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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

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2010 in review January 2, 2011

Posted by mikeschaffer in balance, Behind the bit, calmness, dressage, looseness, Riding, roll kur.
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The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2010. That’s about 26 full 747s.

 

In 2010, there were 24 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 38 posts. There were 14 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 266kb. That’s about a picture per month.

The busiest day of the year was February 5th with 299 views. The most popular post that day was Hyperflexion/Rollkur/Blue tongue, Insanity!.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were mikeschaffer.com, britishdressage.co.uk, facebook.com, saddle-up.org, and dressagerider.wordpress.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for hyperflexion, dressage training pyramid, rollkur blue tongue, in_the_moment_dressage, and mike schaffer dressage.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Hyperflexion/Rollkur/Blue tongue, Insanity! December 2009
48 comments

2

The Anky Clinic Discussing LDR February 2010
5 comments

3

The Myth of the Independent Dressage Seat December 2008
20 comments

4

LDR Long Deep and Round, May 2010
2 comments

5

The Rollkur Cure February 2010
8 comments

Gerd’s Demise? August 4, 2010

Posted by mikeschaffer in balance, Behind the bit, calmness, contact, corrections, dressage, hyperflexion, looseness, Riding, roll kur.
4 comments

It seems Gerd Heuschmann, Author of Tug of War and, until now, the titular head of the anti-rollkur movement writes better than he rides. The sad fact is he’s pretty awful from all reports. I have seen a short clip of him on You Tube (seems to be missing now) and I thought he looked pretty amateurish. The latest is that he’s been riding in his clinics so badly that he has been kicked out of the xenophon group, and has lost his standing with the German National Federation and the F.E.I.

Here’s the link to an article in a German magazine explaining the problems – it’s in German and I had to rely on the Google translator to see what was said (it seemed to do a good albeit not perfect job.)

http://www.dressur-studien.de/index.php/gerd-heuschmann-in-der-kritik.html

I’m not sure yet what I think about all of this…

I do have some observations about just these pictures related to the article

http://www.dressur-studien.de/index.php/heuschmann-reitet-korrektur.html

I’m not offended at all by the first two pictures from 16:48 ad 16:49. He seems to be using his aids adequately to ask the horse to release and by the picture at 16:50:27 it looks like he has succeeded – as far as the horse goes. The horse is definitely better in that moment but he is awful. By leaning forward and dropping his hands he hasn’t given the horse a hand to go do or out himself in a position to influence the horse with his body.

However by 16:51 he’s sitting down, his hands are appropriate for this horse and the horse is reaching nicely into them.

By 16:52 he’s back in that silly half-seat so when he asks the horse to go back to trot the horse is lost and starts to go off on his own.

Now Gerd is in a bad half seat so his only tools are his hands which are no effective in his position so the horse rightfully sets out to sort this out on his own. From there things start to spiral downwards rapidly and Gerd is going from too weak and out of balance to too strong. Next it appears he has to use the wall to get the horse to stop – while still using strong backwards pull on the bars of the horse’s mouth. That’s a major no-no in my book.

Still he seems to have gotten things back on track by 16:56:57 but then, instead of just sitting quietly and allowing the horse to figure out the correct balance he’s leaning forward and starting the too free too tight cycle over again.

LDR and Article 401.6 May 17, 2010

Posted by mikeschaffer in balance, Behind the bit, calmness, competition, contact, dressage, hyperflexion, looseness, performance standards, roll kur, rules, training.
4 comments

Let’s clear something up straight away. If the only thing you needed to know about Article 401 was that the head should be slightly in front of the vertical, with the poll as the highest point, dressage would look like this:
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high poll
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Any questions? No? Good.

That fact is, the idea that the poll has to be the highest point is not even a rule – it’s an “indicator” and the least important of many.

The “rule”  of Article 401 is found in it’s first sentence,

1. The object of Dressage is the harmonious development of the physique and ability of the horse.

. Once we know the object is to develop the horse, it says what happens when you do it right.

As a result it makes the horse calm, supple, loose and flexible, but also confident, attentive and keen, thus achieving perfect understanding with his rider.

And the rest of the article just describes “indicators” of a horse that is calm, supple, loose, and flexible, etc .

