Centre Lines

After accidentally entering two dressage competitions with three centre lines in each test I dug around for some centre line exercises, for both Phoenix and my lovely clients.

To be able to ride a good centre line you and your horse need to be as straight and symmetrical as possible. But you also need to be comfortable on the centre line. So many horse and riders feel vulnerable on the centre line, with no fence to support them.

So initially, I began working on an inner track and using the centre line as a change of rein. Working away from the fence line encourages the rider to use their outside aids, and makes you more aware of any crookedness in your horse, or them drifting. I also like to ride lateral movements such as shoulder in or travers on the inner track as it emphasises any cheating on you or your horse’s behalf, as well as improving your feel for the movement and it’s correctness.

Once Phoenix was happy turning onto the centre line from both reins and staying straight throughout, I added in transitions.

A horse has to be as rideable as possible on the centre line, so it’s useful to get them used to riding various movements on the centre line. You also don’t want a horse to anticipate a halt transition at X every time they trot down the centre line. With both Phoenix and my clients I used a variety of transitions – halt, walk, rein back – to keep the horse’s attention on their rider and to get them riding straight transitions without the help of the fence. A pair of tramlines can be a useful intermediary measure to support the horse as they learn to stay straight.

One thing I noticed with many of my riders was that they could turn accurately onto the centre line, but then they were unaware of their slight drift down the centre line, which stemmed from the crookedness in their initial turn.

After some work on bringing the outside shoulder round on turns, I got them to ride the following exercise.

On the left rein in trot, turn onto the centre line and at X ride a 10m circle left. Continue down the centre line before turning right at the track. Right turn onto the centre line and this time ride a right 10m circle at X before continuing along the centre line and turning left.

A horse who turns onto the centre line in a slightly crooked way will not carry themselves straight so are liable to drift through the outside shoulder. This may be a minimal drift, but the lack of straightness will compromise the quality of their gait and their turn at the end.

The 10m circles towards the wall will improve the rider’s accuracy as they won’t want to crash into the fence, so will engage their outside aids and ride the outside shoulder around the circle more. As they return to the centre line, it will become apparent if they’ve forgotten the outside aids as their horse will overshoot the centre line, and wobble along it. If they forget to ride straight out of the circle they will struggle to turn at the end because the horse is bending the wrong way.

To ride this exercise well, the rider needs to ride accurately with their outside aids onto the centre line, and focus on channelling the horse along the centre line, before minimising the bend through their neck on the circle, and using the outside aids to turn. Focusing on straightening the horse as they ride out of the circle improves the second half of the centre line and then, because the horse is not in counter bend, they will turn onto their new rein in a more balanced way.

I like this exercise for assessing straightness, before doing some other exercises to ensure the horse is working on two tracks and then using lateral work to establish the outside rein and engage the inside hind leg, before finishing the session with the original centre line exercise so that the rider gets a feeling for a horse is travelling straight in a good balance. Increasing familiarity with the centre line will improve test marks, and improving the finishing strides of a circle will improve accuracy marks and the marks of the next movement.

Team Quest

A couple of years ago British Dressage noticed that membership numbers were dwindling and came up with this innovative idea to boost the profile of low level competitive dressage and try to draw it away from it’s ‘stressage’ association.

People seem to think that affiliated dressage is poncy, and that you have to have a certain type of horse to be successful. For some it’s an excuse for not jumping, “we just do dressage”, or it’s a secondary career for the elderly (horse, not rider). However it really is not. I’m a bit of a weirdo amongst the eventing world in that I enjoy dressage far more than showjumping and would like to see dressage tests at the lower levels made harder so it has more influence over the scoreboard. Whilst dressage is something everyone can do, even Shires, it is very rewarding to move up the levels and to feel the benefit in your horse when hacking or jumping because he is that much more balanced.

Back to Team Quest.

British Dressage decided that running a team competition would attract the masses, and friends would rope less keen friends into it, and hopefully get the bug so do some individual competitions. By relaxing the clothing rules everyone can get into the team spirit by colour coordinating their saddle cloths and gilets, as well as cheering each other on at the side lines. With less focus on smartness you also attract those less confident or with fewer resources as they don’t need the latest jacket.

This year an individual competition, called My Quest, has been introduced to run alongside Team Quest which should improve attendance as competitors will feel it’s more worthwhile giving up their weekend to ride two tests. Plus it’s an opportunity to push yourself! They also have an elementary My Quest to encourage people up the levels.

Last month I was roped into joining the Riding Club’s Team Quest team. Today was our first competition with them and it wasn’t what I expected.

This week has been a nightmare to begin with, by being incredibly busy (five hours in the saddle each day minimum plus two or three lessons to boot); and problems with my entry for today (no one told me I had to join BD so Friday morning my Mum was filling out the forms and sending them off so that I had numbers for myself and Otis by that afternoon); then I only had time to practice on Thursday morning as I had a showjumping lesson on Friday and wasn’t told which tests I was doing until Wednesday night …

Anyway, this lack of practice and my inability to sleep in and catch up on some sleep meant I wasn’t in the best frame of mind. It occurs rarely, but I didn’t want to compete today. I had also been asked to ride a prelim test as I was eligible for it and a good score would really help the team. I found it really difficult to motivate myself for this test, which sounds egotistical, but I know the novice tests well and both Otis and I have our heads firmly in the quick fire elementary routines. 

At the venue I was surprised how quiet it was. There weren’t as many teams as I expected, and many riders hadn’t opted to do the My Quest test. It appears to me that there are two types of team: the coordinated ones with all the gear and matchy-matchy, and those with no gear who just seem to be muddling along, laughing. There seems to be more team spirit amongst the matchy-matchy riders. I didn’t feel much team spirit from my end, but then I don’t know my team mates very well, and we come from all over the county so don’t have the morale-boosting bacon roll at the yard before leaving. They were all lovely though, and hopefully next time there will be a bit more team spirit.

Otis was tense for his first test and tired for the second as it was almost immediately after. I hated every minute of the prelim test, knowing I was riding badly and throwing away marks, and hating how it rubbed off on him. I felt happier and far more relaxed in the novice test, it’s just a shame we were running on empty. The scores were fair, and on the way home I realised that although I was disappointed by my rides the scores were those that six months ago I would have been pleased with, so I need to stop being quite so hard on myself, and try to begin the day by getting out of bed on the right side! The team were fourth so together with my individual third, it wasn’t a totally wasted outing. If anything, it was a leveller to me that even though we’ve been winning at novice and elementary recently, not every day is a good day!

I was also thinking about the Team Quest mentality. Yes, it encourages people to get out and about to give it a go, but the focus on having the highest team score doesn’t push people up the levels. Furthermore it encourages people to drop down a level in the hope of getting a higher percentage. Perhaps having a rule that there needs to be at least one competitor at each level; intro, prelim and novice, will even out the teams and cause people to be more ambitious. I am going to insist on riding the novice test next time because riding a prelim does no good for my motivation, focus or competitive edge (which is fairly blunt at the best of times). I think the theory behind Team Quest is great, but there’s something no quite right in the way it runs.