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Posts Tagged ‘Western dressage’

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Renowned educator, clinician, and Western Dressage World Champion Lynn Palm says that one of the quickest ways to understand true collection is to try it yourself. Here’s an easy exercise from her book THE RIDER’S GUIDE TO REAL COLLECTION to help you feel what your horse feels when you ask him to collect.

TRY THIS

1  First, get on your hands and knees, with your knees directly under your hips and your hands directly under your shoulders. In this position, you’re going to have your head above your back because it feels more comfortable. Because of the weight of your head and neck, you’re going to feel more weight on your hands than on your knees—the same as the horse in natural carriage.

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Photo by Cappy Jackson.

2  Now, pretend you are doing a canter depart. You should find that you can bring your hands off the ground without difficulty, although perhaps not as gracefully as you would like.

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Photo by Cappy Jackson.

3  When collection is achieved through training and developing the horse’s body, the hind legs engage and move forward deep underneath his body, the spine rounds, and the forehand elevates. To simulate this, bring your knees underneath yourself to round and elevate your back.

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Photo by Cappy Jackson.

4  Try your canter depart again. You should be able to lift your hands easily: This position simulates a horse that is collected.

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Photo by Cappy Jackson.

5  “Set” your head, like a horse in false collection. Put your head down so it is level with or below your topline. You should feel the added weight on your hands at this point. When this happens to the horse, he can’t bring his hind legs underneath his body to start collecting himself. Move your knees far behind your hips.

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Photo by Cappy Jackson.

6  Now pick up your “canter.” It should be extremely hard to lift your hands off the ground. This is what your horse experiences, too!

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Photo by Cappy Jackson.

rider's guide to collectionTHE RIDER’S GUIDE TO REAL COLLECTION is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

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

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One of the great pleasures we have at Trafalgar Square Books is working with equine experts from fields far different than our own desk-centric sort. This is not only a source of continuing education that we wholeheartedly welcome but a reminder of the amazingly different kinds of roles people play in the lives of horses and the humans who love them.

A couple weeks ago we had a chance to spend 24 hours with Dr. Bob Grisel, author of EQUINE LAMENESS FOR THE LAYMAN, whose practice is based in Atlanta. Today we hear from Dr. Jenni Grimmett, co-author of DRESSAGE THE COWBOY WAY with Eitan Beth-Halachmy–she is a large animal mobile veterinarian in rural North Idaho, and according to her, she’s never seen a “typical day.”

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“Our days are often unpredictable and can change course at a moment’s notice,” says Dr. Grimmett. “That is one of the things I both love and hate about this lifestyle. I can’t really call veterinary medicine a job. It isn’t what I do, it’s who I am, and it’s a big responsibility to take on as you are servicing animals and the people that may depend on your services for their livelihood. Being a small part in the larger cog that is our agricultural community is very important to me, and I take it very seriously. It’s the main reason that I still provide services for the other livestock species (besides horses, I mean) because we sure don’t do it for the awesome pay or fabulous work environment!”

Here’s a glimpse at 24 hours in the life of Dr. Grimmett:

5:30 am We have an extra early start today, especially for this time of year. The truck, which is our livelihood, was down unexpectedly yesterday. When you are a mobile veterinarian who suddenly finds herself non-mobile it can throw a serious wrench into the day. Luckily, we didn’t have anything too urgent on the schedule and were able to move our appointments out a day or two. But, that also means that we are planning on a 12-hour day today…if things go smoothly. 

So, after rolling out from under the three large Irish Setters who sleep on the bed with us, I’m starting my day by checking messages and drinking some caffeine while my brain begins to un-fog. Gone are the days I could roll out of bed 10 minutes before walking out the door to head to school. One of the blessings and curses of the aging process is that I must plan some time to actually wake up in the morning.  

6:30 am  I pick up my able-bodied right-hand woman, Carolyn, on the way to our first call of the day. I couldn’t do what I do without Carolyn. She keeps the truck stocked and ready to roll, assists me in every task throughout the day, and usually drives so that I can do paperwork, answer calls, or work on the computer between clients. Without that drive time between calls I could have never written DRESSAGE THE COWBOY WAY with my friend Eitan Beth-Halachmy last year. Most of my Cowboy Dressage organizational time is done between veterinary calls on the road, as well. Carolyn also used to be my traveling companion, groom, and caller when I attended Cowboy Dressage Gatherings.  She just had a baby this summer and is back at work after a few months maternity leave. I missed her dearly and couldn’t be happier that she is back by my side. 

