Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Let's talk about this

What is happening with your hands?

Lately it seems like the comments on all of my dressage tests say my hands are too tense, Kat is fussy in the bridle, gaping in the mouth, etc. etc. etc. They tell me different ways and methods of how to let him go. This is my plan for the next dressage test we do. He's always good at home, but in the ring he can be a total ass and our test is often a fight from start to finish. Judges have told me to 'breathe thru your arms and the reins....' Ok but I had the feeling that we were about to exit the arena at any moment doing mach 9.

In talking to the dressage judge after the days events at the last ADT, she was impressed by all of the drivers and her main question was "How do you get them to do that without the use of your seat, your weight, your legs...???" We talked about how when driving Kat and his epic meltdown, I kept thinking how I would fix it if I were riding him and how finally I had to tell that part of my brain to "SHUT UP! already because You're NOT riding him!" We both had a laugh over it and she was intrigued by the whole process of having to reach the point of 'These are my options, what do I do from here?'

She had mentioned that she has a third level mare at home that she's riding and they have hit a block in their training and can't seem to get past it. I told her I have hit many of them and am finding lately that "I ride to sort out the driving, I drive to sort out the riding and if all else fails, go back to the ground and fix the horse from there." She tipped her head in curiosity and thought and said, "Huh? I really haven't ground driven her much, but I will have to try that. That's a good idea. Interesting... " She is an 'I' rated ridden dressage judge, but it goes to show, you never know what you're going to learn, from whom or where.

Back in the day, I was complimented on my hands while riding, that they were the softest, quietest hands that trainer had seen in a long time. I had always worried about my hands bouncing around at the trot and banging the horses mouth when I posted, so this was a major Win for me. Then this same trainer pointed out the issue I have about letting go while turning and used the bicycle handlebars visual to help me fix it. Somewhere along the way and over the years, it seems like it all went south. What happened, I have no idea. For a while ALL I heard was "Drop your hands" or at least it felt that way. Now it seems like all I hear is You're bracing against him, he's bracing against you, you need to relax your arms and several other variations of "Let go and drop your damn hands!"

Which is kind of funny and ironic in a way, because when I am ground driving, my hands are fine. They are light, low, relaxed and quiet. When driving Kat out on the trails and working him in between events, I have contact but it is soft, following and Kat is not braced, tight in the jaw or resistant in any way. But hook up the cart, throw us in the dressage ring and it all goes right out the window. It's game on and a war from start to finish during our test. Is it any wonder?

Even when ground driving or doing long line work, it is important to have light, soft, following contact. Sometimes you need to take a hold of the inside rein with contact to support the horse, but they need to feel it without you being in their face about it. You want the horse to accept the bit and reach for it, rather than evade it. Keeping your hands low when ground driving is good practice for when you are riding or driving them later on. Now if I can just put that to use in the ring later on.... maybe my scores will improve. In the cones and hazards we aren't too bad, but I am pushing him along, not holding him back- so obviously there's something to that. DUH!

I have also realized that maybe a part of our problem is that Kat rarely sees the inside of a dressage arena, unless we are at an event. Otherwise it is arena fencing, pasture fencing or wide open spaces. Looks like I am going to be buying some PVC piping and setting up a dressage arena to practice in.... Npthing involving horses is cheap.


  1. interesting dilemma, I know all my skills go to hell in a handcart as soon as I set foot in a show ring, but I think you are more likely right in that he never sees an actual dressage ring except for competition. My "go to " though to keep my hands light with riding , and way back when driving was to think "elastic" positive pressure but give

  2. Meh, I have the same problem with Moon. I can make a run on him in a frickin halter if there is no 'money' on the line. Enter a competition and my dang hands clamp down like iron bands.

    I think it really does have a lot to do with the breathing thing. Since your dressage tests are intricate, I suspect that your tension is coming from trying to remember the correct order of maneuvers. The minute we try to 'think' about things, our hands clamp down and that tension goes straight to our horse's mouths. It's the same whether we are riding or driving, going fast or concentrating on remembering your pattern. I'd say, at your competitions, you probably need to stop, take a few deep breaths and make yourself open your hands before going in for your test. Then if you feel Kat getting hot in the test, remind yourself to breath and open your hands. Kat may blow through a couple of parts, but as I have learned, sometimes this happens when we first start releasing them and are not pulling. It startles them to suddenly be turned loose and them with all of that built up tension...Zooommmm! But if Moon is any indication, they do learn to become more confident in themselves and more steady in their approach.