Let’s be clear about this too, you do NOT BEGIN with all of these qualities in place. If you did, you would not have to train horses at all. Just teach people to ride and every horse would be an Olympian.

So when you read 401.6

6. In all his work, even at the halt, the horse must be “on the bit”.

It is talking about a horse that is already trained and “in his work.”

Now, Is a horse “in his work” when you ride him from the stable out to the warm-up area? Is he “in his work” if you’re walking him around the warm-up area before you begin to warm up? Is he “in his work” if you’re trotting around warming him up, before you “pick him up and put him to work?”

Even when clearly “in his work” this is still not an ironclad indicator of anything.

“A horse is said to be “on the bit” when the neck is more or less raised and arched according to the stage of training and the extension or collection of the pace,…”

There are an awful lot of modifiers in this statement. “When the neck is more or less raised and arched according to the stage of training and the … pace.” This does not read like a rigid standard to me.

And there is yet another modifier –

The head should remain in a steady position, as a rule slightly in front of the vertical, with a supple poll as the highest point of the neck

The idiomatic expression “as a rule” means “generally”, “usually” or “typically.”

So, a correct reading of 401.6 in context is:

The object of dressage is the harmonious development of the horse. When you do it correctly, your horse will develop wonderful qualities. There are many indicators that these qualities are being or have been developed. One of these indicators is that the neck will be more or less raised and arched according to the stage of training and what he is doing at the moment. This usually, generally, or typically (but not necessarily always) results in the poll being at the highest point with the face slightly in front of the vertical.

So the poll being at the highest point with the face in front of the vertical is hardly a hard and fast gold standard by which one can determine what is “classical” dressage. In fact, it is often the antithesis of such a standard. (see picture above!)

Remember the object of dressage is the harmonious development of the horse. So the narrow question is, how do you develop a horse that carries his head with the poll up and the face in front of the vertical. I know of only two approaches. The first is to hold the horse’s head up with your hands, and then chase him around in the hope that he’ll loosen his back, engage, and re-balance. I’ve never had any luck at all with this approach, but I’m not that good a rider.

The other approach, is to teach the horse to stretch his head and neck out and down, releasing his back, which allows the horse to strengthen and then engage his quarters, which take on more weight, which lightens the forehand. Then the horse will elevate his head and neck as he needs to in order to accommodate the new balance. This way does take a long time – sometimes years. But even a clumsy rider like I am can do it.,

LDR Long Deep and Round, May 14, 2010

Posted by mikeschaffer in Behind the bit, calmness, competition, contact, corrections, dressage, hyperflexion, looseness, performance standards, roll kur, rules, training.
2 comments

The FEI gets it a little right (and a lot wrong…)

First of all, the General remarks from the 4/15/2010 report are good.  They state the obvious.

1. Basic elements of the guidelines:

a.  The welfare of the horse is paramount
b.  Respect for the horse according to the FEI rules and the Stewards Manual
c.  The responsibility for the Welfare of the Horse rests with the athlete (p.r.)

2. What should be avoided?

Abuse of the horse in general, but especially:
a.  stressing the horse
b.  aggressive riding
c.  inflicting pain and/or discomfort on  the horse

So far, so good.  They should have stopped there.  However, on May 10, 2010 the stewards issued their report on “Pre and Post Competition training techniques – position of the horse’s head.”

The best thing about this is that they’ve figured out stretching is is GOOD for the horse.  They even officially labeled Long, Deep and Round, Low Deep and Round, and Long and Low as “acceptable forms of stretching.  It’s also very good and useful that they separated “stretching” from “extreme flexion” in paragraph 3.

Unfortunately, they confuse stretching and flexing in the rest of the document.  Apparently they still don’t understand the difference between a horse that is BTV (behind the vertical) because he is stretching with a supple poll, vs. a horse that is BTV because he is being pulled in a backwards fashion.  As result, they’ve really made a muddle of the “regulations” by applying rules to stretching and extreme flexing equally.

