What it is, How to Create it, How to Improve it.
Tonja Dausend ©
Contact with the bit is a soft, elastic connection between the
horse and rider which allows for communication. It is based on
mutual participation of both the horse and rider. Forward energy
causes the horse to offer contact, which the rider receives and
order to more effectively communicate with the horse, the rider
must have the right frame of mind coupled with sufficient
balance and coordination.
Assuming these conditions are met, the rider can then help the
horse settle into his natural, relaxed swinging tempo and accept
foundation for correct contact is set in the warm up which is
essentially a brief overview of the training scale (see below),
starting from the beginning of the horse’s training and working
up to the horse’s current ability.
warm up begins by 'walking on the buckle’ until the horse is
relaxed, his muscles are loose, he is breathing more deeply and
he is physically and mentally ready to begin work.
The warm up
should begin on a deliberately sized and placed circle and
progresses to figure 8’s or other school figures, as the horse
is ready. Appropriately sized
circles* can help regulate the
tempo. As the horse settles into his natural
tempo, his legs
swing forward in RHYTHM as pendulums and he often lets
out a deep sigh. The objective at this stage is to encourage the
horse’s energies to swing freely forward. Simply meandering
aimlessly around the school does not help the focus for either
horse or rider.
nice deep sigh is often a sign that the horse is relaxed and can
be sent more energetically forward without loosing his rhythm
and RELAXATION. When the horse is balanced and relaxed to
the point that he takes longer, fuller strides in response to
the driving aids, his hind legs send rippling waves of energy
forward through his spine, through his forehand and out his neck
and poll. This causes the horse to extended his head and neck
forward and down toward the bit. The horse stretches forward
though his whole spine, offering the rider CONTACT with the bit.
This is the preliminary stage of suppleness that, as contact is
carefully developed, will blossom into a more advanced form of
suppleness. This classical approach to contact lays a solid
foundation for advanced work.
here to play video of
transition from 'walk on the buckle' to contact.
the horse does not relax and reach for the bit, it may be a sign
that there are other factors involved. The horse may be
uncomfortable due to ill-fitting tack, sore muscles, rider
imbalance, extreme crookedness, etc. Comfort issues of the horse
must be addressed before progress can be made.
The rider can then begin receiving the contact that the horse
offers, being careful not to create tension or stiffness in the
horse (which would
horse’s reaching attitude). It’s very important that the contact
doesn’t develop into a crutch. If the horse finds support in the
rider’s hand, he will not learn to carry himself in independent
balance. If the rider refuses to provide any support for the
horse, he will have to carry himself in his own natural posture
and balance. In the beginning, the
contact is a ‘following’ type of contact. If the horse becomes
tense then the rider must start over and reestablish the
reaching attitude. When the horse is ready, a little work in the
walk on contact can begin, or work in the trot on contact (for
horses new to dressage,
simply on developing
basic following contact in response to the forward driving
aids). As in the walk, if the horse is rushing in the trot, some
appropriately sized circles will help the horse slow down. Then,
various school figures can be used as needed to develop the
horse’s balance further. The size and shape of the school
figures depends on the horse’s needs.
Some horses have legs that swing every which way – like wind
chimes blowing in the wind. The goal at this stage is to improve
STRAIGHTNESS so that the horse’s legs become more evenly
loaded and swinging more correctly forward. Rider position,
rhythm, relaxation, contact and straightness are all
interconnected. Improving one element will often improve the
others to a certain degree. Likewise, when one is out of kilter,
the others will also suffer.
the work has gone well up to this point, the horse will freely
allow the rider to direct its energies. Lateral exercises can
then be used to straighten and strengthen the horse even more.
This improves the even loading of his legs still further and
helps develop IMPULSION.
Accurate, well-ridden circles are a wonderful tool to help the
horse find its balance and tempo. Smaller circles slow the horse
down and relieve the rider of over-dependence on the reins.
Think in terms of turning the horse’s body or turning the horse
by its withers without bending the neck. Especially avoid
bending the horse at the base of the neck! Steering the horse by
pulling it into the turn with the inside rein and bending its
neck will only further disrupt the horse’s balance.
is important that the circle is the right size for the horse,
and that the rider sticks with the circle long enough so the
horse can settle into it. The sameness of the circle relaxes the
horse’s mind. It almost has a hypnotic affect on the horse. With
some horses it might help to think of the circle as being a
series of mini turns (for example, think “turn, release, turn,
release” at each quarter point of the circle). This prevents the
rider from holding the horse in the turn. As the horse eases
into the work, the tempo will slow. The circle can gradually be
enlarged as the horse is able to maintain its balance.
Some horses will improve their balance and tempo within a few
circles. Others may need to be ridden on many more circles. It
is important to change directions every few circles and give the
horse frequent breaks. Keep in mind that repetitive small
circles can be taxing on the horse's joints, so don’t overdo it.
The following books
have more detailed information about the Classical approach to
Dressage Riding, by Richard Watjen
by Waldemar Seunig
The Rider Forms the Horse,
by Udo Burger and Otto
Dressage Formula, by Erik Herbermann
A Horseman’s Notes, by Erik Herbermann