Early Days

Saddleseat training for dressage?

Having grown up doing saddleseat and starting eventing as an adult, it is fascinating to compare various elements of training and showing.  In my opinion, there are a surprising number of components of both disciplines that could help enrich the other.

At a dressage lesson a few weeks ago, Laurie hopped on Hemie for a few minutes. Trainer rides are so helpful because you can watch your horse! When Hemie gets “stuck” and hippity-hoppity, his back legs do a prance in place and do not reach forward under himself (which is what we want).

Which brings me to chains. Chains are a very common training aid in saddleseat, and I wonder why we don’t see them used in dressage.

Lightweight aluminum chains, found at any hardware store and fastened with a safe clip, are put around the pastern like a bracelet/anklet. Sometimes leather (like a rolled dog collar) is used instead of metal. Typically they’d be put on just the fronts, or on all 4 legs, in order to encourage larger movement/leg action.

Have you ever put boots on a horse’s hind legs, and they step out exaggeratedly for a few steps because they are not used to the feeling? Basically that is the training aid. It helps the horse to be more aware of his feet.

Some would say that the chains or leather is uncomfortable to the horse, and that they are stepping higher to try and get away from the discomfort. Personally I think it depends on the type and application of the chains and/or leathers, and the horse’s personal sensitivity levels.

Back to the lesson. The saddleseater in me was watching my horse pogo-stick around with his back legs while his front legs were moving out fine, and I distinctly thought that he needs to become more aware of his hind legs. While I wasn’t about to go out and buy chains or leather, I realized I have something that might do the trick:

Yep, bell boots! I hadn’t used them on Hemie in a long time (since he’s barefoot) and back when I did use them they were only on his front feet. I decided to start strapping ’em on for our rides to (a) see if they helped Hemie become more aware of his hind legs, and (b) to get him used to them since I may want to use them for trailering and possibly our jumping rounds at the upcoming show, just as a measure of protection.

I’ve used them for several rides now, and so far so good! No hippity-hoppity, and I can feel him moving under himself more (and faster) than he did before! He walks out of the cross-ties with big stretchy steps of his hind legs, so I know he’s aware of them. Saddleseat training inspired methodology FTW!

{thoughts, questions, disagreements welcome}

8 comments on “Saddleseat training for dressage?

  1. While the effect may wear off as he gets used to them, glad they worked. Its not like you are strapping razor blades to his legs, and at worse he is ready to wear them for trailering etc.

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  2. Agreed, chains and leather are just tools, in the wrong hands they become cruelty but in the right hands they are just tools. I see nothing wrong with it. That being said, Baby Dingus has been wearing fetlock boots for jumping, he spun those things around yesterday and I had a horse who was kicking out for the rest of the lesson.

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  3. I uncovered a set of the leather ankle things while digging for driving stuff last weekend. BO's daughter used to show saddle seat (whyyyy doesn't she still have a Saddlebred???) and she jokingly told me I should put them on Bobby to see what he would do. Interesting to read that they can actually be used for other things!

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  4. Yes, the effect is fairly short lived so even in saddleseat they don't use this method every day.

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  5. Yeah some horses are more sensitive than others! Luckily Hemie hasn't been upset by all my booting madness.

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  6. What you found may actually be a pair of leather cuffs for “stretchies” rather than leathers meant for this purpose. I'll do a post on stretchies sometime – basically surgical tubing attaches from one cuff to another, and is used for resistance training. Tell your BO's daughter to get another ASB – there's some really cute ones available over at Saddlebred Rescue! http://www.saddlebredrescue.com/

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  7. Henry wears bell boots 24/7 so he doesn't pull a shoe.. hes used to them :)

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  8. Alex earned himself pull on bell boots in the front because he kept eating the Velcro ones… never used them in back though.

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