Improve Your Dressage

 

Some clever lateral thinking has helped Harry Hall Junior Rider Ella Lucas improve her dressage ahead of the new eventing season. And she explains why a jumping competition has had unexpected consequences...

 

Hello everyone! In my last blog, I told you about my first season eventing; we had great fun and are officially signed up as full British Eventing (BE) members for 2017!

Towards the end of the season, the majority of the comments on our dressage score sheets mentioned tension preventing Barney from correctly using his whole body. So I went right back to basics with our schooling to get him to stretch into a long and low contact. With Barney I find it’s hard to motivate him to work properly. If I ride with no stick he becomes lazy and flat, dragging his feet and avoiding the contact. With a stick however he becomes anxious and tense, shortening his neck and rushing all the movements (likely due to bad past experience before I got him). So I had to think creatively if I was going to turn Barney into a mini Valegro before next season!

Treats = ‘that’s neat

Remembering that Barney was food obsessed, I took a new approach; every time he worked nicely and showed willing, even if for a few seconds, I immediately dropped all contact and rewarded him with a treat. I then gradually asked for him to work correctly for longer and longer and through this he has become far more relaxed and willing when schooling. With the dressage coming along nicely, I decided to improve our technique and style when jumping, with the aim of having a go at a BE JAS competition this year. JAS stands for ‘jumping and style’ and the competition works like arena eventing, with faults given for poles down, refusals and if you go over the time allowed. But in addition to this, you’re judged by two judges who give you a style mark, based on things like arena craftsmanship (how accurately you ride your lines to fences), rider position and horse technique.

January the 7th rolled around and it was time to put our training into practice at the Merrist Wood JAS competition. Due to oversubscribed entries I was put into the 90cm Open class (where HC — meaning hors concours, or people taking part non-competitively —, overqualified riders or horses are allowed to compete) and so I was aiming for a fun day out — not expecting to be placed. However, with a pleasing style mark of 16, a pole down and 3 time faults on a very tight time, we ended on a score of 23 and came 8th out of nearly 40 competitors! This means we have now qualified for the JAS championships which will be held at Hartpury College in Gloucester on 19th February. Mum’s not best pleased — it’s two and a half hours away!


How to keep Barney fresh and focused

With 2 months until event season kicks off, there’s still lots more training to do, but to keep Barney from going sour I’ve been making sure to include as much hacking as possible, wearing our Harry Hall Hi-Viz products to keep us as safe in the dreary weather.

I think it’s important to hack and allow horses to relax, and you can also train them whilst you’re out without them feeling like its work. For example, you can practise leg yielding to keep them close to the side of roads and to stop them drifting out, and if you’re lucky enough to come across any fallen trees or ditches then they can be popped for cross country practice. With Barney, seeing and experiencing lots of new things on hacks has also helped him to trust me — he understands that if tell him the brightly lit Christmas tree won’t kill him, then it won’t, and this trust can be related to other experiences such as if he sees a scary filler on a show jump. It’s all about building a bond so that you can face scary experiences together as a team.


What I’m wearing

When hacking, Barney has been sporting the Hi-Viz quarter sheet and I’ve been wearing the Hi-Viz tabard which fits over whatever outfit I’m wearing thanks to its adjustability. I wore it over base layers at the start of winter, but now wear it over a combination of my cosy Harry Hall Darley Women’s hoody and my Harry Hall Blouson jacket. The Harry Hall Softshell Jodhpurs have also been a godsend, with the fleece lining keeping my legs from turning into icicles. Roll on the warmer weather, when you don’t have to go out looking like a marshmallow!

All the best, Ella and Barney x