Posts from the ‘balance’ Category

Three Good Gaits

Three Good Gaits

It is the oft published, seldom stated, and rarely heard goal of Dressage to maintain the purity and clarity of the gaits, sometimes called paces, of a riding horse. Realizing that hereditary conformation dictates and limits the qualities of motion of our horses, it is the goal of Dressage horse breeders, groundskeepers, handlers, grooms, riders, trainers, farriers, veterinarians, physiotherapists, competition judges…so easy to forget…to maintain, all too often to restore, horses innate qualities of motion.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this Vimeo is worth a gazillion words. You can stop-motion any frame and see an excellent illustration of the masters’ definitions of walk, trot, or canter. The limitation of internet transmission of digital video is, of course, the number of frames per second captured and then transmitted. So the qualities of motion perceived by the eye on this screen, as compared to seeing a horses’ motion in realtime, are not quite authentic, but as close as we can get without having been there.

The subject is a 5 year old German-bred gelding who was won at auction in December 2012, by a British buyer. (oh yes, in spite of being named “Her Heart,” Sa Coeur is a gelding.

Sa Coeur is noted to have been awarded a 10 (ten!) for walk, 9.6 for trot, and 8.8 for canter in by Young Horse judges.

Of course, exemplification of the Training Scale is here, too. So you may want to watch…several times.


Three Good Gaits

Wherever we are, we can think globally, and act locally.

Many thanks to Astrid Appel, through Eurodressage, for bringing this to our attention.

Who invented the Training Scale?

So who invented the dadgum Dressage Training Scale, anyway? Where did this pyramid of concepts come from?

Equestrian literary academics note that the Training Scale originated in turn-of-the-20th century Germany, and was first recorded in a 1912 German army training manual, refined in later editions, and adopted and incorporated into the German National Federation’s guidelines for riding and driving. Now the Training Scale is the foundation of every national federation’s educational endeavors.

As Dressage becomes increasingly popular around the globe, wee (sic!) practitioners continue to attempt to demystify it. For decades, Americans have grappled with understanding of German words that have no English equivalents, often blaming our misunderstandings on having read ‘bad translations.’ When verbalizing my own understanding of the Training Scale, I find it easiest to rely on definitions published by horsemen far more learned than myself, whom I will quote ad infinitum when, eventually, I flesh out the outline of my own fascinations.

Subconsciously contemplating that timeline-less project an early morn surfing the net, it dawned on me who really invented the Training Scale. Striding out before my very eyes came THE inventor of the Training Scale, exemplified here in the first 45 seconds of this excerpt from “Welcome to Flyinge,” youtubed by FlyingeStud (SWE):

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Even an untrained eye will recognize the intrinsic beauty of this spectacle. Rhythm, elasticity, unconstraint, balance, self-carriage, an ebullient desire to move forward, engagement, throughness, straightness, and elevation of motion are the expression of celebration of the day by this three week old foal.

This is the ideal to which is compared, 10 or 15 years later, a mature riding horse when it is judged in the sporting rectangle. This is the everyday Olympic ideal to which we compare our progress in the process of conserving each horse’s spirit and developing each horse’s innate locomotive abilities and qualities.

It is our horses who invented the Training Scale, and who teach it to us.

She got them all with that one !

Free Translation Widget
August 25, 2011. Last Saturday in Rotterdam, Adelinde Cornellisen (NED) and Jercich Parcival won the European Dressage Grand Prix Freestyle Championship with an 88+ score, a talling 4% closer to the ideal 100% than nearest contestants Carl Hester(GB) and Uthopia and Patric Kittel (SWE) and Watermill Scandic. Seven Judges, presided by Fourhage (NED), scrutinized each footfall  of 15 performers, awarding scores above eighty to eight of them, and scores above 70 to all of them!

How did Cornelissen and Parcival prevail?

Parvcival’s Freestyle test which was delightfully choreographed to accentuate  Parcival’s transitions between movements, as well as the movements themselves.  Having no errors to the last line, compared to her nearest competitors, but only somewhat inferior qualities of motion, Adelinde passaged the CenterLine to D where she piaffe pirouetted 360 degrees right, then reversed to piaffe 180 degrees left, and passaged the centerline to X, halted and saluted! Audio-visual recordings of the performance sound respectfully hushed gasps, gushes, sighs, and squeals from the gallery, 90 degrees into the left sweep. I, too, was thrilled, and so not surprised by the score.

Apparently Cornelissen and Parcival have been doing this freestyle for a while; they’ve got it down pat. I read that she is planning a new Kur for London 2012. I wonder what her choreographic collaborators could invent that will get higher scores for use of the arena, degree of difficulty of the movements, music and interpretation. But, of course, it is the exercise of imagination that makes freestyle so much fun.

But, good as Cornelissen/Parcival got, other tests deserve close scrutiny…

Carl Hester rode relatively young —ten-year-old —-stallion, Uthopia, to brand new bespoke music, and exhibited three excellent gaits, in the required GP variations. ALL of the best qualities of motion are intrinsic to, and, thus far, retained in this horse. Although the judges are not supposed  to consider the rider’s position and seat, correctness and effect of the aids, as in other FEI tests, Uthopia could not have danced this test so gracefully without a rider; Hester’s contact is exemplary!

But there were the three little glitches:  irregular step in the first passage/piaffe transition, one too large canter pirouette, and an over reaction from the horse to half-halt influences causing momentary loss of forward motion, each of which cost technical points. And the degree of difficulty of the movements was modest, as it should be for such a young horse. I am looking forward to seeing this horse get a little stronger, and this combination become a little more confident in each other. Uthopia is a star still rising!!!!!!

The judges were right about the bronze, too, from what I can see. Although I have not been following Patric Kittel and Watermill Scandic—I was put off by the blue tongue episode–I do like the way this man sits a horse, and I am pleased by the cadence of this horses motion. This is a more mature horse, 14 I think, and so stronger and more confident. The horse seems to be genuinely enjoying himself. The quality of the horses motion is, however, less than ideal, by the fact the horse’s back is down, by which I mean concave to the rider’s seat, rather than up, as would permit the more desirable flow of energy from the horse’s haunches, across his back, through to the poll. Still, the performance is foot perfect, no irregularities. So ‘Scandi Man,’ I heard Patric call him, deserved every point and the bronze medal he garnered.

