In case you think Dressage is reserved only for those with Warmbloods, think again. Sure, in the upper levels of competitive dressage, the breeds of horses mostly seen in the arena include Warmbloods, Thouroughbreds, PRE breeds such as Andalusians and Lusitanos, with the occasional Quarter Horse and even a Morgan here and there. These breeds, because of their conformation, do very well in the extreme physically demanding world of the higher levels. But this is not to say that gaited horses can't excel in dressage, even in the upper levels.
Take Champagne Watchout, for example, the multiple versatility Tennessee Walker champion, who has won several championships in gaited dressage at the second and third level, as well as performing freestyle demos set to music at the 2010 World Games at the KY Horse Park. What does this show? That in fact, dressage is very beneficial to any horse and rider—including our beloved Peruvians!
I know what you're thinking: neither I nor my Peruvian chalan knows Dressage.
My response: it's never too late to learn, especially since both you and your horses will improve many times over!
BENEFITS OF DRESSAGE
What is dressage? The word dressage is from the French. It means the schooling of a horse. A trainer may dressage the jumping horse, the reining horse, the high school (alta escuela) horse. And yes, even the Peruvian horse. Don't think that just because your Peruvian horse has a lovely Paso Llano, or has not been trained to canter under saddle (watch him at liberty in the pasture!) that he can't be trained to do a “traditional” breed's sport.
It may come as a surprise to know that my Peruvian stallion ERB Magnifico can execute a leg yield, shoulder-in, haunches in, half-pass, sidepass, and many other movements as part of his public exhibitions. And with incredible balance and cadence, I might add. From a systematic, slow but steady diet of dressage training, I have seen improvement in my horse's balance, muscle tone—especially his back—and collection. I have another project, El Fantastico, a Peruvian stallion I purchased as a four year old, who is now six, that is an excellent student of dressage, very responsive and willing to please. His solid base of dressage training is enabling him to go far in his training for “alta escuela” movements and exhibitions (see attached photo). Consistently people ask me if these horses are Andalusians—until they see them gait!
Currently I have two other students with gaited horses, a Tennessee Walker and a Missouri Foxtrotter, who are taking Dressage and Trick-Training lessons with me.
Both horses are used in the local Sheriffs Mounted Possee. They have both often told me how flexible and more relaxed their horses have become because of their dressage work.
Our Peruvian horses' good temperaments,—brio—their natural flexibility and physical abilities make them wonderful candidates for dressage. Dressage will actually improve the horse's lateral gaits, increase calmness and relaxation, while developing a partnership between horse and rider based on building trust and confidence. In dressage, we find the absolute connection between horse and rider, that it did two thousand years ago when the Greek cavalry soldier Xenophon developed and introduced a way of riding powerful, muscular horses effectively and lightly into battle.
But I don't ride my Peruvian horse into battle, you say. Even if you trail ride your horse, imagine your horse sidepassing over a log, being supple enough to move his haunches away so you can unlatch the gate—all while mounted and never dismounting (gets more difficult to mount when you're older!).
Dressage strives to develop the following in the horse:
Rhythm : the horse will be mentally and physically relaxed while maintaining a steady beat in any gait.
Suppleness: softness that affects the horse's neck, poll, back, jaw and haunches and bending his body or neck sideways.
Contact: the horse accepts his rider's hands, legs and seat with energy coming from his hindquarters.
Impulsion: energy caused by the rider's seat, so that the horse's hindquarters allow him to lengthen his stride.
Collection: this happens when the horse's balance is shifted to his hindquarters, and when all the above components take place.
STARTING DRESSAGE IN HAND
For many years, I showed Quarter Horses and Paints. In our breed shows, in the in -hand classes, I showed at Showmanship at Halter classes. In addition to squaring up all four legs, it was expected that our horses could show the judges a 360 degree turn on the haunches, that is, the horse's forelegs would cross over while he kept his hind feet planted in place. How beneficial this move became when I had to turn a horse out or move him a certain direction in small tight areas. Little did I realize then that this was the foundation for a rollback which I later did on horseback while working cattle and reining!
