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Posts Tagged ‘dressage’

Jane Savoie, Lynn Palm, and Rugged Painted Lark. Photo by Rhett Savoie

One of our favorite things at TSB is when our amazing and inspiring authors connect. What better than to see the people we know, admire, learn from, and care about find common ground in their love for the horse? That’s what happened with our friend and author, Jane Savoie, who we lost to cancer in January this year, and our friend and author Lynn Palm. They appreciated and learned from each other over many years as they both wrote several books, taught thousands of people, and strove to teach riders how to be the equestrians they want to be–whether just riding at home or competing at the highest levels.

Lynn wrote this moving tribute to Jane, and we asked if we might share it with you:


We will all miss the spirit, talent, teaching ability, inspiration, honesty, and passion for horses that was Jane Savoie. 

I first met Jane on the phone, and I was so impressed with her positive energy. An international “queen” of dressage (though she never acted like it), she reached out to interview me on classical training for a series of cross-training books she was writing. [Editors Note: These would later be bound together in what is today JANE SAVOIE’S DRESSAGE 101.] Jane had learned that I did hunters, Western riding, and driving (to produce “All-Around” horses) with my Quarter Horses. She was the first in the dressage world to recognize the I was using dressage training with my horses. She sent me her first book to read: THAT WINNING FEELING!, and I read it before my next Quarter Horse Congress competition. I was amazed how I could turn every negative thought in my mind before competition into a positive. I succeeded more than I expected that year and became a Jane Savoie follower from then on! When she asked me to write the foreword for her first cross-training book, I was honored! 

As I collected all Jane’s books and always found new things to learn in them–for my horses or students or my own riding–I asked Jane to be a part of three events I created under the name Women Luv Horses. I hosted them in North Carolina, California, and Florida. I asked Jane, along with the top women trainers, competitors, and instructors in the dressage, reining, working cow horse, barrels, and English/Western All-Around disciplines to join me. Jane’s classes were always the best attended and always kept the audience mesmerized. Not only did Jane bring positive education to equine enthusiasts, she brought fun as she shared her passion of understanding the horse.

Photo by Rhett Savoie

I will always remember my lessons on tempi changes with Jane as we prepared my Rugged Painted Lark for his bridleless exhibitions at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky. She could articulate her teaching so that it was easy to understand, and she could always come up with an exercise to improve a goal. I remember that straightness of the forehand gives the perfect balance I needed for the tempi changes to be more consistent. I hear her in my mind many times when I ride!

We will all miss Jane. I know that she will continue to ride with all the thousands of people who followed her, as I know she rides with me nearly every day.

Love you Jane. Thanks for all you have done for people and horses!

Lynn Palm
LynnPalm.com

Author of THE RIDER’S GUIDE TO REAL COLLECTION and YOUR COMPLETE GUIDE TO WESTERN DRESSAGE

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

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Photo by Arnd Bronkhorst

In her new book, HOW TWO MINDS MEET: THE MENTAL DYNAMICS OF DRESSAGE, Beth Baumert explains how to optimize the use of your “thinking mind” in order to become a better learner in the saddle and provides techniques for maximizing mental and emotional harmony with your horse. Here she tells us why we need to have “the will” to achieve every task, every movement:

Horses don’t understand negatives. They do not understand I hope she doesn’t…, I wish she wouldn’t…, Don’t do this…, I’m afraid that…. They don’t understand mental or emotional garbage—for example, I hope he doesn’t refuse the fence, because I want to get out of this alive and I’m afraid I’ll fall off like I did last week. This is a message that is negative, emotional, and convoluted. It’s usually accompanied by a dreadful mental image that the horse has no trouble reading, and we all know how that story ends.

Since the horse doesn’t understand the negative aspect of the message, he gets a message that goes like this: Refuse the fence as I have in the past. Do it eagerly. My rider may end up on the ground. Even the boldest, most willing jumper would, at least, become distracted or confused by his rider’s message.

The rider must think positively.

German trainer Conrad Schumacher often told his dressage students, “You must have the WILL.” He was usually referring to a line of tempi changes, and he often asked his rider to verbally call out “I WILL” when riding each change. The rider must know what she wants and have a very clear plan for achieving it. Horses train people to think clearly and positively.

For example, to jump a vertical fence or to ride a lengthened stride on the diagonal, the rider might go through these steps:

• Half-halt before the turn and balance through it.

• Half-halt again after the turn to straighten.

• Establish the length of stride you want and ride the line.

