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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.
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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

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The Natural Circle May 24, 2013

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

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.

 

 

Enjoy

Culture War in Training July 10, 2012

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

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.

Mike

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.

 

 

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.

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