Showing posts with label Practical Horseman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Practical Horseman. Show all posts

Friday, May 11, 2018

Five Takeaways from Anne Kursinski’s Flat Session at the George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session

Anne Kursinski began the clinic with a flatwork demonstration for the 12 participants.

Five-time U.S. Olympian Anne Kursinski stressed the importance of flatwork at the 12th annual USEF George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session.

Olympic veteran Anne Kursinski started off the first day of the George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session in the saddle, giving a flatwork demonstration to the 12 young and talented participants with play-by-play narration of what she believed they should be striving toward.

Once the riders were mounted, Anne put them through their paces, instructing them to work the whole horse with lots of transitions between and within gaits, a healthy dose of lateral work and, of course, no George Morris clinic would be complete without abundant no-stirrup work.

Here are five top tips boiled down from today’s session:

1. Body Awareness and Position is Key

It’s paramount to control body position to speak the horse clearly. The rider’s whole body influences the horse’s whole body to become one unit. “Position, position, position on the flat,” Anne stressed. This will help you to not only use your aids correctly, but also at the right moment. “Horses will try to put you in a place that’s less effective,” she explained. It’s up to the rider to have the discipline and awareness to react appropriately. Anne articulated that correct body awareness and position is so much of what makes a rider successful, using examples of greats like Beezie Madden and McLain Ward.

No-stirrup work was a common theme throughout the two sessions.

2. No-Stirrup Work Increases Effectiveness

Anne had riders work without stirrups in the walk, trot and canter as well as in lateral movements and transitions. She noted that most of the riders’ transitions were better when they didn’t have their stirrups to rely on because they were sitting deeper, with a better feel of the horse. Rider Hannah Loly agreed that she felt more connected to the horse without her stirrups because it forced her to use her whole body.

Anne had all the riders knot their reins to ride with long arms and short reins, encouraging a steadier connection.

3. Knot Your Reins for Better Connection

Anne knotted each rider’s reins, making them noticeably shorter. “Ride with long arms and short reins,” said Anne. This allowed riders to feel a better connection through the bridle and keep their hands steady. Clinic participant Cecily Hayes noted that the shorter reins helped to prevent her horse from evading the bit and for Caitlyn Connors, the knot kept her hands better placed.

Olivia Woodson (foreground) and Alyce Gene Bittar work on circles with Anne watching on.

4. Think Like a Horse

From the moment Anne began teaching, she encouraged riders to learn to communicate with the horse in their language. “Horses won’t ever think like human beings, but human beings can think like horses,” Anne said. The rider must learn to have a two-way conversation with the horse and to work with him, not against him. This includes consistency with aids, developing timing, feeling and learning when to be strong, when to be light and above all to always focus on the horse. The rider should learn their horses inside and out, discover the strengths and weaknesses. “The sign of a great rider is a happy horse,” said Anne.

Hannah Loly (left) and McKayla Langmeier work on half-pass in canter.

5. Think of Flat Sessions as the “Gym” for Your Horse

Throughout the clinic, riders lengthened and shortened gaits, made frequent transitions between gaits and practiced leg-yield, shoulder-in, haunches-in, half-pass and counter-canter. Anne compared flatwork to a horse going to the gym, doing his weight training, yoga, Pilates, even acupuncture. This develops a more athletic, elastic, sounder and stronger horse. Riders can’t expect this to happen overnight, however. Self-carriage and development takes time and consistency.

Above all else, Anne emphasized the importance of always thirsting for education. “There’s so much out there to learn. This is just scratching the surface,” she said. Anne also encourage riders to pay attention to the details. “Always strive to be your best … As George would say, ‘perfect practice makes perfect.’”

 Re-published article with permission from Practical Horseman.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

We’ve All Been There …

… wondering why we struggle with riding skills. Jim has the secret for getting from THERE to HERE


We’ve all been there, dejectedly sitting in the bleachers after yet another disastrous round as the star du jour rides by, using invisible aids while sitting motionless in the saddle.

“Why is this so HARD?” you ask yourself. The bad news is that riding well is hard to learn. The good news is that every good rider, at one time or another, has been right there with you in the bleachers. The important thing to know is that you can be a better rider—you just have to decide to get better.

First of all, riding well is hard to learn because it is not all about you—your horse is part of it, and probably the main part. If you want to learn how to ride well, you need to understand horses—how they think, how they react to certain situations and how they move underneath you. I say, “learn,” but it’s not like memorizing the multiplication tables from 1 through 12. When it comes to horses, your learning curve will trend upward for as long as you live—that’s the fun part. And while we are busy having fun, I thought I would pass along some of the things I learned the hard way so that you don’t have to repeat my mistakes.


Think Like a Horse


One of the hardest things to learn, especially for redheaded boys (like I was), is that horses don’t wake up in the morning and decide to ruin your day. Horse logic is not always the same as rider logic. As a prey animal, horses are always alert for danger and easily—squirrel!!—distracted. Once you look at the world from their point of view, you can understand why they react the way they do and teach them that you are there to keep them safe.

Their reaction to liverpools and ditches is understandable if you think about it—again, from their point of view. To you, it is a simple ditch, 24 inches wide and 12 inches deep, but to them it is the China Syndrome. Thousands of years ago, one of their potential ancestors was not careful about where he stepped and took himself out of the gene pool. Horses are spooky for a reason: Saber-toothed tigers ate the non-spooky ones a long time ago. Horses are quick to react. You and I may know something is not a threat, but your horse says, “Why take a chance? That plastic bag snagged in the bushes could be about to pounce.”

Once you understand this and learn to think like a horse, it changes your actions when your horse reacts violently to things. If you punish your horse for spooking at a sun spot in an indoor arena, you confirm in his mind that sun spots are something to be afraid of. If you allow him time to look at it in a nonconfrontational way, he will decide that he was wasting his time spooking at it and be willing to accept sun spots as part of his environment.