• Half-halt to rebalance after the lengthening or the fence.

• Reward! (Great job!)

• Rebalance and repeat….

Horses understand these positive, clear messages.

For more from HOW TWO MINDS MEET: THE MENTAL DYNAMICS OF DRESSAGE, including a free chapter download, CLICK HERE.

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

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Jane with Woody and Emma in South Strafford, Vermont. Photo by Rhett Savoie.

I first met Jane Savoie when I was 19. I was home from college and looking for a horse job to counter the nights I spent waitressing. Jane needed a groom. She had Eastwood, aka “Woody,” then–a big chestnut with lots of chrome.

It was a long time ago but certain moments are still incredibly clear in my memory: Jane and I standing side by side outside Woody’s stall, watching him, curled up like a big dog, napping. Jane, all business, firmly correcting my mistakes as I learned to meet her high standards for her horse’s care and turnout. Jane, with her sweet dog, Emma, power-walking along the trail that ran behind the barn as I bathed Woody in the sunny wash stall.

By that summer of 1997, Jane had already competed as a member of the U.S. Equestrian Team and written a book, THAT WINNING FEELING!, which was published by Trafalgar Square Books in 1992. She was hard at work on a new project–what would become Cross-Train Your Horse: Books One and Two (and later JANE SAVOIE’S DRESSAGE 101)–writing and rewriting her words with the help of publisher Caroline Robbins, striving to provide a truly clear how-to description of every basic dressage movement. Her aim to empower the amateur rider would become a driving force later in her life as the educational materials she was moved to create multiplied.

More recent memories of Jane are clear, too: Laughing with her and her husband, Rhett, as she related stories from the road over dinner in Wellington. Watching her dance lesson in a slick Florida studio, sensing her absolute commitment to every step. Visiting her when she first got sick, walking with her and our Managing Director Martha Cook, and brainstorming “what’s next?”

During an early treatment for her rare form of blood cancer, Jane had to stay in isolation. Never one to be idle, she decided to finish recording the audio version of her sport psychology book IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT THE RIBBONS from her hospital bed. “It is so easy to lose yourself in the physically excruciating process of battling back from illness or injury,” she said in her introduction to the audiobook. “I realized, as I forced myself to walk, IV rattling beside me, the 40 laps around the nurse’s station that would mean I’d gone a mile, that it was techniques I talk about in this book—those habits formed over a lifetime—that got me out of bed and placing one foot in front of the other, determined to get strong enough to go home.”

That was in 2016. We were all incredibly lucky she was so determined. Jane’s fight and drive, the building blocks of “her” that helped her attain her riding goals, against the odds, gave her the strength to stay with us another four years, against the odds. We had a chance to share more laughs; we had a chance to watch her dance.

Photo by Rebecca Didier

Receiving the call last week, being told she was gone, was an unbelievable blow to all of us at Trafalgar. THAT WINNING FEELING! was one of the first horse books published by Caroline; it was one of the first books Martha worked on when she came to TSB after college. Jane and her passionate, innovative ideas are an integral part of the foundation for what our small company has become. But more profound is the vast impact a friendship of 30 years has–how Jane’s evolution, my evolution, and Martha’s and Caroline’s, were all interwoven. Losing a piece of that is losing a piece of ourselves.  

When I first met Jane, at 19, I had no idea she would become such a force in my life. I guess we can never know that about the people we meet. But aren’t we lucky when it happens.

–Rebecca Didier, Managing Editor

One of our favorite photos of Jane…on Jolicoeur. Photo by Terri Miller from That Winning Feeling!

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

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MusictoTrainBy-horseandriderbooks

Who hasn’t struggled to get a horse in front of the leg? None of us want to resort to kicking like a kindergartener in a Thelwell cartoon, but sometimes, when the piggy pony comes out…

Dressage trainer and exhibition performer Sandra Beaulieu suggests that music can be used to increase forward energy in the sleepiest, most sluggish of equines. In her new book FREESTYLE: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO RIDING, TRAINING, AND COMPETING TO MUSIC, she explains what to consider when faced with energy problems in the arena:

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Is your horse unmotivated? When your horse is on the low end of the energy spectrum, you can use music to help “find the forward” by changing the energy around him. In my experience, some draft and Warmblood breeds are more likely to fall into this category, but remember: It doesn’t matter what breed your horse is…he’s an individual.

MakeYourOwnFreestyle-horseandriderbooksSet the Mood

In the same way you can use calming music in the barn and while you ride, choose upbeat, lighthearted music for the low-energy horse. Pick up your pace around the barn, have some fun with your riding friends, laugh a lot, keep spirits high.

