Posts from the ‘horse communication’ Category

Conceptualizing Contact

The curator intentionally makes this entry without still or video images, in order that a reader may imagine connecting the sensations individually involved in effecting contact when astride.

“Obtaining and maintaining soft contact- that is contact with the leg, seat and, reins is a considerably more complicated concept than any addressed thus far by this course. It entails, on the part of the rider, an awareness of his calves and –through his boot and saddle flap– a “feel” of the side of the horse. Simultaneously, the rider must be aware of the inside of his thigh, his seat bones, and lower back, and– through the saddle flap, the seat of the saddle, and the pad underneath it– “feel” the horse’s back. Also simultaneously, the rider must be aware of his own shoulders, elbows, wrists, and fingers, and –through his gloves, reins, and bit– the horse’s neck and head to get a “feel” of the horse’s mouth. It is all to be connected.

Actually, it is more complicated than that, or vastly simpler, once you understand that what we really want to do is feel and then control the horse’s individual hind legs, and, thereby controlling it’s back and shoulders. Which is why it is more apt to say that we “put the horse in front of the rider’s leg” than to say that we “put the horse on the bit” as an indication of a more intense, more energized degree of “riding on contact”.

Now, if all of this is complicated for a rider, who is, after all, a human being possessed of intelligence superior to the horse which, partner though it is becoming, is still an animal, then learning to go “on contact” is immensely more difficult for a horse. The horse must have that identical set of awarenesses, albeit in reverse, and must submit its animal will to its “feel” of, i.e. stimulation by, the rider. So be sympathetic, and question yourself if things are not going well.

More specifically, recheck the correctness of your overall position, and your position’s ability to fluidly follow and absorb the motion of the horse, without, in any way, interfering with the balancing gestures of the as yet undeveloped equine athlete. To do this, it is wise for the trainer, whether novice or vastly experienced, to develop or
refurbish his own seat and “feel” for contact by riding schooled horses alternately with green prospects. Whether riding a green or schooled horse, the mechanics of putting the horse “on contact” are the same. “

3.Bibliography: V.S. Littauer, Field School

3.Bibliography: V.S. Littauer, Field School

    Schooling Your Horse : a Simple Up-To-date Method of Schooling Hunters, Jumpers, and Hacks

by Vladimir S. Littauer

This is the first non-fiction book I read about horses, 55! years ago. I still chortle when I remember that the bookmobile librarian phoned my mother to ask permission to check the book to me because it was an ADULT book. I was captivated by the images of Barnaby Bright, The Captain himself astride. I could see Barnaby Bright’s muscles ripple, and feel the joy and power of unity in motion. I studied, made notes, practiced.

Littauer, a Russian cavalry officer, emigrated to the US and should be credited with founding the American system of training working and showring hunters and tournament jumpers, and riding in the forward seat. Dressage riders will find that all the elements of the Training Scale are addressed, without fanfare or cerebral machination. His texts, for which people who knew them credit his anthropologist wife, Mary, are just plain lucid. And his program for schooling unfolds understandably to the mind of the horse and for the progression of the horse’s physical development. Especially for Thoroughbreds, whose minds tend to learn faster than their bodies are able to develop. Anyone who brings horses through field school, events through novice level, or foxhunts will benefit from this book.

    Commonsense Horsemanship

by Vladimir S. Littauer

Published first in 1951, my copy is the 1963 Second Edition, hot off the presses when it arrived via the bookmobile and came to occupy my mind and strum my essence.

I had already read Schooling Your Horse, and was practicing on the neighbors ponies and horses. I had never taken a riding lesson. I handled and rode unsupervised, trained the ponies the way I trained the family G. Sheps. I loved, petted and groomed them, admonished them when they misbehaved, rewarded lavishly when they behaved well, especially when they offered new, desirable behavior. Safety was not an issue; I learned to keep my head and feet out of harm’s way. I loved the horses, they loved me. What could go wrong? Why worry?