7:15 am  We arrive at our first call. It’s chilly this morning, and you can feel the fall in the air. I notice a gorgeous red maple tree that is already starting to turn but also notice that red maple is planted right next to the fence, dropping delicious red maple leaves right into the area where the horses are eating. I make a mental note to mention that to my client as maple leaves can cause cardiac problems in horses. I lost an older horse a few falls ago that was out grazing on the lawn and picked up too many red maple leaves. 

Our patient this morning is a Quarter Horse gelding that is due for his fall vaccinations and is also in need of a respiratory checkup. We had another terrible fire season this year, and the air quality for the past month has been in the hazardous zone. We’ve seen many horses with coughs and runny eyes. After a rebreathing examination we determine there is no respiratory compromise on Buster and convince him his intra-nasal vaccination isn’t that big of a deal. I feel an equine veterinarian has a responsibility to handle each patient as if he was her own, and I try my best to make even unpleasant experiences tolerable for the horses. While it takes more time, it pays off in dividends as these animals become lifelong patients. 

As we are discussing the red maple tree and Carolyn is readying the invoice, I look down at the little Terrier in her hot pink “jacket,” bouncing around on this chilly morning. A perk of being a mobile vet is the extra animal personalities we get to meet on the road. This jaunty, well-dressed Terrier puts a smile on my face.

8:00 am  We stop at the gas station to meet up with a client that is driving a horse across the state line to Seattle this morning. I pulled blood for an Equine Infectious Anemia (Coggins) test and completed the health certificate last week. My client needs that paperwork in hand to legally transport the horse. Regulatory work is a large part of what we do. Health certificates and testing of animals for interstate travel is an important part of keeping our national populations healthy. While many owners are frustrated by the process and testing required, I see it as a way to be sure we are preventing the spread of disease at shows, rodeos, and other events across the Northwest.

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8:15 am  We arrive at our next appointment, which is a busy show and breeding barn for both Quarter Horses and Paints. We have two mares that were serviced by the ranch stallion this spring that they haven’t checked in foal yet. Both mares are large-bodied halter mares that I palpate in the field to confirm pregnancy. I would like to have ultrasounded the mares at this stage of their gestation for placental thickness and to catch early placental separation, but my ultrasound machine went in for repairs last week. So, it’s the old-fashioned palpation. The owners were concerned that the mares would require sedation, but I find that, in most cases, if I just take my time and go slow, I can palpate mares without. I prefer not to sedate as long as I can safely do the palpation because I don’t feel sedation is good for the foal. 

Unfortunately, at this call we also have to perform a humane euthanasia on a broodmare that has become too lame to safely go through winter. She was able to carry and feed her last foal who was recently weaned, but an old injury finally caught up with her. I’m sure that other veterinarians in northern climates are familiar with the rush of fall euthanasias. It’s a necessary but so-difficult part of our job, and as we move further into the fall, we will be doing more and more of them. I often envy the southern veterinarians that don’t have winter challenges to deal with. It’s tough to have a “season” for euthanasia.

9:00 am We are off to see a Jersey cow that is due to calve any day. We have a lot of backyard milk cows in our area. Some of the families use the milk themselves, but many of them take advantage of the Rural Milk Certification Program offered by the Idaho Dairy Council. In order to be compliant for the sale of raw milk, you must have your cow tested annually for tuberculosis (TB). TB testing in cows and goats is done by injecting a small dose of TB test medium into the tail head of the animal, and then coming back 72 hours later to “read” the test for a reaction. Reading the test means that you digitally feel each side of the tail head for a reaction. A positive (or false positive) animal will have distinct swelling at the tail head. 

This particular Jersey has already seen me twice in the past month for her vaccinations.  She remembers me well and is not too happy to see me again. Our restraint consists of a post in the field to which she is tied. She is owned by a lovely family trio of mom and her two daughters, all very involved with the animals on their small farm. Her three owners try valiantly to slow the spinning around the post as I perform the quick injection into the tail head. She’s mad but recovers quickly when they pull out the alfalfa cubes as an apology. Since the only time the cow is tied to this post is for veterinary examinations, I encourage them to do some “post desensitizing” and alfalfa-cube-feeding before my next visit to read the test. The cow is no dummy, and she is not appreciative of the “post torture routine”!

