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As written in the United States Equestrian Federation rule book: "The object of Dressage is the harmonious development of the physique and ability of the horse. As a result it makes the horse calm, supple, loose and flexible but also confident, attentive and keen thus achieving perfect understanding with his rider." At the Terry Church Clinics, we take those words seriously and hope you will enjoy browsing through some examples of our South Bay riders in their quest to move up the levels without sacrificing the horse's physical, emotional or psychological sense of well being.

We begin with Training Level and its purpose: "To confirm that the horse's muscles are supple and loose, and that it moves freely forward in clear and steady rhythm, accepting contact with the bit." In order for a horse to have muscles that are supple and loose and movement that is freely forward in a steady rhythm, bracing, stiffness, and tension must be freed up - psychologically and emotionally as well as physically.

The objective of First Level is: "To confirm that the horse, in addition to the requirements of Training Level, has developed thrust (pushing power) and achieved a degree of balance and throughness." (For more information on some practical definitions of these terms, please see the following articles.)

Warming up before every ride is an important way to achieve suppleness, looseness and freedom of movement, from both horse and rider.

The Free Walk: one nice way to tune in
and calmly begin a warm-up.

A medium walk on a long-ish rein allows the horse
to adjust to contact while remaining loose in its
stride. Note the reach in the hind legs.

Medium walk on a slightly shorter rein,
but still giving the horse a chance to reach.

Medium walk on the bit.
The horse remains active and lively - in relaxation!

Stretching allows everything to loosen again.

A free and forward trot continues the loosening
process while allowing the horse to develop
its maximum potential in movement.

A forward working trot on the bit.

Lateral flexion of the head and neck asks the horse
to yield to the inside rein and thereby soften (let go
of a brace) laterally, the same as in groundwork.
Note the loop in the rein as the rider releases back.

Bending on a circle extends the flexion
through the whole body.

Bending through the corner.
Bending on circles and through the corners supples and balances a horse laterally (side to side) by requiring him to move his weight off the inside shoulder, thereby reducing the tendency to lean into the turn like a motorcycle. Circles and corners also balance the horse longitudinally (back to front) by causing his weight to rock toward the hindquarters in order to make the turn - and thus eliciting the beginning stages of collection naturally. Sure beats cramming and jamming!

Stretching at the trot gives the horse a mental and
physical break from concentration and stressing
the hindquarters with turns & circles. Weighting
the forehand frees up the hind end to stretch
and reach once again.

A warm-up canter on a long rein.

Now a little more gathered. Working canter.

Leg-yield at the walk, a suppling and strengthening
movement, required at First Level in trot.

Elise Lalor on Robin, warm-up arena.

Elise Lalor on Robin, showing 1st Level.
The way to compete at a show is to ride the same way you ride at home, away from home.

Second Level: "To confirm that the horse, having demonstrated that it has achieved the thrust (pushing power) required in First Level, now shows that through additional training it accepts more weight on the hind quarters (collection), shows the thrust required at medium paces and is reliably on the bit. A greater degree of straightness, bending, suppleness, throughness, and self-carriage is required than at First Level."

Third Level: "To confirm that the horse has achieved the requirements of Second Level. It now demonstrates in each movement, especially in medium and extended paces and in the transitions to and from collected movements, rhythm, suppleness, acceptance of the bit, throughness, impulsion, straightness and collection. There must be a clear distinction between the paces."

At Fourth Level and above, greater and greater degrees of collection are required as well as higher degrees of suppleness, impulsion, throughness, balance, lightness, straightness and self-carriage. In Dressage, the movements are intentionally designed to help the horse continue its journey toward collection while maintaining suppleness, for a tense (or braced) muscle cannot be truly strengthened for quality collected work. In other words, the movements themselves will elicit collection if, and only if, horses are given time to learn where to place their feet in a way that enables them to gather their own bodies. Then, the onus for collection is placed on each movement itself, not the rider pulling the horse "in" or "together" with the reins. A few of these movements are shown below.

Shoulder-in, at walk, on three tracks.

Shoulder-in, at walk, on four tracks.

...and... who is attempting haunches-in, exactly?

Haunches-in at the walk.

Riding Shoulder-in and Haunches-in helps
to gather the walk toward collection.
The same is true for the trot.

Turn on the Haunches, collected walk.

Using a Leg-yield on the circle to gather the trot.

Adelheid Ebenhoech on Parfait, Second Level.
Collected trot.

Transition from collected to medium trot.

Transition from medium to collected trot.

Collecting the canter using a circle.

The moment of flight - schooling medium canter.
This circle is helping to gather the stride, but is big
enough to allow the horse room to go forward.
Forward + collection directs the horse's stride
up off the ground, adding more suspension time.

Collected canter.

Terry Church on Pan, Third & Fourth Level.
Warm-up arena.

Terry Church on Pan, Intermediate I

For more information about Terry Church clinics in the South Bay, please contact: Liz Arrington

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