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Trainer's Tip

Kathy Connelly is one of the leading and most respected Dressage trainers in the United States. (USA). Read more of Kathy's profile after the Question and Answer below.

Question: How does a rider know when their horse is truly going forward? 

Answer from Kathy:

Training a horse to go forward is an entire article, therefore, I will address my philosophy which then helps me to design the horse’s individual program. Training a horse to go forward begins with a trainers attitude. In response to the question, I will share what I have learned through my years of training, which has shaped my approach and worked for me in discovering how to create this desire in all types of horses. It has been a quest to find the dial in each individual horse.

Forwardness is the primary and essential quality that we need to recognize, partner with and create with a horse. When a horse is forward, as an attitude, he is light to the leg. Horses are behind the seat long before they are behind the leg. Horses vary in their degree of perception about forwardness. We need to determine through experience how each horse understands forwardness. Horses have different sensitivity levels and degrees of processing aids from riders. Under saddle, horses perceive us from audio, visual and tactile senses. I see it as a “system of adjusting the dial”. Some horses are slower processors and some are quicker. Some are quick to the leg and slow in their reaction to the bit. Some are vice versa. Some are very electric, some are quick but not electric, some are lazy and some cold lazy. Cold lazy horses are dull to the aids and dull to wanting to be forward to the aids. Before any of the discussion of forwardness a good rider or trainer needs to be knowledgeable and ascertain if the tack equipment including saddle, pads, girth, bridle and bit is correct and comfortable for the horse because forwardness is all about a horses desire to go forward. If there is something in this area that prevents desire, ie. wrong bitting for the horses mouth conformation, those issues need to be recognized and resolved to reach a successful result.

Partnering with a horse to be forward requires that the trainer recognizes the horses physical and mental responses and how they interact. Even a cold lazy horse who seems not to care, can be taught by a rider to be light to the leg. Forwardness is to the bit. It is not speed. The rider’s job is to develop an agreement with the horse about mutual aids for forwardness. The rider’s job is to tap into the innate talents of the horse to inspire him. Take the time to find their way. They each have a way.

The whip amplifies, the spur refines. The whip is a timing wand and the spurs should be used lightly. There are times people do not tend to use these tools the way they are intended to be used. Let’s remember these are creatures who are so sensitive that they can graze in the pasture, use their eyes to see you coming to get them, and twitch their bodies four different places to get the flies off of them. They are ultra-sensitive, ultra giving, and forgiving.

Horses think in black and white and we think in gray. Use a light leg and say trot on. If the horse doesn’t trot, then touch him behind your leg with the whip. If he goes too much forward, tell him he is good. Don’t try to grade his performance by pulling back on the reins. Again, they think in black and white, we think in gray.

In our dressage rating, 10 is excellent, not perfect. Remember this, “Why should my friend keep showing me his poetry to read, if all I do is correct his spelling”. Let your horse discover what it means to go forward in the way that a horse thinks. Don’t confuse him by overcorrection. Reward him for going forward. Teach him from the walk to trot from a light leg. Teach him to canter from a light leg and reward him. That is how you train together. Forward is a state of mind. When riding, I always ask myself how I can be more clear every stride I ride, so my horse will understand what is expected. Then when we achieve that, they will always do it. The horse is only, and always willing, they are creatures of flight.

Kathy Connelly's Profile

Kathy Connelly is one of the leading and most respected Dressage trainers in the United States.

She is an International Dressage rider, trainer, and coach. Kathy represented the United States Equestrian Team at the World Cup in Sweden and was also the highest scoring rider on the Bronze Medal GP team in the North American Championships. Kathy and her horse, Enterprise, were the United States Grand Prix and World Cup Champions. Kathy trained several horses extensively in Germany with Herbert Rehbein, as well as in Vienna with Ernst Bachinger. There she developed a passion for Long Lining and Work in Hand as it relates to the development of collection and training piaffe and passage, and its connection to riding piaffe and passage.

Kathy has trained and continues to train riders and horses to numerous National and International titles. She also has extensive experience nationally and internationally in training and coaching young riders in both dressage and eventing.

Kathy has served on numerous committees for USDF and USEF. She is currently chairperson of the AD Hoc Instructors Strategic Planning Committee as well as High Performance Selection committee for the US 2012 Dressage Team.

She has authored numerous articles in major publications and co-authored the book “Dressage Insights-Excerpts from Experts”. Dressage training sessions with Kathy can be viewed on DressageClinic.com. Kathy is a popular clinician, excellent teacher, and conducts clinics and symposiums throughout the US. She resides seasonally in Concord Mass. and Wellington Fla.

Kathy can be reached by email at: Kathyconnellyavf@aol.com.

Read more about Kathy on this page: http://elysiumdressage.net/Additional_Trainers.html


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