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The rider’s trunk and extremities interact and depend on each other. For example, hands and arms depend on shoulder position, which depends on the shoulder girdle, which depends on the position of the spinal column (in particular, the thoracic spine). All of this interconnectedness means that the common instruction heard in riding rings round the world, “Shoulders back!” is detrimental to correct and supple rider position—in fact, it leads to stiffness and tension.

“If you simply take the shoulders back without changing the position of the trunk,” explains Susanne von Dietze in her classic bestseller BALANCE IN MOVEMENT, “you exert a lot of energy and become cramped up in the process. It is a position you would not endure for long on a voluntary basis. Instead, start to straighten from the pelvis. The thorax is lifted automatically upward and forward; it is like pushing the thorax under the shoulder girdle. The building blocks of the upper body are then aligned once more and the shoulder girdle can be carried without any muscular effort.”

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“There are a few very beneficial stretching exercise for the shoulder girdle,” von Dietze goes on. “One of the ailments of our civilized society—poor posture—especially when sitting, often causes the shoulder girdle to slide forward. In the long term this means severe tension in the area of the back of the neck, since the shoulder girdle is suspended there on the muscles of the neck instead of resting on the thorax. As a result the muscles in the front chest area shorten.”

Here is one exercise von Dietze recommends to stretch the often shortened musculature in the front of the body and open the thorax for better and more effective riding position:

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1  Stand with your back close to your horse’s side.

2  Bend your arms at the elbows and try to open them to the sides, touching your horse’s body with your lower arms.

3  Then try to stretch your arms out to full length, and if your horse allows it, lean your back gently against his side. This stretches your thoracic spine, expands your front chest muscles, and opens your thoracic cavity and breathing.

 

You can begin to understand more common riding mistakes and find ways to fix them in BALANCE IN MOVEMENT, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

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

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KarenYesScary

Karen Robertson on Carlos at the George Morris clinic. Photo by Lisa Pleasance.

TSB author Karen Robertson shared her hopes and fears for her clinic date with The George in May (click here to read her first post). Now she’s back to tell us how it all went down.

To tell the story about what it was like for me riding with George Morris in late May, I need to start the week before the clinic, when I showed at Sonoma’s Spring Classic Show. It’s a gorgeous place and such a wonderful show, but Carlos and I had a really rough week…. It was the kind of show where the wires get crossed and each day ends with a frustrated feeling of not being strong enough or fast enough or smart enough to ride well enough in any key moment. Seven good jumps didn’t cut it when the eighth was a stop. I got in my head. I started trying different things to end the pattern of choking… a better night’s sleep, more caffeine, or more breakfast. I walked the show grounds with my ear buds in listening to badass music to get myself fired up before I got on for the next class. But at the end of the show, I drove away from Sonoma Horse Park without ever digging myself out of the rut and laying down a solidly good trip. The familiar, consistent feel I’d had all winter with Carlos had been shaken badly; my riding was full of doubt. Needless to say, it was not the kind of show you want to have just days before your first time riding in front of George Morris.

Or, maybe it was.

The eight-hour drive north from Bend, Oregon, to the clinic location went smoothly, but I was full of restless anticipation. After a quick hack in the indoor and settling the horses in for the night, waves of nerves gave me goose bumps as I watched the farm’s crew collecting piles of cut grass from the beautiful front field in preparation for the next day.

In the morning, I was washing Carlos’s legs in the wash stall at the front of the barn when I saw George pull up. I walked out for a quick hello, gave him a kiss on the cheek when he stepped out of the car, and then scurried back in again to get ready. It had been just over a year since I’d seen him last—at the Easter Wellington book signing—and saying hello settled me. I was ready to put the previous week behind me and try my best for him.

When I rode Carlos onto the field less than an hour later, George looked up at me from his perch on the golf cart, paused and said, “Oh, Karen…I didn’t recognize you with your hat on. You look pretty good.”

I nodded with a ghost of a smile as I walked by him. After all the waiting, having registered six months before, it had begun.