My client (the mom) whips out her ever-present list of questions about all things dietary, calf, and milk related. This will be their first milking experience, and they are anxious to get everything right. I remember when we were in vet school there was a movement that tried to make oral examinations part of our curriculum. The student body was appalled at the thought, but I don’t think anything could have been more appropriate now that I have been in practice for 16 years. The ability to field a barrage of questions and think on your feet while dodging your patient’s attempts to distract you is a skill that every veterinarian must have. 

9:30 am The 30-minute drive to the next call allows me time to return calls, and check text messages, Facebook messages, and emails. The multiple ways for folks to communicate now make it even easier for people to check in with me about treatments, wound care, prescription refills, and ask questions that would take more time over the phone. However, these grand new options in communication mean I may be having three conversations at once. Keeping it all straight and fielding phone calls at the same time can eat up a 30-minute drive in no time! 

10:00 am The next call is to see a patient that I have a soft spot for. Buckskin (as she is lovingly called) is a six-year-old AQHA mare, heading off to training this fall. As a four-year-old she suffered a catastrophic wound to the dorsal cannon bone in her right hind leg. At least 50 percent of that bone was exposed, and by the time we saw the wound for the first time, it was at least four days old, full of contamination, and very painful. With diligent and thorough debridement and very careful and attentive care by the owner, she is left with a nice clean scar on that leg with no proud flesh and no lameness. She is stout and gorgeous and is going to be a good one. The mare’s owner is one of my favorite clients, an Idaho State Patrol woman who has some great road stories to tell. We often compare the horrors and challenges in our jobs—I sure wouldn’t want hers and she feels the same about mine! I float Buckskin’s teeth to make sure her mouth is comfortable, and she is ready to concentrate when the trainer puts a bit in her mouth next month. 

10:45 am Another gas station meeting, this time for some prescription drug refills. As a mobile veterinarian, it can be challenging for my clients to get refills for the medications they need. So, we do an awful lot of “drug deals” in local parking lots. We service two counties and 15 zip codes: It’s a large area, and we average 200 miles on the truck every day. Catching up with clients for refills takes effort from both parties. 

11:00 am We have an hour’s drive to our next appointment, so more time to return calls and schedule other appointments. I’ve had three calls from folks scattered over two counties that would still like an appointment today. Since we already have a 12-hour day on the schedule, it’s tough to fit them in, but we promise to add the urgent ones to the list, hoping we finish some of our calls a little early.   

The driveis also how we spend our lunch time. We don’t ever actually stop for a lunch break. We only stop to refuel. Patrick, my male Irish Setter, always eats with us, and he insists on his share of whatever is for lunch that day. We refer to that as “Paddy Tax”—we are liberally taxed daily. 

We made a quick stop to pick up mail and drop off samples being shipped out to the lab, then off to the next zip code. On the rare days when we are doing lots of “windshield time” with no cell service, Carolyn and I will listen to audiobooks. We’ve been through the entire James Herriot series and always listen to the Harry Potter series at least once a year. Generally this is a winter activity as the phone is just too busy in the summer months. Lately we have been searching and selecting music when we get a lull in the phone calls. The search for good freestyle music never stops!

12:00 pm  We arrive at our farthest and largest appointment for the day. We have a herd of cattle to work through the chute for vaccinations, ear tagging, and castration. These cattle are range cattle that only get worked once a year, if we are lucky. They are wild as deer, and it’s a mixed bag of 4- to 18-month-old heifers and bulls. The oldest ones are part of a bunch that jumped the gate and headed for open country midway through last year’s gather.  The rancher’s wife, who scheduled the appointment, thought we had about 10 heifers and 10 bulls, but when we arrive there are closer to 30 head in the pen, and they are already milling restlessly.

