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The inner circle of the best of the equestrian best is not a large one, and considering the length and breadth of the “horse world,” few of us will ever have the opportunity to step inside it. The responsibility to share what the experts and pros have earned over their lifetimes of hard work and devotion—wisdom gleaned from years of riding, training, and striving for horse-and-rider harmony—therefore falls to those who have earned a place at the table.

As the first editor for Dressage Today magazine, and the technical editor for most of the years since the magazine’s beginning in 1994, Beth Baumert has been in constant contact with the best dressage riders, trainers, and judges in the world. Over time, exposure, and because of her natural interest and curiosity, she has accrued a unique understanding of the practical ways riders can learn to harness the balance, energies, and forces at play when they’re in the saddle. We recently caught up with Beth and asked her about the book she has written to help disseminate all she’s learned from “the best of the equestrian best” over the years.

 

TSB: Your new book WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN: DRESSAGE DYNAMICS is partly the result of your many years as Technical Editor at Dressage Today magazine, which gave you access to the best trainers and top riders from all over the world. What’s one memory you have of interviewing or working with a famous equestrian?

BB: My best memories are of interviewing Hubertus Schmidt. We did quite a few articles together, and he puts a lot of effort into explaining things in a way that he thinks people will really understand. His English has become extremely good over the years (and he talks faster than anyone I’ve ever interviewed). He tries to refine the nuances of our language in a very impressive way. It’s quite obvious that he cares. When I finish one of my articles with him, we go over it carefully to be sure everything is clear. Not everyone cares that much.

 

TSB: You were recently interviewed on the Dressage Radio Show (Horse Radio Network) and you stated that writing WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN: DRESSAGE DYNAMICS was something you did partly out of selfishness. Can you explain what you meant?

BB: I should probably say that gathering the information (not writing the book) was done partly out of selfishness. Interviewing the best riders and trainers was—and is—very enriching. In interviews, I never try to make the experts’ information gel with what I think. I’m always an open book because I want to learn as much as I possibly can about how to train dressage horses. The horses and riders in my barns (in Connecticut and in Florida) benefit enormously from the knowledge of these experts. I don’t think I wrote the book out of selfishness. Compiling my thoughts and illustrating them was, frankly, rather tedious, but ultimately rewarding when I hear that it’s helping riders. I never get tired of hearing that.

 

TSB: Your book describes four physical “Powerlines” that help riders become more balanced and effective in the saddle. Where did you get the idea for the “Powerlines”?

BB: It’s hard to say because I’ve thought of the positive energy of a stretchy body as “Powerlines” for a long time. It might have begun with Sally Swift when she first discovered the importance of being “grounded” as a rider. That was after her first book, CENTERED RIDING, was published.

 

Here you see all the Powerlines at work: The Vertical Powerline goes from ear, shoulder, hip, to heel; the rider uses the Spiraling Powerline as she turns slightly to the left; her elastic Connecting Powerline goes from elbow to bit; her Visual Powerline points the way. Find out more about Beth Baumert's Powerlines in her new book.

Here you see all the Powerlines at work: The Vertical Powerline goes from ear, shoulder, hip, to heel; the rider uses the Spiraling Powerline as she turns slightly to the left; her elastic Connecting Powerline goes from elbow to bit; her Visual Powerline points the way. Find out more about Beth Baumert’s Powerlines in her new book WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN.

 

TSB: You actively train horses and teach riders at your farm Cloverlea Dressage LLC. What is the most common issue you see in your riding students? What is the usual solution?

BB: Riders are inclined to treat half-halts as if they’re sort of mysterious—as if they can only be mastered by experts. Their expectations are often too low. Half-halts are not mysterious, and anyone can do one. I tell riders how to do a half-halt (I outline this in WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN: DRESSAGE DYNAMICS), and I ask them to do them rather frequently. Then I ask: “Did that one work? No? He quit behind? Okay, no problem. Do it again with a little more seat and leg. Did that one work?” And so on.

 

TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember sitting on a horse.

BB: I’m not sure I remember specifically, but I wasn’t very young. I was given a horse—a green jumper mare—when my father died. I was 16, and she helped me through a hard time. She was a great horse.

 

TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember falling off a horse.

BB: I don’t remember the first time, but I remember the last time was off one of my daughter Jennifer’s horses. He dashed me into the stones below so fast that I never saw it coming. It was stunningly impressive.

 

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?

BB: Honesty

 

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?

BB: Again, honesty. Almost all horses are honest. When we say a horse isn’t “honest,” it often means he never learned that “this aid means that.” Lack of clarity in the riding.

 

TSB: What’s in your refrigerator at all times?

BB: Butter. There’s nothing that doesn’t taste divine when it has a stick of butter in it.

