Dancing Down the Centerline
Dressage tests all pretty much start the same way – Enter at A and go down the center line. Sometimes you halt and sometimes you do not, or you do a transition from trot to walk. They also end the same way - get to the center line and either halt or transition to halt.
These are little things that make a big impact on your test and also on your riding because they are very much tied to your aids. And, it is something you should spend a few minutes working on every ride because although the focus is on one 'little' thing—going down the centerline straight—you need to do some things to help turn on your body senses to feel when the horse is not straight or you are drifting.
Let me say you may want to train it the same way with a young horse or a horse who struggles with the movement until they anticipate it a little bit. This could be the day you train it or it could take some time to develop a little anticipation. Having a nice straight line anticipated a little bit by the horse is really nice.
So what can you do to train this? First, before you get on, decide if you want to work down the centerline or a quarter line, and line it with cones and or poles about 3-4 feet apart. You'll start wider and then try to bring them in to 2 feet apart. And then just walk, trot and canter down through the set of cones or poles.
You can even make two tracks in the dirt if you need to and try to stay between them, if you don't have any cones or poles. Check your tracks to see how you did the entire distance. Maybe your first goal is half the arena of straightness, and then work up to the full arena.
You may even want to transition in and out of shoulder in to help you feel being in and out of the straightness. If you can do this facing a mirror you will really benefit when you can actually see the horse is straight.
Try to get the horse's legs straight so they appear to be just two legs from the front. You can even try for the straight legs with some flexion at the poll or bend in the neck. Then you take out the bend or flexion and see the change and, more importantly, feel the change in your horse and your body to get the feeling of straightness and bend in both your hands, legs, and seat.
That way when you ride without the mirror, you have 'turned on' your senses to feel if the horse is straight nor not. Additional exercise challenges will be to do a half 10m circle turn from the long side to the centerline and then see how many strides it takes to straighten the horse.
You will become aware of your outside leg aid in the ½ 10 M circle since if it's not there to be a guard rail for the horse, they may swing wide and you'll overshoot the centerline. Hopefully the cones will keep you from doing that!
It's a great exercise to be part of your warm up – going down the centerline or quarter line off of the rail so you have to use both of your aids – inside and outside and ride precisely from point to point. As you work on this exercise focus on calming your body with breathing regularly in through your nose and out your mouth so you can release the 'test tension' that happens when the whistle blows. You and your horse will anticipate this relaxation on the centerline and it will help with your overall test or training ride.
Hopefully these tips will help you enjoy the centerline and improve your scores!
Stay tuned for next week’s Two-minute Training Tip! If you need help building a training plan you can always email me questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out revelationfarm.com for upcoming events. Like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RevelationFm!