Why the Classical Seat? May 18 2016, 0 Comments
One of my EE teachers was asked by a fellow livery at the yard where she keeps her horses ‘Why ride in this Classical seat? It's not proper riding, you can’t ride like that out hacking or generally’. Oh the misunderstanding, the ignorance that still abounds in the horse world!
My staff, pupils and I, never ride in any other way. Yes, we will put the stirrups up a hole for hacking and probably two if going for a canter, but the position doesn’t alter from the ear/shoulder/hip/heel line. Little do these people realise that it’s actually a very secure position and the only one of balance! Yes, you may need to ride in a more defensive position on a difficult horse, but it is a rarity and certainly not a position from which you can influence a horse to train on in dressage, whether classical or otherwise.
We had a lovely young lady here a few days ago to watch us ride and train. She is intelligent and questioning, and I will be teaching her shortly on her own horse. She was astonished at the degree of precision in correcting my working student’s barely visible faults. However, if the smaller faults are ignored they have a nasty habit of becoming bigger ones! So few teachers/trainers actually notice the larger faults nor bother to correct them, never mind the smaller ones! But those faults affect the horse’s ability to perform, yet the horse is the one they normally attempt to correct, whereas if the rider faults were corrected, nine times out of ten, the horse’s faults would disappear!
Riders who have had a sit on my Lusitano, Rei, have trouble even keeping him on the track. They are so used to moving too much, blissfully unaware of what their weight is doing to cause him to veer off the track, and even less aware of where their weight actually is. The weight aids are so easy to teach, yet they are either not taught at all, or are taught in such a confusing way that the rider is more muddled than ever!I have long said that ‘the aids should be clear to the horse, but not visible to the onlooker’, yet how often do we see riders who actually look to be a part of their horse, with aids that are all but unnoticeable? So much attention is paid now by riders to connecting with their horse on the ground, but as I said in a blog a few weeks ago, the whole connection goes to pot once on the horse and riding in a way which is not only confusing the horse, but even hurting him?
I wonder when I get the new website, ‘The Online Riding School’ up and running, just how many will actually subscribe or buy the videos, because it is about riding itself and not just ‘connecting’ on the ground. Without the knowledge of the mechanics of riding, no amount of attention to connection once you are on board will make a jot of difference, if you are applying ‘aids’ which hinder, rather than achieve their own meaning, that of ‘help’.
The ‘mechanics’ of riding are simple. They do not need a load of jargon, images and analogies to get the message across. Simple plain English, to explain and clarify, then immediate correction or preferably as a problem is about to happen, will get the rider’s feel and timing going, far more than any airy fairy, arty farty stuff that in actual fact bears no relation to assisting you to sync your movement with that of the horse!!
By all means develop a bond with your horse on the ground. We have great relationships with all our horses, as we treat them absolutely as individuals and encourage them to have their own personalities, within the bounds of reason!! We like nothing more than for our horses to be playful even under saddle, as we want them to enjoy being with us, but especially when we are on their back. There is never a moment when subconsciously, I am aware that I am there by my horse’s good grace and that it behoves me to do my utmost never to impede him, by being as good a rider as I can possibly be, even now in my 60s.
So I hope that those who read this will help to spread the word of a kinder way to ride and train.
Long and low? April 30 2016, 0 Comments
There is an enormous amount of confusion in the horse world about what constitutes ‘long and low’, ‘forward down and out’ ‘deep and round’ and the dreaded ‘rollkur’. For me, the average exponent of ‘long and low’ has the horse almost ‘peanut rolling’ head near the floor, trundling along on its shoulders. ‘Forward, down, out’ is probably the method espoused by proponents of Philippe Karl’s ‘School of Legerete’, where he is looking for ‘neck extension’ with the poll always the highest point, and the horse extending the frame with nose well in front of the vertical.
‘Deep and round’ is what I see the best exponents of competition dressage, such as Carl Hester, when he works the horse to stretch so much over the topline with hindlegs very well engaged, that the back rounds up, the horse coming round and somewhat behind the vertical as though completing a ‘bow’ shape, but never pulled there or short in the neck. The neck muscles are not tense, and the jaw relaxed, the reins even slack.
‘Rollkur’ is where the neck is shortened to the point that the chin touches the chest, the eyes bulge out, and the whole demeanour is one of force and tension, the reins taut and the mouth often gaping against the pressure of the bit or bits.
I have no problem with the neck extension or the deep and round when practised correctly. The first, long and low, is the recipe for putting the horse on the shoulders, yet we see riders cooing over photos of horses in this position, clearly weighting the forehand and the withers down between the shoulder blades. Rollkur is nothing but cruelty, a ‘method’ many of us have been railing against for a couple of decades, to try to get that wet bunch of cowards, the FEI to actually do something about it. Fat chance, unless someone blows up the whole lot and starts afresh with people who are willing to stand up for the horse, which would make a refreshing change.