So, let me begin with objective standards by which an ordinary observer can tell whether a horse is being correctly “stretched” with forward going aids,  or being pulled backwards into an incorrect “flexion” with backwards aids.  These objective standards are:

1. The riders hands are higher than the horse’s mouth and the curb rein is relaxed.  It is possible to pull and hold a horse into a tight flexion with a high hands using the curb rein, but since a tight curb rein is inconsistent with a horse stretching into a frame, that is easy enough for an observer to see.

2.  The rider drops the inside rein from time to time.  A horse that is stretching into a frame, will stay there with a loose inside rein.  A horse being pulled into a forced flexion, will not stay in that frame if one rein or the other is released.  Again, this is easy enough to observe.

3.  The “poll angle” is correct.  The poll angle is correct if the front of the horse’s face will be at or in front of the vertical as the poll elevates to the highest point.  I’ve used my super human photoshop powers to show this exact situation in my new book.  The page with these graphics is included in the free sample pages from the book available for download at my web site, http://www.mikeschaffer.com

(Ok – I guess that was a bit of a plug….)

In the absence of these objective standards, the committee consistently made errors that confused stretching with flexing.  For instance, they state,

5.  Method of achieving stretches

It is imperative that stretching should be executed by unforced and non aggressive means.  By unforced’ is meant that the rider is not permitted to use rough, or abrupt aids or apply constant unyielding pressure on the horse’s mouth through a fixed arm and hand position. It is the responsibility of the steward to intervene if these requirements are not respected.

The first problem with this is that it’s impossible to “force” a horse to stretch. So, it should read “… imperative that flexing should be…”   So, right away, the rules are confusing two distinctly different techniques – something that becomes more of a problem in the next paragraphs.

The second problem with this is they’re saying you can’t use “rough of abrupt aids” to achieve stretching.  So, is it OK to be rough and abrupt and pull constantly on the reins when you’re not trying to stretch the horse? (I ask rhetorically)

Actually, there are times when it is absolutely appropriate to use a correction that is a little “rough or abrupt.”  In fact, failing to tell a horse to “knock it off!” in a way that is clear, effective and over with is definitely NOT in the best interests of the horse’s welfare.  But what does that have to do with stretching or flexing?   Should we have a new rule that says you’re not allowed to be rough or abrupt when asking for a half-pass?  Another for shoulder-in?  Another rule that says you shouldn’t get after a horse for bucking and running off across the warm-up area?

But wait – it gets worse.

6.  Action by the Steward in the case of incorrect behaviour of athlete in relation to  flexion of the head and neck

Ref. Annex XII, Guidelines to the FEI Dressage Stewarding Manual

The steward will intervene should he observe;

*  Neck stretching achieved through forced, or aggressive  riding

*  The  use of extreme flexion  if it does not comply with the above

*  A rider deliberately maintaining a sustained fixed head and neck carriage  longer than approximately ten minutes

*  In cases when the horse is in a state of general stress and/or fatigue

You see the problem?  Here they’re saying, albeit as clumsily as possible, that you should neither stretch or flex your horse through force or aggressive riding, nor should you stretch or flex your horse for more than 10 minutes at a time.  Two totally different techniques being treated exactly the same way very much to the detriment of the horse.  I will generally spend the first 15 or 20 minutes “stretching” a horse in the long, deep and round position before ever considering bringing him up or together.  So, I think 10 minutes is arbitrarily and ridiculous – what harm is supposed to come from stretching beyond 10 minutes?

On the other hand, over flexing done for more than 10 seconds is too much.   How is riding a horse bent in half for 10 minutes a good thing?    What are they thinking about?

But wait, it gets worse:

7.  Maximum duration of pre-competition warm-up and post-competition cooldown periods

Only in exceptional circumstances and with the permission of the Chief Steward, may a training session  exceed one hour. The training session must include a number of relaxation periods.
Riding the horse at the walk whether prior to, or following the training session, is not considered to be part of the one hour training session. There should be at least one hour break between any training/warm-up periods.

Let’s put this in perspective.  We’re talking about FEI rules for international competition.  By and large, riders competing at the international level have spent years and years learning their craft, developing their skills, and have a tremendous respect, love, and feel for horses.

