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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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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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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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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….


Dressage – The Chicken or the Egg May 19, 2009

Posted by mikeschaffer in balance, calmness, corrections, dressage, half-halts, looseness, performance standards, rules, The Training Pyramid.
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What comes first: Energy and impulsion or calmness, looseness, and balance?

In order to do dressage your horse has to have all of these qualities and more. However, there are two very different approaches to achieving this. The first is to send your horse forward and then get your horse to soften, bend, and balance. There is no doubt that this approach can work and work very well. Generally, the very best riders use this method with excellent results on a regular basic.

On the other hand, there’s no doubt that this method can and has been futile and frustrating for thousands and thousands of horse and rider combinations. There’s nothing wrong with these riders or their horses – the problem is they’ve been given a single method with no other options.

However, there is another option – a very, very good one. Instead of making your horse go forward and then trying to sort out softness, looseness, and balance, teach the horse to be soft, loose and balanced first, then gradually add in more energy and forward as both horse and rider improve.

I think this is really the approach anyone who isn’t a professional riding a bunch of horses every day should use. It’s easier. It’s also more classical. Chasing the horse around with more leg, more hand, more this and more that in the hope it will look like he’s really moving forward and you’ll impress some judge is what’s wrong with “modern” dressage.

Keeping your horse calm and relaxed, giving him the time to figure out his job and develop the muscles and abilities to do it is what’s right with classical.

Natural Horsemanship and Dressage January 8, 2009

Posted by mikeschaffer in balance, calmness, competition, corrections, dressage, looseness, Natural Horsemanship, performance standards, Riding, rules, The Training Pyramid, training.
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There’s really nothing very new, special or unique about Natural Horsemanship.  It’s just common sense horse handling that’s been around for centuries.  Yes, there’s a lot of good information within the modern NH  packages and if you have a chance to watch and learn from some of the very good practitioners out there, do it.  Just remember NH has very little to do with a stick of particular color, rope halters with special sailor knots, lead ropes with magic powers, green handkerchiefs with logo or whatever else some are trying to sell.  It’s the ideas and concepts that are important and they boil down to “acceptance” and “understanding.”

In a nutshell, acceptance means that the horse accepts you as the leader of the herd of two.  When your horse accepts you as leader he will wait for you to make the decisions about where to go and when to go there.  He will also let you take care of the herds safety and security issues.

“Understanding” means your horse understands your “words”, cues, or aids for “go”, “stop”, “right”, “left”.  Most of the NH guys also train “moving the front end around the back end” (loosely related to turn on the haunches) and “moving the back end around the front end” (similar to turn on the forehand).

A horse trained to these concepts is a basic broke horse.  He’s safe to lead and work around, can be backed and hacked safely.  In other words, he is a  horse ready to begin doing dressage.  Dressage students who find themselves in the lower levels for years and years are usually stuck because their horses are not trained or “broke” to this standard.

This idea that a horse isn’t trained enough to be doing dressage will surprise a lot of readers who were taught the function of dressage, the very meaning of the word, was to train the horse.  However, dressage doesn’t explain or deal with this basic “breaking” phase of training very well — the formal language doesn’t even mention it.  usdf-pyramidThe so called Dressage Training Pyramid is pretty good visual evidence of this situation — it’s missing  it’s base.  It starts off with the horse trotting around in rhythm with no explanation or guidance as to how that happened.

My book “Right From the Start — How to Make a Sound, Sane, Well Balanced Horse”  goes into great detail about this “missing” phase of dressage training.

My latest work Riding in the Moment (still in progress) introduces another perspective to this issue — cognitive, connected, and mechanical riding.  I’ve defined “cognitive” riding and training as working primarily with the horses intellect — the horse performs because he understands our words or cues for go, stop, turn.   Connected riding deals with the contact and throughness of dressage.  In connected riding the horse understands our “words” and there is also a physical joining so that our aids not only request, they participate and potentially assist or “aid” in the movement.  Mechanical riding consists of the horse being  pulled or pushed in a physical way with little or no consideration of his understanding.

It is reasonable to use mechanical techniques for moments at a time as corrections.  This means we use some mechanical techniques to stop a horse from doing the wrong thing or to show him the right thing.   However, if dressage is attempted before a  horse has been “cognitively” trained to accept and understand the most basic concepts, the result will almost always be a forced horse that is always ridden mechanically.

So, to the extent that NH teaches a horse to accept the rider and understand the cognitive aids for go, stop, turn, it is a useful adjunct to dressage.  This is especially true because, as previously noted, dressage doesn’t have a formalized approach to this area of training.   However, useful as NH is, I think the same goals can be achieved in a program more tailored to the aspiring dressage rider.  I’ll be talking about this in weeks to come.

Saying it right – The Half-Halt. December 26, 2008

Posted by mikeschaffer in dressage.
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I can’t imagine how dressage could be done without a half-halt.  It’s that important.  Yet, the current version of Dressage Rule 108, The Half-halt, is written terribly! For years the rule has been allowed to stand as though it was of no importance at all.   It’s as if the half-halt was just some esoteric after thought, a mere detail that is hauled out on rare occasion, or not, depending on some whim of style that faded in only rarely.  Let’s take a look at it:

DR108 The Half-Halt.

