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Posts Tagged ‘horse training’

WhyAllLeftIsn'tRight-horseandriderbooks

Who didn’t learn it that way? One of the very first lesson we all absorb as tiny horse-crazy tots is to approach and handle the horse from the left side. I once went on a dude ride (no really, it’s true) and the four things that were explained to all the tourists in tennis shoes before they got on were whoa, go, “don’t let him eat on the trail,” and “lead him from the left.”

In her new book TRAINING AND RETRAINING HORSES THE TELLINGTON WAY, legendary horsewoman Linda Tellington-Jones counters this traditional lesson in basic equestrianism, arguing for ambidexterity on the part of both horse and handler.

 

Why All Left Isn’t Right

Why is it considered “correct” to lead a horse from the left? Anyone who has gone through Pony Club or 4-H knows that leading a horse from the “far” or right side is considered incorrect.

HandleYourHorsefromBothSides-horseandriderbooksHorses are to be handled primarily from the “near” or left side. Unfortunately, this leftover military tradition is not particularly useful for your horse’s overall straightness, flexibility, and balance. Leading horses from the left originated from the righthand dominant military tradition of having the sword scabbard on the left side of the body. Leading and mounting horses from the left side meant that the sword was not in the way.

The result is that many horses are very one-sided and have a difficult time stopping without a left bend, or they might not be able to be led from the right at all. This tendency can be seen in unhandled foals, as they mimic their dam’s posture, and is reinforced as they are primarily handled from the left side. Horses that rush on the lead will generally be turned in a circle as a way to slow them down, which increases imbalance to the left and often results in a tendency to drop the left shoulder and fall toward the handler.

Practicing leading and handling from both sides will go a long way to improve overall balance in posture and mentally accustom your horse to having a person on either side. It is also an excellent non-habitual exercise for handlers who, more often than not, are much less comfortable leading from the right.

 

World-renowned equine expert Linda Tellington-Jones’ healing equine bodywork and innovative training methods have revolutionized the horse training landscape over the last 50 years. Her unique blend of hands-on TTouch (a collection of circles, lifts, and slides done with the hands over various parts of the horse’s body), combined with humane groundwork and under-saddle exercises, has helped solve training and behavioral problems for horses of every breed, every discipline, every age, and all levels. In TRAINING AND RETRAINING HORSES THE TELLINGTON WAY she presents a thoughtful recipe for starting the young horse without stress, helping to establish the very best beginning, in hand and under saddle. Unfortunately, not all horses have the benefit of the right foundation, which can lead to misunderstanding, mistreatment, and unhappiness for both human and horse. With this in mind, Tellington-Jones also curates her own experience working with older horses ready for a second chance at life, providing the necessary tools for filling in training “holes” and reconfirming lessons that may have been poorly taught or forgotten. The result is book with all the right ingredients and its heart in the right place: Whether starting right or starting over, Tellington-Jones’s field-tested, compassionate answers are an excellent way to find connection while ensuring the horse a lifetime of success in the company of humans.

TRAINING AND RETRAINING HORSES THE TELLINGTON WAY is available now 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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FoodforThought-horseandriderbooks

Sugar cubes. Peppermints. Carrots. Carefully sliced pieces of apple. “Cookies.” Admit it: We all have one. A favorite treat.

When your horse comes trotting up in the pasture, it feels good, right? When he turns and looks over his shoulder after a square halt, your heart melts a little. When he walks, trots, and stays right at your side in the round pen or arena, all sans halter and lead rope, you feel like you’re on top of the world.

Was it just the “cookies” that made him do it?

Do you know?

In their book EQUUS LOST? ethologists Francesco De Giorgio and José De Giorgio-Schoorl argue that science says using treats to train a horse—or any animal—is a bad idea, and we should all take our hands out of the goody bag. Here’s what they say:

In today’s social media, there are countless examples of situations where food rewards are used in interaction with all kinds of animals. Dolphins, dogs, horses, cats, rabbits, zebras, tigers, and many others undergo this kind of conditioning. It might look innocent, but it has a direct impact on their limbic system (comprised of brain structures that are involved in emotions).