If competing at this level, it’s pretty much a given that while at home, working at your leisure in a familiar setting, you can do a credible job of the test your riding in competition.  So the issue when showing is, can you now perform at your best at precisely 3:06 PM (or whatever) in this different setting after going through all the travel etc.  In short, not only is doing the test well an art form, but so is the warm up.

It means being so skilled and knowledgeable about your horse that you can factor weather, his mood, the time of day, the conditions in the warm-up area, and Lord knows how many other details into having him at his performance peak at the precise moment the bell summons you down the centerline.  (You think doing a few flying changes or a little piaffe in your backyard is a big deal – hah!)

Now, a committee, meeting by phone, has determined the only right way for each of these individuals to warm up each of their horses?  That’s amazing!  This group is either the most insightful, knowledgeable and brilliant the world has ever seen or the same bunch that figured out there’s something “wrong” with a horse that reacts to being touched.

Spin this anyway you want, but this rule says it’s fine to work a horse in 98 degree 100% humidity for an hour, but it’s not OK to work a horse in 40 degree windy weather for an hour and 15 minutes.  DUH!!!!

Of course I know that working a horse to heat exhaustion is already a violation of general rules against abuse and promoting the welfare of the horse.  So WHY do we need a time limit at all and what is it doing in an annex pertaining to stretching and flexing?

The real problem is that the FEI has forgotten its job is to provide a level playing field for the best in the world to duke it out and determine who is the best of the best.   That’s it.  Yes, there should be a generic rule that says injurious, cruel or abusive methods are not allowed and participants who engage in that type of “training” will be sanctioned.  But that is all there should be – one rule on abuse.  Not an ever growing number of conflicting poorly written rules written in the hope of preventing the worst among us from doing their thing, but actually preventing the best among us from doing theirs.

Riding in the Moment April 8, 2010

Posted by mikeschaffer in balance, Behind the bit, calmness, competition, contact, corrections, dressage, equipment, half-halts, hyperflexion, looseness, Natural Horsemanship, performance standards, Riding, roll kur, rules, training.
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9 comments

ritm 3d 500

Get the Full Book for Just $19.95 – Risk Free

Read this book and try the program for a few days.  If you don’t think it’s worth a lot more to you and your horse than it cost,  I’ll gladly refund your money!

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Want to see more before you decide?  Download a sample of the book and look through it at http://www.mikeschaffer.com

Add your comments or see what others are saying here

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The Rollkur Cure February 10, 2010

Posted by mikeschaffer in balance, Behind the bit, calmness, competition, contact, corrections, dressage, hyperflexion, looseness, roll kur, rules, training.
8 comments

Since the F.E.I.’s official action on rollkur is a change of vocabulary, I’m again suggesting my solution to the problem since it can end this thing they’re now calling “positioning the head through aggressive force.”

I do congratulate the F.E.I. group on reaching the consensus, “that any head and neck position of the horse achieved through aggressive force is not acceptable.” This a huge improvement over previous statements because it is getting to the root of the problem which is not a particular head position, but any “forced head position.”

It makes no difference what the forced head position is. Forcing the head into a rollkur position is forced backwards riding. Forcing the head position too far to the side is forced backwards riding. Forcing the head up and back in a mimic of the classical position is forced backwards riding too. The problem is not the position, it’s the force. This is why the solution is not to legislate, it’s to educate.

Education will work because the horse doesn’t want to pull on your hands any more than he wants you pulling on his mouth. However, horses have to be taught how to react to the riders hands correctly just as riders have to be taught how to relax and allow their horses to go out to their hands.

“Educated mouths” and “educated hands” are not ethereal, abstract concepts that only an anointed few can hope to someday experience. These are down to earth, basic skills that you and your horse can learn. I know because I’ve been teaching them to horses and riders for over 35 years.

My DVD will show you how to teach this basic skill to your horse. It’s available online at My DVD.

For more insights as to why and how dressage works the way it does, check out my book at Amazon

Some Great Dressage Kurs! January 4, 2010

Posted by mikeschaffer in balance, Behind the bit, calmness, competition, corrections, dressage, Edward Gal and Moorlands Totilas, half-halts, hyperflexion, looseness, Riding, roll kur, The Training Pyramid, training.
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15 comments

I was poking around youtube and came across these rides from the European Championship 2009 UK Windsor. Please enjoy them and then post your POSITIVE comments about each. In fact, try to post at least several POSITIVE things about each ride. It’s great fun and learning to see what’s right with rides is a necessary part of learning.

