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Improving Lengthening & Collection though Rider Seat & Posture

  HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR DRESSAGE: Rider Seat, Posture & Balance – Audio CD Talking Book

 DVD: Theory Lecture: How to Know what to look for in the rider’s seat & position, and how to improve…

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Freestyle Music – Dressage to Music

Postscript: FREE MUSIC

We used to give you free copies of our most popular songs, however  there are now so many FREE music sites on the net. Just search for FREE RIDING MUSIC, and for (roughly) 99BPM or 152BPM and you’ll have more free music, than we could ever give you!
And for a great site to get you started for only pennies…you can get GREAT MUSIC HERE

What our top riders REALLY do!

We have all heard that the FEI Rules www.fei.org explain how a horse should maintain a regular rhythm, and maintain a consistent tempo, not getting faster in extension and slower in collection. It’s easy to read what we SHOULD do, keeping the same tempo or speed throughout all the movements.  However what do the top dressage riders REALLY do?

This wonderful piece of research by Sonya Paxton, AISRB, Registered Coach looks at the top riders in dressage and measures their tempo (or speed, or beats per minute) and the variations in the pace.

It is truly ground-breaking research and well worth seeing what the top riders do (or don’t do!)

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REGULARITY – THE ULTIMATE GOAL

Written by Sonya Paxton, AISRB

The No. 1 thing the judge looks for

Ah yes, regularity – what we all hope to achieve in our personal lives and most certainly what we hope to achieve in our riding!  Why?  Because it is the number one thing that judges are looking for.  That’s right, it even comes before lightness, harmony, engagement, impulsion and submission.  If we read in the FEI dressage rule book it specifically lists “freedom and REGULARITY of the paces” (emphasis added) as the first things of importance.  So why, you might ask, is there so much irregularity of the paces in the sport of dressage?  Even in the beginning of our training our equine friends, we strive for rhythm and regularity before we ask the horse for impulsion or submission.

The purpose of this article is to show that even at the Olympic level there is an extreme lack of regularity within the paces.  That is somewhat disconcerting considering that most of us will never reach that high of a level of riding – but it certainly doesn’t mean that we don’t aspire to!  So what must we do to make sure we follow the “rules” of the game and focus on what the Rule Book states to be the most important aspect of dressage?

What do the rules say?

First, let’s take a look at what the FEI Rule Book actually does say.  In Article 401, page 11, subsections 6 and 7 it states, “(6) Cadence is shown in trot and canter and is the result of the proper harmony that a horse shows when it moves with well-marked regularity, impulsion and balance.  Cadence must be maintained in all the different trot or canter exercises and in all the variations of these paces.  (7)  The regularity of the paces is fundamental to dressage.

In Article 403 (The Walk), subsection 1 it states, “…regularity combined with full relaxation must be maintained throughout all walk movements.”  Moving on to the trot it reads in Article 404, subsection 3, “The quality of the trot is judged by general impression, i.e. the regularity and elasticity of the steps, the cadence and impulsion in both collection and extension.  This quality originates from a supple back and well-engaged hindquarters, and the ability to maintain the same rhythm and natural balance with all variations of the trot.”  And finally, in Article 405 (The Canter), subsection 3 we read, “The quality of the canter is judged by the general impression, i.e. the regularity and lightness of the steps… – and by the ability of maintaining the same rhythm and a natural balance, even after a transition from one canter to another.” (Emphasis added).

Based on that information, let’s look at the results of the study done on the top five riders/horses at the US Olympic Trials in 2008 for the Grand Prix Freestyle held at Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Dressage Festival of Champions.

VARIATIONS WITHIN THE PACES BASED ON BPM OF MUSIC AND HORSE’S RHYTHM

RIDER PACE/MOVEMENT MUSIC BPM HORSE’S RHYTHM/TEMPO
#1#2#3#4#5 WalkWalkWalk 71-102-107(See note below)108 106-98-103110-115102-116
#1#2#3#4#5 TrotTrotTrot 130-134-157 (4/4 time)145160 136-133-133138139
#1#2#3#4#5 Passage/Piaffe 115 108-111
Passage/Piaffe 107 106-108
Passage/Piaffe 114 111-119
Passage/Piaffe done to ¾ time 111-117
Passage/Piaffe 111 108-111
#1#2#3#4#5 Extended TrotExtended TrotExtended TrotExtended TrotExtended Trot 131 149
134 135
144 149-150
* 142
145 145
#1#2#3#4#5 Half Pass 131 131
Half Pass 134 133
Half Pass 114 134
Half Pass * 137-138
Half Pass 145 143
#1#2#3#4#5 Canter 95 90-92
Canter 96-97 96
Canter 93 93
Canter * 94
Canter 96 93
#1#2#3#4#5 Canter PirouetteCanter PirouetteCanter PirouetteCanter PirouetteCanter Pirouette 95-96-89
*99
73-75-76-82-65-69 (remarkable variance)64-7464-68

