Monday, March 21, 2016

Jim Wofford's Modern Gymnastics: Gymnastic 1

By Jim Wofford
This first gymnastic from Jim Wofford's book introduces your horse to stepping over poles on the ground in an organized manner.

Gymnastic 1 is designed to introduce your horse to stepping over poles on the ground in an organized manner. Dressage horses can also benefit from this first gymnastic, because no jumping is involved. Your emphasis here should be on the rhythm of your horse's trot, and the calmness and regularity of his step as he negotiates the cavalletti. Your horse should step over the ground poles with relaxed back muscles, and his head and neck should lower slightly, in order for him to measure his step to the next pole.

The four exercises that comprise Gymnastic 1 will fit comfortably in a 75 x 150-foot (22.8 m x 45.7 m) arena.

After you have warmed your horse up at the walk, trot and canter, then trot into the exercise marked A in the diagram. Cavalletti set at this distance will produce a working trot for most horses. These exercises are all designed for horses with some jumping experience. If your horse is extremely green, he probably should not be attempting this exercise yet. However, if he is slightly inexperienced or is an experienced jumper but has not done much work over cavalletti, you can pull the first and third poles in towards the centerline of the arena. This will produce a 9-foot (2.7 m) distance between two poles. Horses find this exercise easier and will soon become stable and regular at the trot, which is always your goal. You can then put the four poles together as shown in the diagram and work in both directions over four of them on the ground. After you have established your horse's balance and rhythm here, you can proceed to the curved poles in Exercise B.

At the posting trot, proceed on a circle in either direction though B. Keep your horse's direction adjusted so that the length of his step on the curve feels the same as it did over A.

Once you and your horse have become adept at this, you can then start to enter, for example, closer to the 3-foot (90 cm) end of the poles where the distance is shorter, and then let your horse angle away from the center of the circle. This will cause him to go from a working trot to a medium trot or possibly, if your angle becomes too great, even take a couple of steps of extended trot. If your horse takes two steps between the poles or breaks into a canter, you have probably asked too much flexibility from him. Aim closer to the 3-foot (90 cm) end of the curve, and enter B again at the posting trot.

Alternatively, you can enter from the outside of B, where the rails are farther apart. This will cause your horse to take quite a large step at first. Guide your horse toward the 3-foot (90 cm) distance between the last two poles. This will bring your horse back to a working, or even a slightly collected, trot. Having worked in both directions over B, including being able to angle both ways, you can then proceed to Exercise C.

The poles positioned at C will produce the sensation of an extended trot and you may find that your horse cannot reach enough in his fourth step to get out over the last pole without "chipping in" an additional step. Simply remove the last pole and continue. You will find that, after a couple of days' work over cavalletti, your horse gets the message and you can replace the fourth pole. You should work in both directions over the 5-foot (1.5 m) poles at C until your horse can maintain his regularity and length of step.

After a short break, proceed to Exercise D.

These four rails on the ground, set at 4 feet (1.2 m) apart, will produce a collected trot. Although this exercise can be ridden either posting or sitting, you should definitely use a rising trot until your horse becomes adjusted to them. Using rising, rather than sitting, trot encourages your horse to lift his back while he elevates his step. In addition, it will be less complicated and will allow you to work on his cadence, rather than worrying about your position. Again, work both ways through D until your horse is relaxed and steady in his balance and rhythm. He should be able to deal with the rails without any interruption in the flow of his movement, changing only the length of his step to adapt to the various distances that you have put in his path.

After another break, you can now link these four elements together in order to produce various transitions that will be of great benefit in teaching your horse to be flexible. For example, enter A on the right hand in a working trot, where the rails are 4-foot-six (1.35m) apart. As you leave A, turn right in such a fashion that you produce an arc through B that causes your horse to change the length of his step from working to collected trot. In other words, start exercise B from the outside in. This will put your horse into a slightly collected frame. Proceed directly then to C, which will produce an extended trot. After the extended trot at C, turn right and enter the shorter cavalletti at D.

If your horse has difficulty with this, you can do A, B and C as I have described and then, in a posting trot, circle (or repeat a circle until your horse has settled down to a working trot), turn and enter D, thus producing a collected trot. If you have successfully done this, walk, reward your horse and let him relax and consider his effort while you plan your next series of repetitions through these exercises. When you resume the posting trot, work in both directions and vary the relationship between the exercises to improve and confirm your horse's flexibility.

