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The opposite of Tension in Dressage Training

“Relaxation is related to the first step, rhythm. Without proper mental and physical relaxation, a horse will not settle down and find his correct rhythm.” - Cara Whitham

The second step of the training pyramid, relaxation, has recently been replaced with suppleness...why? The relaxed, rhythmic horse will become supple and can begin to bend easily. Developing the correct muscles needed to move up the scale of training takes relaxation of mind and suppleness of body. I am addressing relaxation because it is still a huge part of rhythm and suppleness.

Relaxed horses are calm and confident, and will be able to absorb communication from the rider. Although the first step of training is rhythm, absence of relaxation leads to irregularity of gaits. Horses that are not relaxed when ridden will lack rhythm in each gait.

According to the USDF Directory in the Glossary of Judging Terms, rhythm is defined as “the characteristic sequence of footfalls and phases of a given gait.

In order to attain relaxation in the gaits, the rider should have an independent seat so the horse isn’t attempting to compensate for the rider's lack of balance or strength in the saddle. If your horse finds it difficult to relax when ridden, first make sure it is not a physical problem or poor fitting tack. Once this has been ruled out, you can keep your horse focused on you by riding different schooling figures, leg yields on a circle, or shoulder fore as well as Cavaletti work is helpful. Horses are intelligent and can easily become bored, going round and round can make the horse dull to the rider or tense and spooky. In hand work is a great way to supple the body and relax the mind.

Patience is a necessary tool when you endure any frustrations that can occur when handling horses. Keeping your mind focused but also in " your happy place" can have an influence on your horses attitude. The horse can easily become a mirror image of the rider.

- "The biggest enemy to the partnership of dressage is impatience and the human nature to dominate other creatures." Walter Zett

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