Steve Wallace’s dressage blog: combating equine nerves to allow talent to shine

  • Steve is a dressage rider and trainer who combines classical training with competition riding. He has a particular interest in Iberian horses and is currently competing at small tour level

    My good friend Philippa Tickle bought Donni (Don Fabriano, pictured top) as a four-year-old; he’s her first ‘proper’ dressage horse as she’d previously concentrated on eventing. As Philippa started competing Donni, it became apparent that he found going ‘out and about’ frightening… he was genuinely scared of everything.

    After a couple of years, we got to a point where we could no longer attribute his behaviour to greenness and youth. He has a very strong flight instinct. He would literally ‘run away’, as fast as you like, from whatever he was unsure about, be that in the warm-up or competition arena. There were a few hairy moments!

    I agreed to compete Donni for Philippa to understand his behaviour first hand and help give him confidence when ‘out and about’. It’s been interesting…

    At the moment I’m competing Donni at prix st george (PSG) – he’s a very talented horse when his nerves allow his talent to shine. However, we’re still lacking consistency because of his temperament and recent outings have seen him score over 68% with a couple of mistakes and 65% with a clear round. If I can manage to combine both he will break the 70% barrier, which I know he is capable of.

    At home we’re working on the grand prix movements, continuing to developing strength and suppleness in his back and hind quarters. By working on his transitions between piaffe and passage and back to piaffe, he is developing greater self carriage and, therefore, greater lightness in the hand. Hopefully I’ll be able to show you a video of this work in a future blog.

    I also use the piaffe with Donni as a refocusing tool, both at home and in the warm up at a competition and Philippa is learning this technique as well. Because I always develop the piaffe quietly through muscle control without allowing any tension or edginess to develop, it helps him to feel secure in those moments of “let’s get the heck out of here”.

    Steve and Donni[1]

    Donni has confirmed to me that patience and methodical training techniques are so important. Because of his talent, he’s been one of the most frustrating, but also most rewarding, horses I’ve ridden.

    Yvonne and Arnie

    Yvonne Lynn is another client of mine with an advanced horse. ‘Arnie’ is homebred by Akkord. Yvonne is tiny and Arnie, (appropriate name) is huge! The combination are a fantastic example of riding with an effective technique rather than strength.

    Continued below…

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    Yvonne backed Arnie herself and produced him to medium level before asking me for some help to progress their training further. When I first saw him I thought he looked like a steady hunter rather than a dressage horse. However, I soon realised that for a big horse, he is incredibly sharp and sensitive… he notices everything. Yvonne has had to be very brave in some situations.

    We spent the first few months going over some basic issues. Yvonne has been great to teach as she takes instruction and was prepared to take a step backwards in order to go forwards in the long term. After two years of working together Arnie is now at PSG/inter 1 level and also working on the grand prix movements at home.

    As a trainer it’s been hugely rewarding, teaching someone who is dedicated and has always shown enthusiasm, even during those periods when the training seemed to have hit a plateau – which it always does at some point.


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