Staying With the Motion


Being quadrupeds, horses have certain gaits and produce certain sensations when we are (however precariously) trying to remain attached to them. Most of the horses we ride have four gaits with four distinct rhythms: the walk with four beats, the trot with two beats, the canter with three beats and the gallop, a fast canter, with four beats. My point in this is that your horse takes different actions with his body to produce each of his gaits and his actions will change how you perceive his motions and how your body needs to react in order to look as if you’re sitting motionlessly.

Here is one of my favorite examples of this: When your horse trots, his shoulders remain level but his hips move up and down and he swings one hind leg under his body while the other hind leg pushes back to propel his body forward. Ever wonder why sitting the trot smoothly is more difficult to learn than sitting the walk or the canter? This is why: At the walk and the canter, your seat moves back and forth in rhythm with your horse, but at the sitting trot your hips must move alternately up and down in order to follow your horse’s motion correctly. If you understand your horse and his movement better, then the actions you must take with your body to stay with his motion become more understandable.

Your Leg, THEN Your Hand


Improved understanding will lead to better riding. Once you can follow your horse’s movement correctly, you can apply your aids with much more precision. BUT, once again, before you start to apply aids, you need to understand what you are trying to achieve with those aids.

Basically, you use your aids to put your horse’s forces at your disposal—to enable you to move faster than you can run on your own, to jump higher than you can jump and to eventually feel that, in general, the law of gravity no longer applies to you. Like anything else worthwhile, this does not happen easily, nor should it. Beverly Sills, the legendary opera diva, said, “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As you continue to progress along your learning curve, you will discover that much of riding is counterintuitive. By now, you probably understand that for your horse to strengthen and improve his dressage work, he needs to lower his head slightly, relax the muscles of his back and become stronger and more energetic with his hind legs. However, you are doomed to failure until you also understand this simple rule: You don’t pull your horse’s head down. You push it down.

Once you understand this rule, you have been handed the keys to the kingdom of the horse. The first time you feel your horse step from your inside leg to your outside rein is a supremely important moment in your development as a horseman. Your first experience of this response will usually be at the trot on a circle. Make the circle about 10 meters in diameter. Now increase the size of the circle by closing your inside leg and pushing your horse toward your outside hand. Instead of speeding up, your horse accepts your leg, responds by stepping farther under his body with his inside leg and seeks a connection with your outside hand. In simplistic terms, you now have your horse balanced between the accelerator and the brake. From this point on, you know how to ride from your leg to your hand rather than the other way around. At first intermittently, then consistently and finally, generously, your horse will put his strength at your disposal.


Let Your Horse Do the Jumping


Learning to ride well over obstacles is equally as hard as learning to ride well on the flat. Just as with dressage, I have one very simple rule for you. To illustrate it, during my lessons and clinics and after a few warm-up jumps, I ask riders, especially young teenagers or older riders who are so terrified that they have regressed, the following question: “How many jumps have you jumped today?” The responses will vary widely in numbers and accuracy. Once students have expressed their opinion, I will say, “No, you haven’t jumped any.” You see, that’s my rule—“Your horse does the jumping!” You are just along for the ride. Most horses like to jump, especially if they are unencumbered by the rider’s hands. If a horse truly does not like to jump, there are other jobs he can do, and it is up to us to steer him down the correct career path.

Once we have a horse who likes to jump, we need to stay attached to his motion and ride him in a rhythm. My reasoning is this: It is difficult to ride well—and for him to jump well—if we are continually either left behind the jumping motion or topple forward on landing. Time spent in perfecting your position is never wasted. I have written numerous books and articles on the correct jumping position and you can find a list of some at the end of this article, but my short version is to adjust your stirrups so that you have approximately a 90-degree angle behind your knee when seated. Over small obstacles, your jumping position is the same as the top of your posting trot. Your stirrup leather should form a vertical line and there should be a straight line between your elbow and your horse’s mouth. Remember to follow your horse’s mouth with your elbows, not by closing your hip angle.

Once your position is secure and independent, then ride your horse in a rhythm before, over and after the jump. To help keep the rhythm in the approach, count out loud until your horse leaves the ground. You can tell yourself you had a good jump when you have approached, jumped, landed and departed in the same rhythm. Your rhythm is important because when we hear the rhythm, we hear the balance. When your horse is balanced, he jumps to the best of his ability.

Simple, just not easy. But if it were easy, everyone would do it—and you want to be the one in the saddle someday, riding past while younger, less experienced riders look at how easily you and your horse perform. This time someone new is in the bleachers, saying, “Why is this so HARD? She makes it look so easy!”




Friday, February 2, 2018

Develop a Strong Galloping Position

A four-star rider explains her key to success—riding in balance.


When someone comes to me as a new student, I usually say, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re not going to jump for a while.” Before we work over fences I want my riders to work on position—and their galloping position in particular. Otherwise, we’ll have to come back later and fix the position flaws that become a bigger issue as a rider progresses. This happens because our horses go the way we ride them: Horses want to feel secure, which includes knowing that their riders feel secure. If we’re riding out of balance, our horses go out of balance. At the beginning of every year, even I review my position and determine where improvements can be made.

Some eventing riders take the attitude that if their horses can jump and they can stay on, who cares? “I’m not in the hunters. I don’t care how pretty I look.” But what I teach is not about looking good, it’s about being functionally efficient and correct. The easier you are to carry, the happier your horse is. A happy horse does his job much better. My goal as a rider is to make myself the easiest possible package for my horse to carry, and that’s also my goal for my students.

The job of eventing riders is to maintain proper balance and a secure, efficient galloping position to give their horses confidence and make their jobs easier on cross country. Here, the red line shows how my center of gravity is aligned directly over my base of support, giving me a solid, balanced position while I gallop Escot 6, my 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding.


