By Kristin Hermann
This article received an honorable mention in the 2020 GMO Newsletter Award for a general-interest/informational article for GMOs with 75-174 members. It originally appeared in Three Rivers Equestrian Association Newsletter, the newsletter for Three Rivers Equestrian Association, May 2020.
There is no greater feeling than to have a student come home from a show and be exhilarated about a score they got. “I got a nine on centerline because of your constant badgering me about keeping my horse straight.” I smile inside, but my heart wants to explode. I often quote the classical equestrians that preceded us or the jingles I remember from my over forty years of lessons. I even give credit to those I learned from when I quote them, whether it be local trainers like Larry Busek, Hannah Johnston, Robert Mayer, or international trainers Peter Kellerup, Hubert Rohrer, or Major Buttekay or the books I have read like Steinbrech, Podhajsky, and DeKunnfy ….the list is long!
But one of my favorite quotes is, “you ride the horse forward, and you put it straight,” Steinbrecht. However, I qualify it by saying, you ride your horse rhythmically forward, and then you put it straight because the word forward is not even in the USDF training scale, the word rhythm is. Yes, the rider puts the horse straight, they do not go straight. Then my own famous quote is “riding is a verb; it is an action word.” So yes, you can make the adjustment to fix your horse and put it straight.” You cannot ride and be a statue! I go on to explain that one of the collective scores in the tests is the effective use of aids, not how pretty you sit!
Putting your horse straight requires the rider to be able to control its shoulders and maintain the rhythm while managing its long neck with a soft poll and jaw. Oh boy, no wonder riding is a verb. One of my jokes is, thank God we are merely riding a quadruped and not a centipede. Or as FEI clinician and USDF examiner, Cindy Sydnor says, “you have to keep the hind end active and the front end soft.”
Riding the horse’s shoulders to put the horse straight is best done off the wall. What I call “off the wall riding.” My riders spend hours on the quarter line, or second track learning how to keep the horse’s shoulder’s straight. Pick a post or a beam or something you can ride toward to put the horse straight using whatever aids you need. For example, if your horse’s shoulders fall in or lean into the right open the outside rein to support the horse, so it does not fall in. If the horse falls out and moves the shoulders out toward the wall, then open the inside rein.
Yes, you are allowed to open the rein. It is called being effective! I did not invent the opening rein, it is in all the books. I love giving my students per- mission to move and be effective when they ride. The goal is to keep the horse straight, so do whatever you need.
Honestly, the secret to riding is the effective use of aids. This is called equestrian tact, and riding off the wall to put your horse straight teaches the rider how to coordinate these aids: leg, seat, and hands.
That nine on the centerline is about controlling the shoulders, so practicing off the wall and perpetually putting your horse straight already has the rider on the correct track.
All puns intended. The next step is to start riding transitions off the wall on the quarter-line or second track. Many riders focus on the goal, which is the halt, and forget how they get to a straight halt.
It is not by practicing the halt. Remember, it is the process and not the goal. The process of getting a straight halt is first being able to ride straight trot walk transition on a straight line. Meaning, first mastering riding straight lines controlling the shoulders and then adding straight lines with a transition to walk.
Once this is mastered, trot walk on the centerline, keeping the shoulders in alignment with the haunches, then you slice in the halt. We never pull our horses into a walk or halt we want the horse to step into the halt. Ha, that is another story, let’s just get it straight for now!
When you start to slice in the halt after mastering straight transitions off the wall and as you move into the halt and your horse starts to drift its shoulders, this is the time to straighten it. It is those few moments of walk steps before the halt that you are thinking, “are we straight,” “are we straight,” “are we straight???” Then whala halt! IF your horse halts crooked, always walk it forward in training to put it straight. Do not stand at the halt doing the hokey pokey trying to put your horse straight at the halt. This is one way to ruin the halt! Finesse remember. Walk forward and try again. Re- member, it is the process of training that gets us successful to the goal.
If you are at a show and you have halt- ed that is it, you have to take what you created. We practice for nines on centerlines at home. As a student of mine said, get that summer beach body during the winter and spring, not on May first. It is something we have to create, not just receive. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.
So if you want that nine on the center- line, start practicing transitions on the straight line off the wall. When you can control your horse’s shoulders during the trot walk transition, then add a halt. If your horse halts crooked, walk forward and try again. Always “two steps forward, one step back,” but always ahead, never allow your horse to back up at the halt, yikes! The point is to practice something easier to get the result you want, which is a straight halt.
The centerline is two scores in all dressage tests. It is a place where we can get what L graduate and winner of over fifty USDF awards Dana Fiore calls “brownie points.” For example, I am not sure I will get the correct canter lead in my tests, so I will by golly make up points by nailing that centerline with a nine!