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."

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Need a saddle with ventilation?

Well then I have the tack for you!

Check out these saddles by Wise Equestrian, with built-in air flow to keep your horse cool.

The cross country model

The show jumping model
Do they work? I have no idea. And yet I'm oddly intrigued... (I want to write so much here but can't think of a way to keep it appropriate- airflow in the nether regions, comparison to men's bicycle seats, latrines, etc.)

If you're interested, these saddles run from $2000 to $3800 with personalization and they come with an exchangeable gullet system.

Oops- I should mention I first saw these saddles on Dappled Grey.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Equine Affaire: Mark Rashid

Finally, the reason I hauled out to Ohio- to be a Mark Rashid groupie.

The first demo he had was on effortless transitions. There were three horses there, an English rider on a bay horse that had a problem holding the canter and couldn't pick it up from the walk, a quarter horse mare that was "lazy" in her canter transitions, and a little cob, excuse me- Gypsy Vanner, that had only a handful of rides under saddle.

It was obvious from the outset that the cob was having some issues, Mark worked with her on the ground before the rider even got on.

Oodles of hair...
She didn't feel much better after the owner mounted so he worked with her on her hands and then sent her to work with his wife one-on-one while he worked with the others. I wish I could write more in depth about what he told her but a lot of it went right over my head. Here's the gist: Don't release on a brace and soften your feel.

Here's what he said about getting effortless transitions: Think of the rhythm you want in your mind and feel it in your body before you give the aid. If your horse is walking you should think/feel the 4-beat rhythm, before you ask the horse to trot think of the 2-beat rhythm and get your body ready for it. If you and the horse are thinking together you won't even need the aid, the horse will just make the transition picking up on your intention. For the canter focus on the 3-beat.

He said that the problem many people fall into is thinking of the words for the gaits like "walk," "trot," and "canter." But horses don't think in words, if you focus on the rhythm and the feel of the gait it will make more sense to them.

He had the riders move around him in a circle and told them that at point A they were to start thinking of the new rhythm and where they wanted to go, at point B they were to make the transition. If they got to B and the horse hadn't changed the beat then they were to apply the aid. It didn't take long at all before they didn't need to apply the aid, the horses had already transitioned by point B.

The English rider, whose horse couldn't transition to the canter from the walk previously, stepped into canter almost immediately during this exercise. You should have seen the smile on her face, I think the people sitting way up in the back of the stands could see it. The little quarter horse mare was also making super smooth transitions between walk and trot. Unfortunately she was lame, and got lamer during the course of the demo so Mark had her quit early (Sadly I saw this horse and rider do a couple other clinics through the weekend. She must have been buted up to her eyeballs. Sad that the owner had so little consideration for her horse.).

Here's another thing Mark said that really stuck with me about how to ride with the rhythm. The rider's seat follows the hind legs of the horse in a 2-beat rhythm. So when the horse walks your seat slides forward with the hind legs, right slides forward with the right hind, left slides forward with the left hind. For the trot it's the same, right seat with right leg, left seat with left leg. He said that it's easier for us to sit the walk because the horse's stride matches our own, so it's comfortable. But when they trot they extend their stride much bigger than ours, so if you can extend your "stride" to go with the horse, sitting the trot becomes effortless. The same applies to the canter, yes the canter is 3-beat, but you're following the hinds which are still on a 2-beat. Interesting, eh?

This explained to me the problem I'd been having with the sitting trot. I'd already been following the hind legs with my seat, which was fine at a slower trot, but because I hadn't quite understood the concept of making my "stride" bigger I'd get left behind at a larger trot. It's going to be interesting to play with this on the friesian.

The second demo was on low-stress round penning for horses that were difficult to catch. The lame little quarter horse mare was brought back out and let loose in the pen (buted up, obviously). He started by standing at an angle to her hindquarters, kissed and sent her gently forward, then he stopped and waited for her to face him. If she turned towards him he backed off, if she didn't he sent her forward again. In about 10 minutes that mare was turning to face him every time he stood next to her hindquarters and gave the cue. She'd probably walked about 20 steps for the whole exercise.

He then brought out another horse, a draft pony, who was incredibly pushy on the ground. Mark started out immediately by establishing his personal bubble, every time the pony got inside of it he got pushed back out. Then he'd lead him around and stop, ask the pony to back and stand, then do it all over again. Occasionally he'd stand and talk to the crowd, but whenever the pony moved a foot he put him back. It took about 15 minutes until that pony didn't move unless Mark told him to.

At one point Mark stopped and told us that he was teaching the pony something very specific. He was teaching him that when the handler stopped, the pony shouldn't bring his foot in the air past his foot that was already on the ground. He was telling the horse what TO do instead of what NOT to do. He stressed that this wasn't a "bad" pony, he was just doing what he'd been taught to do, no one knew how to show him any better.

