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In Jessica Black’s book COWBOY DRESSAGE, she explains Eitan Beth-Halachmy’s riding and training philosophy. One point they do an excellent job clarifying involves transitions: what they are, how to prepare for them, and how to make them good.

Anytime the horse changes his gait or frame, he performs a transition. Going from the walk to the jog is a transition, for example; changing the frame, as in working jog to free jog, is also a transition. The goal for any transition is to make a smooth change of gait or frame (without altering the rhythm). This means staying straight or remaining on a bend, and keeping the back supple and the head and neck relaxed with light contact.

The horse should be engaged: all transitions start in the hindquarters, thus keeping the front end light. Transitions are an opportunity for the rider to bring the horse back into frame. It is particularly important not to over-train with transitions; always stop after one or two good executions.

Teaching transitions starts on the ground as part of building the foundation through leading, lunging, long-lining, and ground driving. These will establish a pattern of obedience that carries over to work under saddle. Even at the earliest stages of training, procure that the horse stay relaxed and supple. Don’t set your horse up for failure by asking too much. This is true for work under saddle as well as on the ground. If the horse does not understand, encourage him to move forward before asking for transitions again. Sometimes it can even be a good idea to put the horse up, and continue the next day.

Teaching transitions is not something you suddenly decide to do one day; you teach them all the time. Keep in mind that every communication with your horse is a teaching moment. The Cowboy Dressage emphasis on lightness will help make each transition work toward a better partnership.

Soft Feel, with its four facets, is an ideal approach to transitions:

Preparation, that is, asking the horse clearly what you want him to do.

Execution, that is, the horse’s interpretation of your requests.

Release, that is, the reward for the horse’s compliance.

Relaxation, that is, the result of effective communication with the horse continuing calmly to the next movement.

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Let’s consider transitions between gaits. The most important point to remember about changing gaits is that the change starts in the back of the horse, which moves forward into the transition. This will mean shortening the frame slightly in order to bring the horse together before executing the transition. The horse should make the transition smoothly and calmly. In general, if the horse is on a straight line or a bend when you start the transition, he should be on (the same) straight line or bend when he finishes it.

Sometimes you will want to change the gait at the same time you change direction (straightness/bend). This can be useful for practicing transitions: changing to a bend can make it easier to pick up the lope, for example. Cowboy Dressage tests may ask for changes of gait or frame at the same time that you go from straight to bend, or vice versa.

One of the best things a rider can do to ensure good transitions is become familiar with the gaits, and pay close attention to the pattern of hoof beats. Familiarize yourself with the walk, jog, and lope, by looking at the many diagrams available that demonstrate each step. Videos can also provide clear demonstrations of how the horse moves at each gait. Once you are familiar with how each movement should look, spend time watching horses move. Observing your horses play is not only good for the soul, it is good for the rider’s brain. Watching horses move freely in the pasture can help you become familiar with gaits, and this familiarity will make teaching them under saddle easier.

When you ride, feel the movement of the horse as his hooves strike the ground. Practice identifying where each foot is at the walk, jog, and lope. At the free jog, it can be very useful to post, paying attention to your diagonal (the horse’s  front foot with which the rider rises when posting). As you rise, the opposite hind foot is coming forward. Learn to recognize the diagonal movement of the horse’s feet at the jog. All these details will inform your decisions about where and how to ask your horse to change gaits.

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COWBOY DRESSAGE is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.  

 

 

 

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In her new book TRAINING HORSES THE INGRID KLIMKE WAY, gold-medal Olympian and champion eventer Ingrid Klimke shares intimate profiles of 10 of her horses. We are invited into her barn where she explains their personality quirks, their strengths and their challenges. Klimke outlines each horse’s training plan, highlighting why certain accommodations are made for a particular individual, and illustrating how another has blossomed under different training expectations.

Among others, readers meet Geraldine, a large-framed, elegant chestnut mare who shines in the  dressage arena. This is her story:

Geraldine grew up with the herd at Gut Schwaighof, the facility of her breeders and part owners, Hannelore and Ulrich Zeising. They informed me that she was ranked rather low in the herd as a foal. The Zeisings showed her to me as a three-year-old and we turned her loose to move about in the indoor arena. She had a light, floating trot and I liked her. I could also see that she was going to first need to grow into her large body and definitely needed more time to develop.

