Dressage Training Tips

Top Dressage Training Tips from Kyra Kyrklund. The five-time Olympian dressage rider shares her dressage training secrets with us.

kyra kyrklund five time olympian

A five-time Olympian, Kyra trained with the late Walter Christensen of Germany from 1975 to 1977.

She then trained with Germany’s Herbert Rehbein from 1980 until his death in 1997.

Kyra Kyrklund attended a symposium held at the Kentucky Horse Park. Here are some training and riding tips that the five time Olympian passed on to the attendees.
  • A good rider lives off a small number of good steps and builds on them.
  • Good riders forget about the bad things. Inexperienced riders think mostly about the bad things. There are many roads to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same from the top.
  • In transitions, horses find their balance by themselves.
  • You must reward immediately. A horse has a memory shorter than a dogs, about three seconds.
  • In a proper pirouette, there is no suspension and it is bound to be four beat.
  • Even a foal can do one-tempi changes.
  • I have had to work to get flying changes. Because I didn’t have a schoolmaster when I was learning. I count the steps: 1, 2, 3. Here is what I do:
    • I check that my horse is listening to me by doing a big half halt.
    • If he is not listening I don’t ask for the change until he is sharper.
    • I take my new outside leg back.
    • I ask for the change.
  • A horse only works for 45 minutes. He can carry us for that 45 minutes. Never work a horse until he is sour… especially young horses in the arena.
  • Don’t bother with shoulder-in if you can’t influence the length of the horse’s steps. There is no hope in hell until you can. The same goes for other movements
  • When you train at home, do one thing at a time. Pirouette one day and half pass another, so you have time to do each thing with quality. You might choose canter work on one day and trot work on another.
  • Use the Fillis method of holding the reins of a double bridle. You take the bridoon as if you were driving. It will make the muscles of the lower arm soft and it is easier to use each bit separately.
  • Horse-and rider-combinations are a bit like a marriage. You have to find the horse you can work with. I like energetic, hot horses myself.
  • In training you have to be very honest. You cannot lie to your horse or your trainer or the dressage judge.
  • If you only do something 1 out of 10 times at home, then you have to be lucky at the show. We know we’re not always lucky. There are two ways of riding. At home you have to be very aware of your problems but you can’t be too picky at the show.
  • If I don’t have control in walk. I won’t get it in trot or canter either.
  • At shows, we see many poor pirouettes in Fourth Level and Prix St. Georges. The collection in pirouette must be as great as it is in piaffe. For that reason, I teach the piaffe first, even though the pirouette appears much earlier in the tests.
  • Many horses and riders get stuck at Prix St. Georges. You can still carry a horse around in Prix St. Georges, but when you start Intermediaire II and Grand Prix, the horse must carry himself.
  • Every time the rider uses a hand or a leg aid, the horse must respond. Even a bad response is better than no response at all.
  • Keep the good things good and don’t nag about the bad things but don’t ignore them either.
  • Work on the more difficult things at a basic level. Let the horse feel that he has succeeded.
  • With some horses, I am as happy with a score of 6 as I would be for a 10 on another horse. Continue with a strong 6 until the judges start to give a small 7 for it, instead of trying to overpower the horse to improve the movement and end up getting a 4. If you go from a strong 6 to a weak 7 in every movement you have gone from a 60 percent score to a 70 percent.
  • When you have had a good ride, be sure to find time to write down some notes about how it felt. Often after you have won, everyone wants to have a champagne and there’s no time to remember how it felt. When you do poorly, no one wants to come talk to you and there’s plenty of time to reflect upon how it felt.
Finally If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got. If you are not happy with what you are getting, you have to change what you are doing.

More about Kyra Kyrklund.

localriding.com kyra kyrklund five time olympian

Born in Helsinki Finland, Kyra Kyrklund now lives in Surrey, England, with her husband, Richard White, and their dog, Ludwig.

A five-time Olympian, Kyra trained with the late Walter Christensen of Germany from 1975 to 1977. She then trained with Germany’s Herbert Rehbein from 1980 until his death in 1997.

In addition to the Olympics, Kyra Kyrklund earned a silver medal at the 1990 World Equestrian Games in Stockholm, Sweden, and was placed first at the 1991 World Cup Final in Paris, France.

She recently began riding and competing the 17.2-hand Oldenburg gelding Andiamo Tyme in Grand Prix.