Podcast Episode 3: Dressage Secrets - Getting Your Horse On The Bit

The million dollar question with dressage riders, is how to get your horse on the bit? This was something I really struggled with when I was first learning dressage - how do you know your horse is on the bit, what does it mean to get your horse on the bit, why is it important that your horse is on the bit and what does it feel like? I can't wait to share with you this whole conversation, because it is a topic that comes up again and again with my members of Dressage Mastery and in the riding community as a whole.

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Full Transcript Expand to full transcript

In today's class, we're going to talk about throughness. How do you get your horse on the bit? How do you know he's on the bit? What's going on with on the bit... And everything about on the bit. I can't wait to share with you everything I've learned. This was something I really struggled with in my early years, so I can't wait to share with you this whole conversation, so let's get into it. Welcome to the your riding success podcast. My name is Natasha Althoff and I'm a Grand Prix dressage rider from Australia, author of three books and a leading online trainer of riders all around the world wanting to take their riding to the next level. I'm also a chocaholic mother of two amazing children and obsessed with helping riders be all they can be. Each week I'm going to be bringing you stories of inspiration, ideas and strategies of how to make real progress in your riding and give you actionable advice on overcoming riding fear and anxiety so you can take your riding to the next level and be the rider you dream to be, so let's get into today's episode.
Let me know one thing you're grateful for or one thing you are excited about. One thing that you're happy about. One good thing that has happened to you in the last 24 hours. So I'm here for you. I've got you and I really want you to know I am, I really want to look after you in this time and I just wanted to talk about, before we get into on the bit, I wanted to talk about decisions and choices. So somebody asked me last night on Instagram, they asked me how do I know if I should stay in university and keep studying or follow my heart and my career and my passion in a career with horses. And what do you think the answer is or what the answer should be.
Because I'm going to tell you guys what I told her because I think it just might be a little bit helpful. So I told her that I couldn't possibly give her an answer because I couldn't possibly know what the right thing for her is. Okay. There is only one expert in your life who is that expert? And don't say me, don't say your parents. Don't say your teachers. Don't say your mentors. There is only one expert in your life and that is you. Okay. So the only person you should be listening to and the only person you should be referring to when you need to make choices and decisions is you. And no one taught me that and no one you know, acknowledged me for that. So I just want to make sure that we get it out there to people to, you know, just understand, Oh, am I the expert?
And then you get to say a really funny thing when other experts decide to tell you what you should do. Who's had that? I don't think you should do that. I don't think that's a good idea. Hmm. I wouldn't do that if I were you to all those fabulous people. You say, Oh my God, I've never met anyone like this before. I thought I was the expert in my life. Please sit down. If you're the expert, you tell me, you tell me everything about my life and what I should do. Because you seem to think that you're an expert way more than me. So sit down and please tell me everything. And of course they can't because they're not the expert. They don't know you. They don't know anything about you. You guys don't know anything about me. You see 1% of everything that I am and everything that I'm about, even my husband doesn't know me at the intimacy and the, and the, and the deepness that I do.
And even I don't, I reckon I know about 20% about what's going on here. So there's no one on the planet that's an expert. And if there is, it's going to be you. Okay? So I want you guys to really remember that. And then the second part of that is, okay, so if I'm the expert and you still don't know what the right choice is and the right decision is, you have to realize there is no right decision and there's no right option. And you go, what do you mean? What do you mean? What are you talking about? Well, when you make a choice or a decision, you get something and you lose something every single time. Okay? While we're in covid-19, everyone's looking about what we're losing, what we're not having. We're not being able to go out. We're not being able to compete.
We might not be able to go ride our horses. We can't do this. We can't have that. We can't do this. Correct. But that's all the things you're losing. There's things you're gaining, you're gaining time at home, you're gaining time with family, you're gaining time to assess, you're gaining space, you're gaining freedom. All these things that you're gaining. But our minds work like someone in a dark warehouse with a torch. And wherever you shine, that torch is what you notice. So really make sure today guys, what are you noticing? What are you filtering in? Are you filtering in what you're losing or what you're gaining? So in any choice, like let's go back to this girl, I was helping on Instagram. What should I do? Should I study continue studying at university or should I follow my career with horses?