Before we can get started, the owner has a couple of horses he wants me to look at. The first is a young Curly Horse that was pushed through the barbed-wire fence by his pasturemates sometime the day before. I’m told to just take a look at the wound, but it’s obvious that it needs some serious attention beyond the ointment and vet wrap the owner applied yesterday. Due to the advanced stage of the wound, it is a challenge to close it, and I reach for my standard tension-relieving trick, using dollar-store buttons I keep in the truck. These are always a big hit with the client and are a must for wounds that have retracted and require a bit of muscle to put back together. 

Once the Curly is repaired, we move on to two more horses at the other end of the property. One is a mare that is likely foundered and has been lame for somewhere between three weeks and four months, depending on which side of the he said/she said conversation you choose to listen to. I recommend x-rays and schedule another appointment later in the week for that. The other horse is an older POA that unfortunately has developed a cancerous growth on his penis. It is about the size of a silver dollar and non-painful at this time. We discuss multiple treatment options, but due to budget and the inability to get him to a surgical facility, it looks like we’ll just be keeping an eye on it, hoping it doesn’t get too aggressive, too fast.

Rural medicine means that not every patient gets state-of-the-art treatment. Real-life budgetary constraints and environmental limitations are a constant factor in all our medical decisions. I consider it my job to offer all the available options along the entire scale and allow the owners to decide what they are comfortable with. It’s tough, especially when I know I could save an animal if given the opportunity, but I try to remain neutral. It’s a tough decision for families who love their animals. 

We move on to the cattle. There are four of us working the herd, one in the pen, one at the head gate, one pushing in the alleyway, and one dropping the tail gate. The cattle are wild, and the sorting and pushing setup is not ideal, resulting in copious amounts of shouting, whipping, and hot-shot usage. (I don’t know if it is a common method of cattle handling in other parts of the country, but here in Bonner county, the buggy whip is king for moving feisty cattle. I can imagine Temple Grandin cringing if she were watching from the sidelines.) As an added treat for me, the chute has fencing on either side of the head catch, so the only place to stand to ear tag and tattoo the heifers is right in front of them, giving them a very good shot at breaking my arm when I reach for an ear. The four-month-old heifers aren’t bad, but the older ones are a bit tougher.

Luckily I have 16 years experience in not getting my arm broken, and all goes fairly smoothly…that is, until we get a large heifer (I swear this one is closer to 18 months!) in the chute that happens to have a rather large set of horns. The owner is sending her to the auction in November and knows that he will get a better price on her without horns, so the things have to come off. I like to do my dehorning on heifers that are about 120 pounds under full sedation with local anesthesia. That’s my favorite method. The old-time cattleman’s “lop ‘er off in the chute” method is not. It’s quick and it’s effective, but it’s painful and bloody, and there HAS to be a better way. So, we compromise, electing to nerve block and restrain the heifer while I figure out a good position in this boxed-in head catch to try to remove these horns. They are too big for my loppers so I have to use my wire saw. It works great but is exhausting and requires just the right angle to be effective. Imagine a Nordic Track exercise machine or a rowing machine that is trying to thwart all your efforts at establishing an effective rhythm. 

Try as we might we cannot get this heifer in a position that allows for a good angle for the wire saw.  The solution? We put 2×4 boards across the fencing on either side of the chute so I can stand on them up above her, sawing those horns off while three people hold ropes to stabilize her head. The block works and she feels next to nothing, but a wild heifer is still not likely to enjoy having her head restrained, and she definitely does not! There are relatively few spurting blood vessels, and I am able to get them cauterized quickly. Unfortunately, when we take the ropes off her head after the second horn, we realize that one of the ropes had been creating a tourniquet, masking the spurting from that horn. The rancher jumps back, screaming as the heifer sprays him across his chest. Of course, now I have to try to cauterize with her head unrestrained and flinging blood everywhere. She sure didn’t appreciate me wielding a red-hot dehorning iron and tried her best to ram me with her head.   

After the dehorning/gymnastics event, we move on to the rest of the herd, which by now is thoroughly worked up from the whipping, zapping, and cussing. The smell of blood and burning horn isn’t helping to calm them or lure them into the chute either. The cattle collectively take out a panel being used as part of the alleyway and start to rear up like jumping the fence is next. In an unprecedented move, the rancher chooses to use his bulldozer to attempt to corner the unruly bunch. I look at Carolyn and ask if she has ever seen a bull jump a bulldozer because I am pretty sure it is coming right up. Sure enough, once they are cornered, about half of the cattle choose to jump the remaining panel, while the others jump the blade on the bulldozer. I have to admire their athleticism.  

