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Half-halt in half a minute. March 22, 2015

Posted by mikeschaffer in balance, competition, contact, dressage, half-halts, looseness, performance standards.
2 comments

A half-halt is half of a halt.  A halt is a forward going stop.  To ride a horse forward to a stop (halt) he must understand what you want and do it because you asked him to.

You can (sometimes) make a horse “stop” with strong use of hand and leg by making it difficult or impossible for him to keep going.   However, a rider cannot use strong physical aids to “forward going stop” a horse.  To ride a horse forward to a halt you must use aids that allow him to go forward.  Aids that request, encourage and allow.

A rider can slow a horse down with strong hands and legs – but that is a slow down, not a half-halt.  A rider cannot physically half-halt a horse (FEI definition be damned!).  He can only ask the horse, with whispering aids,  to collect himself.  Since we rely on the horses’ understanding of the aids for the correct response, there is no problem with the horse listening for what we want next  and doing that as well.

Times up.

Mike

In Response to a Eurodressage Article March 18, 2014

Posted by mikeschaffer in balance, Behind the bit, competition, dressage, performance standards, rules, training.
Tags: ,
3 comments

This is a post written in response to the Eurodressage article:

http://www.eurodressage.com/equestrian/2013/03/23/classical-training-over-back-supple-and-light-vs-tense-tight-held

The basic points of this article are:

1. To do dressage correctly the horse must be up in front, have a raised, swinging back, be engaged, through, elastic, and in self carriage. Each of these qualities is related to the others and all are necessary to have any.

2. Determining the qualities listed in point 1, is a subjective process “ and needs to be experienced and felt to understand and see” except for the nose and poll position as it “… can be judged easily, as it is technically well defined! The nose must be in front and the poll at the highest point.”

3. Judging is a matter of first subjectively deciding the qualities listed and then, based on that subjective decision, deciding whether the horse is doing dressage correctly or “doing dressage correctly in an incorrect way” – performing tricks (circus).

Point One

Point one is well taken as top horses do need to display these qualities. So there is no argument here.

Point two A- Judging is Subjective

Point two, that judging is mostly subjective is mostly nonsense – having experienced and felt a horse going correctly does improve the eye, but to determine correct basics one need not look past the basics.

If you want to know if a horse is over his back, swinging, through, engaged, and correctly balanced (light in front) look to his transitions, tempo and bend. For a horse to perform smooth transitions within a single stride he must have a raised, elastic back, be engaged, balanced and reaching forward into accepting contact. There is no other way this can happen. You cannot fake a correct transition or do it “as a trick.”

If you want to know if a horse is correctly balanced, engaged, elastic through his back, and accepting the bit correctly look to his tempo. A horse must be engaged, elastic in his back and balanced to maintain even tempo through transitions and movements. A horse who can perform an extended gait in the same tempo as the collected must be correct it cannot be faked and it cannot be done as a trick.

If you want to know if a horse is supple in his back, carrying himself and reaching into an elastic contact check if he maintaining tempo and bending appropriately. Correct bending in tempo cannot be done as a trick, it cannot not be faked. If a horse fails to bend when he should or changes tempo when he does, there is some flaw in his basics and stiffness in his body.

So the statement a horse can “perform the test correctly, but in an incorrect way” is nonsense. Only someone so confused about the very nature of dressage, it’s very core principles could say such a thing. A correct test cannot be performed in an incorrect way. The old sully “a circus horse doing tricks” has been used by lessor trainers against their superiors for centuries. If you want to know if a horse is doing tricks or has correct basics, you need look no further than the basics – the transitions, tempo, rhythm and bend. If you want to know if a speaker understands dressage or is a trickster himself, look to see if he can explain the basics, the essential elements of dressage, in simple clear words and concepts.

Point 2b – poll nose position

The article expresses the idea that the nose and poll position“… can be judged easily, as it is technically well defined! The nose must be in front and the poll at the highest point.” This is wrong headed and amateurish.

