Q&A with Professional Dressage Trainer Louise Robson

Louise Robson is a dressage rider, who specialises in retraining of racehorses. She competes at ALL levels abroad her ex racehorses and warmbloods. Luise has won both Regional and National titles and her top OTTB, Quadrille (owned by HM The Queen) is currently competing at Inter II level, with Grand Prix on the horizon.  

Louise re trains for HM the Queen, and has three of HM’s ex racehorses in her stable; Quadrille, Princes Trust and Forthbridge. Louise trains all levels of rider and horses and helps them work towards their goals feeling safe and confident, whilst being able to understand their horse and how to best develop them according to their; personality, history and training habits. 

Louise wants to help to provide the ‘Bridge the gap’ between the racing world and the retraining world, so we can provide the best; life, training strategy and possibly competing strategy to help the OTTB the best we can post their days at the track.

Questions regarding lead changes:

  1. What exercises do you recommend I do with my OTTB to prepare to ask for a flying lead change? 

The quality of the canter and the canter balance is KEY! I wouldn’t be asking for flying lead changes until I know that the canter on the left and right rein are pretty similar (one will always be better than the other, but they need to be pretty close) The exercise below will help you set up your OTTB and assess how balanced the canter is on each side 

This exercise allows you to ‘activate’ the new inside hind and make it ‘quicker’ not faster and flatter, which is what their conformation is going to try and make them naturally do. Your OTTB isn’t built with the natural dynamic to ‘quicken’ the hindleg. They’re built with a ‘slower’ hindelg compared to the forelimb, so its our job to show them how it is possible. I LOVE using the leg yield/half pass into a change as it help; straightness, bend, acceptance to the leg, allows you to half halt and re balance. 

  1. Canter down the long side and turn up your centre line
  2. If you’re struggling to keep the balance/bend and acceptance through the turn, do a 10m circle to help ‘re balance’ and ‘re organise’
  3. Leg yield/half pass back to the track making sure the rhythm doesn’t increase and that you’re still keeping a good balance, a good reaction to the leg and able to half halt/ask for the new inside flexion WITHOUT any tension
  4. Ask for the change as you return to the track
  5. Perform a circle to stop any rushing off and make sure you don’t ‘throw’ yourself into the change-just remember, its a changing over of canter lead leg positions. 
  6. Ride the same on the other rein

N.B To start you can replace the change with a ‘simple change’ and then once confident progress into asking for the Flying change. 

2. When asking for the lead change, where should my leg and hand position be?

Your hand potion should always stay in ‘neutral’ either side of etc wither. You can ask for new inside flexion (think wrap their new inside ear around the headpiece of the bridle, BUT make sure you don’t mistake flexion and bend in the neck! (Too much neck bend leads to a ‘wiggle’ throughout their body. From your leg/seat, you need to have a VERY clear “left canter lead’ leg position and ‘right canter lead’ leg position. 

The exercise below shows a ‘fast forward’ version of one of the exercises I like to do. I start in the trot on a 20m circle and ask for ‘inside canter’, trot, then ‘outside canter’ trot. Can you, in the Canter, regardless of lead, touch/flex the rein and use your leg? Does your horse feel very unbalanced when on one lead on the circle? Get the Canter/Trot/Canter transitions down, with a. Good balanced canter, and then start to think about your lead changes 

 3. My horse is getting the change in the front but not the back. Suggestions?

The above two exercises should help work on being able to open up the conversation with your OTTB about making the hindleg ‘quicker’ and not letting the speed and possible unbalance come in. Be patient as its hard for these guys as they’re not built with naturally the quickest hindleg

4. My horse keeps swapping off along the side of the rail or when we go to a single jump on the diagonal. Suggestions? 

I would use placing poles to help you keep the correct lead, but also, think about the exercises that you’re doing, to help work on your correct canter leads/balance/being able to help balance/influence your OTTB. You have to remember on a straight line they’re going to ‘disconnect’ through their body, which will cause them to favour a side and ‘run on.’ The poles will help with; turn, adjustment and ride ability. The exercise below should, hopefully help, and the poles in between will help with the canter lead, keeping the softness through the turn and keep the rideability. 

5. My horse anticipates the change after the jump and starts to speed/tense up.

So, jumping on a curve will REALLY help this. It will keep you thinking about turning and keeping the softness through and over their back whilst jumping. Also, exercises based on a Figure 8 will help secure the correct lead when landing, it allows you to help set them up and balance them. Placing Trot/Canter poles after/on the turn (shown in the diagram) will also help with the speeding/rushing off. REMEMBER, our OTTB’s ‘rush’ off when they lose their balance, so turn and bend,(10m circle) don’t pull back! The exercise below should help stop the rushing off and get your OTTB to jump confidently. 

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