Sadly the pony reverted back to his original behavior almost as soon as the owner had the lead rope back in her hands. She really had poor rope handling skills, once you watched her you could see that the pony had no choice but to barge all over her. She held the rope very short, at the snap, and literally pulled him onto her every time she moved. That's why you should keep a float in the rope folks. I wish Mark would have had more time to work with the owner and show her how to handle the rope better, but there's only so much you can do in an hour and a half.

I'm going to quit for now before this post turns into a novel. For those of you intrigued by Mark Rashid, I encourage you to read Kate's clinic posts over at A Year With Horses, she does a really great job of explaining his methodology and training practices.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Equine Affaire: Clinicians

Stacy Westfall
Fortunately for me, the 8 hour drive I was expecting ended up only being 7- which meant I arrived early enough to catch Stacy Westfall's first clinic on riding bridleless. I was impressed by her teaching style, she was well-spoken and structured. She also said something that reminded me of Alexandra Kurland: she said that the first motion of any transition is the most important, if the horse starts wrong don't keep going hoping that the horse will fix itself, start over and help the horse start correctly. As many times as it takes.

This reminded me of Alex because of one of the "problems" many people have with clicker training- that when you click you stop the motion. What Alex says is that gives you opportunities to start over and reinforce good transitions. Thus how I've been training Coriander to pick up the left lead, we get three steps, C/T, and start over. This way we get a lot more bang for our buck. Interesting how good trainers think alike.

Jeff Wilson
The western dressage clinician. He was very knowledgeable and rode a nicely trained little morgan stallion, the problem was he was boring. He spent way too much time sitting still and lecturing and not enough time demoing. I felt like he would have done better to briefly explain a movement, like haunches-in, and then ride it so that people could see what he was talking about. I think he was pretty new to this environment though, so he'll probably get better with time.

Linda Parelli
I promised I would go see her with an open mind and I did. I went to two of her clinics, one on humanality and one on the "Game of Contact." For you Parelli fans, I agree with she is a very engaging speaker, plus she has that accent that Americans cannot resist. I will also commend her for her "Game of Contact" concept, it's the Parelli method to help horses accept the bit without the use of gadgets or rollkur. So yes, I liked that- BUT- it was really just French classical dressage repackaged. The first step in her game is Philippe Karl's first jaw flexion exercise, followed by lengthening the neck and stretching long and low. Unlike Karl, she did not mention anything about the movement of the jaw and mouth and how that helps a horse to relax. For that, I give her "Game of Contact" a 2 out of 3.

Unfortunately her demo riders were distracting. One of the riders kept hanging on the front of her saddle with one hand while she rode. Why? I don't know. The other would post for a few strides, look like she fell behind the movement, bounce in the saddle for a few strides, post again- never on the correct diagonal. I couldn't take my eyes of her because I couldn't figure out what she was doing! Of course neither of them had a helmet either, but I guess I shouldn't pick on that since I only saw ONE person ride in a clinic with a helmet all weekend.

Jim Masterson

What a nice guy he is! He was obviously new to this whole Equine Affaire clinic setup as he had a hard time staying on task and didn't have much structure. But to me that wasn't a problem, I wanted to see the techniques and the horses' reaction to them and that's what I got. There is quite a bit to his method that I couldn't quite understand from the book that became clear as I was watching him- for one thing I've been using too much pressure. I went over to his booth afterwards to speak with him and buy the DVD, and he was very open to answering questions and discussing my horses' stance issues.

Todd Flettrich
Bleh! He was the only "dressage" clinician there and I couldn't sit through one whole clinic with him. I watched his clinic on riding accurate movements for first through third level and all of the riders were seesawing on their horses' mouths, all the horses were overbent, on the forehand, and the riders never ever let them stretch down!  And he was advocating this! Only one rider made it look like she was letting her horse stretch and really all she was doing was lowering her hands around her knees while still keeping a death grip on the reins. Heaven forbid she should let go and her horse's nose should pop up in the air (which it did when he managed to tug the reins out of her hands). NOT impressed.

Aaron Ralston
Mmmm, eye candy. What can I say? This guy was attractive, and his boots were awesome. I caught his clinic on riding horses through spooks, what really liked was how he emphasized that you can't take the spook out of your horse, you can only change how you respond to the spook as a rider. He had his riders establish their horses on a circle of cones, with a cone in the center as a pivot point. He had the rider and the horse put all their attention on the pivot point and then he'd induce a spook (with an umbrella). The rider was then supposed to let the horse spook for a few strides and then direct them back on the circle. This way the horse could move their feet and feel better but the rider was still able to give direction. It seemed to work out really well and I'm keeping it in mind for my spooky little girl.