There is a range of positions in which the poll as highest point with the nose in front are correct, not just one. For instance the classical Ramner is correct in some schools, in others the more horizontal vision of poll/nose position considered correct. Obviously everything is between fits these criteria as well. There are also many situations in which poll up/nose forward is quite incorrect – the American Saddle Bred going in park seat is an obvious example.

Furthermore, while the article claims the rule is objective and “technically well defined” the fact is the Rule for poll/nose position deliberately leaves room for exceptions — this is why it says is “as a rule” the poll is “more or less” at the highest point and the nose in front of the vertical.

And lets not forget that the easiest element in all of dressage to do as a “trick” or “to do correctly in an incorrect way” is to put the horses head and neck in the “correct” frame. So rather than the poll/nose being a useful indication of whether the rest of the qualities and movement are correct, the quality of the rest of the movement must tell you whether the poll/nose position is correct for that horse and if was obtained in the right way.

Point 2c – lightness

The article asks, “Is it not better to have a horse going in lightness and make a couple of mistakes; which is what the judges at London said about Valegro’s test at the Olympics.” I think the judges got it exactly backwards. It should be if there really were only a couple of mistakes in the entire test, the horse was “light enough” — for that horse.

So in judging tests, and judging judges, we really need to look at the elements of dressage that really are objective and “well defined” – the basics of transitions, tempo and bend. If the horse can keep these throughout while performing a correct test, he has to be over his back, engaged, through, light, accepting the bit, and performing effortlessly. You can’t fake the basics, they can’t be done as a trick, and you can’t do them correctly for incorrect reasons.

Since the article mentions what the judges said about Valegro and “only a couple of mistakes” there are by objective criteria more then just a “couple of mistakes.”

For instance, Article 418 states in part,

“…The hands should be carried steadily close together, with the thumb as the highest point and a straight line from the supple elbow through the hand to the Horse’s mouth. The elbows should be close to the body. All of these criteria enable the Athlete to follow the movements of the Horse smoothly and freely.”

Yet throughout the test we see a straight line from bit to shoulder with the elbows far in front of the body. That’s objectively wrong and should have been marked down, as well as been treated as a red flag that something is amiss.

Transitions are “technically well defined!” in Article 407.

The changes of pace and variations within the paces should be exactly performed at the prescribed marker. The cadence (except in walk) should be maintained up to the moment when the pace or movement is changed or the Horse halts. The transitions within the paces must be clearly defined while maintaining the same rhythm and cadence throughout. The Horse should remain light in hand, calm, and maintain a correct position. The same applies to transitions from one (1) movement to another, for instance from passage to piaffe or vice versa.

This is the rule, yet Valegro gradually picks up speed (over many strides) at the beginning of every extension and gradually slows down as he returns to collection. So all of his transitions into and out of extended trot and canter should have been marked down (even though they were quite flashy) and the judges should have looked at them as a definite red flag that some basic or basics are lacking.

How the horse should bend is defined in Article 409 – Changes of Directions:

1. At changes of direction, the Horse should adjust the bend of his body to the curvature of the line it follows, remaining supple and following the indications of the Athlete, without any resistance or change of pace, rhythm or speed.

Yet Valegro never bends through corners – he leans through them. When he does bend for lateral work, he picks up speed. Yes his head and neck are in the correct place, but these other, better defined, basics indicate all that glitters is not gold – or shouldn’t be.

Yes I’m nitpicking, and yes Valegro is a fantastic horse that does a great test. My concern is not about him – it’s about Judges saying it’s OK to look to the subjective (is the horse over his back? Is his head in the “right place?”) first to decide if the horse is correct for the “right” reasons. Doing that is assigning marks for all the wrong reasons.

If the top dressage horses in the world are selected by the quality of their breeding instead of the absolute correctness of their basic training – transitions, tempo and bending, then dressage will be done incorrectly and nobody will be there to notice.

