Posts tagged ‘equitation’

WorldClass Warm-ups include Long&Low, EVERYDAY

Free Translation Widget

In recent months of sizzling summer-extreme heat and drought, here near the Confluence- I’ve watched innumerable videos of 2011 Aachen, The European Dressage Championships, and several other European Dressage shows, and have been inspired by such good riders, more as a matter of  ‘who knows, rather than who’s news.’

While the US Young and Developing Dressage Horse Championships and US National Grand Prix and Intermediare Championships were in process the last few weeks, at Wayne and Gladstone, I resorted frequently to usefnetwork.com live stream and a variety of news sources to glean new insight into progress by US competitors toward the ideals of Dressage.  For the tests themselves, internet videos provide excellent vantage points, typically better than being there.  And when I see one test performance clipped, I seek, and often find,  more videos of the same performance, recorded from other vantage points.

What I miss by not actually being there, is that I don’t see the warm-ups preceding the tests, as one can, if situated  cleverly at contest venues.

So over time I have surfed avidly for film clips of warm-ups by riders I admire, and who moments thereafter received high marks from FEI Judges. I have found few, alas, very few.  My current favorites of warm up clips, is Steffen Peters (US) and Ravel at 2009 Aachen, where they won the Grand Prix, Grand Prix Special, and Grand Prix FreeStyle. warming-up  for the Grand Prix Special which is, you may know is THE TEST of shortest duration, requiring the highest degree of collection for sustained  for the longest duration of any of the FEI TESTS.

(A new GPS test, written by the FEI, at the behest of the IOC, and much to the chagrin of the International Dressage Riders Club, for the purpose of entertaining network television viewers of London 2012, will be used from October 1, 2011 through December 31, 2012. I just read the new test. Containing all the same movements as the ‘normal’ GPS test, it is even shorter- more compact, and requires more muscular stamina. I think it an unnecessarily difficult means of testing against the ideal. Causing me to wonder, for our horses’ sakes, how to get television production under control. )

A view of Steffen Peters preparing Ravel for their 2009 Aachen Grand Prix Special triumph: ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

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And here’s what I see…from zero to 1:26 Steffen is loosening and promoting Ravel’s engagement  by posting vigorously, emphatically rising as vertically as possible, canting forward only by the inclination of his head and the visor or his cap. When he touches the saddle, he barely pats it. But he does pat it, to which the horse reacts by opening his thoracic spines upward.  Steffen opens the inside of Ravel by counter flexing and eliciting one stride of counter shoulder fore before riding each corner as a quarter volte. In this posture, for this horse’s degree of development, a quarter volte is three or four strides, rather than two, as in collection. Again counter flexing a stride before beginning a circle, he then ‘drives on,’ forward and down, asking for increased engagement into even contact, including, for the purpose of this exercise, the contact of the rider’s passively tense calf with horse’s latissimus dorsi, through saddle.

Contact with the rider’s hands, held wide apart as the rider’s hips, well below the horse’s withers, and therefore sensed by the horse from the rider’s hips, rather than from the rider’s elbows as when the riders hands but a hand’s width apart and just above the horse’s withers, is through the snaffle rein to the corner of the horse’s mouth and through the curb rein only by the weight of the curb rein and bit felt by the horse at its poll. The “drive on” is effected by the rider’s posting momentum including the projection of his center forward and the flexion of the rider’s calf each time rider rises with the horse’s inside leg. The rider’s hand senses to coming of throughness from behind and gives to permit forward energy flow, effecting repeated ‘half-forwards’  The horse’s posture is horizontal, weight distributed evenly fore and aft. Tail swinging indicates lack of spinal tension. Neck long, open and low, to poll below withers, flopping ears! Facial profile inside the vertical and moving toward the vertical as the exercise proceeds. Corner of horses mouth between point of horse’s shoulder and horse’s elbow.

Steffen executes the exercise as I find it is written in classical literature. This is how it is done. The first 86 seconds of this tape is the answer not only to “what is long and low?” but the current probe “How long and low is TOO long and low?” This tape exemplifies the limits.

In the very next seconds, and onward, Steffen administers exercises he has programmed to ready for the soon to be performed test. And there is vastly more to be learned, not the least of which is the relationship between half-pass and passage, by and for  those who have moved closer to this level of  development. About the rest of the tape I may write later, if only for the crystallization of my own thoughts. I chose to not edit, to not curtail, the tape because I did not want to remove any available context.

