Dressage for Jumpers

My goal with Baron is to show in hunter/ jumper classes. However, I have started reading about dressage and I am convinced that a foundation in dressage is essential for a horse of any discipline. The purpose of dressage is to make the horse calm, forward and straight. Sounds simple, but those three things are the foundation for all of the advanced work. Baron needs work on all three. He isn’t calm when separated from his buddies and he won’t go forward or straight when he doesn’t feel like it! I’m reading “Complete Training of Horse and Rider” and “My Horses, My Teachers” by Alois Podhajsky, the man who directed the Spanish Riding School in Vienna during WWII. These books have been goldmines of information for me. They don’t replace the help of a good trainer, but they have taught me tons about the importance of ground work and work on the lunge. He says that work on the lunge allows the horse to gain balance and develops the “purity of the paces.” In “My Horses, My Teachers” he tells stories of different horses he’s trained over the years. Over and over again, he says that difficult training problems can be solved by going back to basic work. I’ve been guilty of trying to rush into riding without having a solid foundation on the ground.
I’ve also been reading about off track Thoroughbreds and common problems they have after life as a racehorse. One problem is that they are stronger in their shoulders than in their hindquarters. In order to be properly collected, the hindquarters have to be strenghtened and lunge work is one way of accomplishing this. Dressage work will improve any horse of any discipline by refining their gaits, making them more balanced and improving their overall musculature. For jumpers, this can mean the difference between winning and losing, since in jump classes there is a timed jump-off in the case of a tie. The faster horse wins, and the faster horse will be the one who can turn more quickly. Better balance will improve a horse’s turns and allow him to approach the jump from a solid foundation.
Additionally, many ex-racehorses are sore in their backs. They are ridden off the track by heavier riders and the soreness left over from racing just gets worse. For this reason, I don’t sit to Baron’s trot even though he is incredibly smooth. I always post, because it’s easier on his back. He doesn’t act like he’s in any significant pain, but I will be getting him adjusted by a chiropractor just in case. The dressage work will strengthen his back as well.

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