Be aware of how your horse is affected by the change. You may notice that your version of “high” energy may actually be irritating to your horse. There is a big difference between positive, light energy and frantic, fast energy. Your horse’s reaction will let you know if you are on the right track.

Are You Too Grounded?

One of the reasons a horse may not move forward under saddle is because his rider’s energy is really grounded and slow. When you ride, do you tend to work harder than your horse? Do you follow your horse’s rhythm more than you create it for yourself? If you are a more advanced rider, you may find that you are better paired with an overly forward horse that your grounded energy can help slow down. Many horses respond well to a rider who is quiet and peaceful, but there is a difference between relaxed, positive energy and stuck, depressed energy.

Some riders have the ability to excite a horse and get him to move really forward, and others can kick and kick and nothing happens. The horse is reading the energy and body language of the rider. If you lack confidence, balance, and the right energy, you will struggle to create forwardness in your horse until those things are in place.

To help improve your riding when you suspect you are “too grounded,” you can try yoga, tai chi, or dance classes to become more aware of your energy and how it affects those around you. These exercises will not only help you understand and manage your groundedness, they teach you to lighten your energy, go with the flow, feel more elastic, and discover awareness through your body.

BookstoHelpwithEnergy-horseandriderbooks

Is It Pain-Related?

I have dealt with many types of horses over the years, and in my experience, a horse that does not want to go forward is sometimes feeling pain physically and/or emotionally. If you find that increasing your energy makes your horse more upset rather than more forward, you may be dealing with a pain issue.

My Friesian gelding has taught me volumes on this topic. He came to me with a lot of emotional and physical baggage that was difficult to unravel because he is very stoic. His reaction to everything is to not go forward, whether he is experiencing pain in the hind end, ulcers, or just “stuck” in his own mind. I have tried every exercise and technique I can think of to encourage him to be forward and in front of my aids. What works often depends on his mood and how he is feeling physically. He is an odd mix of highly sensitive and dull to the aids, so being too aggressive can shut him down and being too loud also bothers him. He is very receptive to my voice commands, and I have found some success in creating voice cues to encourage “forward” and “collect.”

FreestyleTheBook-horseandriderbooks

My Friesian gelding Douwe struggles in the “forward” department. Sometimes I ride to epic soundtrack music and imagine that we are in a movie scene. This gives added energy and purpose to my riding, and helps him as well. Photo by Spotted Vision Photography.

Create an Upbeat Playlist

If you are in the early learning stages when it comes to tempo and how to stay consistent in the saddle, try the following technique. For a slow horse, create a playlist featuring music that is a beat or two faster than your horse’s stride for you to match with your own body’s movements. The slightly faster music will give your body something to “sync up” with, encouraging you to post in a more determined way, use your driving aids more effectively when you feel the tempo slow down, and feel amazing when you and your horse find the beat.

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FreestyleIn FREESTYLE the book, Sandra Beaulieu provides everything readers need to know to enjoy Freestyles of their own—whether for fun or for ribbons. Discover how to choose suitable music, explore choreography techniques, and learn basic music editing. Review required movements, then use Beaulieu’s expert suggestions for weaving them together. Plus, enjoy a section on preparing exhibition performances—complete with ideas for props and costumes.

CLICK HERE for more information.

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

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StaffPick2-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Cathy Lynn Cimino, Equine Info Exchange

I love watching the Olympics—winter and summer. Pick a sport and I’m into it, willing to admire the athletes, agonize over the losses, celebrate the successes, and even puzzle over the “rules of the game” when it comes to contests unfamiliar to me. I grew up an athlete, and I can identify with the ambition, the guts, and the honor of being an Olympic competitor. Even though it will never be me on a balance beam, ski jump, or podium, I still get a rush seeing others reach such a goal—the kind of goal that requires much sacrifice, hours upon hours upon days upon years, for a few moments of complete and utter validation.

RFTTPin-horseandriderbooksSo with Tokyo 2020 postponed until July 2021, I’m all about finding a new way to get my Olympic fix. One way is by reading the profiles in RIDING FOR THE TEAM: INSPIRATIONAL STORIES OF THE USA’S MEDAL-WINNING EQUESTRIANS AND THEIR HORSES. 