We decided to send her to my former apprentice, Lara Heggelmann, who thoroughly and carefully trained her through Second Level. Afterward, Geraldine returned to my barn at the end of her fifth year.

Geraldine is a quiet and reserved horse. She is shy and was often afraid in the beginning, especially when ridden out in front of other horses. She did not trust herself to lead the group when riding out, but she did not feel comfortable in the middle of the group, either. She went at the back of the group and put a big distance between herself and the other horses, which fascinated us. She let the distance get bigger and bigger and gave the impression she would prefer to have nothing to do with the other horses. Over the years, her behavior has changed: today, she will bravely take the lead and stays with the group, as long as the others don’t get too close for her liking.

Geraldine is a sound-sensitive horse and whenever anything is new for her, she finds it daunting at first. We have tried to be very cautious when getting her used to new things and to increase her self-confidence. When she does something well, I always praise her and build in a walk break. In this way, she knows everything is all right. She can relax and I win her trust. She is very sensitive to ride, so I really need to concentrate fully on her and give my aids with feel. Geraldine is very good natured and always very motivated. She wants to do everything right and always tries her best. In the barn, she is also very sociable and well behaved. Just being “left alone” is not her thing. Without her stablemates, she does not feel at ease.

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Photo from Training Horses the Ingrid Klimke Way

In order for Geraldine to learn to relax when being ridden in a group, we always take her with us on our hacks and adventures. I’m of the opinion it will help her to experience being ridden out in the open. Of course, she is also worked on the longe line once a week and ridden over cavalletti for gymnastic benefits. As Geraldine’s future lies clearly in dressage, it has also become the emphasis of her training. This means I do dressage-oriented work with her four days a week. She learns new exercises step by step, and I’m currently beginning to compete her at Prix St. Georges. In order for her to be able to learn new exercises well, it’s important there is a relaxed atmosphere in the riding arena or the indoor where she’s working. Most significantly for Geraldine, we really need to master that which she’s already learned, so that she can demonstrate it with self-confidence. When — and only when — the fundamentals are good, I can go further with her training, step by step.

At the moment, Geraldine is secure with all exercises at Prix St. Georges and she has successfully begun learning collected steps, working in the direction of piaffe and passage.

Read about Klimke’s other horses, as well as her training philosophy and favorite exercises, in TRAINING HORSES THE INGRID KLIMKE WAY, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

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Did you know the hoof-pastern axis is how the angle of the dorsal wall of the horse’s hoof compares to the angle of the pastern bone? According to horsewoman Susan Kauffmann and certified trimmer Christina Cline in their brand new guide THE ESSENTIAL HOOF BOOK, ideally, these two will be parallel to one another.

“This means that a horse with more upright pasterns overall will have more upright hoof angles than a horse with more sloping pasterns, whose feet should echo that degree of slope,” they say. “It also means that the hind feet will usually be slightly more upright than the front, as the hind pasterns of most horses are a bit more upright than the front.”

When the dorsal wall and the pastern don’t line up, people say that the hoof-pastern axis is “broken.”

“It can be broken back or it can be broken forward,” explain Kauffmann and Cline. “Either way, if you spot a broken axis on your horse, it is definitely something you want to discuss with your hoof-care professional and possibly your vet. In many instances, adjustments in trimming and/or shoeing can improve hoof-pastern alignment, such as a hoof with tall, overgrown heels causing a broken-forward axis, or a long toe and low heel causing a broken-back axis. However, there are cases where the misalignment of angles is permanent, such as a club foot on a mature horse, where it isn’t going to be possible to achieve the ideal, and trying to force a ‘better’ angle onto such a foot can potentially cause harm.”

Evaluating your horse’s hoof-pastern axis can give you important information about his trim and conformation, and possibly help you to head off problems that could result if something is amiss. Here’s how Kauffmann and Cline tell us how to do it in THE ESSENTIAL HOOF BOOK:

1  To get a correct read on your horse’s hoof-pastern axis, make sure the horse is standing on firm, level ground. It is also extremely important that the horse is standing square, which means all four feet are placed so that the cannon bones are perpendicular to the ground and the feet are weighted evenly. This allows you to see the true relation of the pastern angle to the hoof. If the horse is not standing square, his joints will flex to some degree, giving you an inaccurate reading of the hoof-pastern axis.

 

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Normal hoof-pastern axis (A); broken-forward axis (B); broken-back axis (C).

