In their first article for EWW Event rider Anna Cheyney and Dressage trainer and rider Matt Cox are ‘in conversation’ discussing …The importance of having a pure dressage trainer’s input
I’ve owned my advanced horse Well Known G for six years, producing him from a novice horse to an exciting three star horse. As with most successful event horses Snoopy has a very careful jumping technique and the heart of a lion which have allowed him to move up the ranks of eventing fairly smoothly – but he hasn’t been blessed with natural paces for dressage.
Snoopy doesn’t have the loosest of paces and can suffer with tension. Anna has to work hard to keep him “through” and stepping into the bridle. His walk can suffer with tension, more so when collecting from a free walk. He has a pleasant canter and his trot is improving all the time. Paces can help or hinder a horse. A horse with big rangey paces can suffer when it comes to collection and a small moving horse can suffer when we get to the medium/extended paces. I also tend to find with event horses the paces suffer due to tension. Trying to keep the horse swinging over the back and not stuck on the riders hand helps. Although the judges should not be looking for flashy paces, but correct paces, a good basic pace will always help. I would rather a good walk and canter and not such a good trot as that is generally easier to improve.
This has always made achieving competitive scores in the dressage phase a challenge for us. Snoopy began competing at advanced level when he was a nine year old and suddenly the tests became increasing more complex and the judging more critical, I was having to perform movements like trot and canter half pass and flying changes – for a first timer at this level it was a classic example of the “blind leading the blind”.
I began training with Matt on a younger horse, I was immediately drawn to his enthusiasm and positive attitude. When he decided to move to the yard I asked him to have a ride on Snoopy for an honest opinion as I felt my marks had plateaued and I wasn’t moving forward, looking back I had completely lost my confidence in the dressage phase, I would look at the score board knowing I would be in the bottom three after the dressage and rely on my jumping phases to push me up the placings.
We had to take Snoppy a bit back to basics. We had to introduce long and low. This basically means riding him a little longer in the neck and a bit more down into the hand. With this work, he became much more ‘through’ in his work. This is never done with force, but more a suggestion to the horse.
With this in mind we worked hard over the winter, taking snoopy back to the fundamental basics of dressage training. I was like a sponge, soaking up all this new found knowledge and applying it to my young horses. Matt was open and honest and told me I didn’t “school” my horses enough at home and my warm up wasn’t sufficient.
I felt that Anna needed to work more on her flatwork then have it less to chance. I gave Anna homework and would often pass comment if I was riding at the same time.
I feel very fortunate to have ridden Matt’s gorgeous Grand Prix Horse Korenbloem Vamos in a couple of lessons, quickly I learnt, whilst also having fun playing with passage and piaffe, what an excellent change feels like, and what the aids should be. This snowballed into Matt creating various exercises to help improve snoop’s changes with techniques he has learnt over the years.
Snoopy can be tight in his changes, so we worked on leg yield to the change. This has helped to get a more connected change. It put Snoppy more on the change aids.
For me, having a pure dressage trainer has enriched my knowledge and opened my eyes up to the importance of training your horse correctly. It doesn’t matter what level you are working at; having a healthy rapport with your trainer is essential, asking questions whilst your working in your lessons combined with discussing exercises, for me, provides clarity and understanding. After all, what’s the point in trying to ride a half pass if you don’t know the aids, or what it should look or feel like. A good trainer should provide you with the stepping stones, through appropriate exercises and explanation of aids to help you achieve the goal. Working together as a team and enquiring about your progress is the key to moving forward and achieving. Prior to our lessons, Matt and I frequently discuss what we are going to work on in our sessions to ensure we have a focal point.
I finish by saying that as with any form of training, dressage with your instructor is a journey, it’ll full of ups and down, frustrating moments and light bulb moments, but above all it should be fun and full of learning.