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Trafalgar Square Farm

When you are caught up in the never-ending must-dos of book publishing, you can find yourself tired, your creative and entrepreneurial energy tapped, your head spinning and your hands ready to unfurl themselves from the keyboard and (instead) curl themselves around the comforting curves of a glass of wine, fireside. But while the pressure is undeniable, there is always a steadying constant: how thankful we are to get to do what we do and learn more every day about horses, riding, and how to be better at both.

In recognition of tomorrow’s Thanksgiving holiday, here are five lessons we’re thankful to have learned this year from TSB’s amazing authors:

Lesson 1   As horse owners, we don’t have to turn control of our horses’ hoof health to our vets and farriers, and just write the checks whenever they tell us we need to do something. It is possible to gain a much more thorough understanding of the function of the hoof, which will not only help us better comprehend what is required in regular maintenance, it will also help us advocate intelligently on our horses’ behalf when they are injured or unsound. It likely never occurs to most that we can and should learn the ins and outs of the equine hoof beyond the general knowledge absorbed in early barn jobs and from 4-H and Pony Club. But Susan Kauffmann and Christina Cline’s THE ESSENTIAL HOOF BOOK is like a bright light going on in a room that has only been candlelit. It introduces a whole new world of responsible horse care.

Lesson 2  It is time to pay attention to fascia—ours and our horses. Fascia is the gossamer white tissue in the body that connects all the parts, including bones, muscles, and all the different body systems. In IS YOUR HORSE 100%?, equine bodywork practitioner Margret Henkels teaches how the warmth of your hands can release accumulated tension and strain in the horse’s body, and in THE NEW ANATOMY OF RIDER CONNECTION, biomechanics pioneer Mary Wanless explains how working with the fascial lines of the body can drastically improve your riding.

Lesson 3  Even when you reach the very top, the truly great continue to question their techniques, educate themselves, and strive to find new ways to do better by the horse. In TRAINING HORSES THE INGRID KLIMKE WAY, gold-medal Olympian Ingrid Klimke writes: “I train further, question myself, consider the views of others, and remain open to all riding styles. Anyone who cares to be a good rider must first of all work on herself: on her inner bearing, her general attitude toward horses, her physical readiness (of course), and on giving aids clearly and ‘with feel’ for the horse.”

Lesson 4  Many factors contribute to successful performance, but the most vital is discipline. In his long-awaited autobiography HORSES CAME FIRST, SECOND, AND LAST, revered US eventing team coach Jack Le Goff discusses the discipline factor in its many renditions, from the self-discipline necessary to train your horse even when it’s cold or raining outside, to the discipline of organization and making sure you know the rules, to the discipline required to be part of a team, putting personal glory aside with the good of the group in mind. This lesson translates particularly well to every part of life.

Lesson 5  Becoming comfortable in our own skin helps us become more trustworthy and better able to soften physical and mental resistance in others—including our horses. In the singularly fascinating book OUR HORSES, OURSELVES, renowned dancer and choreographer Paula Josa-Jones shares new and unique ways of incorporating meditation and gentle exercises in our self-development as horse people, noting that conscious work to quiet our busy minds and familiarize ourselves with our bodies’ shape and movement can help us find true connection with our horses, on the ground and in the saddle.

Wishing all a wonderful Thanksgiving with lots of time for family, friends, and of course, your horses.

—The TSB Staff

 

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CDTransitions

In Jessica Black’s book COWBOY DRESSAGE, she explains Eitan Beth-Halachmy’s riding and training philosophy. One point they do an excellent job clarifying involves transitions: what they are, how to prepare for them, and how to make them good.

Anytime the horse changes his gait or frame, he performs a transition. Going from the walk to the jog is a transition, for example; changing the frame, as in working jog to free jog, is also a transition. The goal for any transition is to make a smooth change of gait or frame (without altering the rhythm). This means staying straight or remaining on a bend, and keeping the back supple and the head and neck relaxed with light contact.

The horse should be engaged: all transitions start in the hindquarters, thus keeping the front end light. Transitions are an opportunity for the rider to bring the horse back into frame. It is particularly important not to over-train with transitions; always stop after one or two good executions.