 

TSB: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

BB: They say that a mother is never happier than her least happy child, and there’s some truth in that. I’m happiest when the people who are dear to me are happy and fulfilled.

 

TSB: What is your idea of the perfect meal?

BB: With family or friends by the pool in Wellington, Florida. It doesn’t matter what we’re eating, but if Jennifer cooked, it’s always good.

 

TSB: If you could have a conversation with one famous person, alive or dead, who would it be?

BB: I’m shy with famous people and feel especially distant if they’re dead.

 

TSB: What is your motto?

BB: Honesty works, even when it makes you unpopular.

 

TwoSpinesHere

Beth Baumert’s book WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN: DRESSAGE DYNAMICS has been called “timeless” by dressage judge Axel Steiner and “desperately needed” by former US Show Jumping Chef d’Equipe George Morris. It 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 horse books and DVDs, is a small, privately owned company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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FauxRunaway

Early in my riding career, but after I knew a thing or two, I used to ride this hot chestnut mare (I know, if three words were ever meant to string together…). I’d be exhausted after flatting her 15 minutes. I thought it was really all I could do to keep her from plowing down the long side and right through the arena fence. But man could that mare jump. So, I kept on, keeping on—if only just barely.

After months of making little progress on my own, I finally had a lesson, and as is many times the case, a breakthrough.

“Stop trying to hold her back and put your leg ON her,” my instructor barked, clearly frustrated by my struggles that were all about the mare’s front end, with no concern at all for what was going on behind me.

Sure enough, as soon as I ceased obsessing about the control I felt I didn’t have and instead focused on activating her hind end, she stepped up and under me, stretched down and forward, and our awful, lurching, zig-zaggy rhythm that had clearly caused my instructor to feel quite ill, evened out.

In her new book WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN: DRESSAGE DYNAMICS, dressage trainer and technical editor for Dressage Today magazine Beth Baumert discusses what she calls the “Faux Runaway” and a very easy exercise to get the party going out back so things can settle down up front. Check it out:

 

As you know, horses don’t inherently know that the way to gain freedom is by energizing the hindquarters, rather than the forehand. Fresh young horses or hot older horses are a tough test for the rider’s balance as their enthusiastic front legs want to carry the forehand away from the lazy hindquarters. They pull the center of balance forward and away from the rider’s seat—the seat that connects the rider to her horse’s hindquarters.

The rider feels that her horse is running away, so she’s amazed when her trainer says her horse’s hindquarters look lazy. The feeling is misleading because the surge of energy is actually very real, but it’s caused by the front end that’s running away from the snoozing hind end. It’s often even an experienced rider’s tendency to use prolonged restraining aids with this horse, but that never works.

Years ago at the Aachen Horse Show, one of the American riders was in this situation. Her horse was very hot, and she was persistently trying to quiet and relax him. Her German trainer came along and told her to go for a gallop. Although the rider was horrified at the prospect, that was just the answer to her problem. It got the horse’s hind end in gear so the energy that reached her hand came from the hindquarters instead of the forehand. As a result, the horse was very successful in the competition. The American rider retained her horse’s enthusiasm for working, but gained control over the whole horse from behind.

When your horse is too strong and you can’t (or don’t dare to) gallop, do movements in which your leg is required to activate the hindquarters. Find a way to ride your horse from back to front. Make turns-on-the-forehand and do leg-yield. If you and your horse know how, do movements such as turn-on-the-haunches, shoulder-in, travers (haunches-in), renvers (haunches-out), and half-pass. Also do transitions between these movements. Do things that require you to use your seat and leg, and use your hands last—and only when you need to. Each time you communicate with your seat and leg more, you need your hands less. Then he will listen to your seat and legs more, and work more from his hind-end pushing engine.

And try this exercise:

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Get your Horse’s Pushing Engine in Gear

Directions: To get your horse’s pushing engine in gear, start from the moment you walk out of the barn with your horse in hand. Do you have to pull him out by his face, or does he step smartly from his hind legs and walk next to your shoulder? He might need to be asked with a cluck or a tap from your whip. So, begin…

      Walk in Hand. Ask your horse to give you the same walk that you will expect when you’re sitting on him. While walking in hand, his only restrictions are the weight of the saddle and bridle. (When you mount, no matter how skilled you are, your weight is an additional restriction. Ideally, you want the energy stepping through his back and to your hand before he has this restriction.) Your horse’s walk should convey a quiet workmanlike attitude. When you have a self-perpetuating, relaxed walk, get on. Many top riders hand walk their horses for 10 or 15 minutes before mounting.

      Mount and Walk on a Long Rein. Walk on a long rein (if it feels safe). Be sure the pushing engine is still in gear given the added restriction of your weight. Carry your own weight in a balanced way so your horse’s body won’t be inclined to become like a hammock. If you have a mirror in your arena, walk parallel to it and ask yourself: “Why are we covering ground? Is it because of the front-end pulling engine or the hind-end pushing engine?”