The great thing about these stories is that they are all over the spectrum in terms of equestrian sport (all 8 FEI disciplines are included) and individual voice. Each rider, driver, and vaulter contributed a first-person account of what it took to rise to the highest levels of dressage, show jumping, eventing, reining, para dressage, driving, vaulting, and endurance. We get to hear the fascinating bits and pieces that helped make our equestrian stars great, and man, it makes for great trivia! For example, did you know:

  • Margie Engle didn’t own her own horse until she was 25?
  • Michelle Gibson got the ride on Peron after an article about her time as a working student in Germany appeared in the local newspaper?
  • Boyd Martin has always competed in his high school’s blue-and-white rugby jersey?
  • Suzy Stafford switched from eventing to driving after she bought driving lessons for her father?
  • Becca Hart works as a head barista at Starbucks when she isn’t on the road competing?
  • Andrea Fappani grew up with a classical riding background in an English saddle?
  • Valerie Kanavy paid $150 for her first horse, Princess, with savings from her piggy bank?
  • Megan Benjamin Guimarin could only eat bread pieces dipped in Nutella before competing for the World Championship?

Martin2CBoyd_LennysLoss

Boyd Martin in outgrown jodhpurs and his school’s blue-and-white ruby jersey On Lenny’s Loss. Photo courtesy of Boyd Martin from RIDING FOR THE TEAM.

There are 47 contributors in RIDING FOR THE TEAM, and as a rider—even one who no longer competes—I enjoyed discovering how each one decided representing the US in international competition was what they aspired to, and then how each pursued and accomplished that goal. Some came from humble means, some had a leg up with families in the horse business or money that helped pave the way, but all of them struggled at points…and still prevailed. 

These lessons are the best kind right now. #LetTheDreamsBegin

Rebecca Didier, Managing Editor, TSB

RIDING FOR THE TEAM is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

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

 

 

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IsabellWerthDishesonRollkur-horseandriderbooks

German Olympian Isabell Werth is one of the most successful horsewomen in the world. With six Olympic gold medals and scores of championship titles to her name, there are few her equal on paper.

In Werth’s authorized biography FOUR LEGS MOVE MY SOUL, readers get the inside scoop when it comes to the dressage rider’s amazing accomplishments—and her failures, too. In this exclusive excerpt, Werth shares her personal thoughts regarding one of the biggest controversies to rock the dressage world: Rollkur.

Rollkur for me is the forced “screwing in” and “rolling up” of the horse’s neck in front of his chest. The horse is held in this too-tight position for a certain time. When this happens, the necessary stretching and lengthening of the neck is completely neglected. It doesn’t correspond to my understanding of dressage training at all. Truly gymnasticizing a horse is something completely different. The templates are out of place in every respect. Xenophon’s standard still holds true today: A horse’s nose should ideally stay in front of the vertical. Yes, but the way to this ideal has to be adjusted to each horse. For example, when I am starting a young horse whose body is not yet trained or muscled, I want to form that horse into an athlete with appropriate gymnasticizing. This means that, among other things, the horse is made more supple and elastic through frequent bending of his neck and stretching of his entire body.

IsabellWerthGigolo-horseandriderbooks

Isabell Werth and Gigolo winning gold at the 1996 Olympics. Photo by Jacques Toffi

This, however, has nothing to do with rollkur. The aim of the right kind of gymnastic training is that the horse can use his body elastically and be supple, just like a high-performance athlete, a gymnast, or a figure skater.

Total obedience, the achievement of so-called “blind obedience,” is an essential aim of rollkur. With this in mind, I have also pondered how such an exaggeration of position might relate to other exaggerations in training, such as remarkably frequent repetitions of movements. I have asked myself why a pirouette is constantly repeated, even after it has been carried out successfully several times before. Even in the time of Xenophon it was said that praise for the horse doesn’t only mean patting his neck or giving him a treat. “Calling it a day” when something goes well is another reward through which the horse learns to identify when he has done something right. That is a guide post that Dr. Schulten-Baumer firmly installed in me: If it goes well, it’s “home time.” The only explanation that I can find for the constant repetitions we so often see in dressage schooling is that they are hoped to lead to an automatization of the horse. People must feel that mistakes can be eliminated this way.

I principally respect my competitors’ achievements and don’t want to denounce anyone. My goal is to advance myself. But the great pleasure I take from my work mainly results from the fact that I work together with animals that have their own personalities, that are confident, and that I am on par with. A horse may and must live his own personality. Of course, I expect obedience, I wish to be in control, and I want to be the one who decides what happens when. But, my horses are also allowed to resist; they are allowed to tell me what they think. Live and let live. I have to lead my horse so skillfully over the years he is in my barn that he plays along voluntarily and has fun doing it…. Only a horse that has fun can develop the kind of charisma that captivates people in the show ring. The foundation of what connects us to our horses every day is affection and respect. It helps us see through all phases of doubt.