In the French school of training that I largely follow, we wait for the horse to seek to stretch, rather than as many riders do, attempt to nag the head into position with the hands. Yes, we will use the fingers to ‘ask’ the horse to relax the jaw, and in doing so he will lower his head and relax the all-important under neck muscles. In my EE training, we will walk the horse on long reins, but always ensuring he is seeking down, and even round, in this warm up period for around 10 minutes. Then we will start in lateral exercises in walk. Once these are completed, the horse is already well up off his shoulders, and the walk will be performed in collection, even with the younger horses. Kyra Kyrkland's recent article was entitled ‘Smaller Steps Mean Better Balance’, that was balm for weary eyes to read. The horse, having performed the lateral exercises in collected walk, then happily offers the stretch once allowed to take a break in free walk on a long rein. Usually we will go straight to sitting trot, to perform many transitions, often including rein back to walk or trot, and the lateral exercises. Then the next break would be in rising trot with the horse again offering the stretch over the whole topline.
If the rider has to ask for the stretch, this is nowhere near as beneficial as the horse offering it. Because if the horse is offering to stretch correctly then the work has been correct, and he has been using his back correctly, the pelvis has been tucked, the abs engaged, the withers lifted. No amount of tanking round the school on working trot 20m circles, long and low, will ever achieve this result. My 6 yr old Lusitano Faiel has been a nightmare, having two years off with injuries culminating in a major operation last September on his hock needing a years rehab. He has only had about 5 months in total under saddle in his life, yet he rides like a far more advanced horse. We never let him go on in walk or trot, to the point he dropped onto his shoulders. Always only just enough strides before he lost balance and would drop the withers. So he has never learned to go on the forehand. His neck is raised, and the poll nearly always the highest point, despite a hugely muscled neck, bigger now than when he was a stallion, and nearly all achieved just walking in hand as part of his rehab. Now that he is back under saddle although just hacking out, he is so light in hand in a mullen-mouth hanging cheek snaffle only, no noseband at all, and moves sideways easily in leg yield or shoulder in out of the path of vehicles on our tiny high banked Devon lanes. I remember Dr Reiner Klimke remarking at the ABRS 40th anniversary convention ‘the trouble with you British, you have your horses going low and low even when they are 10 years old and you wonder why you never progress?’!! How right he was!
On another note, I was horrified to read on Newsfeed today that Carl Hester’s 2012 Olympic ride Uthopia is the subject of a bankruptcy case, I hasten to add, not any involvement of Carl, who rode and trained Uti for his owners. My heart goes out to Carl, having seen Uti at home, a stallion, standing with the stable door wide open whilst his adoring public made a fuss of him, Carl whom I know personally, will be gutted to know that his old friend is to be sold at public auction without even a reserve. If only our government would follow that of New Zealand, in declaring that all animals are sentient beings and must be treated as such by law. This case would never take place if this were to be the law here too.
It is admirable that crowd funding has been instigated to try to buy Uthopia to keep him here with Carl, but I feel that discussions need to be held with the bank that is dealing with the bankruptcy, to try to bargain with them to prevent Uti going to auction and for a private sale to take place instead. I hope for Uthopia’s future that something can be sorted to ensure a happy retirement here with Carl.
Bringing 'connection' to your riding April 21 2016, 1 Comment
I was surprised, no, rather shocked, last week to read a post on my Enlightened Equitation Facebook group where the writer said that she was into natural horsemanship, to ‘better connect with her horse’ and that she would find my training ‘intimidating’. I queried why out of genuine curiosity, but haven’t seen a reply. Intimidating? But why?!! I have long promoted the strapline on my website of ‘A Kinder Way to Ride and Train’. Does this conjure up the image of the stereotypical riding instructress of old, who barked commands military-style, to her frequently terrified pupils?!
I see courses of many varieties offered on the internet which all seem to be based on groundwork, rather than riding, and which promise a better ‘connection with your horse’. But what does this word ‘connection’ entail? For many, it has even a spiritual element, for others it is mainly about developing a rapport with their horse. I notice that it is rarely taken up by riders who have spent a lifetime with horses, but seems mostly to be ladies who have perhaps come into riding later in life and can afford a horse for the first time. And I hasten to add that there is nothing wrong with that!
30 yr old Arabian, Spanish Silver. Heather bought him as a barely broken 7 yr old, with a reputation for biting viciously. And he lived up to that reputation, until he bit Heather badly one day and she didn’t retaliate. From that day, he started to bond with her. She had him gelded at 13 yrs, purely so that he could go out to play with other horses. Now aged 30, he is very much the stables pet, and adores working student Tallulah, clearly shown in this photo of him in blissful ecstasy!
