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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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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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Ah, show day! The delightful mix of butterflies and caffeine churning within as you rise with the sun. The bustling activity on the grounds as horses are fed, walked, and bathed. The knowledge that at some point in the very near future, you will stand before the masses and be judged

Sure, there are any number of cool cucumbers who can compete without missing a beat, but the majority of us struggle to some degree with show nerves and performance anxiety. In his book PRESSURE PROOF YOUR RIDING, renowned sport psychology expert Coach Daniel Stewart explains that one of the keys to success in this arena is to develop a strong showing mindset.

“The showing mindset is a subconscious skill that helps you avoid over-thinking, overreacting, and overanalyzing during competition,” says Coach Stewart. “The time for all that has passed; the time for self-analysis and criticism is gone; and the time for trust has arrived. Studies have shown that no appreciable learning of a skill—mechanical or technical—takes place on show day. This only happens at home during your lessons. So trying to improve while showing is an ineffective use of your time. As soon as you drive into the venue’s parking lot or exit the warm-up arena, you need to confidently transition from your schooling mindset, to your showing mindset, and just trust that all the self-critiques, analysis, and feedback from your lessons have prepared you well for the demands of the next few minutes.

“Showing with a schooling mindset also creates the impression that the harder you try, the harder it gets. For example, the more a jumper tries to see the distance to her next fence the harder it becomes (the dreaded ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ syndrome), and the harder a dressage rider tries to sit up perfectly straight, the more tense she becomes. When you show, no matter the discipline, it just happens too fast; you don’t have the time to analyze the height of your hands, the placement of your leg, or the position of your hips. You must turn off your conscious thoughts and allow your subconscious to take over. You’re on autopilot, trusting your training, and just letting it happen. In riding, this is often called riding freely, and it is here that you learn to trust, not train.”

Coach Stewart says that in order to ride well and compete at your best your mental approach to showing must be very different than your mental approach to schooling. Here are three of his tips for developing a strong schooling mindset:

Try “Softer”—Trying too hard or schooling when you should be showing can lead to pressure and fear of failure. Replace anxiety and self-criticism with self-belief and confidence.

Focus on a Task—Focus on a positive task, like repeating the motto, “Trust not train,” to stop your schooling mindset from getting in the way of your showing success.

Use a “Show-Starter”—Identify a cue that will create a boundary between your schooling and showing mindsets. For example, tell yourself to “start” your showing mindset when you hear the ding of the bell before your dressage test or when you walk into the start box before going cross-country. The sound of the bell, and the location of the start box, sets the boundary between your mindsets.

 

Pressure ProofGet more tips from Coach Daniel Stewart in PRESSURE PROOF YOUR RIDING, 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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RUNAROUND

Sandy Collier has enjoyed great success in her career as an NRCHA, NRHA, and AQHA champion horse trainer. Named one of the “Top 50 Riders of All Time in All Disciplines” by Horse & Rider Magazine, she was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 2011, and the NRCHA’s Hall of Fame in 2012. Collier was the first and only female horse trainer to win the prestigious NRCHA (National Reined Cow Horse Association) World Champion Snaffle Bit Futurity. She also won an NRCHA World Champion Snaffle Bit Futurity Reserve Co-Championship in addition to being a regular Finalist there annually. She has been a NRCHA Stallion Stakes Champion, an NRHA Limited Open Champion, and an AQHA World Champion.

In champion trainer and popular clinician Lynn Palm’s book THE RIDER’S GUIDE TO REAL COLLECTION, Palm asked Sandy Collier to share how she works to achieve collection with her performance horses.

“I do a lot of work through speed and gait transitions,” was Collier’s reply, “which makes no sense at all to most reining or Western riders.”

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Sandy Collier competing.

Collier says that even though reiners and Western riders will often get their horses really collected at the trot and lope, “as soon as you start putting a lot of speed to it, it’s like the wheels start falling off the car.” She uses an exercise called The Runaround to maintain collection, improve the quality of a horse’s rundown, and thus ultimately better his stop.

“I’ll build speed while maintaining collection for a long, straight run,” explains Collier. “As I approach the short end of the arena, I’ll take a deep breath, start to exhale, and make my horse follow my seat as I sit down in the saddle, making him come back to me on a straight line without falling out of lead. It’s like downshifting a real expensive car, where it has to come back down real smooth. I keep my horse slow and collected through the short end (don’t let him careen around the corner), and once I get around the corner, I ask him to build speed again and start over. My horses eventually get to where they can run really fast while staying collected, and then as I let my air out, they’ll come all the way back to a slowdown or a stop, depending how long I sit.”

