The outside rein is an aid. If you have to hold it, it’s not a good aid.
The walk marches,
the trot swings,
the canter springs
Haunches in works the stifle.
Shoulder in works the hocks.
Hock is engagement; stifle is power
Many times, rest and reward. Make the horse dream of the work during the night. The next day, he is eager.
“Matching expression with suppleness — that is dressage!”
— Steffen Peters
Klaus Balkenhol was awarded the title of “Reitmeister” (“Riding Master”) in November of last year at the CDI Stuttgart in Germany. The handsome, gray-haired gentleman said at the time, “I’m still young enough to devote myself to classical riding and the riding culture.”
I say, “Hear, hear!”
So today, let’s start by hearing a tiny bit of Mr. Balkenhol’s wisdom. This is for anyone who works with horses, regardless of their level of expertise or the experience of their horses:
“Don’t be dominant…we have to wait, so the horse can give the answer when we ask the question.”
I imagine that Mr. Balkenhol is talking about communication between horse and rider on many levels. Certainly, when we train, we must ask with our aids and wait for the horse to respond. If we drown out the response with aids that never release, how will we know that the horse has responded to our aids….or the fact that we refuse to release them?
On a deeper level, I suspect that Mr. Balkenhol is speaking of the partnership between horse and rider. As a partner, the horse must be allowed to have a voice. And we must respect the horse, by asking questions and having the patience required to wait for the answer.
Have you ever felt guilty because you pushed your horse too hard? Or felt you let your horse down by not pushing him far enough, so he could show the world what he could do or simply gain in confidence?
Have you ever yanked on your horse’s face and regretted it later? Yelled at your horse? Told him or her something you wish you could take back?
Have you ever forgotten to release or just been too slow?
Have you ever walked by your horse without saying hello? Or neglected to pick feet or groom or give a wither scratch when you had time?
I like a horse that’s hot off the leg and sensitive to the hand.
Sometimes, in the course of training, you have to convince a horse that it really will be more pleasant if he or she can carry him or herself. So you have to refuse to let your hands do the carrying.
Some horses will argue about this rather vehemently, but I’ve never known one that doesn’t actually enjoy it when the conversation is more subtle and they have a part in it. I’m always amused when a horse that shoots me a dirty look or gives me a cold eye during lessons eventually starts to carry himself and then wants to come up and give me a kiss during a walk break.
I’m working with a horse right now who needs to discover a new relationship with hands during groundwork. So I’m doing some basic groundwork a la Buck, getting those hindquarters moving and “offering him a good deal” without pulling on his head. In preparation, I watched Buck’s groundwork tape again and reviewed my notes from his clinic last fall.
There were a few things I starred, including this:
“This is 100% true with a horse. If the horse is dull to your legs, it’s a guarantee he won’t be light to your hands. If he’s light to your leg, it’s possible he’ll be light to your hands. Not a guarantee, but it’s possible.”
I realize that I’ve been lax in reporting on Anne Kursinski’s clinic at this year’s Equine Affaire in Massachusetts, which I promised you.
Anne is a fan of the forward seat — the traditional hunt seat that boasts lightness as its hallmark. Position is primary. As she says,
“If you can’t feel your own body, good luck feeling what your horse is doing.”
What does Anne look for in the forward seat she teaches? Lightness and balance. And a straight line from the rider’s elbow to the horse’s mouth. This line continues over fences with the automatic release.
Kyra Kyrkland was the featured clinician at the New England Dressage Association (NEDA) fall symposium last weekend.
Potential demo riders jumped through flaming hoops for the chance to ride with Kyra. Well, not literally, although it would be refreshing, wouldn’t it, to see some of those dressage pairs jumping through flaming hoops, like in the circus? There should be some form of rebalancing (half-halting) the current vogue of requiring that everyone walk on tippy toes beside the dressage arena so horses and their riders don’t lose focus during a test. A test that allegedly tests, in part, the extent to which a horse is on the aids.
But I digress. Back to the flaming hoops simulation. Potential demo riders first submitted applications and video back in August. Out of the seventy applications received, sixteen semi-finalists were chosen in early October. The day before the symposium, those semi-finalists arrived at Hadley Farm at the University of Massachusetts to ride in front of Kyra. Nine riders were accepted, and the other seven drove their trailers home. I’d venture a guess that some of those riders were among the hundreds of thousands of New Englanders without power. I volunteered at the registration desk, and I was one of many volunteers without power at home.
At the symposium, the emphasis was on riders competing at the upper levels. In fact, one participant was listed as “almost Grand Prix.”