In our new series, dressage rider Dan Greenwood shows you how to create rideability by making your horse more adjustable, one area of his body at a time. First up is his torso
How many times have you heard or read the phrase ‘an independent seat’? It’s one of those holy grails of riding and rightly so – if you have an independent seat you can use each part of your body, and its corresponding aids, more effectively. This means you’ll be able to give your horse a series of clear cues that will help him understand what you want him to do.
Dressage is about being able to move his body without sacrificing his freedom of movement, impulsion and suppleness. To do this, you need to be able to ride each part of his body separately.
Stuck in the middle
If you divide up your horse’s body, there are three primary rideable sections…
- the head, neck and shoulders
- his torso, comprising his spine and ribcage from the withers to just before the croup.
- his hindquarters, which power the whole machine
If you were asked which section you should focus on first in a schooling session, you’d probably say the quarters, because your goal is to train your horse to sit behind and power through to your hands. But actually, in order to create the suppleness and elasticity needed to accomplish this, you need to loosen up his torso. By doing so, you unblock the flow of energy from his hindquarters to the bit and you also lay the foundations for being able to manoeuvre his body onto different tracks.
Exercise 1: Leg-yield from the track
What? A simple leg-yield, travelling away from, rather than towards, the track.
Why? This is my first port of call when I’m working on developing rideability in a horse’s middle section. It establishes straightness and helps identify whether he’s equal on both reins, or more unresponsive or stiff on one side. Leg-yielding away from the track makes you ride with a secure outside rein and encourages straightness because you don’t have the false sense of security the fence offers.
How to ride it
- Ride through the corner with your inside leg down and your inside shoulder slightly back.
- Turn onto the long side and have your outside knee down and your weight in your outside seatbone, and position your outside shoulder back behind your hip. To ask for leg-yield, flex your horse’s head slightly to the outside by lifting your outside rein and nudge him with your outside leg behind the girth to encourage him to step across. Use your inside rein and inside leg to support his shoulders and quarters and keep his body straight.
- The very slight counterbending action of leg-yielding away from the track will help your horse establish true straightness, but not if you overdo it. So, only ask for four or five steps of leg-yield.
- If you’ve done the exercise correctly, you should be able to ride straight out of it with your aids equal on both sides – both knees down, even pressure from both legs, both shoulders back and square, and with an even contact on the reins. That’s true straightness and it’s the first step in manoeuvring your horse’s torso.
Discover more of Dan’s easy exercises to create rideability in the May issue of Horse&Rider, on sale 5 April.