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Surfing around the videos embedded above and watching other combinations’ tests at the European Champs can help all of us train our eyes. There is much to learn.

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“If Dressage is about anything at all……..

Free Translation Widget
“If dressage is about anything at all, it is about equine locomotion.”

I don’t remember having ever before felt separation anxiety from a thing…much less a book. But last week, soon after I delivered Charles Harris’s Workbooks from the Spanish School 1948-1951 back to the local Inter-Library Loan portal, I realized I was afflicted. I’d had use of…was possessed by …. Workbooks for two months. The effects of my reading it, re-reading it, pondering it, sorting it, re-sorting, now writing about it, are simply profound. My riding, the qualities of motion of horses I ride, and the competence of riders I influence is undeniably enhanced by this, my first interlude with Charles Harris. It recalled for me so much that I forget I know to practice.

I have to tell you about this book.

Although JA Allen did earlier publish three Charles Harris manuscripts, including a photo essay with Colonel Charles Hope  and Charles Harris self-published a pamphlet, Riding  Safety and Riding Negligence, Harris penned those works intending them for publication and distribution.

Charles Harris himself never intended his Workbooks for publication, but only for recording his lessons, insights and intellectual ruminations during his three years of study in The Spanish Riding Academy of Vienna, which we now know ( and I personally revere) as the Spanish Riding School, or SRS, for his own use, to facilitate his own learning, and for later review.

But by the sagacity of Charles Harris nephew, attorney Robert Sherman, who, not himself a horseman, got to know his uncle so well by audio taping conversations between them during Harris’ waning years, the publication of Workbooks, prefaced by Sherman, foreworded by Daniel Pevsner, FBHS MSTAT Pupil, The Spanish Riding School of Vienna, complemented by a 90 page biography comprised mostly of transcription of the taped interviews, and including all 681 notebook entries with reproductions of Harris’ own pen and green ink drawings and diagrams, was accomplished.

The foreword by Daniel Pevsner states that Harris’s focus, as his career progressed, became riding safety. I note that few entries in the Workbooks are concerned with safety. But surely Harris was surrounded with, made aware of, and adopted, safe handling and riding practices at The Academy.

If a theme is to be drawn from the Workbooks which, I repeat were never intended for publication, it is that “if dressage is about anything at all, it is about equine locomotion.” Harris, already a Fellow of the BHS when he entered The Spanish Academy, became fascinated with the analysis of horses’ gaits, including how a rider’s way of sitting on a horse affects a horse’s gait, not only in the moment, but trains an affected gait.

Harris finds himself disabused of the precept that a riders shoulders should parallel a horse’s shoulders and and a rider’s hips should parallel a horse’s hips  on arcs and in lateral work, as they do when traveling straight. He realizes that any twisting of a rider’s spine impairs “bracing the rider’s back” and that concussion of the horse’s motion, absorbed by a twisted rider’s spine, damages the rider’s spine. Instead, the rider’s shoulders and hips should parallel the ground and be perpendicular to the radius of the arc of the horse’s spine above the horse’s center of gravity.  Many entries explore technique and timing of bracing of the back, to move with, rather than to “follow,” a horse in Free Forward Movement.

In his analysis of gait, he was especially bemused by gait tempo.  He  attempted to sort through the concepts of tempo in relation to rhythm, pace, and cadence, and evidence in the Workbooks is that he never figured out tempo. Or cadence.  I don’t think less of him for this failure…He was a Brit immersed 24/7 in a school where no other human being, except a single fellow student, spoke English. (period)  And, it occurs to me while listening to From the Top on NPR as I type, that he had no musical training, from which lexicon he could have drawn correlative concepts. The failure to realize that tempo is merely hoofbeats per minute, might not even be a failure. Maybe, at the “uh….duh!” moment, he simply failed to record in the Workbooks this discovery.

I did not find myself enthralled by the good luck, bad luck, good fortunes, misfortunes, and controversies of his life as decanted by his nephew-biographer.

But I loved the anecdote of Harris visiting his protegé Pevsner at the studio of no less than Nuno Oliviera where Pevsner was studying while awaiting his own admission to the Academy:  Harris arrives, thrilled to advance his own knowledge in the hall of renownded master Oliviera, joins the gallery, and is so excited by what he sees that he can’t keep his mouth shut…and voices his complimentary insights to other observers. Oliviera cannot hear what Harris is saying, and if he could, might not have understood the languages in which Harris spoke, but is annoyed by Harris’s engagement of the gallery…His, Oliviera’s gallery. So Oliviera challenges Harris to get on a horse and demonstrate his riding competence. Or to “put your butt where your mouth is,” I have heard other  horsemen say. Well, Harris had traveled without riding attire, and upon divulging this, was offered a pair of boots, into which he horned himself, but no breeches. In travel pants, legs already throbbing from ill-fitting boots, Harris mounts the horse presented, and proceeds to walk it about the school, on loose reins, chatting with the onlookers and occasionally stroking the horse. As the story goes, his introductory cues to the horse were invisible to the gallery, and no one seemed to notice that the loose reins had become long reins, then the lightest of contact, or that the horse was moving magnificently, still at walk. So the gallery becomes impatient, vocally impatient, and friend Pevzner says something like…”ok Charles, it’s getting late, you don’t have to prove anything to me. Let’s go to dinner”…which Harris seems not to hear…as the horse walks from a corner to the center of the school where, to the amazement of all those still looking, the horse joyously piaffes, perfectly balanced, invisibly cued, absolutely correctly, for untold strides, after which the horse walks purposefully onward. Disgruntling Oliviera to call out “I trained that horse!” to the hushed and now mesmerized audience. (QED, I would have whispered, paatting the neck of my partner in proof.)

