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Kathrin Roida is a classical dressage devotee who has learned the value of using groundwork to prepare youngsters for later work and foster the proper, conscientious development of older horses in training. Gymnastic work in-hand is now her specialty, and her new book DRESSAGE TRAINING IN-HAND shares her techniques, exploring how they help horses of different ages, breeds, and training backgrounds.

“Over the course of my riding life, I’ve become more and more convinced of the value of gymnastic work in hand,” says Roida. “This applies both to young horses, who develop good body awareness and the balance necessary to prepare for being ridden, and to older, trained horses where I’ve reached a plateau in their schooling under saddle. In-hand work is also extremely valuable when working with ‘project’ horses that are being retrained or rehabilitated—sometimes, it’s the only way for these horses to get sound again.”

Roida’s work doesn’t stop with the traditional in-hand exercises; she is a proponent for liberty work as a complement to daily training routines, whatever your horse’s “job” might be.

“When working at liberty,” she explains, “all that was learned in hand can be called upon, without even a bridle. This work is a mirror reflecting your relationship with the horse.

“At Frédéric Pignon’s farm in France, I got my first glimpse of liberty work. It brings me great pleasure when I can call upon these exercises without the use of bridle or halter…. In liberty work, shoulder control is the be all and end all. One must be able to control the horse using the whip and body language.

“It’s important to me that the horse does not get dull. I like to see a spark in the horse’s eye during this work—not a dull horse that’s eye gives the impression that he’s trying to be ‘so good.’ Just as with any other type of work, liberty work must be done in the right amount, otherwise the horse will get tired of it and, despite the freedom, it becomes forced. Accomplishing this is an art that only few people understand. In my mind, Frédéric Pignon and Magali Delgado are two such people, and I consider the way they handle and relate to their horses the ideal example. I hope to someday reach their level, so I continually work on myself.

“We trainers, especially, must constantly remind ourselves not to allow our work to settle into a ‘day in, day out’ routine. We can’t just follow a routine, executing our ‘agenda’ for one horse after the next. When this occurs, it’s our relationship with our horses that suffers.

“With occasional liberty work, our horse has the chance to show us, with unmistakable clarity, what he thinks about our relationship. Then, we need, again, to self-reflect, asking how we can work on ourselves. My personal goal is to always see and reflect upon the mirror the horse provides me, and in doing so, to maintain the sparkle in his eye.

“As long as you have the possibility to work with horses, you should see it as a huge opportunity to also continue your own personal development, never ceasing to learn new things or believing that you already know it all. A good trainer sees her horses as a mirror and will continue to confront her own weaknesses over the course of her lifetime. Our horses offer us an incredible opportunity to build character!”

DRESSAGE TRAINING IN-HAND by Kathrin Roida is available now 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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The "Flying Horse": Neapolitano Santuzza in a capriole in hand.

The “Flying Horse”: Neapolitano Santuzza in a capriole in hand.

When I outgrew my first (“free”) pony, my parents, who were not horsey and who didn’t have a lot of money, found an Appy mare that was effectively “out to pasture.” She was unused and unloved, and they could get her cheap. I remember my first reaction, as a child who reveled in the long-maned, thick-tailed, glossy horses of girlhood fantasies—she’s not pretty…she’s not going to be any good. It is so easy to judge a horse’s worth by how he looks—and to get it tragically wrong.

That mare stayed with me until I went to college. She was the safest, most surefooted mount I may have ever ridden. She packed me many, many miles on lonely mountain trails, always bringing me home to my worried parents just before dusk. She was game for every jump (up to a certain height!) I threw at her, and she put up with the half-dozen neighbor kids to whom I gave lessons, patient, quiet, and honest until the end.

