Classical rider Alois Podhajsky is regarded by many as the founding father of modern dressage.
Podhajsky understood that the horse must be allowed to develop balance, strength, and understanding if he is to achieve his full potential in dressage while staying happy and staying sound in his work. And that approach takes a lot of time and patience.
Patience is undoubtedly the cornerstone of the dressage art. But patience can be an elusive quality where aspiring and competitive dressage riders are concerned!
In this article, we look at how you can learn to have patience in your dressage training and why that’s so critical to your success.
Why is having patience so important for dressage?
Many riders, usually those blessed with talented horses, simply can’t wait to rush ahead to tackle the advanced work.
The sky’s the limit, right?
Not so fast …
There are many reasons why patience is a virtue when it comes to training dressage horses, especially youngsters or those being retrained from different careers, such as ex-racers.
Related Read: How to Buy and Train the Young Dressage Horse
Although there’s nothing wrong with having aspirations and ambitions, you can do irreparable damage to your horse’s physical and mental health if you rush things.
The Dressage Scales of Training
The dressage Scales of Training must form the foundation of every dressage horse’s training, regardless of how talented or not he may be.
The Scales are designed to address each of the key attributes that every horse needs to succeed in dressage.
The Scales are like building blocks; no one scale can be secure without the others. If one element of the scales is not correctly established, the whole house will collapse!
Only by working systematically through the training scales in a disciplined manner can you hope to produce a horse that can perform the exercises that are contained in dressage tests at each level.
Allow time for understanding
When training a horse for dressage, the old maxim, “more haste, less speed” applies.
There’s no point in rushing ahead and attempting more difficult work before the horse is secure and confident at each level.
So, you must learn to be patient and allow the horse the time he needs to fully process and understand the work before trying to move on to teaching your horse more challenging exercises.
In a nutshell, consolidate the work at each level before pushing on to the next one.
Don’t be impatient if your horse is a little slow to catch on to what you want him to do. Just like people, some horses, typically thoroughbred types, are quicker to learn than others. So, always take your time and allow your horse to get his head around what you’re asking of him.
If you rush ahead with difficult work before the horse understands what you expect of him, he may become tense and upset, setting back the training.
Always be patient and be prepared to go back a step or two when training your horse to do something new.
Allow time for strength, suppleness, and overall fitness
It takes time for horses to develop the strength, flexibility in the joints, and suppleness that they need to cope with the more difficult work demanded at the higher levels.
So, you must be patient and allow your horse that development time, especially for a young horse or one that is being retrained. Pushing ahead too quickly before the horse is fit will probably lead to injuries, layoffs, and wasted time.
And what about the rider!
There’s no point in having a strong, fit, supple horse if you are not fit enough to ride him effectively and with an independent seat.
Your horse has enough to cope with balancing and carrying himself elegantly without the added burden of bearing an unfit rider who can’t stay in balance themselves and ride with an independent seat.
So, as well as devising a fitness and strengthening program for your horse, take time out to focus on yourself, too. Look at yourself with a critical eye. If necessary, shed a few pounds, take up Pilates or Yoga to improve your suppleness and core strength, maybe spend a little more time at the gym, or go running once or twice a week.
Tension is a killer of marks in the dressage arena.
Pushing your horse too hard too soon is a surefire way to create stress and upset for both parties. That’s sure to lead to a less than a harmonious picture, which the judge will mark down.
Tips on how to be more patient
So, how can you learn to become more patient in your dressage training?
#1 – Enjoy the journey!
Riding is fun!
Or at least, it should be. Why else would you spend all that time and effort on what is, after all, your hobby?
Be patient. Learn to view even the smallest achievements as a success, and enjoy every step of your horse’s dressage journey.
#2 – Take your time
Never try to push your horse (or yourself) too far. In other words, don’t try to run before you can walk!
Rushing through your training and cutting corners will only lead to more problems later in the process and could set your horse back months.
Also, pushing your horse too hard and expecting too much of him may damage your relationship.
#3 – Don’t set unrealistic goals
Although there’s nothing wrong with having ambitions and goals, always make those aspirations achievable and realistic.
For example, if you set your heart on qualifying for the National Championships, you immediately have limited timescales within which to achieve that qualification. That can mean that you’re tempted to push your horse too hard too soon.
Instead, focus on improving your scores and perhaps trying to qualify for a lesser event, such as a Pet Plan qualifying round or a championship at an unaffiliated level.
Related Read: How to Set Rider Goals (10 Tips)
#4 – Plan for success
Make a long-term plan that involves small accomplishments. Keep a record of your plan, perhaps on a spreadsheet or in a dressage diary. Tick off every tiny achievement so that you can see at a glance just how far you’ve come.
That approach can be a real tonic for impatience, especially if you have a young horse.
It’s human nature to be impatient, but that attitude can be very damaging to your progress when it comes to dressage training.
Do you have any tips on how to be more patient? If you do, we’d love to hear them! Share with us in the comments box below.
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