A lot of articles and books about dressage explain how a movement should look, how it should be done and why you should use it. But I found out that a lot of the times I go out in the school with my horse, it never happens the way it is described. He’s not in that perfect outline, bending how he’s supposed to do or going straight when I want to. So what then?
As a rider and instructor, but mostly as a writer for Dutch horse magazines I had the privilege to talk to a lot of different trainers and riders at top level, and see them working their horses. Each had their own solution to problems that arise during training. Some were quite traditional, others very innovative. I tried out a lot on my own horses and my poor pupils, to see what worked for me and them. And it turned out that there is no such thing as one solution for all, nor is there a magic word I can say which will solve it all. Each horse and rider is different. Posture, ability, but also the way of learning things varies enormously.
I still think it is possible to offer some guidance for those moments it doesn’t go as planned. But you have to remember something really important. Never blame the horse. Almost always he will try to do what you ask. But in most cases he doesn’t understand what it is you want. Or he has to work his way through a load of conflicting signals you accidentally give him, without realizing. If it doesn’t happen, a lot of riders don’t think it’s them. So they start asking harder, sometimes even with force. It’s like shouting to someone that speaks a different language and doesn’t understand a word you are saying.
Go back one step and think. What is happening? What do you want your horse to do? What are you doing exactly? Does that make sense to him? Can you break this task up in several more simple ones? So you explain to him step by step what it is you want from him. Remember that punishment stops a horse from learning and doing better. Reward stimulates him, but only when given at the right moment. And it doesn’t have to be a treat of a hug every time. Simply releasing pressure is a great reward for a horse.
Let’s go out and play!