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Ride like you walk February 18, 2016

Posted by mikeschaffer in calmness, dressage, Natural Horsemanship, online lessons.
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Many students are writing in, anxious to see the snow melt so they can get back to their regular riding. Since we have more enthusiasm than riding opportunity, I’m suggesting they do one of my favorite riding exercises – walking on the ground.

Yes, that’s right. One of the best ways to improve riding technique is to observe your walking technique. This is true because when walking with reasonably good posture, we manage to go, stop and turn with our hips. When riding, the correct use of our seat for asking the horse to go, stop and turn is virtually identical.

I know many will protest they’ve been taught to use their seats in a different, and generally more complicated or counter intuitive way. It is also true that if we are to compare many of the methods taught, we will find that they are often in conflict. Yet when done with a modicum of skill they all work. I discovered this for myself decades ago. My conclusion was and is, as long as we use our seat consistently, in an encouraging way that doesn’t interfere with him, the horse is open to learning our aid and doesn’t really care much about the details.

From a standing position, I begin to walk forward by pushing my hips slightly forward. How slight? Until I paid attention to this, I never noticed it – but just doing this starts me walking. Notice I don’t need to be kicked in the ribs or ever squeezed about my mid-section.

When stopping from walking I bring my shoulders up and slightly back which again brings my hips slightly forward, and again allows my feet to come under me in a perfectly fine halt. It goes without saying I don’t need to pull backwards on my face or any other part. I just “sit up” a bit and allow myself to stop.

When changing direction while walking I don’t pull my nose in the direction I hope to go to, or point my feet that way, I simply turn my hips a teensy bit in the direction I want to go in. Not to be repetitive, but I didn’t know I how I changed direction until I made a conscious effort to figure it out. It’s really a small change.

This is relevant because if you teach your horse that he should go, stop and turn in response to only you using your seat this way, the rest of training is a matter of polishing it up. Said better by an Irish eventer I rode with long ago, “Once you have go, stop, turn, everything else is window dressing.”


My Books in Kindle Format! March 26, 2013

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

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.


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.


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.



August open schooling session August 9, 2012

Posted by mikeschaffer in calmness, contact, corrections, dressage, half-halts, looseness, Riding, The Training Pyramid, training.
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Here’s this months video – generally pretty good stuff, new 3 and 4 tempi changes.  Things are coming along.




Culture War in Training July 10, 2012

Posted by mikeschaffer in Behind the bit, calmness, competition, contact, dressage, looseness, roll kur, training.

Many are confused and concerned about the way they see horses go in schooling and warm-up arenas.  This is due to the culture war between the German “forward, straight, poll up” school of dressage, and the Dutch “tempo, flexibility, and back up” school.  Both schools agree that the ideal finished horse should be forward, straight, with the poll at the highest point.   So the argument is really over how to get there.

The German “practice like you play” school puts the emphasis on “forward, straight, poll up and open” at all times.  To my eye, that system results in a certain “look” – part shape, part conditioning that shows how well or not the system has been adhered to.  The best horses from back than looked a lot like this horse ridden by Herbert Rehbein.

Now Herbert was a wonderful horseman and this was a wonderful test for the time.  The thing is, it isn’t very good by todays standards.   Yes, the poll is always up, but the horse is not very elastic, supple or flexible by todays standards.  You can see that at most there is very little bend through his body – not enough to match the corners or voltes he is on. As a result the horse gets a little quick going through the corners and he loses the quarters at the end of the voltes.  The horse lacks elasticity as seen in the downward transitions from the extended canter where the horse slows himself down by braking against the ground.

Before moving on, let me be clear that I’m not attacking Rehbien or looking down my nose at this test.  I think it’s a good representation of the type of horse you get using the “always forward, straight, up and open” school of training.  What I’m seeing now as wrong with this horse can be seen in all the top German horses of that period – and frankly all the top competition horses from then were either German outright or a product of the German school.

By way of contrast – of the training schools – not the individuals, I like this video. The rider is a professional but not internationally known.  She’s on a very good horse, but not an international horse.  However, the benefits of training with the emphasis on “tempo, flexibility,  and back up” are clearly visible in this horse.

When this horse lengthens, his frame gets a hair longer and his tempo a hair slower as he clearly changes his stride length.  By contrast the Rehbein horse gets a hair faster in the extensions.  This horse goes forward in the transitions back to collected gaits, the Rehbien horse braces his front feet against ground to slow down.