Once we've established, no one can answer that. She has to answer that. Then you have to have the freedom of, there's no right or wrong answer. There's only choices and every choice. There's no right answer here. There's not. If you go to university, your life will be fantastic and fabulous and everything will be perfect and it's the right choice. Or alternatively, if you work with horses, that's a fabulous choice. Only things go right there. Only things go well. You guys get that yeah? Whatever choice, there's going to be good things and bad things. There's going to be things you get and things you lose, things you achieve, things you don't. And your job is to then create the freedom of going, I'm just going to do what feels right. I'm going to do the best I can with what I know at the time. So anytime I make a mistake and then yeah, make a mistake, make a choice, and it turns out to be the wrong choice. I go, I did my best. I did the best I could with what I knew at the time. If I knew how to do better, I would have.
And it's that mindset of understanding I did my best. It was a shitty best. It was an uneducated best. It was a pathetic best, but was my best with what I knew at the time. And if I knew how to do better, I would have. And that is not only how I judge myself, but that is how I judge every single human being on the planet. A lot of humans decide to have opinions about other humans, which I find hilarious because firstly, as we've established, you don't know that human as well as you think you do. You don't. And secondly, they are doing the best they can with what they know at the time. And it might be a shitty best and it might be a horrible best and it may have hurt others, but they are doing their best. Okay. So I just wanted to get that out there because it's been on my mind. And I wanted you to just, just, just have that. So now we can get into the dressage. So today I wanted to talk about throughness. I hated that word when I was learning how to ride. You know, get the horse more through.
You could have said, get the horse more square, get the horse more triangular, get the horse more piggaly diggaly... That's what it sounded like to me. I was like, yeah, that's nice. Good for you. What should I do? How would I know I have it? All those kinds of questions. So what I want you guys to realize, firstly is through, is not a button. Your horse is not through and then not through. It's not like you're pregnant or you're not pregnant. Okay? That's it. That's a black or white. You can't be a bit pregnant. You're either pregnant or you're not pregnant throughness isn't like being pregnant okay? So we can start with a mindset of you know that there's, there's a continuum of thoroughness and there's 0 % on the throughness and we've got a hundred percent on the throughness. Okay. And this is our continuum.
So if we want to get our positive mindsets out, we can say our horse is already through, it's just at 0% on the throughness scale, but it's through just not very through if you want to stay positive about it. Okay. So if your horse is at 0% throughness, don't think, how can I get my horse to a hundred percent throughness because a hundred percent throughness, I don't even know. I reckon I've had glimpses of maybe a stride at a hundred percent throughness, but probably not because how would I know that it's a hundred percent throughness because there might be another level of thoroughness I've never felt, I've never discovered, I've never understood. So I'm not going to know that that's the border or that's the limit until I get to the next level and go, Oh, there was this whole other level and who's done that in their riding career?
They thought they did it good. They felt they did it well. They thought this is it, that this is the thrthroughness or the on the bit or the softness or the suppleness feeling. And then a year later they ride a different horse, or they have another experience. I know people come to our Riding Success Institute and they ride the FEI horses and they go, Oh, is this what it's meant to feel like? And it's like, yes. And more and more and more. So you know, there's, there's always another level. So I might argue and say that, you know, Charlotte Dujardin and Isabel Werth, they're at a hundred percent throughness, but they might not be at a hundred percent throughness. They're probably still uncovering higher levels, more levels of more that they didn't know existed and that they're uncovering and uncovering.
So you first have to get really excited that you're on this continuum that probably never has an end point. But that's also very exciting. And that's when you read the interviews of the dressage masters who've been riding it 70 years, 80 years, 90 years, their entire life. And you, you know, you go, well, why are you riding? And they're like, cause there's still so much to learn. There's still so much to discover. There's still so much to play with. And that's what I've you know what's the words I'm reconciled in myself because when I was learning how to ride, I was very, very frustrated. I just wanted to know the rules. Yep. And I just wanted to know when I had achieved it and I just wanted to know when I had arrived and felt very, very frustrated pretty much all the time because I never really arrived and I never really got it.
