On Sunday I had a lesson with Ken Sudsbury.  He teaches ‘fusion dressage’ (a mix of traditional classical riding and modern training sometimes called ‘neo classical’).

It was fascinating. I picked up some real ‘gems’ (of knowledge) and some great exercises that I’ll be building into our schooling. Abbey was a superstar too – considering she’d only been on antacids for four days, she was focused and willing throughout – feels like my ol’ponio is back 🙂

Ken first looked at Abbey’s walk.  He really liked it and gave me strict instructions not to ‘fuss’ with it.  All I am permitted to do is close my hands and shoulders to ask for a slightly more collected walk, and ask for a little more extension by opening my fingers on the reins and giving Abbey a small nudge with the legs.  He explained that with a small horse, the extended walk is not going to be huge. If I shorten my reins too much and push with my seat, I will flatten the walk – this is forbidden!

Next up were my trot-walk transitions (something I want to work on because judges have commented on Abbey’s lack of suppleness through them).  In Ken’s words the key to this is ‘preparation, preparation, preparation’ .

The first thing he had me doing was sitting for 5/6 strides before the transition.  This is something that I used to do but Abbey anticipates the walk.  (So I’m going to start sitting randomly and ahead of canter transitions, as well as trot-walk transitions.) He had me measuring how many strides it took for Abbey to come back to a walk, so when I am trying to walk at a marker I ask at the correct time.

Ken explained that the number of strides Abbey takes to answer my aids for a walk transition will change.  It’ll change from day-to-day and it’ll change during a schooling session from the warm-up to the ‘serious work’ Abbey gets more switched on and focused so she’ll respond quicker.

Next we worked on our shoulder-in.  This, he said, gets the inside hind engaged in preparation for practicing the medium trot.  I was moving my inside leg too far back and my inside shoulder, not enough.

Then came the medium trot.  The ‘ah-ha!’ moment was when Ken asked me to open my fingers to let Abbey stretch forward.  This is not something I was doing before and I really felt the difference.

Finally we did some canter work.  I explained that I’d just started teaching Abbey counter canter using loops and teardrop shapes.  Ken thinks that I’m missed out a step known as ‘canter on a named lead’. It wasn’t something I’ve heard of before.

It’s also an exercise used to start flying changes.  I haven’t tried to teach Abbey flying changes.  Speaking with other dressage lovers, it’s seems that in the UK we’ve a trend for teaching horses this movement much later than we used to.  It’s quite common in Europe to teach 5 year olds, flying changes. Who knew?!

I’ve got distracted….the exercise Ken started us with used very small loops and on the way back to the track, asking for counter canter.  It took us a few goes but Abbey picked it up remarkably quickly.  He also explained how to keep the canter – ask Abbey to keep her hind end towards the track (and cut the corners a little).  I’d been trying to ‘keep the bend’, which I guess has me focused on the front end rather than the back.

Many thanks to FotoPix for taking the video and pictures for this blog post – much appreciated! And of course and big thank you to Ken – I’ve taken a lot from a short lesson and looking forward to the next one!