By MELONIE KESSLER – The question of the importance of riding forward is a very interesting topic. For me, it is also over-thought and analyzed, like most dressage terms. Riding forward is a relative term, just as relative elevation which refers to the height of the poll and neck. It is all relative to so many other fundamentals. A rider can ride forward without regard to the balance and relaxation of the horse. This is obviously not correct. If we consider the training scale, we must add the forward riding into the impulsion stage of the training, which comes after the confirmation of maintaining the rhythm, relaxation, and acceptance of the bit. Some might debate that a horse is not always capable of becoming secure in these first 3 steps of training without a forward ride, but I believe things are easier to learn with a slower more cause and effect feel from the rider. Just as in learning to drive a car, one learns slowly in a parking lot, learning where and how the pedals and wheel work, how much pressure one needs to use, and the response time after having applied the pressure.
Once the horse and rider can operate together as a team, the rider must begin to use their seat and leg aids to develop more from the horse, more cadence, more uphill balance and more impulsion. In dressage, riders try to achieve maximum impulsion from their partners. Impulsion is not speed. It is the uphill thrust which is released from well engaged hind legs.
I have witnessed many clinics taught by many notable riders where the theme is “more forward.” Many times the mental maturity of the horse is never addressed, and often times the riders find themselves running around the arena in a very quick out of balance gait with their partner looking wide eyed and confused, to say nothing of frightened. I believe it is important for riders to learn how to create the forward ride from their seat and leg (driving aids) as opposed to a chaotic run where the adrenalin of the horse is what gives the rider the sense of this forwardness they are seeking.
Confusing forward with a faster tempo is a very common mistake. As a judge, I often see training and first level riders riding much too quickly around their test. Again, we must remember to ride balance. Each horse, as with each rider, has their own degree of natural balance. The exercises within each test are designed to develop the strength and agility that is necessary to reach the goal of dressage training. In case you have forgotten what that goal should be, it is referred to with the training pyramid; the development of collection which makes for a happy and secure horse which is a pleasure to ride.
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