April 2017 - Eye On Eventing
Written by Lauren Billys
Friday, 31 March 2017 19:22

Embracing Dressage: Work in the “sandbox” is critical to rideability and better jumping.

by Lauren Billys

When I first started down the road of three-day eventing, my parents purchased me my first horse from the local classified newspaper. His name was Ranger. He was a bay, 8 year old Thoroughbred with a white blaze. He was magnetically connected to the jumps with a frenetic energy in the dressage arena.

There is no doubt that I began eventing for the galloping and jumping and not for the trip around the sandbox. Because of this, dressage became the greatest challenge of our training and competing. Fast forward to my life now and half the stalls in my training barn are filled by strictly dressage horses.

Bridging this gap from a fast galloping, eventing girl to a sitting trot, analytical dressage rider has been a transition that has taken years of training and hard knocks. For event riders, the dressage can easily be one of the most difficult phases, but what I have found is that my jumping improves with my dressage work. I find the improvements show themselves most predominately in rideability and a better feel for the canter.

As we train horses for dressage and flat work in general, we focus on improving their balance laterally, so they are not leaning to one side or the other, and longitudinally, so they are staying off their forehand. As we work on this balance, the horse should travel towards self-carriage and this strength is what carries the horses in a more consistent balance between the fences. The nuances that help this happen are wrapped into half-halts, strength of seat and lightness of hand.  Each of these details is easily translatable to how we ride our horses between the fences.

To practice these details in preparation for jumping, I will often set a course of poles and ride the course in my dressage saddle to focus on the details that create a successful jump course.  In this environment, making changes and improvements has little negative effect and quickly shines a light on areas of difficulty. Within this exercise, I learn more every time that I need to embrace my dressage training during my jump work.

As eventers, we are constantly bridging the gap between the flat and the jumping. I have found if we can improve the flat work, the jump work comes right along side. The variability in our horses’ training helps them gain strength to eliminate compensation patterns and injuries in the long run.

So keep sitting the trot and practicing the exercises that are hard and certainly your horse’s rideability will improve and so will the jumping!


Columnist Lauren Billys contested the 2016 Olympics in Rio, on behalf of Puerto Rico, and has written about that remarkable experience for us since early 2016. She continues to compete and is accepting students and horses at Lauren Billys Eventing on the Monterey Peninsula. Visit www.laurenbillys.com for more info.