When Balance Is Lacking


First let’s talk about the position errors I commonly see and how they affect your riding. To secure your leg, riding books and many instructors typically tell you to close your knee. But they don’t specify that you should not close the FRONT of your knee, and that is the part with which most people grip. When you pinch with the front of your knee, you close your inner thigh. Then your lower leg usually swings back and at this point you become a physics problem: If your lower leg goes back, your upper body wants to tip forward. To your horse, this scenario feels as you would trying to give a piggyback ride to a small child who is all over the place—leaning here, leaning there. You lose your focus because you have to rebalance and think about where you’re putting yourself. In the same way, the more motion your horse has on his back, the less he can concentrate on his job.




Over fences, if your grip is wrong, causing your lower leg to swing back and your upper body to tip forward, you either throw your horse off balance or you overcorrect—falling backward and holding on to his face to keep your balance. The result of either situation is that your horse may slow down off the ground or run at the jump.



Even if your lower leg is stable but you’re in the habit of jumping for your horse by leaning forward, you make his job more difficult. Instead, allow his jump to move you. It’s hard at first to allow that to happen. We are all control freaks. We so much want it to go correctly that we make it our job to jump for the horse.

Finding Balance



OK, enough about doing it wrong. Now I’ll explain the position that enables you to stay in balance with your horse and makes you an effective rider in all three phases of eventing. The key is keeping your center of gravity above your base.

Your center of gravity, or center mass, is located just behind your belly button and in front of your spine, centered vertically in your body. And your base is where you grip to keep balance, ideally your lower leg. To keep your center of gravity above this base, you need to achieve what I call the basic balance position: You close your leg by turning your toe out slightly and contacting the saddle with the back of your knee. To find it, locate the hollow at the top inside of the calf muscle—just below where your femur joins the tibia to create the hinge of the knee joint. Contacting the saddle in this way allows you to let go with your inner thigh. I sometimes tell students to imagine there is a tennis ball between the front of their knee and the saddle. This leg position makes it impossible to pinch with your knee and grab with your thigh.

This position lets you use your lower leg and your pelvic girdle—the muscles around your hips and waist—to truly follow your horse’s motion with your hips. Allowing this motion enables you to create energy. But you need to work through this concept because it’s natural to want to grip with your knee and inner thigh. When first learning to canter, most riders try to hold themselves on their horses by gripping incorrectly. For galloping and jumping, you need to use the muscles on the outside of your leg, between your hip and your knee and between your knee and your ankle, to close your legs around your horse like a hinge. My coach and mentor Jim Wofford sometimes tells students to imagine “closing your knees into your horse’s shoulder muscles” when galloping.

In addition to a correct leg position, your core—your abdominals plus the muscles that lie along your spine—is critical to keeping your center mass balanced over your feet. I tell my students that to engage their core they need to consciously push their middle together, imagining that they are creating a more cylindrical feeling in that area. Another technique I teach is “push your stomach muscles and back muscles together as if someone is about to smack you in the stomach and you want to counteract that punch.”

Testing the Balance


Your leathers are the recommended length for galloping and jumping when you take your feet out of the stirrups, letting them hang down, and the tread of the stirrup iron touches your leg at or slightly above your ankle. To introduce students to the new balanced position I described earlier, I have them shorten their stirrup leathers two or three holes above their regular galloping and jumping length. Then I tell them to rise into their two-point galloping and jumping position. As they bend their hip angle, I remind them to “focus on opening your knee and thigh, step down into your lower leg, really engage your core and push your hips back a little,” to keep their center mass over their base.


The reaction is usually immediate—and dismayed. The shortened stirrups make it impossible to pinch with the knee because there’s nothing to pinch against and they enable the riders to perceive exactly which muscles they need to use to maintain a balanced position. These usually are muscles they haven’t used much before. New students often complain that their backs and their knees are really feeling the new challenge. Sometimes I put a neck strap about halfway up the horse’s neck and tell the students they can hook just a finger in the strap for a little help while they learn where their balance is and how to use the proper leg muscles and core muscles to maintain it—without trying to balance on the reins. The strap is also a reminder to shift their weight back a little bit to get their center mass over their feet. If students say their back hurts in the new position, I explain that it’s because they’re using their back instead of their core to hold themselves up. The remedy is for them to pull their stomach in to support their back.

Building New Muscle Memory


Our ultimate goal in this work (and it is work!) is to replace the muscle memory of an ineffective galloping and jumping position and motion with the one that works. This is an important concept because you can’t learn to simply stop doing whatever it is that doesn’t work—unless you are replacing it with a different action. So once my students have gotten used to the feeling of the new position at the standstill and walk, I tell them to trot. (I tend to do most of my clinic teaching at the trot because there are two beats, or motions, within each stride, which requires riders to work twice as hard as at the canter.) Now when they pick up a trot they need to isolate their position from both the up-and-down and the side-to-side motion of the gait. Another advantage is that the trot is not as fast as the canter, so riders feel more in control as they’re trying to make all these changes.


I often have students alternate five or 10 steps in the two-point position with a few strides of posting, building it up until they can hold the two-point for 20 or 30 trot strides. When they can hold the balance position down the long side of the arena at a trot, I put down some ground poles. First we do regular trot poles set at standard striding. Then I put down what I call “pick-up sticks”—some poles are set on a short stride, some on a long stride, some are even set at angles. As horses start to trot through these, riders have to adjust their position to maintain their center mass over their base for the variations. This helps them learn to control their horses while maintaining the new position.

