Kyra Kyrklund is widely acknowledged as one of the world's great masters of the
highly collected movements - piaffe and canter pirouette in particular, it was fascinating then, to see her starting to develop the collected movements, with Mary Hanna's Rituel.
"Before asking for collection, you must teach short steps. Teach with the hand and whip, no leg, and shorten the steps until there is nearly no trot at all."
"As dressage riders we should all become better at mathematics!"
And Kyra shows why. She rides between two markers and counts the strides. In this case, 13 steps. Then she rides the same distance in short steps counting as she goes - and it comes up 19 steps. Now, she puts the leg on, and rides it in nine long steps.
"Play with the rhythm, play with the number of steps per minute. It's the same with
the outline, I can put him down as much as I want to, and bring him up as much as I want to. I can ride him fast, and I can ride him slow."
Once again, Kyra returned to the elusive concept of 'in front of the leg'. "Many riders try to get a horse in front of the leg by chasing him, and they will never get there that way. It is best to experience the feeing of in front of the leg with an old school master. You can learn more from a good horse than the best teacher in the world."
For the walk to canter transition lesson, Kyra returned to the leg yield, and this time really bending the horse around her inside leg. "When I don't need to push with the inside leg in the leg yield, then I can do the canter transition. Leg yield to canter is a good way to get the horse listening to you. Ask him gently, and if he doesn't listen try a little kick, and next time, ask gently again." Once again, Kyra has a new twist on an old 'truth'. "You hear very often you have to get strong with your back to use your leg. I think you have to be strong with your tummy to use leg, rather than strong in the back. You have to be able to use your muscles without getting tense. You have to be able to feel what is happening under you. Good riders don't push down into the saddle, they balance themselves on their seat bones, and point with the seat bone rather than pushing with the seat bone." Kyra is an old hand at the lecture demo - and she knew what the Equitana crowd has come to see... "What you want to see are tricks, tricks, tricks not boring basics. The basics is the work I enjoy. This is how you get scores of 70% in dressage tests - the only way to earn more points is through the quality of your work; that means - proper straightness, proper collection, proper relaxation. You must analyse what is happening with your horse. Is he floppy or is he relaxed? Is he forward or is he tense?"
"It can become puzzling. Your trainer says ride the horse slower, slower, and eventually you ride it too slow. Then you go to another trainer, and they say, go faster, fast, fast, fast - and it works for a while, then you end up going too fast. Most trainers are heading in the same direction, there are no 'golden keys'. You just keep trying until you find the way. The more keys you have, the more alternatives to get through to the horse. Horses in principle want to be nice - they don't stand in the box thinking 'how can I annoy the rider'. The trouble is that we tend to memorise the awful times and not that great feeling when we won. Think about it, was a quarter of that circle really good, or was three quarters of the circle really bad? Think about the good feeling, remember it, and then you can make it work for you."
It was time for a change of horse, and the newcomer was Emma Youngman's shiny black, and glorious, Swedish stallion, Rasputin. Once again, Kyra starts with the STOP GO routine, stressing that while it is hard to tell if your half halt goes through, it is easy to see if he has stopped or not. "Half halt is like the rubbish bin of riding - you put all the difficult things in there, and call it half halt. The half halt is not something you learn, it comes from being able to control the frame of the horse."
Control the frame - and control the leg: "Use your whip like a longer hand, to connect the horse. Make him move more behind, make him bend correctly - the more correctly he bends, then the more he develops the ability to collect. The more collection develops, the more the horse has to bring his legs under him."
And why do we ask the horse to do two track work? To get his legs under him, and to get him listening to the aids.
"To move on two tracks, the horse has to be listening to the rider's leg, and I teach that with leg yielding. Some riders think that it is best to rush to half pass, I don't believe that, half pass comes from listening to the aids. In all lateral work, you have to be careful that the horse moves in the same rhythm and in the same way."
"Shoulder in is fantastic if you really push the shoulders in - not just the quarters out - and soften on the inside rein. Start by riding an eight metre circle, and see if you can keep the track of the hind leg on the track of the outside leg. If you have established connection on the outside rein, then you can ride shoulder in. Remember that leg yielding is only a loosening exercise, while shoulder in is a collecting exercise."
"When we talk about two track work, there is always a big discussion - should we do it on three tracks or four tracks? Three tracks is correct, but if you do the shoulder in only on three tracks, then only one judge out of five, sees it, so you do a bit more! The main thing is not three or four tracks, but if I want to do three tracks or four tracks, I can do it."
"To start the shoulder in, ride a little circle, then hold the bend and come out in shoulder in. It's the same for travers, ride a little circle then hold the line again, and push the horse out in travers. Travers and half pass are exactly the same movement, half pass is just travers on the diagonal. As you come across on the diagonal, the ears have to be the same height, the forehead has to be pointing in the direction we are going. It is the inside leg that pushes the horse forward, and we sit with our weight in the direction of the movement. The inside rein indicates the direction and the outside rein indicates the length of the horse."
"You have to feel with your bum what is happening behind you. You don't have a rear vision mirror, and you can't go looking behind you."
And of course, with any exercise, there comes a point where the horse finds it difficult - and according to Kyra, this should be another learning experience for both horse and rider. "When you hit the point when the horse finds it difficult, then many riders try to get it over quickly, they try to do the half pass with more bend, and quicker that's not the best thing to do. Cut the exercise up into pieces, first learn to do it slowly in small steps then try it bigger and faster."
Out of her lateral work, Kyra starts to introduce the flying change:
"Do a few steps of travers on a straight line, then straighten
for the flying change. However I suggest that if you haven't taught
flying change before, send the horse to a professional for a few weeks.
You should give the aid for the flying change when the inside front
leg is on the ground. Your inside leg should be light and floppy with
the outside leg keeping the horse cantering forward. Ask for the change
with the inside leg and the inside rein, and you can release the old