2  Once your horse is standing square (it may be helpful to have someone helping to keep him that way), move to the side, crouch down at a low angle, and take a look at how the front of the hoof wall lines up with the middle of the pastern. You might want to take a photo and draw some lines on it for easier assessment. If you see a broken-back or broken-forward angle, discuss it with your hoof-care provider and/or vet at the next opportunity.

 

For more hands-on activities that can help your horse stay healthy and happy from the ground up, check out THE ESSENTIAL HOOF BOOK, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

Did you know your knees can obstruct your horse’s ability to go forward? It’s weird to think about—but true! Your seat bones and feet  play a role, as well, but they are secondary to the knees.

You can use this easy test with an exercise ball to identify bad habits that may explain why your horse does (or doesn’t) respond to you in certain ways.

“The exercise ball has no brain and only does what you do,” explains biomechanics expert Wendy Murdoch in her bestselling 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES. “The ball’s movement is created by the student—intentional or otherwise. Therefore, the ball illuminates habits, offers explanations as to why the horse responds as he does, and provides an environment in which to learn new patterns. It also allows both the instructor and the student an opportunity to sort out problems before attempting to resolve them on the horse.”

1. Start by sitting in the full seat position on the ball. If necessary, place a marker to the side to see which direction the ball is rolling. To begin, individually isolate the movements of your pelvis, knees, and ankles, then combine them to determine which has the greatest influence on the direction the ball rolls. At first, you may think your ball is not reacting as it should. But the ball doesn’t lie. Have someone watch you (or work in front of a mirror) to discover what you are doing so that you can control the ball and explore the various combinations accurately.

2. When you maintain a 90-degree angle at the back of the knee without making the knees rigid, you will find that hollowing your back rolls the ball slightly back, while rounding rolls it slightly forward.

3. Beginning from a 90-degree angle at the back of the knees, straighten your knees and the ball will roll back; bend them again and it will roll forward.

4. Now lift the front of your feet and press on the floor with your heels. The ball will roll back. Lift your heels, leaving the front of your feet on the ground, and the ball may stay in place or roll forward, depending on how much you bend your knees.

5. You can override the effect of your pelvis and feet by straightening or bending your knees. Round your lower back, lift your toes, and let your knees bend: the ball rolls forward. Straighten your knees: it will roll back. Hollow your lower back, lift your heels, and bend your knees: the ball rolls forward. Straighten your knees: it rolls back.

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Note that when you straighten your knees with your feet in the stirrups, you are bracing against your horse’s forward movement regardless of whether your lower back is hollowed, rounded, or flat, and whether your foot position is heels down or toes down.

For more exercises that illuminate riding position habits in interesting ways, check out 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES by Wendy Murdoch, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

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To the uneducated eye, posting the trot is just a series of silly looking, seemingly purposeless, up-down movements. But riders understand what it takes to make rising and sitting to the two-beat rhythm of the horse’s diagonal gait complement rather than hinder his movement.

“The skilled rider uses rising trot to get the tension in the horse’s fascial net in sync with her own,” writes biomechanics pioneer Mary Wanless in her newest book THE NEW ANATOMY OF HORSE AND RIDER CONNECTION, “so together they get in rhythm and ‘play the right note.’”

Here’s how Wanless helps us understand how this dynamic works:

“Imagine two people sitting opposite each other and playing a game of catch with a tennis ball. Each throw involves bouncing the ball once. This is a cooperative game, with its own distinct rhythm, in which neither person is trying to catch the other one out. ‘Bounce, catch’ mirrors ‘sit, rise’, and our analogy is essentially describing the exchange of force and energy between horse and rider.

“Imagine the human game in full swing – until one person cleverly substitutes a bean-bag for the tennis ball. When this barely bounces, it marks the end of the game! Or perhaps one person suddenly substitutes a ‘boingy’ ball, and the game immediately speeds up as the ball travels faster.

“The skilled rider maintains the equivalent of a tennis ball game, even when the horse would rather throw bean-bags or ‘boingy’ balls. It is as if the rider says, ‘Sorry horse, but whatever you attempt to throw me, I am throwing back a tennis ball,’ maintaining this resolve and technique until such time as the horse takes a deep sigh and agrees to throw tennis balls!

