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Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

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Before we published HORSES CAME FIRST, SECOND, AND LAST, I knew of Jack Le Goff. I knew of him the way any once-young-and-aspiring eventer would: through stories shared by the trainers I rode with through the years, as well as those very fine horsemen and women I’ve had the honor of working with during my tenure at TSB. He existed in my mind as a formidable individual, one who hesitated not in turning the screw in order to elicit improved performance. I knew he was a great coach, but his name caused the same quake-in-my-boots fear that George Morris’s always did…and it also raised the question that any rider with even a smidgeon of self-doubt will admit: Had I been born at the right time under the right star and found myself under his tutelage, would I have found the resolve and personal strength to flourish…to become truly accomplished in the saddle?

In HORSES CAME FIRST, SECOND, AND LAST, we hear of plenty who did flourish with Le Goff as their guide and coach. But what helps is not that they succeeded where I admittedly think I would likely have failed (in that fantasy where I am an elite rider during the heyday of US eventing), but that Le Goff shares his strategies: how and when he chose to be hard or soft, why he’d settle on keeping or losing his temper, and what his reasoning was behind decisions he made concerning coaching and the teams he led. So now we see the path to the medal, but we don’t just hear about the fences cleared, we also know about the tears, the injuries, the heartbreak. The times riders tried, and failed, and tried again. And we come to understand the passion for the horse felt by all involved, perhaps most profoundly Le Goff’s own.

Larger lessons aside, there are also hundreds of fascinating facts and historical notes throughout the book. Here are 10 that stayed with me:

1 In the notoriously hard 9-month course at the Cadre Noir, “students rode eight horses a day for a total of eight hours or more.” Le Goff writes. “For the first three months, six of those eight hours were without stirrups, so the breeches were more often red with blood than any other color…. In the evening, we had to do book work, and we all spent that time sitting in buckets of water with a chemical in it to toughen the skin.”

2 At the Olympics in 1956, the Russian eventing team only had one helmet for three riders, and passed it from one to the other after each performance.

3 Britain’s Sheila Wilcox won Badminton three times and in 1957 at the age of 21 became European Champion, but was never allowed to compete in the Olympics because she was a woman.

4 American rider Kevin Freeman helped save a horse from drowning by holding his head up in a flooded river at the Olympics in Mexico in 1968.

5 Bruce Davidson didn’t know what a diagonal was when he first started riding with Le Goff. Two years later he competed in the Olympic Games.

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Tad Coffin with his copy of Le Goff’s autobiography.

6 You should walk a cross-country course as if that is the ONLY time you’ll be able to walk it. You should have total concentration and envision how you will ride it. A walk simply to get a first impression is a wasted walk.

7 Today, people learn to compete before they learn to ride, and that makes it difficult for them to be truly competitive and to progress to other levels.

8 There is no instant dressage like instant coffee. You can go out and buy a top-level horse if you have enough money, but the true rider should be able to “make” his or her own horse. In eventing, there are often “pilots” who “fly” or ride the horse, and mechanics who prepare him, train and condition him. But the true horseman does both.

9 Although he was a brilliant rider, Tad Coffin did not believe how good he was, so while Le Goff would intentionally infuriate some riders to get them to perform, he would instead look for ways to give Tad confidence.

10 The riding coach who is looking to be popular will not produce the desired results, and the rider who does not accept discipline “may be better suited to another pursuit,” Le Goff writes. “Crochet comes to mind!”

I’m certain you’ll find many other tidbits that motivate you or make you laugh or look at your riding differently in this book. Most importantly, by reading Le Goff’s book, you, too, will be able to share his stories and spread his philosophy. And through us all, the best of Jack Le Goff, the man George Morris called “a genius,” will live on.

 

 

HORSES CAME FIRST, SECOND, AND LAST is available from the Trafalgar Square Books online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

 

—Rebecca Didier, Managing Editor

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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PRINOFRIDING

THE PRINCIPLES OF RIDING by the German Equestrian Federation (FN) was first published more than 50 years ago and now has 28 editions to date. Over 400,000 have been sold, translated into 11 languages.

The ideas expressed in THE PRINCIPLES OF RIDING are based on “classical riding,” which is defined by the FN as:

“A vital and modern training system that builds on the basic principles of the ‘Old Masters,’ supplemented by new insights that serve the welfare of the horse and are purposeful for its training.”

In addition, classical riding:

  • Is oriented toward the nature of the horse–the horse’s needs and each horse’s natural, individual abilities.
  • Considers the physical precondition of the horse and the natural behavior of the horse.
  • Supports the horse’s welfare.
  • Aims toward a balanced gymnasticizing and strengthening of the horse.
  • Is diverse and versatile.
  • Develops and maintains a horse that performs willingly and confidently.
  • Demands from the rider an elastic, balanced seat, a sensitive, fine use of the aids, as well as an understanding of the nature of the horse and its correlation to training, thus leading to inner and outer balance of horse and rider.