Take a moment to remind yourself of your horse's bad habits. If he tends to rush at the trot, he will not need too many applications of C. He should come from outside in rather from inside out at B, as this will cause him to continually rebalance and collect his step rather than rushing forward. If, on the other hand, your horse is choppy-strided or lazy, a bit more emphasis on and a few more repetitions at B, going from inside out, will teach him to lengthen his step. The total amount of exercise over these rails in any one period should not exceed 45 minutes, including the periods of rest between exercises.

Excerpted from Modern Gymnastics: Systematic Training for Jumping Horses by Jim Wofford. $24.95 

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in EQUUS Magazine. It is reprinted here by permission.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Ask the Judge | Calm Me Confused

Questions about Dressage
With Amy McElroy

Amy McElroy is an FEI competitor and a USEF R judge, qualified to officiate at any USEF recognized show at all national dressage levels. She rides, trains and teaches at Fairlane Farm in Aiken and judges between 15 and 20 dressage shows and events each year. In her popular Ask the Judge column, she answers readers’ questions about dressage.

Dear Amy,

I am planning to ride Fourth Level Test 3 at my next competition. I do not understand how to ride the new double rein-back movement. Can you explain to me what it should look like and how to ride it correctly?

Call me Confused.


Dear Confused,

It’s very exciting that you and your horse have advanced this far in your dressage training. Your question refers to Fourth Level Test 3, Movement 6. This movement reads as follows on your USDF test sheet:

C. Halt, rein-back four steps walk forward four steps rein-back four steps – proceed collected trot.

This is a new movement for the 2015 Fourth Level Test 3, which is currently the only test to ask for it. However it is a movement that appeared in previous FEI level tests, which gives an idea of its degree of difficulty. This rein-back series is better known in the dressage world as the Schaukel (“swing” in German) because your horse is supposed to move forward and backward fluidly like a swing.

The definition of this movement from the FEI Judge Handbook reads “This is a combination of two rein-backs with walk steps in between. It should be executed with fluid transitions and the required number of steps.” When performing this movement, it is important to remember the aims and the essentials of the rein-back. The aim is to demonstrate submissiveness and thoroughness as well as improving collection.

The directives for this movement, according to the USDF test sheet, state “straight, immobile halt, willing straight steps with correct count, clear transitions.”

The essentials are (adapted from the FEI Judge Handbook) 1) Regularity, relaxation, suppleness, contact; 2) Quality of transitions in and out of the rein-back both times; 3) Submission and willingness to accept the aids; 4) Self-carriage, collection and balance; 5) Straightness, accuracy and number of steps. 6) The halt: squareness and immobility.

There is a halt at the beginning of this movement, but there are no halts between the backward and the forward steps, or between the final backward steps and the collected trot.

When you start this movement, make sure your horse is square and over the letter C. Maintain your halt for a solid three seconds before initiating the start of the swing. Then take four steps backward, and immediately take four steps forward, and then immediately take four steps backward. Immediately pick up the collected trot.

So, how do we count the steps? In this movement, there are a total of 12 steps. The number is counted by the number of times that the front feet touch the ground. (e.g., left fore, right hind (1); right fore, left hind (2); left fore, right hind (3); right fore, left hind (4)). A common fault in this movement is not taking the correct number of steps, often because the rider does not know the correct way to count, or because it is simply difficult to be this precise. It takes a great deal of control to keep your horse straight and moving fluidly as he moves backward and forward. The most important aspect of the swing is the horse’s fluency to change directions.

To prepare for the swing, first be sure that your horse can back comfortably and obediently. In a correct rein-back, the legs step back in diagonal pairs and should not be set down parallel to one another. The swing should not be attempted until the horse is skilled enough in his training to perform a single rein-back calmly and willingly.

To get your best score, make sure that your halt is square, exactly placed and held for a clear three seconds. Make sure that your backing is fluent and that you count the correct number of steps. Strive for your transitions to be prompt and smooth throughout. Your horse should show no resistance or hesitation. Your horse should be on the bit and the picture of absolute willingness. According to Janet Foy, a United States FEI Four Star judge “The rein-back is a wonderful tool to help put the horse more naturally on the hindquarters. The rein-back should always be forward thinking and never used as a punishment.”

When correctly performed, the Schaukel demonstrates your horse’s obedience and advanced training. I hope this clarifies what the movement is and how to ride it properly. Good luck!

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.