My experience is certainly not uncommon. A far more striking and illuminating example is one described by Colonel Alois Podhajsky, the Director of the famed Spanish Riding School in Vienna for 26 years, in the book MY HORSES, MY TEACHERS:

One of the most brilliant caprioleurs at the Spanish Riding School was Neapolitano Santuzza. By appearing in the performances and having pictures taken of his tremendous leaps, his fame certainly spread farther into the world than that of most of the other stallions of the School…

He was born in 1936 at the Lipizzaner stud farm in Piber in the green mountains of Styria and came to the School in Vienna together with nine young stallions of the same age in the autumn of 1940. Here he experienced the first disappointment of his life. While his brothers were admired by all riders for their beauty and their good paces and were flattered accordingly, nobody even paid any attention to Neapolitano Santuzza. On the contrary, suggestions were heard that he should not be kept at the School because he was obviously not worth any serious work. I am sure he felt like the ugly duckling. It was true that he was rather small and his head was just a trifle too big for his conformation. Nor did his eyes express the ardent temperament expected from a Lipizzaner. His paces were mediocre but his character was of an indescribable good-naturedness and docility…

I admit, I felt sorry for the little chap who looked at everybody with such gentle eyes and of whose presence nobody took any notice. What had been mere pity at first slowly developed into a deep affection, which made me protect him…I assigned him to a rider of very modest ambitions who demanded very little from his horses and consequently would not do any harm to him. In this respect he led a quiet life but also progressed so slowly in his training that as a twelve-year-old he was still not advanced enough to appear in a performance. Again it was suggested we get rid of him and sell him to some private stable. But he had become so dear to my heart that I was reluctant to make any decision and wanted to give him one more chance…

In 1949 I decided to work him personally in hand…I tried to teach him caprioles and was very pleased with his reaction to my aids. Although he was of a very calm disposition he possessed an extraordinary gift for this spectacular school jump. It was surprising to everybody who had followed his training to see how quickly he understood what I wanted, which was yet another proof of the importance of sympathy and mutual understanding for any successful cooperation…

A year later, in 1950, Neapolitano Santuzza appeared in public for the first time…[his] debut was a great success and the beginning of a brilliant career. From 1951 on there was no performance in which he did not take part. He received the name “the flying horse” and pictures of his capriole in hand circulated throughout the world. Our relationship became closer all the time; he never let me down and it seemed in all those years as if nature had endowed him with everlasting youth. He never declined in his abilities and his performance remained unaltered in beauty and exactness.

 

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

Read more about Neapolitano Santuzza, and many other horses that contributed to the life of Colonel Alois Podhajsky, in MY HORSES, MY TEACHERS, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

—Rebecca Didier, Senior Editor

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

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The official book of the International Horse Agility Club is available from the TSB online bookstore http://www.HorseandRiderBooks.com.

This month TSB caught up with Vanessa Bee, founder of the International Horse Agility Club (www.thehorseagilityclub.com), and asked her about the inspiration behind the sport and its future. You may have seen the excerpt from Vanessa’s brand new book THE HORSE AGILITY HANDBOOK in the January issue of EQUUS Magazine. It seems everyone is talking about this exciting new horse sport and where it could lead–Vanessa is thinking big! She dreams of international Horse Agility competition and one day, the Olympics!

THE HORSE AGILITY HANDBOOK is the official book of the International Horse Agility Club, and it is available for PREORDER this month from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is always FREE.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE HORSE AGILITY HANDBOOK TODAY.

TSB:  Can you tell us about how you came up with the idea for the International Horse Agility Club?

VB: I was teaching a frightened young girl and her big frightened horse and suddenly realized all they had to focus on was their fear. So I set up a little obstacle course and gave them a job to do. Very quickly not only were they too busy negotiating the obstacles to be afraid but ALSO they had gathered an audience!

A thought popped in to my head: “I wonder if there’s a competitive sport like dog agility for horses?” I asked myself. I came home, searched on the Internet and there was NOTHING! That was on the 13th of December, 2009, and the rest is history!