The 681 entries of the Workbooks fascinated me. Of course they are a jumble; Student Harris records his lessons and insights in the order in which they are presented to him, by his instructors, the horses, and the environment, and/or the lights go on for him. But I knew I was on good footing immediately upon reading entry #1, which I failed to record verbatim, because, since my own first introduction to the concept of clarity of gaits, I have held high among all absolute equestrian truths, that a horse’s diagonal canon bones move parallel to each other in natural (as differentiated from artificially affected) trot, in all modulations of natural trot, at all variations of tempo of natural trot of which an individual horse is capable. Harris’ entry #1 is focused on parallel diagonal canons level with opposite parallel diagonals at extended trot. With a pen and green ink abstract diagram to illustrate! First entry, and the editors and publishers swear in writing that this is the order in which the entries were made in Student Harris’ notebooks. And, that’s where I left the green silk ribbon bookmark when I returned the book.

Earlier this week, I was still feeling separation anxiety, when the results of 2011 Aachen Dressage were disseminated, including youtube videos of both Steffen Peters astride Ravel and M.A. Rath aboard Totillas.  I was not surprised to read (and hear) that the spectators at Aachen, the best educated Dressage spectators in the WORLD, whistled for 75 seconds to sound their disapproval of the judges scoring Ravel second to Totillas in the finale Kur. Did the College of Judges hear them? I don’t know. I trust the College of Judges will get the message…eventually, if not by London 2012, hopefully by Deauville 2014.  I was, nevertheless, feeling compelled to weigh in… to post and critique the videos of Ravel’s and Totilla’s tests against our ideals, but was distracted by the needs of horses I steward.

Coming back to this issue ( oh, how I hate that word, issue, in this context. Doesn’t that mean a progeny of a marriage? a child? or a foal?) I decided to go surfing. And soon before my eyes appeared a stunningly superb example of nearly ideal trot, by the body of…really?.. an Orlov’s Trotter ridden by Russian Young Rider Alexandra Korelova in Grand Prix testing at Aachen 2009.

So, toward better understanding of the ideal, I offer this video of Balagur. Actually the horse’s canter is also quite nearly ideal. But I must say that the collected and extended walks are disappointing, not enough, if any, overstep at extended walk, and not through, although still clear, in collected walk. Walk performance gets double coefficient by current rules, as they should, so that’s good enough reason for this performance to have not scored  80. But the trot, collected and extended, passage and piaffe are exemplary, and the canter is right up there!

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May Journal Excerpts

Free Translation Widget
Following is excerpted from the current  journal chronicling development of one riding horse.

The Reader deserves a Decryption: SI=Shoulder-in, LY=Leg Yield, HI=Haunches-in, HP=Half Pass, RB=Rein-back, PSG=Prix St Georges, F&D=Forward and Down

AND a note about the nomenclature of lateral movements: Lateral movements are described directionally by the direction of the ‘center’ of the bend of the horse executing the movement, NOT for the direction. So, SI,HI, HP right are named right because the horse, while moving right, is bent right. LY right is named right because, although the horse moves left, the horse is bent right.

5/23… I awoke this Monday to read of a tornado that took out half of Joplin MO and as yet uncounted lives, looked toward the dome of the Basilica, and prayed. And a forecast of “chance of rain after 2pm” Yeah right, I thought, the forecasters are to be trusted, Mother Nature is NOT, at least not this Spring. During breakfast, I youtubed Jeremy Steinberg taking clinic with Klaus Balkenhol in California…beautiful background…then another in which he schooled a PSG horse named Hallmark at Gladstone. There, Jeremy was working independently, it appeared, and schooling trot transitions as an expanded shakule (see-saw) of….collected trot to collected walk a few strides emphasis on walk clarity…to collected trot…several times….to trot to halt to rein-back to canter…back to trot to collected to SI to lengthened, to SI to HP to SI to medium. And all so tactful I can barely see JS influence except his lower leg moves appropriately and timely. (JS and Hallmark go on to canter work) I intend to do a similar trot shakule for SS. And to use canter to continue the restoration process of the canter itself and refresh for trot work. Will be judicious about the walk….warm down with walk and forward and down at trot!

Plan made, hamper and tack packed, I scurried of to give instructions enroute my own horse…trying to stay ahead of Mother Nature.

A few hours later, arriving at HM stable, I expected all to be well. Yesterday was his rare ‘day off’ in which I hand walked and lunged him in a large paddock, and relished the elasticity, the rippling quality of his loosened muscles in motion.

And all was well. HM was anxious to get the bridle on his face and we cavorted on nearly perfect footing through tree pollen laden breezes. The warm-up was usual, although the early canter was not as forward and fluid as I would have liked. I dropped stirrups to do the trot work, conscious of tactful influence, and I was able to sit back and UP through several minutes of trot shakule, which lacked for consistent tempo. In canter work with stirrups I asked for single changes and they came begrudgingly and late. And while doing the change exercise, he stuck out his tongue again. ( He started sticking his tongue out a couple of weeks ago, and after an oral inspection showing no problems, I removed the flash, and have been observing but otherwise tolerating this silliness since) I showered him as the wind came up, and squeegied him off, and set fair while the barn lights flickered through a torrential downpour intermittent small hail driven by a fierce straight liner from the West. (at 1pm, I noted). Much affection offered by horse at my departure directly into the blinding rain. To get to the next horses, on the west side of the storm… west from whence it came…on time. There to find horses and riders “Ready.” Upon arriving home at dusk, I noticed that an awkwardly trimmed silver maple had been “shaped up.” Only to find a huge trunk had been removed,  carried east and deposited firmly between the shed and belfry of my neighbor’s carriage house. Oh, Mother.

5/24 Yesterday’s rain left water standing on the outdoor courts, so I hand walked on agreeable footing for a few minutes while awaiting use of the indoor gym. Eventually astride, HM was already somewhat loosened and tuned in and ready to bend and stretch. The lateral exercises at walk are getting better, one day at a time. The trot warm-up was frustrating; he seemed to be dragging his feet. Then I realized he was carrying himself quite well, feeling his way around and through the unevenly deep footing. Although I want more animation and up-tempo, I accepted his ‘horse sense’ and took the time to let him gain confidence in where he would be putting his feet.

Canter warm-up easier and earlier. SS objected to walk canter depart, even to the extent of anticipating and objecting before the depart cue. … I think the tongue wagging and walk-canter depart resistance are related…we will work through this. Trot lateral work still not through, resistance to throughness HP right. Canter changes clean but each required two cues, rather than one. I need to make more clear half halts, if only as seat corrections…and keep him up hill. Although he did wag his tongue, not so much, and LOTS more after I dismounted…I think he does not want to drool now that one salivary gland is open. Need to get the other salivary glands open. The indoor felt like exercising in a doused sauna, we were glad to walk back out into the shaded breezeway.

