Sunday, April 29, 2012

Horses are knights that look towards heaven

Last weekend I traveled East to attend a Colonel Christian Carde clinic. Colonel Carde was part of the Cadre Noir, a world championship competitor, coached the French national team, and he's an FEI judge. He is a world class representative of French classical dressage. He is also a true gentleman who clearly loves horses.

I really want to tell you about this clinic without saying negative things about the riders, but unfortunately I cannot. It was clear that the riders all regularly practice German style, LDR (low, deep, round), riding, which is completely the opposite of French classical dressage in many ways. Colonel Carde couldn't quite hide that he felt frustrated and sad about that. He spent quite a bit of time getting the riders to lift their horses' heads and rebalance over the hindquarters, and when he told the riders to let the horses stretch it was extremely difficult to get them to loosen their death grip on the reins so the horses could do so.

BUT- there was an upside to this. Because the horses all started out overbent and dragging around on their forehands you could see an immense difference in the way the horses moved once they'd lifted their head and shoulders and rebalanced over their hindquarters. All of a sudden they had elevation! and suspension! It was beautiful to see.

Lift the shoulders

Balance the horse

and STRETCH down

Clinic Themes

  • riders should have soft, elastic, permanent contact
  • you should ride several different exercises with the horse in different frames, don't obsess over a single exercise and frame or the horse will get bored and stiff
  • activity + balance = submission
  • without lateral flexion, the horse cannot bend
  • to balance, maintain the flexion with the inside rein and raise the outside rein to move the shoulders
  • the more we collect the more we stretch
  • stretch, Stretch, STRETCH
*Let me know if you'd like me to expand on any of these themes*

I'll end this post with a story: At one point the horse and rider in my pictures were standing at the halt while listening to Carde. The horse was standing with his forehead pointing straight down to the ground with his chin practically on his chest. Carde walked over to the horse and gently lifted his head. "Head up," he said, "is a knight going to heaven." 

"Head down is a slave going to hell."


33 comments:

  1. Love the ending thought . . . too bad more competitive dressage riders don't get it.

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    1. Here's another quote from him you might like, "dressage is art and sport together. Today the sport is eating the art."

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  2. what a great way to put it! I am going to a Phillipe Karl clinic this summer. So excited to watch a true classical horseman in the flesh:)

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  3. Wow, what a great clinic. I was lucky enough to get a clinic with another Cadre noir trained french rider. It was the best clinic I had ever had.

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    1. I know the feeling. Somehow dressage seems better with a French accent ;)

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  4. I'd like to hear more about everything!!!
    Ok, mostly I'd love it if you could expand on stretching. I originally learned dressage in the German way and I'll tell you, we always rode in a frame. Always. Of course since then I've learned a lot of different things and one of those things that I'm still trying to learn more about is stretching. I'd like to know what stretching means in this context and how it's achieved. On my last ride, hormone mare was so "up" I was really wishing I knew some exercises to help her relax and stretch out a bit.

    Are there any good books on this school of dressage?

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    1. Philipe Karl's book "twisted truths of modern dressage" explains the stretching and why it is necessary. That's the problem with the German style, and what it become of the way a lot of people ride here, constant riding in the "frame." What I do, for example, ride travers, shoulder ins for a couple times around the arena or on a circle, then allow my horse to stretch out at a nice stretchy trot. Lots of back and forth, never the same for an extended period of time.
      Contrary to what many people think, this actually builds them up faster than just riding them "collected" for entire session.

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    2. What horsemom said :)

      Here's my kinda-sorta educated thoughts on this: If the horse is seeking the contact with the bit then they will follow the bit down to a stretch if you let the reins slip through your fingers. The key is to get the horse seeking the bit and that is what the flexions are for. Which is something I need to learn more about.

      Holding the horse in a frame is physically tiring, you must allow the horse frequent rest so they stay comfortable and don't become soured by the work.

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  5. That last quote gave me the chills. Thanks for the report. :)

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  6. Sounds like a great clinic, I'd love to hear more! I second Story's request for more on the stretching :)

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  7. Sounds like a great clinic. I hope all the riders learned something they can take with them and stop torturing their horses. Love the end quote.

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  8. Love that last quote, it says it all really.

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  9. I would love to see some on the fact that you can have contact without pulling on my horses mouth. I ride with soft elastic constant contact, keeping my elbows soft and JUST being able to feel my horse at the other end, I have had people freak out on me for "not letting go of my horses mouth" AKA not riding at the buckle. When I ride my goal is to have my horse soft and rounded, moving forward and off of her hind end. This has built up her topline and gotten rid of her ewe neck. We work on flexion and dropping her head to move through her back.

    I hate the german LDR for two reasons. 1. I hate what it does to the horse. I see so many dressage riders where the horses literally look tipped forward and there is no lightness and impulsion and 2. People go the opposite direction and think ANY contact is bad because of what they have seen with LDR...

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    1. That's just complete lack of understanding of true contact on their part and since I have become educated on it, i never go to the buckle and release the feel of my horse's mouth, there's no reason for it. My best explanations for this is comparing it to hand holding; a mutual, comfortable relationship. What we see in the ring now is a mother holding the hand of a screaming toddler that wants free. Something i have noticed with horses ridden on this btv contact is when they are given a loose rein they drop straight down, closing their poll, almost with their nose to the ground. A correctly ridden horse will go down and out, opening their poll.

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    2. Thanks again horsemom!

      I used to ride with intermittent contact on a very long rein. Katie finally made me understand that soft, steady contact was better because then the horse is never surprised by a cue through the reins, and you can use much more subtle motions.

      My intermittent use of contact was probably an integral part of why my boy braces his neck so strongly. He was doing it to protect himself from "surprise attacks." Soft hands don't equal zero contact.

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    3. Exactly. My mare had a huge over developed muscle on the underside of her neck due to being used to bracing. She now has a pretty arab neck now that she is used to what im asking and is normally very soft (ok yesterdays ride was convincing her it was OK to go slower than Mach 1... thus why she is my endurance horse lol). I ride at the buckle during warm up and cool down, she drops level and I can feel her swinging through the back as she stretches underneath herself.

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  10. Some of the most profound wisdom comes in the simplest of sayings--like that one. I LOVE it and I'll always remember it. It says it all.

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  11. Very awesome! I am learning so much from my western lessons about thinking about freedom of the shoulders and getting the horse to shift the weight back.

    I love the last quote. It is beautiful.

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    1. That's great, Bodhi probably enjoys it too!

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  12. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Arlene it wasn't anything you said- I just wrote something I shouldn't have.

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  13. Your post and all the comments were very interesting, thanks!

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  14. Brilliant blog! Why not come and post it at Haynet an Equine Social Blogging network? We have blogs from all over the world in all things equestrian. Be great to have you there! Come and visit http://hay-net.co.uk/

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  15. Ohhh that quote should TOTALLY make those riders hairs stand on end. :) Very nicely put.

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  16. found a really nice video from a trainer in california that has a great visual of stretching and how to do it correctly. it has helped me not to throw away the reins and just keep light contact. the video is embedded in their blog notes.
    http://www.art2ride.com/

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  17. Lovely, lovely trainer and great post!
    You are so fortunate to have such "True Horsemanship" around you to lean and glean from.
    KK

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