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Raymond is one of the 10 horses that star in Yvonne Barteau’s THE DRESSAGE HORSE MANIFESTO. Photo by fireandearthphoto.com.

If horses could talk, what would they say about the exercises we ask them to do and the movements we have them perform? Grand Prix dressage rider and popular equestrian performer Yvonne Barteau has wondered this throughout her lifelong career with horses, and so she has tried very hard over the years to learn to see and understand things from the equine perspective.

In her incredibly fun-to-read book THE DRESSAGE HORSE MANIFESTO, Barteau guides us through the dressage levels from the horse’s point of view. Her humor and well-honed sense of how the equine mind works provides a valuable and very different look at what it means to train and ride a dressage horse.

Here is an exercise from one of the 10 real-life horse stars of Barteau’s book: Raymond is a worrier-type, seven years old, and only showing Training and First Level, although he knows and practices all kinds of FEI movements. He likes to work and this is one Second Level lesson in counter-canter that is a particular favorite.

Raymond says:

Counter-canter, counter-flexion teaches us to balance and stay true to our lead, rather than associating a change in flexion with a change in lead. This exercise is designed to both gymnasticize us, and make us totally obedient to your aids by counter-cantering, and then changing the flexion away from the lead we are on. For example: left lead, traveling right, but flexed to the right, and right lead, traveling left, flexed to the left.

How to Do It
1 In counter-canter going to the right (you are on the left lead, traveling on the right rein) start with your right leg in its slightly back position to add sideways pressure until you start to get into a sort of renvers (haunches-out) positioning.

2 Keeping a “conversational” and pulsing kind of leg aid with that same right leg, allow us to connect to the left rein more as an outside rein (rather than as an inside flexion rein), and begin to flex us bit by bit to the right with your right (suppling) fingers (counter-flexion).

3 Be careful to keep the impulsion and “jump” in the canter with that same right leg while not doing too much with your left leg (which should still be up by the girth). If things go really well, you will feel almost as if you are in counter-canter, counter-shoulder-in with your horse’s weight more over his outside limbs (in this case, the left) and less over his inside (in this case, the right). Your horse needs to get comfortable and balanced in this positioning on either lead, and be able to go back and forth from counter-canter, true-flexion to counter-canter, counter-flexion in preparation for the lead changes to come.

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It will feel SO good when you and your horse get this exercise right! Photo by fireandearthphoto.com.

When It Goes Wrong
It takes time to get good at this exercise—it challenges both horse and rider—and if you or your horse starts getting confused or frustrated, just back off and review something easier. Don’t come back to this exercise until you are both relaxed and in harmony again.

 

Get more guidance straight from the horse’s mouth in THE DRESSAGE HORSE MANIFESTO, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

Yvonne Barteau is judging the all-women edition of Road to the Horse, which starts tomorrow! You can watch the live broadcast here.

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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Doug Payne on Running Order. Photo by Shannon Brinkman from THE RIDING HORSE REPAIR MANUAL.

Doug Payne is a well-known equestrian on the international scene, perhaps most recognized as the eventer-most-likely-to-wear-a-helmet-cam. His pulse-quickening videos are seemingly everywhere, leaving hundreds of would-be riders dizzy from their virtual Rolex experience.

But Payne is also recognized for his ability to see “what could be” in horses others may have dismissed. Here he gives us the basics for that “first ride,” when you’re testing the waters and analyzing the physical ability, experience, and personality of a horse you don’t know all that well. Whatever you’re riding level or discipline, it makes sense to have a practical plan in place for equine “test drives”–whether it’s a first lesson or a potential purchase, the steps you take once in the saddle need to keep you safe while yielding information.

Here’s Payne’s advice from his book THE RIDING HORSE REPAIR MANUAL:

I like to start at the walk. Gradually, pick up the reins and take a contact. This will tell you right away whether this is a sensitive horse or a “bull.” It also gives you a very good feel for whether he is naturally balanced or not. Within the first 30 seconds, you should be able to tell, with good certainty, whether he’s naturally balanced or on the forehand, and on which side he’s stiffer. You can determine how responsive he is to seat, leg, and hand, and whether he’s a natural-born athlete or just a “couch potato.” Most importantly, in these first few moments, you should be able to tell what type of attitude he has: Is he benevolent, “out to get you,” or somewhere in the middle?