FoodinHorseTraining-horseandriderbooksWe can understand the severity of this impact by looking, for example, at the importance of the senses for horses, for their well-being in general and, more specifically, in their interaction with humans. If we want to improve our understanding of horses and our interaction with them, we need to be aware of how they create their own experience and leave the horse the freedom to do so.

It’s in the Nose

Horses use their olfactory system to process information coming from odors. They explore and smell in order to be connected with their environment and improve their understanding of it. For this reason, when working with horses, we must learn to be aware of how the horse uses his senses, trying to notice and understand when the horse is interested or focusing on something with his senses. It could be anything! Something on the ground, a fence, something in the air….

Some horses (like many humans!) are no longer used to using their sense of smell to improve their understanding of a situation, and as a result, miss important information that could otherwise be reassuring. This “not smelling” is due to constantly overlooking their needs in their interaction with man. When they want to stop to smell along a path, we ask them to continue walking; when they want to take in the smells of an unknown arena, we ask them to start “working,” for example.

This problem is accentuated further if horses get used to food premium rewards. By being trained to focus on food, their response is stimulated in the limbic system, and the possibility of remaining calm and explorative is almost entirely taken away. They create a strong association between anything interesting to explore and the possibility of food. Of course, the olfactory system is still working, but from a reactive inner state, with the expectation of finding food, instead of simply processing information from an object. A horse that is smelling with food expectations is easily recognizable: his nostrils pass quickly and mechanically without taking in his surroundings, his breath is superficial, and his nose immediately touches a human’s arm or object without first pausing to elaborate the information from a distance or, after slow intense breathing, stopping at a whisker’s distance, taking in all that the moment is telling his perception, to take time to build his own map of the situation. We are not used to paying attention to these kinds of details. We might never know what information the horse is getting, but we can learn to recognize his attention and signs of his elaboration.

Food premiums also have an immediate impact on daily activities. For example, when horses in shared pastures start perceiving man as mere food dispensers, the human presence will immediately trigger food expectations and, consequently, tension in the entire group. This is something we need to take responsibility for instead of trying to correct the behavioral consequences (horses become insistent or even irritated when looking for food), which we caused by using food premiums in the first place.

Can’t Buy Me Love

We often feel the urge to reward because we forget how to live in the moment. The reward becomes a substitute for actually sharing an experience born from an intrinsic interest. Yet, it is from that interest that an authentic relationship can be developed.

Living a calm, interesting life doesn’t need a premium. Life itself should give satisfaction. We live often totally unconnected with ourselves, trying frantically to find contact with the horse, using all kinds of techniques. By offering a premium, we don’t give the horse the possibility to relate to us, congruent and in line with himself.

Equus LostWe need to be aware of the fact that when we give food rewards to horses, we create such a strong magnet that we reduce their ability for free expression. Positive reinforcement is a form of operant conditioning that falls within the behaviorist framework. Today, it is high time for such an approach to human interaction with animals to be thoroughly questioned. Behaviorism completely disregards animals’ mental elaboration, emotions, and internal state.

Want to know more? EQUUS LOST? by Francesco De Giorgio & José De Giorgio-Schoorl is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter 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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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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JonathanFieldandHalBreyerfest-horseandriderbooks

Are you packed and ready to head to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky, to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of BreyerFest? That’s right, July 12-14, 2019, marks 30 years that Breyer Animal Creations has brought to life a fabulous family festival that combines the excitement of a real horse fair with model horse activities, and this year, TSB author Jonathan Field is a featured performer, along with his wonderful horse Hal. Hal, who was one of the equine stars in Jonathan’s glorious  book THE ART OF LIBERTY TRAINING FOR HORSES, is coming out of retirement and making the trip to this year’s Breyerfest for a very special reason: He now has his very own Breyer model! A very limited supply of the Hal model will be available for sale at BreyerFest.

HalBreyerModelInsta-horseandriderbooks

Hal Breyer model available at BreyerFest 2019. Limited quantities so hurry! Hal model imagery courtesy of Breyer Animal Creations.

Here is Hal’s story as Jonathan told it in THE ART OF LIBERTY TRAINING FOR HORSES:

 

“Hal’s my number one horse, and my best horse friend. We have been through a lot together, learned a lot together, traveled thousands of miles, and quite frankly, I owe a lot of my career to Hal.  

