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GOODHANDS

“That rider has good hands.”

The comment might mean little to those outside the equestrian realm, but within it, we understand it as a compliment. And one of the highest order.

As young riders, we try our darnedest for a somewhat light connection with the school horses and tough little ponies we likely learn on. We know we should be able to turn and stop with almost invisible aids…we’ve been told, and we’ve seen great performances by liberty trainers and dressage riders and accomplished horsemen with that magic touch on a horse. I even vaguely remember reading a story about a fairy with a tiny, mystical mount, and reins of a spider’s thread…and this is what I aspired to, over the years, despite a number of equine partners with less-than-enthusiastic responses.

Certainly, it would seem some people are born with feel and good hands. They get on a horse the first time and just know, innately, how to communicate with the animal beneath them. But the rest of us needn’t feel dismay, as we can improve the sensitive and effective use of our hands. The late great Sally Swift gives us two fun and easy exercises to help in CENTERED RIDING 2, her phenomenal followup to the international bestseller CENTERED RIDING. Here’s my take on both of them:

 

Booze Cruise (My Name for This Exercise, Not Sally’s)

With your fingers around the stems, walk around with two full (right to the top!) wine glasses. Notice how much easier it is not to spill the wine when you are grounded, centered, and soft with your fingers, than when you tighten and hold the glass stems with tense hands. Practice finding a more grounded, centered self that filters out to soft hands. Note: I recommend doing this in a room with tile floor or outside, where spillage isn’t a concern. Bonus: Go ahead and have a drink when you’re done. (And repeat the exercise as often as needed!)

 

bowl

Ball in the Bowl

Take a large mixing bowl and place any small ball (a tennis ball, for example) in it. Walk around holding the bowl loosely with your arms relaxed, your thumbs just under the outside of the rim, and two or three fingers underneath. Experiment with what you need to do to keep the ball “quiet” in the bowl (ie, not rolling around) as you walk. You will quickly discover that you must not try too hard, hold your breath, or keep a tight hold on the bowl with your hands. If you try to keep the bowl still by tightening your hands, the ball will roll around rapidly. Instead, balance your pelvis by softening your hip joints and dropping your sacrum. Ground yourself, use soft eyes, breathe easily, center yourself, and lengthen your spine up and down. You will discover that your hands become very sensitive in the way they carry the bowl, and the ball will be surprisingly quiet inside it. This is the quality of hands that you want when communicating with your horse through the reins. (Photo from CENTERED RIDING 2.)

 

 

CenteredRiding2PB-300For more enlightening exercises for better all-around riding, read Sally Swift’s CENTERED RIDING 2, 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 business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

 

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Horsepower…it’s what revs that Ferrari’s engine and makes the chainsaw growl. The term is said to have been invented by the engineer James Watt who was famous for his work to improve the performance of steam engines. He determined that mine ponies could move a certain amount of coal in a minute and used this to come up with an arbitrary unit of measure (the rate at which “work” is done) that has made its way down through the centuries.

Those of us who ride know the true meaning of “horsepower.” The energy generated by our horses is what propels us over a jump, after that cow, or down the centerline with pizzazz. We learn how to “energize” our horses (ask them to work harder) and “quiet” them (calm them, relax them). Of course, some horses seem to need to be influenced more one way or the other. And it can take time and experience for us to learn how to figure all that out.

“Imagine the energy scale like the flame of a gas stove,” writes dressage trainer Beth Baumert in her bestselling book WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN: DRESSAGE DYNAMICS. “You can regulate the energy by turning it up or down. Your seat, leg, and hand regulate the horse’s energy: The lower leg and seat, together with a following torso and hand, ask for more energy. The seat that pushes against the fixed hand in a half-halt asks for less. Brilliance comes from increasing the power, but too much energy, or misdirected energy, makes tension and lack of feeling.”

So how do you know when your horse has the right amount of energy?

energy1

Flame too low: not enough energy.

3 Signs There’s Not Enough Energy

• The contact might feel inconsistent like lights that are flickering or sometimes even going out.
• Half-halts don’t work because his energy doesn’t reach your hands.
• Instead of feeling that the walk, trot, and canter are self-perpetuating, your horse feels like a wind-up toy that winds down too easily. Whereas some “reminding aids” are always necessary, you shouldn’t need to remind your horse constantly.

If your horse doesn’t have enough energy, focus on upward transitions that add horsepower. Do exercises that include lengthenings and medium paces. Combine them with suppling exercises—circles, lateral work, half-halts, and downward transitions that help close your horse’s frame and recycle the energy so he’s in a better position to do the forward, energy-producing exercises. Use of cavalletti can achieve the right amount of energy without losing relaxation.

energy2

Flame too high: too much energy.

3 Signs There’s Too Much Energy 

• Your horse is lacking a clear rhythm: it feels hurried or hectic.
• He is too strong in the hand and stiff in downward transitions.
• You feel as if your horse is zooming out from underneath you—moving away from your seat rather than staying balanced under it.