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4:30 pm  By now Carolyn and I are about two hours past schedule and out of cell service so we are unable to contact any of our following clients that we attempted to add into the already packed schedule. We’d managed to inoculate about 1/3 of the herd prior to the mass exodus over the top of the bulldozer. I ask to use the house land line to let my clients know the status, and we call it a day at the ranch so we can head out to try and salvage part of the schedule that remains.

As we get back into cell service a rush of “dings” on the cell phone are testimony to missed appointments, urgent calls, and messages that we missed while chute-dogging unruly young cattle. We decide that our next call better be an ailing patient, as it is an add-on for the day and about 30 minutes away. I spend the drive time sorting through the calls and making apologies where appropriate for missed appointment times.

5:00 pm  When we arrive to see our next patient the owner reports that he is doing much better than when she called in the morning. The gelding had been running a temperature for a while but now is normal and starting to pick at his hay. The old guy is 36 this year and definitely showing his age in the dropped back, knobby knees, and gray sunken face. He has no upper teeth and precious few lower teeth. He’s on a completely pelleted and soaked diet with multiple supplements and has a nice cozy barn to live in. 

After a thorough examination, including a rectal exam, I step back and take a look at the bigger picture. These are the tough calls. This is a healthy older horse. The only thing ailing him right now is that he is 36 and the weather is rapidly changing. I have a hard talk with his owner about his age, his condition, and the plan for this winter if things don’t go the way we like. It’s my least favorite part of the job. The owner tearfully tells me she is committed to attempting to take him through the winter, and we make the necessary arrangements if things take a turn for the worse. 

5:45 pm Next we are off to see a very annoyed little Holstein cow that has been waiting for us to come and do a milk test. She’s been suffering from a recurrent mastitis problem in one quarter. The owner has attempted several at-home treatments, but the problem keeps coming back. Her bag is full and tight with the delayed appointment, and after taking my sample, she is more than ready to be milked out. She has to wait for a while, though, as we spend some time going over the milking procedure and sanitation practices the owner is using in an attempt to track down the source of the problem. 

We decide to send the milk sample off to the lab for cytology and culture, and in the meantime, I recommend a different brand of teat dip with a little better bactericidal scope. These backyard milking parlors are a testimony to the ingenuity of our rural clients. Each parlor is completely unique, and the setup generally depends on the level of cooperation for the cow in question. This particular setup includes a long rope that goes around the cow and attaches to partial wall on one side of the head catch. This cow is apparently adept at kicking the milking machine off, but with the rope, she is stymied and doesn’t even attempt to protest. 

6:15 pm We have a message waiting for us when we get back in the truck from our last appointment—they are starting to get a little worried because we haven’t made it yet.  We are only about four hours late! The other two appointments we on our schedule have been rescheduled for another (already full) day later in the week. 

We arrive in 15 minutes to do a quick blood draw on a ram that is scheduled for a sale next month. All rams have to be tested negative for brucella ovis; this ram is one from a larger group tested a few weeks ago. Occasionally we have one come back as indeterminant, which just means the test didn’t work. So, we have to retest this ram to clear him before the sale. We have plenty of time, but the sample has to be mailed out tomorrow morning if it’s going to make the lab this week. 

Luckily, this is a very experienced shepherd who has been through this drill a number of times. He wades into the flock of about 15 large rams, looking for the one that he had chalk-marked earlier in the day. Wading through sheep always reminds me of crowd surfing or maybe wrestling with live Charmin rolls. You are buffeted around by them, but it doesn’t hurt when they are in a large group like that. They sure can hurt you, to be sure, especially if they get a run at you, but wrestling them in a large group I always find kind of fun. 

The particular ram we want is more intelligent than his buddies. He knows that the shepherd catches him with a hand under the chin, so he is a “crowd diver.” As soon as he sees one of us coming for him, he plunges his head down under all his friends and starts pushing. Then the whole flock rotates through the pen and we feel like we are in a woolen blender until they land in a corner again. It takes four or five rounds before I’m able to slip a hand under his chin and block him long enough for the shepherd to wade through and grab him. Blood draws on sheep can be a bit tricky when they are fully wooled, but the shearer was here right before me, and the nice smooth neck makes the job a cinch. 