(*Amazingly, with this music, a good portion of it was in ¾ time and ranged from 60 – 140 bpm!  The time signature changed several times during the course of the routine.)

Huge variation in the tempo

Walk: 

What was discovered was that all of the horses were inconsistent in the walk with tempos ranging between 98-116 bpm. One horse even changed his tempo by 14 bpm within the pace, starting out at 102 and speeding up to 116.  None of the walk music was at the appropriate pace of 95 bpm, however the horses showed on exit without interference from the rider the exact pace of 95 bpm.

Trot – the worst of all:

The trot paces produced even more astounding results.  With music ranging from 57 to 145 bpm and all variations in between; some of it even having ¾ time, which all of us know a horse does not travel at ¾  time in any pace.  Walk is a four-beat pattern, trot is a two-beat pattern (ridden to 4/4 music) and Canter is a three-beat pattern with a moment of suspension where all hooves are suspended in the air adding the extra beat, therefore making it a four-beat pattern.  What was fairly consistent in the trot paces was that most passage/piaffe movements were ridden within the 106-119 range with piaffe tending to be the faster pace.  The difference between the passage/piaffe and extended trot ranged from 106-149 bpm – a whopping difference of 43 beats per minute!  That is rather significant.  Again, none of the music was at the appropriate pace of 150 bpm.

Canter 

Although the FEI does mention that a SLIGHT lowering of the tempo MIGHT be acceptable (although elsewhere in the rule book it mentions, several times to maintain consistent tempo, this does not explain the huge differences seen.  Most of the music ranged from 89-97 bpm. The most notable drop in pace would be with rider number five whose canter was 99 bpm and the pirouette was ridden at 64, and the extension at a whopping 129 bpm – almost DOUBLE the speed!

What do we learn from this?

Was the music set to the horse’s pace?  Some of the music didn’t even correlate with the horse’s movements, or the horse was ahead of or behind it.  That would be the danger of having music altered to “fit” the horse as the horse does not ride the same every day.  Not anywhere near to riding at the Olympic level, how would I, as a rider/trainer, try to resolve such irregularities within each pace?

The solution, is to ride to music that is a set tempo for each pace.

Walk:  music ranging from 95-97 bpm.

Trot: music ranging from 150-155

Canter: music ranging from 95-99 bpm

What do we want?

Our goal is to ride collection AND extension at the same bpm.  There is little point of rushing the pace, or having it labored and slow as the horse will be marked down anyway, so in fact it is better to have the horse have a little LESS overtrack/undertack of the footfall and maintain the same tempo, and achieve higher marks!

How can I find free music?

This music is everywhere with every style that you might want.  Look within your own library of CD’s and you will be amazed at what you find.  It is fun and exciting to ride to music that gets your horse moving forward and rhythmically.  There isn’t a training session that I do on my own that I don’t ride to music.  So, just plug in the ear phones, turn on that iPod and ride your way to the ultimate goal of REGULARITY!

How do I get stronger legs for dressage?

Strong dressage legs for “on the bit”

by Renai Burchell MISBS, Level 2 Official Coach, South Australia
Independent Dressage Seat Renai Burchell and Kate McDonell Horse's Head Position Rider's Seat and Legs for Dressage

With all the “grey areas” in riding…some things are easy! They’re listed in the FEI Rules free on line

The Rules, thank goodness, are very clear.  They say, for a preliminary horse (Level 1) that the horse must “have the poll the highest point of the horse”, “vertical (or slightly in front)”, “light contact”, “straight line from the rider’s elbow to bit” and “relaxed”.

And of course it’s relative to the level of the horse.  The croup gets lower and lower as the horse gets more and more advanced, and the poll raises to rebalance the additional weight on the back feet.

The Horse Rider’s Legs – a quick quiz

The photograph on the right was recently taken of rider Kate McDonell, in South Australia.