But I was more than receptive to knowledgeable help. I was ravenously hungry for it, when along came this seven course meal. After describing the nature of the horse, and it’s motion, leading to why to sit as he prescribes, Littauer narrates how to sit a horse, thence to control it, and school it. Next to teach others to ride, and to teach others to school their own horses. Craft understood. Field School accomplished. Foundation of the horses’ futures laid.

Although there are photos, diagrams, and sketches, the Littauers’ words were and are worth a gazillion pictures. Every time I pluck Commonsense from my shelf, I find new passages of illumination.

Holding it now, I see that the very first note I made inside it’s cover refers to this passage:
(PAGE 218)”In order to be a horseman he must forget himself, identify himself with the horse, feel that it is he, himself who has changed leads at the canter or taken the jump; only then will there be that complete union and harmony which produces true art.”

What’s Science Got To Do with This?

Garden wall 016

The Proceedings of the 8th Conference of The International Society for Equitation Science are available here:

http://www.equitationscience.com/documents/Conferences/ISESConferenceProceedings2012.pdf

2012 Summer Digest: International Society for Equitation Science

The Proceedings of the 2012 Conference of the International Society for Equitation Science

are available here:

http://www.equitationscience.com/documents/Conferences/ISESConferenceProceedings2012.pdf

 

Just for Fun: Stephen Colbert’s Televised Dressage Lesson

Humor reins….err…reigns

 

About once every four years, historically, this curator wishes he had a television. For the 2012 Olympiad, the internet filtered for me, leaving mornings free for horses here, realtime.

This morning, this is the funny thing that fell through the screen:

(To go straight to it, click the top line)

Listening to the riding horse

Free Translation Widget
Yesterday, I was schooling a novice horse, on near perfect footing, in falling rain, when he snorted at me. We had each other’s attention…I continued to listen and heard his ‘oil can’ precursor of schwung, and soon, the softly emphatic rhythm 1-2-1-2-1-2-… of cadenced working trot. We made much of this ….

Then, cleaning tack, I thought to revisit d’Endrody, and to republish this essay of yore:

“Well, Some of Them DO Talk”

Several years ago, I began handling and then stabilizing a former flat racer for I knew not then what other sports.  I noticed the very first day I put my hands on The Saint that he reacted to many of my motions, and often to my voice, with a snort. These snorts were not the snorts of a horse startled from grazing by a child passing in the lane on a bicycle, or the defiant snorts of a herd leader to the newcomer, or the snort of a fit horse who, upon being turned out on a chipper morning, throws up his head and exclaims before moving off to inspect the far of the field. These were low, soft, kindly snorts.

At the time I thought that the horse was telling me of his curiosity, surprise, bemusement, or disdain. But then horses don’t talk to people, only to each other, right? As his new surroundings, my motions, his tack, and clothing became familiar and then routine, the snorts subsided, and I forgot them.

As he progressed to lungeing on voice commands in the indoor hall, and I realized that, as he would go to the limits of the line to loosen up before I attached long reins, he was snorting again.  These were not look over the shoulder, snort, buck up and snort sort of snorts that celebrated a modicum of freedom, or the kick out and snort sort of snorts of a prankster. This horse would walk calmly away from the chambriere, increase the diameter of his path, bend his neck inward, make eye contact with me, and snort a few or several times while remaining entirely calm at walk and trot.

With the indoor hall otherwise silent, I would hear him snorting while he watched me prepare a grid for free jumping.  Of course I thought he was just blowing dust out his nasal passages, or that he had a minor allergy to winter mold.  Or… was this horse saying “Ah, time to get on with playing our games, eh?”  It did seem so, but then horses only talk to each other, not to people, right?

Soon I noticed that upon my first carrying tack to his stall front racks, but before I opened his stall door, The Saint would leave his hay, turn about his hindquarters toward me, lower his head, and snort.  sometimes he did this before I said anything to him, and sometimes soon after I greeted him with, “Hi, Snort!”

So, I was in my library one evening, ruminating about all this snorting. I was fascinated. Knowing that they would at least not laugh (out loud) at me if this was beyond the cutting edge, I considered faxing Equus to ask whether they knew of research on horses trying to talk to people (without being prompted by a pin prick.)

