A Training Session with Deirdre Dressage

Have you ever wanted to be a fly on a wall at a training facility to see how the day to day training is conducted?  Here is your chance to see a bit of insight on how Deirdre Dressage structures a training session.

There are 3 goals to each session:

  1. Stimulate the horse’s mind

  2. Stimulate the horse’s body

  3. Find imbalances in the horse’s body and develop exercises that balance them.


Stimulate the horse’s mind:

The mind of the horse needs to be able to focus on the rider.  This means that the rider must be able to always give the horse enough information to keep the horse’s mind active.  It is possible to not give the horse enough information and cause the horse’s mind to wonder to outside stimuli.  Then it is also possible to overload the horse with information and cause the horse to panic.  We must find the balance of just enough.  A few examples of how we do that at Deirdre Dressage:

  • Using turn on the forehand in hand before the ride begins to get the horse to focus on our body language

  • The use of small obstacles during a training session

  • Half Halts from the seat during the stretch work.  Long steps to short steps all while stretching.

  • Lateral work with changes of direction often.  Example: Leg Yield off the wall, leg yield to the wall


This type of work encourages the horse to stay in tuned to the rider’s language.  What is the rider saying and what is next?


Stimulate the horse’s body:

The body of the horse works together as a whole.  Even though our thoughts tend to think of each body part of the horse separately, we must train the horse’s body as a whole.  When the shoulders do this...the haunches do this.  When the core lifts like this…. the back does this.  When we can think like this, then we are able to use the whole image in our head to use dressage movements to move the whole horse.  Moving the horse’s body in a gymnastic way allows us to gain more control over the body as a whole.  A few examples of how we do that at Deirdre Dressage:


  • Forward moving lateral work (Large walking turn on the forehand or turn on the haunches)

  • Changes of frame to reach different back muscles and encourage the tiny stabilizer muscles between the ribs to engage.

  • The use of a proper 20-meter circle to influence proper half halt through turning.

  • Transitions in and out of the gaits as well as within to gaits to build strength through the core and hind end

  • Transitions in the shoulder in and leg yield to ensure proper engagement through the transitions.

The use of the dressage figures allows us to teach and build the horse’s body.  As the horse becomes stronger, it then becomes more responsive.  This responsiveness opens more doors to what the horse and rider are capable of preforming. 


Locate and begin to fix imbalances in the horse:

Just as every human is unable to use each side of the body evenly without proper training, the horses are also born with a degree of “crookedness.” Crookedness refers to the horse not being able to perform the same from left to right.  The goal of dressage is to teach and train the horse to perform as evenly as possible from left to right.  This is accomplished through dressage figures and exercises.  Take the 20-meter circle for example.  When riding a 20-meter circle, assuming the rider is trying to be exact as possible, the rider will be able to access if the horse is falling through the outside aids (by the horse falling out on the circle) or falling against the inside aids (by the horse falling into the circle).  These are huge clues to how the horse carries himself.  This is where we would start to take notes in the training session.  From here, the rider is to then take what they have noted and use the structure of dressage to balance the horse.  If the horse is falling out in the shoulder, then I would practice walking turn on the haunches or forehand to gain control of the outside shoulder again.  If the horse is falling forward in the down transitions, then I would practice the transitions within the shoulder in so that I could coil the horse onto the haunches. 

Every movement has a purpose and the purpose is to strengthen the horse.  As the horse learns to use the body, then they begin to become better versions of themselves.  They are better able to carry us and better able to carry themselves.  Through these 3 goals, we can take the abilities and short comings of each horse and work with them as an individual.  Each horse is then able to flourish through their own systematic training that works for them. 

© 2019 by Deirdre R. Sabo   

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