Making anticipation work for you

brett parbery dressage training Nov 21, 2022

Horses are so good at recognising and replicating patterns. They know when you, for example, come around a particular corner in canter and you sit up and there's a letter there, there's a good chance you'll be trotting, and so they beat you there.

This anticipation can be both negative (working against what you want to achieve) and positive (useful for you). 

The key is to harness this ability to remember patterns, and use it to our advantage as trainers.

In other words, we need to train the patterns we want the horse to anticipate.

The horse is going to anticipate something, so we may as well make that work in our favour!

An example of something I'm happy for my horse to anticipate is going from shoulder fore (for example, out of a corner) to shoulder-in. Getting into shoulder-in can be clunky so I'm more than happy for my horse to be always half expecting to move the shoulders inwards. Practising that for me is a positive thing, creating a positive anticipation.

It does also depend greatly on the type of horse you're riding. If your horse gets behind you, then it's a positive anticipation for the horse to be thinking about extended trot out of the collected trot corners. You can simply take that energy and channel it where you need it.

If your horse is the opposite and takes over, then you could train your horse to anticipate coming right back to you and waiting out of every corner.

Now all this becomes a lot more complicated if you're competing frequently because the horses get to know that they can take over for you in parts of the test.

This is one of the reasons I don't like to compete a lot, especially at the lower levels. At the high levels you have way more training tools at your disposal to help with the anticipation.

If you feel you'd like to compete quite frequently for whatever reason (you might simply enjoy it!), and you're having issues with anticipation, you may find it helpful to think about some tests being 'training tests'. This approach is about being strategic with the shows and considering some shows as merely training steps on the way to the shows that are most important to you. If you decide to do this, you'll need to be happy to 'throw' some tests to make the point to your horse that the rules of training don't change just because you're in the competition. For example, you might ride past the letter to make a canter to trot transition, because the horse is expecting to trot there.

Protocol days (sometimes called training or practice days) are really useful to simulate the competition environment, but you'll feel more opportunity to enforce your training rules. You can even often talk through it with the judge.

Don't forget, though, your training may have worked really well and there ends up being nothing to correct in the test!



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