“A Quarter Horse gelding, Hal was given to me when he was three years old. For many reasons, he had been running into problems with training, and was subsequently bought back by his breeder. After returning home, he tried to pin his owner in his stall and threatened to kick her. He bucked when ridden and was always getting into mischief. Hal is a horse that if you don’t come up with something for him to do, he will happily come up with something of his own. And, it’s likely to be troublesome. 

“So Hal came to me to be restarted. After about a month in training, his owner came to watch me with him. After our session, she approached me with tears in her eyes. I thought I had let her down, but they were tears of happiness. She went on to tell me how much Hal had meant to her from the time she raised him. He held a very special place in her heart and she named him after her dad’s initials. The tears came because she was so elated to see Hal look as happy with a person as he had with his dam. I was taken aback, and very glad my customer’s tears were good tears! 

“That day, I thought we were doing well because of my skill, but the reality was I was a young trainer, early in my career. Looking back, I wish I could take credit for Hal making such a change, but I think we were just a good personality match. He taught me more than I taught him. 

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“I was looking for a horse at the time and Hal’s owner was so pleased with what her horse and I had done together that she said she would love to see how far our partnership could go. So she offered Hal to me that day. I accepted, and promised to make her proud of what we would do together. 

“In a lot of ways, Hal and I hit it off right from the start. He was very sensitive, but also worried. He is a ‘thinking kind of horse.’ If he’s going to buck with you, it’s because he got scared first, then says, ‘I bet I could buck this guy off.’ It is more of a plan than a true prey animal flight reaction. 

JonathanFieldHalBreyerfestPIN-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Robin Duncan.

“In the beginning, it was like every little thing meant something too much to Hal. If he got confused or overwhelmed, he would lose confidence and want to flee. If he couldn’t run away, he would kick or buck. He took everything so personally. Even a simple thing, like how fast I approached to catch him, could put too much pressure on him. 

“Gradually, I learned that if I came toward him slowly and respectfully, he quietly waited with no problems. He was just a horse that was born wired sensitive. His confidence was a bit like porcelain: easy to crack. 

“To this day, I still see some of these attributes in Hal from time to time. Now, he is a star and has his own fan club. At the big expos and events where we perform, many people want to go to his stall and see him. Some of my horses eagerly await the attention, with their heads out of their stalls, waiting for a rub. Not Hal.  

“Then, the amazing thing is Hal and I go out to the arena at show time, and he fills the room with joy! As he gallops around looking right at the crowd, it looks like he is having the time of his life—and I believe that he is. 

“Early on, liberty was the best thing for Hal. It gave him the freedom to move and express himself, building his confidence in me and mine in him. As we started to gain some trust and communication, things changed. I began to have the benefits of a supersensitive horse, but with trust to build a partnership. It was then that my riding with him took off.”

Jonathan and Hal 4-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Robin Duncan.

Don’t miss your chance to get a limited edition model of Hal at the 2019 Breyerfest! And read more about Hal and Jonathan Field’s other horses, as well as learn his techniques for teaching a horse how to play with you at liberty in his book THE ART OF LIBERTY TRAINING FOR HORSES, 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 company 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.

 

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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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BeyondtheTrack-horseandriderbooks

Photo from Beyond the Track by Anna Ford with Amber Heintzberger and Sarah Coleman.

Tomorrow is the day we celebrate those oh-so-special loves in our lives. For some of us, that means extra hours at the barn with you-know-who. But others might still be looking for Mr. Right. If an OTTB has ever caught your fancy, you’re not alone…off-track Thoroughbreds are a fabulous way to do right by a horse while getting incredible athleticism in an affordable package. And OTTBs can be a great fit for whatever kind of riding you like best. Just check out our OTTB Matchmaker tips below from Anna Ford, Thoroughbred Program Director at New Vocations Racehorse Adoption. Her book BEYOND THE TRACK has been called “breakthrough racehorse literature,” “superior,” “a winner,” and “the ultimate in training manuals.”