6:45 pm  We are finally back in the truck and headed home. I drop Carolyn off with plans to see her again at 8:00 am the following morning. I head for home, hoping that I just might have enough daylight left to attempt to ride my horse. Cowboy Dressage World Finals is right around the corner, and I am still attempting to choreograph my Freestyle.   I’m on call tonight so it’s a crap shoot, but I’m forever the optimist.

By the time I’ve pulled in at home, though, the sun is just on the other side of the trees, and my arena is about 10 minutes away from pretty darn dark. It’s so hard to get used to these shorter days this time of year. Besides, my horses are all sure I should be turned in for equine abuse by delaying dinner so rudely. My husband Dan usually does all the feeding, but he is out of town, so it’s my turn to do the evening chores.

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Photo from Dressage the Cowboy Way by Eitan Beth-Halachmy and Dr. Jenni Grimmett.

7:30 pm  Time to eat and do some computer work. The dogs are happily eating their dinner, and mine consists of a bag salad and a reheated “smokie.” It’s quick and simple and relatively healthy. I spend some time on the computer for my vet practice then switch gears to my other job with Cowboy Dressage. I’m working on plans for my final clinic of the year in New Hampshire in November. There is a Gathering this coming weekend that I won’t be able to attend, but we are sending a box of DRESSAGE THE COWBOY WAY over to sell. Dan will be coaching at that show but won’t have the time to take a horse along. 

9:00 pm  The Setters are sleepy and so am I. We hit the hay early tonight. It’s been a long day, and the dog-piled bed is calling my name. I go through my mental list of things that have to happen in the morning before we do it all over again. I set my alarm, reminding myself that chores are again my responsibility before I head out for calls. I have two phones by my bed side and look at them, pleading for them both to remain silent tonight.  Midnight calls this time of year aren’t as common as they are in small animal veterinary medicine. Typically, if I can get through evening checks, my patients are all tucked in for the night, and I’m safe from emergencies until morning. I am on call 50 percent of the year, which is a vast improvement from the 100 percent of the year I used to be on call.    Those first 10 years of being on call 24/7 were enough to make me question my career choice. I couldn’t pursue the other passions in my life without my fantastic work partner, and it is thanks to her coming into my life that I can be involved in Cowboy Dressage. 

As I snuggle in, trying to carve out some room between Irish Setters, my last thoughts are of my Freestyle, and I go to sleep dreaming about dancing with my own horse, hoping it’s my turn to ride tomorrow evening. 

DRESSAGE THE COWBOY WAY by Dr. Jenni Grimmett and Eitan Beth-Halachmy is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

All photos from Dressage the Cowboy Way by Eitan Beth-Halachmy and Dr. Jenni Grimmett.

 

Be sure to read the other installments of TSB’s “Horseworld By the Hour” blog series:

DR. BOB GRISEL

TIK MAYNARD

JEC ARISTOTLE BALLOU

KENDRA GALE

JEANNE ABERNETHY

YVONNE BARTEAU

JONATHAN FIELD

EMMA FORD

JOCHEN SCHLEESE

HEATHER SMITH THOMAS

LYNN PALM

DANIEL STEWART

DOUG PAYNE

JANET FOY

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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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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RUNAROUND

Sandy Collier has enjoyed great success in her career as an NRCHA, NRHA, and AQHA champion horse trainer. Named one of the “Top 50 Riders of All Time in All Disciplines” by Horse & Rider Magazine, she was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 2011, and the NRCHA’s Hall of Fame in 2012. Collier was the first and only female horse trainer to win the prestigious NRCHA (National Reined Cow Horse Association) World Champion Snaffle Bit Futurity. She also won an NRCHA World Champion Snaffle Bit Futurity Reserve Co-Championship in addition to being a regular Finalist there annually. She has been a NRCHA Stallion Stakes Champion, an NRHA Limited Open Champion, and an AQHA World Champion.

In champion trainer and popular clinician Lynn Palm’s book THE RIDER’S GUIDE TO REAL COLLECTION, Palm asked Sandy Collier to share how she works to achieve collection with her performance horses.

“I do a lot of work through speed and gait transitions,” was Collier’s reply, “which makes no sense at all to most reining or Western riders.”