As soon as that familiar cadence of George’s teaching—like the lecture of a college professor weaved with pointed instruction—began on that first morning, I found my nerves had passed. I settled into a mindset that stayed with me throughout the clinic: total concentration on following his direction exactly…with a strong dose of hustle. After watching George coach so many other riders in past years, it was absolutely surreal to have his voice speaking to me. It raised my focus to a calm but primed state of being present. I tried to absorb the big picture concepts while also being alert to react quickly.

The first day I was most concerned with riding boldly and not allowing the klutzy moments that had plagued us the week before in Sonoma. Carlos felt great—a little fresh but not wild. He ogled the ditch behind an oxer when we flatted by it, but when it came time to jump it, he didn’t hesitate. I found myself breathing barely whispered “Thank you” and “Good boy” praises to him. Flatwork set us up to feel the difference in our horses and then apply that feel in jumping exercises. George immediately zeroed in on my jumping position, telling me I needed to close my hip angle and lean forward, taking weight off Carlos’s back. This was his major critique of my riding, but throughout the clinic he acknowledged my practicing the adjusted position and encouraged my work to improve.

Looking back now at those three clinic days, I’m so proud that I met the challenges. We jumped a progressively wider water jump and rode well through some difficult exercises that tested flexibility of stride length, straightness, and tight turns. By Day 2, after flatwork and jumping without stirrups, George had me leading the group in most of the jumping exercises, which was exciting because having audited so many clinics, I knew what it meant: he thought I would bring confidence to the rest of the group.

There were definitely also some clumsy moments! Carlos and I haven’t had much practice jumping a bank, and at first we had a stop when he didn’t want to jump down over the small jump set at the bigger end of the bank. After I went to the stick hard and got him off the bank, I had a fire-breathing dragon underneath me for the rest of the day. I also halted at the wrong post in the fence line after someone had already made the same mistake ahead of me…George was very annoyed—and I heard about it. Then when he had us doing rider stretches, reaching down to touch our toes without stirrups, I knocked my helmet loose and my tucked-up ponytail started to slip out. Hair disaster!

As expected, there were the steely, scathing moments of George’s rebuke directed at various riders and auditors when they did not show proper respect or effort. Comments on the degraded state of our country, our general lack of discipline and work ethic, were weaved throughout the lectures each day. One rider had a fall when her horse caught a heel on the edge of the ditch, and George walked over, pointed down at her as she lay prone in the grass, and barked, “You have to keep your leg on at a ditch or a water! You didn’t leg him!”

He was right, of course. But what a picture that rider saw as she looked up at George Morris from the ground.

George also had soft, encouraging moments for riders who struggled. And he had so many words of reward—for everyone—when something was well ridden. “Excellent flying change!” “This girl—she is an educated rider, she is precise!” “That’s it…very good!” “Yeeeeesssss, THAT’S the way to ride that bank!” “This, people, is an excellent student—she listens!”

Every time George gave a compliment to any one of us, it lifted all of us up like we had climbed another step in showing him we, as a generation of riders, were worthy of the opportunity to learn from him. There was a silent, invisible vibration among the riders in my group. Although the rules of the road require that the riders not talk to one another during the clinic or even visibly laugh at George’s jokes (I’ve seen that go badly more than once), we were in it together and rooting for one another. I could feel it.

GEORGE-FRAMED

Speaking of clumsy moments, I had one while serving as jump crew during the 1.20 meter session on Day 1. I raised the top rail two holes on the water jump and stepping back from it, tripped backward over the wing box right in front of the audience and sprawled on hands and heels in the grass. I jumped up trying to recover and blushed hard, incredibly embarrassed. George looked over and said gravely, “Oh Karen, be careful,” and then addressing the crowd, “Karen wrote my book! That’s why she’s blushing…she knows alllll my stories! She knows more about me than my own mother. She even knows the stories that didn’t make the book.”

And just like that, he had taken my flustered moment and made me into a momentary celebrity out of pure sweetness.

George did not disappoint. He never does, does he? I was freaking out about being good enough to be in his clinic and wanting so badly to keep up with the group and belong out there. Now, looking back, I think to myself, “Don’t be silly—of course I belonged out there.” But maybe that’s just the post-George Karen talking. Maybe he instilled a level of certainty in those three days that makes the pre-George Karen a little bit of a stranger.