The “bull” of a horse will be quite heavy while the sensitive one will be light to a fault in his contact. Most horses start off a bit lazily—not walking forward with conviction. Make the most of this initial opportunity to assess how responsive he is to your leg aids. I ask him to move on to a more forward, active walk. Right away, there will be one of two possible answers: Either, he’ll be responsive and move on appropriately (wonderful), or you’ll find that when you apply more leg, he’s indifferent or even moves less forward. Although, this latter response is obviously not ideal, at least you find out right away that there is a flaw with the horse’s training—he is not thinking about moving freely forward. This restriction has to be dealt with as soon as possible, because it will propagate throughout his training and make progress impossible.

Now I’m going to check to make sure that I have steering. I’m going to start with just turning left and right—simple circles or other figures very quickly give you an idea of which of his sides is the stiffer one. Just like people, horses are stronger going on one diagonal over another. Your goal is to try and make him as ambidextrous as possible, while understanding he is going to have a naturally stronger side for life.

Note: I do not ask the horse to back up in the first few minutes unless I know I have competent people on the ground. Basically, when you have a person on the ground, she can quickly come to the rescue and place her hands on the horse’s chest to help explain what you’re looking for. Without one, I wait to make sure I have all of the other components in place. Before you begin, you must have all the tools in case you open Pandora’s Box!

From the walk, move on to the trot. The same expectation of a prompt response is true for the transition to the trot. When you ask for the trot, the horse had better trot off with conviction. Once trotting with confidence in a forward active gait, move on to see what
other “buttons” have been installed. If this is a horse with lateral tools in place, see how good they are. Start with a leg-yield, then on to shoulder-in, haunches-in, then half-pass, and lengthening and shortening.

Then on to the canter. Much of the same strategies should be in place as found in the trot. You’re looking for the canter to be well-balanced, active, and forward. When it is lacking, you can identify what you need to work to refine the horse’s skill set.

Whether you are considering a purchase or just determining a new training project’s schooling plan, a calm and progressive exploration of who the horse is and what he knows (or doesn’t know) should help you come away with the information you need.

For more training advice from Doug Payne, check out THE RIDING HORSE REPAIR MANUAL, available from the TSB 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 located on a farm in rural Vermont.

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Arthur Kottas-Heldenberg was accepted as a student at the Spanish Riding School of Vienna in 1960 and rose rapidly under the tutelage of Colonel Alois Podhajsky to become the youngest ever First Chief Rider in the history of the school. Internationally respected, Kottas has successfully trained many horses and riders to Olympic standard in dressage. Here he provides easy-to-try solutions for three of the most common problems found with the horse’s walk.

 

Problem 1: Breaks Rhythm (Pacing)
Common cause: Tension in the back.

Solutions

  • Using poles or low cavalletti can encourage freer steps and regularize the rhythm. An average distance between poles for walk work is 0.9m, but be prepared to alter this to suit the horse’s stride length.
  • The rider needs to be able to feel what is going on in his horse, otherwise the timing of the aids depends on luck, and this can affect the clarity of the gait. If the rider does have difficulty feeling the movement, he can practice calling out the leg sequence. Riding without stirrups and with a deep seat will help the rider to feel the horse’s motion and leg sequence clearly.
  • Riding up and down hills is useful. A forward stride downhill normally improves the walk to four clear beats.
  • Ride transitions from free walk to medium and to free walk again. This will encourage relaxation of the horse’s back muscles. (Note the rider must take care to retake the rein contact carefully, so as to keep the relaxed quality in the medium walk. Taking a strong hold will create tension that will affect the walk rhythm.
  • Riding a walk shoulder-in is a good way to clear the pace to a correct four-beat rhythm.
  • If the gait is very hurried, this can cause the walk to become lateral. Try slowing the walk right down until the walk becomes four-beat again.

 

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Walking up and down hills can help fix rhythm issues in the walk. Photos from the book DRESSAGE SOLUTIONS by Arthur Kottas.

 
Problem 2: Walk Too Fast (Breaks into Jog)
Common cause: A nervous or excitable horse.