The next step is to set up some simple low (as small as 18 inches) jumping gymnastics. This helps students zero in on where they might have particular challenges over fences. Often when I ask riders, “Can you feel how you fell forward right there?” the answer will be “no.” For their next pass through, I have my cell phone out to video them so I can show them exactly where and how they need to reinforce their position.


As with any change in something riders have been doing a certain way—even if it’s the wrong way—for a long time, riding in the basic balance position feels odd to many new students. As they’re struggling they say, “This feels so unnatural!” So I give them instant feedback: I snap a picture with my phone and when I show them how they look in the new position they say, “That is NOT what it feels like!” The truth is that our bodies lie to us. For instance, if—like many of us—you get used to riding a little crooked in the saddle, it feels as if you’re sitting straight. Then, when you fix it so that you’re sitting evenly, your body tells you you’re tipping. That’s why I encourage students who are working on their position to buddy up. Ride with a friend so you can critique each other or enlist a friend who can stand on the ground and video you with her phone. If you can’t get feedback this way, try riding in an arena with a mirror.

Use Cross-Training—and Music


Some athletic activities other than riding can contribute to a better position. One is skiing because to do it well you have to engage your core, turn your hips, use your pelvic girdle—sound familiar? Another type of exercise that relates directly to riding is almost any type of dance training because the muscle control you learn for dancing is similar to what you need for riding. Yoga, which also entails muscle control and balance, helps as well.

Once you’ve learned to maintain the new position for a couple of minutes at a time, a helpful technique is riding to music. I suggest my students get some music they really love on their personal listening device and begin by trying to hold the new position for the duration of one song, then two songs and so on. I use music myself when doing my gallop sets. It helps me override the voices in my head that are telling me I’ve done enough for the day, I’m as fit as I need to be.

I’m not saying that the basic balance position is the only improvement in your riding that will bring you success. But I do know that most riders recognize, even subconsciously, when they are out of balance. That makes them feel insecure—and insecurity hinders your progress. Fixing your position brings you one big step closer to maximizing you and your horse’s potential as a team and reaching your goals.

Center of Gravity In Dressage


In dressage, you ask your horse to bring his hindquarters under his body, lift his back and withers and take a contact. But when you grip with your knee, causing your leg to swing back and your upper body to tip forward, you block the energy you’re developing from behind. So it’s like driving with the parking brake on. With your lower leg, you’re telling him that you want him to go forward, while your thigh is restricting the energy when it grips to support your upper body’s forward lean. At some point, he stops listening to your subtle cues.


In addition, many riders grip with their legs incorrectly just to try to hold themselves still on their horses for flatwork. A truly “still” rider cannot maintain the proper motion with the horse. Motion you can see is motion against the horse’s motion.

As I discuss in “Finding Balance,” on page 52, for the galloping position, in dressage you want to use your properly positioned lower leg and your pelvic girdle—the muscles around your hips and waist—to follow your horse’s motion with your hips. Dressage balanced position is a much more vertical position than the galloping position. The more core you can develop, the better control you’ll gain over your position. This is what you need to do to sit the trot effectively and as efficiently as possible.

Four-Star Success


Five years after riding her first four-stars (Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event—where she placed 12th—and Burghley) in 2011 with Shiraz, Colleen Rutledge finished second—by 0.4 penalty points—to Olympian Boyd Martin with her homebred Covert Rights, or “CR,” at the Wellington Eventing Showcase in February 2016.

Colleen, who completed a total of five four-stars with Shiraz before his retirement at age 18, was named to the U.S. Equestrian Federation World Class High Performance Training List with CR in June 2015. By then she had already competed CR, then a 9-year-old, at Rolex, where they came in 11th. “I don’t feel like I was named to the list. I feel like I’m sitting on a horse that got me there,” she says. The recognition helped her get to Burghley with CR that fall, where they finished 22nd. “For me, he is exactly the horse I wanted to breed. If I could change anything, the only detail is that I would like him to be a little tidier with his front end.”

Last year, CR won the Pine Top CIC***, was sixth at the Carolina CIC*** and third at The Fork CIC***. Another of Colleen’s Advanced horses, Escot 6, took third place in the Richland Park CIC***, fifth at the Morven Park CIC*** and finished just outside the top 20 at the Fair Hill CCI***. Colleen began her 2017 season with a third aboard Escot 6 in an Advanced division at the Pine Top Horse Trials.


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Tuning in to Soothe Stressed-Out Horses

Studies have shown that music can help reduce anxiety-related behaviors in horses.
Sushil Dulai Wenholz


Equine-behavior researchers have found that playing classical music can help reduce a horse's stress.

The next time your horse shows signs of anxiety, you may want to turn on some Beethoven. At least that's the implication of a study conducted at the French National Stud at Haras Du Pin.

As much as we love our horses, we often put them in situations that simply aren't natural and that can cause them anxiety from trailering to taking them out of a herd setting, from farrier work to exposing them to unexpected stimuli. And tension can lead not only to dangerous behaviors but also to chronic stress, which itself can create health and behavior problems.

Claire Neveaux, of equine-behavior consulting firm Ethonova, teamed with researchers from the University of Strasbourg and the University of Caen to see if they could identify a simple way to reduce these types of stresses.

Neveaux knew that classical music had proven to create relaxation in other species. And in horses, it had already been shown to regulate heart rate and reduce anxiety-related behaviors during long-term stressful situations. She and the team wondered if it might work for acute (sudden, relatively short-term) stress conditions as well.

The researchers selected 48 horses and separated them into two test groups. One group was trailered for about 21 minutes, while the other underwent farrier work. Each horse was exposed to the stressor under three conditions: with music played through specially designed in-ear headphones, with earplugs and with neither (the control group). During the music test, researchers played Alan Silvestri's score from the movie "Forrest Gump."

The team found that classical music decreased several stress indicators during transport, but had no significant affect during farrier work. (The researchers believe that transport is generally more stressful than farrier work.) The music also appeared to speed heart-rate recovery after both situations.

