Unnoobification Epiphanies of a Dressage Noob – Bend
 By Polo the Weirdo   •   23rd Jan 2016   •   3,545 views   •   0 comments
Unnoobification Epiphanies of a Dressage Noob

Have you ever found yourself moving up in your dressage, and trying to start on higher level movements like half pass and travers, only to discover that you are basically riding a plank, and that you really might as well practice your movements on the paddock fence for all the good your desperate, red-faced flexing and squeezing is doing?

No? Well, good for you. Unfortunately I, and I’m sure many like me, have been exactly there. On a talented horse, glossing over the basics and missing important parts of the foundation while still winning and moving up grades, is annoyingly easy to do. Eventually, however, you will find that without the proper foundation, your training becomes unstable, and anything you try to build on top of it just comes tumbling down. So for now, it’s time to put the training wheels back on and do the boring homework you forgot to do when you were trying to teach a log the half pass.

Related: The Unnoobification Epiphanies of a Dressage Noob – Canter Transitions
Related: Improving The Seat
Related: Teach a Horse to Bend

As often happens with riding, in trying to establish correct bend on a stiff horse, it’s usually your instincts that kill you. When the horse doesn’t have a proper inside bend, the instinct as a rider is to flex the horse with the inside hand, keeping the nose following the bend of the circle. Unfortunately, all that this creates is the illusion of bend, simultaneously making true bend impossible, as holding on the inside hand will block the horse from bending through the neck and back and hence coming between the hand and leg in a correct frame. As a rider, you need to learn to squash this instinct, and religiously follow the two golden rules of bend:

1. Inside leg to outside hand.
2. If you want to use your inside hand, use more inside leg instead.

The mechanics of bend are simple: your inside leg pushes your horse to the outside, making him move away from the pressure through his entire body. (Inside leg alone, theoretically, should communicate some sort of stiff, straight leg yield.) Your outside leg catches the horse’s quarters to stop them from swinging out – not squeezing, but blocking, supporting. At the same time, your outside hand catches and contains the power created by the leg, and blocks the horse’s shoulders from swinging out. This way you have a horse moving sideways (outwards) off the inside leg, without being able to move out with his quarters or shoulders. The result? The horse’s body should round around your inside leg, bending and lifting up through the back, and following the curve of the circle without needing you to constantly tug his head in with your inside hand.

It sounds so simple, but as any rider will know, knowing how to do something and actually being able to do it are two entirely different things. To help you bridge the gap between the two, here are a few of the exercise which helped me being the slow process of fixing my basics:

Horse Faux-spiralling

Start on a 20m circle. Gradually push the horse over to make it smaller and smaller until you get to the smallest size your horse can handle without losing rhythm or balance, then gradually push the horse out until the circle is the size it was. This is a common exercise to teach the basics of bend and leg yield, but an exercise often forgotten as you advance beyond foundation training. Now it’s time to bring it back, with a specific problem solving twist. As you leg yield out onto a bigger circle, block your horse from actually moving out with your outside hand and outside leg. Keep the inside hand soft. Don’t be afraid to kick with your inside leg if you have to. At first your horse may resist and be confused, but eventually both of you should begin to understand the dynamics of true bend, and develop muscle memory.

Horse Faux-spiralling

You know how dressage coaches are always telling you to “use your corners”? Well, it turns out they’re right. Corners actually are useful, if you know how to use them. Keeping your horse on the ¾ line, leg yield to the side of the arena, reaching the edge at the corner, then catch the shoulder and keep riding through the corner onto the straight, maintaining the bend created by the leg yield. This is how you can begin to use bend to create straightness, having a horse who is between your hand and leg and working over the back.

There are thousands more exercises to help with your bend, but if you’re like me, and struggle to grasp basic concepts once incorrect muscle memory has been formed, these should help you to shatter and rebuild your riding into a more effective, efficient style. Then, with a bit of luck, you’ll find yourself half-passing a pool noodle rather than a paddock fence.
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