The half-halt is a hardly visible, almost simultaneous, coordinated action of the seat, the legs and the hand of the rider, with the object of increasing the attention and balance of the horse before the execution of several movements or transitions between gaits or paces. In shifting slightly more weight onto the horse’s quarters, the engagement of the hind legs and the balance on the haunches are facilitated for the benefit of the lightness of the forehand and the horse’s balance as a whole.

Admittedly, this version of the rule is very slightly better than the F.E.I. version, so I can’t say it couldn’t be said any worse — but it’s still just awful!  To begin, the very first sentence (of both versions), describes the aid for the half-halt as the half-halt.  That’s crazy!

The half-halt is an exercise the horse performs not something the rider does. This is why it’s in the section of rules that describe the movements of the horse.  It’s preceded by Dressage Rules 106 – The Reinback, 107 – Transitions, and followed by, rules 109 – Changes of Direction, and 110 – The Figures and the Exercises.  There’s no identity crisis in these rules — it’s the horse reining back that is the rein back, not the rider’s aid for the reinback.  It’s the horse performing the transition that is the transition, not the rider’s aid for the transition.   So, to say the half-halt is the aid for the half-halt is as crazy as saying the flying change is the rider sliding his new outside leg behind the girth!  (or whatever aid you prefer for a flying change).

Yes, it is preposterous to think that anyone would confuse the aid for a movement with the movement itself.   Except that most people have confused the aid for a half-halt as the half-halt.  Well, OK, I haven’t done an official survey, so let’s just say lots and lots of people, including many dressage  professionals, think a half-halt is just a squeeze of the rein.

Here is the problem with saying it this way.  If a half-halt is the aid for the half-halt, when a rider half-halts correctly, but the  horse doesn’t half-halt at all, whose half-halt is not fully half?   Wow – that’s a convoluted sentence! It’s a good match for the rule itself!  So, why not say things clearly?  The fact is, all the information to explain the half-halt is within the existing rule, it’s just not in the right order.  It can easily be restated without ambiguity:

The “half-halt” is a collecting exercise in which the  hind legs become more engaged,  shifting slightly more weight onto the horse’s quarters, lightening the forehand, and increasing attention.  The half-halt is used in preparation for changes of movement, transitions, and whenever improved balance is required.  The aid for the half-halt is a hardly visible, almost simultaneous, coordinated action of the rider’s seat, legs, and hands.

Well there you have it — simple, neat, clean.  All done.

Well, not quite.

The aids for all the other movements and exercises consist of “hardly visible, almost simultaneous, coordinated actions of the rider’s seat, legs, and hands.”  It’s true! The aids for the flying change, half-pass, and even a simple turn to the left, to name just a few,  all consist of hardly visible, almost simultaneous, coordinated actions of the rider’s seat, legs, and hands.

So why leave the aid for the half-halt in the rule at all?  In this case, the description of the aid should be left in to show a conscious decision to correct the previous misconception of the half-halt being the aid.  Yet another reason is  there should be as much emphasis as possible on the aids being hands, legs, and seat working in “a hardly visible, almost simultaneous, coordinated” manner.  It’s an important concept.

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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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.

The Myth of the Independent Dressage Seat December 3, 2008

Posted by mikeschaffer in dressage, Riding.
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I have real problems with the phrase “independent seat” and the typical way position is defined.  Both of these need to be rethought and re-defined.  As they’re inextricably linked, they have to be discussed together.

The phrase “independent seat” has historically meant a rider doesn’t need to hold on to stay on, and that the seat isolates the horse’s movement from the hands and legs.  However, there are better words and phrases to describe this basic ability and we should find one as this phrase is being misinterpreted more and more frequently — confusing many students  and a good number of their instructors.

The words independent seat is easily misunderstood to mean the hands seat and legs should be independent from one another as well as the horse’s motion.  However, for any discussion of the aids in dressage, the truth is much more subtle than that.  Rather than being “independent” the rider should be using his hands, legs, and seat in a coordinated way – interdependently with each other and the horse’s movement.

A dressage seat has to be capable of moving with the horse neutrally, or, influencing the horse’s movement by either slight exaggeration or resistance.  So, whether following or influencing, the seat is always working in conjunction with the movement, never independent of it.  When riding on contact the action of the rein should work with or “go through” the seat.  Any action of the seat, regardless of how subtle, should have a proportional effect on the leg.  In this way we use our aids to mold the horse.  We provide him with an envelope of aids within which he is free to move loosely forward.

