I love this illustration from Dressage Today explaining the “lift” feeling of suspension within a correct lengthen. Obviously a purpose bred dressage horse is going to have more suspension to their gaits but correct dressage training improves the gaits of even a very ordinary horse, which is the whole point for those of us not owning a fabulous natural mover.
In this vein, Jet and I have found a plan that is really working for us. Using poles every ride to either lengthen his back and get him swinging or shorten his stride a little bit and get some suspension, while also alternating riding days between working gait days and collectibility days. The working gait days, with slightly longer set poles, help the collectibility days be more loose through the back and the collectibility days, with shorter set poles, help the working gait days be more balanced with the hocks more engaged.
By focusing this way, alternating days, and adding in the poles I feel like we are getting some kind of multiplier effect. The working days start out with a little longer walk poles, one or two collectibility exercises at the walk on a loose rein like lateral positions, a few steps of the energy exercise, trot poles set a little longer, one or two rein backs and then straight to the working gaits. The funny thing is that I’m doing less to warm up and getting the best working gaits, through, balanced, forward, and just so easy. I think some of this is the posture and engagement carry over from the collectibility days and also the fact that Jet is grateful for this “easy” day and relaxes into the ride. The collectibility days start with walk poles set a little short and possibly raised, the energy exercise, lateral positions at the walk, a little bit of trot, trot poles set a little short, and then on to things like lateral work at the trot with transitions, canter five steps walk five steps-repeat, and trot almost halt rein back trot-repeat. Harder work, but in short bursts, with an expectation of energy. So far, with very little tension, and that wonderful feeling of cadence or “lift”.
Jet seems to be down with this schedule and mentally it keeps me much more organized. I try to do as few exercises as possible to warmup but still get to the desired outcome, be it quality working gaits or collectibility with cadence and relaxation. I am so pleased with the outcome.
What is your schooling schedule like and how do you organize your training days? Are poles, in hand work, or trail rides on your schedule?