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A consistent warm-up plan July 20, 2016

Posted by mikeschaffer in dressage, looseness.
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Every time I get on any horse I start the same way. I make sure he stands quietly while I mount and and that he waits quietly for me to ask something of him after I’m mounted. Then I ask him to go, stop, turn in, move out and soften on a fairly small circle in the walk. If there is any issue with any of those in either direction I use one or more of the exercises in my book to take care of it. When everything is squared away in the walk, I move onto a little larger circle and repeat in a slow trot. When he’s performing well that way I move onto a more energetic trot, or with some horses an easy canter.

At this point we’re ready for whatever we want, any issues having been addressed in an easy way. Usually I don’t know what brought an issue on, but if I can use the basic training he’s had to work through it easily, I don’t need to.


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

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

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.


The Natural Circle May 24, 2013

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

(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.
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.

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.


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.

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…


Having fun with this… December 27, 2011

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

With all the details and rules, arguments and schools of thought, it’s easy to forget that training your horse is supposed to be fun. I’ll go one more and say if you’re not having fun with it, neither is your horse and chances are there is no progress being made. Well, I’m having fun with my horse and with my new video camera, software, and computer upgrade. This video shows all 3 in action.

First you can see how nicely my horse is warming up in the long unedited stretch at the beginning. Putting up a “warm-up” is unusual to say the least, but the absence of good warm-up videos has resulted in an absence of good warm-up strategies. That’s really a shame as the science of the warm-up is key to being able to get on to the training. Now I understand that many people will say I warm up my horse all wrong – well that’s great! Let’s see how they go about it and everybody benefits in the end.

You also see what the camera “sees” in the first minute or so. After that, you see what I’m doing with the new software and why I needed a computer upgrade (and hi-def camera) to render the final video I put up on youtube – it’s pretty awesome since the ability to pan and zoom after the fact means I can set up the camera on a tripod on any day and time I want, ride in front of it and make it what you see later that night, at home in front of the computer. I’ve been wanting a system like this for 35 years or so – however long it’s been since I bought my first shoebox size VCR and realized that now all I needed was someone to operate it while I rode in front of it.  Now the wait is over, I have the ultimate mirror and I get to set it to music of my choice – cool.

In the first section you see my horse working long and “low” in frame and energy, although it looks more energetic on the screen than it felt when riding – very useful to be able to see that. The second part is the 2nd stage of warm-up, more energy but not all the pieces are there yet.  Looking at it, I sometimes see moments of an increase in tension along with the increase in energy, and I also see moments of brilliance – especially in the shoulder-in at the 4:50 mark. It’s wonderful to be able to see this, it tells me I have to continue to ask for the relaxation and the energy in ways that don’t make him lazy or tight. This is the challenge we all face all the time with all the elements of making our horses.


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