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Before debating “round and through” or “up and forward”, I urge you to get hold of your hand, bend it down and hold it there. Then add pressure and feel the pain as all along the top of your wrist begins to hurt…

“The hind legs must work more”, we often hear. Well, yes, they can work more when they are allowed
the freedom to step under. Having the horse “up through the shoulders” helps this happen and comes from being connected, but never forced.

The horse has no collarbones, so it’s essential to work the intercostal muscles — for which the trigger point is just behind the girth (so please don’t kick the ribcage) — to achieve the desired lifting of the shoulder. This in turn, combined with moving freely forward, works the trapezium muscles at the base of the neck that are so crucial for self-carriage.

Turn down the volume…

Having recently returned from abroad, I’m reminded that when trying to communicate in a foreign language, some people simply shout louder and louder.

Actually, one should speak more quietly and slowly — something I’m going to adopt as a New Year’s resolution when training horse and rider. Other than that, it’s the usual diet, not biting my nails and getting fitter to ride better and fight off the age I am!

A suggested New Year’s resolution for all in the world of dressage is to have more fun — a word we don’t hear nearly often enough when competing. Take Bury Farm’s music evening this autumn. No entry fees, winner takes all prize money (well, maybe that could stretch to third place), a relaxed atmosphere and an involved — and, dare I say, noisy — crowd. Fun, pure fun, was had by all.

The FEI has loads of potential New Year’s resolutions, from dealing with tight nosebands to the often large discrepancies in judges’ marks.

My tip for the next top international judge is Peter Storr. I make no apologies for this accolade; his test sheets, marks and remarks have so far been way beyond the norm.

As a top rider, he feels the moment.

I did a fairly classy pirouette this year, receiving four eights and a lone 7.5 from Peter. Yes, he was spot on — I did so nearly lose one moment of balance.

‘Tis the season

Most of us look forward to the Christmas holidays, but for different reasons. For the professionals it can mean a break, while for amateurs it can mean more time to ride.

As a trainer, my Christmas treat is to be trained. This winter we’ve been back — or, more accurately, forwards — to training with Henk van Bergen. A former winner of the “trainer of the world” award, it’s an absolute pleasure to have him teaching at Talland. I know of no other trainer who puts the jigsaw puzzle that is dressage together so well. I can’t think of a better way to spend the upcoming holidays than homework with Henk.

Straightness will be another revision subject. Although confinement to the arena during the winter can mean endless riding around in circles, they are not the be-all and end-all. I can’t wait for some snow.

Then we can grease the horses’ hooves, get out there and see how straight we’re really riding.

For many, it seems, a horse is top of their Christmas present list. Indeed prices are currently buoyant and almost back to where they were pre-recession. A brand new young one would be lovely, but please consider an older one to learn from rather than over-horsing yourself. “Buy what you see, not what will be” are useful words to keep in your head.

Personally, temperament (if it’s not right, one will never train it) heads my horse shopping list, followed by type (without good conformation it will break down), and only then movement (which can be enhanced through correct training).

Another treat over Christmas will be cooking, something I love doing given the time and space.

But, please God, don’t let the Aga produce one of its funny days.

When asked what I want for Christmas, I would honestly be happy with peace and goodwill. So that’s my Christmas wish for you — before riding forward, onward and upward into a great New Year.

Ref: H&H 11 December, 2014