Starting with the lowest placed ride that I’ve selected, but still, a very nice ride that I like more each time I see it.

Here we have Laura Bechtolsheimer & Mistral Hojris 81.750% KUR

From that, we go on to Anky getting only a bronze! What’s more surprising is she only got bronze with a score of 87.250%

I hadn’t seen the rider before stumbling onto this ride – she took the silver from Anky by .1%

And finally Edward Gal & Moorlands Totilas Kür 90.750% European Championship 2009 UK Windsor

Remember – just POSITIVE comments….

Enjoy

Hyperflexion/Rollkur/Blue tongue, Insanity! December 5, 2009

Posted by mikeschaffer in Behind the bit, competition, dressage, Edward Gal and Moorlands Totilas, half-halts, hyperflexion, performance standards, Riding, roll kur, rules, training.
49 comments

Here are my thoughts about the February 2010 FEI statement on hyperflexion – now known as “Forced Head Position” (FHP)

The Rollkur Cure

Here is a  link to another post about hyperflexion that I wrote months before this one.

Hyperventilating Over Hyperflexion

Also note that  I do not use or recommend any backwards style of riding.  I think pulling a horse’s poll up and back is just as bad as pulling it down and in.  

While I do not like the way this horse is being ridden, I don’t think  this rises to an OBJECTIVE standard of “cruelty”, “abuse”, or harm.  The horse is not lathered in sweat, bucking, rearing, bolting, or carrying on in any way that would be indicative of a horse in panic or pain.  I think this is an important point because giving public voice to the idea that the FEI and individual officials at that or any other CDI  are allowing “cruelty and abuse”  will ultimately harm dressage.

I believe the efforts of the very many sincere people upset about this way of riding would be better directed towards addressing the bottom of the pyramid not the top.  Those who have been following this blog know I have had that position and advocated concrete steps that we could affect through our own national associations.  I favor instituting a two finger rule requiring loose nosebands and the banning of spurs below 2’nd level.  here is the link to that article –  “Real Performance Standards” – it is my sincere hope that it gets as much attention as is  being spent on this other issue.

Since this remains the most visited article on the blog, I’m reopening the comments for a while.

——————————————————————————-

Thousands of indignant dressage riders are up in arms over the so called blue tongue affair in particular and hyperflexion / rollkur in general. There are now efforts to urge the FEI to clarify rules so that stewards can step in whenever they see this (whatever “this” is) in the warm up area.

This is insane – here’s why.

First, there wasn’t any blue tongue. Sorry, I know it’s a drag to have reality intrude on the fantasy, but there was no blue tongue in the video.  The proof is in the uncut youtube video – I’ve provided the “uncut” 10 minute version here so you can watch the entire thing, but the issue at hand comes between the one minute and one minute forty second marks.

Here’s the frame from 1:27 into the video showing the best/closest view of the so called “blue tongue.”  It does seem to have the same whitish, grayish color  as the froth on the horse’s lips

Here’s the next frame – again you can see the tongue does appear to have the same froth on it as the lips.  Yet, while seen in motion the grayish/whitish color could be interpreted as bluish.  The actual color balance of each computer monitor will also have some effect.  Some will have more blue, some more red.  What is fair to compare is the similarity of the lips to the top of the tongue.

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Of course, if you wait a second – literally at 1:28 of the video – you’ll come to the view of the horse moving away from the camera instead of towards it and now, blurry as it is, we see pink.  What is this?

Well, you don’t have to wait very long to find out – in the very next frame, a few hundredths of a second latter,  the bottom of the tongue comes into focus.  Guess what?  It’s nice and pink!  How could that happen?

The answer is obvious – “it” couldn’t have happened.  You simply cannot make the top of the tongue blue from lack of circulation while the bottom remains pink.  If you doubt this, tie a string around a finger and see if it doesn’t “blue up” all around and not just on one side or the other.

