Give your horse time people!
I have watched many lessons where the rider walks for ten minutes, and then trots off like they are entering the Grand Prix test.
As dressage riders we are always searching for perfection, but a very key thing for us to put in our minds, when we first start, is that we need to give our horses time to warm up.
Often I hear people say that at the beginning their horse feels like he is not listening, and so they push him forward to get him on the aid.
When you first get out of bed, do you go for a sprint? Are you athletically prepared to go at full throttle?
When you begin a lesson, your horse is of course feeling stiff, just as we ourselves are feeling not yet ready to fully relax.
If you have a horse that begins the lesson in a calm way, then for the first ten minutes, after the free walk, just give him time to let his muscles move.
If you’re immediately thinking, oh god, I must have him engaged, through, up in front, light on the contact, off my left leg, off my right leg, forward, you drive your self into a stew, without leaving room for the possibility that all of that might fall into place a lot easier when you are both warmed up.
“Start slow, don’t rush the horse(…)”
Start slow, don’t rush the horse, rushing might seem like you are more active, but in fact you are just covering up all the weaknesses that are happening, and giving yourself no chance to feel where the weight is going.
Think rhythm, think relaxation, think control. I’m not saying that you should just let your horse fall behind you, keep him off a light aid, but don’t push for more until you feel him loose through his body, and you through yours!
Gradually you will feel him free up, and he will start to carry you forward without you having to ask for it.
If you have a horse that begins the lesson tense, again, riders are often told to just go forward, and that may work, but I have found recently that if I calm everything down, and think slow and rhythmic, if I concentrate just on my breathing and on his, we both become calm together, and we can start the warmup process in a similar way.
It’s not a race to see who can achieve lightness, balance, self-carriage, engagement, activity, suppleness, and straightness the quickest, and if you try to rush it, chances are you will end up with a forced stuck version, and you’ll very quickly realise that you need to go right back and begin again!