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Technique Dressage : The perfect warm-up


As we enter the much-anticipated phase of easing lockdown, many of you are able to hit the road back to the stables to reunite with your horse and resume training. Of course, this return will have to be gradual, allowing the horse to slowly rebuild its muscles, breath, flexibility, while sparing its physique and mental health. After eight weeks of confinement without sporting activity, the athlete is not going to run a marathon, the footballer is not going to play a ninety-minute match, and your horse is not ready to perform its dressage routine.


This phase will allow you to get back in the saddle starting on a solid foundation, focusing your efforts on controlling the pace, attitude, straightness, and trajectory. Here are some tips to deepen your warm-up sessions by multiplying transitions, associating them with a series of lateral and longitudinal stretches.


The Importance of a Thorough Warm-up in Dressage Training

First of all, take the time to walk extensively at a hand-held pace. If your horse is coming out of the stable, this warm-up time is absolutely necessary. It's also an opportunity to test his concentration. However, this is an active walk designed to start up your partner, no question of dragging your feet while zigzagging from right to left. Explore all corners of the track, lingering on areas that could pose problems, walking shoulder to shoulder with the horse, who must match your speed. As soon as he seems to escape your control, stop, capture his attention. This is the first step in your training, it will set the tone for the rest of your session. These ten minutes of sustained walking will help you get warmed up. While grooming already requires some stretching (bending over to clean the hooves or stretching to brush the top of the rump), these laps will awaken your muscles and prepare your breathing. Take the opportunity to adjust the girth gradually so that your horse is comfortable under the saddle.


Warn your horse of an imminent trot by testing his reactivity beforehand. At the touch of your legs, the horse must clearly propel himself forward. The idea then is to "crack open the door" to encourage this transition: your shoulders subtly advancing and your arms remaining flexible to allow the dynamic movement. However, do not completely let go of contact for fear of losing the grip. Although a gallop warm-up may be better suited to some horses, take the time to trot a few strides with the aim of checking the regularity of your partner. Until now, you may have missed a discomfort that is only noticeable at this pace. Wanting to unfold your horse in a low and round attitude while maintaining contact, connection, roundness. The question is not to let him wander freely, nose in the wind. When you stretch, with your arms stretched vertically above your head or on the contrary bent in half to touch your feet, the exercise is only effective if you reach as far as possible with your extremities to cause more stretching. The same applies to the horse, which must push on the reins to engage the top line in its entirety. It is not about leaning on the hand but really stretching towards the bit. The activity breathed into the hindquarters encourages the engagement of the hindquarters which in turn, by a ricochet effect, stimulates the mobilization of the rump and back, articulating the neck to move forward, the horse's mouth yielding to the hand. Opt for a so-called "work" pace, covering ground. Simplify your trajectory, alternating between straight lines and twenty-meter circles. The posting trot is the rule or even the canter in suspension. By lightening up, you free the horse, giving the back the opportunity to undulate.


Utilizing Transitions for Improved Engagement and Flexibility in Dressage Training


After a few minutes at each pace equally distributed between the two hands, once the horse is engaged in the movement, a profusion of transitions is required. Between and within the pace, multiply the variations first on a circle where you perfectly control the trajectory then in a straight line. Walk - trot; trot - walk; trot - canter; canter - trot. Allow enough distance for the horse to confidently settle into the higher pace before asking for the next transition. If the transitions are harmonious and clearly in impulsion, bring your requests closer. The trot-walk-trot transitions are one of the most beneficial tools at your disposal. From an active trot, decrease the stride length until you fall into a collected walk for only a pair of strides before asking for the trot again, keeping the hindquarters under the mass. This way you improve the operation of the half parade and the reaction to the legs, improving the engagement, lowering of the haunches, flexibility of the loin, and carrying of the forehand.


In continuity, refine your research by integrating a few strides of collected trot within the working trot and decline this process at the canter. Don't hesitate to integrate voltes which will help you adjust the stride length without pulling on the reins. While maintaining impulsion, the tightened curve naturally promotes weight bearing on the haunches. Rhythm and balance must be maintained while the amplitude varies. You can develop the stride on the long side then gradually shorten it for the corner passages. Be careful not to experience acceleration at the approach of the upward transition nor to see the horse brake when returning to the previous pace. Pace control and reactivity are the keywords of your warm-up. The slightest propulsive action of the rider must receive an instant reaction. If the pressure of your calf remains without consequence, dare to intervene with the heel. The warm-up is the opportunity to tune your violins for the rest of the session. Clearly defining the rules (reactivity, contact, straightness) will then allow you to concentrate more serenely on the exercises.


H2 Tag: Maintaining Consistent Attitude and Posture for Optimal Horse Training Results


Be sure to maintain a constant attitude, stable neck height and defined neck length. Under no circumstances should the horse pull on his nose in departures nor lock his frame, narrowing the angle between head and neck, and releasing the bit in downward transitions. Attitude, sometimes a taboo subject, is nevertheless a central element of training. It should never be the result of a hand pulling. Neck height and muzzle position are the result of the response to aids, impulse, and adjustment of amplitude. If you can't control your horse's contact, question the engagement of his hindquarters and the flexibility of his back. The important thing is to regularly vary the frame, be totally in control of it and avoid extremes. If your horse tends to hollow himself by placing himself too high: work more regularly with a low neck with a rounded neck; conversely, he has trouble holding himself: avoid the beginning of a session in too long stretching which could tip the balance on the shoulders.


H2 Tag: Including Lateral Work and Transitions in Horse Training Session


Having explored all three gaits, you can consider including lateral work in the rising trot and canter. This step and the previous one are interchangeable depending on the horse's disposition and characteristics. If he lacks activity, starting with transitions should stimulate him, awakening his attention, testing his reflexes and soliciting his mobility. On the contrary, if he is rather hot, the trot yieldings will prepare him for the contact of the legs before the first canter departure. When approaching lateral work, favor forward movement at the crossing, then gradually increase the difficulty. Start with long leg yieldings, slight flexion of the shank, shoulders in front, from the middle line to the track over the entire sixty meters. As you go along, cross more to finally follow one of the large diagonals from one end of the rectangle to the other.


Once your warm-up is completed, you can choose to end your session at a walk or to undertake the preparation of an exercise depending on your availability and your horse's weekly schedule. Of course, the intensity must respect the horse's condition, starting quietly and then going crescendo from day to day. This part of the training should neither be neglected nor rushed, as the warm-up time is non-negotiable. In the event that you have little time ahead of you, be content with a well-constructed warm-up rather than demanding movements in cold too soon.