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Driven Dressage: What’s it all about?

By Patricia M. Demers / Horsetrader columnist - June 16th, 2016 - About Driving

About DrivingWhat is driven dressage, and WHY are so many drivers intimidated by it?

Dressage is a systematic training for every horse and discipline through progressive exercises. I believe that many people are confused about the concepts and how it can help them achieve their goals in competition. The structure of the levels – training through advanced – is meant to guide the horse through its training in a progressive manner, and every horse should be give the time to work honestly through these steps. Taking shortcuts means skipping or failing to develop any one of the qualities in the training scale. Shortcuts result in the improper physical and mental development of the horse. One way to help is by following the German Training Scale, as explained later in this column.

In driving, there are fewer movements possible than in ridden dressage: Walk — free walk on a long rein, working walk, lengthened and extended walk. Trot — working trot, lengthened and extended trot, collected trot. Cantering has been introduced in the recent years, but only at intermediate and advanced levels. The reason behind this is that in CDE’s many times an equine is often asked to canter, so both equine and driver should be comfortable doing so. A driver is at a disadvantage compared to a rider, so the demands are lower in the driven tests.

The aids: The whip, (This is where your whip / yielding to pressure for bending and lateral work comes into play from the round pen training found in previous articles). The voice- It’s OK to verbalize in driven dressage VS. ridden dressage, just keep it quiet and useful. In addition to giving commands, it should be used to reward, punish or soothe. The hands communicate thru the lines to the bit. Sensitive hands carry on a constant conversation. So WHY do we need driven dressage? Driven dressage is part of Combined Driving Events (CDE), Arena Driving Trials (ADT), and Driving Trials (DT). Driven dressage can also stand alone as its own discipline in competition/ shows.

The arena typically used is much larger than a ridden court- 40 x 80 meters (its European so it’s in meters not yards). It uses the same letter structure. The figures are much the same: circles, ½ circles, serpentines, lines across the diagonals. The various sizes of movements correspond to the level of the test. The tests are written mostly for singles/ pairs, but a larger arena (40 x 100 meters) are in specific tests for four –in-hand and tandem turnouts (because of the length of the whole turnout).

The tests themselves may be downloaded free from http://www.americandrivingsociety.org/. There are books and publications available on the subject of driven dressage.

Using the German Training Scale to help you develop your dressage. This is a logical system of training developed by the German National Equestrian Federation describing the progression of training of an equine for all disciplines. It can also be imagined as a circle of steps, that one cannot make progress without a combination of all previous steps being established, before moving forward in which end result is the horse achieves balance, self-carriage and engagement. It starts with relaxation, step 1. The equine must be without resistance or concerns, allowing its neck, back, hips to relax. Elasticity and suppleness are the first goals. The 2nd step is rhythm, which can be seen in an even footfall: walk 1-2-3-4, and trot 1-2, 1-2, think of a metronome ticking with each set of footfalls. Here we establish energy and tempo. Contact/ connection is the 3rd step, and often the most misunderstood. The horse must be willing to carry the bit without evasion or leaning on it for support. This is the beginning of self-carriage and balance. The driver must have contact with the horses’ mouth at all times. However, this doesn’t mean heavy handed or rough. Contact is the connection between the driver’s hands and the bit. It is your communication, which might be described as a handshake- not too firm and not too soft. Think of your horse as your dance partner, and you are guiding with your hands. A little pull this way and the horse follows, a little giving, and the horse moves to take more contact. Acceptance of the bit, thru acceptance of the aids (whip and voice) is the goal.

Impulsion, the fourth step, is the power / propulsion/ thrust/energy that are generated from the hindquarters, that moves the horse. Think of the gears in your car- torque=power=impulsion. Your horse can’t pull your carriage efficiently if it doesn’t have the power of PUSH from the hind quarters. It’s got to maintain that push at all paces. Straightness, fifth step, is achieved from alignment and balance, which comes from contact and impulsion. It is the accumulation of the previous steps. Without straightness, your horse and carriage will wallow from side to side down the road. When you look back at your tracks it looks like a squiggly line. Your horse may also travel crookedly. Without contact and impulsion, you can’t have straightness. Collection, sixth step, is being able to gather your horse’s energy without losing impulsion and power. Think of compressing a spring between your hands, and gently releasing pressure. It is the horse’s ability to compress its body, raise its back, and carry more weight on the haunches- self carriage. In driving, HOWEVER, because the equine is PULLING and not CARRYING weight, we cannot and do not, expect the same level of collection as a ridden equine. If you collect too much, you will end up with a loss of impulsion.

All of the steps combine to create an equine that is balanced in mind and body with increased lightness, engagement, and self-carriage. So, now you have a better understanding of your goals. Go forth, read books and take lessons. Dressage doesn’t have to be so intimidating if you understand your goals. Give it a try!


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