While most riders think of dressage and jumping as worlds apart, it doesn't have to be that way.
Bernie Traurig of San Marcos, an Olympic candidate for the Summer Games in Seoul, competes in both dressage and jumping. "It's hard to divide my time, and jumping comes easier for me," he says. "But I definitely find that dressage training helps my jumpers."
Dressage, the progressive training of the horse on the flat, helps a horse become obedient, athletic and responsive--traits that can pay off in any type of equestrian competition. Following are schooling exercises used by the U.S. equestrian team that can be incorporated into any horse's training program.
Start the session by encouraging the horse to walk freely on a fairly loose rein, which allows him to stretch and to "get the engine warm." After 10 or 15 minutes, make the transition to rising trot, initially working on straight lines to get the horse moving under you, obeying and going in balance.
You can spend another 10 or 15 minutes on turning movements. Start with the serpentine--which will make the horse bend continuously and change his bend frequently--while he keeps his balance, moves forward with impulsion and accepts the bit. Next do some half-circles, working into 10-meter circles by trotting down the center line and making a circle out to the side of the arena.
At this point, let the horse walk briefly on a loose rein so he can relax. After working on the free walk, pick up the working walk and do some turns on the haunches. As the horse's training progresses, work into leg-yielding at the walk, which is another good suppling and balancing exercise.
Move on to some transitions from sitting trot to canter (and vice versa), usually on a 20-meter circle.
To lighten the horse, progress to transitions with only a few steps at trot before the canter. As the horse advances in his canter work, start to spiral in and out on a circle.
Eventually work the horse on the whole arena to ensure that he keeps the same tempo on the long side. When he can do that in balance, work on some changes of lead. Ride through the center of the arena, trot at X (the center), and take the other lead. Or do canter serpentines of three loops, asking for smooth transitions by using the trot to change the bend.
At that point, you can ride large counter-canters, which is an excellent suppling, balancing and conditioning exercise. (But do not ask a young horse for a counter-canter until he is confirmed in his normal canter.)
Conclude the session with some trot lengthenings, but first use some form of balancing. The simplest method is to do a 10-meter circle at the sitting trot and come out of it into a lengthening down the long side. In the circle, you collect the horse and cause him to balance himself to make the turn, which puts him in the proper frame to extend without moving faster or going into a "running trot."
Then give your horse a pat on the neck, a loose rein and let him walk it out to relax.
Now, wasn't that more interesting than riding around the edge of the arena in circles?