But I became distracted by the need to complete an assignment. So I looked over drawings on the drafting table, and then reached for A.L. d’Endrody’s Give Your Horse A Chance to verify the formula for the distance between two elements with ditches in a combination on a cross-country course to be ridden at preliminary speed. Opening to the index to find that table, my eyes became riveted upon “Snorting…147”.   SNORTING!  What was  d’ Endrody’s concern with snorting? Could I resist?

Actually beginning on page 146. I read:

“Creating of suppleness in the horses behaviour

The secret or producing suppleness is to obtain the horse’s understanding and willingness to obey, since the state of its body depends mainly upon the quality of its mental apprehensions.  The more successfully the suppleness of the animal’s mentality is attained, the more readily does it offer the suppleness of its body.

There is an interesting and convincing proof offered by the horse itself of the validity of this statement.  Horses often give an audible sign when they are changing from opposition into submission by starting to snort kindly.  The rider can best recognize this phenomenon during loosening exercises or regulating procedures at the moment when the change in the horse’s general behaviour [sic] sets in.  It is evident that this ‘talking’ is the expression of a mental function, thus the relaxation of the body, which the rider can perceive simultaneously with the snorting, must also be a direct result of the animal’s mental function.”

Of course I read further and with heightened respect for this authority who wrote about horses ‘talking’ in 1959.

Next day, I arrived at The Saint’s stall as he was sipping his water bucket.  Without waiting for him to finish his drink, I greeted him with “Hi, Snort!”  Then before my very eyes, he raised his chin from the lip of the goblet, stepped (or maybe only leaned) back, flexed his poll, and snorted. Upon my saying softly to him “Well aren’t you somebody?” he resumed drinking.  He snorted to me a few more times while we prepared to go to the indoor to play our games.

I don’t know whether this horse was really talking to me, d’Endrody wrote that some of them do. But I’m sure going to keep talking to horses… and listening.

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.

What is Contact?

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One cannot envision contact; so there are no images accompanying this post. One can, however, conceptualize contact. To get the concept, enlist someone else to read these words while you sit on a saddled horse, without stirrups, eyes closed.  Then pick up your stirrups, and listen again, eyes closed. 

Obtaining and maintaining soft contact- that is contact with the leg, seat and reins is a  complex, and, I dare say, crucial concept of equitation. Contact entails, on the part of the rider, an awareness of his calves and –through his boot and saddle flap– a “feel” of the side of the horse. Simultaneously, the rider must be aware of the inside of his thigh, his seat bones, and lower back, and– through the saddle flap, the seat of the saddle, and the pad underneath it– “feel” the horse’s back. Also simultaneously, the rider must be aware of his own shoulders, elbows, wrists, and fingers, and –through his gloves, reins, and bit– the horse’s neck and head to “feel” of the horse’s mouth. It is all to be connected.

Actually, it is more complicated than that, or vastly simpler, once you understand that what we really want to do is feel, in order to control, the horse’s individual hind legs, prerequisite to controlling the horse’s  back and shoulders. Which is why it is more apt to say that we “put the horse in front of the rider’s leg” than to say that we “put the horse on the bit” as an indication of a more intense, more energized degree of “riding on contact”.

Now, if all of this is complicated for a rider, who is, after all, a human being possessed of intelligence superior to the horse which, partner though it may be, or is becoming, is still an animal, then learning to go “on contact” is immensely more difficult for a horse. The horse must have that identical set of awarenesses, albeit in reverse, and must submit its animal will to its “feel” of, i.e. awareness of stimulation by, a rider. So be sympathetic, and question yourself, first,  if things are not going well.

More specifically, recheck the correctness of your overall position, and your position’s ability to fluidly follow and absorb the motion of the horse, without, in any way, interfering with the balancing gestures of an equine athlete at any stage of development. To do this, it is wise for riders, whether novice or vastly experienced, to develop or refurbish their own seats and “feel” for contact by riding schooled horses alternately with green prospects.

Whether riding a green or schooled horse, the mechanics of putting the horse “on contact” are the same. And perfecting the process of obtaining and maintaining contact with a horse is a lifetime quest…more on this later.

Surf’s Up!

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

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