 

TSB: You have a fabulous website featuring an international online video competition. Can you tell us a little about the OLHA Video League, how it works, and how popular it is proving?

VB: I had the idea for online competitions because we were getting a lot of interest from some quite remote places in the world. These people would never be able to ship their horses thousands of miles to the competitions that were currently available, so I decided we’d run an online video competition. I have been staggered by the popularity!

Every month I design a course for each of the four levels of Horse Agility. People build the simple courses in their garden, backyard, field, or arena and practice until they are the best they can be.

Then they get someone to video them going round the course. That video is then posted online for me to judge at the end of the month. It’s very simple and it means that anyone, anywhere can join in the fun and be part of this wonderful global community.

I judge entries from the Outback deserts of Australia, the paddy fields of Taiwan, the grandeur of North America, and the snows of Scandinavia. It’s a great way to “see the world”!

TSB: You explain in your new book THE HORSE AGILITY HANDBOOK the idea of “Wild Agility,” which takes you out of the arena and cross-country. Do you see Wild Agility becoming competitive, much like the cross-country leg of eventing?

VB: Yes I do! I would like to have a three phase event with “dressage” on the ground (perhaps to music!), an obstacle course in an enclosed space, then the “cross-country” phase or “Wild Agility,”—although I might have to get a bit fitter to do that bit!

TSB:  What do you see in the future for the sport of Horse Agility and the International Horse Agility Club?

VB: In the far future I see Horse Agility becoming as popular as dog agility. I see Horse Agility as valid as any equestrian sport with the added bonus that it’s affordable and anyone can do it. That is how I would like it to be.

Consider the sport of football/soccer (the most popular sport in the world): Kids of any financial and cultural background can play it. It’s cheap, it’s easy for them to set up a couple of goal posts and kick a ball around. Now consider most horse sports: They are expensive, you need to be physically fit, and you need to have the means to move your horse around via horsebox or trailer.

I want Horse Agility to become a “street sport”—something anyone who loves horses can become involved in. You don’t even need to own a horse to compete and participate…just borrow one and get involved!

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?

VB: I like all horses—I am not breed-specific, but I do love my Exmoor ponies…so it would have to be an Exmoor. They are so hardy they can live anywhere…so they’d be fine on a desert island.

You will think I’m making this up but the book I would take is My Friend Flicka. I first read it when I was 10 years old and I still read it at least once a year. I get totally lost in it and always cry at the end, even though I know what’s going to happen!

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

VB: Champagne, I’m always celebrating!

TSB: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

VB: Lying in my horses’ field on a hot summer’s day listening to the horses grazing round me.

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

VB: I was two-and-half. The horse was called Silver, and he was 16.2hh and dark gray. The owner made him trot—I was completely terrified but immediately hooked!

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

VB: I must have fallen off before this first memory, but I remember being 10 and on my cousin’s farm in the Blue Mountains in Australia. We were trying to get her pony to canter so broke a stick off a bush and gave her a tap on the shoulder. She bucked me off and I learned a valuable lesson!

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

VB: Honesty.

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

VB: Honesty. The feedback given by a horse has no agenda…and sometimes that’s hard to take! Horses always tell you the absolute truth.

TSB: If you could do one thing on horseback or with a horse that you haven’t yet done, what would it be?

VB: I would love to fly! A horse with huge wings would be just so fabulous! Can you imagine the sound of those wings moving through the air?

Okay, dream over!

I would like to enter the Olympic stadium with a horse freely moving beside me as I lead the Horse Agility Teams from every country in the world to the competition arena. No bits, no saddles, no whips—just horses and humans in harmony.

TSB: What is your idea of the perfect meal?

VB: Good bread, good cheese, fine wine, good company.

TSB: What is your idea of the perfect vacation?

VB: Riding through African Savannah looking for cheetah!

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

VB: Gandhi. He didn’t say much but what he said was worth hearing.

TSB: What is your motto?

VB: LIVE!

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