He was also very open to questions from the crowd (sometimes to the detriment of his riders). One woman sitting behind me asked how this exercise can help her since when her horse spooks he flies sideways, she flies off, and then he flies away. Ralston basically told her (paraphrasing) that her horse didn't see her as being trustworthy and dependable and was taking matters into his own hooves. To help her horse, she would have to become a better rider and stop being a passenger. He said this as nicely as he could, but I liked how he didn't mince words with her.

Next post: Mark Rashid!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Equine Affaire: Random thoughts

I'm back, did you miss me?

The first thing I saw when I got out of my car on Thursday was this hanging off a truck:

Truck balls. While extremely rare in upstate NY, apparently these things are still in vogue in other parts of the country. Who knew?

The Ohio Expo Center was packed full with vendors and horses. Initially it took quite a while to find my way around and I'm pretty sure I missed about a quarter of what was there. I never did find the No Thrush booth but I did find Ansur and spoke to Carole about what my next saddle will be (an Elite with tooled leather panels... drool).

Check out their fancy signage

I saw oodles of friesians, quarter horses, hafflingers, and cobs- excuse me- gypsy vanners, everywhere. Every once in a while you'd see a rare breed like a nokota or a blinged out saddlebred. But most of what I saw were horses with lots and lots of hair.

Bling action

The only thing that put a bit of a damper on the experience were the individual horse owners walking around without a clue. Helmets seemed to be NOT COOL as only about three people were wearing one. One out of every five horses I saw going around was LAME. And many riders, like the lady in the photo below, seemed to lack even a speck of common courtesy for those around them.

Reading comprehension fail
I also saw some pretty heinous riding.  I used to think that western pleasure horses had the market cornered on miserable, but I saw a couple hunter under saddle horses that were oozing misery. I wanted to pull off those cranking, yanking, spurring HUS girls and... well, I should probably stop here.

Overall, though, I had a really good time. I stocked up on supplies (hay bags, new leathers, fly masks, fly whisk, new reins, salt block for Gwen) and took a lot of clinic notes. I'll expand on those in my next post...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Equine Affaire

That's where I'm heading this Thursday!

It's going to be a long drive to Ohio but it will be worth it when I get to see Mark Rashid and Jim Masterson in person. I'm also planning on attending a Mark Bolender clinic on trail riding, an Alan Hamilton lecture or two on horse neurology and a Jeff Wilson clinic on western dressage. I'm also going to say hi to Heath at No Thrush and let Carole know how much I absolutely adore my Ansur Crossover.

I also promised my clients I would go to a Linda Parelli lecture with an open mind. I figure one of the "horsonality" lectures should be entertaining at least.

If you're going and you want to say hi, I have a very unique white streak in my hair above my left ear. If my hair is in a ponytail you can't miss it. I'll warn you right now, though, I'm weird and awkward in person.

This video is completely unrelated to Equine Affaire, but it cracked me up so I had to share:

Friday, April 6, 2012

Canter cues

I may have mentioned a time or two that my attempts to get Coriander to canter on the left lead had so far been less than successful. I was starting to wonder if he might have a physical issue that was making it hard for him. Because of that, we did a bit of lunging last month so I could see if something was going on (it appears that the massages that have been helping my migraines have also made me less nauseous for lunging. Coincidence?)

While it would take quite a bit of urging for him to pick up the canter on the line, there was no difference between the right and the left lead. So that left me as the problem. Hmmm...

Fast forward to this week's lesson on the freisian. It seemed that the last person to ride him was having a very bad day and just could not get him to canter. Because of that, and I think because I've had issues with the canter depart, we ended up doing a LOT of trot/canter transitions.

Want to know what I learned? Of course you do.

Like most huntseat riders I was taught to cue the canter by sitting and swinging the outside leg leg. But if the horse didn't immediately strike off I'd have to try harder, sitting deeper, swinging the leg further back- I'd end up putting myself into a fetal position to get the transition. Bet you all can guess how well that worked out for me.

But on the friesian I tried something different, I picked up my inside seat bone and just pressed with my outside leg. BOOM! Canter. The most beautiful part was that I was able to stay upright for the cue, because without swinging the outside leg back I couldn't curl up into the fetal position. Pretty sweet.

A freisian, because you all seem to enjoy them

So I took this new information, and the knowledge I put in my last post, back to Coriander. We went out to a section of the trail where he already likes to canter and where I could start him with a left turn. We walked up to the turn, I used my inside leg to ask for the bend with an outside neck rein, scooped with my seat and put on a little outside leg at the girth.... and wouldn't you know it, we got left lead canter. We got left lead canter SIX times in a row!

I'm going to see if we can replicate that experience tonight. I'm REALLY hoping it wasn't just a fluke. But it made me very curious- just how many ways are there to get a horse to canter?