Because as soon as I arrived and as soon as I got it, there was something else that I had to arrive to and somewhere else that I had to get to. So make peace with, you'll never get there. So you can enjoy the journey. So we're at 0%, we might be at 10%, we might be at 20% or wherever we are in our throughness continuum. And what does that mean? That to me throughness is the connection of the hind leg to the front end. Okay. And the horse is really through when you feel the back up, when you feel the hind leg active, when you feel the connection, you feel the contact in your hand. But it's not heavy. It's not pulling, but it's not empty. There's a light soft uphill connection that you've got with the hand. The horse is reacting off the seat, the hind leg is pumping and you know the horse is in front of the leg.
Another one of those terms, remember the definition of in front of the leg is that the horse feels like it wants to gallop off. It's not galloping off, but it feels like it wants to. It feels like it wants to go forward all the time, even if you're in a rein back, even if you're in a collected pace. And the more you can get that, the more through you are okay. But then there's also a base level of throughness that every single rider has a standard about. So I have a standard when I get on a horse. So if I'm going to especially ask for a transition, I won't even ask for the transition until I'm at a particular standard of throughness. Now my standard is again, different to Isabelle and Charlotte's even I would love, you know, I'm constantly in my mindset going, I've got a, I've got to ask for more.
I've got gotta I've got to raise that level of standard. That's why we go to lessons. That's when you would go and have a lesson with Isabelle and Charlotte. She'd be like, don't do what are you doing that's not through. And you're like, I've got to find another level. And as much as we try to self motivate and try and upskill ourselves and try and find that new level ourselves you know, sometimes we do just need to, you know, have that, have that, you know, or even if we watch a video, I know people in dressage mastery, they'll watch a video and they'll be like, Oh, that looks really good. And then my voice will be like, this is not okay. I'm not happy with this, so I'm not going to, you know, ask for the transition until I get the next level. And people go off, all right.
And then they get back on their horses and they're like, okay, well I've got to find this next level. Okay. So there's that as well. So think about what your standard is and maybe try and up it by 1%. And then the next thing is, is, well, how do you get a horse through? Or how do you get a horse througher? And that's not a word. I just made it up. I had to get a througher. But we're talking about our continuum here. So there might be a degree of completeness. Yes, there always is, you know, or to me throughness is like love. Do you love this person completely? Yes. Do you marry them? Yes. But then you might have a child with them and then people say, Oh my God, I thought I loved my wife or my husband and then I had a child with them and then I loved them at this whole other level that I never knew existed or you know, they might save a puppy out of a tree or you know, I'm sure I'm trying to just use, take it out of dressage because you might not have felt it in dressage but you may have felt it in love.
You know, people might have a kid and they go, I never felt true love until I looked at my child for the first time. Whatever it is, there's, there's more love than what you think there is. There's more throughness than what you think there is. There's more fun, I guarantee you that than what you think there is, who's ever, you know, had the best night of their life. And then 10 years later gone out and then gone, Oh my God, this is the best night of my life. There's always another best. There's always another level. So there's that as well. But I also now don't want to discourage you and you go, well, there's always more and you know, my crap is really crap right now. How do I, I'm sure you're screaming at me on the phone, going, how do I get my crap better?
Or how do I get more through? Like I'm not very through, I'm on zero, how do I get to 1% or how do I get to 10% so to get your throughness to the next level, you need to think about what are the aids that you're applying. Okay. And it's the aids that I keep talking about and I know you're wanting me to say them differently, but they aren't as complicated as what you think they are. You just like I gave at the beginning of this talk, you just need to have the freedom to make some choices and to make some mistakes and to make some decisions. I was coaching an amazing rider yesterday and he, I were having a conversation about transitions and I was like, Jazza stop trying so hard and stop forcing it and just believe and just trust. And the more I could move him into believing that it was going to happen, committing that it was going to happen, but not forcing it to happen.