Teaching transitions starts on the ground as part of building the foundation through leading, lunging, long-lining, and ground driving. These will establish a pattern of obedience that carries over to work under saddle. Even at the earliest stages of training, procure that the horse stay relaxed and supple. Don’t set your horse up for failure by asking too much. This is true for work under saddle as well as on the ground. If the horse does not understand, encourage him to move forward before asking for transitions again. Sometimes it can even be a good idea to put the horse up, and continue the next day.

Teaching transitions is not something you suddenly decide to do one day; you teach them all the time. Keep in mind that every communication with your horse is a teaching moment. The Cowboy Dressage emphasis on lightness will help make each transition work toward a better partnership.

Soft Feel, with its four facets, is an ideal approach to transitions:

Preparation, that is, asking the horse clearly what you want him to do.

Execution, that is, the horse’s interpretation of your requests.

Release, that is, the reward for the horse’s compliance.

Relaxation, that is, the result of effective communication with the horse continuing calmly to the next movement.

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Let’s consider transitions between gaits. The most important point to remember about changing gaits is that the change starts in the back of the horse, which moves forward into the transition. This will mean shortening the frame slightly in order to bring the horse together before executing the transition. The horse should make the transition smoothly and calmly. In general, if the horse is on a straight line or a bend when you start the transition, he should be on (the same) straight line or bend when he finishes it.

Sometimes you will want to change the gait at the same time you change direction (straightness/bend). This can be useful for practicing transitions: changing to a bend can make it easier to pick up the lope, for example. Cowboy Dressage tests may ask for changes of gait or frame at the same time that you go from straight to bend, or vice versa.

One of the best things a rider can do to ensure good transitions is become familiar with the gaits, and pay close attention to the pattern of hoof beats. Familiarize yourself with the walk, jog, and lope, by looking at the many diagrams available that demonstrate each step. Videos can also provide clear demonstrations of how the horse moves at each gait. Once you are familiar with how each movement should look, spend time watching horses move. Observing your horses play is not only good for the soul, it is good for the rider’s brain. Watching horses move freely in the pasture can help you become familiar with gaits, and this familiarity will make teaching them under saddle easier.

When you ride, feel the movement of the horse as his hooves strike the ground. Practice identifying where each foot is at the walk, jog, and lope. At the free jog, it can be very useful to post, paying attention to your diagonal (the horse’s  front foot with which the rider rises when posting). As you rise, the opposite hind foot is coming forward. Learn to recognize the diagonal movement of the horse’s feet at the jog. All these details will inform your decisions about where and how to ask your horse to change gaits.

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COWBOY DRESSAGE is 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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Grooming

On the left: That’s me at five years old. On the right: My son at eight.

 

I had my son in front of me on the back of a horse before he was three, hoping—like any formerly horse-mad woman who did little else than muck, groom, and ride throughout her childhood might—that maybe, just maybe, he’d have a little “horsiness” rub off on him. But it was more than five years and many wheeled vehicles later when he finally, out of the blue (although admittedly after rewatching A Knight’s Tale for the thousandth time) asked if he could ride a horse.

I jumped at the chance to see my kid in the saddle at long last. Luckily, while I currently do not own a horse of my own, TSB Managing Director Martha Cook has a Morgan who draws children to him like moths to a porch light.

We arranged for an evening introduction to the ritual of riding…the cross-ties, the currycomb, the names of the different brushes (are the bristles hard or soft?), the order of go when it comes to tack. And while I stood back and allowed my son to learn from another, I felt an intense rush of pleasure, tinged as it so often is, with a distinct sadness.

Gone are my long days of dirty fingernails and face and boots as I passed the time raking aisleways, shoveling the track smooth in the indoor, bringing horses in and turning them out. Oh, and how I used to love to clean tack! The community of the warm room filled with steaming buckets and leather things on a cold day, as I rinsed and wiped and polished alongside others. The satisfaction of the bridles neatly wrapped and hung evenly along the wall, the saddles oiled and covered for another night.

