Saturday, April 26, 2014

Saturdays with Suzanne: Transitions


The quality of transitions is one of the indicators of the degree of "connection" and "throughness" the rider has achieved. Transitions have always been important, but the 1995 national tests began to stress that importance by giving transitions their own score. No longer could a rider have a nice extension and a poor transition and end up with a good score by default.

When your horse is connected, it moves as one unit. The rear end doesn't come along just because it's attached. It actually carries and pushes the front half of the horse. When a half-halt is given, it travels all the way to the hind fetlock, demonstrating "throughness." The horse should show no resistance in the lower jaw, poll (or upper jaw), neck, back, or hind leg. No half-halt is complete until you give, and the half-halt has not come through unless the horse demonstrates a few moments of self-carriage when you do give.

Upward transitions should be preceded by a successful half-halt. During the resulting moment of self-carriage, the horse can be asked to lengthen within a pace (and not get quick or run) or change paces entirely.

Downward transitions are often where problems with "throughness" show up the most. We see either resistance (the horse comes above the aids) or no real transition at all as the horse falls on the forehand, leans in the hand, and slows down because of an upcoming corner rather than collects. Collected paces are shorter and more animated, not slower. If you end up pulling or being pulled, instead of pushing your horse through a corner with a soft inside rein, not only has your half-halt not been successful, but also you are not realizing the benefits afforded by riding proper corners.

Downward transitions require more driving aids than upward transitions to facilitate shifting the balance more to the hindquarters, which lower to achieve the relative elevation of the forehand. Balance is required to achieve soft--not harsh, jarring, or abrupt--downward transitions.

Everyone talks about and supposedly rides half-halts, but it is the transitions--those between movements, between paces, and within paces--that present the clearest and most unavoidable evidence, to those willing to seek and understand it, of whether or not those half-halts (and therefore transitions) are successful.

-- by Suzanne May

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Saturdays with Suzanne: Circles, Corners, and Other Curved Lines

Circles, corners, and other curved lines

One of those expressions that most dressage riders have heard but seldom practice is that dressage riders "get" their horses in the corners. Actually, most circles, corners, and other curved lines are seldom used to their best advantage. When executed properly, these figures aid not only suppleness but also balance, straightness, impulsion, and collection. However, these benefits are usually not realized because of poor execution.

In general, most riders tend to give on the outside rein and take on the inside rein when performing any movement involving more bend. This may be an involuntary and unconscious action on the part of the rider, but it has a detrimental effect just the same. It results in a slightly lengthened rather than slightly shortened frame. The horses ends up more "strung out" because the bend is more in the neck than around the inside leg; therefore, the outside of the bend gets longer rather than the inside of the bend getting shorter.

If, on the other hand, the rider initiates the turn with the inside leg and "catches" the resulting increase in impulsion with the outside rein while opening the inside rein to indicate direction, the horse will respond by bending around the inside leg and shifting the balance back. Then the rider can give on the inside rein and drive, rather than pull, the horse around the turn, thereby completing the half-halt. Of course, the rider's outside leg must be slightly back in order to guard the haunches. If the horse's hind leg steps out, the horse will have successfully avoided bending in the body.

This should give the rider some insight into correct bend. The bonus is that it also helps to understand half-halts: how giving in the poll is a function of both bend and riding the horse from back to front--not the other way around.

These are obviously not minimal accomplishments(!) and explain why dressage riders are endlessly performing circles, corners, and other curved lines.

-- by Suzanne May

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Saturdays with Suzanne: The Desire to Understand

Announcing a regular new feature on my blog: Saturdays with Suzanne! I have been training with Suzanne May and her late husband, Wolfgang May, since 1995. The in-person training has been very on and off in recent years, but she has always been my go-to gal for questions about dressage training and theory. Take a look at the biographies of Wolfgang and Suzanne here.

Saturdays with Suzanne will offer weekly writings from Suzanne on training problems and dressage theory. If you have a question, she'd be happy to answer it for you! Consider her the Anne Landers of dressage. Please leave any questions for Suzanne in comments. And now, on to her first article!

The desire to understand

One morning I was sort of listening to a movie or book critic on TV, and he made a statement that seemed to me to apply very much to our sport. That is, "...the urge to be 'with it' most often overpowers the desire to understand it.". How true that is! When individuals are trying to learn, their focus should be on just that: learning. Instead, many tend to become advocates, prematurely, of a particular style or perhaps a well-known person. This is not to say that we should not admire accomplished individuals. However, don't blindly follow an example or a method to the exclusion of others unless you have the expertise to successfully dissect and examine it. To do so tends to stunt, if not stop altogether, the learning process. One then forms opinions based on incomplete or incorrect information and defends them with equally faulty reasoning, usually missing the point entirely. This becomes a vicious circle when you are forced to defend your position (even to yourself). Learning requires an open mind, not defensiveness.

It is not easy to be a good student. It takes perseverance and patience. To want to learn is necessary but not enough. One must take responsibility for one's own learning. There is no mystique. It is all very logical.

We all know we have an interest in dressage; however, it requires introspection and honesty to discern exactly which aspects actually draw us. This has nothing to do with whether or not we wish to compete or trail ride or apply our knowledge to another aspect or pursuit (i.e., education, breeding, etc.). All of these require a certain correctness.

But what if it is ego or the social aspect that is our true motivator? What if the horse is just an instrument or a prop? Is it acceptable to appear or act knowledgeable, or do we really want to be knowledgeable? Can we set aside all pretenses in order to achieve this goal? Are any excuses really acceptable, or are they just excuses? Do we give in to the urge to be "with it" and thereby doom ourselves, personally, to mediocrity, or do we have the courage of our convictions and the resistance to that which is flawed or fake?

Do we have a genuine and profound--or just a cursory--interest in the desire to understand dressage?

Monday, April 7, 2014


I thought this was a really interesting article on the differences in male and female anatomy and how they affect riding position, but it seems like the recommendation boils down to: women should ride in a "chair" seat. That can't be what is meant...

Sunday, April 6, 2014


I'm sitting in my father's house in Lincoln, Nebraska, keeping an eye on him while my brother and his family go to church. My dad was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) a little over three years ago. He is now nearing the end of his terribly difficult journey, spending his final days in home hospice, and at the moment he is sleeping deeply and calmly, for which I am grateful. ALS is a cruel disease, and my father has coped valiantly. Now I wish only for a peaceful passing. I am blessed that my situation allowed me to turn what was supposed to be a weekend visit here into an indefinite stay when it became apparent that my father was declining rapidly.

I came to Lincoln after I flew to Lubbock, Texas, for a job interview on March 26. I got the job! So the menagerie will be moving to Lubbock in a month or two -- me, Ted, Dakota, Lucy, Lola, and Annie. It's a good job in book publishing, and I have lived in Lubbock before (and enjoyed it), so in spite of the sadness of my father's situation, we are feeling some happiness and excitement. Dakota is coming along so nicely that I'll keep training him and likely sell or lease him to a young rider in Lubbock at some point. I'd love to get him to third level: earn your bronze on a mustang! I think he has the physical talent and mental chops to do it. So have no fear: the blog will continue!

For now, though, I'll just keep watching my dad sleep.