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Look at this image. Can you spot the differences between the horse on the left and the horse on the right?

bend

 

Which one is a horse that is bending correctly?

If you guessed the horse on the right is bending correctly, you were right!

The horse on the left shows how in an incorrectly bent horse, the vertebral column kinks to the inside in front of the horse’s shoulder. This gives the illusion of bend to the inexperienced eye.

“Never bend the neck more than you can bend the trunk of the horse,” says Dr. med. vet. Gerd Heuschmann in his book COLLECTION OR CONTORTION? “All additional important elements of bend derive from this maxim. Only a neck that ‘grows with stability out of the shoulder’ and is stabilized by the muscles in front of the shoulder can contribute its important part to the correct bend of the trunk. If a horse has an unstable, loose, ‘wobbly neck’ in front of the withers, he can’t be ridden in the proper balance, nor can he bend, straighten, or collect. Only well-developed pushing power helps the horse’s neck become stable on its axis…. To this end, it is explicitly required to regularly ride transitions from working trot to medium trot in the horse’s first year under saddle. On the other hand, suppleness of the inside trunk and the inside hind leg leads to the development of carrying power and correct bend of the neck. Said another way, the initial bending work and the required stability of the neck promote flexibility of the hindquarters. The neck must be seen as a stable component of the body that is securely attached to the horse’s trunk. Bend runs linearly and evenly through the whole trunk from the poll to the sacrum.”

COLLECTION OR CONTORTION? is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to download a free chapter.

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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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Many riders have neck and shoulder tension, which derives from the body’s reaction of “turning on” the trapezius muscle (see illustration above) in their daily lives. When there is a neuromuscular “highway” to an unproductive area such as the trapezius, there will be an almost automatic physical reaction, collecting tension in that area, regardless of what the rider is trying to do. Shoving tense shoulders back during a ride only makes the problem worse: Exertion used to “fight” a tense muscle area creates additional tension.

The answer is not to fight the muscles that are involuntarily tense, but to reduce tension with a) extensive stretching, and b) to learn to use the muscle’s “off” switch, which is found by training the body to make better use of other areas.

Believe it or not, stretching your neck muscles makes a difference. Stretching your neck actually stretches the elevator scapula as well as the trapezius muscles, in addition to neck muscles. If you carry tension in your shoulders and neck, this exercise is especially important, but if you are relaxed and supple, doing quick neck stretches on a regular basis can just be part of healthy spine maintenance.

Holding your arms down to keep your shoulders down, tilt your head from side to side, bringing your ear toward your shoulder with a deep breath each time.

 

neck stretch

 

You can also tuck your head forward as if looking under your armpit on each side.

Do not roll your head back because this compresses your neck vertebrae. If you have a lot of tension in your neck and shoulders, you can help release it by taking a free hand and squeezing your trapezius muscle or pushing down on it gently as you lean into the stretch. Do not hold the stretch very long before switching to the other side. These stretches should be done slowly and rhythmically.

A rider with shoulder tension can make a habit of doing this stretch, holding it longer, at the end of the day. When doing a deep neck stretch (any stretch can be turned into a “deep” one by holding it longer), it is important to use your hand to help raise your head afterward, since a deep stretch in the neck muscles will stretch the fibers and you can strain something by trying to lift the weight of your head using the same muscles that you just elongated.

For more from Certified Fitness Trainer and Riding Coach Heather Sansom, check out her bestselling book FIT TO RIDE IN 9 WEEKS!, 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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When I was a little girl, I had a herd of imaginary horses and rode them by turns. There was a golden palomino, with lots of chrome, and a chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail. A coal black stallion with white stockings on all four legs and a broad star on his forehead galloped beside a buckskin with a stripe down his back and dark tips on his ears. I pictured them all in full color, and their invented personalities developed from the vibrant visions dancing in my head. Their coat color was more important than their size or breed—for a horse-crazy kid in the suburbs, that’s where the magic began.

But the horse color spectrum in real life is just as enchanting. So striking are the variations of bay, gray, chestnut, black, solid, and spotted that many people breed for specific combinations. This has led to a marked increase in international interest in the study of horse color genetics, and an active online community that shares and discusses the history, qualities, and names of tones, types, shades, and markings—as well as, of course, the science behind it all.

Horsewoman and genetics specialist Vera Kurskaya grew up with that same fascination with horses and all the many colors they could be, and she has spent much of the past decade researching and writing about the topic. Her new book HORSE COLOR EXPLORED provides a guide that aims to not only outline basic information about horse color appropriate for a general audience, but also explore the specifics of inheritance and recent color genetics research. Plus, she’s sourced over 160 color photographs from around the world, highlighting unusual breeds and lesser known examples of coat colors and characteristics many aficionados may yet know little about.

HORSE COLOR EXPLORED is available now from the Trafalgar Square Books 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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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

Click image for more information.

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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Karen Robertson on Carlos at the Rose City Opener National Hunter Derby, Bend, Oregon (photo courtesy of Barbara Dudley).

TSB author Karen Robertson mulls over her upcoming date with The One and Only.

I started considered riding in a George Morris clinic in recent years. I know, I know… most of you are probably wondering why on earth I’d throw myself into the fire like that. And you’re right – I’m kind of freaking out about it. I’ve been freaking out for months! I haven’t ridden without stirrups enough and I’m not someone who rides five horses a day with a perfect position. George is sure to tell me my stirrup isn’t the correct angle on the ball of my foot, my leg isn’t strong enough, my hand isn’t educated enough, and that I sit “like a soup sandwich.” If I’m really lucky, he might even run behind me with a longe whip while I struggle to jump the water.

All that makes my heart race. Over the past five months I haven’t gone a day without thinking about the clinic. It truly scares me to put myself on a horse in front of George. He has laid eyes on every great hunter or jumper rider in the world for over six decades…and now he’s going to lay eyes on me.