One thing that solidified that theory was the horse show I had the week following the clinic at the Rose City Opener back down in Bend. Just three days after getting home from the clinic, we were back in the show ring…and it was the best show Carlos and I have had together. We were consistently solid over all five days. We didn’t have a moment of doubt at a single jump. We got great ribbons all week, won the Ariat Medal class, and were Reserve Champion of our Hunter Division. But it was the Derby that felt like a true application of what I had taken with me from riding with George. I had never made it to the second round of a National Hunter Derby in four tries. At Rose City, we not only made it to the second round, but in the end, we were fifth, besting some excellent professional riders.

In my pre-clinic blog post, I wrote that I had hoped for one moment during the clinic when George Morris’s voice would make me feel invincible. Instead of a single moment to take with me, his voice, carrying me through those three clinic days, created a subtle, stream-of-consciousness-George-presence in the background whenever I ride. He is just there with me. In the Derby he was telling me, “Karen, first and foremost: Get it done.”

 

Karen Robertson worked with George Morris on his bestselling autobiography UNRELENTING, which is available from the TSB online bookstore.

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter 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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5.16

Eitan Beth-Halachmy on Santa Fe Renegade. Photo by Lesley Deutsch.

The United States Dressage Federation (USDF) defines engagement as “increased flexion of the lumbosacral joint and the joints of the hind leg during the weight-bearing (stance) phase of the movement, thus lowering the croup relative to the forehand (‘lightening the forehand’).”

Engagement is a prerequisite to impulsion (thrust): the “releasing of the energy stored by engagement. The energy is transmitted through a back that is free from negative tension and is manifested in the horse’s elastic, whole-body movement.” Engagement is carrying power, whereas impulsion is pushing power.

Many people who ride horses have no idea what the technical terms mean. Although Cowboy Dressage tries to avoid confusing language, engagement and impulsion are such important aspects of forward motion that they need to be understood and recognized, and so they are explained in the book COWBOY DRESSAGE by Jessica Black with Eitan and Debbie Beth-Halachmy.

In simpler terms, engagement refers to the manner in which a balanced horse brings his hind legs under his belly to move forward off his hindquarters efficiently. Engagement is the basis for a horse’s impulsion–the energy with which a horse moves forward. The true lightness of Cowboy Dressage can only happen when the horse is engaged and moving with impulsion, with his weight over the hindquarters rather than on the forehand.

The hindquarters are the energy source of the horse. At the same time, he carries most of his weight on his forehand thanks to the head and neck. Engagement helps the horse achieve balance under these physiological conditions. To better bear the weight and enable balance, the horse must round his back and bring his hind legs well forward under him. This is called tracking or tracking up (USDF). Tracking is a necessary component of engagement, but it should not be confused with reach (how far the hind leg reaches forward).

Nor should engagement and impulsion be confused with speed. A horse that is rushing will often be strung out and hollow-backed, the opposite of being engaged. The front and hind end may appear disjointed or unconnected. Conversely, a horse that is engaged will move from behind in a balanced, energetic fashion at any gait and any speed.

Although the Cowboy Dressage horse may not have the length of stride or suspension that a traditional dressage horse has, he should show engagement and impulsion. All four feet should be working together in a rhythmic fashion.

To achieve impulsion and engagement, encourage your horse to round his back, stretch and lower his neck, and move forward actively. The energy has to flow naturally through your hands at a free gait. Much of the time spent on the horse’s foundation should be dedicated to encouraging forward motion. Good horsepersons make engagement and forward motion a prerequisite to every maneuver.

6.5B

Encourage your horse to stretch and lower his neck as seen in this free jog.

Again, remember that energetic forward motion requires strength and endurance: the horse must be conditioned slowly until he has the ability to meet the physical and mental demands of Cowboy Dressage or any other equestrian discipline. Much of the cadence and beauty of the finished gaits comes from long hours simply moving forward at the walk, jog, and lope.

Find out more about developing beautiful gaits in your horse in COWBOY DRESSAGE, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

 

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

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The right coach can make all the difference, whatever level you ride. Illustration by Karen Rohlf.

