Riding Forward

Riding Forward

By Parrish Frisbee

Receiving the SEDA young rider scholarship was an honor, and I was excited to apply it to four dressage sessions with Vicky Busch of Busch Sporthorses last spring. I am also grateful to have been given the chance to continue training on Virtuoso during these sessions, who is a KWPN gelding owned by Mr. Richard Freeman of Oak Hill Ranch.

During our first session, Vicky asked what our short‐term goals during these sessions were, and our long‐term goals for the coming months. For the short‐term, I wanted to focus on our weak spot in our lateral work (specifically the leg‐yield, for our First‐Level work), building on our power at all gaits, engagement of Virtu’s hind end, and being able to produce a solid First Level test by the end of our last session. As for long‐term, it was to qualify for Regional Championships at First Level with consistent scores, and have a strong performance in the ring.

After our goal discussion, I chose to ride the full First Level 3 test in front of Vicky so that we could begin picking out our weakest points on which to build. Naturally, we had our fair share of ‘first time’ hiccups, which provided a great foundation on which to start! First off, we started with how Virtu tends to use the underside of his neck to escape true connection and coming up over his back properly.

Circles have become our best friend, to say the least. While riding down the long sides of the arena, Vicky explained that you should never be truly straight, that the horse should always have a slight bend to the inside, which helps keep the rest of his body supple and coming to the connection. So the trick was to keep his inside ear turned towards the inside just a tick off of what would be considered a straight line. This not only helped with the lateral work and how engaged Virtu was going into it, but also with all transitions up and down as well. With that, we did lots of 10 meter circles to 15 meter, to even 20, and in and out of those sizes. This was to test that I was keeping him listening to my inside leg and inside hand and not going out of his outside shoulder while on the circle. I have the nasty habit of not keeping my lats engaged, and therefore I get hunched in my shoulders and just give away my outside elbow. This allows him to go out that door and simply swing his haunches around his shoulder instead of wrapping his body around my inside leg.

Also during this session, Vicky worked on my approach to the leg‐yield. My other nasty habit is not placing Virtu’s shoulders properly coming out of corners, which knocks my lateral work. She put in my head‐go into the corner with the initial THOUGHT of shoulder fore, but come out of the corner actually in shoulder‐fore position. That way, I can keep his shoulders a little ahead of his haunches, yet his haunches are easier to bring along and get straightened out throughout the movement. The tough part about the new First 3 test is that instead of inserting two half circles at ‘X’ and then returning to the second half of the leg yield back to the wall, it is right from ‘K’ to ‘X’ and then straight from ‘X’ to ‘H’. It’s a BUGGER to figure out, but throughout the exercise, Vicky stood at C and would call out when his shoulders or haunches were too far ahead/behind of each other, and when they were in line with where they should be. Having her on the ground to give that feedback and telling me which half of Virtu to fix allowed me to build on the feeling of what a proper leg‐yield should feel like even though I can’t see it.

Our second session the next weekend focused on our canter work. Vicky got on me about keeping Virtu bent to the inside with a connecting outside rein so as to keep him from dropping his back and throwing his head up and using his under‐neck muscle to avoid smooth transitions up and down (all within the trot). Just like the leg‐yield approach, Vicky to me to put him in a shoulder‐in position on the circle, and use my inside leg to encourage his ribage to wrap around that leg and use his hind end to push up into the transition. This provides a powerful jump that I could then access more energy from.

But the tricky part on this? Getting energy out of him RIGHT. AWAY. And with Virtu, energy is not his middle name. ‘Go. NOW.’ were often spoken to me during this exercise, and I still say it under my breathe when asking for an upward transition into the canter to remind myself to really make him go instead of ‘buffer’ and take more than 3‐4 strides to get into the gait. After several repetitions, we started to get the hang of our ‘GO’ button, and continued on to the one loop canter sequence that comes with First Level. Virtu’s left lead is stronger than his right, so holding his right lead going into an almost‐counter‐canter serpentine throws its challenge.