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Sandy Collier competing.

Collier says that even though reiners and Western riders will often get their horses really collected at the trot and lope, “as soon as you start putting a lot of speed to it, it’s like the wheels start falling off the car.” She uses an exercise called The Runaround to maintain collection, improve the quality of a horse’s rundown, and thus ultimately better his stop.

“I’ll build speed while maintaining collection for a long, straight run,” explains Collier. “As I approach the short end of the arena, I’ll take a deep breath, start to exhale, and make my horse follow my seat as I sit down in the saddle, making him come back to me on a straight line without falling out of lead. It’s like downshifting a real expensive car, where it has to come back down real smooth. I keep my horse slow and collected through the short end (don’t let him careen around the corner), and once I get around the corner, I ask him to build speed again and start over. My horses eventually get to where they can run really fast while staying collected, and then as I let my air out, they’ll come all the way back to a slowdown or a stop, depending how long I sit.”

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The goal is to capture the complete tail-to-nose package of supple muscle and hind-end-generated impulsion that becomes a “frame” where the horse is more athletic—that is, his forehand lightens, enabling him to maneuver his front end more quickly, and his steps become cadenced and his movement free-flowing. For more exercises that help achieve this real collection, check out THE RIDER’S GUIDE TO REAL COLLECTION by Lynn Palm, on sale now at 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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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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halfhaltfb

No one can give us the skinny on how to do an honest-to-goodness half-halt like motivational speaker and dressage rider Jane Savoie. She gets that this integral part of, well, basically EVERY riding activity, can be difficult to understand and tough to put into practice in a way that it actually (really and truly) works.

Here’s Savoie’s no-fuss guide to understanding half-halts, from her bestselling book DRESSAGE 101:

Let’s break down the half-halt—or if you prefer, the “half-go”—into its parts. The half-halt itself is the combination of the driving aids (both legs and seat), the outside rein, and the bending aids (both legs and the inside rein), maintained for about three seconds.

During those three seconds, close both legs and push with your seat as if asking for that 100-percent, wholeheartedly forward response that you practiced when you put the horse in front of the leg. This is the “go” part of your half-go. But, instead of allowing the horse to go more forward as you did then, receive and contain this energy almost immediately by closing your outside hand in a fist. This becomes the rein of opposition. Make sure you feel the energy surge forward into the rein just before you actually close this outside hand.

By using your driving aids a fraction of a second before you use your rein aids, you ride your horse from back to front. This is your goal no matter what type of riding you do, because it’s the only way you can honestly connect your horse and make him more athletic and obedient. If you’re preoccupied with creating an artificial “headset” by fiddling with your hands, you’ll be riding your horse from front to back, and you’ll never truly be in charge. Remember, she who controls the hind legs—the “engine”—controls the horse. Always ride from back to front by directing the power from the hind legs forward into your hands.

To the naked eye, it will appear that you use all of these aids simultaneously. However, freeze-frame photography should show you using your driving aids first, then closing your outside hand, and finally, if necessary, vibrating your inside rein to keep the horse straight. (Remember, “straight” means straight on a line and bent along the arc on a curve.)

It is absolutely necessary for you to send your horse forward with your driving aids a fraction of a second before you close your outside hand. If you close your outside hand before you use your driving aids (or even exactly at the same time, for that matter), it’s like picking up the telephone before it rings—no one is there!

To help you imagine this concept, think about a balloon. Your driving aids blow up the balloon, and closing your outside hand in a fist puts the knot at the end of it to keep it full of air. So, to give a good half-halt, use your seat and legs first, and then close your outside hand, just as you’d inflate a balloon first and then tie the knot.

Quick Reference: The Aids for a Half-Halt (on a Circle to the Left)

Seat: Stretch up and use your seat in a driving way, as if pushing the back of the saddle toward the front of the saddle. Be sure to stay sitting in a vertical position when you push with your seat. Leaning behind the vertical can cause the horse to stiffen or hollow his back, and his head and neck will probably go up in the air as well.

Legs: Close your legs steadily, as if squeezing toothpaste out of a tube.

Outside rein (right rein): Close your hand in a fist.

Inside rein (left rein): Vibrate, if necessary, to keep the horse’s neck straight.

