Get your Dressage up to scratch with Lucy Straker

We all need a bit of help now and then with our Dressage moves so we spoke to Nedz Dressage rider Lucy Straker about some of the common problems people have in their training and when riding their tests. 

How can I make sure I ride a straight centre line when doing my test?

"To ride a straight line in your test you need to practice it a lot! Don't become too reliant on the fence of your arena so lots of centre lines is a must.....pick a point beyond the end of the arena and ride forward towards it as that help straightness. If you ride positively too it gives the judge the first impressions that you mean business and you are there to win."

Do you have any tips for perfecting a square halt?

"To perfect a halt you need to always remember to ride forward to halt not by applying the hand brake...make sure you are sitting straight with even contact in both reins so you know the horse is pushing evenly behind and straight to begin with. Once you have halted with a soft hand gently nudge with the leg if you feel they have left a leg behind...make sure you practice every session including before you dismount at the end of a session so it becomes second nature to you and your horse."

Do you find it hard learning a new test and how do you find it is best to learn them?
"The only way I can learn a test is to start practicing it at least 2 weeks before hand so I can picture it in my mind!! I can't learn a test by just reading the sheet. Visualisation is my key to learning them."
Are there any good exercises or tips for getting horses to extend longer at the trot?
"Trying lengthening up a small hill works really well as they are naturally having to engage a little more and it helps to strengthen them as well. I also find that placing trotting poles out and slowly lengthening the distance out during the session so the horse has to stretch over them also really helps but you do need another set of hands  on the ground to help with this!!"
Do you have any tips for staying calm when at competitions?
"The key is to remember to breath. Without realising it you probably hold your breath when at a competition, so if you can remember to breathe and counting for 5secs in and out it really helps as it makes you focus on something else! If you are breathing properly you can focus more and the nerves get less."
Is there a way to help get the correct size of 20 metre circles?
"Starting from C aim for a point between the H marker and E marker. The correct shape means you will be no where near the corners of the arena. There should be no trotting on the track in 20m part from at C where you hit it for a couple of strides and again at each side and over X. There should be no straight lines, touch the track & leave the track.  Make sure it is even on both sides by making sure you have the correct amount of flexion. The flexion is not a neck bend so you should have enough of a flexion to see the corner of the horse’s eye, 20m is a big enough circle not to need more bend than that! Practice at home by starting at the C marker so you can learn your shape. Practice makes perfect!"
Are there any good exercises to keep your horses canter collected?
"Riding a lot of transitions down to walk and back to canter really helps a horse sit more behind and wait for you as a rider, the transitions also keep them sharper to your leg so they keep making an effort to collect. You can also keep the hind leg quicker by altering the tempo within the canter so going on and back and on and back helps as well. If you feel your horse needs to sit a little more then incorporate 10 metre circles too so a few times down each long side. It makes your horse collect a little more and learn to take the weight behind!