Friday, March 29 2013
Today I felt the results of the 'work on the borders' we did yesterday, both my horses and myself were tired. With Aranka, I combined all the things we learned over the last week, but with less result then yesterday. Lesson learned: If the horse does not recover in the 23 hours after the last training, then that training was simply a bit too much. We'll take the weekend at home off to recover, and start fresh again on monday. I am very proud of Aranka and her performance during this week. She is getting better and better still!
With Fitzer, we used some canter to energize his walk and trot. We worked on transitions from piaffe to canter and back into piaffe, which improved his rythm and gave him a lighter shoulder in walk and trot. We had a nice uphill transition from school walk into canter which felt amazing!
The challenge with Fitzer is to keep him listening to my aids, especially in directing his shoulders. When he gets tired and/or distracted, he does not follow the indirect rein as good and when that happens, I can no longer place his shoulders exactly in front of his hips and we lose the lightness. So part of our homework is to improve his obedience and focus on the aids, moving his physical and mental limits so that he remains collected and focussed longer and longer and keeps listening to my aids. Bent told me before we left, that Fitzer is a horse that can take me quite far in the Academic Art of Riding, so that was a great end to our week and a huge motivation to keep practicing!
Thursday, March 28 2013
Today’s lessons were really moving borders. By combining what we worked on in the previous 3 days today I managed with both horses to get more collection than ever before. The combination of allowing more space with my outside hip, getting the shoulders placed exactly in front of the hips and the use of my lower legs and upper body resulted in half-halts that were super effective and got the shoulders of my horses free.
The idea of a half-halt is that the halt should go all the way trough the body of the horse into the hind legs and should result in bending the hind legs. This is only possible when a few requirements are met:
-The shoulders of the horse should be in alignment with the hips. Think of a garden hose with water running through. When there is a kink in the hose the water is blocked. When the garden hose is straight or has a nice fluent bending, the water can flow. It is the same with the energy generated by the hind legs. This must go fluently through the spine into the hand, only then can a halt be effective.
-The seat of the rider should not hinder the movement of the spine of the horse. When the rider presses down the outside ribs he influences the rotation of the chest, blocking the energy.
-The half-halt should be given in the right timing with the right intensity and should be followed by a giving. It should not be held. The half-halt is given from the seat, with the hands to clarify the seat when the horse is not following the seat.
-The horse must be able to bend his hind legs. This is only possible when the hind legs are forward under the point of weight. Even in standing still, the horse should THINK forward. This is where the use of the lower legs can come in.
“Lightness is making a half-halt without getting pressure” (Bent Branderup)
Wednesday, March 27 2013
Today we continued with the collection. With most horses, we would start with a forward-down shape and getting the hind legs to swing forward under the point of weight before asking them to put more weight on them. Some horses however will need the opposite approach. With them, there often is a physical reason why we should not ride (too much) forward-down. With Fitzer for example, the toes of his front legs are turned inwards. When I ride him (too much) forward-down he falls on the shoulder and he gets lame. A good forward-down should keep the horse light in the shoulders. If it is not possible yet to ride a good forward-down, it is better to bring the point of weight a bit more back and collect the horse before sending the horse more forward. There is not one way, the way to go is depending on your horse and on the skills of the rider.
With Aranka, a good collection makes her free in the shoulders and she is then able to keep this freedom going more forward-down. As soon as her weight tips too much forward, making her heavy on the shoulders, I can use the collection to bring her back in balance. And vice versa, when I feel she is getting stiff in collection and she loses the forward grab of her hind legs, I can add a touch more forward in the collection to get a better collection. A good collection can improve the forward, just as the forward can improve collection. In today’s lesson, we worked on separating my upper body and my lower body in the collecting aids. Bringing my upper body back brings the point of weight already back, when I then add the ‘scoop’ in my pelvis, Aranka came very nicely up in front of my seat. It is a nice idea to be able to do more or less collection with the seat by separating the upper body and the lower body.
With Fitzer we started a little work in hand. In the quarter-in, he took the aids of the outside leg and the outside rein from the whip very nicely. You can give the horse already the complete education of the riding aids just from the ground, using the whip as a leg or a rein, gently touching or even just pointing to the body part of the horse that you want to move. The education is then continued in standing while sitting up there. From my seat, I gave Fitzer the aids to make the circle smaller and bigger, to make a shoulder-in forward-down and a collection in quarter in, without moving his feet, just his weight. In standing, you can feel exactly to which aids the horse is not responding and how the horse responds to the seat in his spine. Fitzer has a tendency to lift his right side of his ribs up. I had already noticed that (and worked on it) while riding and it was interesting that the exact same thing happened in standing. Now, if I can correct it in standing, it also teaches me how to use my seat more effectively in the riding.
