Friday, December 12, 2014

Dressage Schooling Routine #2

Yesterday, I mentioned one of the two regular routines I use when I work on dressage with Nimo.  Today, I'll talk about the second one.  I still do a 10 minute walk on a loose rein (outside of the arena when I can manage it), but instead of focusing so much on the walk, I'll go right into the trot for about 10 minutes.  I start out with a couple of big ovals around the whole arena (165' x 235') in each direction and then I'll start doing more like 20 meter circles with frequent changes in direction.  I'll follow that with a couple of canter ovals (again around the whole perimeter of the arena) and then take a short break.  (Cantering is hard work!)

At this point, I vary the work we do quite a bit from ride to ride.  I rely pretty heavily on 101 Dressage Exercises for Horse & Rider for inspiration.  I'll usually pick one or two exercises that are new to us and maybe one other one that is an old favorite and try to work on those.  Sometimes I end up doing something completely different, depending on how the arena is set up (sometimes there is a full jump course, and that makes it hard to do dressage patterns) and how Nimo feels (if he's really forward, I might take advantage of that and do more walk-to-canter transitions and more canter work in general or I might throw in some lengthenings).

Another thing that I may do on days where both Nimo feels good and I feel especially motivated is run through everything we know how to do one time in each direction.  So I'll do skip-a-gait transitions, lengthenings, laterals (mostly just at the trot for leg-yield, shoulder-in, haunches-in, and haunches-out and at the walk for half-pass), serpentines, counter-flexion through corners and on circles, spiral-in/spiral-out on circles, and whatever crazy pattern I can think of to really push both Nimo and I.  If we don't do something well, I'll file that information for the next ride instead of working on it then.

I have found through lots of error that Nimo cannot be drilled on anything.  His max for repetitions is probably 5 and he prefers 3 or less.  If I do something with him over and over, he literally shuts down and will get worse and worse.  I once allowed a trainer I was working with to ride him almost every day for 10 days.  At the time, he was doing very well and she wanted to use him for a demo.  Well, all she did was drill him for 20-30 minutes each day and when it came time for her demo, he refused to canter or even walk on the rail.  It was a terrible performance.  Nimo requires long (like an hour or more) sessions that are varied and make him think or he doesn't improve.  It took months to get him back to almost where he was before that trainer rode him.  Lesson learned:)

I'd love to hear about any particular exercises you like to work on or sources of inspiration!


  1. Haha, I wish I could say I'm this organized, but I'm not. Maybe one of these days!

  2. This is actually VERY similar to what I do for my dressage schooling rides! Except for the half-pass. We haven't been able to get that yet. :) Like you and Nimo, a lot of it depends on what horse I have when I get on and what mood I'm in: there have been times when I want to work more on collection but I have a mare that wants to be FORWARD so we work on lengthenings. And viceversa: there were several times at the old barn when I got on to do speed work around the fields (not dressage at all) but I discovered a mare that was stiff and throwing her shoulders around so we would instead focus on lateral work, bend, and straightness. One transition we work a lot on is canter-halt-reinback-canter. Like Nimo, Lily does not like to be drilled. So we'll practice something a few times and if she's not getting it, we'll move on to something else and revisit it later in the same session or a different session. She'll get frustrated and nervous when she realizes she's not getting what I'm asking, so we move on to something she excels at before she reaches that point of frustration, and a lot of times the main reason why she doesn't understand something is because something about the way I'm asking for it is off: I'm not asking correctly or I'm not sitting correctly. She's so sensitive. The 101 Dressage Exercises book is a huge inspiration for me too when I'm stuck in a rut!

    1. I think a lot of horses probably don't like to be drilled but their riders don't pick up on it. I didn't realize that was one of the reasons we stopped improving for quite some time (possibly years!) and I feel stupid now but I think it was one of those things that crept up on me...

    2. I love when you two get to talking in comments. I learn so much!