You might see the comment, “could be rounder and more through” on your dressage score sheet.
But what does the judge mean by this, and how can you achieve it?
The importance of ‘round’ and ‘through’ in the dressage horse
The ultimate aim of the dressage rider is to build the horse’s engagement, i.e. the carrying power of his hind legs.
This enables the horse to work in a more uphill balance, makes his forehand lighter, and ultimately enables him to perform the advanced work demanded at the higher levels.
In order to develop engagement, the horse must be able to step further underneath himself with his hind legs and propel himself along from behind with good impulsion.
A horse that is supple and round over his back will find this much easier than the horse that is hollow, tight and restricted.
This is why the dressage judge is looking for a horse that is ‘round’ over his topline and working ‘through’ his back from behind.
These qualities in a horse’s way of going show that he is being trained along the correct lines in accordance with the dressage Scales of Training.
How do you get your horse ‘rounder’ and more ‘through’?
When encouraging your horse to become rounder and more through, it’s vital that you don’t focus too much on the horse’s ‘outline’. This leads many riders to use too much hand in an attempt to make their horse ‘round’.
Too strong a contact just blocks the energy from traveling through the horse’s back.
He might be working in an ‘outline’, but he won’t be working ‘through’ and a good judge will see this straight away.
As you warm your horse up, concentrate on getting him to work forward willingly from your leg and over his back to seek the contact.
Keep your hand light and forward.
When your horse is warm and you’re ready to begin work, gradually shorten your reins and take up an elastic, forward contact. Keep using plenty of leg to encourage your horse forward into your hand.
Transitions are very useful for balancing your horse and making him suppler, in addition to encouraging the horse to step under more with his hind legs.
Ride transitions from one pace to another, within the paces, on circles and around loops as well as on straight lines; all these exercises are great for encouraging your horse to work over his back.
Forward, round and down
A very useful exercise that you can use to encourage your horse to work more over his back is to work him forward, round and down.
This exercise is also included in some of the lower level dressage tests because it allows the judge to assess how supple and genuinely ‘through’ the horse really is.
You can ride the exercise in trot or canter.
Note: This exercise should always be ridden in rising trot to allow the horse to use his back.
Take up a large circle in a lively working trot. Keeping an elastic contact with your horse’s mouth, gradually soften your hands to allow the horse to take the rein forward, round and down.
Make sure you keep encouraging him forward with your leg and don’t let him slow down or lose energy.
If the horse begins to ‘poke’ his nose instead of reaching round and down, ask for more inside bend, whilst keeping the outside rein.
If the horse starts to hollow, use lots of leg to ride him forward into the bridle and keep your contact.
When your horse is working correctly in this exercise, his back will really start to swing and to come up underneath you.
His strides will become bigger and more elevated and he’ll power himself forward into a quiet, elastic contact.
Complete the exercise by gradually retaking your reins. Keep your leg on as you do so.
In order to progress and develop in his dressage career, your horse must learn to work through his back in a round frame, forward and free from tension.
This takes practice, patience and correct riding to achieve, but you’ll be rewarded with higher marks in your tests and more rapid progress up through the levels.