5/25 My own instructions this morning came from Katherine Haddad, via blog on The Chronicle website…in which she says a lot of useful things about instructor-student relationships, including agreeing with me that clinics are more challenging for clinicians. Of course, she does NOT say they are potentially disruptive to a horses programmed progress unless clinician and rider counsel thoroughly, verbally.

I continue to ponder her discussion of flying changes:

“Let’s say I have Student A, Student B and Student C in a clinic. They are all amateur riders with a good basic seat on well-trained horses capable of third level. All three students are having trouble riding flying changes.

Student A needs to hear:

“Listen to the timing of the canter. Hear the rhythm of one-and –two, and one-and-two, and one-and-two. Your aid comes on the “AND.”

Student B needs to hear:

“Ride counter canter across the half diagonal. At the centerline, stay relaxed and touch his belly with the left spur.”

Student C needs to hear:

“Kick him! You’re not asking for a change at all. Your spur never touched his skin. Don’t be afraid of his reaction. He knows his job. So ASK him!””” From The Chronicle of the Horse website May 24, 2011, Katherine Haddad

Some students have trouble with the “AND”…which AND? I muse.

Thunder storming this morning… more water outdoors, so HM will need to bend and stretch indoors, today on a lunge. Midday the air was heavy and still, making it difficult for any of us to want to do anything. From the barn I went to my office,  left the tackmobile outside. While I did ever multiplying administrative chores, up came a tornado with hail documented to be as large as softballs, grape fruits. And trashed the trar. Thanks, Mom!

5/26 Thursday already! After riding two others, I got to HM by 11a. Only to find him ‘edgy’ beyond fractious, verging on cantankerous. So many changes in air pressure are unsettling to us all, horses and humans alike. So I took the time to give him a massage and found spasms in surprising places, spasms likely caused by reactions to thunder, lightning, and hail on a steel-roofed and -sided stable, maybe even the reactions of his stable mates to those conditions. Fortunately, I had an hour in which to rub out the spasms, close the massage, and watch his reactions to being tacked, which elicited a myofascial release oriented rub of his head before bridling.

Under saddle, just we two indoor gym, he was playful, incited by  cool brisk air flowing through open doors and jalousies, and hyper-alerted by an invisible, but audibly recognizable terrier (his terrier, the one with whom he curls up for naps in the straw—-yup, puppy’s back to horse’s belly, nostril to nostril) complaining and voicing alarm about who knew what outside. SO I took advantage of HM exuberance, and rode forward. He was immediately impulsed in walk warm up, and shying and bolting and scooting from any excuse, so I put his mind and body to work, required lateral work very soon, and it got pretty good. He trotted out with immeasurable impulse, great activity, a wonderfully swinging back. Canter was quite acceptable. So for trot work I did J Steinberg’s trot shakule exercise, and got the most “through” trot HP yet, BOTH directions.

The canter and counter canter were good, the changes not so good. I was curling forward rather than staying up to permit the change to come through from behind, I was not nudging outside into a softening inside rein as I should;  I had failed to correct my own seat after riding defensively through the terrier alarm. The second walk-trot-halt-rein-back shakule was useful. I concentrated on lengthening and shortening without changing tempo. I’ll do more of all of this in coming days…and I will ‘watch myself ride’ tomorrow! As fractious as this horse was, today’s was a most exhilarating and progressive ride!

5/27….Arrived yesterday a borrowed copy of Charles Harris Workbooks from the Spanish Riding School 1948-51 in which I have read only a few pages of his biography, penned admiringly by his nephew, and the first few of 675 (!) entries of the CH’s notebooks accompanied by superbly draughted pen and ink sketches. It’s amazing that focusing on one only most basic element of seat, I found myself today sitting so much better that I and all of my rides were amazed, liberated, animated, enhanced. This book is a treasure! HM was delighted! The highlights of the work were canter plie to half pass to plie to flying change, and all were good both directions. Then some highly impulsed, very uphill collected and medium trot. In my mind my emphases were first on my lower body: open hip, bottom of thighs heaviest part of leg, maintaining passive contact with calf, upper body erect-as if a puppet hung from above to mix metaphors with Sally Swift, pecs up, eyes anticipating inscription of each figure.

Lots of figures…just the basics but lots of them. And square and even body in all executions. Then I spent some more time in trot shakule, trying to clarify the difference between bigger strides and faster strides. We are not doing so well at that, yet.

And still, HM has a busy and unhappy mouth….thinking of lowering the bit one hole next ride. He’s just been ridden four of the last five days, and he was not unhappy to see his saddle today, or his bridle. So I should keep this pace as long as both our skins remain intact…as summer cometh.

I’ll read more Charles Harris in the next few days…nap next.

5/28/11 Breakthrough…actually a whole week of breakthroughs for HM.

I was hesitant to saddle HM today… During his comeback from rehab, he’s been ridden only every other day, getting stronger and becoming more elastic, week after week. Ready to move-up,  I have ridden him on Mon and Tues, lunged him on Wed, and ridden on Th and Fr…and so it is Saturday, and the forecast is that Sun, Mon and all of next week will be 70 to 93…and humid.

The good horse was at peace with himself, standing square, and craning his muscular neck into the aisle way, looking only a little surprised when I carried his saddle to the rack. Was totally easy in the groom stall. This morning was still temperate, so I Rolfed his head, tacked and strode to the indoor, outdoor still too wet. I no sooner closed the door when the groundskeeper’s trailer rumbled into the courtyard, and the neighbor’s kennel announced annoyance to no one but a single, unaffected stable worker. Luckily I got astride before they revved their engines…and began pummeling the outer walls of the gym with mower expulsions and weed whips. They were totally unaware of our being within, and I was not about to dismount and try to get their attention through the din. They wear earplugs and safety glasses, I and my horses do not.