Here are Ford’s recommendations for finding your OTTB match:

If you intend to purchase a horse off the track or adopt one through a program, I recommend you engage the assistance of an experienced friend or trainer to help ascertain the horse’s suitability for you and your discipline. Even if you buy and sell horses all the time, a second opinion is always of value.

The most important step is to ask yourself what level of riding or competition you aspire to, as many OTTBs are athletic enough to pursue any discipline at the lower levels, and most minor injuries will hold up after proper time off. With this in mind, here are a few additional guidelines to consider when evaluating OTTBs. These are generalized suggestions—there is a lot more to consider when choosing a horse for a specific discipline. And note, the examples pictured here are right off the track. Appearance changes with added weight and muscle.

The Event Horse or Jumper* 

BeyondtheTrack1-horseandriderbooks

Photo from Beyond the Track courtesy of New Vocations.

Conformation

▶ High shoulder point (the front of the shoulder is high, with a steeply angled humerus from there to the elbow; this ensures scope over large jumps).

▶ Uphill build.

▶ Medium bone structure (extremely fine bone structure is less likely to hold up).

▶ Short- to medium-length back.

▶ Short- to medium-length pasterns (long pasterns tend to break down).

▶ Well-set knees (horses that have knees that bend slightly forward or back, instead of straight, can place increased strain on tendons and ligaments).

▶ Event horses can range in height. Note that larger horses (in height and mass) can be more difficult to keep sound as they are harder on their legs and feet.

 

OTTBMatchmaker-horseandriderbooksMovement

Event horses need to be very athletic with fluid gaits. Prospects should have more action at all three gaits than, say, a hunter (see below). This often indicates it will be easier for them to move with impulsion in the dressage ring and that they will pick up their knees better over fences.

 

Personality

▶ Brave ∙ Athletic ∙ Hard-Working

Event prospects need to be bold, brave, and forward-going horses that have good endurance. Many of these horses could also be described as “proud” or “arrogant.” More energetic horses are often possibilities—as long as they are mentally sane and have a good work ethic, the extra energy is beneficial on the cross-country course.

*A jumper prospect will be very similar in build, action, and personality to an event horse. When looking for a jumper, put more emphasis on a stronger hind end and shoulder. A jumper does not necessarily need to be built uphill, but he should have a high shoulder point.

 

The Hunter 

BeyondtheTrack2-horseandriderbooks

Photo from Beyond the Track courtesy of New Vocations.

Conformation

▶ Long, sloping shoulder.

▶ Neck ties in well with the withers and shoulder.

▶ Small, attractive head.

▶ Flat topline.

 

Movement

Hunters should be light on their feet and have as little action in their legs as possible. A long, low, rhythmic stride that easily covers a lot of ground is desirable. The horse’s head carriage should be long and low.

 

Personality

▶ Easygoing ∙ Consistent ∙ Stylish

Hunters are judged on rhythm, style, and manners. They need to be calm in nature and consistent in gait and attitude as they move around the ring and over fences.

 

The Dressage Horse 

BeyondtheTrack3-horseandriderbooks

Photo from Beyond the Track courtesy of New Vocations.

Conformation

▶ Withers set back from the shoulder.

▶ Short back.

▶ Uphill build.

▶ Strong, well-built hindquarters.

▶ Neck ties in well with the withers and shoulder (avoid ewe-necked horses).

▶ Neck should be medium to long.

 

Movement

The horse should naturally engage and drive from his hind end. A regular, even, four-beat walk is ideal. At the trot he should demonstrate natural impulsion and extension while remaining light on his feet. Look for a canter that is not overly “large”—a shorter stride is easier to maneuver around the dressage arena and eventually teach clean flying lead changes.

 

Personality

▶ Hard-Working ∙ Sensitive ∙ Sensible

A dressage prospect should be a sensitive yet sensible horse. He needs to be very responsive to leg, seat, and rein aids rather than dead-sided or hard-mouthed. He cannot become overwrought every time he is confronted with a new task—the ideal horse likes to work and accepts new challenges eagerly.

 

 

Beyond the Track NE REVFor more guidance in how to choose the right OTTB and transition him from the track to the ideal riding partner, check out BEYOND THE TRACK, available now 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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