My philosophy when it comes to dressage and riding in general is pretty classical. I believe in creating a solid foundation of basics, and try to be disciplined in not skipping steps before progressing to the next thing. Sometimes my insistence on perfecting the basics of dressage holds me back from practicing new skills, but that’s another story for another time.
In general, I abhor tools that help riders cut corners. I’ll never be impressed by the horse that only goes ’round’ in side reins, or in an elevator bit. (Side story- when I first started riding Ivan I spent months retraining him in a snaffle, because his former trainer/consigner was trying to sell him as a 1st level horse in an elevator bit.) However, there are times when these ‘tools’ can find a place in a classically influenced program.
After many discussions with my dressage trainer, we decided to try riding Foster in draw reins to improve his canter transitions. Traditionally the weakest part of our tests, Foster loves earning 6’s by using his neck to pull himself into the transition, causing him to go momentarily hollow before coming back into the bridle. It’s been very hard to train out of him, because conformationally his underneck is a very big, strong muscle (though much smaller than it used to be). While he is not trying to be disobedient, I struggle physically with showing him how not to engage those muscles for balance. The use of draw reins in these transitions helps me maintain a round topline and connection, and I am quick to release and praise him, hopefully teaching him that this is the correct approach to transitions.
My last lesson was in draw reins, as I wanted a professional to watch the way I rode and confirm that I am using them in a correct way. I feel quite clumsy having so much in my hands, but I feel I’ve got the hang of it now. The plan is to ride in this way for 4 rides before taking them off, because obviously I don’t want to create dependency on them. This weekend was ride #2 in the reins, and I’m anxious to see how he goes in that first ride away from them.
Similarly in the jumping world, I have been exploring new bits. Generally I ride in a full cheek Waterford, which solved the issue of Foster’s bracing and rushing a couple years ago. Now that I feel like I have solid brakes, and need something with leverage to break the poll. I previously tried the Waterford Baucher, which made Foster break at the poll but also lowered his neck and sent him on the forehand. At the advice of my last lesson, we discussed a Wonder Bit, and I finally was able to try the below model yesterday.
Color me impressed- he was uphill, softer, and engaged, and I felt like I had good control without going overboard. I set up some fun jumps in the arena, including a faux (tarp) liverpool and fan oxer and played with bending lines and collection/lengthenings. Everything rode really well, and I’m hoping to repeat the experience and make sure it wasn’t just a fluke!
So overall, it’s been a weekend of experimenting and twinging our regular program to incorporate new tools.