Solutions

  • Be very patient and spend long periods in walk on a long rein to relax the horse.
  • The rider must sit very still and quietly, so that eventually the horse tunes into the rider’s calm state and begins to relax, too.
  • Some horses become tense when they feel the rider’s legs on their sides. Keep your legs very light, so that he will gradually accept them without becoming tense.
  • Some young or cold-backed horses benefit from being longed before ridden work. This gives them time to relax without the disturbance of the rider’s weight on their back.
  • Use half-halts and frequent transitions to a square halt and walk again to gradually settle the walk.

 

Problem 3: Lazy Walk
Common cause: Dullness to the aids; poor rider position or aiding.

Solutions

  • Try giving alternate leg aids, coordinated with each hind leg stepping forward. You should feel the moment through your seat bones. Apply the leg just before the hind foot on the same side leaves the ground.
  • It is important that the rider is not tense or stiff in his back, or it will inhibit the horse’s freedom to walk forwards freely.
  • Strong rein contact can have the same effect. Try making small forward yields in the reins and keeping the wrists relaxed, to remove the “handbrake.”
  • Legs that constantly kick or grip tightly will dull the horse and make the walk feel lazy. The rider should keep a light touch with his legs on the horse’s sides and use the aids sparingly, supported by a touch from the whip if necessary. When the horse responds, the rider must cease the aid and sit quietly with relaxed legs that “drape” around the horse’s sides.
  • Riding over ground poles can improve the activity of the walk. Once the horse is negotiating them calmly, the distance between them can be slightly lengthened to encourage a longer stride. Pole work or low cavalletti can introduce some variety into the schooling and many horses enjoy this and we can therefore achieve improvements and give the horse some fun in his work.
  • Making frequent transitions up and down will help bring the horse onto your aids more attentively.

For more training and riding advice from Arthur Kottas, check out DRESSAGE SOLUTIONS, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

 

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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For over 30 years, a small group of horse people based on a farm in rural Vermont has produced books and DVDs on all things horse. An enterprise that began with Sally Swift’s now classic CENTERED RIDING—one of the bestselling equestrian books of all time—soon included titles spanning all breeds and disciplines. Today, Trafalgar Square Books is proud to continue to strive to publish quality instructional books and DVDs, for every horse person, and always “for the good of the horse.”

With the launch of our new website and online bookstore at www.horseandriderbooks.com, TSB aims to not only share our newest titles with the public, but also provide news and information related to our stable of talented authors: the top riders, trainers, and equine bodywork and horse care professionals in the industry. Visitors will find:

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CLICK TO SAVE 20% WHEN YOU ORDER TODAY!

• Tips, exercises, and interviews on our blog (this one!)

Video trailers that provide engaging tours of our newest books and DVDs

• Sales, contests, and special giveaways

• A calendar announcing upcoming author events

• Easy, mobile-friendly access to our bookstore, where you receive free shipping in the United States

In addition, TSB offers free downloads of sample chapters from our newest titles and great deals on money-saving sets from your favorite authors or your chosen discipline! Resellers can scan our inventory of over 600 books and DVDs, get updates on important upcoming release dates, and download press releases for reference and promotion.

Come visit TSB at www.horseandriderbooks.com. We’re excited to share our books, DVDs, and incredible equestrian authors with you!

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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Horsepower…it’s what revs that Ferrari’s engine and makes the chainsaw growl. The term is said to have been invented by the engineer James Watt who was famous for his work to improve the performance of steam engines. He determined that mine ponies could move a certain amount of coal in a minute and used this to come up with an arbitrary unit of measure (the rate at which “work” is done) that has made its way down through the centuries.

Those of us who ride know the true meaning of “horsepower.” The energy generated by our horses is what propels us over a jump, after that cow, or down the centerline with pizzazz. We learn how to “energize” our horses (ask them to work harder) and “quiet” them (calm them, relax them). Of course, some horses seem to need to be influenced more one way or the other. And it can take time and experience for us to learn how to figure all that out.

