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Guest Blog post # 76: "Just Do it... But WHEN?" by Bill Woods
A popular baby boomer product touts "for when the moment is right. . . "
At Edwards Air Force Base where the space shuttle used to land it was no coincidence that the main runway was more than three miles long with a flat overrun of many more thousands of feet. The pilot had the ability to set the shuttle down right on the numbers at the threshold. But he didn't have to. He could wait till the moment was right.
Similarly, some new movements when first called for in a dressage test grant you that same leeway. In Training Level when the canter depart is between C and H or the transition back to trot is between B and F, that's not license to be casual or sloppy. At that stage in a horse's development, there are many moments that aren't quite right. The test is written to give the rider her best chance to put her horse in optimal balance and attention before asking—"Programming for success." The same rationale holds where the halt from the trot allows a few intervening walk steps.
As you move to the medium and upper levels, the tests grant you a similar leeway. In Third Level the first flying changes need not be performed exactly at a specific letter. There is space to set the horse up, to prepare him. When the horse says he's ready—balanced and attentive—that's when you ask for the change.
Mike Poulin described how he rides the canter pirouettes in the PSG. As he comes out of the corner on the diagonal, he visualizes a spot on the ground where he wants to place the movement. As he gets closer to it, if all systems aren't "go," he just moves the imaginary spot farther out the line so he has more time to make things right.
In schooling, waiting "for when the moment is right" is even more essential. Why make things impossible or unpleasant for the horse? Taking time to create the greatest likelihood that a movement can flow logically and willingly has nothing to do with being casual or not planning. Predetermining an arbitrary spot and trying to execute it there if your horse isn't ready does him no favor! If the horse is against you, inattentive or stiffening, fix those elements before you make the attempt. Give the poor horse a chance to get it right.