Read more of Werth’s personal thoughts on the world of international dressage, including the Totilas controversy and her long rivalry with Dutch Olympian Anky van Grunsven in FOUR LEGS MOVE MY SOUL, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE. 

CLICK HERE to find out more.

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

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RidingfortheTeam-Sport-Photos-FB

“To win for the USA.” Many young athletes grow up with a goal of reaching the Olympics and the glories of their sport’s highest levels. It is no different for equestrians, whether they ride English, Western, vault, or drive a carriage. From playing with plastic ponies and taking their first riding lessons, to finding success in the arena, thousands of horse lovers hope they can one day represent the United States in international competition.

RIDING FOR THE TEAM, the new book from the United States Equestrian Team Foundation and edited by Nancy Jaffer, chronicles the lives of those who dreamed about competing for their country and “made it,” sharing inspirational stories from the FEI’s eight equestrian disciplines: show jumping, dressage, eventing, driving, vaulting, reining, endurance, and para-dressage.

Readers are immersed in the fascinating histories of the medal-winning riders, drivers, and vaulters who have dominated American equestrian sport over the past 28 years, such as McLain Ward, Karen O’Connor, Debbie McDonald, and Tim McQuay. Get the inside scoop on legendary horses who have become household names, including Flexible, Biko, Verdades, and Gunners Special Nite.

Riding for the TeamOffering exclusive insights, this book gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at the world of top-level equestrian sport. Athletes tell their stories and those of their horses during the years they honed their talent and dedicated their lives to representing their country in the Olympics, World Equestrian Games, World Championships, and Pan American Games. Beautifully illustrated with breathtaking photographs from prestigious competitions held around the world, RIDING FOR THE TEAM not only provides a dazzling record of American equestrian accomplishment, it promises to inspire the next generation of champions.

RIDING FOR THE TEAM is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

 

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

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ItsNotJustAbouttheRibbons-horseandriderbooks

Art by Beth Preston from It’s Not Just About the Ribbons by Jane Savoie.

Collection—what it is and what it isn’t—is regularly debated in most horsey circles. While there is a tendency to segregate ourselves by discipline, the truth is, the base philosophy should really be the same, whatever saddle you ride in or sport you pursue.

In her bestselling reference DRESSAGE 101, renowned dressage coach and motivational speaker Jane Savoie provides down-to-earth discussion around the ever-hot topic of collection and self-carriage, as well as all the exercises anyone ever needs to achieve collection as an “ultimate goal.” She also shares many stories of different riding lives, including this one about Dennis Reis, who once upon a time earned his living on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit:

Dressage101-horseandriderbooks

Dennis Reis. Photo by John Carlson.

Dennis was a cowboy who trained horses for a living and discovered he had been doing dressage without knowing it. As his ability to communicate with his animals evolved and his talent was noticed by his neighbors, who were mostly dressage riders, he found himself in the unusual position of being asked to reschool upper-level dressage horses who were brought to him with specific problems. The dressage riders sought him out even though he had no classical training himself.
 
When asked about collection, Dennis is quick to point out that it’s not just a “head-set.” “Collection isn’t conforming to a preconceived notion of a frame or a picture of what it should look like,” he says. “It’s not a reduction in speed or a shortening of frame. It’s a posture that generates deep inside the body. The horse is round, balanced, engaged, off the forehand, and his back and neck are ‘turned off’—not braced.”

In dressage terms, when the horse’s back and neck are “turned off,” the energy that originates in the hindquarters can flow to the forehand without meeting any stiffness or restriction caused by the sustained contraction of the back muscles.
 
Dennis is enthusiastic about the joys of riding a horse that is in self-carriage. “The movements are fluid and elastic, transitions are flowing and soft, the horse is light and easy to guide and willingly yields his body to the rider.”

Jane 101 CoverI think we can all get there, don’t you?

Jane Savoie’s DRESSAGE 101 is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

And watch for Jane’s new book DRESSAGE BETWEEN THE JUMPS, coming Fall 2019!

 

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

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GettingtotheCoreofIt-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Jaana Maari Partanen.