Listen to the rhythm of the four-beat walk. When he’s balanced, your horse takes energetic steps from behind that are deliberate and self-perpetuating, but not hectic. Feel the energy flowing under your seat. When he’s stepping “through” his body, you can steer him easily with your body. Give yourself a steering test by riding simple figures and diagonal lines without rein contact. Leave your hands on the withers and point him on your line of travel with your eyes, shoulders, hips, knees, and toes and step in the direction you want to go. He’ll follow your weight and reach in that direction.

 

Find more great riding insight and exercises in WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN: DRESSAGE DYNAMICS by Beth Baumert, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER NOW

 

Coming to the USDF Convention in Cambridge, Massachusetts, this week? Stop by the TSB booth and meet authors Beth Baumert and Anne Gribbons during special author signings!

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Who hasn’t struggled with walk-to-canter transitions sometime in his or her riding life? While our earliest engagements with walk-to-faster-FASTER-FASTER trots can be owed to short legs, lack of riding experience, and smart ponies, later on it is generally a fault (or two) in our aiding or position, and poor preparation of the horse for what’s necessary: activity of his hind end and the “lift” he needs to get his legs and body in order so the desired transition is actually biomechanically possible.

Here’s one exercise from CREATIVE DRESSAGE SCHOOLING, the new book by FN-licensed trainer and instructor Julia Kohl, that helps us, and our horses, get organized and fit for seamless walk-to-canter transitions.

 

LEG-YIELD CENTERLINE TO TRACK AND CANTER

Where You Go
Ride in walk, tracking right, onto the short side, and turn up the centerline. Leg-yield your horse off the right leg toward the track. (Note: The leg-yield should begin in the first third of the centerline.) Upon reaching the track, ride a transition to right lead canter.

Why You Do It
This exercise helps prepare the horse for the transition from walk to canter. The horse is suppled on the inside (right) rein, the inside flexion improves, and the horse is “sent into” the outside (left) rein making it possible for the rider to soften the inside rein in the moment of the canter transition. This allows the horse’s inside hind leg to reach forward, well under the horse’s body, with good activity in the transition. (Just to clarify: The outside hind is the first leg to strike off in the canter depart.)

 

Leg-Yield Centerline to Track and Canter--an exercise from CREATIVE DRESSAGE SCHOOLING.

Leg-Yield Centerline to Track and Canter–an exercise from CREATIVE DRESSAGE SCHOOLING by Julia Kohl.

 

Here’s How
1 Ride at the walk, tracking right, and when you come onto the short side of the arena, turn up the centerline at A or C.

2 Ride a few steps straight on the centerline before beginning to leg-yield to the left—off your right leg. If you leg-yield directly out of the turn, the horse may “fall through” his outside (left) shoulder.

3 Increase the weight on your right (inside) seat bone, along with the use of your forward-and-sideways driving right leg to send your horse forward and to the left. Give and take on the right rein to flex your horse to the right.

4 When necessary, use your left rein and left “guarding” leg to keep your horse’s left shoulder and haunches from falling too much to the left. As a reminder, your horse’s body should remain nearly parallel to the track as he moves, with this forehand leading just slightly.

5 When you reach the track on the long side of the arena, end the leg-yield. Use your left (outside) leg to prevent the horse from stepping further sideways. Return your right (inside) leg to the girth and continue to drive the horse into the outside rein, maintaining a minimal inside flexion. Your right seat bone should remain more heavily weighted than the left, but it now “swings” in a forward direction rather than forward-and-sideways. Even when you are riding in an arena with a wall or fence that prevents the horse from continuing the leg-yield, it is important to actively use the aids to end the leg-yield in order to prepare for the canter transition that comes next in this exercise. These aids should be ideally applied in one step while also giving a half-halt.

6 Become passive for a brief moment with the driving aids, then ask the horse to canter by pushing your right (inside) seat bone forward, sliding your left (outside) leg back, and giving on the right (inside) rein concurrently. It is important that you do not lose focus after completing the leg-yield (Step 5), because then the “positive tension” that the horse has built up as he moved from the centerline to the track will go to waste.

7 Send your horse forward in the canter by driving with your right leg, not your left (inside leg, not outside). Overuse of the outside leg in canter sends the horse’s haunches to the inside. If there is a mirror in the corner on the short side of the arena, it is easy to check if your horse’s haunches have fallen in as you canter down the track toward it.

8 Repeat this exercise a few times in each direction.

 

For 55, detailed, meaningful exercises to make schooling your horse interesting, fun, and productive for you both, check out CREATIVE DRESSAGE SCHOOLING by Julia Kohl, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

 

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