Dressage – Annual Course Report from Keysoe 3rd & 4th Jan

Report on Dressage Sessions with Richard Davison FBHS – Keysoe.

Firstly, Covid /government future plans raised questions as to whether or not the Annual Course would go ahead as planned. This caused the Committee considerable concern, upsets in arrangements and challenges in the planning of the course. Thankfully we were able to attend, albeit with the necessary precautions in place.

Keysoe International, although further in distance than Addington for many of us, provided excellent facilities for all aspects of the course. A couple of interesting practical observations for future courses – from observation, the stables were some distance away, whilst the lorry “hook up” points were close by the indoor school.

Also, for the later lessons, horses were ridden or lead through the car park and exit area, whilst cars with headlights on were arriving or leaving the centre. I consider this placed a risk to those riders/horses. If the centre could create a safe “horse walkway”, to be made available at this time of day, it would be beneficial and provide a safe route. (Ed: an upgrade suggestion for next year)

A full programme of individual Dressage and group Jumping lessons, together with study groups from FBHS coaches and lunchtime discussions/ talks, provided an excellent opportunity to refresh and update one’s coaching skills/knowledge. My time was divided between the Dressage and Jumping sessions.

From the Dressage lessons, Richard Davison FBHS spent time observing each horse and rider, then took time talking to the rider asking what to work on, before commencing the session. Riders were encouraged to self-reflect their work, with a question/discussion time for observers.
At times due to the lack of a microphone it was difficult to hear, two riders apologised to Richard for not hearing his instruction/comment. (Ed: another upgrade for next year)

Some horses were tense on the first day, however, all were more relaxed on the second day which showed in a positive difference in their way of going. A clear improvement was seen in the work of all the horse and rider combinations with at least one rider’s session on day 2 described as a “masterclass”.

One point that came across was the importance of allowing/asking the horses’ shoulders to lift, with the carriage of the riders’ hands being a key factor.

Do less, let the horse do more, the horse must respond to the quiet, quick leg aid.

In piaffe, rider to wiggle the reins to lift the shoulders, assisted by the use of the whip under the girth, forelegs up, hindlegs under. In passage, the front end needs to lift allowing the shoulders to move, which in turn lowers the quarters.

In changes, work with the horse, keep the balance, not asking for big strides. A short quick canter, riders to sit still and not to influence or join in the change with body movement. Outside rein support to allow freedom in the change. Be aware of the horse’s neck/outline/balance.
Working on pirouettes, ride opposites, go big, go small. Coming out, rider to lean forward and lighten the seat to ride out, important to keep the forward impulsion.

So many things to sort out, tools are required, to enable the rider to correct in the test, such as, in half pass – correct the shoulders rather than the hindlegs leading – and to adjust the reach and expression within the movements, deal with distractions and manage the mind of the horse.
The importance of working in logical steps, taking walk breaks, and the obedience of the horse and rider to the movement. Walk breaks are a useful time in which to improve the horse’s walk.

Richard gave advice with regard to social media – including, when coaching, be careful with terminology, do not allow people to record a session – then if they share a video, make sure they share only images, no sound.

From the study sessions the horse’s welfare is paramount, we must all promote the welfare of the horse for the good of equestrian sport both to horsey and non-horsey persons.

May I say how grateful I am to be part of the F & I Association, to have the opportunity to be amongst top professional coaches, riders and quality horses. The two-day course, with the AGM and Dinner, offered a tremendous opportunity, my thanks go to all that made the course such a successful, educational and enjoyable time.

Report by Jennifer M Ham.