“Whilst some heavy horses have wonderful ‘boing,’ most ‘bean-bag’ horses are from the heavier breeds. They trot as if their legs were stuck in porridge, since the recoil energy in their tendons and ligaments – and the force transmission along their respective lines of pull – is not enough to enable them to ‘ping’ off the ground. Iberian horses can be like this too, and any horse with a ‘soggy’ fascial net will be heavy on the ground and lack the spring of elastic recoil.

“Most riders fall into the trap of throwing a bean-bag back to this kind of horse: they land heavily in the saddle and press down into it. This is incredibly instinctive, and is encouraged by phrases like ‘sit deep and drive the horse forward,’ but a heavy landing will inevitably deaden your horse. The game then becomes a vicious circle as the ‘bean-bag’ tendencies of each partner amplify those of the other. Understandably, most riders soon start to feel like a desperate, disgruntled, and thoroughly jangled bean-bag! The only answer lies in landing lightly and quickly – in a trampoline-like way – thus encouraging the horse to be lighter and quicker on the ground. The rider may also need to kick, and to tap with a whip, but she must not throw bean-bags or she will get bean-bags back.

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Pausing at the top of the rise can help you counter the “boingy” horse.

“In contrast, ‘uptight’ Thoroughbreds throw ‘boingy’ balls. The rider who gets ‘boinged’ out of the saddle by the horse’s ‘boinginess’, loses control of the tempo, and the game speeds up unless she can make a momentary pause on each landing (without becoming soggy like a bean-bag). This keeps the horse’s feet on the ground for a fraction of a second longer. If the rider can also make a pause at the top of the rise (when the other diagonal pair of legs are in mid-stance) this again will act to keep the horse’s feet on the ground for longer. This slows the horse’s tempo, and changes how his fascial net rebounds from the ground. He has no choice but to throw tennis balls back to the rider.”

For more insight into how the rider’s fascia works, how the horse’s fascia works, and ways we can influence how they work together, check out THE NEW ANATOMY OF HORSE AND RIDER CONNECTION, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

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On the left: That’s me at five years old. On the right: My son at eight.

 

I had my son in front of me on the back of a horse before he was three, hoping—like any formerly horse-mad woman who did little else than muck, groom, and ride throughout her childhood might—that maybe, just maybe, he’d have a little “horsiness” rub off on him. But it was more than five years and many wheeled vehicles later when he finally, out of the blue (although admittedly after rewatching A Knight’s Tale for the thousandth time) asked if he could ride a horse.

I jumped at the chance to see my kid in the saddle at long last. Luckily, while I currently do not own a horse of my own, TSB Managing Director Martha Cook has a Morgan who draws children to him like moths to a porch light.

We arranged for an evening introduction to the ritual of riding…the cross-ties, the currycomb, the names of the different brushes (are the bristles hard or soft?), the order of go when it comes to tack. And while I stood back and allowed my son to learn from another, I felt an intense rush of pleasure, tinged as it so often is, with a distinct sadness.

Gone are my long days of dirty fingernails and face and boots as I passed the time raking aisleways, shoveling the track smooth in the indoor, bringing horses in and turning them out. Oh, and how I used to love to clean tack! The community of the warm room filled with steaming buckets and leather things on a cold day, as I rinsed and wiped and polished alongside others. The satisfaction of the bridles neatly wrapped and hung evenly along the wall, the saddles oiled and covered for another night.

Time used to pass slowly then. Whether it was the slower rhythms of barn life or merely the fact that I was literally counting down the minutes between the horses I’d get to ride, it is a pulse I can barely imagine now, when I sit down at my desk early each morning and suddenly look up to find that it is already time to make dinner.

But for an hour that evening last week, I tasted it again: time slowing. I allowed myself to imagine that I was five again, my first brush strokes on a pony’s side, my first steps beside him, leading him to a mounting block, my first attempts to direct him with a pull of the reins right and left. For that hour, all my worries about the world and our places in it fell away, and I felt, in all its simplicity, happy.

 

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Then…and now.

 

Why should little boys ride horses?

Because it will, even if only for a moment, make their mothers very, very happy.

 

Rebecca Didier, Managing Editor

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In November of 2016 the book HORSE SPEAK: THE EQUINE-HUMAN TRANSLATION GUIDE was released, becoming an instant bestseller and propelling a little-known trainer and riding teacher from Westminster, Vermont, into a whirlwind of book signings, speaking engagements, and clinics throughout North America. Now with the book soon to be released in Dutch and in German, and a follow-up DVD and book in the works, Sharon Wilsie is looking to help more people, from all equestrian backgrounds and disciplines, all over the world, learn to truly communicate with their horses—but not using our language of words and ropes. Wilsie has decoded Horse Speak for the rest of us.