Time used to pass slowly then. Whether it was the slower rhythms of barn life or merely the fact that I was literally counting down the minutes between the horses I’d get to ride, it is a pulse I can barely imagine now, when I sit down at my desk early each morning and suddenly look up to find that it is already time to make dinner.

But for an hour that evening last week, I tasted it again: time slowing. I allowed myself to imagine that I was five again, my first brush strokes on a pony’s side, my first steps beside him, leading him to a mounting block, my first attempts to direct him with a pull of the reins right and left. For that hour, all my worries about the world and our places in it fell away, and I felt, in all its simplicity, happy.

 

riding

Then…and now.

 

Why should little boys ride horses?

Because it will, even if only for a moment, make their mothers very, very happy.

 

Rebecca Didier, Managing Editor

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Blog5-16

How do you think your horse feels about being mounted? Does he fidget? Throw his head up? Drop his back? Root at the bit? It is easy to unbalance your horse when you mount him, and you can also unbalance him when you dismount. Learning to take your time in the process of mounting and dismounting helps everybody stay balanced and neutral.

In the book HORSE SPEAK: THE EQUINE-HUMAN TRANSLATION GUIDE, Sharon Wilsie explains how her system of Horse Speak can help ease anxiety related to mounting, ensuring your rides start off on a positive note. Here are some of her recommendations:

First, really notice how your horse reacts to being mounted. (Consider asking someone to take a photo of your horse’s face while you get on.) A stoic horse may grimace while being mounted. A sensitive horse may raise his head and show anxiety. An energetic horse moves off when you step into the stirrup. There are many possible reactions. When looking at your horse, notice his ears, eyes, and in particular, his mouth. What you have long thought was acceptance, may instead have been be acquiescence.

Your core energy broadcasts from your “center” just behind your belly button. This can cause confusion when mounting, especially with a sensitive horse. When you face the saddle from the mounting block, you may put “sending” pressure from your belly button onto the horse. He will naturally swing his head toward you and his body away, in response to the sending message your body is conveying. To clarify your body language, practice mounting with your core energy turned toward the horse’s head.

You can also diffuse your horse’s anxiety about mounting with the following Horse Speak “Conversation”: 

Horse Speak Final Cover

Click image for more information.

1  Begin by leading your horse to the mounting block and position him as if you are going to mount, but instead just sit on the block for a few minutes (retreat) and breathe with him. Breathe long enough to see your horse visibly relax next to the block. This is a good exercise some evening when you don’t have time to ride but do want to have a Conversation with your horse. Tack up in your normal routine and have a Breath Conversation at the mounting block. Try to sync your breath to his. Observe the subtle language he shows. Take really deep breaths. 

2  Show your horse affection before you mount. Before getting up on the mounting block, check in with a Knuckle Touch. Reach up and lightly scratch the Friendly Button where the forelock meets the forehead. Most horses also appreciate having each front foot picked up and moved in a gentle circle at the mounting block—it releases tension.  Rock the Baby first on his bridle while standing in front of him, and then while standing on the mounting block with your horse in position in front of you, facing the same direction as your horse with your hand closest to him on his withers. Shift your weight from one foot to the other or from one hip to the other. Remember to sync your rocking to your breath, and breathe as slowly and deeply as you can. Your horse may take a step to rebalance himself. Many horses are taught to stand still no matter how awkward and unbalanced they feel. Letting him widen his stance may be a huge relief to him. Also some horses appreciate Rock the Baby at the mounting block with one hand on the withers and one behind the saddle. 

3  Now, once you mount, dismount again immediately, and walk your horse in a medium-size circle. Bring him back to the block, breathe, and mount again. Repeat this sequence three times, paying attention to your horse’s comfort and body language. If there is any tension stop and breathe with your horse, then resume the Conversation.

4  Try a Copycat Conversation with your horse about the mounting block. Lean over him slightly as if preparing to mount, and then lean back upright or away from the horse. Repeat, syncing your leaning toward and away from the horse to your own breathing. Do this at least three times before getting on and staying on. When you repeat this Copycat every time you mount, at some point your horse may simply lean toward you as you step in the stirrup. What a wonderful way to start a ride!