The walk started out extremely collected and cadenced, if not brave, but immediately even contact. After 1 1/2 circuits each direction, I asked for LY, and out of leg yield came big swinging long medium walk on even contact! and so contact and my own position as recently tutored by CH, were the theme…and more canter than trot, as reminded by Lendon Gray and Debbie McDonald via Dressage Radio this dawn, and again good canter plie-HP-plie>changes clean and clear both directions. And many good clean changes at 10 and 12 stride intervals. I will eventually shorten those intervals as HM becomes stronger and more confident and through the changes, but need to plan a way to do that around too many jumps indoors. It will be easier outdoors.

In trot I felt more motion coming from behind and through his back, sooner. I played with alternating sitting and rising… as frequent refreshment of schwung. The medium trot became more uphill, and I was able to keep an uphill frame in medium and collected walk interludes.

I saw the wagging tongue in the first counter canter left lead, but was not conscious of it later. The wonder is that when I dismounted, I saw significant thick foam evenly on BOTH sides of SS mouth. Soooooooo…either the flexions at the poll are coming naturally and producing the salivary foam, OR the other saliva glands have unclogged…In any case this is the best foam I have EVER seen from this horse. Next is to get both my legs into such a consistent passively adhesive position that I produce lather under my calf. I have to keep working on my seat.!!!!!!!!

5/29 Arrived last evening Britta Schoffman’s 2007 Klaus Balkenhol: The Man and his Training Methods translated by Reina Abelshauser for Trafalgar Square. I’ll review and take notes. Scanning, I have already found, on page 44, what is, even out of context, one of my favorite quotes of all time: “Most alleged ‘innovations’ aren’t really new but were actually dismissed as useless centuries ago.”  

HM was under saddle 5 of the last seven days. A good enough increase of intensity. It was already 84F @10:30am  and there was no electrical power the neighborhood of the stable.  (Mother Nature, what have you been up to this morning?) The only available footing was a fairly steep paddock of adequate dimension. So after battery-powered barbering in the breezeway, bandaging and booting to lunge, we used that paddock for walk and trot only. It was interesting to see HM offer four modulations of walk in each circle he made…the drama of the extended walk downhill was breathtaking. I prayed he did not over-stretch anything. It took a little encouragement to elicit a real working trot…wanted to not step hind into fore print. That particular paddock is just steep enough that even working trot was a lot of hind end work, even for this increasingly strong horse. So I did not ask for canter at all. HM was enthusiastic to graze clover without flies…the vinegar and dish wash detergent actually works, so far, this season. Then I hosed his old injury sites, scrubbed his coronary bands and applied antiseptic ointment. I hope I don’t have to use that footing often.

Siesta with Charles and Klaus now…then dead-head the garden.

5/30 Memorial Day…the electricity in the office blinked off for a minute at 6am and curtailed my reading reports and forecasts. (Again this morning, Mother Nature?)  Tack cleaned and stirrups reversed…temperature zooming, though blessedly breezy from the south…I struck out early to instruct before students’ barbecues, then to ride mine. HM looked great, and I was mounting in the already too firm upper court while the Barn Manager was turning horses to the accompaniment of howling curs, an open mare screaming for company in the front field. Simultaneously, the driver of an empty stock trailer  stopped to admire His Magnificence, then bumped noisily out the rutted lane. All combined making for just enough audio madness to cause HM bolt and dive soon after I was astride.

Then to unwind with LY which connected inner leg to outer rein, each direction, followed by walk modulations. HM was not thrilled by the footing, but I believed it would be ok for his degree of conditioning, so when in trot warm- up he ignored my forward aids, I tapped the whip on his rump from the left …he bucked, I asked again for forward…and got it. That lesson was done for the day. Canter warm-up was forward and upward about the perimeter, with some canter forward and down to stretch the topline. Seems to have worked.

The first work was lateral in both trot and canter. In trot: LY, SI, HI, then HP-SI-HP-SI. more nearly even in both directions. In canter, plie-HP-PL-HP-PL….three times before asking for a flying change. Both directions. o my delight the horse was more through his topline in HP trot both directions, and more up and through and buoyant in HP canter both directions. I do not remember asking for CC today.

Next work: without stirrups, sitting trot with SI, lengthening and shortening, refreshed with canter with forward-feeling departs from trot and what felt like good schwung. Then shakule walk with straight backing. And a long walk to warm down.

I saw NO tongue wagging at all. But only a tiny bit of saliva on both sides. Causing me to wonder “had I been so handsie that he was unable to hang from the poll?”

Riding without stirrups, and with left stirrup accidentally  shorter than right, is good therapy for my own left leg.

Tomorrow’s, Tuesday’s footing, if outdoors, will be even harder…so I don’t yet have a plan. Must play it by ear.

5/31…Hot, but still breezy, and footing still firm, not hard. HM was pleased to be saddled, audible sigh as I settled the saddle and attached the girth. When I removed his halter, he began contracting and stretching his face and under-neck muscles through the pecs, beyond the girth. And seemed he would have continued this self-administered exercise indefinitely, had I not reached for his bridle, to which he then turned to grasp.  Although the upper court was relatively calm, he was hesitant of the footing. After inspecting the margins, I made a long sweep of LY right, which got the left rein contact, followed by a long sweep of LY left, which got the right rein contact, then forward several strides of collected walk, which got him chewing, to a long strided free walk which accelerated the loosening. Then some SI, and HI, and HP each direction at walk, into a medium, uphill walk, from which we trotted. The earliest strides of walk were more impulsed than they have been, and today I used the same sequence of lateral and longitudinal contracting and stretching in trot as I had just used in walk, quite effectively.

In today’s canter warm up I included counter canter spirals, with increasing collection in decreasing diameter, and vice versa and the entire exercise better to the right than left. Also forward and down in canter both directions. Although canter F&D served to stretch- “open”- his neck and raise his back a perceptibly, I did not feel it was coming forward from his tail as I would like.

The walk work interlude of shakule included rein back, collected, medium, and extended walk emphasis on uphill attitude. I did not include 1/2 pirouettes today. Canter work included plie-HP-plie…repeated three times to a clean change…did this both directions twice today, and was not quite as good as the day before- the canter itself did not maintain buoyancy.

We indulged a few minutes of free walk during which I reviewed the preceding. Then I dropped my stirrups and did a shakule at trot that included collected, medium, halt, rein-back, and some trot ‘half steps’.