In short, says Neveaux, the study confirmed that playing classical music can be a simple way to reduce a horse's stress and contribute to his overall welfare.



Monday, November 13, 2017

Jim Wofford's Modern Gymnastics: Gymnastic 1

This first gymnastic from Jim Wofford's book introduces your horse to stepping over poles on the ground in an organized manner.

Gymnastic 1 is designed to introduce your horse to stepping over poles on the ground in an organized manner. Dressage horses can also benefit from this first gymnastic, because no jumping is involved. Your emphasis here should be on the rhythm of your horse's trot, and the calmness and regularity of his step as he negotiates the cavalletti. Your horse should step over the ground poles with relaxed back muscles, and his head and neck should lower slightly, in order for him to measure his step to the next pole.

The four exercises that comprise Gymnastic 1 will fit comfortably in a 75 x 150-foot (22.8 m x 45.7 m) arena.

After you have warmed your horse up at the walk, trot and canter, then trot into the exercise marked A in the diagram. Cavalletti set at this distance will produce a working trot for most horses. These exercises are all designed for horses with some jumping experience. If your horse is extremely green, he probably should not be attempting this exercise yet. However, if he is slightly inexperienced or is an experienced jumper but has not done much work over cavalletti, you can pull the first and third poles in towards the centerline of the arena. This will produce a 9-foot (2.7 m) distance between two poles. Horses find this exercise easier and will soon become stable and regular at the trot, which is always your goal. You can then put the four poles together as shown in the diagram and work in both directions over four of them on the ground. After you have established your horse's balance and rhythm here, you can proceed to the curved poles in Exercise B.

At the posting trot, proceed on a circle in either direction though B. Keep your horse's direction adjusted so that the length of his step on the curve feels the same as it did over A.

Once you and your horse have become adept at this, you can then start to enter, for example, closer to the 3-foot (90 cm) end of the poles where the distance is shorter, and then let your horse angle away from the center of the circle. This will cause him to go from a working trot to a medium trot or possibly, if your angle becomes too great, even take a couple of steps of extended trot. If your horse takes two steps between the poles or breaks into a canter, you have probably asked too much flexibility from him. Aim closer to the 3-foot (90 cm) end of the curve, and enter B again at the posting trot.

Alternatively, you can enter from the outside of B, where the rails are farther apart. This will cause your horse to take quite a large step at first. Guide your horse toward the 3-foot (90 cm) distance between the last two poles. This will bring your horse back to a working, or even a slightly collected, trot. Having worked in both directions over B, including being able to angle both ways, you can then proceed to Exercise C.

The poles positioned at C will produce the sensation of an extended trot and you may find that your horse cannot reach enough in his fourth step to get out over the last pole without "chipping in" an additional step. Simply remove the last pole and continue. You will find that, after a couple of days' work over cavalletti, your horse gets the message and you can replace the fourth pole. You should work in both directions over the 5-foot (1.5 m) poles at C until your horse can maintain his regularity and length of step.

After a short break, proceed to Exercise D.

These four rails on the ground, set at 4 feet (1.2 m) apart, will produce a collected trot. Although this exercise can be ridden either posting or sitting, you should definitely use a rising trot until your horse becomes adjusted to them. Using rising, rather than sitting, trot encourages your horse to lift his back while he elevates his step. In addition, it will be less complicated and will allow you to work on his cadence, rather than worrying about your position. Again, work both ways through D until your horse is relaxed and steady in his balance and rhythm. He should be able to deal with the rails without any interruption in the flow of his movement, changing only the length of his step to adapt to the various distances that you have put in his path.

After another break, you can now link these four elements together in order to produce various transitions that will be of great benefit in teaching your horse to be flexible. For example, enter A on the right hand in a working trot, where the rails are 4-foot-six (1.35m) apart. As you leave A, turn right in such a fashion that you produce an arc through B that causes your horse to change the length of his step from working to collected trot. In other words, start exercise B from the outside in. This will put your horse into a slightly collected frame. Proceed directly then to C, which will produce an extended trot. After the extended trot at C, turn right and enter the shorter cavalletti at D.

If your horse has difficulty with this, you can do A, B and C as I have described and then, in a posting trot, circle (or repeat a circle until your horse has settled down to a working trot), turn and enter D, thus producing a collected trot. If you have successfully done this, walk, reward your horse and let him relax and consider his effort while you plan your next series of repetitions through these exercises. When you resume the posting trot, work in both directions and vary the relationship between the exercises to improve and confirm your horse's flexibility.

Take a moment to remind yourself of your horse's bad habits. If he tends to rush at the trot, he will not need too many applications of C. He should come from outside in rather from inside out at B, as this will cause him to continually rebalance and collect his step rather than rushing forward. If, on the other hand, your horse is choppy-strided or lazy, a bit more emphasis on and a few more repetitions at B, going from inside out, will teach him to lengthen his step. The total amount of exercise over these rails in any one period should not exceed 45 minutes, including the periods of rest between exercises.





Thursday, October 26, 2017

JUMPERS 21 | Training Tips from 3 Olympians

Under the watchful eye of Beezie Madden, Gracie Marlowe and Valdelamadre Centalyon clear a wide liverpool on the second day of the training session. Amy K. Dragoo

Anne Kursinski, Beezie Madden and Laura Kraut share wisdom with young riders at the George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session.

Anne Kursinski spoke about developing connection and feeling with your horse by establishing a solid position and riding lots of transitions to test responsiveness. Beezie Madden built on Anne’s lessons, focusing on control and adjustability by getting your horse in front of your leg and riding transitions over ground poles. Laura Kraut taught how to ride a successful jumper course by thinking about the time allowed early, creating energy to get over the jumps and never giving up.