Our ultimate goal is to ride the horse only from the seat. In the process of education, the horse will need to learn what we mean by our seat. That is why we teach the horse the secondary aids (rein, leg) first, so that we can use them to explain with them what we mean by the seat. With Fitzer in today’s lesson, I asked him to make the exercises from my seat, when he is not responding (enough) I use my hand and leg to clarify my seat. It is important that the seat and the leg and hand are saying the same things, and not contradict each other. You should also make sure that the horse can do what you ask. With Aranka, I can not use more hand and leg and seat then I do, because she can not give me more collection at this point of time. With Fitzer, I reach my physical limit in terms of timing, consistency and coordination before I reach his. Doing more is then not productive, because we get stiffness. So it is a constant playing with giving and asking, training my own sensitivity and his obedience to my aids in a gentle and dynamic way.
Todays lessons were about lightness. Lightness in the shoulders is a result of the carrying of the hind legs. The hind legs should swing far enough forward and step under the point of weight of the horse, and then bend in all the joints as to carry the shoulders upwards. So, the raising of the head and neck is a result of the quality of the hind quarter, and should not be achieved by a lifting of the head by the hands.
With Aranka, I am working on her physical limits. Therefore, we often can not get more freedom in her shoulders because she can not bend her hind legs more than she is already doing. By practicing frequently, we slowly move her limits and get her to bend her haunches more and more. This results in more and more freedom in her shoulders. When this is done correctly, she does not land on her toes and does not throw up any dust. Also in the forward-down after collection, she then manages to move more freely. With the lesson with Bent, we worked on getting her light in the shoulders and then move the shoulders in and out, keeping lightness. Also, we worked on me dropping my hand but keeping the collection and the lightness in front, without her falling fwd on her shoulders when I give my reins.
With Fitzer, we then continued in the same theme. As he has much more physical possibilities then Aranka, it is hardly ever his physical limits that I run into, but rather my own. Learning to feel exactly what he is doing and correcting it in the right timing and with the right aid will bring us further. One of the things for me to practice is to use my leg as a frame for the opposite hind leg. In travers, whenever he starts to cross too much with his inside hind leg, I should use my outside leg in both rythms (of the inside hind leg and the outside hindleg), while with my inside seat bone still guiding the inside hind leg forward (and still use my upper body and the reins). Now that is a coordination skill I'll have to work on in the future!
It is nice to see and hear this week once again, that the Academic Art of Riding is all about developing a good basic. That basic is the communication between horse and rider. As Bent puts it: "A circus horse remembers the exercise, an educated horse understands it." Or in other words; it is one thing to teach the horse a certain exercise as a trick, but there will be no smooth transitions from one shape into the next. An educated horse responds 100% to the aids of the rider, and is therefore able to follow the riders directions in doing a bit more, a bit less, a bit higher, a bit lower, a bit faster and a bit slower, and transition from one exercise into the other.
Monday, March 25 2013
Day 1 of our training week. Yesterday, we arrived safely after some trouble getting stuck with our horse truck in the snow. Aranka is a veteran when it comes to these trips to Denmark, and Fitzer (it's his 1st time!) is so cool, he is not bothered by the traveling nor the new paddock. I believe Aranka is having a great influence on him with her experience.
The lessons for week students start on monday morning 10am. The lessons on monday are to determine this week's topics and for Bent to check the progress on our previous home work. The last time he saw Aranka was almost a year ago and our last home work was to continue the development of her collection. We have made some steady progress in that area, she develops slow but continuous in her carrying capacity of her hind quarter. Not bad for a 20yr old arab! Almost immediately Bent noticed that we can still increase the quality of her inside hip and the suppleness on the inside rein if I can allow her more freedom in the outside shoulder. This has been an ongoing experiment for me in the last year, trying to find ways to do just that. One 'tiny' bit of advice of Bent made all the difference in the world: allowing my outside hip not only to come up, but also bringing it a bit back while my inside seat is going down and forward. The results were immediate and amazing! We continued to work on this in walk and trot in forward down and collection. The moment I was doing it right, she came freer out of her shoulders. Another important lesson of this morning was the use of the lower legs: when up on your upper legs in the 'light' seat; allow the lower legs to swing together with the hind legs, from the hips down. When collecting, the hips should continue to move with the hind legs but the lower legs need to be independent of the seat, so that they can be used in any timing that you want.
With Fitzer we continued the seat lesson, adding the rotation of my spine into the movement. Just like we want our horses to stretch the outside upper line in the bending, so should we riders. So, when the inside hind leg is coming forward our inside hip goes down and the outside hip goes back and up and when the outside shoulder of the horse is coming forward, our outside shoulder comes forward. In trot this means that the outside hip going back and the outside shoulder coming forward happens in the same moment, stretching the outside of the rider and allowing the horse to stretch his outside. Also with Fitzer, we worked on keeping the awareness of the seat in the various lateral and collecting exercises. As Bent puts it: "Always ride the horse, do not use the horse as an object to do gymnastics on". You should not feel your seat, but feel the horse THROUGH your seat, just like you should not focus on feeling your hands, but be focussed on feeling the horse THROUGH your hands.