What is your canter/lope cue?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Neck reining and dressage

Of all the things I learned from Philippe Karl in his book, "Twisted Truths of Modern Dressage," the biggest, brightest lightbulb to pop over my head happened when I read his section on using the hand to turn the horse.

Confession time:

The last huntseat trainer I lesson-ed with used to say, "turn the horse with the outside rein." Unfortunately she never elaborated on that statement and I couldn't make heads or tails of it. How exactly was I supposed to make the horse turn left with the right rein? If I pull on the right rein the horse turns right. Since I couldn't get that statement to compute I ignored it.

I also have to admit that I've never understood the statement, "ride the horse from the inside leg to the outside rein." What the heck does that mean? If you Google that phrase something like this will pop up: you create impulsion from the inside leg and then capture it with the outside rein like a handbrake. Huh? If I did that my horse would just turn to the outside! Sorry, but that doesn't make any sense.

Then I read Karl's section on using the hand and it was like the heavens opened up above me, the birds sang, the sun shone, and everything MADE SENSE.

As Karl quoted La Gueriniere:

"We can also note that when we use the outside rein by moving the hand towards the inside, this action causes the outside shoulder to move inwards and makes the outside leg move over the inside one: and when we use the inside rein, moving the hand towards the outside, this movement widens the inside shoulder, in other words it makes the inside leg move over the outside one. We can see, that through these different inside and outside rein actions, that it is what we do with our hands that controls the horse's forehand."

He's talking about neck reining

Cue me having a face/palm moment.

So "turn the horse with your outside rein" means use a neck rein to turn the shoulders. "Inside leg to outside rein" means asking for the bend with your inside leg and then turning the horse using a neck rein. Because your hands move the horse's shoulders- NOT your legs!

(In case you don't know about this: You ask for a bend with the inside leg by gently rubbing it just behind the girth. The horse will automatically bend around your leg- even Gwen does this.)

Of course all you Western riders already knew this, and are probably thinking that I'm about as thick as a brick right now. But in my defense, I haven't heard any English instructor ever utter the words "neck rein." If she'd said, "use the outside rein to turn the horse," heard me say "huh," and followed up with "press the rein against the horse's shoulder like a neck rein and use that to turn" I would have understood immediately. But I doubt that has ever crossed her mind.

(What you should be accusing me of is being totally dense about the concept of the indirect rein. For the record indirect rein = neck rein, they are the same thing. But "neck rein" just makes so much more sense, am I right?)

As BrownEyed Cowgirl commented on my "cession de machoire" post, barrel horses are a lot like dressage horses. Heck yeah they are! All flatwork is dressage, no matter what tack the horse is wearing. But us "snooty" English riders often fail to give Western riders the kudos they deserve and thus try to distance ourselves from our Western cohorts. (FYI- Karl gave you props: "In terms of changing direction, Western riding is much closer than official dressage to La Gueriniere's teachings.")

Have you ever heard that the mark of a really well trained dressage horse is that they can be ridden on the curb only, with a loose rein? A finished Western bridle horse is ridden exactly the same way. Because they are ridden using the neck rein.
Eitan Beth-Halachmy on a gorgeous morgan
I think the master of Cowboy Dressage, Eitan Beth Halachmy, explains it better than I can:

"Since Neck Reining is a term long time associated with Western Riding I would like to expand a bit on it. Neck Reining can be a misleading term. Often people think that if you move the neck you move the horse. Have you ever been on a horse who when you pull on his face to the right, he can still go to the left or move straight ahead? Neck reining is actually a moving of the shoulders. When you lay a rein on the neck the horse moves away from the pressure with his shoulders. It is the moving of the shoulders and the cross over of the front legs that makes the turn. A horse does not always follow it’s nose, but it does follow it’s shoulders."

"What you saw on the Silver Screen in Hollywood Westerns was poor horsemanship. The rein was placed up high near the horse’s poll and he was yanked around with his head up in the air and his mouth open. The American Cowboy did ride with one hand, neck reining, allowing him to carry rope, rifle, gun or whip.  A good finished reining horse that is in the bridle is an excellent example of proper neck reining. Cowboys also wanted a horse that worked well underneath himself. This allowed the cowboy more comfort, as a round backed horse is smoother than a hollow backed horse. A round backed horse stays sounder longer as a majority of his weight is placed back over his hocks and off his front end. A round back horse in self-carriage is quicker and more maneuverable. A horse in self-carriage is pretty to look at. There was and still is a great deal of pride in horseman of yesterday and today.  It was an honor to be recognized and respected for their good horses. The California Vaquero and his bridle horse is a perfect example of pride and horsemanship. They may have never heard the word “dressage” but they were practicing it in its purest forms."

How about that? Long post short: My horses are going to be champs at neck reining!

PS- I wanted to add this picture to illustrate how a dressage master would ride one handed on the curb only:
Philippe Karl