The shakule’s tempo is improving: this horse is increasingly able to lengthen and shorten his frame without changing speed. I’ll continue to consolidate this exercise, and soon start to use it at canter.

As denouement to shakule, I regained my stirrups and encouraged F&D to the ground in a long rising trot….followed by a segment of medium, uphill sitting into a halt. The went for a trail walk to warm down.

I was not aware of this horse’s tongue even once today. But neither did he foam. I am thinking tomorrow’s ride will focus on refinement of half halts. Tomorrow, I’ll change from unflashed “D” to a flashed loose-ring.

Stabilization


Free Translation Widget
Whether we ride to hounds, are advancing through the levels of dressage, practice the multiple disciplines of combined training, participate in jumping tournaments, or simply enjoy luxuriant commune with nature and a horse on varied trails, the training foundation for every equestrian discipline is stabilization.  Because for all of these pursuits it is most desirable that the horse be calm, forward, and straight, we must first “stabilize” it. And once we have achieved the condition of stabilization, we are wise to frequently reinforce it, by spending a portion of all of our mounted time riding on loose reins, day after day… jubilantly … year after year.

Webster defines “stabilize” as “make stable or firm,” “to keep from changing or fluctuating.” It does not define stabilize, as a student once quipped, to mean “put the horse in a stable.” Webster defines “stable” as, among other things “firm in character, purpose, or resolution; steadfast” and “capable of returning to equilibrium or position after having been displaced.”

Webster, I can’t resist, also defines “stabilizer”: “a substance added to an explosive to prevent it from exploding spontaneously,” as for example, a rider astride a horse awakening to the first fresh air of a balmy spring day.

V.S. Littauer, in his (1956) Schooling Your Horse, -to fox hunt, or show it as a hunter or jumper, or enjoy it as a country hack- provides the most eloquent discussion of the concept of stabilization that I have found in my reading of equestrian authorities:

(page 21)”Calmness combined with cooperation leads to the very valuable “stabilization” of the horse. A stabilized horse will maintain by himself, on loose reins, any pace at ordinary speed after it has been indicated by the rider. A stabilized horse can, on many occasions, be pleasantly ridden with complete nonchalance, and when at times the rider wishes to halt his horse or change the pace it can be done with the voice alone.

Riding on loose reins is very important in teaching jumping because the jumping exercises are conducted on the basis of the principle that the horse must learn to make all the calculations of the approach (gait, speed, line of take-off) by himself.”

The concept of stabilization is not peculiar to Littauer, who I think provides the simplest instructions for achieving the condition, but is also described by German Olympic Dressage rider Waldemar Seunig in his (1956) Horsemanship as the condition of “unconstraint”:

(page 114)”Unconstraint is the psychological and physical state of the horse in which it flexes its muscles elastically only as much as is required for uniform locomotion under its own weight increased by that of the rider, thus avoiding all unnecessary expenditure of energy….Unconstraint is attained when the horse allows the rider to take his place in the saddle without tightening its back and begins its natural, well-timed trot without any action of the reins. The correct (i.e., springy, although still not pronounced enough) oscillation of all its body muscles is also apparent to the observer in the relaxed, satisfied expression on the horse’s face, its ears half erect, attentive only to the path and the rider, and the natural carriage of the tail, which swings from base to tip in time with the hind leg that happens to be grounded.

As unconstrained and well-timed ground-covering strides are the basis of all equestrian work, it is obvious that these two interdependent prerequisites must exist before further gymnastic training can be undertaken.

Even during subsequent training the rider must always be able to return to this, one might say, primitive, original form of striding in time at the unconstrained, natural trot whenever difficulties arise-the trot that is the foundation for the dressage of the tournament jumper as well as for the haute ecole.”

So how does one arrive at this blessed state of calm, even, rhythmic, regularity in all gaits, riding nonchalantly on loose reins, changing gaits with voice commands?

Partly because my own riding, schooling and teaching methods have been most strongly influenced by Littauer since childhood, partly because I am less willing to absorb the playful antics of young horses and the leg and rein evasions of incorrectly started mature horses than when I was younger, and certainly because I find the greatest satisfaction in harmony with the horse throughout all aspects of interaction with it, I believe that the easiest way to stabilize a horse is to use Littauer’s method:

“Schooling begins by teaching the colt voice commands and stabilization; these are the first lessons in cooperation. On this basis the further schooling program is being built up. In reclaiming upset horses (where there is a chance) stabilization works wonders.

You will find schooling along these lines constructive, simple enough not to be discouraging, and if you follow them closely you need not worry about doing mental or physical damage to your horse.”

My preferred method of longeing, like Littauer’s, is very simple. I use a longeing cavesson, adjusted so that it lies above the most sensitive cartilage of the horse’s nose, not on it, making sure that the jowl strap acts as just that, not a throat latch, in order to prevent the cheek pieces from sliding or being pulled into the area of the horse’s eye. Attach to the center ring of the cavesson a longe tape of thirty feet in length or longer. I use a longe whip equal in length to my height, with a lash equal to that additional length. As with shoes, the fit of the equipment is everything!

Cavesson

For those who fancy themselves riders, not horse trainers, let me reassure you that teaching a horse to longe on voice commands is easy, and rewarding. Not only will it soon increase the pleasure you derive from riding, or accelerate your progress toward your goals, if that is your perspective, but longeing will let you see the horse in motion a constant thirty feet away from you, providing a feast for the eyes (as “The outside of the horse is good for the inside of the man”) and a learning experience.

The aids for longeing can be compared to those for riding. Position yourself with your shoulders parallel to the horse’s length, longe in the hand toward horse’s head, whip in hand toward tail; this position is your “seat.” The whip is your “leg,” pointing to the ground when the horse is at halt, and to its hock when it is moving at any gait. Wave the stock of the whip as you would squeeze with your calf to ask the horse to move forward, wave the lash to urge more strongly, and crack the lash when you would apply spurs, very seldom if at all, and only if the horse did not respond adequately to successively stronger urgings. The tape is sometimes called a longe “rein” (not to be confused with “long” rein), and the cavesson is equivalent to the bit.

