The place to start training anything at all is with relaxation. If your horse isn't relaxed, don't expect good results. No doubt you will still get some results but you'll be leaving so much potential on the table.
I often think this is precisely the thing that has gone wrong with modern dressage. A few short decades ago, dressage horses painted a very different picture and it was movement, based first and foremost, in relaxation.
What happened? When and why did dressage become such an expression of tension in the horse and rider? Personally, I think it was when we began to look for shortcuts. A belief seemed to develop that suggested pushing the horse harder, using more pressure with the legs and seat and more rein tension would lead to more flamboyance, which indeed it did. However, this new picture is different, not necessarily better.
And where does it stop?
Let's remember for a minute that horses desensitize to pressure amazingly quickly. If you require, as an estimate, 30 newtons of rein tension to hold your dressage horse in-frame today, tomorrow it will take 31n because your horse will have habituated to the 30n. The same thing goes for leg and seat pressure. This is also the reason we are tightening nosebands so tight that horses can barely swallow - because it makes them more sensitive to bit pressure.
Relaxation must be where we start. If the horse isn't relaxed then it is not understanding your cues - go back a step or two and give the horse the benefit of education. It won't take any longer and it will give you a much more solid, happy and willing dance partner.
Where have you noticed this lack of relaxation in horses, performance or pleasure? Leave a comment below and let me know.
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