work on. Practice transitions before and after the figure that is in your level/test.
- Review the judge(s) score sheet from your last show and practice a tip.
- Always work short segments. Recognize where you have a weakness in the training figure or transition. Improve your horse through your position/aids before you practice the weak areas. Remember to perfect your accuracy of the figure or transition.
- Have someone video you as you practice so you can see if you are making progress. This enables you to recognize and review the action and timing of your aids.
- Review your training figure and transitions. Work last on the straightness of the turn, straight line or upward or downward transition that you had in your lesson goal.
- If you need help with a transition, use a curving line.
- Try to improve the figure work on the size of the curve or the straight line at a different spot from where you have done your training figure.
- Use maneuvers such as turn on the fore hand, yielding at walk, turn on haunches as “cool down” maneuvers from trot and canter work. This will keep your horse’s concentration and help him remain more interested and responding to your aids.
We all want to advance to the next level, but how do you know when you’re ready? There are several ways to know:
- When your scores improve from competition to competition,
- When riding the test gets easier and easier,
- When the hardest maneuver in the test is still challenging, while all the others go well,
- When you advance to a new test and still have one, maybe two, tasks that are challenging,
- When you go back to the easier test and find ways to improve more. The more difficult test sets your horse up to improve the easier test.
- Ask your coach/instructor to confirm your desire to advance in your level/tests.
- Have someone video you at a show or at home doing the whole test. Watching the test ridden in its entirety will help you realize if you’re ready to advance or not.
The best part of advancing your tests is that if you fail, or the more advanced new movements in the harder test are not going well, you can always go back to the easier test. Don’t get discouraged! I recommend giving yourself at least one to three months with a new test to decide if you are advancing at the new level, or if you need to go back to the easier one and perfect it even more.
One of the best things about dressage – whether English or Western – is that the levels and tests are the perfect progressions to teach rider skills and the training/development of your horse. If you can’t master a task, find a similar movement in the easier level/test and work on perfecting it. This will help you advance. Everything is in print, so use the tests for your homework as you practice at home or with your instructor.
Make it a point to learn and understand how and why you are doing each component of a test. Take your time. Getting in a hurry will only set you back and cause frustration. There is no rule saying how far you have to advance; it is even okay if you stay at a certain level for your entire riding career.