“Imagine the energy scale like the flame of a gas stove,” writes dressage trainer Beth Baumert in her bestselling book WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN: DRESSAGE DYNAMICS. “You can regulate the energy by turning it up or down. Your seat, leg, and hand regulate the horse’s energy: The lower leg and seat, together with a following torso and hand, ask for more energy. The seat that pushes against the fixed hand in a half-halt asks for less. Brilliance comes from increasing the power, but too much energy, or misdirected energy, makes tension and lack of feeling.”

So how do you know when your horse has the right amount of energy?

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Flame too low: not enough energy.

3 Signs There’s Not Enough Energy

• The contact might feel inconsistent like lights that are flickering or sometimes even going out.
• Half-halts don’t work because his energy doesn’t reach your hands.
• Instead of feeling that the walk, trot, and canter are self-perpetuating, your horse feels like a wind-up toy that winds down too easily. Whereas some “reminding aids” are always necessary, you shouldn’t need to remind your horse constantly.

If your horse doesn’t have enough energy, focus on upward transitions that add horsepower. Do exercises that include lengthenings and medium paces. Combine them with suppling exercises—circles, lateral work, half-halts, and downward transitions that help close your horse’s frame and recycle the energy so he’s in a better position to do the forward, energy-producing exercises. Use of cavalletti can achieve the right amount of energy without losing relaxation.

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Flame too high: too much energy.

3 Signs There’s Too Much Energy 

• Your horse is lacking a clear rhythm: it feels hurried or hectic.
• He is too strong in the hand and stiff in downward transitions.
• You feel as if your horse is zooming out from underneath you—moving away from your seat rather than staying balanced under it.

If your horse’s energy is coming from the front-pulling engine, use exercises that will help your horse think about and use his hindquarters. Circles and voltes shape him in bend. Downward transitions, half-halts, corners, and turns make him softer and better balanced. Leg-yield, turn-on-the-forehand, shoulder-fore, turn-on-the-haunches, and lateral exercises encourage looseness and connection from behind. The turn-on-the-forehand reminds the horse that the leg aid influences the hindquarters, not his forehand.

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Flame just right: ideal energy.

3 Signs The Amount of Energy Is Ideal

• The energy and the rhythm are both self-perpetuating. Your horse doesn’t become slower or faster on his own, and he doesn’t gain or lose energy on his own. 
• You have control of the length of stride. Your horse doesn’t lengthen or shorten the stride on his own. As a result, you have control of the speed or ground coverage.
• Your horse is balanced enough so the “Whoa” and “Go” buttons work equally well. He should have the power and suppleness to go forward promptly and to slow down easily. You feel you’re being carried forward.

 

For more information on creating and containing the right amount of energy under saddle, check out WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN: DRESSAGE DYNAMICS, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter or to order.

 

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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When you truly love someone, it isn’t just about holding on. It is also about letting go. This Valentine’s Day remember those who are no longer part of your life, as well as those who now fill it. Be thankful for the time you’ve had with every human, horse, dog, cat, or other being that was special to you in some way.

In BUILDING A LIFE TOGETHER: YOU AND YOUR HORSE, Frédéric Pignon and Magali Delgado, the original stars of Cavalia, focus on the evolution of the relationship you can have with your horse. As thrilling as the beginning can be, there is still, most always, an eventual end. For Pignon, his most heartbreaking loss was that of his beloved Templado, the gorgeous and rebellious stallion who many around the world witnessed as the soul of the original Cavalia show, his white mane so long it touched the ground, his eyes never leaving his human partner as his hooves danced across the stage.

Here is the letter Pignon wrote to Templado in BUILDING A LIFE TOGETHER…a love letter that said goodbye:

It was the evening we got back from Spain after two months of Cavalia shows. As always, you were waiting for us and I spent an hour with you, telling you how great it was that you were still holding on even though your health had been deteriorating steadily for some time. But on that evening, you did not appear to be too bad and you were clearly glad to see us. I felt anxious despite your good humor so I followed my instincts as always and went back after dinner to spend more time with you. Next morning I gave you a good wash down; I don’t know why but I felt you had to be clean. You let me do it with patience even though you had long since gotten bored with showers. I called Magali to come and see how long your mane was now: it touched the ground. I let you out into the back yard to graze and then visit your friends whom you enjoyed irritating a little. It made me smile, but underneath I knew…. The sun was climbing into the sky: it was going to be a hot July day. At midday a friend came to see me. It was as if I were waiting for a bus: was it coming or not? Doubtless he could feel my anxiety.