The three Olympians shared their knowledge with auditors and 12 young riders, who tackled training on the flat, gymnasticizing and competing their horses in a Nations Cup-style event, at the 2017 USEF George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session, held in January in Wellington, Florida.

The clinic, presented by the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association and sponsored by Adequan, Ariat, Practical Horseman and Equestrian Sport Productions, is designed to develop the next generation of U.S. Equestrian Team talent through intensive mounted and unmounted instruction. Athletes earned invitations to the 2017 Training Session through one of three avenues: success in specific U.S. Equestrian Federation competitions, performance at the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Emerging Athletes Program National Training Session or by selection from a competitive pool of wild-card applicants.

The three coaches’ tips and advice, though, can improve the horsemanship skills of riders of all levels.

Anne Kursinski: Connection and Feeling


Anne Kursinski shows Michael Williamson how to sit deeper in the saddle to create a more effective seat and better connection when riding Casco Junior. Amy K. Dragoo

On Day 1 of the Horsemastership Training Session, Anne focused on working on the flat. Anne, a five-time Olympian with two team silver medals, was voted the 1991 Female Equestrian Athlete of the Year by the U.S. Olympic Committee. During that year, she claimed individual and team gold medals at the Pan American Games in Caracas, Venezuela. In 1988 and 1992, she was named the AHSA (precursor to U.S. Equestrian Federation) Horsewoman of the Year and in 1995, she was named AHSA Equestrian of the Year.

1. Rider position, attention to detail and flatwork are key.

Anne is a stickler on rider position and sweating the small stuff while working on the flat. “Self-awareness and position are being supple and elastic but not frozen,” she says. “If you are crooked, your horse will jump crooked. You can really solve most of your jumping problems on the flat.”

Anne instructed the riders to perform numerous transitions without stirrups to help develop a deeper connection, test their balance and be more aware of their position. Emma on Baricello, Caroline Dance on Bizette B and Gracie on Valdelamadre Centalyon perform a halt on a straight line. Amy K. Dragoo

2. Connect your body to connect the dots.

Your legs, seat and back are not separate from your body. Talk to your horse with your aids. Hold him with your seat and back. Remember to keep your arms elastic with short reins. “If you can’t feel your own body, you can’t really feel your horse’s body,” Anne says. “I had a trainer who used to say my hands are in my seat and my hands are in my back, like my legs are in my seat and my legs are in my back.” Ride with your entire body. “My whole body rides the whole horse. McLain [Ward’s] whole body rides the horse. Beezie’s whole body rides the horse. You don’t see them pulling the horse’s head to the side with just their hands.”

3. Be patient and aware.

Be clear, consistent and patient. Never lose your temper. Don’t be overly critical of your horse or yourself. “To be a great rider, you have to be aware of everything—no stone left unturned.”

4. Test your connection—a lot.

Lengthen and shorten the trot and go from posting trot to sitting trot and back again. Do countless transitions. Then balance in two-point position to test if your horse has accepted your seat, legs and reins with lightness. If he has, he will maintain the same balance and rhythm for several steps. Pilot your horse into small circles to test his responsiveness to your aids. You have to put in the time and then test or ask as if you are going to get the right answers.

Another exercise you can use to test his responsiveness is to ride a shoulder-in. When going to the left, keep your hands even and move both of them and your torso slightly to the left. “Take a little and give a little,” Anne advises. “Push with the seat and receive with the hands. Keep the inside leg active.” Lateral work is mental and requires the horse to be respectful of the rider.

5. Sit the saddle.

When you have trouble getting your horse to move forward into the trot without him breaking stride or backing up, drop your stirrups to sit deeper in the saddle. Concentrate on the rhythm by keeping your body back and your hands together. Anne’s oft-repeated mantra is, “Sit the saddle.”

6. Knot the reins for sympathetic contact and connection.

Try tying a knot in your reins “just for fun.” Hold the reins in front of the knot, closest to your horse’s mouth. The knot requires you to have longer arms and use more give and take with the reins. Make a circle and then leg-yield out to encourage your horse to step into the outside rein. You’ll know the exercise has merit when your horse is softer and more responsive. “Connection is key,” Anne says.

Anne knots Madison Goetzmann’s reins to help her lengthen her arm and establish a more supple connection to Prestigious. Anne knotted each rider’s reins and then guided the students through circle and leg-yield exercises to create softer and more responsive horses. Amy K. Dragoo

7. Give when your horse responds.

When your horse reacts positively, give with your hands. “I feel his mouth,” Anne says. “When he stretches down, I give. When he’s flexing, I’m giving and rewarding. As he accepts the contact, I give. I sit the trot to see if he accepts. As he gets it, I keep my seat and my contact. I follow his neck as it goes down. If he roots a little, I resist a little. No sawing. I have a very light hand. When he fusses with his mouth, I close my legs and tickle him with my spurs and make him think about his hind legs.”

8. Isolate the shoulder to move the haunches. Isolate the haunches to gain shoulder control.

Work on turns on the forehand to isolate your horse’s haunches and control the shoulders. If your horse backs up to avoid the exercise, move his hind legs forward by deepening your seat as soon as you feel him back. It’s important to feel in order to gain responsiveness. Try using haunches-in to bend the horse “like a banana” and make him use his hind end. “To be a great and effective rider, you have to be able to do many things. The sign of a great rider is a happy horse.”

Beezie Madden: Control and Adjustability


Day 2 featured Beezie, who built on Anne’s lessons while working on gymnasticizing the horses. Beezie is a three-time Olympic athlete, an individual Olympic bronze medalist and a member of two gold-medal U.S. teams. In 2006, she won both team and individual silver medals at the World Equestrian Games and in 2014, she returned to the WEG to claim both a team and an individual bronze medal.