Gulp.

I’m doing this for two reasons: My riding has in the last decade or so (I’m 39) begun resembling correct fundamentals to the extent that I think I can hold my own in this particular clinic that has a 1.00 meter group. And secondly, I helped George pen UNRELENTING, his no-holds-barred autobiography published last year. Working on UNRELENTING with George was like getting a whole new education on my best-loved sport. Just by being in George’s orbit, my ambition caught fire to work harder, be bolder, and take more risks. I’ve watched a dozen clinics first-hand over the past five years, and I know what he expects from riders. Now it’s my turn. And in one week, my friend and I will drive seven hours north with our horses to Potcreek Meadow Farm in Washington to ride with George.

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Karen and George working on UNRELENTING in September 2015 (photo courtesy of Barbara Dudley).

Hang on, I had to put my head between my knees and breath deeply for a second there. Whew. Okay. I’m back.

What will it be like for me to ride with George? To feel those eyes that have an unmatched ability to instantly size up a rider and horse and then, in every pair’s case, fit a specific but well-worn key of wisdom into the right lock to help them reach their potential? What will it feel like to hear his deep, satisfied cry of “Thaaaaat’s it!” if I deliver what he commands?

I can only imagine how it will feel, but I hope that I have enough calm in my mind that I can absorb and enjoy the experience. No matter how well I ride each clinic day or what mistakes I ride through, the bottom line is that I will be riding with him: the timid boy too afraid to be off the lead line who became The Godfather of Hunt Seat Equitation and Chef d’Equipe of the Olympic Show Jumping Team; the reproach-impervious master who walks the fiery line between motivator and intimidator; the same coach who fifty years ago inspired a wily crew of American women to reach beyond their wildest dreams on the international show jumping stage and end the decades-long reign of European men.

George is also my dear friend. When I first met him in 2013, it took only hours for us to form a kinship that transcended the book and the horse world. With a kind of glee, we recognized in each other the same kind of professional ambition flanked by a sometimes reckless need for letting ourselves go and being wild. We grew close over the three years, and he listened kindly and gave me advice when I had hardship in my life. George shared his thoughts and feelings with me unreservedly, and I had the honor to hear hundreds of hours of stories from his life…only some of which made the book but which all fit together to help me understand how he wanted to tell his story. I was struck with awe and amusement in the moments I looked in at myself – sitting across from him at lunch or next to him as he drove the car or by his bedside interviewing him – when I wondered, “How did I get here? How is this my life? This is absolutely unbelievable that I get to be here.” It made me want to cry and laugh and collapse in wonder.

Riding with George will be a whole new relationship paradigm for us, and I will ride onto that grass field with no expectations for special treatment. I know he will measure me in a new way: as a rider and horsewoman rather than a writer and a friend. I’m a little afraid that he might lose respect for me if I’m not a sharp enough rider, but I hope so completely that this experience will bring us even closer.

This is scary, to take this risk. But sometimes you say yes to scary and the rewards are better than any ordinary day ever could be.

When I asked my childhood show jumping heroes during interviews for UNRELENTING what it was like to have George take them to the ring when the stakes were high, they all said that their trust in George and his belief that they could win made them feel like they could jump anything – A house! The moon! Besides the incredible learning opportunities, and taking to heart the critical comments (of which there are bound to be many), what I really want to feel in the clinic is just one moment where his voice lifts me up and I feel invincible.

 

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Karen and Carlos at HITS Coachella Desert Circuit, January 2016 (photo by Jose Ruiz).

Read Karen Robertson’s follow-up post, written after her clinic with George Morris, here.

 

UNRELENTING by George Morris with Karen Robertson, 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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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.

TROTCANCHALL

 

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. 

 

 

 

The dressage warm-up arena can be a crowded place. Photo by Amber Heintzberger from MODERN EVENTING WITH PHILLIP DUTTON.

Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event 2017 starts today with the first horse inspection, and the dressage phase kicks off tomorrow morning. To make sure everyone’s ready to go, here are five tips for warming up prior to your dressage test from MODERN EVENTING WITH PHILLIP DUTTON:

1  Start in walk on a 20-meter circle if the warm-up area is large enough. Introduce “inside leg to outside rein.” I usually start on the left rein, because most horses go better to the left and it starts them off well mentally. Get the horse walking nicely forward, slightly bent around your inside leg, and encourage him to reach softly down and forward.

2  Use some leg-yielding exercises to reaffirm your training and get the horse listening to your leg in both directions, left and right. Once you have his attention at the walk, go to rising trot. Rather than thinking about the the test, focus more on the correctness of the horse: You want him reaching for the bit softly; obedient to inside leg to outside rein; and with flexion to the inside.

3  Do lots of changes of direction and transitions within the trot to keep your horse’s attention and prevent him from getting “stuck.” Once his back is supple and loose, do a little bit of sitting trot, then ask for the canter. 

4  Do canter-trot-canter transitions on each rein. This is a great way of testing how well the horse is on the aids. I don’t want him to run or hollow out, and he should stay obedient through the transition.

5  You can practice specific parts of the test a few times, but when there is one horse to go before you, go back and work on your horse’s correctness–getting him in tune with your aids. Do lots of transitions, keeping the horse listening and thinking. Also, vary the horse’s frame. This last part of the warm-up is really to reinforce his attention on you.

Find more eventing advice in MODERN EVENTING WITH PHILLIP DUTTON, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter or to order.

We’re thrilled to have two TSB authors competing at RK3DE this year: Phillip Dutton and Doug Payne. In addition, professional grooms Emma Ford and Cat Hill, and horseman Dan James, are involved in this exciting equestrian event.

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