Look carefully at the photo.  Now remember, this is a BEGINNER LEVEL – ENTRY LEVEL HORSE.  This is not a “raised and arched” and “sitting down” Olympian, this is the FIRST STEPS to being on the bit…so BE KIND!

But, I’m sure you’ll agree that poll is higher than the croup, straight line from elbow to bit, light contact, vertical…just like the rules above say…she might look a bit “stiff” but the horse looks kindly and poll high and close enough to vertical to score well for submission (on the bit).

Here’s 3 questions on the photo:

  1. Did she use her leg to create the forward?
  2. Did she use her seat to lower the horse’s croup (engagement) or push the horse forward?
  3. Did she use a ‘combined action of the hand, seat and leg’ to get the horse on the bit?

The Horse Rider’s leg – a quick answer

Kate is permanently in a wheelchair.  Seriously injured in an eventing accident, our Kate was “talent spotted” as an up and coming rider with Riding for the Disabled, and we have taken her under our wing and encouraged her originally into the Para Equestrian system to start competing, but ultimately Kate wouldn’t settle for that and started winning in the “REAL” dressage world.   (And she has the stillest position in sitting trot we’ve ever seen!).  Kate has absolutely no use of her legs, and is paralyzed from the waist down.

Doesn’t this throw up a LOT of questions about the whole concept of spurs/pushing/driving?  If Kate’s horse is out there winning with NO seat and leg…why is it so necessary to use the leg?  If Kate doesn’t have to, and many paras don’t, then how can we learn from here and instead of MORE leg…use LESS (or in Kate’s case NO leg!).

The FEI Rules Say “LIGHT” leg

The coaches say “more leg, more leg”…yet the rule book says “able to morward from the SLIGHTEST indication”.  It will also mark you down if the aids are not “invisible”, and “without apparent effort”.

The FEI rule book even mentions the heel being the lowest point of the rider, so if a rider raises their heel to kick then it’s a) not invisible b) not effortless c) heel not the lowest point, and although very common, can be punishable in the rider and impulsion marks.

Pain in the horse rider’s ankles, knees, hips

Many riders, old and young, report pain in the lower body while riding.  Sometimes, very serious pain to the point of career-ending.  The more muscular effort you put into th eleg, the more sore you will be.  But, imagine the horse’s sides. If you raise your hand in the air, you’ll feel yourself how VULNERABLE your ribs are, the harder you hit in the ribs, the stiffer the horse becomes.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with legs…IF YOU HAVE THEM!  But if your old, or injured, or have one leg stronger than the other, you still can ride at a very high level!

The “you don’t have strong enough legs” statement is proven wrong again and again by these amazing riders.

Better legs for lateral work

You never hear “don’t use your leg” for lateral work, it would be seemingly impossible to ask a horse to go sideways without using the outside leg.  Is it even possible to go sideways with NO LEG AT ALL?

The answer is = ABSOLUTELY YES!  Independent Dressage Seat susan Seipel Riding for Disabled ParaEquestrian (1)

Take a look at the photo on the right of the paint horse being ridden by many times champion Para-Equestrian Susan Seipel.  With her legs way up in front of the horse’s shoulders, she has virtually no use of the leg, certainly not enough to push a horse sideways.

Yet…her lateral work is lovely! She’s trained her horse, like many other higher level para-equestrian competitors to do it WITHOUT the leg!

So next time you hear “more leg”, perhaps wonder “how do the para’s do it”.  There must be other techniques (Editor’s note = see the ISRB On-Line Course to learn how it’s done).

As one famous jockey once said “if sitting fully upright with your heels down lead to faster horses, I’d buy a dressage saddle tomorrow”. Every jockey in the world is living proof that there is another way to get horses forward and impulsive without the traditional use of the “long leg”.

There are many Prix St. Georges para equestrians doing lateral work, flying changes, and working on piaffe and passage around the world with no legs at all.  They just train a couple of little tricks to the horse, very easy, and it’s done, the horse will be forward forever – much nicer than a steel spur in their sides.

Choose the “middle way”

The traditional training methods from the British Horse Society, or NCAS use all three: a) hand b) seat c) leg.

But some trainers go mostly for one method “all leg”, or “all hand”.

Choosing the “middle way”, the softest most humane approach, within the rule book to stay highly competitive, will always be the logical path to success, and these riders are proving that there is another way!

Sometimes it just takes a very special rider to show us the difference!

by Renai Burchell MISBS, Level 2 Official Coach, South Australia