That's where the beauty happened and that's where the magic happened. So how can you take that into the riding as well? And, and then in terms of throughness, we need the engine. We've always said the first step of getting the horse through is forward. Okay, we can't get the horse through if the horse is not active behind. And remember active behind is the hind leg active and what is the hind leg active? It's, it's in my word, I say it's pumping. It's not dragging on the floor. So how would you do a lazy walk compared to an active walk? If you're walking and I said walk more active what would you do? And you'd probably walk a bit quicker or walk a bit higher. And both those things is more active. Okay. So on a three year old, we can't expect it to really step higher and use these big muscles to, you know, take us up into passage.
So we can't really ask them to take the big, high step. So we're going to ask them to take a quicker step because that will increase the activity of the legs. Same as if you were dragging your legs walking really slowly, I just get you to go come on, come on march quick, quick, quick, and I'd get the activity that way. So that's what we do with young horse, active, active, active, let's go, go, go. But then we don't want the horse flying around because the minute they just fly around, the minute you start running, where does all the energy goes? It goes on forehand, it goes on the shoulder and we know as dressage riders It's our job to lift the shoulder and to have zero weight in the shoulder and to have all the weight sitting on the hind leg, we've got to send all the energy and all the weight back there.
So we go, okay, how are we going to do that? So it's what I talked about on the hrose. We're creating energy, but now we're going to half halt that energy, we're going to block that energy for a second, not the whole time. We're not going to just now pull on its head, kick it and pull at the same time. We're going to create energy and then we're going to go up, we're going to go... We just close our hand and we say, Hey, take that energy up and back to the hind leg rather than forward and galloping out on the forehand, up and back instead of forward and out, up and back instead of forward and out, we're going to bring our shoulders back. We're going to tense our stomach and we're going to be the anchor, the pole on the carousel horse. That is the lever and the strength in this exercise and say, Hey, Hey, Hey, we need you to come back to this.
We need you to to, to, to bring yourself back to here. And the more we send the energy forward, the more we catch the energy and bring it back. The quicker we do that, the better we do that and the more effective we do that, the more throughness we'll have. Okay. Then the other thing that blocks throughness is blocks or stiffness or the horse not being soft and supple. So the horse is hanging on the left or hanging on the right or falling in and dropping a shoulder or falling out and drifting out and making his circles 30 meters instead of 10 meters. So that's when we're also playing with the shoulders. So that's the next level. Once we've got the forward and we've got the half halt, we're playing with the shoulders and we're playing with is the horse soft and supple between my reins and between where I've got him.
So I might need to leg yield left. I might need to leg yield right, I'm might need to shoulder and I might need to travers, I might need to renver, I might need to just bend. I might need to just flex. I might need to just apply my inside leg. Uyou know that inside leg to outside rein that bend through the body. You have to be clear on the outcome you want, what is the outcome you want and then you're just measuring everything you do. Is this getting me closer to what I want or further away from what I want. The other thing when we're riding horses is you can't uget it perfect. You can't ride a three year old and get piaffe today. You can't. We can if something spooks it - but you know, you can't ride Grand Prix on a three year old, so it's not, you've got an idea of what total perfection looks like and then it's just, are you 1% closer to that because you can't expect the horse to go from zero to a hundred percent throughness or zero to a hundred percent piaffe or whatever it is in a day.
So all I go is I go am I further away and sometimes I'm further away, but it's still been a good session. So it will be like, how was your ride? I'll go. I figured out 500 things that don't work. That's what I did today. Who's had those rides where it's just like, yep, that doesn't work. That didn't work. Ooh - that gives a bad reaction. Yep. That's definitely not. It's good. It's good for your learning. You can't know what works until you learn what doesn't work. Thomas Edison, did you fail? Oh my God, you must feel so bad. You failed 10,000 times to invent a light bulb. You loser. No, I'm a fricking genius because I came up with 10,000 ways on how not to invent a light bulb. I successfully achieved 10,000 ways to not invent a light bulb to successfully achieve how to invent a light bulb.