Equine core muscles are very difficult to isolate with the traditional training techniques common to horse sports. However, by examining what we do with the human body when faced with a weak core, we can find new methods for conditioning these areas of the equine body. In his new book CORE CONDITIONING FOR HORSES, Visconte Simon Cocozza has taken principles of the human practice of yoga and used them to develop novel ways of reaching deep within the horse’s body and gently “unlock” areas that may be a little “rusty,” improve core fitness, and even relieve pain related to conditions such as kissing spine. In this book, he provides step-by-step instruction explaining easy mounted exercises that enhance the horse’s posture and boost his confidence in his body and movement, making him easier to ride, and ultimately, the dance partner you’ve always imagined.

We caught up with Simon and found out a little more about his exciting core conditioning techniques…as well as discovering he has a penchant for chablis.

CoreConditioningforHorses-horseandriderbooksTSB: Your book CORE CONDITIONING FOR HORSES provides a collection of yoga-inspired ridden exercises for the horse that warm him up and strengthen his core. How did you determine that these particular exercises were of such key benefit to the horse?

SC: Well, training the inside of the horse is rather new territory, so it was a combination of researching our current understanding of equine biomechanics and good, old-fashioned scientific method. The anatomical composition of the horse is very well understood, of course, but core motion dynamics and how it all interacts are still largely theoretical. It helped me to look at the mechanical properties of the skeleton in the real world—in motion and under the rider rather than simply it’s construction. When the weak areas and their ridden causes became clear, it was a case of addressing them one by one. Yoga showed itself as a solution early on as it aims to restore natural alignment to the vertebrae in a calm and kind way, which really resonates with horses. With some adjustment for anatomical scale and the addition of the rider to the mechanism as a whole, I found that it was possible to use yoga’s slow, low-impact movements to isolate the weak areas quite quickly and easily. When this presented itself, I was quite surprised.


 
TSB: Do you practice yoga? If so, what are the benefits you have found it has made in your own life? How does it affect your riding and horsemanship?

SC: Ha! I was hoping nobody would ask me this! The yoga instructor I consulted with for the book is the amazing Alison Robertson, based in France. Alison has kindly taken pity on me and is helping me learn what our horses feel like when asked to bend rusty body parts! Despite being a plank of wood, it is definitely helping me feel looser in the back, and in particular I have noticed yoga  “evening up” the two sides of my body around a (semi) flexible spine, which is definitely helping my symmetry in the saddle. However, it is not as easy as I had imagined!
 
TSB: How do your core conditioning exercises fit into other training and conditioning programs? Can they be used in concert with other techniques and training schedules?

SC: This is an important point and something I was not prepared to compromise. We desperately needed a simple way of helping all horses feel better in themselves and develop their optimal spinal function, no matter their given discipline, age, breeding, or temperament. For this reason, there are different exercise plans in my book to help the horse owner develop a core conditioning warm-up exactly for the individual horse in question. I think this been achieved with the warm-up plans I present (Wellness, Flexibility, Connection, or Agility)—the exercises can be tailored to fit any horse, whether a light, young, Thoroughbred racehorse or a seasoned, heavier dressage horse. At the spinal level, function is identical, yet the approach needs to be just right for that individual horse’s type and lifestyle.
 
TSB: One of the benefits of your core conditioning exercises is they can help horses that have been diagnosed with or are suspected of having kissing spine. Can you tell us how your techniques alleviate pain and improve a horse’s chances of recovering from this issue?

SC: Well, “kissing spine” is rather more common than we thought, unfortunately, yet despite the problems it causes, it is a relatively simple engineering problem. The spine is a finely tuned piece of equipment and only operates correctly when aligned properly—and then its complex design works really, really well. Unfortunately, if the angles are off even slightly, like a bent pair of scissors or a rusty lock, the mechanism catches on itself and causes damage to the delicate structure it relies upon to do its job. To make matters more complicated,  it is covered in nerves, making the horse tense up when s/he feels a pinch anywhere along the back. These tensions unfortunately feel like training or even behavioral problems, which is why they are not diagnosed very quickly, making them become habitual and limiting performance and quality of life. The solution is thankfully very simple, involving strengthening the muscles that are already under the spine to redress and realign the horse’s back. The body knows what is good for it, and when activated, these structures spring into action and everything starts to work properly again.


 
TSB: You were born in Italy, were educated in England, and live in France. How did your background influence your decision to become a professional horseman and devote your time and energy to improving the horse’s health and well-being?