Sipping coffee in the house I had one eye on you as you grazed in the garden. Suddenly, you lay down. I knew the bus had come. I ran outside to get you up: it was not good for you to be lying down in that merciless sun. You obliged and followed me to your stall where you lay down again. A sense of panic continued to rise in my throat. I knew the moment I dreaded had now arrived. I admit that for a second or two I wished I were miles away but your calm restored my reason and I knew you needed me to be there. We had to live this moment together: you to leave, and me to accept your going.

I came near you. I felt your warmth as you began to breathe deeply. I laid my hand on your head as a mother would on her child’s. You were perspiring and growing frailer by the minute. You tried to get up a few times perhaps to look out at the meadow where we had run and played together so often. You seemed to accept that it was time to leave and that there would be no returning. At the end you looked like a foal who had just been born and I was trying to tell myself that this was but life’s cycle: the coming and the going. Your strength was failing. You made a little movement of your head and then you lay still.

I understood at a profound level that life goes on: this last page had turned and the great book of your life had shut. I felt that nothing would be the same again for me. We had drunk the nectar of life from the same cup. You taught me so much and now being with you at your death the experience had helped me to understand life at its most intense.

Templado, I feel your energy around me; it radiates from the walls, the ground, and the longeing ring where we lived so many intimate moments together. I think of how sometimes a little white butterfly would circle about our heads. Chiefly, I think of you, my beautiful white horse, I picture your mane flying in the wind, and I smile….

 

We are all so lucky to have horses in our lives. Today, hug your horse, thank him for being there for you–a constant friend, companion, and inspiration.

 

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

Dare we ask whether the concept of equine hierarchy is indeed the primary means of understanding horses and the foundation upon which all training should be built?

In their new book EQUUS LOST? Francesco De Giorgio and Jose De Giorgio-Schoorl question the role of hierarchy within equine herds and suggest that our dependence upon perceived hierarchies in order to determine our interactions with horses is flawed.

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Photo courtesy of Francesco De Giorgio & Jose De Giorgio-Schoorl

“Due to the vicious circle of hierarchical focus and our anthropocentric views, there are many elements and details of equine behavior that we fail to see,” they write. “In fact, we still miss the essential part of the horse—that is, the horse as he is, a sentient and cognitive being, with his own social preferences.

“The first question horse people asks themselves when they go to see a new herd is likely to be, ‘Who is the dominant horse?’ Yet, by focusing on this aspect, we immediately create a filter and make it impossible to observe the more subtle social behaviors, all the small gestures, and less visible behaviors that nevertheless have an important cohesive function within the herd. These gestures can include: observing each other and being aware of the herd’s dynamics, looking from a distance while foraging, standing in proximity to each other, separating horses that tend to enter into conflict, smelling each other’s noses or flanks to understand certain situations better, and coming to stand close by. Further, horses softly nicker when there is tension between herd members. They are dedicated to all these interactions, which serve to demonstrate understanding and reassurance while reinforcing the role of dialogue within the group.

“We can see the impact of the dominance filter when looking at some of the methods used in groundwork, where a horse is in a round pen and a human is standing in the middle with, or without, a longe line, forcing a horse into movement by gesturing with his arms, believing he is using them as symbols of the leading mare and the pushing stallion. Not only is this not ethical because it doesn’t reflect the complex and sophisticated social herd dynamics, but it also brings people to believe that this is actually how horses create dialogue, causing a huge element for miscommunication in the horse-human relationship.

“Horses do not like conflict. They want to understand social dynamics, watch nuances, and support each other in order to have and preserve a calm environment. They do not busy themselves with ranking but with observing social relationships. In the horse-human relationship, tricks and treats cannot be used to smooth out and reduce tense behavior. They cannot make it disappear or create in its place an emotionally balanced animal. Our desire for obedience, surrender, and specific reactions makes us cover up behavior and doesn’t allow the horse to use his own social skills and inner intentions. Training methods focus on surrender, ignoring the essence of the horse and his social abilities.”

 

 

If you’re ready to consider that there might be better ways to coexist and work with horses, read EQUUS LOST? available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to order now

 

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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