That is my training and that is my mindset and that is how I get from nothing to Grand Prix - sometimes without a coach and sure it takes longer. Sure. Sometimes it's wise and that's what I'm always trying to do. I'm trying to get from coaches or trying to get from people that have a result I don't. All right, what's the cheat sheet? Save me the 10,000 things that I don't have to do. So you can just tell me the one thing that works that will get me the outcome. But when you're riding on your own and you're riding without help, this is, Oh, you can't then just do the excuse of so I'll never get there. You will. I always say if the horse reacts, I must be doing it right. If I'm in the gym and I'm going down 10 centimeters in my squats, like doing really poor, bad quality, bad form squats and the, and the personal trainer says, do a hundred I don't argue do, do, do.
I'll give you a hundred because it's not hard. It's not working. It's not doing anything. Um but if the personal trainer says bu to your heels or you know, gives me a little low seat that I've got to rest my bum on for a second before I go up and he says, give me a hundred squats. I'm going to start complaining a hundred. I can't do a hundred that's not fair. I'm not doing a hundred. I'll give you 10 and I'm sitting down. So that's the horse. When the horse is is arguing and the horse is going no and the horse is trying to you know, take off or you know change. I always put the horse in a position where he has to work. If the horse doesn't is trying to get out of that position, it's a good position. But if the horse is like, yeah I could do this for 10 hours, it's probably not going to build the built muscles you want. It's probably not challenging the border of you and your horse.
But again, I just feel I need to do a disclaimer on that. But also the horse could be really sore but also the horse could, you know, not physically do it. Like there's so many things that you've got to go in your head and again the horse can't talk. You will be guessing. You will be hypothesizing, you will be trying to put a voice to something which you know, like if I say hi, what does that mean? Does it mean I like you? Does it mean I don't like you? Does it mean I'm pretending? Does it mean I'm saying hi cause I have to, is it meaning that I'm, I really like you, but there's something going on with me. How did I say the hi and what is the meaning behind how I set the hi and what I did with my eyebrows and what I did with my voice and because I went up not down and what did I do with my, my mouth and was I smiling or not smiling?
We don't know. We don't know. We will never know what that hi meant, but we have to know, our brains have to put a label on it. So every single one of you will extrapolate what that means to you based on your previous experiences, based on your values, based on your belief systems, based on your energy, all those kinds of things. And that's with the training as well. So, you know, we try and cover off our bases. We make sure that the physio sees the horse. We make sure the vet sees the horse, we make sure the dentist sees the horse, we make sure the saddle fitter sees the horse. And if there's nothing, then we have to go, okay, well maybe it's a personal trainer. You know, screw you personal trainer. I'm not going to do it. And we push the horse and we see what happens.
And sometimes you know, the horse gets stronger and the horse can do it. And we go, okay, that's what it was. Sometimes that happen and we go, what is it? Sometimes it's a mindset of the horse. Sometimes the hostess doesn't want to do it ever. It's fine. It's not sore, just doesn't want to do it. All right, love you guys. Stay safe. All my love. And remember I'm here for you guys. If you need anything, reach out. Let me know what you need. Yeah, we're totally here for you. If you enjoyed today's episode, I would love to invite you to a free dressage class than I am running. On this free training. You will learn the reason why most writers don't have progress and don't succeed. You're going to learn the secrets that we use so you can progress faster and easier than you ever dreamed possible.
You'll also learn how to ensure you get riding results on any horse, no matter the breed and age. Learn the fastest and easiest method to fast track your riding to become the best writer you can possibly be. And the number one thing you have to make sure you've got to progress and get dressage out results. So go to www.dressagemastery.com/trainingsecrets to claim a spot in my free class now. Also - Make sure you hit subscribe so you'll never miss a podcast episode and I can't wait to enjoy and spend more time with you on our next podcast.