But back to long and low, everyday long and low:

What we don’t see in this clip is what preceded the administration of the exercise. Reasonable surmise is that he enjoyed a 10 minute walk ‘trail ride,’ mounted, from stable to the group warm up ring, where among other contestants, he continued to loosen with longitudinal and lateral exercises at trot and canter, awaiting his ten minutes of exclusive use of the private warm-up court penultimate to entrance to the test arena. And may have entered the private court at collected canter, just before the video starts. Such sequential build-up to performance is rarely, if ever afforded at lesser than International Championships venues.  Nonetheless, the first 1:26 of this clip is relevant to the work of all of our horses, at every stage of their progressions. Large circles, with the best possible contact,  long and low, emphasizing maintenance of rhythm and tempo and promoting engagement, is, early on, the lesson itself, for a horse in field school. It is valuable therapy for a horse coming out of rehabilitation. And it is essential preparation for a day’s lesson, or for test performance.

For advancing medium level horses, and further developing advanced horses, this exercise is included not only in warm-up, but also warm-down. As such horses tend to become too strong, it is best to leave the day on a soft, light note, making it easier to resume the next ride with softness and lightness.

Oh, almost forgot! I couldn’t find a clip of Ravel’s 2009 Aachen GPS, but here’s one of his triumph in the Freestyle, preceded, I imagine by a similar, if not identical warm-up.

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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.

WorldClass Warm-ups include Long&Low, EVERYDAY

Free Translation Widget

 

In recent months of sizzling summer-extreme heat and drought, here near the Confluence- I’ve watched innumerable videos of 2011 Aachen, The European Dressage Championships, and several other European Dressage shows, and have been inspired by such good riders, more as a matter of  ‘who knows, rather than who’s news.’

While the US Young and Developing Dressage Horse Championships and US National Grand Prix and Intermediare Championships were in process the last few weeks, at Wayne and Gladstone, I resorted frequently to usefnetwork.com live stream and a variety of news sources to glean new insight into progress by US competitors toward the ideals of Dressage.  For the tests themselves, internet videos provide excellent vantage points, typically better than being there.  And when I see one test performance clipped, I seek, and often find,  more videos of the same performance, recorded from other vantage points.

What I miss by not actually being there, is that I don’t see the warm-ups preceding the tests, as one can, if situated  cleverly at contest venues.

So over time I have surfed avidly for film clips of warm-ups by riders I admire, and who moments thereafter received high marks from FEI Judges. I have found few, alas, very few.  My current favorites of warm up clips, is Steffen Peters (US) and Ravel at 2009 Aachen, where they won the Grand Prix, Grand Prix Special, and Grand Prix FreeStyle. warming-up  for the Grand Prix Special which is, you may know is THE TEST of shortest duration, requiring the highest degree of collection for sustained  for the longest duration of any of the FEI TESTS.

(A new GPS test, written by the FEI, at the behest of the IOC, and much to the chagrin of the International Dressage Riders Club, for the purpose of entertaining network television viewers of London 2012, will be used from October 1, 2011 through December 31, 2012. I just read the new test. Containing all the same movements as the ‘normal’ GPS test, it is even shorter- more compact, and requires more muscular stamina. I think it an unnecessarily difficult means of testing against the ideal. Causing me to wonder, for our horses’ sakes, how to get television production under control. )

A view of Steffen Peters preparing Ravel for their 2009 Aachen Grand Prix Special triumph: ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

************************************************************************************

And here’s what I see…from zero to 1:26 Steffen is loosening and promoting Ravel’s engagement  by posting vigorously, emphatically rising as vertically as possible, canting forward only by the inclination of his head and the visor or his cap. When he touches the saddle, he barely pats it. But he does pat it, to which the horse reacts by opening his thoracic spines upward.  Steffen opens the inside of Ravel by counter flexing and eliciting one stride of counter shoulder fore before riding each corner as a quarter volte. In this posture, for this horse’s degree of development, a quarter volte is three or four strides, rather than two, as in collection. Again counter flexing a stride before beginning a circle, he then ‘drives on,’ forward and down, asking for increased engagement into even contact, including, for the purpose of this exercise, the contact of the rider’s passively tense calf with horse’s latissimus dorsi, through saddle.

Contact with the rider’s hands, held wide apart as the rider’s hips, well below the horse’s withers, and therefore sensed by the horse from the rider’s hips, rather than from the rider’s elbows as when the riders hands but a hand’s width apart and just above the horse’s withers, is through the snaffle rein to the corner of the horse’s mouth and through the curb rein only by the weight of the curb rein and bit felt by the horse at its poll. The “drive on” is effected by the rider’s posting momentum including the projection of his center forward and the flexion of the rider’s calf each time rider rises with the horse’s inside leg. The rider’s hand senses to coming of throughness from behind and gives to permit forward energy flow, effecting repeated ‘half-forwards’  The horse’s posture is horizontal, weight distributed evenly fore and aft. Tail swinging indicates lack of spinal tension. Neck long, open and low, to poll below withers, flopping ears! Facial profile inside the vertical and moving toward the vertical as the exercise proceeds. Corner of horses mouth between point of horse’s shoulder and horse’s elbow.

