Tuesday 1 June 2021

A Stick-y Situation

Apologies for the bad pun, but not really lol. This post is about riding with a dressage stick. 

Want to guess the last time I rode carrying a stick/crop/whip of any kind? Best I can guess, it was probably about 22 years ago (which is when I last rode lesson horses). 

My first horse Ellie was a spicy spooky Anglo-Arab, and Kachina was a very sensitive forward thinking horse. Riding such hot, sensitive horses meant that a stick or spurs were not needed in the slightest. They were both horses where the slightest aid would send them forward, it actually took more work to teach them that my leg could be even close to them and that it didn't always mean faster. They were also naturally fit horses who would go all day if I let them and so slowing down when tired was not a thing. 

Such a hot horse... not

Naia... is not that. Her chill nature is making her a great first horse for me to start from the ground up, but it's a big change for me. She can be forward when she wants to be but she can also be too unreactive at times and has a bit of a lazy streak. On a recent ride I was doing the trot pattern from the Intro A test, and on the final 20m circle Naia just broke to walk, and then stopped dead. She wasn't startled by anything, she just decided she was done trotting. I asked her to go forward, and nothing. I asked again harder and nothing, I used my seat, I tried to turn her to unstick her, I tried pony kicking her, I even tried reaching behind and slapping her rump with my hand. She eventually got moving again but in a slow ambling way. Clearly a lot more respect for the forward aids is needed! 

Yes, I am posting this super embarrassing video evidence of me doing everything I can to get my horse to just trot again!

From ground work with Naia I know that she can be trained to be light off the aids, but in order to do so I need a stronger aid to backup the initial ask. It's the typical progression of ask > tell > demand. Of course I want to just need a soft ask, but that isn't going to be 100% from the get-go. That's where the stick comes in. 

Here is where I need to confess that I don't know how to ride with a stick. I own a couple dressage whips, but I use them for ground work so I haven't ridden with them. For my first ride with the stick I had to literally ask my trainer to "Explain it like I'm 5" How do I hold the stick? Which hand does it go in? How do I change from one hand to the other? Where do I apply it? How do I get it to make contact with the horse without pulling back on the rein? I honestly felt like a beginner rider, riding with a stick is a pretty basic skill but it's one I just don't have! 

I started the ride by getting Naia used to me moving stick around while on top of her and practicing dropping it on the ground multiple times. I knew that I might need to ditch the stick suddenly if things got hairy at any point because I'm not coordinated with it so I wanted to make sure she wasn't going to freak out if she saw it fall to the ground. I then practiced moving it from hand to hand a couple dozen times to just get the feel for it and rode around holding it. I could definitely feel that I had a tendency to hold my knuckles too flat (piano hands) while holding the stick. It still feels really awkward and is going to take a lot of practice but I'm going to keep at it because it will give me an extra tool when I need it. 

Anyone else had to learn/relearn a basic skill with a new horse that just wasn't an issue with a previous horse? Anyone else have trouble riding with a stick?


  1. ohhh my goodness, that first gif takes me back to the EARLY charlie days, when homeboy would just straight up... get stuck lol -- esp when heading *away* from the gate. i feel your pain there haha! getting used to carrying a stick is definitely worth it tho. i tend to carry mine in my left hand since that's charlie's bulgier shoulder, and the direction we're more likely to drift - and only really switch hands if there's a specific reason to do so (dressage rules don't require it to be in one hand or the other). tho it's good practice to do both sides semi-regularly, i suppose

    1. That makes me feel better to know that I am not the only one who has had a moment like that! There were people watching so the embarrassment was real lol.

  2. This was Bridget too, if only I had video of the time she decided to be done at her first show show mid round...on top of a little crossrail. Now she's forward and spicy - you'll be fine! Way easier to get them forward than slow them down I think. I still suck at carrying a stick in my left hand - B always pops her right shoulder so I just seem to carry it there.

    1. I'm hoping it is easier to get them to go forward! I haven't had to do this side of it before so I'm in new territory! I would have liked to see video of that Bridget moment lol

  3. Learning how to transfer the whip aids from the ground to the saddle has totally revolutionized the way I school these greenies! The Friesians are also typically... not fast lol. One thing that really helped me was to remember that I really don't need to bring my hand back to apply the dressage whip. It's bendy, so it'll flex around my thigh if I keep my hand where it normally is.