Mike

The Natural Circle May 24, 2013

Posted by mikeschaffer in balance, contact, dressage, looseness, Riding, training.
2 comments

(A short excerpt from Riding in the Moment – Discover the Hidden Language of Dressage. It is from the middle of the so it relies on exercises and concepts mentioned previous to this.)

The Natural Circle

For every horse at every gait, there is a circle of a certain size on which the horse will find it easiest to learn to balance a rider. When you ride your horse on this circle, you’ll find it’s very easy to regulate his speed, engage his hind legs, and get him to relax and bend his back while he stretches to, but not through, the outside aids. I call these circles “natural circles.” The idea of riding a horse on a circle based upon his conformation is not a new idea — the classical “volte” was determined by a ratio of the length of the horse’s back to the diameter of the circle.

A horse’s natural circle is a circle just small enough that he has to move slightly laterally to stay on it. This puts him in a shallow shoulder-in or shoulder-fore position. If a circle is too small he won’t be able to move freely. If the circle is too big, there is no incentive for him to move laterally and the rider is left with nothing but the reins to try to mechanically regulate speed, tempo, bend, and frame.

Figure 13-5 illustrates this. Horse -D- is on a circle so small he has to go around it almost perpendicular to the circumference — very close to the lateral engaging step exercise. This has the advantages of the lateral engaging step but it doesn’t allow the horse to move freely forward. At the other extreme, horse -A- is on a circle so large he can go around and around on it for years and years (as so many horses have) without ever learning to bend and soften in his body.
nat-cir
Horse -B- would, at first glance, seem to be right on target. He’s on a circle that he can bend to stay on. With a horse that has already learned how to bend, balance, and move into the aids, this is the ideal. However, with horses not yet this advanced, it is not as helpful as the circle horse -C- is on.

Horse -C- is on his natural circle. To stay on this circle, horse -C- has to move at a slight angle. Simply riding on this circle helps to teach the horse how to bend and stretch into the outside aids.

Finding the Natural Circle

A good way to find your horse’s natural circle is to walk him in to a very small circle and keep him there until he begins to soften. Then give him a very light aid — a soft whisper of a cognitive aid — asking him to move out laterally. As soon as he responds by taking any outward step, drop the reins in reward and let him rest or a moment or two. Repeat this exercise until he begins to feel as though he wants to move out on his own as soon as you bring the circle in.

When this happens, you can find your horse’s natural circle by adjusting the diameter until your aids asking him to turn in are in balance with his asking for permission to move out. The dressage speak for this feeling is, “moving from your inside leg to your outside hand.” When he is on this circle and you have this feeling, you will find it very easy, virtually effortless, to hold him on the circle you want.

Teaching your horse to begin moving out as you’re turning him in may seem at odds with the previous exercises, which dealt with the horse running through and falling out. However , in those situations your horse was being stiff or hollow and going through the aids instead of into them. To do this exercise your horse must be working off cognitive aids to easily turn in and move out. If he isn’t, he isn’t yet ready for this so you need to go back to earlier exercises to make him more responsive to light aids.

As your horse begins to correctly move into the aids on the circle, he will become connected. When he is, you can spiral the circle in or out by just pointing your belly button to where you want to go. With a little practice you’ll learn to keep your horse on connected aids all the time regardless of whether you’re doing a volte or straight line. Furthermore, whenever your horse does begin to lose balance, you’ll be able to restore it by doing a small circle — a volte. This is the beginning of using figures and movements to correct your horse instead of trying to fix him with “more hand” or “more leg.”

Getting a simple circle right will give you and your horse the feeling of what a very well trained school horse is like. It is the basis of everything that is important in dressage, so it’s well worth the effort. From this you will have the sensation of physically moving your horse from your inside leg to outside hand and leg. However, you’re not physically pushing your horse into your outside aids — you’re experiencing connection — the effortless conversation of two beings fluent in the same language.

