Our expert: Conrad Schumaker
Conrad Schumacher is one of the world's foremost dressage trainers, having trained many students to Olympic and World Championship level. He has been an influential force in the successful teams from Germany, Holland, Great Britain and the USA, and his wealth of experience spans riding, training and judging.
Our models: Amanda Brewer and Viquino
Amanda Brewer rides Viquino, a six-year-old Dutch-bred gelding owned by Claire Randall. Amanda explained that the horse had been getting very tense and strong, and she wanted to work on getting him to relax, especially through transitions. Their training session was obviously very successful, and Conrad told Amanda: "You couldn't find a six-year-old going more correctly!"
From strong and tense to loose and relaxed - transform your horse with Conrad Schumacher's easy exercises
Working with young horses requires skill and patience if you're to set good foundations for the rest of his training. "In the wrong hands, a horse can be very difficult," stresses Conrad. "It's important that any young horse does lots of 'long and low' work and really stretches his frame."
Here are some simple exercises that riders can try with a young horse.- or with any horse who tends to become strong or tense. See if they work for you...
On a 10-metre circle, ride some walk-trot and trot-walk transitions, just a few strides apart. Then go large and take the trot all the way down the long side of the school. "Think 'forward'," says Conrad, "and don't be afraid to kick - the horse has to work."
Still going large, perform some trot-walk-trot transitions. With a strong horse it can be tempting to pull back in a downward transition, but Conrad advises against this: "Keep your heels down, push your pelvis forward and drive your horse into the contact as you make the transition to walk - the idea is to get his frame longer. Give your horse more time in trot through the transition - we are never in a hurry!
"On the upward transition, give a little bit with your hand - this allows your horse to swing into the trot," he adds.
Leg-yield can be introduced quite early on in a horse's training, and it is useful for encouraging the correct way of going. Turn down the centre line and, taking sitting trot, leg-yield toward the outside track. On reaching the track, ride medium trot and keep this going around the short side of the arena.
Repeat the exercise once or twice and then try riding it on the other rein. Once you've done this a few times, offer your horse a longer rein and take rising trot. "Allow him to stretch long and low," says Conrad. "This is how a young horse must go - make the frame longer and then he'll really start to work."
Conrad even advises lateral work when walking a horse at the end of a session. "Try leg-yielding a zig-zag down the centre line," he suggests. "But it's important that your horse does this willingly - if he's in 'cool-down' mode, get an active walk on the long side of the arena before you ask him to go sideways. Make him do it properly before you get off him!"
Training tip: "Try asking a strong horse to stretch down over poles in trot. This allows you to work long and low without him rushing."
"It is ail-too easy to perform both upward and downward transitions incorrectly," says Conrad. "You can pull the horse back, push him onto the forehand, push him outwards - but nothing will actually be happening." To get your horse responsive to your aids and more 'through' in the transitions, try this exercise...
On the right rein, perform a walk-canter transition at C. Ride a 10-metre half-circle, then transition to walk as you reach the centre line and ask for left-canter before riding another 10-metre half-circle. Take walk again when reaching the centre line and then immediately canter right. Repeat this a few times and you'll soon find that your horse is more responsive to your aids. Conrad explains: "You want the horse to 'jump' into canter, with the rider doing almost nothing, instead of letting him fall into it."
Half 10-metre circles
"It's important that young horses are allowed to stretch, but offering the rein doesn't mean offering control," explains Conrad. If your horse tends to take advantage of a longer rein, try this: Canter down the long side of the arena, then ride a 15-metre circle at C or A, asking your horse to stretch down. "He must be completely relaxed behind," says Conrad. "Give with the inside rein - let him stretch, but don't let him 'win'."