So as horse people, why do we need to read the new edition of THE PRINCIPLES OF RIDING? Because it provides a baseline foundation of understanding for ALL areas of equestrian sport and horse management. Because it provides practical guidance to all who want to learn how to ride and train a horse appropriately, as well as comprehend why certain methods have proved correct and indispensable over the years. And because this newest revised edition emphasizes the importance of harmony between horse and rider.

THE PRINCIPLES OF RIDING are an important addition to any aspiring rider or trainer’s equestrian library, and are 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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CDTransitions

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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Alois Podhajsky with Norman.

 

Colonel Alois Podhajsky was an Olympian and Director of the the Spanish Riding School in Vienna for 26 years. Podhajsky was known to bring out the best in each horse he rode, and to rely on patience, understanding, and affection in the training process.

Podhajsky detailed his riding, training, and competitive experiences in the renowned book MY HORSES, MY TEACHERS, which was first published in English in 1968. By sharing the stories of each of the horses he worked with over the course of his career, we learn his methods, mistakes, and discoveries. One horse he writes of was an eight-year-old, part-Trakehner gelding named Norman, who helps us learn the lesson that sometimes we have to go back in order to go forward.

Norman had been taught quite a number of things by his breeder in Germany. He knew how to perform lateral work, flying changes, and even some sort of passage…most of it was superficial…. Once again I met in Norman a horse without sufficient urge to go forward unless pushed and often he offered a passage without its being demanded. But his passage was not the artistic solemn movement but a tense sort of hovering trot which had its origin in his reluctance to go forward. It is a great temptation for the rider to accept an exercise that the horse offers but would have a very negative effect on the rest of the training. The idea of dressage is to cultivate and improve the natural movements of the horse so that he executes them upon the slightest aids of the rider. If he anticipates these aids he proves that his obedience is not sufficiently well established. Besides, a horse will anticipate only to make work easier for himself and execute the exercise incorrectly. Consequently the standard of work will decline. If this is the case the rider must interrupt his present work and go back again to the basic training until it is well consolidated. 

We had the greatest trouble making Norman strike off into the canter from the trot. Either he tried to run away or he offered his “passage.” He had been taught to strike off into the canter exclusively from the walk and became nervous and excited upon this unusual demand. However, it is a very important exercise which improves suppleness and helps achieve the correct activity of the hind legs in response to the actions of the reins. It also furthers the will to go forward and establishes obedience and is therefore a necessity in thorough gymnastic training. Besides, it is much more natural and easier for the horse to strike off into the canter from the trot. Nevertheless it took quite a long while until Norman understood this unaccustomed exercise and I had to allow him his lapse of time because I did not want to confuse him or make him nervous.

 

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Walking Norman on a loose rein.

 

Once again I relied on my proven remedy—good for anything and everything, one might say—which is to teach the horse to move correctly and with suppleness and balance, to make him understand his rider and follow him without reserve. I began to take Norman on the same course of training I pursued with my young horses, with the exception that I spent less time on the various phases. That is, I moved on when I saw that he had understood and was able to execute my demands. Of course I observed him closely all the time and found that I could establish his confidence much more quickly after a few rounds at the walk on a loose rein at the beginning of work and that he paid much less attention to his surroundings than if I had had begun our daily session with the reins applied.

In this way, Norman had a chance to look around in the open-air arena and the adjacent paddocks, and when he was satisfied with what he had seen, he would concentrate entirely upon his work. The rider should always give his horse a chance to look around before beginning serious training. His horse will never become “fed up” with dressage if the rider respects his particularities and allows the freedom of mind necessary for concentrated work.

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You can read more of Alois Podhajsky’s stories in MY HORSES, MY TEACHERS, available 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 business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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How do you think your horse feels about being mounted? Does he fidget? Throw his head up? Drop his back? Root at the bit? It is easy to unbalance your horse when you mount him, and you can also unbalance him when you dismount. Learning to take your time in the process of mounting and dismounting helps everybody stay balanced and neutral.

In the book HORSE SPEAK: THE EQUINE-HUMAN TRANSLATION GUIDE, Sharon Wilsie explains how her system of Horse Speak can help ease anxiety related to mounting, ensuring your rides start off on a positive note. Here are some of her recommendations:

First, really notice how your horse reacts to being mounted. (Consider asking someone to take a photo of your horse’s face while you get on.) A stoic horse may grimace while being mounted. A sensitive horse may raise his head and show anxiety. An energetic horse moves off when you step into the stirrup. There are many possible reactions. When looking at your horse, notice his ears, eyes, and in particular, his mouth. What you have long thought was acceptance, may instead have been be acquiescence.

Your core energy broadcasts from your “center” just behind your belly button. This can cause confusion when mounting, especially with a sensitive horse. When you face the saddle from the mounting block, you may put “sending” pressure from your belly button onto the horse. He will naturally swing his head toward you and his body away, in response to the sending message your body is conveying. To clarify your body language, practice mounting with your core energy turned toward the horse’s head.

