Early Days

Training Catch Up & Dressage Question

With all the holiday excitement and year end reflection, I realize it’s been too long since I’ve actually posted about Hemie and I in our training.

We got our first jumping lesson in over a month last Saturday! Laurie can’t drive yet (shoulder still recovering) but her dear friend Debbie brought her to the barn and graciously acted as jump-setter too.

We set the jumps fairly low (+/- 2′) but I must have still been a little nervous at first because I had a hard time giving him the reins on approach and properly releasing them over jumps. We settled into normalcy soon, though, and I could tell Hemie was happy because he was trying to lock onto every jump!

We did 2 exercises: first was our old standby of getting more or less strides in a line. We did a 2-stride vertical to oxer in alternating 2 strides and 3 strides, both directions. Then we  worked on doing some tight turns directly after fences, and we had no problem. Hemie was a rock star. By the end of the ride we just were adding jumps left and right, no set course, just free flowing through all of them.

Laurie paid us the huge compliment of saying “you are so ready to move up” which is good since I had already mailed in our entries for the Galway Downs winter HT in February for BN!

Laurie can’t do weekday lessons yet, so we’ve been dressagin’ on our own still. I’ve been doing exercises from the Dr. Christian Schacht clinic, focusing on using more seat and body and less hands. I’m working on finessing the canter cue as well as keeping the right lead when bending right (so hard for Mr. Ex-racehorse!).

One concept promoted by Dr. Schacht (and also Chemaine Hurtado back in March) stands in fairly direct conflict with the approach Laurie has me do: and that is whether or not to ask the horse to get on the bit right away in the ride, and with the help of rein contact/half-halts.  Laurie has me asking for contact and shape right away, using rein squeezing in addition to inside leg, whereas Dr. Schacht and Chemaine promote patience and having contact arise organically through bending exercises.

My dear readers, kindly please share your thoughts and methods for when and how to get your horse on the bit! What do you think of these 2 approaches?

8 comments on “Training Catch Up & Dressage Question

  1. I absolutely cannot get Bobby anywhere on the bit until he's had a long walk, a long trot on the buckle, and a canter both ways in half seat. After he's had the chance to stretch out and loosen/warm up his muscles, he's in a working mindset and I start asking for lateral work with rounds him right up.

    BUT it's different for every horse. You just have to figure out what Hemie likes best.


  2. It's varies heavily from horse to horse, having a lot to do with the level of the horse's training. Missy has to be warmed up before I even think about asking her for suppleness and to accept contact. We walk and trot circles and figure eights and canter both directions on a fairly loose rein, all the while working her off my legs, before I ask her to accept contact. If I went into every ride asking immediately for her to work in a frame, we'd never get anywhere. Once she's warmed up, it comes easily and naturally…but that's just what works for us.


  3. Depends on the horse and their conformation and balance. It's unfair to expect any horse to work at the limits of their ability with no warm-up, but beyond that…

    Tucker needs to be ridden up before he can be usefully ridden down. He gets a lap of the ring each way on the buckle and after that I start asking him onto the aids. Trying to w/t/c around on the buckle to start just gets him running on his forehand. Doesn't mean we don't stretch — we do! — or vary his frame — ditto! — but the shoulders need to be up and the hind end under before the stretchy work will be productive or correct.

    Other horses I've ridden, you'd never get 'em through if you didn't stretch 'em first. Both roads lead to Rome as long as the execution is sound. That said, I'm a big fan of using figures and appropriate lateral work to shape and balance the horse; I think that tends to work better and more peacefully than going around saying, “Trot better, damnit!”


  4. I agree with everybody else- it really depends on the horse. That said, my pony is just too stiff when I get on for me to ask him to be round and collected right away, so I do lots of bending, circles, and counter begging on a long rein as my warmup. That sets him up for sucess afterwards when I ask him to be more connected and through


  5. Just today I was playing around with this idea. I did a ton of suppling exercises with Speedy at the walk while on the bit, then slowly moved on to some trot work. He did his obligatory cough, cough, cough, but then, for the first time ever he REALLY did an amazing stretchy trot where he lifted his back (and me) so high that I felt as though he'd grown a foot or two.

    I don't like my boys to spend too much time on too long of a rein as it just encourages them to be heavy on the forehand, but neither will rock back right at the beginning of a ride either. I like to ask for lots of “on the bit” at the walk, and then slowly take up the contact as I ask for more. But since I've ridden with Christian more than once, and Chemaine, too, I guess I fall more under their way of thinking. :0)


  6. You do not get a horse on the bit. A horse will naturally go on the bit once all the key elements are in place. You can fake getting a horse “on the bit” by squeezing and using tricks, but that is all you are doing, placing their head where you want it, they are not actually using their hind end or going correctly.

    This is not something that can be taught via a blog comment, but from a very good dressage trainer. The most important element is contact, that it be consistent, and even in both reins, with the horse not balancing on the rein. Your horse should take a light or heavy contact depending on what you are requesting. Your arms should move with the horse but the contact should always be there. No loopy in the reins ever, unless you are rewarding and this is only done once contact is established. From there, you can work on bending through the rib cage, and eventually asking for flexion. Most horses will go on the bit naturally once ridden correctly, without bit wiggling.


  7. I think this is one of those philosophies that totally depends on the horse (and the rider for that matter) – but I had one trainer who firmly believed in the slow and subtle approach for horses who were being pulled out of their stalls and hadn't been moving around much. The same trainer typically went right to work on the contact with horses who lived outside or spend most of the day out there.

    That always kind of stuck with me. Personally I really like the “it's time to work now” mindset and setting expectations a bit higher from the get go, but I've also had horses who took 20 minutes to slowly raise their backs and seek contact. To each their own I suppose!


  8. I agree with others – it depends on the horse and where they're at with their training. With Cash, he had to have a long w/t/c on the buckle before he would consider relaxing into any sort of contact. If I gave Saga a warmup on the buckle, he used it as an excuse to be spooky and goofy. I still warmed him up slowly, but it was a different kind of warmup. Paddy and I are still figuring each other out, but asking for long, low, and slow from the beginning, with lots of figures so he has to pay attention – seems to help more than just letting him zoom around on the buckle with his head up like a Haffie-gir-affie. Each horse seems to have a different idea of when “work” starts, so just making sure they are tuned in from the very beginning is more important in my mind than having them right on the contact immediately. Your mileage may vary, of course. ;)


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