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The goal is to capture the complete tail-to-nose package of supple muscle and hind-end-generated impulsion that becomes a “frame” where the horse is more athletic—that is, his forehand lightens, enabling him to maneuver his front end more quickly, and his steps become cadenced and his movement free-flowing. For more exercises that help achieve this real collection, check out THE RIDER’S GUIDE TO REAL COLLECTION by Lynn Palm, on sale now at 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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It was over 25 years ago, but I can still close my eyes and immediately feel the pounding of hooves on the hard dirt road in my head, and the rawness of my skinned and abraded hands as they desperately pulled to one side, then the other, on what were, at the time, fairly useless reins. I can hear breathing—heavy, labored, both the horse’s and my own. And I can remember how the ground looked from where I crouched on the back of the runaway: it throbbed and swayed in corner of my eye, momentarily closer, then seemingly distant, a blurry heartbeat, pulsing in time with the horse’s manic strides.

The decision to abandon ship arrived in a moment of clarity. We were racing toward home, and the dirt road turned to pavement not so far ahead. I was 10 and overpowered. I feared the mare’s shoes slipping at this speed—there was a sharp turn at the bottom of the hill. I was afraid of her falling, crushing me, or losing my weakening grip there, tumbling to the concrete in the path of oncoming cars.

I’d been taught the emergency dismount when I started riding as a five-year-old. My pony then had been much closer to the ground, but the muscle memory kicked in nonetheless, and I had my feet out of the stirrups, my hands on the pommel, and my slight body pushed up, over, and clear of my horse’s flailing legs before I could overthink the maneuver. I landed at a run that turned into a tumble in the (relatively) soft shoulder at the side of the road, and seconds later I was back on my feet, shaky but thankfully unbroken, and headed after the mare, hoping she, too, had survived her panicked flight.

While being able to stop a runaway or out-of-control horse from the saddle—using the pulley rein, for example—is certainly preferable in many cases, knowing how to use the emergency dismount is an important skill, too. Simply practicing it on a horse that is standing motionless can improve your courage and athleticism. And having it in your riding toolbox provides a viable option for handling a crisis by promoting safe and controlled landings, and helping avoid rider injury.

Here are four steps to performing a safe emergency dismount. Try it at the halt before attempting it in motion. Perform it first on the left side, then on the right, as described here, to ensure symmetry—and to make sure you’re prepared should that be the safer side to dismount during a potentially hazardous situation.

 

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1  Take both feet out of the stirrups. Inhale to prepare, stretching up, straightening both legs, and swinging them slightly forward to generate momentum for the next step, which should occur in one smooth, synchronized motion.

2  Exhale and fold down from the hips, bringing your belly to the horse and taking weight onto your hands, on the withers or pommel. Look forward through the horse’s ears as you simultaneously swing both legs up behind you over the hindquarters, touching your heels together. Practice swinging your legs a few times, returning to the basic seat in between.

3  To dismount, as you’re exhaling and when your legs are at their highest, slightly rotate your hips toward the right, pushing off and away to the right side of the horse, keeping your legs together.

4  As you land near the horse’s shoulder, keep your feet parallel with knees and ankles bent to absorb the impact. Look forward the entire time. Inhale as you straighten into an upright position, and then exhale. You did it!

Note: When vaulting off a moving horse, always face the direction of travel to maintain balance, and “hit the ground running” by taking a couple of walk or jog steps forward upon landing. If you lose balance, “tuck and roll” away from the horse: Tuck your head into your chest, wrap your arms around bent knees, and do a somersault.

Riding instructor Linda Benedik teaches the emergency dismount as part of a series of lessons for the rider on the longe line. For more lessons to building a confident rider with a balanced and effective seat, check out LONGEING THE RIDER FOR THE PERFECT SEAT, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to buy this book on sale 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”: 

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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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Olympian Ingrid Klimke is known for her positive horse training techniques, as well as her remarkable success in international competition. In this exercise from her forthcoming book TRAINING HORSES THE INGRID KLIMKE WAY, she provides a terrific challenge for the horse and rider who have mastered regular cavalletti work.

See if you are up to the challenge:

Position four trot cavalletti on one side of a circle and four canter cavalletti on the opposite side. Use cones to mark the point for two transitions: one upward to canter and one downward to trot.

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Canter over the canter cavalletti, transition down to the trot precisely at the cone, and ride over the trot cavalletti. Then transition to canter with precision at the next cone. This must be schooled in both directions. You must always be looking ahead to the next cone or cavalletti.

This exercise speaks to all the valuable elements of cavalletti work and trains the horse’s entire musculature. The transitions reinforce throughness with willing cooperation and precise transitions at a distinct point. Maintaining longitudinal bend and going over the eight cavalletti on the circle are real strength-builders.

See how you do!

Some of the overall advantages of cavalletti work for the horse:

·      Improves rhythm and balance in movement

·      Gymnasticizes

·      Strengthens the musculature

·      Loosens the muscles (especially over the back)

·      Improves long-and-low stretch

·      Increases suppleness

·      Improves surefootedness

·      Conditions

·      Increases expressiveness in the gaits

·      Encourages cadence

·      Builds concentration

·      Improves motivation through independent thought

Cavalletti-SetFor those interested in engaging cavalletti work more intensively, Klimke wrote a book with her father, the renowned Reiner Klimke, called CAVALLETTI: FOR DRESSAGE AND JUMPING, and she has also produced an accompanying DVD. Both are available HERE.

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

 

 

 

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