Another thing you’ll discover if you do try the string on a finger trick is that it will take more than a minute for the finger to turn blue.  Yet, if you watch the video at exactly the 1:00 minute mark,  You’ll see Scantic canters directly in front of the camera and his tongue is not out.  Nothing is apparently amiss until the 1:18 mark when we first see his tongue out.  Then, by 1:39 of the tape the rider has seen the problem, stopped, put things back in place and we don’t see the tongue again for the next 8 minutes.  So, did the tongue  turn blue from a maximum of 40 seconds of constriction from being over or between the bits?  That  doesn’t seem like a rational explanation.  However,  the top of the tongue appearing bluish from being coated with the same froth as the lips does explain why the bottom of the tongue remained pink.

Finally, the entire argument that mere hyperflexion is in and of itself enough to cut off circulation and turn the tongue blue has to be dismissed as totally irrational.  We know this because another complaint with this ride is that the horse was held in a tight frame for more than 90 minutes.  Well, if the tongue was blue from lack of circulation for more than 90 minutes, common sense tells you that he wasn’t going to be able to go out and place 3’rd in competition the next day.

So, now we need to move on and examine how the mob became so enraged by such hysterical nonsense, and figure out the positive lessons that can come from it.

The Role of Epona

The first thing that struck me about this tape was it’s sheer crapiness.  For those of you who have been fortunate enough to see the “Warm up at Achen” tapes that were around some years ago, there is simply no comparison not only in quality but in motive.  The Achen  tapes contained treasures of wisdom and insight on how the best prepared for a test.  Yes, there were moments when things didn’t go right, and seeing a rider deal with that was educational in and of itself.  But by and large, those tapes were being prepared for riders to learn what was correct.

By comparison, this video was shot by someone on a mission.  Whoever shot this was interested only in proving a negative pointt.  The result is a hatchet job that whizzes by anyone riding nicely to  focus only on a few horse’s necks and jaws.   So, Epona got their name in a lot of places and probably sold  a bunch of subscriptions, but don’t fool yourselves into thinking they only did it for the good of the horse – this kind of nonsense always ends up hurting more horses than it could ever help.

What should YOU do?

Those of you concerned about cruelty or harsh practices anywhere should begin by becoming better educated and more skilled  yourselves.  Start  by realizing it is insane for you focus on horses being prepared for international competitions when you can probably improve your own horse’s life.  To begin with:

1.  Learn how to learn.  Start by learning to take the time to analyze and understand what is being said.  In the above example had anyone been willing to take the time to analyze the next second of the video they would have seen the pink tongue and this entire bruhaha would have fallen apart..

2.  Realize that lack of experience and knowledge does not put you in a morally superior position to judge others with more experience, skill, and knowledge than you. .Seeing something that may offend you before you understand it doesn’t mean it has no value and should never be used.  In exactly the same way, seeing an advanced rider using techniques and exercises that you do appreciate does not mean you should take it upon yourself to do it with your horse at his stage of training and your level of riding.

3.   Develop your  seat!  Although I don’t understand why this rider rode his horse as curled up as he did for as long as he did, it is clear that he had the physical riding skills to do it deliberately, using his aids in a coordinated fashion.  So he did it for some purpose and I would like to hear more from him as to what the logic and reasoning of his training method is.

4.  DO NOT write outraged letters to the FEI.  It won’t help.

What the F.E.I. should do

Nothing – anything they FEI tries to do will invariably cause more trouble for the horses.  While the goals of the FEI are admirable, and the individual members are dedicated, knowledgeable, and well intended – as an organization they have not been at their best when trying to write specific rules to prevent the lowest common denominator from doing  harm. They keep trying to fix things by determining one size fits all standards that don’t work.  For example:

In order to prevent the worst riders in the warm up ring from accidentally hitting other riders with their excessively long whips, the FEI issued a rule determining the longest whip that anyone should use.  This is insane!  Now it is perfectly acceptable for a 5 foot rider on a 14.3 hand horse to use a 48″ whip, however it is illegal for a 6 foot two inch rider on an 18.1 hand horse to use a 49″ whip.  How is this fair, rational, or a solution to anything?  It isn’t.   The rule should simply state that riders are not allowed to interfere with others in the warm up area.  Period. Now it is up to the rider to be sure they don’t interfere with others and if that means they have to use a shorter whip, let the rider figure that out or be removed from competition.