You can also diffuse your horse’s anxiety about mounting with the following Horse Speak “Conversation”: 

Horse Speak Final Cover

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1  Begin by leading your horse to the mounting block and position him as if you are going to mount, but instead just sit on the block for a few minutes (retreat) and breathe with him. Breathe long enough to see your horse visibly relax next to the block. This is a good exercise some evening when you don’t have time to ride but do want to have a Conversation with your horse. Tack up in your normal routine and have a Breath Conversation at the mounting block. Try to sync your breath to his. Observe the subtle language he shows. Take really deep breaths. 

2  Show your horse affection before you mount. Before getting up on the mounting block, check in with a Knuckle Touch. Reach up and lightly scratch the Friendly Button where the forelock meets the forehead. Most horses also appreciate having each front foot picked up and moved in a gentle circle at the mounting block—it releases tension.  Rock the Baby first on his bridle while standing in front of him, and then while standing on the mounting block with your horse in position in front of you, facing the same direction as your horse with your hand closest to him on his withers. Shift your weight from one foot to the other or from one hip to the other. Remember to sync your rocking to your breath, and breathe as slowly and deeply as you can. Your horse may take a step to rebalance himself. Many horses are taught to stand still no matter how awkward and unbalanced they feel. Letting him widen his stance may be a huge relief to him. Also some horses appreciate Rock the Baby at the mounting block with one hand on the withers and one behind the saddle. 

3  Now, once you mount, dismount again immediately, and walk your horse in a medium-size circle. Bring him back to the block, breathe, and mount again. Repeat this sequence three times, paying attention to your horse’s comfort and body language. If there is any tension stop and breathe with your horse, then resume the Conversation.

4  Try a Copycat Conversation with your horse about the mounting block. Lean over him slightly as if preparing to mount, and then lean back upright or away from the horse. Repeat, syncing your leaning toward and away from the horse to your own breathing. Do this at least three times before getting on and staying on. When you repeat this Copycat every time you mount, at some point your horse may simply lean toward you as you step in the stirrup. What a wonderful way to start a ride!

Learn more Conversations in HORSE SPEAK, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to learn more.

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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Eitan Beth-Halachmy on Santa Fe Renegade. Photo by Lesley Deutsch.

The United States Dressage Federation (USDF) defines engagement as “increased flexion of the lumbosacral joint and the joints of the hind leg during the weight-bearing (stance) phase of the movement, thus lowering the croup relative to the forehand (‘lightening the forehand’).”

Engagement is a prerequisite to impulsion (thrust): the “releasing of the energy stored by engagement. The energy is transmitted through a back that is free from negative tension and is manifested in the horse’s elastic, whole-body movement.” Engagement is carrying power, whereas impulsion is pushing power.

Many people who ride horses have no idea what the technical terms mean. Although Cowboy Dressage tries to avoid confusing language, engagement and impulsion are such important aspects of forward motion that they need to be understood and recognized, and so they are explained in the book COWBOY DRESSAGE by Jessica Black with Eitan and Debbie Beth-Halachmy.

In simpler terms, engagement refers to the manner in which a balanced horse brings his hind legs under his belly to move forward off his hindquarters efficiently. Engagement is the basis for a horse’s impulsion–the energy with which a horse moves forward. The true lightness of Cowboy Dressage can only happen when the horse is engaged and moving with impulsion, with his weight over the hindquarters rather than on the forehand.

The hindquarters are the energy source of the horse. At the same time, he carries most of his weight on his forehand thanks to the head and neck. Engagement helps the horse achieve balance under these physiological conditions. To better bear the weight and enable balance, the horse must round his back and bring his hind legs well forward under him. This is called tracking or tracking up (USDF). Tracking is a necessary component of engagement, but it should not be confused with reach (how far the hind leg reaches forward).

Nor should engagement and impulsion be confused with speed. A horse that is rushing will often be strung out and hollow-backed, the opposite of being engaged. The front and hind end may appear disjointed or unconnected. Conversely, a horse that is engaged will move from behind in a balanced, energetic fashion at any gait and any speed.

Although the Cowboy Dressage horse may not have the length of stride or suspension that a traditional dressage horse has, he should show engagement and impulsion. All four feet should be working together in a rhythmic fashion.

To achieve impulsion and engagement, encourage your horse to round his back, stretch and lower his neck, and move forward actively. The energy has to flow naturally through your hands at a free gait. Much of the time spent on the horse’s foundation should be dedicated to encouraging forward motion. Good horsepersons make engagement and forward motion a prerequisite to every maneuver.

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Encourage your horse to stretch and lower his neck as seen in this free jog.

Again, remember that energetic forward motion requires strength and endurance: the horse must be conditioned slowly until he has the ability to meet the physical and mental demands of Cowboy Dressage or any other equestrian discipline. Much of the cadence and beauty of the finished gaits comes from long hours simply moving forward at the walk, jog, and lope.

Find out more about developing beautiful gaits in your horse in COWBOY DRESSAGE, 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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