SC: I have been very lucky that my family has a strong history with horses, which has helped enormously. My mother is an instructor, so I was brought up around, on, and under horses, and my Italian family has been composed of almost all swashbuckling military horsemen and women for millennia. Perhaps it is simply in the DNA? Although I am a nerd and wanted to be a scientist, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to work with horses. After a few years working in the commercial side of the horse industry, I became uncomfortable using some of the restrictive and insensitive methods that we employ without question in European training. Restraint and force did not seem to be necessary with such a highly complex and essentially perfectly designed creature as the horse, and I strongly felt that there had to be better way. So I spent a few decades trying to understand how it all worked. This work has, of course, all been done before, long ago, yet I feel I may have reiterated some forgotten knowledge that may allow us to smooth off some of our modern corners.
 
TSB: What is one lesson you hope readers will take away from your book?

SC: By far, it is to put ourselves in the horses’ hooves. When working with these sensitive beings that worry and tense up so easily, we really must show them our love in every moment of our work together, especially when we run into problems. This is when they need us the most.  They are so very, very emotional, and we should remember that there is always an innocent reason for their actions, even if it looks otherwise.


 
TSB: If you were trapped on a desert island with a horse and a book, what breed of horse would it be and which book would you choose?

SC: Oh, I think it would have to be a Pura Raza Espagnol, an Andalusian. These horses are like generous people, that is why we use them in movies, for the High School, such as in Vienna, and for tricks like dancing, performances, and stunt work. Try that sort of thing with a Warmblood and he will just walk away!

I am tempted to say I would read Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Dafoe, but that is a bit obvious, so it would have to be Douglas Adams’ quadrilogy of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, which I feel sure the PRE would enjoy me reading to her/him, too.
 
TSB: If you could do one thing on horseback that you haven’t yet done, what would it be?

SC: I am fascinated with Working Equitation, and I love watching it. It has so much potential for perfection and looks like dressage meets “handy pony” meets gymkhana, but for grown-ups. I mean, they gallop over a bridge and carry a spear!
 
TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?

SC: Integrity. Without that, nothing else matters.
 
TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?

SC: Focus. Some of them look at you and say with their eyes, “Hi! Lets interact!” and they hold focus on you. Time stands still when that happens, and no matter what package s/he is in, your souls connect. This is the essence of a great relationship and the first thing I look for.

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TSB: What is your greatest fear?

SC: A global shortage of olives, Nutella, garlic, or Chablis, in that order. I suppose I ought to say world war, although the former would surely trigger the latter.
 
TSB: What is your greatest extravagance?

SC: I have an unreasonably large collection of Passier saddles. I love them, especially the old ones. They are masterpieces of craftsmanship and each one rides a little differently. I am not even ashamed of this and have instructed my family to bury my favorites with me…preferably after I have died, though.
 
TSB: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

SC: I would like to be able to fly. But that’s not very realistic. In “Real Life” I would like to be a little taller. When in Germany and Holland I feel child-size—in fact, their children are often taller than me! A short stay (pun intended) in Italy or Portugal usually puts that right.
 
TSB: What’s in your refrigerator at all times?

SC:  Landjaeger sausage. It’s like the Holy Grail of bacon. 
 
TSB: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

SC: Oh, there are so many answers to this one! If I had to choose one it would be waiting, at dusk, for the Spaghetti alle Vongole to come to the table at a little waterside trattoria on the Amalfi Coast, surrounded by people I love.
 
TSB: If you could have a conversation with one famous person, alive or dead, who would it be?

SC: Without question, the physicist Nikola Tesla. He was the twentieth century’s da Vinci. He almost changed the world. Almost!
 
TSB: What is your motto?

SC: May I suggest a quote instead?

“A learning experience is one of those things that says, ‘You know that thing you just did? Don’t do that.” ― Douglas Adams

Simon Cocozza’s book CORE CONDITIONING FOR HORSES is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

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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Whether it was the dawdling pony, ignoring our short, five-year-old legs ricocheting off his sides, or the experienced schoolmaster who knew enough to make us earn a forward ride, we have all struggled to put a horse in front of our leg at one point or another. A common mistake when your walk leaves much to be desired, it would seem, is to actually spend time working on the walk. The short of the long is: Don’t do that.

Christoph Hess, FEI “I” judge in both dressage and eventing, gives us these alternatives to developing a good walk in his book BETTER RIDING WITH CHRISTOPH HESS:

 

A good walk is developed by the rider through correct riding in the basic gaits of trot and canter. This sounds paradoxical at first, but practice shows that a good walk cannot be achieved by always “working” the horse in this gait exclusively. Rather, a good walk is developed by having the horse securely on the rider’s aids, allowing himself to be ridden “through” while stretching and in balance at the basic gaits of trot and canter.

