Latest News at Helicon Farm
Hello friends! The 2020 competition year ended on a high note with a great show at Dallas Dressage Club November show in Athens.
Bobbie Socks showed well both days and on Sunday dug deep to win Third level test three with a 72%. We've battled a lot of soundness challenges over the years so this comeback was pretty sweet.
Theresa Sheehy, Kim Charney and Gayla also showed with Ory, Zafiro and Wolly, with some great performances! Kim and Zafiro are a new team and they already they earned Kim's first score toward her bronze medal goal. Theresa and Ory are now solidly in the mid-60s at first level. Theresa has worked so hard for this with the delightful Ory, who was once nearly written off as a wicked rogue!
My magnificent Figlio finished the 2020 season with a 66% median at Intermediare 1. Our best test was a couple hairs shy of a 70% at 69.7 We were excited to be working on our moves for I-2 with that Grand Prix Dream appearing closer! But ahh dreams can fall down in mid-flight and it all came crashing down when Figlio reared up over a gate and got his pastern stuck in the hinge. Miraculously he was able to break free by taking out the gate post, but the damage to his pastern was not insignificant. He has been rehabbing and we are working hard to find our way back.
Another new face at Helicon Farm is the beautiful Andalusian Listillo. He belongs to London Sustala, an aspiring young rider who has already made the decision to specialize in dressage! They competed for the first time at Willow Draw and are off to a great start with two clean tests and a well-behaved horse!
Lynn Schwab photography did the most amazing photo shoot for all of us at Helicon Farm. Look for an album soon.
Tip of the Month
Has Is your horse hard to bend? Does he jut his shoulders out and drift out? Do you feel like you have to pull on the inside rein to get him around the turn?
While correct bend is ideally aligning a horse on a curve, like a quarter of a circle, or a parenthesis - like this ( The horse often bends too much with his neck and not enough with his body. The rider aggravates this problem by pulling on the inside rein. So the horse looks more like this <
To correct this tendency, concentrate on turning the withers rather then the head. So if you are turning right, guide the withers to move right and then bend the horse behind the withers (at girth line) rather than in front of the withers (at the base of the neck). Use your inside leg to ask your horse to lift and yield at his ribcage. If horse just braces his torso, teach him this yield from the ground first, or if he knows, you can touch him with the spur. Now you can use your outside rein like a neck rein to guide the withers (and the shoulders) to the right.
For clinic reports and other horse adventures, please visit my blog
More articles I have written for Dressage Today (with links).
Training the Happy Athlete with Jessica Jo Tate
Andiamo and Cortege July 2019
2020 Calendar of Events
for Helicon Farm
Kathy Connelly Clinic
January 18-19 2020
Houston January Show
Dallas Warmup Show - Athens
FWDC Show in Glen Rose
Texas Classic Dressage Show at Tyler
Dressage at Devon
If your horse feels heavy in the bridle, push your hands forward as if meeting a wall. This engages your core and ensures that it's not you who is heavy!
Always make sure you follow the motion of the horse - seat follows the back and hands and arms follow the mouth. Even when you give aids, stay with this motion.
Feeling stuck? Maybe you have an outdated rule that is holding you back. Many riders are still loyal to instructions they received decades ago. It may have been relevant to your skill level then, or to that horse, or that moment or maybe it was just bad info. Be willing to let go of a "rule" and learn new ways!
Dressage is often described as the process of shifting the horse's weight back to the haunches. This unfortunately makes riders try to pull the horse back into collection. Instead, think of engaging the haunches forwards, so that the horse drives his hind end under the forehand.
Are you straight in the saddle? Crookedness issues will effect every communication you make with your horse. In addition to getting help from mirrors, your coach or ground person, consider trying a good chiropractor! Even Charlotte Dujardin depends on her physio to keep her straight!
"Speed is the Enemy of Impulsion" one of my instructors used to say.
So many times we chase our horses forward, when what they really need is time and balance to reach under with the hindlegs. Use half halts for balance and lateral work to develop the reach of the hindlegs. Then you will be able to produce those thrusty suspended strides that make dressage riders swoon!
We all want a forward dressage horse, but what does that really mean? Race horses are very fast, but they don't have the agility and suspension we want. In dressage "forwardness" is the ability of your horse to respond quickly and easily to your requests. A forward horse can go, stop or make a transition immediately from your first light aid.
Confused about how to create contact? Get your position stacked first, then gently take the slack out of the reins as you close your legs to send horse toward the bridle. When you shorten your reins, advance your hands down the reins toward the horse's mouth, so that you don't pull his head in and close his throat. Your arms should be adaptable to maintain a sympathetic connection. When your horse carries his neck, you will be able to carry your elbows softly bent and close to your body, so that a baby could nestle there without falling!
Do you have following hands? Are you sure? My very first dressage lesson was on the importance of following the horse's mouth with my hands. The problem with this lesson is that having a following seat is even more important. If your hands are moving a lot, it might be a symptom that your seat and the horse's back are not moving enough.
Try this, still your hands on the horse's withers as he canters, follow with your seat, and let his motion guide your elbows open and closed. You may be surprised how much the contact steadies. Now you have hands that are both quiet and following!
Are you one of those riders who tries really hard? You may be trying too much. Experiment with doing less. Trying can create stiffness and tension which makes it harder for the horse to move freely. For example a leg aid that gets stronger becomes gripping and squeezing, which blocks the horse's back from swinging. Sitting up too much causes the rider's spine to be too stiff. Rein aids can easily become too strong or too long. Try giving tiny rein aids without any expectation of a response. Your horse will probably ignore it, but if you relax the rein and ask again, you may be pleasantly surprised!
Dressage is all about engaging the hind end so that the horse steps deeper with the hind legs. To teach your horse to take deeper steps, try this exercise:
As you walk or trot down the long side ask the horse to move his haunches away from the rail by crossing the hind legs to make a leg yield step. When you feel him start to make some nice deep steps, ride forward and then turn onto a ten meter circle. Repeat a few times in each direction. This exercise will improve suppleness and have your horse reaching well under himself!
Has your riding progress hit a plateau? Examine your automatic riding habits!
The automation of our riding skills is generally a good thing, because it enables us to ride without overthinking. It also frees our brain so we can remember things like a test pattern, or which way the haunches go in renvers! But automation can also lead to stagnation. Those automatic habits need updating just like your computer software. When you practice outside of your comfort zone, you are forced to problem solve and to think about what you are doing. It's a confusing and frustrating place to be, because you are not proficient and things can get messy. Ironically, this "discomfort zone" is actually where you will develop the new skills necessary to move forward and upward. Embrace the struggle and trust that new and better software will take you to the next level!