It’s summertime- the time of year of year when people hit the road in search of adventure or perhaps just a diversion. Some people are planners. They like an itinerary with scheduled stops and well laid plans. Others are more spontaneous and are happy to pull over at interesting roadside attractions with no thought to a timeline or schedule.
In the case of some couples, you’ll often see the two personality types traveling together, both complaining about the other but secretly pleased with the diversity that each party brings to the equation. In the case of the horse and rider, the rider bears the responsibility of the planner while the horse wears the mantle of the free-spirited member of the team.
A frequent comment on many dressage tests has to do with the geometry of the figures ridden. The circle was egg shaped, the centerline was not straight, the serpentine was made of triangles instead of half circles. These errors occur when the “planner” (that’s you) in the duo fails to plan. Think about when you’re on the highway looking for a particular exit. That smooth driving becomes sporadic. You speed up and slow down. You weave. Same with your dressage test. When you don’t know EXACTLY where you are going, your ride will be a little rougher and tinged with a hint of anxiety.
According to Beth Baumert in her book, When Two Spines Align: Dressage Dynamics, “Many riders… unconsciously have no destination points. They wander. When the rider isn’t determining the horse’s line of travel, the horse is determining it, and balance always suffers…”
She goes on to emphasize that if you have reference points, a point of departure and a destination, that these reference points will actually put the horse on the aids. For example, if you are riding your horse towards a specific letter and your horse falls to the right of the line of travel, he will experience a self- correction by running into your right aids. They will push him back into the center of your line of travel. Conversely, if he falls to the left, the same self-correction will occur on the left side.
Baumert also notes that a horse can never be balanced if the rider has a problem with the line of travel because the rules will constantly change, and states that it is critically important that the rider “ride lines and figures with neurotic accuracy.”
A big proponent of cones in the arena, Baumert tells of how she learned of this valuable teaching aide from the late Major Anders Lindgren, a prominent Swedish instructor who visited the United States frequently. She emphasizes that cones can be used to mark precise lines of travel, whether on circles or straight lines. She even tells of witnessing Major Lindgren using cones in a standard arena “to guide his apprentice instructors through every movement of an intermediaire test.”
Dressage is paradoxical. Often times, the simplest change can have the most profound effect.
This summer, carry our those travel plans carefully. In the fall, you’ll find you’ve arrived at your destination.