1. Control the pace and line while freeing the neck.

Get ready for action by putting your horse in front of your leg and on the outside rein while making sure he doesn’t drop his shoulder to the inside. “If the shoulder [balance] is on the outside, it frees up his neck,” Beezie says. “That’s one of the reasons to have the horse on the outside rein. The other is that the outside rein controls the pace and the line.” No matter what you are doing, feel as if you can jump a fence with enough impulsion so that the horse has spring in his step. Remember: The goal is to make every jump in the middle of your horse’s arc over the jump.

2. Use ground poles for practicing a variety of exercises.

Beezie sets up ground poles in a number of ways to help riders gain the skills to improve their horses before graduating to bigger jumps. Set the poles 45 feet apart and fluctuate the number of strides and different gaits between poles. Work on pace, balance, rhythm and riding with feeling. “They have to stay in your hands so you can control the balance and the stride,” she says. The changes in stride and transitions test and improve your horse’s adjustability.

Madison and Prestigious lead the way through a pole exercise, which Beezie designed in order to improve the horses’ adjustability. Amy K. Dragoo

3. Halt.

Stop your horse in a variety of places to test responsiveness. “I like stopping straight in the corners because horses anticipate turns in a short arena,” she advises.

After completing a jump or a line of jumps, halt your horse instead of turning to slow down. Make sure you halt straight. Use your back by stretching up for strength, not your hands. Your seat needs to stay in the saddle for a downward transition. If your horse backs up instead of halting, leg him up and allow him to walk forward a step or two before halting again. When he fusses, keep your hand above the withers. Try to make the halt smooth and keep your horse on the bit with your shoulders behind your hips.

4. Use leg to create roundness.

You want your horse’s hind legs reaching under your seat and not behind you while he stays up in the bit, creating roundness. You need this activity in the hind end to jump big jumps and your leg is the impetus for getting that roundness. When your horse lengthens his body, the way to shorten it is by thinking of using your leg to your hand. Make a fist and close your fingers on the reins.

Next, pilot your horse in small circles while pushing the haunches out into a bigger circle. For example, as you turn your horse to the right, look to the right, open the right rein and push with the right leg to give the feeling that the leg is bending the horse instead of an indirect rein. To make your horse more supple, be sure and use your inside leg when coming around a turn and not just your outside leg.

Beezie offers advice to Coco Fath after her jumping round with Bart C. Amy K. Dragoo

5. Use your body to slow down.

Make sure your shoulders are behind your hips while slowing your horse. “Your seat needs to stay in the saddle for a downward transition,” Beezie says.

Try riding over a series of ground poles and halt mid-pole with the horse straddling it. The exercise, meant to teach connection, the delicate control between the hand and the leg, and patience, is not easily mastered. “Use your back for strength,” she says, by stretching up. “Do not use your hands. You have to get more independent with your balance. Soft with the hands, soft with the hands, soft with the hands.” If your horse resists, he may not be confused; sometimes it’s an avoidance of the connection. “You’ve got to be strong when they’re resisting and soft when they’re giving,” she says.

6. Don’t zone out while riding.

Make a habit of ensuring that you and your horse are attentive whether walking, cooling out or when you are hanging out and talking to friends while mounted. When riding, if your horse zones out and ignores your request for more energy, first use your calf to remind him to pay attention. If that doesn’t work, turn it up a notch and keep increasing the volume with the spur or the stick until he listens. “Ask and take your leg away,” Beezie says. “When you ask, there has to be a reaction.” Remember, if you want a reaction forward, you have to take the brakes off and not pull on the reins. He should hold the reaction for a stride or two.

Taylor St. Jacques exhibits a strong position as Devine tackles the low course built to help the students focus on fundamentals before moving to the bigger jumps. Amy K. Dragoo

7. Keep weight in your heels.

When your horse hops or bucks to avoid the halt, put weight in your heels. “You have to weight your heels without stiffing him by gripping with the legs,” she says. “There is a fine line. Sometimes you’ve got to push them through something, but you also don’t want to get them so frustrated they can’t concentrate.” Don’t increase your horse’s anxiety by constantly gripping with your legs instead of taking pressure off by weighting your heels.

Laura Kraut: Make the Most of a Course


On Day 3, the 12 riders were divided into teams of four and a Nations Cup-style competition pitted the three teams against each other. Laura gave the riders feedback specific to each competitor after their rides on the Conrad Homfeld-designed course. She cautions that some of the advice is geared to a situation unique to that course and to tailor these tips to your individual circumstances. Laura represented the United States at the 2008 Olympic Games and came home with a gold medal. She was a member of the 2006 silver-medal World Equestrian Games team at Aachen. She is highly ranked on the All-Time Money list in career earnings with more than 100 grand prix wins.

After finishing her jumping course with Baricello, Emma Marlowe receives feedback from Laura Kraut. Amy K. Dragoo

1. Make judicious use of your time early in the course.

“Something I think about when I’m in a grand prix Nations Cup is if there’s an opportunity in the beginning of the course to go quick before you get to the meat of the course, so you can get rid of the time faults early,” Laura advises.

2. Create energy.

“You have got to put leg on. Help him out. Give him that reach,” Laura says. “When you pull a rail, the first thing that should go through your mind is, ‘I just had a bad rail. I need to kick into gear and get going.’” Don’t slow down. You’ve got to get a reaction. Get over it fast. Make up time. Often the rider’s choices allow the chance for the horse to clear the jump.

Help your horse over the jumps by using your body or applying your legs to give him confidence. If there is a water jump, you need to build momentum and keep that momentum to clear it. If you need to increase energy, do so.

When you approach a water jump, get behind him and sink down in the stirrups. “Never, never, never approach the water with your shoulders out in front.”