Steffen executes the exercise as I find it is written in classical literature. This is how it is done. The first 86 seconds of this tape is the answer not only to “what is long and low?” but the current probe “How long and low is TOO long and low?” This tape exemplifies the limits.

In the very next seconds, and onward, Steffen administers exercises he has programmed to ready for the soon to be performed test. And there is vastly more to be learned, not the least of which is the relationship between half-pass and passage, by and for  those who have moved closer to this level of  development. About the rest of the tape I may write later, if only for the crystallization of my own thoughts. I chose to not edit, to not curtail, the tape because I did not want to remove any available context.

But back to long and low, everyday long and low:

What we don’t see in this clip is what preceded the administration of the exercise. Reasonable surmise is that he enjoyed a 10 minute walk ‘trail ride,’ mounted, from stable to the group warm up ring, where among other contestants, he continued to loosen with longitudinal and lateral exercises at trot and canter, awaiting his ten minutes of exclusive use of the private warm-up court penultimate to entrance to the test arena. And may have entered the private court at collected canter, just before the video starts. Such sequential build-up to performance is rarely, if ever afforded at lesser than International Championships venues.  Nonetheless, the first 1:26 of this clip is relevant to the work of all of our horses, at every stage of their progressions. Large circles, with the best possible contact,  long and low, emphasizing maintenance of rhythm and tempo and promoting engagement, is, early on, the lesson itself, for a horse in field school. It is valuable therapy for a horse coming out of rehabilitation. And it is essential preparation for a day’s lesson, or for test performance.

For advancing medium level horses, and further developing advanced horses, this exercise is included not only in warm-up, but also warm-down. As such horses tend to become too strong, it is best to leave the day on a soft, light note, making it easier to resume the next ride with softness and lightness.

Oh, almost forgot! I couldn’t find a clip of Ravel’s 2009 Aachen GPS, but here’s one of his triumph in the Freestyle, preceded, I imagine by a similar, if not identical warm-up.

Too much, too soon?

Free Translation Widget
I was interested to read this morning Eurodressage Astrid’s Appel’s lead sentence that the Danes decided to add a Youngster Cup to “spice up” their Danish Warmblood Elite Mare Show at Vilmesborg last weekend, and that it was won by Torveslettens Stamina and Andreas Helgstrand. Astrid goes on:  ” Stamina, who has twice placed in the Final of the World Championships in Verden, performed her best test ever, and scored 10 for trot and capacity. She ended her test with a total score of 9.62.”

‘Capacity’ I mused, ‘trot and capacity.’  Now that’s a term I’ve not previously encountered. Apparently it refers to a conceptual quality , an ideal quality. Impulsion? But not in FEI parlance. Of course, The Danish Warmblood Elite Mare Show is conducted under Danish National, rather than FEI rules, et ma langue Danois n’est pas; I’ll have to clarify “capacity” for myself when I have time to find the test in Danish and navigate the translation software.

So I watched Adreas Helgstrand (rider of world watched Blue Hors Matine of 2006 Aachen fame and 2007 Las Vegas misfortune) press the 6 year old mare “Torveslettens Stamina” through a test requiring  movements of the current USEF Third Level Tests, without rein-back, or canter half-pass, but with collected trot full circles preceding trot half pass,  collected walk and 1/2 pirouettes as in USEF Fourth Level, versus collected trot half circles preceding trot half pass and medium walk and half-turn on the haunches of USEF Third Level.

Yikes! That is a LOT to ask of a 6 year old. And although her youthful exhuberance carries her through the test from halt to halt, with highly animated gaits, Helgstrand is, to my eye, muscling her around. Helgstrand is, I am sure, a very strong man, strong of limbs and core, so his is not light contact. Influences are visible: the young mare is pressed, funnelled, squeezed through the entire test.

But  the first time I watched the clip, before knowing the test, I could see it coming. The first halt told me what to expect.  The mare comes nearly straight down the center line, and halts base narrow in front, then shifts her weight over, onto her right hind and sticks her left hind out to the side, seeking relief, if only for those 6 seconds, from the stress to her fore and hind quarters of the warm-up preceding the test. Hind end stress is again evident in the walk 1/2 pirouettes. 3!  The final halt confirms prognostication.  In the final halt Stamina plants her front feet so close together she may have even stepped on herself- I can’t be sure- and widens her hind legs as far as possible without overstretching a groin muscle. Or did she?

Such a young horse should not be required to perform exactly so…so soon.

Stamina…I hope for you that you can live up to your name.

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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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What is Contact?

Free Translation Widget

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.

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