Many readers are thinking, “But that’s exactly what I mean by the phrase, independent seat.  Why is this guy being so persnickety?”  Well, I’m being a stickler about it because when we say one thing but mean something else, horses and riders fall victim.  In this case, because we’re not saying it right, the idea of interdependence is being lost.  Without the notion of interdependent aids to give purpose to position, more and more positions are degenerating.  My observation is that riders are getting worse in direct proportion to the use of the phrases  “Put your hands down!”, and, “Shorten the reins!”
Having students pushing their hands down and forward not only breaks the connection between seat and hand, it pulls the shoulders forward and puts the rider out of balance.  The way to fix this is to define rider’s position in terms of it’s function.  Approaching position this way, I came up with the following:

The function of the position is to allow the rider to move smoothly and easily with the horse while using his hands, seat, and legs in a deliberate and coordinated way.

This short sentence sums it all up.  If a rider is moving smoothly and easily with the horse he is not holding on, out of balance, or bouncing.  If he is able to use his hands, seat, and legs in a deliberate and coordinated way, his aids are in sync with the motion of the horse, not independent, and not the  random noise of a beginner with no seat at all.

If your position, or “seat” allows you to move with the horse and at the same time use your hands seat and legs in a deliberate and coordinated way, you have a good seat and position.  If there is to be a mark or score awarded for the riders position, it should be based upon this and this alone.

In addition to adding the functional definition of position I just suggested, the current description of position found in the FEI rules should be modified slightly:

As a general guide the rider should sit erect in the deepest part of the saddle, his ears, shoulders, hips and ankles in a line perpendicular to the ground.  The elbows should fall close to this line so the rein can work with the seat.  The hands should be on or slightly above a line from rider’s elbow to the horse’s mouth, fairly close together with the thumbs at the highest point. The riders legs should be allowed to stretch down into the stirrup and heel  so they remain quiet yet supple.  There should be an overall appearance of sitting quietly without stiffness of any kind.

The  changes I’ve made are to state this description  is merely “a general guide.”  If a rider shows correct function but is a little behind the vertical line, or his heels are level instead of down, or any other variation from the theoretical exists it shouldn’t matter at all as long as the position functions correctly.  I’ve connected  the position of elbow with the ability to have the rein and seat work together,  and brought the hand to or “slightly above” the line from bit to elbow to reflect the reality of most world class riders.

So, instructors (and judges) should consider the function of the position and replace the phrase “independent” seat with something else.  The words “deliberate” , or “functional” seat are far more descriptive of what we really want.   Make no mistake about it, words matter.  If we can’t say what we mean, why say anything at all?

Students, when told to put their  hands down should ask, “What does this do to the connection between my hand and seat?  How is it supposed to feel?”  When told to shorten the reins (assuming they’re not slack) ask, “Do you want me to bring my hands forward or his head back?”  Then ask why.

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Real Performance Standards September 10, 2008

Posted by mikeschaffer in competition, dressage, equipment.
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While the goals of the proposed performance standards may be admirable, there are problems with the approach and better methods to accomplish a more useful result.

The first problem is there are  costs both to the organizations and competitors.  These costs will be shared by everyone, however, the standards are only intended to deal with the problem of a tiny minority.  Further, for this tiny minority this system may not work.  Someone who can afford to purchase and campaign an upper level horse they can’t ride well can, in all probability,  afford to purchase or lease  a 2’nd level horse that they can get scores of 55% on.  After getting enough of those scores, there is nothing to stop them from again riding advanced horses badly.  The entire new system is now useless, however, the costs and paper work remain.

In order to avoid these pitfalls and still accomplish the goals of raising the standards of dressage, there are two alternatives that don’t require any additional financing or record keeping and are without question “fair” in that they apply to all riders.

I. The “Two Finger Rule”

The “two finger” rule would require the cavesson (and flash if so equipped) on all horses in all dressage classes (or perhaps all classes below 2’nd level)  to to be adjusted so the steward can easily slip 2 fingers under it.  (As a practical matter there may have to be a wood or plastic dowel of particular diameter to provide a consistent measure.)

The advantages of this rule are:

1. It doesn’t cost a cent.

2. Since it affects all riders at all levels it is inherently fair.

3. It will teach new riders that a horse properly accepting the contact does not have to have his mouth held artificially closed.  This  will assist young riders in learning to ride their horses forward and out to the frame instead of pulling the horses head  backwards into a frame.

4. Provides an objective standard in scoring as  every movement in which the horse has his mouth consistently pulled open should not be scored more than a “4″.

II. Earn Your Spurs Rule

This rule would eliminate spurs in all dressage classes below 2’nd level.

The theory here is that if  riders can’t ride these  walk/trot/canter tests without spurs they’re probably doing something very wrong and won’t be able to progress up the levels anyway.  Again, there is no cost involved and it is 100% equitable since it applies to ALL horses ridden in all dressage classes below 2’nd level.

Tight nosebands and spurs at low levels are incompatible with the entire concept of “free forward movement” which is at the very core of dressage. Is there any member of the Dressage committee that could not ride a training or first level test to a respectable score without spurs or a mouth clamped shut?

These rules would go a long way to fulfilling the educational function of the committee.  Yes, because these rules will affect the all riders there will be a tremendous amount of shouting about them. I submit those who scream the loudest are the ones who will benefit the most in fairly short order.

See what others say and add your comment.

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