Dressage Today Review of Riding in the Moment April 23, 2013

Posted by mikeschaffer in balance, contact, corrections, dressage, half-halts, Natural Horsemanship, Riding, The Training Pyramid, training.
2 comments

Dressage Today – May 2013

Book Review
Riding in the Moment,
Discover the Hidden Language
of Dressage
By Michael Schaffer
Softcover, 170 pages, available at
http://www.mikeschaffer.com

Reviewed by Mary Daniels

This book is a bit of a sleeper. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that the author had written something so useful and so innovative that it could be called brilliant. Though the problem of how wooden and obscure the traditional language of dressage is has been cropping up here and there in the work of other authors, this is the first book I have come across that offers a system of viable solutions that won’t offend the rule-bound.

Schaffer, an FEI-level trainer, instructor, clinician and author of Right From the Start, Create a Sane, Soft, Well-Balanced Horse, says the conventional language of dressage is “top down and mechanical.” It begins at its end goal, with definitions and descriptions of trained horses ridden with refined aids. But the actual process of training a dressage horse is “bottom up and cognitive (getting the horse to understand what it is you want and allowing him to do it from light aids).”

Schaffer’s ideas bring to mind that some of the best trainers of performance horses don’t talk much. Perhaps language is inadequate to explain what it is they do. Schaffer’s reduction of dressage-speak into common and easily understood ideas gives you a simple but effective plan to introduce a green horse that hasn’t a clue to a mutual language by which a rider is able to communicate with him. I have never had anyone teach me this, though I have been able to observe trainers very experienced in starting young horses patiently go about it, and I am pretty sure what they are doing is not too different from Schaffer’s bottom-up method of training.

Schaffer begins with what he calls the five first-tier basics: go, stop, turn in, move out and soften. These concepts are at the core of all dressage, he says. Master them, and then by combining them, you can easily create all of the movements we seek in a made dressage horse.

One important idea the author emphasizes is that it is always more important to use aids in a relaxed way than in a precise way. Ask often, accept what you can get, imperfect though it may be, but keep trying to do better, and reward lavishly when you get the closest semblance.

There are excellent photos breaking down how to go from having to develop and use light, cognitive aids. And isn’t that the way we all want to ride, but never knew how to start?

Most likely, any thinking rider will find this book useful in switching on new neuron paths in the brain. But I believe someone who is trying to either personally introduce or supervise the very early basic training of a young, green horse is going to find it useful and a way to prevent frustrations from escalating.

My helmet is off to this guy for thinking in an innovative way and putting it down on paper for the rest of us.

My Books in Kindle Format! March 26, 2013

Posted by mikeschaffer in balance, calmness, contact, dressage, training.
5 comments

Hi Everyone,

Just thought I’d mention that my books are now in Kindle format. They’ve also gone from the $19.95 for the PDF versions to $9.99 for the Kindle.

But wait – there’s more!

Since going “Kindle” Riding in the Moment – Discover the Hidden Language of Dressage” has been pretty consistently in the top 10 books on the Amazon/Horses/Riding list. I rather like that. It’s also gotten some really wonderful reviews – you can read them on Amazon by clicking on the book.


http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00B2PEOEK

The thing is, it’s NEVER been in the #1 slot, because my little booklet “Five Things You Can Do in 30 Minutes to Improve Your Riding Forever” has been locked into that spot. It’s a nice little pamphlet that everybody loves and its only 99 cents. Click on the cover to see it on it’s Amazon page.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AO7E4X8

And yes, my first book, “Riding in the Moment” is on Kindle and enjoying quite a resurgence. It’s funny to think of it this way, but it’s been out long enough that it’s getting an entire new generation of readers.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BT2HU4M

Mike

The Problem with the System March 22, 2013

Posted by mikeschaffer in balance, competition, contact, dressage, performance standards, The Training Pyramid, training.
3 comments

In the official “system” your hands, seat and legs are your “aids.” Everything you do is an aid and there’s an “aid” for everything you do. The aids are always described in their ideal form – how you would ride a GP horse. Riding a GP horse through a corner – these are the aids for it. Riding a barely broke baby through the same corner – same aids!

