Dressage involves drawing out the natural capability of the horse and shaping it into something beautiful and expressive. The horse must learn how to balance under the rider and move in elegant self-carriage. When the rider has adopted a balanced seat, then the time is right to start the first dressage steps that will lead to a disciplined and flexible horse. The author describes lessons in serpentines, half halt, basic paces with lengthening and leg-yielding.
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First Steps in Dressage
Basic training for horse and rider
Copyright of original edition © 2001 by Cadmos Verlag, Germany
This edition © 2002/2008/2010 by Cadmos Books, Great Britain
Translation: Desiree Gerber
Design and composition of the print edition: Ravenstein, Verden
Photographs: P. Prohn, C.Slawik
Drawings: Esther von Hacht
E-Book conversion: Satzweiss.com Print Web Software GmbH
All rights reserved
Copying or storage in electronic media is permitted only with the prior written permission of the publisher.
Although the term used is "dressage”, it would be more correct to refer to "gymnastic exercises”. It is impossible to teach a horse something that it cannot do by natural design! The difficulty lies in drawing out the natural capability of the horse and then shaping it into something beautiful and expressive. The horse must learn how to balance under the rider and move in elegant self-carriage with more weight on the hindquarters. The horse’s hindquarters must be developed to carry more weight and improve forward propulsion. The horse’s centre of gravity lies considerably far to the front, just behind the shoulder blade, due to the neck and heavy head. Gymnastic exercises transfer this point further back.
The goal of training a horse is that it moves gracefully in all the gaits and reacts to feather-light aids.
To reach this goal, the rider needs a lot of experience. Thus the golden rule: a young inexperienced horse needs an experienced rider, and an inexperienced rider needs an experienced horse. The most important prerequisite is that the rider must be capable of giving the aids. The rider must have a correct, independent seat and be able to give clear and precise aids: the hands quiet and leg and back aids deliberate and exact. This must be maintained in the dressage seat as well as the forward seat and in all aspects of riding. Jumps of joy and bucks from the horse should not be allowed to disconcert the rider.
The goal is to bring the natural centre of gravity (top) more under the horse (bottom) with the correct gymnastic exercises.
The ideal dressage seat should be without any tension. Photo: P. Prohn
Without a good seat, the training of a young horse is impossible. The first exercises and lessons demand an independent seat and correct, finely tuned aids. A correct seat is the basis for good riding in all disciplines.
In the dressage seat one sits in the middle of the saddle, well balanced both laterally and vertically, with the legs hanging long and loose at the sides of the horse, the balls of the feet resting lightly in the stirrups. The heels are the lowest point of the rider, the feet parallel to the horse so the calf lies flat on the body of the horse. Only thus can the ankles spring up and down with the movement.
The upper body is upright, the head carried free and the eyes look forward through the horse’s ears. The shoulders are taken back a fraction and relaxed, the arms hang down quite naturally. Close the fist (the thumbs on top like a roof) and bend the elbows so that the fists are approximately a hand’s width from the withers. There should be an imaginary vertical line through the ear, shoulder, hip and ankle when the rider sits in this natural and completely relaxed manner. The lower arm and the reins will naturally form a straight line to the horse’s mouth and the lower leg will rest just behind the girth. Seen from behind, the rider’s spine forms a vertical line with the horse’s croup and tail, and the rider’s shoulders, hips and feet form parallel lines to the ground.
Only from such a balanced and relaxed seat can precise aids be given. Relaxation must not be compromised when the rider tries to stay in this accurate position. Shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and ankles must remain free, not full of tension. A horse cannot move freely under a rigid rider!
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