Your good hands will maintain a straight line from elbow to “bit”. Gently shaking the tape is the mildest admonishment to the horse–”Are you listening? Get ready” or “steady”. A somewhat more vigorous shake of the tape is all you need to signal the horse to come back from walk to halt-”whoa.”  As compared to the rein in hand transmitting a message through a bit to the horse’s mouth, it takes longer for the message to get from the riders hand to the horse’s nose when transmitted through the thirty foot length of longe tape and cavesson. Be patient, it is acceptable for the horse to respond slowly.  Flipping the tape so that the cavesson comes down hard on the bridge of the horse’s nose is a severe punishment, equivalent to a jab in the mouth with the bit, reserved for interrupting a high spirited bucking spree, for example.

Using these “aids,” or “influences,” teach the horse voice commands. Take advantage of the corner of a paddock, ring or indoor hall to define the working area for the initial lessons to the horse.  Say “walk,” then urge only as strongly with the whip as necessary to elicit the desired response. When the horse walks, reward with your voice-”good boy.” Let the horse walk long enough to reassure him that he is doing as you wish, then ask the horse to halt by saying “whoa,” followed by shaking the tape.  With some horses, you may need to walk toward the horse’s head, to get it to halt, and “good boy.” In the first lessons you may play the tape out to only fifteen feet, but walk with the horse, inscribing with your own feet a circle of thirty feet or more, so that the horse is inscribing a circle of sixty feet or more. And circle both directions, i.e. to left and to  right. After a couple of lessons of “walk” and “whoa,” when you need no longer signal with whip or tape to get the desired response, add trot, playing the tape out further so that the diameter of the circle will not stress as yet undeveloped tendons, ligaments, and joints. This is done without drama, the horse appears to be, and is continuously comfortable. And although the footman may perspire, the horse should not sweat.

Several lessons from now, add canter.

Important is that no matter how you pronounce the word you choose for each command, that the intonation of “trot” be the same each time you ask for trot, and the intonation of “caaan-te” be the same each time you ask for canter. Ditto for “whoa” and “walk.”  And equally important is that the intonation of each command be distinctly different from each other command.

As soon as you can “walk” and “whoa” on voice commands on the longe, and being certain that your horse’s high spirits and excess energies were expelled in the pasture or paddock beforehand, you can mount and walk and whoa on voice commands, with loose reins and passive legs. When “trot” is solidly built into the horse’s vocabulary, you can ask it to trot from the saddle, with firm resolve to use neither hand nor leg. It may take a month or so, but eventually you will canter the same way, and ride everywhere, nonchalantly, on loose reins.

You will be pleased to realize that riding on loose reins builds your confidence in your horse, the horse’s confidence in you, the horse’s confidence in himself, and your confidence in your own riding ability. Knowing that you can rely on the horse to respond to your voice will improve your tact in applying hand and leg influences.

Discretion is the Better Part of Valor

Free Translation Widget
When the sun rose over my toes Sunday morning, I threw open the shutters and windows to be serenaded  by a marching band, heralding the course of the GO! St. Louis Marathon. I like brass bellowing through my neighborhood, I thought, especially if this happens only one, not every, Spring dawn. Stirred, I took breakfast to the deck, and was disheartened that the strains of the brass band were soon followed by sirens of emergency vehicles, lots of sirens. With 19,000 registered participants, certainly some bodies were going to be over-stressed, I thought, sadly.

Breakfast downed, news read, breeches donned, and tack packed, I motored cautiously around, over, and under the securely cordoned Marathon route…to ‘da barn. Through open windows, the air was heavy with humidity and the trar thermometer read 75F still before 9am. Only two weeks earlier, we were slogging through afternoon snows! The weather has changed…too fast.

Sunday was a riding, rather than teaching, day.  The footing of the outdoor court was perfect…moisture content just right. The first horse loosened easily, and confidently bent and stretched into even contact all around. But after a mere 20 minutes of his usual warm-up, this horse was wringing wet, head to tail. Not lathered, not panting, not the least distressed, but wringing, soaking wet, all over, for the first time in maybe 6 months. And so was I.

During what was intended as a walk interlude preceding “the work” we caught our breaths easily enough, but only got wetter. It occurred to me that maybe the warm-up was all this horse needed to help him become acclimated to summer!  So out we went for 20 minutes of trail walk. Untacking, I noted that the saddle pads were soaked through and that his bandages were sopping wet. This horse had sweat profusely, from unusually light exercise. So he was sipped out, showered, hosed, and set fair.

I myself drank quite a lot of water, and ate a sandwich, en route the next rides.

Only for the next horse to become totally drenched in about 15 minutes of exercise. And so the next. These guys got only their warm ups, and long walk-downs, showers and rubs. The barn thermometer registered 90F in the shade.

Back in town that evening, I read that the Marathon had been curtailed by prudent organizers. Due to heat and humidity, at 9:15 am, only runners who had passed the 9 mile marker were permitted to complete the full Marathon course; all others were diverted to a Half-Marathon course at the very spot where I had heard the marching band.  Many participants had been taken to hospital for emergency treatment, many dropped out, and many more were observed and treated at the finish line.  Nobody died.  A runner commented, “We trained in snow, but competed in a sauna.”

“Discretion is the better part of valor,” I consoled myself.

Today, Tuesday, back in the saddle, the air was WILD! dry, and crisp, if pollen-laden.  The warm-ups were solid. The focus of the lesson for one was canter-walk-canter transitions, preparatory to improving flying changes. For another, the work was trot shoulder-in to trot half pass to trot shoulder-in, encouraging the horse to respond to a mere change of the position of this rider’s seat bones. And for the third, the accent in the walk interlude was maintaining rhythm and activity into and out of, first, one, and then two walk pirouette steps toward achieving, on coming days, an excellent walk half-pirouette. His ‘work’ was longitudinal contracting and stretching, working trot to collected trot to working trot to medium trot  and repeat after change of direction. And the correlative exercise at canter.  I am pleased that they are all getting stronger.

And so we proceed, one day at a time.

Surf’s Up!

Free Translation Widget
Waiting for the sun to rise, I surfed into this sumptuous promo. Thinking past the medium as message, the horsemanship is magnificent.