It’s crazy talk!

First of all, your hands, seat and legs are not your “aids”, they’re your hands, seat and legs!

When you use your hands, seat and legs to make requests of the horse in a way that encourages and allows him to do what you’re asking for, then you’re using them to create aids.

When you use your hands seat and legs to physically/mechanically stop a horse from doing the wrong thing or to show him the right thing – then you’re using your hands seat and legs to create “corrections.” Corrections should be “clear, effective and over with.” Use them for a moment – then go back to riding with aids.

There are two kinds of aids – connected and cognitive.

“Connected” aids are the ideal aids used with a balanced supple horse that will go on “elastic” contact. The horse stretches to, but not through the bit. For this to happen the horse must be supple and elastic in his body, go with some engagement and a raised back.

Telling green riders on green horses to ride with “connected” aids will lead to bracing and pulling about 99.99% of the time. So most riders have to use “cognitive” aids when on green horses.

“Cognitive” aids are feather light and rely on the horses understanding of them for their effectiveness. If your horse knows to stop when you sit up and jiggle the rein a little, there’s no need to pull. If your horse knows to go when you push your belly button out a little and gently rub your legs by him, there is no need to squeeze or kick. If your horse knows to “follow your belly button” to go where you point it, there’s no need to pull him around with the reins while kicking and carrying on with your legs.

After you and your horse are pretty good at going with cognitive aids you ride him on the right size circles, do some figures and transitions, and he will gradually become loose, supple and elastic in his body. As he does, he will start to reach out and seek the connection with the bit – then you’re starting to ride with ideal aids. Note that YOU don’t establish the connection, your horse will seek it out.

Once he starts to connect HE will start to adjust himself to go in the correct frame. YOU don’t have to put him in the frame – the frame is “correct” because it’s the easiest and most comfortable frame for him to be in to do the movements and figures of dressage. Do I have to force you to do something the easy way or just show you the easy way? Well, your job as trainer is just to show the horse the easy way.

Once you’ve taken a horse through this process (which doesn’t require going to a single show!) the rest of dressage makes sense. It’s no big deal. Just one thing after the next.

Mike

Hands… May 21, 2012

Posted by mikeschaffer in balance, calmness, corrections, dressage.
4 comments

I took a little snippet from a schooling video and slowed it down to look at my hands which I’ve been thinking were really terrible.  This is an interesting result – if for nothing else than to see what riding an 18HH wb moving along can be like.

 

so you know, first pass is regular speed, than 1/2, followed by 1/10, 1/2 again and back to full speed.

Whadayou guys think?

Mike

(8-18-12 fixed link)

 

Training Indeed -3/14/2012 April 3, 2012

Posted by mikeschaffer in balance, Behind the bit, contact, corrections, dressage, hyperflexion, looseness, Riding.
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Whoops – I forgot to put this up on the blog.  This schooling tape is from mid march- the changes are getting straighter, the trot stronger and more consistent, and I’m keeping my right elbow quieter. There’s a good correction coming down the long side where I raise “and GIVE” my hands to stop him when he starts getting against me and quick.

 

 

First Session with a Hot Horse January 19, 2012

Posted by mikeschaffer in balance, calmness, contact, dressage, looseness, Natural Horsemanship, The Training Pyramid, training.
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My first session working with a very nice horse that had some fear issues.

On a students horse January 6, 2012

Posted by mikeschaffer in balance, Behind the bit, calmness, contact, corrections, dressage, looseness, Riding, The Training Pyramid, training.
4 comments

A while back a student videoed me schooling her horse in a lesson.  It’s a pretty good example of taking your time, working slowly and helping the horse to understand what you want.  Share your comments…

 

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