Basics or Polish - Which Is Harder?

I blithely announced in a post a couple of weeks ago that Rogo went through his Training Level test well and I just needed to add polish and precision. Shannon from Its Quarters For Me rightfully asked (probably a little tongue in cheek :)  ) if this was the hard part, and I've thought about it on and off since. I'm so glad she asked, because it helps me put things in perspective and be conscious of the fact that it will still be a long time before training level and level one are 'show ready'.
Off the top, I'd say polish and precision are harder, but the building blocks have never come easily to me. Rogo was my first time starting a horse and the basics of walk, trot, canter, halt, bend have taken a long time and he still isn't on the bit to the extent he should be. Let me tell you, for me, this was VERY hard :)
I'm writing this to remind myself of the priority areas for polish over the winter. We need to:
  • Get the halt square. He is fairly good at staying straight into and out of the halt, but the left hind is often back a bit and if I put my leg on to bring it up he thinks it's turn on the forehand. I'm searching for the right balance of soft left leg / right rein, and also keeping the impulsion up when going into the halt. We also need to develop better ability to trot into and out of the halt.
  • We let the 20 m circles slip a bit in both trot and canter. I need to drill those some, but I think they'll come back fairly easily (famous last words? Am I remembering them better than they were?).
  • The working trot, as I've written many times, lacks impulsion. I'm still wondering a bit if there is a physical cause, but I don't think so because walk and canter are fine and he's good if he's motivated by ground poles or a walk around the field.
  • Canter transitions, especially down transitions aren't good. He falls on his forehand coming down.
  • Free walk needs to be straighter and have more impulsion.
  • The stretchy trot circle shape isn't good.
  • Changing bend on a serpentine or figure eight doesn't always work well (it's there sometimes)
Here's what is working fairly well most of the time:
  • Transitions on the letter
  • Stretching well down and forward for free walk and stretchy circle
  • Staying straight and bending (but not changing bend quickly)
In a nutshell, most importantly we need to get on the bit and get impulsion at the trot - very elementary stuff.
To help with the trot I learned to download music this weekend and am in the process of making myself a trot CD :) 
On a separate matter, I swear I wasn't hinting, but my Mother read my internet shopping post and picked gifts for Doug and I. Mom, who lives with us for the winter, is in her eighties and emails and reads blogs, etc., fine (she has her own computer) but she wants me to do the internet ordering. Well okay, if I have to. She's so good to me.


Oak Creek Ranch said…
Just curious -- keep meaning to ask -- what breed is Rogo? I love his color! And, I agree, when you are starting with a green horse the basics are very hard and very important. Such a great sense of accomplishment though, right?
Carol said…
Hi Annette - Rogo is 3/4 Hanoverian and 1/4 Thoroughbred. Re his color, he is getting whiter so fast! He started out black, and now his face is almost all white.
Yes, it's a great sense of accomplishment :)
Mel said…
Great piece Carol, We're on a similar journey.
TBDancer said…
Can't do anything without basics. That applies to everything, not just dressage. The house may look great (with all its sins covered by a coat of paint) but if the foundation is cracked ... .

Basics take time, and for riders like me who were self-taught back in the day, riding AQHA English Pleasure where cowboys reigned, it has been an interesting journey to find dressage trainers who know what THEY are doing and can pass that information to others. Now I have an OTTB and warmbloods rule.

Everything starts with forward--a horse moving from your seat and into a "receiving hand." Once you have contact and the connection, everything will start to come together. As for the down-trans, canter to trot, this helps me: Think "sink your weight into your heels and hold the half-halt." That keeps YOU from falling forward and keeps the horse MOVING forward ... into your receiving hand with steady contact through all phases of the transition. Our down transitions are actually pretty good because that is the ONE movement where I have a series of "steps" to follow--and I don't throw the reins away ;o)
smazourek said…
It was only slightly tongue-in-cheek, I really do/did want to know. Coriander and I had our first dressage lesson around Thanksgiving where I learned that we need to do some serious work on forward. He's got the most amazing walk and trot out on the trail but when he gets in a ring he totally shuts it down, I've got to figure out a way to get around that. Plus I learned from watching us on video that he's inverted (!) when I'm riding him. I had no idea.

So we've got a lot of hard work ahead of us just getting the basics down pat, I was hoping it would get easier after that. Should have known better I guess :)
Jan said…
Carol, Good accomplishments on your list of things that Rogo does well! Congratulations to both of you! ( I point that out so that you don't forget all the progress you both have made, in light of the things you wish were better.:)) About the trot, I have never started a horse so take my thoughts with a grain of salt, but I wonder if perhaps horses have one gait that isn't their strongest. And that may be the gait WE have to work the most at as well (even though we may unconsciously not want to, because it seems the most frustrating to us). Perhaps that gait is the one we have to work twice as hard to ride well, to help the horse ride the gait well. This is true with me and Buckshot, at the canter. I must work twice as hard at building my skills at this gait (although it is most frustrating to me). Just a thought. You are doing great work with Rogo! And what a dear mother you have!
Jeni said…
Hi Carol. You have accomplished a lot and still have a way to go. Remember Rogo is still a baby in many ways. As others have commented with out have the basics down completely the polish won't happen.

My goals when I'm training are singular to that ride. Sometimes I hack out before doing my ring work. But my ring work is always basics, basics, basics... then throw in one new thing, or one ask for one thing that is known well to be perfect then call it quits. It works me and my mares... but you need to find what works for you and Rogo.

Your mom sounds like a blessing!
Carol said…
Thanks so much everyone for the comments. I truly learn from them and appreciate the feedback so much. I also enjoy hearing your experiences and stories. For example, my appaloosa is also good on the trails but huts down in the ring.
Jan, I think you may be on to something re the trot and what I need to work on.