The Magazine June 2023

Release the pressure

Posted 6th June 2024

Is tension wrecking your tests? Dressage rider Annabella Pidgley helps you find your horse’s inner peace


Harmony is, arguably, the central aim of dressage. It’s a discipline that’s all about fluid, seamless communication – a communication that, when it’s at its very best, is often pretty hard to spot because horse and rider are so completely in tune with one another.

But when that communication starts to unravel, it can have a knock-on effect, not only on the setting up of the movements but also on scores because what the judges are looking for is harmony between horse and rider.

The most common issue that spoils this harmony is tension, and this needs to be dealt with at its source if your horse is to feel and perform at his best.

Did you know?

Lateral work is a great preventative measure for spooking. Try riding past a scary object in shoulder-in, or leg-yield towards it, so he has to think about where he’s putting his body, instead of spooking.

Take the first step

Tension can creep into your ride in different ways. Your horse might spook at something unfamiliar, for example, and then struggle to unwind again, or you might feel tension as you teach him something new and move him out of his comfort zone. Or, perhaps it’s simply that he’s prone to tension generally, or maybe the tension is coming from you.

However your horse’s tension manifests itself and wherever it comes from, your first port of call should be the same. Reassurance. This is often a multi-step process and the first is to check in with yourself whenever you feel the tension rising. Are you…

  • breathing? It’s common to subconsciously hold your breath when you feel tension in your horse but that simply tells him you’re tense, too, and that there must be something to worry about. Practise taking long, slow, deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth
  • relaxed in your body? When your horse’s body becomes tight, it’s likely yours will, too. Run through a checklist in your head – unclench your jaw, drop your shoulders, soften your wrists and elbows and let your weight sink deep into the saddle rather than sitting perched on top of it
  • using your legs? It might feel counterintuitive, but a hot, sharp horse needs your leg aids even more than a slower, less reactive one. But it’s not just about kicking him on – it’s about moving his body and giving him something to focus on

Discover more of Annabella’s tips on how to release tension in July Horse&Rider – out now!

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