Another ride, another game

Free Translation Widget
It’s way too sloppy out doors to trail ride, darnit. So, again in the big gym, today’s work, with the same advancing medium horse, was quite different.

Using a similarly styled warm-up as previously, it took a little longer to make even contact, and really swing into trot. But when he did, it was big and loose. Canter was immediately wonderfully active, at once buoyant, and uphill.
To take advantage of this, I inscribed many changes of direction using long and short diagonals, serpentines, half circles and half circles in reverse carefully planning them such that, although I did frequent changes of lead, I did them at points along the figure that the horse did not anticipate, and I focused myself on influencing him to be straight and uphill in strides before, during and after the changes. Today, I did not ask for any lateral canter work. We did only canter figures for four or five minutes, during which he maintained his buoyancy.

Then, without a walk interlude, we began trot work that included a very forward, rhythmic, up-tempo shoulder in, which I let collect itself through half-pass, (but never felt to cadence into passage) then long straight lines transitioning from medium to collected and repeat, focusing on the quality of the transitions.

Then a walk interlude with a pair of pirouettes, and a schakule of 3-5-7-9 as described before, followed by a spectrum of walks through which I was conscious of the rhythm but focused on the transitions between the walks and the horse’s taking the reins forward and down smoothly and raising his forehand supply in response to my shortening the reins. This needs more practice…I’ll include more of it in this horse’s work over the next few weeks.

Already partially warmed down by the walk work, but still quite interested in continuing, I resumed trot without stirrups and did the SI-circle-HP down the long walls in the style of Prix St George Test. But felt that the horse had become so buoyant that my sitting without stirrups was more impeding than facilitating his balance. Fact is, I could barely get back to the saddle during HP right. So I picked up the stirrups and repeated in both directions, with improvement.

Pressing on, I again asked for the medium to collected to medium to collected, but added a few steps of piaffe, then medium to collected, to a few more steps of piaffe, the forward into large circled of forward and down trot rising, then walk. Soon dismounting, responding to the head butting and foam flipping by rubbing his head and praising him. Although he was not steamy of breathing hads, I leading the horse about the room for several minutes before returning to the stable.

I am fortunate that all my rides this winter are boxed, traced, and rugged. Tomorrow, I am going on a muscle spasm hunt while giving this horse a thorough massage.

Rainy day games in the indoor court

Cold rain, forecast to change to sleet and snow overnight. So, I bandaged and booted and tacked and rain cloaked both man and horse and sang through the rain to the big gym. Although I could have used the RomperRoom adjoining the stable block, the horses have been confined to bending and stretching and balancing in that limited space, so many days this icy winter, that I take advantage of every opportunity to use the full-sized gym floor.

This day, my partner expressed gratitude for the larger space. While I did my own bending and stretching and limbering exercises from the saddle, the horse inspected the margins at loose rein free walk, perambulating the perimeter, literally nosing into the very corners of the room, both directions.

Then I picked up my stirrups, and developed contact at medium walk, carefully regarding the symmetry of my own position. I have found that with this horse, at this stage of his development, leg yield is the direct route to even contact. I don’t use LY, or any lateral work at walk, much, with most horses. But this individual has such a good, confirmed walk, that I do to worry about mucking it up. At this stage, his walk half pass is becoming delightfully  adjustable with respect to angle and length of stride. So much of the bending and stretching and loosening is accomplished before we strike off into an energetic working trot, rising. A few circuits of the perimeter, changes of hand, big looped serpentines, smaller looped serpentines, and bigger looped serpentines with LY outward, and shoulder-in preceding and following a change of direction promote and confirm evenness of contact, and build impulsion. 

Then an interlude of walk work. For this horse I am confirming, through focused practice, the difference between turn about the hind quarters at medium walk, and half-pirouette at collected walk.  Progress in this endeavor seems to depend upon my own concentration, I reflect.

Then we struck off at canter. This day it took only a few strides to establish distinctly three beat activity. So our exercises soon included SI canter, counter canter, changes of lead through trot and changes of lead through walk, and a single change each direction, just to check signals. Then another walk interlude that included medium, collected, and lengthened segments. Then struck off again at canter. A serpentine on each lead, including counter canter loops as they came up, maintaining an uphill attitude. Transition to a long, energetic, forward and down trot, rising, inscribing a big figure eight,  to stretch his topline.

Then to working trot, sitting, and dropped my stirrups, and proceeded to lateral trot work. Riding without stirrups refines the application of my influences, making it easier to maintain rhythm and tempo, and promote throughness. This horse knows the language of the aids well, it is up to me to not interfere with his balance as he gets stronger and is able to execute an increasing number of high quality strides of the movements. It is good policy to straighten and ride forward at the first perception of loss of any quality in a lateral movement.  But this horse also counts, as in “I have done three strides of half-pass left.”  So I have to be judicious with the application of the policy, sometimes requiring another stride before straightening as a reward, in the spirit of a game rather than a repetitious drill. Often I do a true canter or counter canter loop just to refresh.

Taking advantage of the canter refreshment, I include flying changes at varying intervals of 15, 10, 12, and 7 strides, at “odd” locations on the floor, to prevent this smart horse’s anticipation. And SI and HP canter interspersed among the changes. Then regain my stirrups and transition to forward and down trot, rising. Then to working trot sitting, and a few more lateral exercises, significantly improved. Much praise!

Then to walk….and warm down. For this horse, warm down now includes schakule, or see-saw, if you will. Establish medium walk, three strides of rein-back, five strides of medium walk, five strides of R-B, seven strides of medium walk, seven strides of R-B, medium walk to collected walk, to medium walk to permitting him to take the reins forward and down into a free walk and praise. The inclusion of collected walk is important here in order to remind this horse that a half-halt is only a half halt because the schakule causes him to anticipate halt and rein-back – he has taught me.

After a few circuits of the court in free walk, realizing that his breathing is quite lovely and he is barely damp, I dismount, loosen the girth, release the flash, and rub his head, which he obviously loves. So much so, that it becomes his game to poke me with his muzzle and flip foam at me, to elicit my massaging response. So we play for a bit, then I lead him about a few minutes before donning the rain cloaks and returning, singing in the rain to the barn, to towel off and set fair.

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