Thursday, November 7, 2019

Knowing the Purpose of the Exercise and Having Intention

So, next I was going to dive into things learned from The DN Results in Harmony DVD set, but I had a huge breakthrough with something else that I want to share.  As I have said multiple times before, I am a big fan of the Dressage Naturally Video Classroom, which you can explore  HERE.  A recent discussion video titled Know the Purpose of the Exercise, has led to a very bright lightbulb moment.  

Basically, by understanding the purpose of every exercise, being able to execute it at least roughly, AND knowing what success looks like for the exercise, the upward spiral of gymnastic success becomes much easier.  Just doing the exercise is not enough, the intention, purpose, and qualities matter just as much.  For example, let’s take shoulder-in.  The purposes of SI are increased engagement, improved bend, and lightness of the forehand leading to improved straightness over time.  So let’s say you do SI before your lengthens to improve the quality of the lengthens.  But you sort of put the horse in SI thinking more about bend and not focusing on engaging that hind leg and lightening the shoulders.  You go to lengthen and nothing is really there.  The fault wasn’t using SI, it was not defining success(in this case increasing that inside hind engagement) for SI that would lead to improvement in the lengthens.  Just doing the exercise is the starting point, but the true building blocks come from intention and linking the exercises and work.

I’ve taken this idea and used it to great effect in even the simplest warmup exercises.  That first turn of the hindquarters in motion I’m picky about inside leg to outside rein connection and a feeling of being able to go forward into trot at any time.  Linked with a couple of other exercises that I am equally picky about and after a 5 minute warmup I have the best working gaits I have ever had.  Balanced, engaged, forward.  By focusing on having certain qualities in a given exercise and then linking to something it will really improve, everything becomes SO much easier.

The implications of this go further though.  What about ground work?  What about using harder things like half steps before slightly collected trot?  I feel like this has opened a whole new way of thinking about training.  Understanding the purpose of the exercises has been there for a while for me, but I didn’t get that I need to emphasize certain qualities within the exercise to effectively link the work and get so much more in outcome.  The intention and purpose of the exercise matters so much.  In any exercise the trainer can focus on certain qualities that will help the next thing so much more than just doing a “sort of” version.  Who knew?  Your thoughts?


  1. I've been thinking about this a lot too, but from a different perspective. It's been important for me working with a young horse because for just about any exercise, I have to be careful & decide ahead of time what the important elements are that I want to focus on. Because he's still learning, he's not going to get all the pieces right at once.

    For example, he can't yet leg yield down a side while holding a consistent body shape & staying in a connected balance the whole time. But I'm introducing the concept of the leg yield by just asking him to shift his hindquarters away from my leg with my focus on successfully getting a step or two or three from that hind leg. I don't really care right now about all the other pieces, I just want to mobilize the HQ. It's not necessarily about performing the perfect leg yield, it's about gaining independent control of each of his legs.

    We're making progress & once I have that mobility at a finer tuned level, then I can build on it to teach things like haunches in/out which then become additional tools to build engagement & suppleness. Breaking things down for him has really helped me to be more methodical about my thought process. I have something that I want to do but I have to figure out how to get there in incremental steps so he really understands what we are doing, which in turn makes it easier for him to succeed in giving it to me.

    1. Exactly! If you can't have everything, pick the thing or things that are most important in the movement. You are using this idea teaching the building blocks of the movement and I am talking about the next stage of having a movement but not having it "perfect". This way of thinking also doesn't worry about perfect so much and instead focuses on having the qualities you need for your intended purpose. That could be teaching the steps of the movement or using a movement to improve something else.

  2. I really like this. I try to clear in my intent. With a sensitive horse fuzziness creates uncertainty and stress. It probably does on all horses. But the really sensitive ones are more likely to react in ways we don’t want.

  3. I agree about it being extra important with the sensitive horse. It's amazing too, that the same exercise can be used for totally different purposes. Take walk trot transitions being used for engagement or being used to settle the horse. Same exercise except for intent and the rider knowing the purpose.