A similar argument can be made in regard to spur lengths.  A spur should be long enough to get from the riders foot to the horse’s side.  Period. Standardize that distance before standardizing spur lengths.

A rule more closely related to the matter at hand has to do with the length of shanks on curb bits.  Now it is perfectly acceptable for a small arab mare to be ridden with a 10cm curb shank, however it is illegal to ride the 18hh warmblood with a 10.5cm length shank?  How does this help anyone?  The 10 cm bit is much more than is necessary for the little mare, however, a good argument can be made that the shorter curb bit has dulled the huge warmblood and given rise to practices such as  “hyperflexion” in an attempt to work around the problem.

The most recent FEI debacle came  in response to the problem of quality riders being penalized for having trace amounts of drugs left over in their horses systems.  The correct response to the problem would have been to state that trace amounts of drugs, far below the therapeutic or effective levels, were not to be penalized.  The FEI got it totally backwards and declared that therapeutic levels of certain drugs were to be allowed in competition.  Insanity!

So I have no idea how the FEI wile “solve” this problem, but I’m fairly certain whatever solution they come up with will create more problems. This is why I hope they do nothing – it’s the best we can hope for.

No, wait.  The best we can hope for is the FEI honestly admits error and rescinds the whip length rule, the curb shank rule, and the newest drug rules.  Then they should announce that a two finger rule – a rule that will require loose cavessons will be instituted within a few years.  That will set riders on a path to lightness like nothing else will.

PS – it would also help a great deal if the FEI finally got around to correcting the “Half-halt” rule.


12 Seconds… December 14, 2008

Posted by mikeschaffer in balance, Behind the bit, calmness, corrections, dressage, half-halts, hyperflexion, looseness, Riding, roll kur, The Training Pyramid, training.
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4 comments

Another comment from Stephani and another post to answer.

i have a question regarding Indeed’s training session dated 9/8/08. From 5:15 – 5:27 you were requesting something from Indeed. could you elaborate on that?

Hi Stephanie – welcome back!

I know you want to hear about those 12 seconds because, well, they look  awful.  However, to understand what’s actually happening in those few seconds, you have to back up a little more and watch the video from the 4:35 mark all the way through to the 5:41 mark. .

At 4:35 I’m cantering to the right, and then I do a transition, change direction, left lead canter, for about half a circle, back to halt, and then to canter again.  None of the canters or transitions were particularly great, but there was no pulling.  For the most part Indeed was working off my seat.

Now at the 5:15 mark, you see Indeed fall out of the canter onto his forehand and, worse yet, MY hands.  This is why his mouth is opening before I do anything.  So, because he’s running through the hand, I just plain stop him.  Furthermore, since he’s still braced against me even when he is stopped, I tap him with the whip to back him up for a step or two to get him off of his forehand and my hands.  When he softens I release him for a moment and then ask him to go.  He again braces against me (before he actually takes a step) so I stop and back him up again.

One more release, and now (at 5:28)  when I ask him to go he remains soft, takes a few walk steps and then does a respectable transition to a fair canter followed by a pleasant halt.   In fact, he’s pretty damn good throughout the rest of the tape and, if memory serves correctly, the rest of the ride was a pretty nice.

So, to elaborate on those 12 seconds, I was correcting him in a way that was clear, effective, and over with.  He fell on my hands and was starting to drag me around so I mechanically stopped him, and backed him up a step or two as a way of saying, “GET OFF of my hands!!”  It worked.  He got off of my hands and we got on with the rest of the ride.

The most common mistake I see is people failing to correct horses pulling on them.  The let their horses grab the reins and drag them around the ring.  Yes, I know, it’s very popular to teach them to send the horse more forward with the idea that the horse will balance himself and soften.  With some riders (especially very good ones) and some horses (particularly well trained ones) this is going to work.  With most riders on most horses they simply run around  pulling on each other until until one or the other  gives up or dies.

So, I don’t really care how one corrects the horse that is dragging you around.  I do care that you have a method and use it.  If you can fix it in 12 seconds or less, you’re doing alright.

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