If your horse’s energy is coming from the front-pulling engine, use exercises that will help your horse think about and use his hindquarters. Circles and voltes shape him in bend. Downward transitions, half-halts, corners, and turns make him softer and better balanced. Leg-yield, turn-on-the-forehand, shoulder-fore, turn-on-the-haunches, and lateral exercises encourage looseness and connection from behind. The turn-on-the-forehand reminds the horse that the leg aid influences the hindquarters, not his forehand.

energy-3

Flame just right: ideal energy.

3 Signs The Amount of Energy Is Ideal

• The energy and the rhythm are both self-perpetuating. Your horse doesn’t become slower or faster on his own, and he doesn’t gain or lose energy on his own. 
• You have control of the length of stride. Your horse doesn’t lengthen or shorten the stride on his own. As a result, you have control of the speed or ground coverage.
• Your horse is balanced enough so the “Whoa” and “Go” buttons work equally well. He should have the power and suppleness to go forward promptly and to slow down easily. You feel you’re being carried forward.

 

For more information on creating and containing the right amount of energy under saddle, check out WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN: DRESSAGE DYNAMICS, 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 company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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hny2016-fb

Every year as we turn the page on one year and look forward to the next, we glance back through the months prior and the books and DVDs we published. It is always rewarding to review the results of our work and to know that hopefully, there are a few happier, healthier horses out there.

We hope that 2017 brings you many great rides and peaceful moments with your horse. Happy New Year!

 

TSB 2016 Books and DVDs

 

THE DRESSAGE HORSE MANIFESTO by Yvonne Barteau

A Grand Prix dressage rider and performer, Barteau lets her horses do the talking in this book about it truly takes to train through the levels, according to each horse’s individual needs.

 

JOURNEY TO SOFTNESS by Mark Rashid

The renowned horseman shares personal anecdotes, as well as stories written by others in his life, that shed light on the concept of softness between horse and rider.

 

UNRELENTING by George H. Morris with Karen Robertson

The autobiography of the “Godfather” of American equestrianism—the real story of his life, told in his own words, while tracing the trajectory of international equestrian competition over the past 70 years.

 

FIT TO RIDING IN 9 WEEKS! by Heather Sansom

A certified fitness trainer and riding coach, Sansom provides a specific workout to improve your riding skills and abilities with only 30 minutes, 3 days a week, for 9 weeks.

 

LONG-REINING WITH DOUBLE DAN HORSEMANSHIP by Dan James and Dan Steers with Kayla Starnes

The popular Australian duo explain basic long-reining techniques that anyone can use: safe, controlled groundwork to improve communication with and responsiveness in the horse.

 

OUT OF THE WILD by Mark Rashid

The first novel by master storyteller Rashid, now a major motion picture, about down-and-out cowboy Henry McBride, dude-ranch owner Jessie King, and an injured Mustang.

 

HORSE SPEAK by Sharon Wilsie and Gretchen Vogel

Sold out before the first print-run even reached our warehouse, this instant bestseller is the first equine-human translation guide, with easy steps to having conversations with horses in their language.

 

FERGUS: A HORSE TO BE RECKONED WITH by Jean Abernethy

The world’s most popular cartoon horse is back, and this time a Lad tries to convince him that being partners might not be so bad—for ages 5 to 95!

 

HORSE MASSAGE: LIGHT TO THE CORE by Jim Masterson

The Masterson Method that takes do-it-yourself bodywork “beyond horse massage” has helped horses achieve comfort all around the world. Now Masterson provides “Light Touch” options that are incredibly effective.

 

BRAIN TRAINING FOR RIDERS by Andrea Monsaratt Waldo

Tame that “Lizard Brain” with fun, effective techniques that ease anxiety, improve performance, and overcome fear from psychotherapist, riding coach, and competitor Andrea Waldo.

 

MINI SCHOOL by Sabine Ellinger

A paperback re-release of the bestselling how-to training book for Miniature Horse and small pony owners, with in-hand work, dressage, conditioning, and favorite tricks, plus so much more.

 

ACUPRESSURE FOR HORSES by Dr. Ina Gösmeier

The veterinarian for the German national and international equestrian teams gives readers acupressure basics anyone can use to help keep horses comfortable and performing their best.

 

UTA GRÄF’S EFFORTLESS DRESSAGE PROGRAM by Uta Gräf with Friederike Heidenhof

Grand Prix dressage rider Uta Gräf has made a name in international dressage circles for her wild hair and happy horses—here she outlines her diverse and natural training concepts.

 

FINDING THE MISSED PATH by Mark Rashid

Rashid returns to explain the art of restarting horses—the first of his many popular books to include color photographs.

 

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

Here’s what we published in:

2015

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CoGCoE

The horse’s center of gravity is indicated by the clear circle. His center of energy and control is shown by the black circle.