Learn more Conversations in HORSE SPEAK, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to learn more.

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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Raymond is one of the 10 horses that star in Yvonne Barteau’s THE DRESSAGE HORSE MANIFESTO. Photo by fireandearthphoto.com.

If horses could talk, what would they say about the exercises we ask them to do and the movements we have them perform? Grand Prix dressage rider and popular equestrian performer Yvonne Barteau has wondered this throughout her lifelong career with horses, and so she has tried very hard over the years to learn to see and understand things from the equine perspective.

In her incredibly fun-to-read book THE DRESSAGE HORSE MANIFESTO, Barteau guides us through the dressage levels from the horse’s point of view. Her humor and well-honed sense of how the equine mind works provides a valuable and very different look at what it means to train and ride a dressage horse.

Here is an exercise from one of the 10 real-life horse stars of Barteau’s book: Raymond is a worrier-type, seven years old, and only showing Training and First Level, although he knows and practices all kinds of FEI movements. He likes to work and this is one Second Level lesson in counter-canter that is a particular favorite.

Raymond says:

Counter-canter, counter-flexion teaches us to balance and stay true to our lead, rather than associating a change in flexion with a change in lead. This exercise is designed to both gymnasticize us, and make us totally obedient to your aids by counter-cantering, and then changing the flexion away from the lead we are on. For example: left lead, traveling right, but flexed to the right, and right lead, traveling left, flexed to the left.

How to Do It
1 In counter-canter going to the right (you are on the left lead, traveling on the right rein) start with your right leg in its slightly back position to add sideways pressure until you start to get into a sort of renvers (haunches-out) positioning.

2 Keeping a “conversational” and pulsing kind of leg aid with that same right leg, allow us to connect to the left rein more as an outside rein (rather than as an inside flexion rein), and begin to flex us bit by bit to the right with your right (suppling) fingers (counter-flexion).

3 Be careful to keep the impulsion and “jump” in the canter with that same right leg while not doing too much with your left leg (which should still be up by the girth). If things go really well, you will feel almost as if you are in counter-canter, counter-shoulder-in with your horse’s weight more over his outside limbs (in this case, the left) and less over his inside (in this case, the right). Your horse needs to get comfortable and balanced in this positioning on either lead, and be able to go back and forth from counter-canter, true-flexion to counter-canter, counter-flexion in preparation for the lead changes to come.

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It will feel SO good when you and your horse get this exercise right! Photo by fireandearthphoto.com.

When It Goes Wrong
It takes time to get good at this exercise—it challenges both horse and rider—and if you or your horse starts getting confused or frustrated, just back off and review something easier. Don’t come back to this exercise until you are both relaxed and in harmony again.

 

Get more guidance straight from the horse’s mouth in THE DRESSAGE HORSE MANIFESTO, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

Yvonne Barteau is judging the all-women edition of Road to the Horse, which starts tomorrow! You can watch the live broadcast here.

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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walkthisway

Arthur Kottas-Heldenberg was accepted as a student at the Spanish Riding School of Vienna in 1960 and rose rapidly under the tutelage of Colonel Alois Podhajsky to become the youngest ever First Chief Rider in the history of the school. Internationally respected, Kottas has successfully trained many horses and riders to Olympic standard in dressage. Here he provides easy-to-try solutions for three of the most common problems found with the horse’s walk.

 

Problem 1: Breaks Rhythm (Pacing)
Common cause: Tension in the back.

Solutions

  • Using poles or low cavalletti can encourage freer steps and regularize the rhythm. An average distance between poles for walk work is 0.9m, but be prepared to alter this to suit the horse’s stride length.
  • The rider needs to be able to feel what is going on in his horse, otherwise the timing of the aids depends on luck, and this can affect the clarity of the gait. If the rider does have difficulty feeling the movement, he can practice calling out the leg sequence. Riding without stirrups and with a deep seat will help the rider to feel the horse’s motion and leg sequence clearly.
  • Riding up and down hills is useful. A forward stride downhill normally improves the walk to four clear beats.
  • Ride transitions from free walk to medium and to free walk again. This will encourage relaxation of the horse’s back muscles. (Note the rider must take care to retake the rein contact carefully, so as to keep the relaxed quality in the medium walk. Taking a strong hold will create tension that will affect the walk rhythm.
  • Riding a walk shoulder-in is a good way to clear the pace to a correct four-beat rhythm.
  • If the gait is very hurried, this can cause the walk to become lateral. Try slowing the walk right down until the walk becomes four-beat again.