My training program in Dressage, as practiced by many fine German horse trainers, begins all of the horse's schooling in hand. In this way, I start a young horse (not yet under saddle) or an older one, without the added complication of the rider's weight, who may unknowingly shift his weight, making it more difficult for the horse to clearly understand. Schooling from the ground builds trust, balance and obedience in the horse. Moreover, it makes the under saddle work so much easier. And—no need to tack the horse up!
DRESSAGE LESSON (Also Used in Western Reining): Turn on the Haunches
Outfit your horse with a properly fitting halter and a lead line attached to the halter on the side where you are standing (on the horse's left side). Before teaching this lesson, be sure your horse will consistently walk forward and stop on your command.
Let's start with a turn on the haunches to the right. In this maneuver, the horse bends to the right, and his forequarters moves around his hindquarters. His left foreleg crosses over his right foreleg, and his left hind foot moves around his inside right hind foot which is planted in place (that is, he pivots around in a small circle with his hind legs). This maneuver teaches the horse to move away from pressure and is the basis of lateral work, such as the sidepass. It looks really nice when asked to change direction under saddle in a rail class, if the horse and rider execute a turn on the haunches.
To start, position yourself on the horse's left side, having him stand at a halt, straight and square. Stand close to the horse facing his left side between his shoulder and neck. Hold the excess lead line coiled in your right hand, placing this hand on the point of his left shoulder, which is where you'll give the cue for this command, while saying “Turn.”. With your left hand, hold the lead line close to the horse's jaw, with just enough contact to guide the head.
It is absolutely important to keep the horses's head and neck in straight alignment with his body and hindquarters. His head must not bend left while traveling to the right. He must stay forward and stepping sideways as he executes this maneuver, crossing his left foreleg over his right. Use your eyes to read his body language and be ready to react with your hands and voice if he tries to evade the move by walking out of it or backing up instead of moving sideways.
Once you are in position, give the horse the cue for the turn on the haunches by pressing with your right hand on his shoulder as your left hand gently guides his head slightly to the right. At the same time, say “Turn” as you encourage him to move away from you as you step towards him. Do this one step at a time. The cue and your position at his shoulder will reinforce his reaction to move his forehand away from pressure. Maintain the cue as you step with him, guiding his forehand along a 180 degree arc. Continue moving with him to avoid pulling on his head and reinforce his response to move away. Make sure his left front leg is crossing in front of his right foreleg and that his hind feet are pivoting.
Do this maneuver slowly. Start with just a few steps to get the feel of the maneuver and ask him to “whoa.” Rub the point of his shoulder and praise him. Ask for a few more steps. When you are able to complete a 180 degree turn (cleanly!) slowly and precisely, finish the leasson by walking forward out of the movement, and not stopping. The lesson should take no more than 10 minutes. Any longer, and you'd be overdrilling and lose the horse's attention.
This Turn on the Haunches is very useful in having the horse respect your personal space on the ground, since you are asking him to move AWAY from you. Once this direction is learned, you can change sides and teach the turn on the haunches to the left.
I like to keep my sessions brief, and do them daily, with no other horses around for distractions, until the maneuver is learned.
So, you're on your way to learning Dressage with your Peruvian horse. Who says Peruvians can't do it all???
Carole Fletcher is a renowned Trick and High School Horse performer, trainer and clinician with over 35 years experience, having performed at expos, fairs, events, parades and TV, throughout the US, Canada and Mexico. She is the creator of the Trickonometry of books and DVD's devoted to helping you train your horse successfully. Residing in Ocala, FL, she has used many breeds for her exhibitions, but presently uses two Peruvian stallions as her partners. More information about her can be obtained at www.trickhorse.com. Carole can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org or at: 352-369-0950.