As we ride, we hear a lot about getting our horses “off their forehands” or “off their shoulders”—and most of us engage in any number of schooling figures and half-halts with just this goal in mind. But without an inner sense of what it is we are doing for our horses when we shift the balance, playing with that center of gravity and center of energy and control, it’s all just circles and walk-halt-walk transitions. Here’s a quick and easy exercise from Sally Swift’s CENTERED RIDING 2: FURTHER EXPLORATION, to really hit the message home.

The horse’s center of gravity is the balance point of his body, and it is located in the girth area. His center of control and energy, however, is below his spine at the back of his loin, just below the lumbosacral joint. Similarly, our center of control and energy is in our lower back, just in front of our lumbosacral joint. Because we stand vertically, in contrast to the horizontal horse, our center of gravity is not near our shoulder blades but rather is in the same area as our center of control and energy. As a result, when we put our center of gravity over our feet for balance, we also find our center of control and energy in the same spot.

The location of the center of gravity in both rider and horse changes at times. When you are startled or frightened your center of gravity rises above its desired depth, as it does in times of tension, or apprehension. In either case it makes you less grounded. The center of gravity of a startled or actively engaged horse moves slightly back as he tips his pelvis down to bring his hind feet more nearly under his center of gravity.

You can get a sense of center of gravity vs. center of energy and control from the horse’s viewpoint with this short exercise:

1  Get down on your hands and knees. Find a balance with your hands below your shoulders and your knees below your hip joints.

2  Gently engage your center, and allowing your hip joints to slightly close and open, rock back a tiny bit and then back again to balance. Notice how this pelvic rocking motion tends to fill your lower back across the loin. This puts you in a position for balanced, fluid, forward motion.

3  Notice that your shoulders are also part of the rocking motion and since they are not carrying a lot of weight, they are free for forward movement. Shift your balance forward, putting your weight on your shoulders and hands, and you will no longer be able to move forward; your hands will seem to be stuck to the ground. This is how your horse feels when he is too much on his forehand.

 

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

For more riding insight from the legendary Sally Swift, check out CENTERED RIDING 2: FURTHER EXPLORATION, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

 

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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MothersDay15

In his book HOW GOOD RIDERS GET GOOD, author Denny Emerson details the success stories of 23 top riders. And it is perhaps no surprise that when asked to name some of the reasons they “got good,” many of these equestrians listed “Mom” way up near the top.

“My mom was my first teacher,” says Reining Freestyle Champion Stacy Westfall, “but she didn’t just tell me what to do. She wanted me to figure it out. If my pony did something wrong, like stopping at one of the tiny jumps we had set up, Mom would say, ‘Why do you think Misty did that?’ Her approach got me thinking like a horse, which has really influenced my life. When you can figure out what the horse is thinking and how to communicate with the horse and mold that, you can do almost anything.”

Co-founder of the American Hunter Jumper Foundation Louise Serio agrees that moms can be the best riding teachers. “My mother taught riding for a living,” she says. “She didn’t make us kids ride, it just happened…Whenever we were ‘just riding,’ though, my mother was always teaching someone. I can hear her and her instruction in my mind, from all those years.”

Cowgirl Hall of Fame Inductee Sandy Collier says, “When my mother realized I was absolutely a horse person, she made sure I got lessons with quality trainers and helped me get involved with Pony Club and eventing (because that was available in our area). That was my foundation; the seat I developed for dressage contributed to my success as a reiner.”

“My mom had been a serious rider as a junior and there were horses in our backyard in Ocala from the time I was two,” champion hunter rider Havens Schatt chimes in. “We had a really good pony I could sit on in the paddock, in front of the kitchen window where my mom would watch me…Having a parent who was so into horses made riding feel natural and easy from the start.”

On the opposite side of the horse-family spectrum, gold-medal-winning British event rider Mary King says, “Although my mother wasn’t interested in horses herself, she liked to help me; she made the picnic and drove the lorry to competitions, as she still does today! My dreams seemed farfetched, from a starting point of a non-horsey family with no money, but I have been able to do what I dreamed of doing.”

And at least partly because of Mom.

 

Thanks to all the supportive horse moms out there.

Happy Mother’s Day from Trafalgar Square Books.

 

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

CLICK HERE to read more from Denny Emerson’s HOW GOOD RIDERS GET GOOD

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

BB: Honesty

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

TSB: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

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

 

TSB: What is your idea of the perfect meal?

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

 

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

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

 

TSB: What is your motto?

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

 

TwoSpinesHere

Beth Baumert’s book WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN: DRESSAGE DYNAMICS has been called “timeless” by dressage judge Axel Steiner and “desperately needed” by former US Show Jumping Chef d’Equipe George Morris. It is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER NOW

 

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

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holidayslider14

Few out there would deny delighting in the season’s first snowfall. Horses, too, find it an excuse to be young again and enjoy a roll, a buck, a frolic.

We wish all of you a joyful holiday season and hope you, like our horses, get a chance to kick up your heels.

Click the image below to see the TSB herd reveling in Vermont’s first snow.

Click the image above to watch our First Snow Short Story.

Click the image above to watch our First Snow Short Story.

 

Be Merry,

The TSB Staff, North Pomfret, Vermont

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