TSB: How did you conceive of the different aspects of Horse Speak?

SW: As a long-time animal trainer, I am intrinsically aware of the difference between a “trained skill” and an “authentic response” from the animal’s own nature. I can train a horse, for instance, to come to the mounting block while at liberty and stand perfectly still without a halter or bridle, and I can then proceed to ride that horse without tack. Eventually, though, this was no longer satisfying, as it occurred to me that just because a horse could do this with apparent ease and obedience did not necessarily mean that he was choosing to do it of his own volition. A well trained and loved servant is still a servant.

I truly wanted to know if a horse, given freedom of choice, would choose to offer me his back. In order to answer this question, I needed to go beyond training. I had to be able to ask a question, “Would you be interested in having me on your back?” Moreover, I would have to understand his answer.

Ultimately, I had to learn to speak “Horse.” Language flows, bends, twists, and turns. It is not the straight-line reasoning of training, which pares down to a set of responses the animal learns to give to the same cues over and over again. The language of the horse belies his innate world view, which can be similar to ours, and in other cases can be almost in opposition to us.

In this work, I start teaching people with the most basic platform: I call it “Going to Zero.” This simply means you adopt the inner state of calm that horses seek to maintain at all times. If you can steady yourself by learning to be at “Zero intensity,” both outside and in, you are on your way to learning the visual language of the horse.

TSB: How does Horse Speak differ from other forms of human-animal communication?

SW: Horse Speak demystifies the subtleties of not only horses, but of the best of the best trainers that people may wish to emulate. When we see a truly stunning performance—whether dressage, circus tricks, Roman riding, or some other amazing horse-and-rider combination—we all wish to experience that level of connection and inspired horsemanship. What few people understand is that body language is a natural part of all of us. It is the level of innate brain connectivity around the interpretation of body language that varies among us. Some people can be naturally fluent in this skill, while others may struggle to interpret even basic facial cues (as is the case in autism).

Horse Speak assists people on any level of awareness to either take what is already working and make it better, or even start from scratch and learn body language basics from the ground up.

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TSB: Why do you feel others can benefit from and should learn Horse Speak?

SW: Whether a person has professional goals (showing, teaching, training) or simply enjoys a backyard horse or two, everyone generally wants to have a happy, healthy, and wholesome relationship with horses. Taking the time to really learn their language is just plain common sense.

TSB: How has Horse Speak changed your life with horses? Your career as a horse trainer and riding coach?

SW: To speak the language of the horse is to dive into a world of potential that only exists when two beings can really communicate with each other. And on a completely practical level, I know no better way to help a horse “buy in” to our ideas—whether we want to jump a bigger fence or just get through a veterinary visit without incident.

TSB: How do you see Horse Speak growing and changing other people’s lives with horses? Other people’s equine careers?

SW: In any theater of horsemanship, it is essential to have the utmost safety possible. Far too many people live with a level of mistrust, getting stepped on, run over, bucked off, and so on, while assuming this is just the way things are with horses. This is most definitely NOT the way things should be, and it is NOT ultimately the way horses wish things to be. Especially in the arena of therapeutic horsemanship (physical or emotional/psychological) the need for trust, rapport, and co-facilitation from the horse himself is paramount. One cannot simply layer on more and more obedience-based training, hoping to reach the horse’s authentic core and gain access to the depth of heart that these animals are capable of offering. This can only be reached through communication.

TSB: If there is one common message that most horses are trying to tell us that we don’t understand, what is it?

Horse Speak Final CoverSW: Live from your heart. Horses don’t mind if you cry, or are afraid, or even if you feel frustrated. But they abhor incongruity. If your insides are churning, and your outsides are trying to act like a rigid authority, this inner vs. outer conflict makes horses confused and anxious. If nothing else, learning to think and act like a horse will give any human access to a level of inner awareness and outer presence that trumps any other mechanical, rule-based roboticism that steers us to see horses as more of a biological motorcycle than the elegant gatekeepers to a richer existence in which being “one with nature” is more than a quaint expression: it is reality.

To find out more about HORSE SPEAK and to download a free chapter, CLICK HERE.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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