The aids are applied almost simultaneously, but basically they should be thought of in this order:

1  Driving aids first to create energy.

2  Outside rein second to contain energy.

3  Inside rein third, if necessary, to keep the neck straight.

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Apply these aids for about three seconds by increasing the pressure of your legs and reins so it is slightly more than the maintenance pressure you have when your legs are softly draped around your horse’s sides and your hands have a firm but gentle feel of his mouth. After you give the half-halt, relax. This relaxing—the finish of the aid—is as important as the aid itself, because it is the horse’s reward. When you relax, let your legs rest lightly on your horse’s sides again, keep correct contact with his mouth, and continue riding your circle.

For more of Jane Savoie’s terrific teaching, check out DRESSAGE 101 from Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com), where shipping in the US is FREE.

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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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LRblog

When Dan James of Double Dan Horsemanship was growing up in his native Australia, his father stressed the importance of using long-reining as part of early groundwork when starting colts, as well as using the technique as a safe way to troubleshoot issues when restarting older horses with training or behavior problems. But the influx of American horsemanship methods just as Dan James and his business partner Dan Steers began their careers meant the popularity of traditional long-reining techniques waned.

It was when Dan and Dan trained with Heath Harris, one of the world’s elite liberty trainers and the man behind the horses in blockbuster films such as The Man from Snowy River, Phar Lap, The Young Black Stallion, and The Legend of Zorro, that they discovered the true value of long-reining in a horse’s education.

“Heath mounted us up on green Warmbloods that had just come in for training,” Dan and Dan remember in their new book LONG-REINING WITH DOUBLE DAN HORSEMANSHIP. “If one of those ‘giants’ wasn’t well broke and ran away, it could get scary really fast. It became quickly apparent that the more we had these horses bridled up and working well from the ground, the easier it was when we got into the saddle.”

So yes, long-reining is a fantastic intermediate groundwork step that bridges the gap between leading a horse and riding him.

“There are a lot of horses that get ‘lost in translation’ when making that leap,” say Dan and Dan, “so the simpler and smoother you can make the transition, the better. We’re not saying that everything a horse can do when being long-reined he will automatically be able to do with you on his back, but we do find it drastically reduces the level of fear and confusion for most horses. And, colts that are taught long-reining progress much faster starting under saddle than horses that are taught everything from their back.”

Heath Harris also had Dan and Dan work with off-the-track Thoroughbreds and “problem” horses that needed to revisit earlier training to fill in holes in their education. These horses taught them that long-reining is equally useful for building a foundation, working through issues, or refining skills the horses might already possess.

“Since we started teaching long-reining to the public, we’ve learned that the magic it works with horses is only half of its benefits,” say Dan and Dan. “We’ve also discovered it helps people gain confidence with their horsemanship—no small thing.”

Long-reining rapidly builds from basic skills to performing high-level exercises. Many classically trained dressage riders at the Olympian level use a lot of long-reining in their programs, as do some elite Western riders. And of course, we’re all familiar with famous Lipizzaner stallions from the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria, who–alongside their trainers–take long-reining to its highest level of difficulty, entertaining the world with maneuvers that once prepared horses for the immense challenges of the battlefield.

Whether you are into Western or English riding, the long-reining concepts taught in LONG-REINING WITH DOUBLE DAN HORSEMANSHIP are well worth trying!

“If you have ever seen the Double Dans perform a long-reining demonstration, I am sure that you have been amazed by their skill and talent,” says Jen Johnson, Chief Executive Director of North American Western Dressage (NAWD). “At North American Western Dressage, we understand that good horsemanship begins on the ground. Long-reining can help you and your horse develop a great deal of harmony before you ever get in the saddle, and your horse can learn to use his body in a beneficial manner—without the added weight of a rider. Working your horse from the ground enhances physical and emotional fitness, and this is a great step-by-step guide to help you, with lots of terrific exercises.”

“Dan James and his partner in Double Dan Horsemanship, Dan Steers, are very well suited to offer advice in achieving success with long-lining techniques in a friendly, easy-to-follow manner,” agrees FEI 4* judge and long-lining expert Bo Jena.

You can download a free chapter from LONG-REINING WITH DOUBLE DAN HORSEMANSHIP or order a copy of the book from the Trafalgar Square Books storefront, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

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