In conclusion, we should always work on our seat, but at the same time not forget that with the seat, we direct our horses and that we should always make sure that our horses are improving from our riding.
In my previous blog post on http://www.artofriding.org/1/post/2013/03/stages-of-training.html , you have read about the different stages of training. You have also seen that before starting the actual training of the horse, it is important to create a basic element of trust, friendship and leadership.
“You can be the horses friend without being its teacher, but you can never be its teacher without being its friend.” (Bent Branderup)
As a human and as the teacher of the horse, this requires a certain personal development and skills for self-evaluation. Studying Natural Horsemanship methonds can help with this. However, different NH methods have different visions of what kind of leader is preferred (again, determine your goal to find out what basic you need!). Many NH methods focus on submission of the horse. Forcing a horse into submission by physical or mental pressure is a way to create an obedient horse, but does not lead to the cooperation and partnership that I am looking for in the Art of Riding. Sending the horse away from you (from the safety of the group) can have the same effect as hitting it. For the Art of Riding, we need a horse that wants to think with and for its rider, and is open for a continuous communication. Signals will have to become subtle and the horse must be voluntarily doing the work for you. Therefore, we need to establish a delicate relationship with the horse, in which boundaries are set clearly, but within the boundaries the horse is respected and can be itself. If you want to study NH further, explore friendly ways of obtaining leadership. Not by dominating, but by leading from example, by initiating and inviting. Be critical in which trainer and which method you select to do some practical work, do not let yourself be blinded by the ‘famous’ ones, but try to find out the WHAT, HOW and WHY of the method and determine if this fits with you (and your horse).
The Horsemanship principles that I use in the Art of Riding are:
1) clear intent (knowing what you want and how you want it)
2) taking initiative in body language (giving the right example)
3) rewarding quickly and often (positive reinforcement)
4) correcting without anger or frustration (emotionally neutral)
5) being patient
6) adapting the training method to the personality of the horse
7) having FUN and enjoying the time spent together with the horse
1. Set your goal
When you start horseback riding, you may ask your self what goal you want to reach. If you want to become a show jumper, it may not make much sense to go to an Icelandic gait-trainer. Just like it makes no sense to study yoga if you want to become a veterinarian. So, make sure you know what you want, in order to prepare the right basic work for it.
2. Create a basic
“Basic is only basic if it is a basic for something.” (Bent Branderup)
Once you have set your goal, it is important to prepare the proper basic in the training of your horse. The structure of development for the Art of Riding is shown here:
The lowest part of the pyramid is a basic, nescessary for every horse meant to be a riding horse. This basic is:
1) Relationship with the horse: friendship & leadership
2) External conditions such as proper food, trimming, dental, equipment, social behaviour
3) Yielding for pressure
4) Straightness training5) Seat training
From this ‘basic’ basic, you can then develop into:
6) Academic Art of Riding
7) High School
Or any other destination you may choose! The top of the pyramid is what you make it! With the proper basics, you can be successful in any discipline of riding!
Most important is to know why you are working on a certain aspect of riding; how does it help you to reach your goal?
It is my personal experience that many riding instructors are good riders with great feeling and technical skills, but that these riders are sometimes unable to transfer their knowledge clearly to their students. Often this leads to frustration (of the instructor, the rider and/or the horse).
A good instructor is capable of explaining the WHAT, HOW and WHY of his training method. A good instructor trains his students to ride for themselves and strives for independence in his students. This is only possible when the instructor is able to explain the structure, reasoning and potential failures of his approach/training method.
What the best way of teaching is, depends on the student. The instructor should therefore not only be able to explain the what, how and why of his training method in a way that is clear for himself, but the instructor must also posses the didactic ‘tools’ to present this information in different ways. The instructor needs to asses what type of student he is facing, what the background and prior knowledge of this student is and what learning style this student has. A good instructor can tailor-make his lessons to reach each student individually and can differentiate between students in group lessons.
Unfortunately, most instructor training courses only spend a limited amount of time on didactics and mainly focus on generalistic theories. I have noticed that there is a great demand for ‘hands-on’ tips to improve teaching. That is why on APRIL 1st 2013, I will launch my Ebook with Didactic Tips for instructors, to make a few practical and creative didactic tips&tricks available to you!
I like to share my thoughts on the Art of Riding with you here. Topics related to training and keeping horses and reports of my own experiences you can find here. Enjoy!