The right coach can make all the difference, whatever level you ride. Illustration by Karen Rohlf.

 

You hear about it all the time: How so-and-so used to ride with him, but now she’s riding with her. How Up-and-Coming-Rider left Fancy-Trainer-One’s barn and is now working with Fancy-Trainer-Two. How your friend used to go to all of that horseman’s clinics, but now she goes to all this horseman’s clinics.

Riders notoriously have a wandering eye–admit it, most of us at one time or another thought someone else could help us reach our equestrian goals a little bit sooner…or had a disagreement that felt like a deal-breaker and sent us scouring trainer websites in search of the one who is really, truly, our perfect match. The thing is, riding with a coach or instructor is a relationship like any other, and sure to come with its arguments, frustrations, and boring bits. The trick is knowing when you just need to work a little harder at it, and when it is time to call it a day.

In COLLECTIVE REMARKS: A JOURNEY THROUGH THE AMERICAN DRESSAGE EVOLUTION, FEI/USEF judge and former technical advisor to the US Dressage Team Anne Gribbons discusses the ins and outs of rider-coach matchmaking…and how to tame that wandering eye.

 

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

The Problem with “Teacher-Hopping”

If you manage to locate an instructor who is a wonderful rider and who also has the ability to make you understand how to accomplish your goals, you can “have your cake and eat it, too.” In the case when you cannot have it all, you are definitely better off with the competent teach­er than with the “big name” who cannot teach. Unless you are a person who can learn by watching and has years to spend doing it, you need someone who can explain why and how to make you and your horse perform.

Your first dressage instructor is likely to become the most profound in­fluence on your riding because he or she will responsible for laying the foundation of your riding and creating your “basic system.” The longer you spend with this teacher, the firmer your base, upon which you will later build by receiving additional help and advice from other sources. The lack of a basic system is one of the problems in American dressage, created by a tendency to enjoy a “smorgasbord education”: The minute something goes wrong in training we look for another instructor, and of course we also have to ride in every clinic offered within reach. God forbid we miss any of the action!

For the novice rider, “teacher-hopping” is confusing at best and dam­aging at worst, and for the horse it will eventually prove detrimental. A horse cannot absorb and adjust to a different method of training every two weeks without losing his confidence and perhaps his mind, as well. It does not matter if the various clinicians the novice works with are all excellent trainers, they are still not going to teach exactly the same way, and at this stage, more is not better. It takes many years of training and riding before a rider can truly profit from a clinic by incorporating the useful parts into his or her program while discarding the ideas that do not work for the horse. You have to be experienced enough to know the difference. The best way to make use of clinics while you are still a novice is to attend tas an auditor, then discuss the experience with your regular instructor, and perhaps try some of the ideas you are interested in during a lesson.

 

A Healthy Relationship

To get the most out of your relationship with an instructor it is important that there is a mutual feeling of commitment, respect, and trust. A teach­er shows his or her commitment, first and foremost, by giving exclusive attention to the student who is paying for the lesson. Conversations on the side and phone calls with others should be avoided if possible. This applies also to a clinic situation, when the temptation of playing to the audience at the expense of the student may be great. At shows the serious instructor is available to school and advise the student before each ride, and will observe the ride and comment on it afterward. For a teacher with many students at the show, this may be impossible due to conflicting ride times, but a schedule can be made up ahead that divides his or her time and gives everyone an opportunity to get some help. However the test goes, a teacher of the right kind stands by his or her student in tragedy as well as triumph, and all post-test corrections and negative criticism that may be necessary are done one on one. A respectful instructor does not harass, make fun of, or belittle a student, never mind how frustrating the lesson or situation may be. There are times when a harsh command—even screaming—is called for, because the student is not reacting fast enough, but if the rider does not understand the command, raising the volume creates nothing but ten­sion and further confusion.