For those of us brought up around horses, or who have ridden since childhood, this ‘connection’ if we are truly horse lovers, is automatic. We tune into our horse’s wavelength without even being conscious of it. I can tell at a glance if one of my horses is not right. It is not only years of experience, but it is ‘connection’ because I love my horses and know immediately if he or she is not quite themselves.
This ‘connection’ is very often sought because the owner is not getting on well with the horse under saddle. It seems to be assumed that once a better rapport is established on the ground, then the ridden side will also improve. Unfortunately this is seldom the case. Once on the back of the horse, the rider is actually entrusting her own life to the animal underneath her, and it is perfectly understandable for many riders to feel nervous of this prospect! But no matter how much the connection improves on the ground, if the rider is lacking actual riding skills, then it will fall to pieces again once the owner is mounted.
If the rider is blocking the horse, especially through a poor seat and, consequently, unclear aids, the horse will quickly become frustrated and the connection lost and that can mean the connection of the rider with the saddle!
The horse needs a leader. In a herd, the lead mare will keep the rest of the herd in line. The human acts as leader in the human/horse interaction. If the human is too weak, the horse will have no respect and walk all over her. Too far the other way and the horse will be tense and fearful.
All of my horses have hugely individual personalities, because we encourage that individuality, and do not stifle it, whilst still maintaining boundaries.
Our late and much lamented Hispano Arabe, Fanta, who we enjoyed playing with, loose in the school. This was taken at our conference in 2009, when he was showing off particularly for the audience!
My PRE stallion, Sultan, if we turn him loose in the indoor school for a play, he will immediately go off in search of the sugar box, no matter where I hide it! However, if I want him to be with me, he can quickly be brought back to focus and will follow me like a dog, even though I have only owned him four months, having arrived from Spain in mid-December. My two older Lusitanos are cousins, out of the same grandmother, yet are totally different personalities. Rei, now 18, is still quite a scaredy horse, would be terrified if you entered his stable with a large plastic sack, yet won’t turn a hair if he were to meet a huge tractor or lorry on our narrow Devon lanes, whereas 17 year old Sudi would stick his head in the bag, but would still be apprehensive of a large vehicle at such close quarters on the lanes.
PRE livery, Lorca, is the soppiest of all the horses here and loves nothing better than to literally kiss his human friends! My 30 yr old Arabian, Spanish Silver, especially loves our part-time long term working student, Tallulah, and will stand, facing her with his whole head on her shoulder, eyes closed, whilst she tickles his neck. At 30 he is still very playful and often is stirring Lorca up to play with him in the field. I bought him as a very difficult 7 yr old stallion, who bit so badly that he had been in solitary confinement for several years at the stud. I won his trust, and could happily put a ten year old child on him a couple of years later, to learn the feel of piaffe. I had him gelded at 13 yrs so that he could go out and play with other horses and enjoy a normal life.
My stunning black 6 yr old Lusitano, Faiel, who has been so plagued with injuries, to the point that we wondered if we would ever get him sound again after a major operation on his hock to repair the later injury, has had to endure months of box rest and in hand walking. We have had to keep him interested and happy despite his confinement. He has a real temper, but we can keep it in check by disarming him, rather than confronting him. Now he is hacking out like an old pro, having never set foot on the roads under saddle until 6 weeks ago and only having had about 4 months’ work under saddle in total prior to his injuries. Everyone who visits remarks on what a character he is, and that is because we understand him and allow that character to blossom, but equally, not get out of hand!
So for all of you who seek this connection, I will also be focusing on the connection when mounted, in my new video series in The Online Riding School, my new website (not yet live) which will be devoted to providing video lessons, unedited and spontaneous, on subjects from beginners right through to advanced riders, which I hope will give a flavour of how the Enlightened Equitation teaching is very compatible with all the groundwork based courses that many are undertaking. We have done in hand work and long reining for years here, the latter with my yard manager Kay who is really expert in this area, and we also incorporate Mindfulness training with our excellent teacher, Ollie Frame, in our ‘Confidence Booster’ and ‘Connect with your Horse’ ridden workshops which we will be introducing shortly.
We have a Pilates studio behind the indoor school whose owner, Sasha, also does Pilates for Riders, plus we have a Yoga school within half a mile of the farm and our own Level 3 Enlightened Equitation teacher, Joy Morris, is a highly qualified Feldenkrais teacher for those of you with various physical problems that may hamper your riding. My aim is to offer courses which incorporate exercises to improve flexibility and core strength to enable a better seat, in conjunction with our EE teaching methods on the Equisimulators, which will enable students to connect with their horses through synchronising their own movement, with that of the horse.