While going through these loops, Vicky gave me my own body‐awareness tip to help Virtu get through the right lead loop. Stepping down into my right stirrup will actually help to keep myself centered in the saddle, whereas Virtu wants me to sit off to the left on my left seat bone so that he can swap his leads‐and not gracefully, I might add‐back to his comfortable side. The other key she gave was to ride his shoulders around, and not just keep him bent to one side or the other to keep the lead I wanted. Riding the shoulders and only keeping a slight bend to the right (when going through the right loop) allows for more control. Doing this by keeping a steady right rein and a lighter, guiding left rein, and keeping my weight in my right hip and heel gave me the control that I needed. Our third session came before our first show of the year, and it was what I consider a progress report. Vicky started us out doing some warm‐up exercises at the walk, including turns both on the haunches and forehand to get Virtu a little more fired up to my aids and get both ends of his body working individually (while also continuing to use my limbs independently!). The rest of our warm‐up consisted of a few pointers to get him swinging and over his back the trot and canter‐FORWARD FORWARD FORWARD. POWER POWER POWER. Keep him slightly bent to the inside and use my inside leg at his girth to help his driving hind leg come up and under to really gain power and throughness.

Then, we rode through our First Level Test 3 twice more, each time with a focus on the lateral work and power. Another pointer that Vicky gave for our leg yield work was that because Virtu has a habit of running through the aids when asked to go more sideways while continuing forward, I ride him as though he is going backwards and sideways. Mentally envisioning it helped a great deal‐you can then use your half‐halts appropriately to get that ‘backwards’ feeling, and push sideways. It’s always a work in progress though, and it’s a tough lateral movement for him to perform, but by the end of our ride it was better than our initial test!

Our final session came the week after our show, where the first portion was in review of our test, scores, and comments by the judges. Scores in the upper 60’s and even a 71% were reflective of our solidity going into the ring from our focused sessions! Pleased with the exercises we had formed as the basis for continuing my training on Virtu throughout the rest of the season, Vicky asked that I show her some shoulder‐in and haunches‐in. Training a level ahead can help improve upon the previous level as well. It had been a while since I had actually ridden a shoulder‐in, but she helped me to utilize our mirrors to keep an eye on how many tracks I should be riding. Looking at the mirror in front of us gave me the opportunity to focus on how the correct tracking ought to feel. She also told me to ride the corner into the shoulder‐in like I would a leg yield, but keep him driving up the wall with my inside leg and guide him along the wall with my outside leg. The point‐which I have now truly learned‐of a shoulder‐in is to help engage the hind end and create power from behind. Several times she had me do a shoulder‐in for half the long side, go into a 10 meter circle to the inside to regain the energy I may have lost during the movement, and keep that energy through the second shoulder‐in.

The final exercise we worked on was Virtu’s reactivity to cues for upward and downward transitions, which when you come to Second Level they have to be very fine‐tuned and immediate. For Virtu, his laziness can get in the way of that ‘on‐fire’ reaction you want. Vicky put us on an approximately 10‐meter circle at H, and she stood on the opposite side to act as the top of the circle.

Working on trot‐canter and canter‐trot, she said to create attention in his mind I needed to use 2‐3 half halts at the trot and supple the inside rein to keep him through his neck. When asking him to canter, keep my inside leg at the girth, and flick my outside leg back. With Virtu, I have gained the bad habit of constantly having my leg on him, which for a lazy horse, Vicky explained, is the opposite of how he should be ridden. You want to train the reactivity so that although he may be lazy, you can ride with your legs off by the end and be able to use them lightly. A constant use of the leg makes them dead to your cues, and that fire is lost. So with Virtu, flicking my leg back lightly when asking for the canter and then putting it back under me while reinforcing with a tap of the whip on the outside creates more accessible energy and attention. I would then canter from H to the top of the circle, and 3 strides out I would give one half halt per stride to prepare for a transition into trot. Then halfway back to the wall, I would use my new cues to pick the canter back up, and repeat the exercise. I had to use more suppling going to the right, as that is Virtu’s less cooperative side, but after a few reminders that I was still up there in the saddle, we had several smooth rounds and ended on a high note.

I would again like to thank SEDA for the opportunity to broaden my riding education through this scholarship, Vicky Busch for aiding in that education and taking the time to come and teach me, and to Richard Freeman for allowing me to train on a great horse.

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