 

upanddown

Walking up and down hills can help fix rhythm issues in the walk. Photos from the book DRESSAGE SOLUTIONS by Arthur Kottas.

 
Problem 2: Walk Too Fast (Breaks into Jog)
Common cause: A nervous or excitable horse.

Solutions

  • Be very patient and spend long periods in walk on a long rein to relax the horse.
  • The rider must sit very still and quietly, so that eventually the horse tunes into the rider’s calm state and begins to relax, too.
  • Some horses become tense when they feel the rider’s legs on their sides. Keep your legs very light, so that he will gradually accept them without becoming tense.
  • Some young or cold-backed horses benefit from being longed before ridden work. This gives them time to relax without the disturbance of the rider’s weight on their back.
  • Use half-halts and frequent transitions to a square halt and walk again to gradually settle the walk.

 

Problem 3: Lazy Walk
Common cause: Dullness to the aids; poor rider position or aiding.

Solutions

  • Try giving alternate leg aids, coordinated with each hind leg stepping forward. You should feel the moment through your seat bones. Apply the leg just before the hind foot on the same side leaves the ground.
  • It is important that the rider is not tense or stiff in his back, or it will inhibit the horse’s freedom to walk forwards freely.
  • Strong rein contact can have the same effect. Try making small forward yields in the reins and keeping the wrists relaxed, to remove the “handbrake.”
  • Legs that constantly kick or grip tightly will dull the horse and make the walk feel lazy. The rider should keep a light touch with his legs on the horse’s sides and use the aids sparingly, supported by a touch from the whip if necessary. When the horse responds, the rider must cease the aid and sit quietly with relaxed legs that “drape” around the horse’s sides.
  • Riding over ground poles can improve the activity of the walk. Once the horse is negotiating them calmly, the distance between them can be slightly lengthened to encourage a longer stride. Pole work or low cavalletti can introduce some variety into the schooling and many horses enjoy this and we can therefore achieve improvements and give the horse some fun in his work.
  • Making frequent transitions up and down will help bring the horse onto your aids more attentively.

For more training and riding advice from Arthur Kottas, check out DRESSAGE SOLUTIONS, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

 

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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sitonhandds

We all want to communicate with our horses in ways they can understand. When riding, that communication is dependent on our aids. What we might not realize is just knowing what the aids are and in what order to apply them isn’t enough to “speak” clearly to your horse. It is important sit centered, straight, and even in the saddle.

In the book 50 BEST ARENA EXERCISES AND PATTERNS, we learn how to get a feel for a seat that is centered, straight, and even.

1  Take both feet out of the stirrups and let your legs hang.

Allow your upper body to swing gently from front to back. After repeating this several times, you will notice that you instinctively find your center.

3  Round and hollow your back in order to get a feel for a correctly upright upper body. This is important as only then can your spine compensate for the movement of the horse and remain in balance.

4  Now, have a friend hold your horse as you shut your eyes for a moment and concentrate on the feel of your seat. You must develop a feeling for both seat bones and whether they are evenly bearing weight. If you are having trouble sensing both seat bones, drop your reins and sit on your hands: place them under your rear end with the palms facing toward the saddle and the top of the hands under your seat bones. This should enhance the pressure of the seat bones and help you distribute your weight evenly left to right.

Note: If you have continued difficulty evenly weighting your seat bones in the saddle, you may have natural crookedness or movement patterns in your body that need attention from a physical therapist or biomechanics expert.

For a terrific reference of schooling ideas for English and Western riders, check out 50 BEST ARENA EXERCISES AND PATTERNS, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

 

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter.

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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