22, March, 2019

I wrote a post in our Facebook group earlier this week about people competing in dressage at higher levels than they were ready for. While for the most part it was taken in the spirit in which it was intended, some of the responses had me thinking about the difference between the grades and what people thought they were. Those (unfortunate few) that have had me teach them will know my views and it’s not what you might think. Ask most people about the different grades and they will quickly rattle off a list of movements. Working paces, 20m circles and simple serpentines at Prelim, some lengthened strides, 15 m circles, counter canter and simple changes through trot at Novice, medium paces, 10m circles, leg yield and simple changes at Elementary, collected paces, shoulder in, travers, half pass, walk pirouette and rein back at Medium, extended paces, 8m circles and flying changes at Advanced Medium, sequence changes, canter half pirouettes, single change of hand at Prix St Georges and full pirouettes, the zig-zag, piaffe, passage and one tempis at Grand Prix.

As someone who has ridden a couple of Grand Prix’s in my time, I can tell you this rather impressive list of movements is the least of my worries as I canter down the centreline. Want to know the trickiest part of the entire test? It’s the transition from collected canter to collected trot at M, just an extended trot and a centreline from the finish. I know what you’re thinking – what on earth is she talking about? After all, that is a very simple transition, first performed at Medium level. And that is true, but the communication at the end of the test, just after you’ve collected the canter to the extreme to perform a pirouette, not just once but twice, maintaining the jump and rhythm. You’ve got to perform this transition keeping the horse completely together with the hindleg stepping under – you’ve got just 12 metres before you turn across the diagonal and you want every ounce of engine with you to push out to a maximum extended trot. You’d be surprised just how often this transition is muddled, even at the very highest level.

So what do I believe is the difference from grade to grade? Quite simply it is the energy, balance, control of the shoulders, and suppleness. Most people look at a 20-metre canter circle at prelim and a full canter pirouette at Grand Prix and think they are two completely separate movements, but they are actually identical in execution apart from the progression of the four factors above. To ride a good 20 metre circle, you ride a half halt on the straight line. This contains the energy, making sure the stride is active enough to maintain the canter, and balances the horse over the hind leg. You use your inside leg at the girth and step the horse out into a supporting outside rein, creating bend. Finally, you turn the horse’s shoulders with both hands onto the circle. As your horse travels around the circle, you maintain the canter with both legs, inside leg at the girth to activate, outside leg very slightly behind the girth to support the hind quarters, inside hand quietly positions and gives, outside hand supports the shoulder and turns the horse. To ride a pirouette, you ride a half halt on the straight line. This contains the energy, making sure the stride is active enough to maintain the canter, and balances the horse over the hind leg. You use your inside leg at the girth and step the horse out into a supporting outside rein, creating bend. Finally, you turn the horse’s shoulders with both hands onto the pirouette. As your horse travels around the pirouette, you maintain the canter with both legs, inside leg at the girth to activate, outside leg very slightly behind the girth to support the hind quarters, inside hand quietly positions and gives, outside hand supports the shoulder and turns the horse.

See what I mean? Identical.

The next time you wonder if you’re ready to move up a grade, don’t think about the movements you will be performing. The real question is, do you have the energy, the balance, the control and the suppleness. If you do, and you can maintain it for the 6 minutes of a test, then the movements will take care of themselves. You’re already doing them.

(The photo below is the same horse & rider as in the title shot. All that is different is the energy & balance) 

 


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