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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.

MYHOMY

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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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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.

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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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“A common problem with lateral flexion is that even when done correctly…it is simply practiced too much,” writes renowned horseman Mark Rashid in his new book FINDING THE MISSED PATH: THE ART OF RESTARTING HORSES. “Now I realize there are folks that teach who say that lateral flexion can never be done too much. Others will tell us to practice lateral flexion for hours at a time, and still others will tell us that we should never even think about riding our horse without first making sure the horse flexes laterally at least 25 or 30 times in each direction.

“Even though there are some who will tell us that flexion can never be done too much, the truth is, horses often say something different. Over the years, I have run into hundreds, if not thousands of horses that show obvious signs of being overflexed,” says Rashid.

The signs he highlights in FINDING THE MISSED PATH include:

  • the inability of a horse to walk a straight line while being ridden.
  • the inability to follow his own nose in a turn.
  • the inability to stop when asked.
  • and even being unable to stand quietly with a rider on his back without feeling like he needs to mindlessly turn his head from side to side, even though he isn’t being asked to do so.

“Many overflexed horses will simply stand with their head turned and their nose all the way around to the rider’s boot,” Rashid goes on. “When the rider asks the horse to straighten his head, he often just turns and puts his nose on the other boot. In cases like these, lateral flexion has been done to the point where the action itself has become little more than a default movement for the horse. In other words, the horse will laterally flex himself regardless of the situation or circumstances, and whether or not he is even being asked.

“Another thing that happens when the horse is overflexed like this is the joint at C1 actually becomes what we might refer to as ‘hyper-mobile,'” he adds. “When this happens, the horse literally loses the connection between his head and the rest of his body while being ridden. There are a number of serious issues with a horse losing this connection—for both rider and horse—not the least of which is a total loss of overall control. But even more concerning is that losing this control can, and usually is, quite difficult and very time consuming to correct.”

 

 

So should we no longer practice lateral flexion in the way that so many trainers have advocated over the last decade or so? Rashid says not to be hasty—there are still benefits to be had from conscientious use of the exercise.

“Understanding proper lateral flexion is an important part of a horse’s education, whether we’re talking about a young horse that’s just starting out, or an older horse whose education has somehow gotten off track,” Rashid explains. “I prefer to practice things like this with a sort of ‘as we go’ attitude or mentality: Rather than getting on my horse and saying to myself, ‘Okay, now we’re going to do some lateral flexion,’ I’m more likely to spend time on it while I’m going about whatever business I’m doing with my horse on that particular day. If I’m doing clinics, for instance, I might ask him to flex laterally while I’m turning him as we get ready to move from one place to another. If I’m on the ground and we go through a gate, I might send my horse past me through the gate then ask him to flex when I bring him back to me as I close the gate. For me, putting a purpose behind the exercise eliminates the drilling aspect of it, which, in turn, allows the horse to stay mentally and emotionally engaged in the process.

“I understand there are folks that feel differently about this, people who feel that the road to perfection is through lengthy, nearly non-stop repetition of exercises like lateral flexion. And for them, perhaps that is the key to perfect behavior and flawless responses from a horse. After all, there is no question that many horses, when given no other option, will most certainly repeat behavior that has been relentlessly drilled into them. But there is always a cost for a quest of perfection through mechanical repetition. Usually, the cost is that we end up losing the essence and personality of the horse. And, at least for me, that is a cost that seems a bit too high to pay.”

FINDING THE MISSED PATH: THE ART OF RESTARTING HORSES is 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 business located on a farm in rural Vermont.

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Every year as we turn the page on one year and look forward to the next, we glance back through the months prior and the books and DVDs we published. It is always rewarding to review the results of our work and to know that hopefully, there are a few happier, healthier horses out there.

We hope that 2017 brings you many great rides and peaceful moments with your horse. Happy New Year!

 

TSB 2016 Books and DVDs

 

THE DRESSAGE HORSE MANIFESTO by Yvonne Barteau

A Grand Prix dressage rider and performer, Barteau lets her horses do the talking in this book about it truly takes to train through the levels, according to each horse’s individual needs.

 

JOURNEY TO SOFTNESS by Mark Rashid

The renowned horseman shares personal anecdotes, as well as stories written by others in his life, that shed light on the concept of softness between horse and rider.

 

UNRELENTING by George H. Morris with Karen Robertson

The autobiography of the “Godfather” of American equestrianism—the real story of his life, told in his own words, while tracing the trajectory of international equestrian competition over the past 70 years.

 

FIT TO RIDING IN 9 WEEKS! by Heather Sansom

A certified fitness trainer and riding coach, Sansom provides a specific workout to improve your riding skills and abilities with only 30 minutes, 3 days a week, for 9 weeks.

 

LONG-REINING WITH DOUBLE DAN HORSEMANSHIP by Dan James and Dan Steers with Kayla Starnes

The popular Australian duo explain basic long-reining techniques that anyone can use: safe, controlled groundwork to improve communication with and responsiveness in the horse.

 

OUT OF THE WILD by Mark Rashid

The first novel by master storyteller Rashid, now a major motion picture, about down-and-out cowboy Henry McBride, dude-ranch owner Jessie King, and an injured Mustang.

 

HORSE SPEAK by Sharon Wilsie and Gretchen Vogel

Sold out before the first print-run even reached our warehouse, this instant bestseller is the first equine-human translation guide, with easy steps to having conversations with horses in their language.

 

FERGUS: A HORSE TO BE RECKONED WITH by Jean Abernethy

The world’s most popular cartoon horse is back, and this time a Lad tries to convince him that being partners might not be so bad—for ages 5 to 95!

 

HORSE MASSAGE: LIGHT TO THE CORE by Jim Masterson

The Masterson Method that takes do-it-yourself bodywork “beyond horse massage” has helped horses achieve comfort all around the world. Now Masterson provides “Light Touch” options that are incredibly effective.

 

BRAIN TRAINING FOR RIDERS by Andrea Monsaratt Waldo

Tame that “Lizard Brain” with fun, effective techniques that ease anxiety, improve performance, and overcome fear from psychotherapist, riding coach, and competitor Andrea Waldo.

 

MINI SCHOOL by Sabine Ellinger

A paperback re-release of the bestselling how-to training book for Miniature Horse and small pony owners, with in-hand work, dressage, conditioning, and favorite tricks, plus so much more.

 

ACUPRESSURE FOR HORSES by Dr. Ina Gösmeier

The veterinarian for the German national and international equestrian teams gives readers acupressure basics anyone can use to help keep horses comfortable and performing their best.

 

UTA GRÄF’S EFFORTLESS DRESSAGE PROGRAM by Uta Gräf with Friederike Heidenhof

Grand Prix dressage rider Uta Gräf has made a name in international dressage circles for her wild hair and happy horses—here she outlines her diverse and natural training concepts.

 

FINDING THE MISSED PATH by Mark Rashid

Rashid returns to explain the art of restarting horses—the first of his many popular books to include color photographs.

 

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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