8 training gems from Carl Hester that could transform your dressage scores

  • Ever wondered how to take your test-riding up a notch, to gain those valuable extra marks? Carl Hester shares some golden nuggets of training advice that can help every rider pull in some extra points in the ring…

    1. Focus on your own position

    “Sitting in the middle of the horse is important for balance, in the same way standing upright is essential for balance when you’re on the ground,” says the Olympic gold medallist. “Your heel, hip and shoulder should all be in line. Remember, it should be the combination that looks elegant in dressage, not one or the other.”

    2. Don’t neglect lateral work at home

    Whether it is required in your tests or not, incorporating some lateral work into your schooling will help develop suppleness.

    “You can spot a horse that is supple because when they move sideways the rhythm doesn’t change,” points out Carl, who recommends leg yielding at home in trot and canter. “Canter leg yield does not appear in tests but it can be very useful for teaching a horse to develop freedom through the shoulder.”

    3. Teach your horse to halt square every time

    “The basics are for everyone — all types of horse and all types of rider,” says Carl, emphasising that any horse can be taught to halt square to pick up valuable marks at every level. He advises enlisting the help of someone on the ground to help you adjust your halts, and to ride every one properly so your horse learns to halt squarely every time.

    “All corrections should be made by moving forward,” he adds. “Moving the horse back to correct the halt is incorrect.”

    4. Learn to ride better corners

    “Everything in a test starts from a corner, and people who ride good corners are very telling,” says Carl, who recommends the following exercise at home to help you and your horse learn to ride into the corners properly. Canter up the long side on the left rein and halt up against the edge of the arena in the corner. Establish the halt, the turn the horse right, into the corner, before riding forward back down the long side.

    5. Use your head to work out how to become as accurate as possible

    “The difference between a good rider and an average rider is not just how they sit but how they think,” says Carl.

    “Count the number of canter strides your horse puts in on the short side of the arena, so that when riding a serpentine with changes on the centre line, you can count your strides and know exactly when you are crossing the centre line without looking,” he suggests.

    6. Give-and-retake the reins during schooling sessions

    “If your horse is in self-carriage you should be able to give and retake the reins without him losing balance, but how many people ever actually do this at home?” says Carl. “Incorporating it at home even for three strides at a time will help you see where you are with your training. It also allows your horse to relax in his mouth, helping encourage him to chew the bit and become softer.”

    7. Every transition you do should matter

    “You can’t expect good transitions in a test if you don’t concentrate on getting them right every time at home,” Carl points out. “Every single transition should be ridden properly, even if it’s right at the end of your session or coming down to walk to give your horse a break.”

    8. Always finish any ride on a good note

    “Even if you have a terrible ride in the ring — and everyone has them — take your horse back into the warm-up and just do five minutes on a long rein, so you always finish on a positive,” advises Carl.

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