Alice Dunsdon’s Adelaide blog: dressage is like maths and I need to use my bum

  • It’s the end of day 10 in quarantine, only nine days left to go and on 15 October we fly!

    Quarantine now feels very much like home and Hilly (Fernhill Present) is in fantastic form. I could not be happier with how he looks and feels at this stage of our adventure.

    Last Friday I did some showjump training with Hilly (pictured) and will do some more this week. I will possibly include some “skinny” jumping practice too. This will be the last chance I will have to jump him before we come out of quarantine in Sydney.

    I have always had to be very careful with Hilly’s dressage training. If I do too much “stressage” with him he becomes wound up and uptight and he has a tendency to throw his toys out of the pram. If I do too little practice and then try to run through the test, which means some movements take him by surprise, he becomes worried and stressed and thinks he can’t do it.

    I always think of all my horses as humans. Some are right handed, some are left handed. Some excel in maths and some would excel in English or other subjects.

    I always imagine dressage to be like maths. I was and still am fairly useless at this topic. I know (vaguely) how to add up, divide, multiply, take away and I could even cope with a little a bit of algebra thrown in there. But make it too difficult in a exam situation with a timer going, with no calculator and I would go into panic mode. My brain becomes fuzzy, I’m unable to concentrate, I can’t read the question properly, my palms are clammy, I become very agitated, I feel like my surroundings are closing in on me and all I want to do is go into flight mode and run away. This is Hilly in dressage if I don’t get it right with him.

    Pippa Funnell has given me the best pieces of advice in the past as my next door neighbour and friend (I know, I really should be better at dressage with Pip next door!) and I will share them with you.

    Horses only learn through reward and repetition.

    Act like you’ve only got 10 minutes to spare while training your horse and it will take you 10 hours.

    Act like you’ve got 10 hours spare to train your horse and it will take you 10 minutes.

    If you need to be firm with your horse never let your heart rate increase. If this happens get off and put your horse away. Have a cup of and take time to relax. Only then when you are calm again you should re-establish your training.

    I live by these rules on a daily basis.

    Hilly quarantine

    Hilly looking well in quarantine

    Horses, like us have moods. Happy, sad, tired, grumpy. Before I question my horse I always look at myself and how I’m riding. Am I making it clear to the horse what I want? Am I in balance? Could I ask the same question in a different way?

    To train Hilly well I have to have him in the best possible mind set. There is no point trying to teach a child how to do Pythagoras’ theorem if they are hyper on sugar and can see all of their friends playing outside or would you try to teach them straight after at football or netball match?

    To put this into Hilly terms, I would not do dressage training after he has had a day off. He would be too fresh and unable to concentrate. I would not do dressage training straight after he has galloped as his muscles would be too fatigued and he would be unable to concentrate.

    So I have to plan my exercise carefully with him. I try to do his dressage training after he has hacked out or in the afternoons after he has been out in the field. One reason for this is his muscles are well warmed up so I don’t have to be in a ménage or classroom environment for too long with him. Hilly has also had a chance to let his brain unwind and relax on a hack or being out in the field first. To bring them straight out of the stable after staring at three walls and whatever they can see in front of them for hours must be pretty tough.

    I use my instinct above all else. If he feels like he’s fresh and needs a canter I will do this instead of trying to drill the dressage. If he feels tired but I’ve set a goal to school him for 40 minutes I will change this and perhaps only do has much as I feel is appropriate for him that day. As a dear old family friend told me once, who goes by the name of Roger Stack: “You need to ride with your bum, not your head!”

    He meant by this you need to ride with feel and instinct.

    And that’s what I’m doing with this whole journey to Adelaide. I’m trusting my instinct and going with my gut feeling. Everything feels right at the moment.

    Until next time…

    Alice xx

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