Teaching the Basics
I taught a dressage clinic at the fairgrounds this morning. I had about ten riders....I lost count, actually, once the clinic started.
I was quite pleased with most of the horses, as they were a nice group and much better than horses I've seen in the past. One big Quarterhorse would have made a nice dressage mount in many a recognized show. There was an attractive gray Arab, several pintos, and a nice collection of solid Quarterhorse types all of which had really good attitudes.
I started the clinic by explaining that dressage simply meant "training," and that horses in any discipline aoucl benefit from basic dressage training since the goal was to develop their athletic potential and their obedience.
We then went on to discovering the rhythm of the gaits, starting with the walk. I had riders repeatedly count strides out loud so they would begin to recognize when their horses were slowing down, speeding up, or losing forward impulsion. We repeated the counting at the trot.
I then talked about the importance of the outside rein and began the basics of "inside leg to outside hand." I have found the best way to teach this is to set up a series of markers--in this case cones--set in a 20 meter square, and then having riders ride a circle around them, keeping the same distance away from each cone all the way around the arena. This accomplishes two basic things. By focusing on the cones's position instead of what the horse or they are doing with their bodies, riders begin to apply the aids they need to get the horse in the right place at the right time. Instinct and necessity--along with a bit of reminder to use the outside rein--puts their aids correctly in place to accomplish a task. Secondly, a horse properly bent on a circle begins to respond to the outside rein aid and, on its own starts to soften to the rein and use its back.
Sure enough, nearly every horse and rider combination improved both in way of going and carriage through this exercise. The hardest part was getting the riders to really understand how to work their horses into contact on the outside rein, but in nearly every case, each horse gave at least a half circle of nice starts to going "on the bit," and a few made even more remarkable progress. The big Quarterhorse looked super!!
We then worked the circle at the canter. I varied the lesson then, depending on what each rider needed. In some cases it was simply establishing correct canter rhythm and pace. In others it was focusing on getting them to sit up instead of going into a foward (jumping) position when theirh horses rushed a little. Once they sat up, the canters balanced up and again, riding off the outside rein, they were able to make some nice circles.
I finished having the last rider practice riding a straight line up the arena by passing between pairs of cones I set up to make a "lane."
All in all the clinic took about 2 1/2 hours. Afterwards, a couple of parents spoke to me about perhaps arranging some lessons at a later date. Their daughters (the clinic was all girls) had enjoyed the work so much they wanted to learn some more. Well see what we can work out.
My knees are really sore now after standing up for so long. It is a perfectly beautiful day outside with moderately hot temperatures, low humidity, and a nice breeze. Hopefully after I rest for a while I will be able to ride my Boys. If so, I will put into practice everything I tried to teach today and see how it works. *G*