Dressage training with Ville Vaurio: straightness and control

Last Sunday I had a lesson with Ville on Rama, and we worked on getting Rama to straighten throughout his entire body as well as me being able to control how he moves. The most rewarding moment of the lesson was when Ville said that Rama was much better than before, he is more straight through the body, stronger and has more power in his hind legs. He still has the same problems as before (no surprise there...) but they are much smaller than before.

"You have to be able to influence both ends of the horse in order to be able to ride the whole horse"

Our first exercise was to alternate between shoulder-in and half-pass ridden on the track. Both of these movements are very common in medium level Finnish dressage tests, so it was great that we were able to focus on them. Ville was able to teach me how to really ride the movements, and how to prepare for them. A good remainder for me: I know I should always prepare for the movement but most of the time at home I won't prepare well enough, and then wonder why I struggle with them during a lesson. 
First exercise: shoulder-in (pink) and half-pass (purple)
Preparing for the movements with Rama means that I have to ride deep into the corners, do some flexion towards the inside and use my inside leg to active his hindlegs and keep him moving forwards actively. During a dressage test, riding your corners will give you precious and very much needed couple of extra meters during which are vital in getting you prepared for the next movements.

"Remember to give your horse the freedom to move"

When the previous exercise went well, Ville decided to make it even harder, by making me ride inside the track, 2 meters away from the fence. Luckily I have been working on riding inside the track with both Rama and Vallu throughout the winter, and so this wasn't as difficult for us as Ville was expecting, I think! Riding inside the track is a simply fantastic easy way to check if your horse is truly through and straight through the body as well listening to your aids.
Second exercise: shoulder-in and going straight inside the track
One of the things that I really wanted to focus on was the half-pass in trot. Nearly all of the tests have it, so it's a really important movement to get right. Rama and I both know how to do the actual movement, but getting it flowing easily and fine-tuning my riding to Rama is the next step. 

Ville was able to point out a couple of hints and subtle movements for me which really helped to improve the half-pass. When riding towards the centerline, focus on keeping Rama working from behind, and make sure he doesn't push his hindlegs towards the inside (makes him wonky even before you try to half-pass = nearly impossible to ride a good half-pass!) During the actual half-pass, I have to focus on alternating between half-halting (keeping the trot in a good pace, ensure soft contact etc) and asking for flexion with the other rein.

Although Rama is weaker one side and will always struggle a little bit more with that rein, both ways were acceptable, and the easier direction started to feel quite good!
Third exercise: half-pass

We also managed to practise a couple of flying changes as well as extended trot. The canter has to be bouncy before the change so that the actual change is clean, straight and big. The main thing for me to do is to ride it properly by organizing myself. I have only ever done flying changes with Vallu before, and because they are so easy for him you can ride them without really knowing what you are doing. Since flying changes aren't as easy for Rama, this was a real wake-up call in how much you can improve changes when you know how to actually ride them!! (No surprise there again...) Timing is important as well, bounce → leg aid → flying change, and this is what will make the change either be a 7, or a 4 if I don't organise myself.

Rama's extended trot has improved quite a bit since Ville last saw him, and I was so happy with Rama when he really showed off to Ville during the lesson. (Ville even said wow!) Sitting to a big moving horse doing extended trot has always been incredibly difficult for me, but I've now learnt that I must remember that it is easier to sit to an extended trot that is full power rather than to hold it back. So always let go and let the horse move!

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