The student has responsibilities as well. The first and perhaps most im­portant is to shut up and ride! A lesson is no time for dialogue, and it is incredibly irritating to have someone contradicting every order or constantly explaining why whatever you ask for cannot be done. This kind of behavior also interferes with the flow of information between the horse and the rider, since the horse senses that the rider is not tuned in to the effort. Questions and explanations should wait until a break or rest period, unless there is some emergency the instructor needs to be made aware of. Complete concentration throughout the lesson, a commitment to practicing what is being taught (even outside of the teaching sessions), and consistency in pursuing the lesson program are all virtues belonging to the “good student.”

 

When to Move On

There may come a time after a long relationship when the student feels there is no progress being made. Before placing the blame on the teacher (always the easy out), take a long hard look at yourself and ask: “How talented, how persistent, and how hard-working am I as a student?” And, “Do I have the right ‘vehicle,’ or is my horse not right for the job?” If, after some soul-searching, you are absolutely certain that the problem is not of your own making, talk to your instructor. There may well be a mutual feeling of frustration and stagnation. If the problems cannot be worked out and you decide to look for help elsewhere, you owe it to your pres­ent instructor to inform him or her about your decision, before he or she hears it from somebody else.

Wherever you go with your riding, remember, when success comes your way, give credit to each person who contributed to your progress. Not just the famous “final polisher” of your now wonderful self, but also the people who put up with you when you and everybody else thought you were hopeless!

 

Read more humorous insight from Anne Gribbons in COLLECTIVE REMARKS, 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 DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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PILATESDR10

A lot of things can happen in 10 years of riding. Common goals shared by most riders are to have improved their seat; advanced the training of their horses while maintaining soundness; and nurtured connection and communication with their equine partners—that is, find harmony.

There was a time Janice Dulak couldn’t sit a trot. She had great riding instructors, but as one teacher put it, “You just don’t have harmony yet.” Terribly frustrated, Janice realized something was wrong. How could she, a former professional dancer, a Professor of Dance, and a Certified Romana’s Pilates Instructor, not be able to learn how to sit a trot?

 

There was a time when Janice Dulak couldn't sit the trot--all that changed when she developed Pilates for the Dressage Rider.

There was a time when Janice Dulak couldn’t sit the trot—all that changed when she developed Pilates for the Dressage Rider.

It dawned on her that a dancer’s vocabulary was much more specific than riding vocabulary. A riding instructor says, “Use your leg.” A dancing instructor says, “Turn your leg out and lift it to the side with the foot flexed and knee bent.” Exacting vocabulary to create exact movement. This “ah-ha” moment led her to begin asking her mare India “questions”: Janice would create a feeling or movement in her body and listen for India to respond. Within a week, Janice understood how she needed to use her body so her horse could be comfortable, and at last, Janice was able to sit the trot.

Janice began teaching her work to riders around the country, and PILATES FOR THE DRESSAGE RIDER was published in 2006, establishing a new vocabulary that helped riders understand how to use their bodies to create a more harmonious ride. As her methods caught on, Janice was invited to teach Linda Parelli and her students, and to co-present clinics with USDF Gold medalist and Certified Instructor Sarah Martin, which propelled her to the frontlines of a new form of training that ensured happier, more comfortable horses, as well as better, more satisfied riders.

“From Intro to Grand Prix riders, I see that my work elicits change,” Janice says today, reflecting on the past 10 years. “I see horses stop swishing their tails. I see riders learn how to open their hips and stay in the saddle at the sitting trot and canter. I see horses round up without being cranked down with the hands. I see riders learn how to have a steady contact. I see happy horses. I see happy riders.

“In the 10 years since PILATES FOR THE DRESSAGE RIDER was published, my riding and my life has changed. I’m now a USDF Bronze medalist, working toward the Silver this year, and with all the wonderful comments I have received on my books, DVDs, and clinics, I am inspired to continue researching and sharing what I learn. Moving up the levels, it becomes apparent that my work is not done. There is so much more to explain and teach to help riders. For all of you struggling dressage riders, there is hope.”

Janice’s Pilates for Dressage program took her from being unable to sit the trot, to within reach of her USDF Silver, as well as helping thousands of others. She gives us more than hope…she gives us a way forward.

In honor of the 10th Anniversary of PILATES FOR THE DRESSAGE RIDER, the book and DVD are both 20% off from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE. (Offer good until June 15, 2016.)

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

 

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