This horse clearly has more lateral bend in the voltes and half-pass.  So, he stays “on track” coming out of the volte going into the HP – while the Rehbein horse throws his quarters out noticeably and loses rhythm.

The list of things this horse does better, more correctly, goes on but I’m not trying to say just that this horse is more suited to the task (he is) or that one rider is better than another.  The point is that training with the emphasis on tempo rather than forward, suppleness and flexibility rather than straightness, and keeping the back up rather than worrying about the poll, is generally a better system that generally makes better horses.  It’s time to just accept this and move on.


Operant Conditioning vs Cognitive Training June 14, 2012

Posted by mikeschaffer in calmness, corrections, dressage, Edward Gal and Moorlands Totilas, Natural Horsemanship, Riding, The Training Pyramid, training.
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“Operant Conditioning” is to “Cognitive Training” as “horseback riding” is to “Gal on Totillos.”  Actually, that comparison is far too narrow – the concept of conditioning subjects to respond to stimuli with behaviors, is so generic that it applies to every interaction, between every being, every time.   Furthermore, it has no moral value – there is no “good” or “bad.”  The oaf that “conditions” his horse to run off in panic at the sight of a longe whip is every bit as successful as the master that teaches his horse to relax, sit, round, and rise in lofty piaffe at the sight of the very same whip.

In cognitive training, the trainee must be an active and willing participant – not so for operant conditioning.  The victims don’t even need to know they’re part of the plan.   I could “condition” my co-workers to “behave” by leaving the room at the “stimulus” of my entering it, merely by not showering for a week or so.  This is not science – it’s the road kill remnants of common sense run down by pseudoscientific silly speak.

Those of us looking for rules to build a relationship with our horses need look no further than the golden one.  Have a little empathy, imagine how he feels, and treat him with the same common sense and kindness you would want in his place.  Remember to ask often, expect little, reward generously – the rest is really pretty straight forward.  Chances are that on some level, you already know this, do this and feel this – now I’ve said this.


Just Stop it! June 13, 2012

Posted by mikeschaffer in calmness, corrections, dressage, Riding, training.

If a horse is out of balance and you can’t get him back in a few strides, it’s best to just stop, regroup, and begin again.  There are riders that can salvage a bad situation that’s gone on for longer than that, but they know who they are, what they’re doing, and to heed their own counsel.

I also have the “allowed stop.”   I teach horses that when I drop the reins, pat them and sit up  they’re allowed to stop.  I use this as a form of instant reward.   I started teaching/training it when I noticed  students would work at something for a while, get it, and then pull the horse to stop him before they rewarded.  I think everyone can see the problem with that.

In yet another instance of stop, I don’t get after a horse if he gets worried, out of balance, or whatever and stops on his own.   In that situation I don’t drop the reins, pat him or offer a “good boy”  I remain neutral, soften the reins if necessary so he can reorganize, and then we proceed as though nothing had happened.  I developed this approach to worried horses because I come across so many so over corrected for everything that they get frantic about anything and become virtually un-rideable.  Once they begin to figure out they’re not going to get the snot kicked out of `em when they make mistakes, they don’t worry so much and begin to relax – then the mistakes, and unrequested stops, get further and further apart.

This approach fits into my general rule of not trying to fix what’s already happened. If it’s done, you can’t undo it.  If a horse stops, he stopped.  Move on and see if you can figure out a way to prevent it next time.  When you do, reward that – yes, often with an “allowed stop.”


Hands… May 21, 2012

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

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?


(8-18-12 fixed link)


Indeed – 2-20-12 February 29, 2012

Posted by mikeschaffer in calmness, contact, corrections, dressage, looseness, Riding, training.
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For those of you that have been following his progress there’s lots to see in this video.

The changes are not perfect yet, but they’re coming along. There are a lot of changes from left to right in which the rt hind and fore remain parallel – that wasn’t happening at all before.

That’s me positioning his body for the changes. I’m also riding the changes a little flat and underpowered. If you recall some tapes from early Dec. I did the changes in all different ways looking for the ones that worked best. Well doing them from a low energy haunches in position was the winner so that’s how I’m schooling him now. Once we’ve burned in the neural pathway and his habit is to remain parallel, I’ll begin to straighten him out and add in more jump.

Funny how the music and the movements match up occasionally – I really don’t plan/edit that – I just take all the chunks of video, stick ’em together and find something that matches my mood, his tempo,I and is long enough to go with it.

I can see by the stats that plenty of people are looking these, if you have questions or comments feel free to post them.

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.

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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