TrainingaGoodWalk-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Peter Prohn

At the walk, the rider can check how rideable her horse really is. She can determine if the horse is supple and relaxed, responding to the driving aids—without the horse being lazy and lethargic—and “seeking” the bit, meaning he is stretching toward the rider’s hand. The rider must always be able to ride forward, and also sideways, at any time. The better and, above all, more responsively the horse accepts the rider’s driving aids, the better the results on the walk will be.

 

HowtoGetaGoodWalkpin-horseandriderbooksRide It Correctly

In dressage tests, the walk scores are given a coefficient of two, which means the walk counts twice. For one, the crucial rhythm, fluidity, and ground cover are scored. For another, the judges pay attention to ensure the rider actually rides the walk and does not just go along as a “passive passenger.” This active riding of the walk is an important criterion for assessing whether or not the rider is on the correct path to training her horse. To accomplish this, the rider applies her driving leg aids at the moment the hind leg on the same side is striking off. This is a process during which the horse ideally “picks up” the driving aid himself. The prerequisite for this is a supple hip joint. At the same time, the rider should follow the nodding of the horse’s head and neck with her hands and have the feeling that the horse is framed between her aids. As this takes place, the horse will stretch forward and downward, opening the angle at his throatlatch, and through this, the line from forehead to nose should come just slightly ahead of the vertical. This is the prerequisite for the horse to establish an even rhythm and achieve ground-covering strides.

Though this sounds easy when put into words, it is really not easy to achieve in practice. In the course of her education, every rider must discover for herself the right feel for riding the walk. On the one hand, she needs to allow the horse to walk on without driving him excessively; on the other hand, she cannot become really passive, which can lead to a considerably worse walk.

RideBetterwithChristophHess-horseandriderbooks

An even walk with a clearly recognizable “V.” This is a visual aid for a clear four-beat rhythm. Under no circumstances should the foreleg and hind leg on the same side come close to moving concurrently. This would indicate a pacing walk. Illustration by Cornelia Koller

 

Trot-Canter Transitions

Doing transitions from trot to canter and canter back to trot is one of the most valuable exercises for effectively improving a horse’s “throughness,” willing cooperation, obedience, and responsiveness to his rider—all necessary for a good walk. I recommend you incorporate these transitions very deliberately into the content of every daily training session. Practice these on a big circle, making sure your horse stays on your driving aids, even as he “shifts up a gear” from trot into canter and then “shifts down a gear” from canter back to trot. On the “downshift,” it is especially important that you maintain the impulsion from the canter as you return to trot, without the trot becoming rushed. You should visualize yourself “cantering into the trot” as you begin to trot. This is only possible when you are supple through your hip joint, following the movement of the new gait, allowing it to carry you along. In order to further optimize your horse’s “throughness,” you should just slightly lengthen the canter strides just before the downward transition to trot, then after the successful transition, just slightly lengthen the first trot strides. As this takes place, the horse must maintain a forward tendency. Under no circumstance, should the transition be from an extended canter into an extended trot (which has a tendency to be a “passage-like” gait). As the actual transition takes place, you must always have the feeling that you could offer a release, typically by moving one or both hands forward along the horse’s neck, or allow the horse to “chew” the reins from your hand.

If you ride the transition from a backward orientation, meaning from short canter strides and/or into short trot strides that lack impulsion, you will not be able to ride a rhythmic, fluid, and efficient walk. At the moment of the transition, take more feel of the horse’s side with your inside calf, which will make the transition so much easier; with a well-trained horse, you will then be able to complete the transition without application of rein aids. You’ll feel, respectively, as if you’re only “listening in closely” to the horse’s mouth with your hands (through your reins). In this way, you will avoid applying inside rein. Doing so blocks the horse’s strikeoff from the inside hind, which leads to a failed transition. The canter-to-trot transition, in particular, has a pivotal significance to harmonious and, thereby, sensitive riding in all three basic gaits.

One more useful tip: a few canter strides before your transition to trot, think leg-yield; if you’re more advanced then think shoulder-fore or shoulder-in. The same applies to the transition from trot to walk.

Ride Better with Christoph Hess REV-horseandriderbooksFor more riding and training tips from Christoph Hess, check out RIDE BETTER WITH CHRISTOPH HESS, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

 

Are you looking for new ways to rev your riding engines? Jane Savoie’s bestselling equestrian sport psychology book IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT THE RIBBONS is now available in audiobook format!

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

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