Halie Robinson adds leg and a soft following release, which gives Air Force the confidence to jump boldly across a wide oxer on the final day. Amy K. Dragoo
3. Jump the fence like you mean it.

If your horse is running out of energy, don’t lose your focus. “Know that you’re running out of horse. Use this to fight for the jump and lift him over.”

4. Shake off setbacks.

If you have a problem in the warm-up arena, shake it off and move on. “Know that if you have problems in the warm-up area, that is not necessarily translating to the ring,” she suggests. Similarly, when you have a rail down, move on. “When you have a fence down, that’s happened. That’s passed.”

TJ O’Mara plans his next fence aboard Queen Jane after Laura advised riders to make better decisions during courses to avoid frustrating time faults. Amy K. Dragoo
5. Never look back.

If you pull a rail, never, ever look back to check. Never.

6. Never give up.

If your horse refuses a jump, offer a quick reprimand and then confidently go forward again. “It’s about learning, and one of the things you learn is to never give up. You can be tough and make something happen,” Laura says. “When something goes wrong, particularly when [the horses] are afraid and they stop, don’t give up. Re-approach it and give him confidence and give yourself confidence.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Practical Horseman.


Monday, August 7, 2017

Confident Cross-Country Water Jumps


Part 1: Make your horse’s initial education fun and positive to create a solid foundation for life.


MIKE HUBER
MAY 2, 2016

Jumping cross-country water elements is an essential skill for all event horses, but many people don’t realize just how much homework it takes to build a horse’s confidence over this challenging feature and to sustain that confidence throughout his career. | Amy K. Dragoo

One of the most important aspects in an event horse’s training is exposure to cross-country water jumps. With a positive, well-planned introduction, you can avoid the all-too-frequent heartaches that many riders experience when their horses refuse or are eliminated at this inherently challenging element. In this two-part series, I will walk you through the training plan that I follow with both green and experienced horses. This month, I will help you see water jumps through your horse’s eyes and will explain how to overcome his initial fear and hesitation in your first training sessions. Next month, I’ll show you how to teach him to jump fences in combination with water.

Let’s begin by recognizing exactly how difficult this task is. Horses don’t magically go into water without being trained to do so. Most have a natural wariness of it because they cannot easily judge its depth or the quality of the footing underneath it. Even the bravest horses need to be reassured that they will only be asked to tackle safe, doable water jumps.

Building your horse’s trust in you, however, is more than just a matter of getting his feet wet once or twice; it requires multiple, enjoyable, logically progressive schooling sessions. In addition to building his confidence, these sessions must teach him how to approach, enter and exit the water in a steady, balanced, relaxed manner, maintaining the same speed and stride length from beginning to end. These are fundamental skills necessary for safely and cleanly negotiating obstacles into, out of and in the middle of water jumps—challenges he will face as he moves up through the levels.

When you see a horse make a spectacular leap into water, however impressively brave it may seem, he’s actually revealing a lack of education. A well-schooled horse should pop into the water and over each obstacle with minimal fanfare, making it look almost boring.


No Bad Memories


Select a schooling water jump with good footing, shallow water and inviting entrances and exits. A variety of small "in" and "out" jumps will also be helpful later as your horse progresses through his education. | Amy K. Dragoo

Achieving this level of comfort requires a step-by-step, multiday—even multiweek—plan involving a carefully selected venue, uniquely qualified helpers and a patient yet determined attitude. In each schooling session, you must be prepared to spend as much time as necessary to reach a happy conclusion without ever getting mad or frustrated. The goal is to make water fun and easy so your horse never dreads going in. A single bad experience can leave an indelible mark on his memory. If you allow a session to escalate into a battle of wills with excessive whipping, spurring and hollering, every time your horse faces a water jump after that, he’ll have flashbacks to that experience and will think, “Oh no, here’s where I get beaten.”

Even if your horse’s first water school goes well, you must reinforce that success with additional positive memories. Just like a fisherman whose great catch gets bigger every time he retells the story, your horse may mentally exaggerate his first water venture over time. Weeks after coming home to tell his barn-mates, “It wasn’t so bad,” he may begin to remember the water as having been 10 feet deep and terrifying.

That’s why it’s so important to follow the first school with many additional sessions, both in the short term and periodically throughout his career. Even four-star horses with excellent foundations need occasional water schools in between competitions. In fact, the water questions they encounter on course are so challenging that they often need to practice simpler exercises at home to bring their confidence meters up. As is true in so many other areas of horsemanship with horses of all levels, the best rule of thumb is to school water “little and often.”

For many eventers in the U.S. who have limited access to suitable schooling facilities, this may sound like a near impossible task, especially for those based in the West, where even natural water resources are scarce. This is a disadvantage, but it doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker. Think about how much money you invest in a single competition. Then imagine throwing all that money away by getting eliminated at the water jump. You’ll be much better off spending the same amount of money trailering to a good schooling facility—even if it’s hours away—and hiring a professional to guide you through the process. Making your horse’s water education a top priority will be well worth the investment in the long run.


First Schooling Session: Get His Feet Wet


1. Every water session should begin with a confident, yet relaxed, attitude, as Elizabeth Bohling’s 4-year-old Shannondale Suvio is demonstrating. Before approaching, Elizabeth has established a forward walk and a deep, secure position with her upper body centered, her lower legs closed and her heels down. | Amy K. Dragoo

2. At the water’s edge, Elizabeth gives Suvio time to sniff and paw the water. She sits quietly in the saddle and follows his mouth with her hands but also keeps both legs closed on his sides to make it clear that turning or backing away from the water is not an option. | Amy K. Dragoo

3. When Suvio refuses to go farther into the water, I ride alongside him on a more experienced horse and attach a longe line to his bit. With a good role model and a gentle tug on the rope, he bravely walks in. | Amy K. Dragoo

4. In the middle of the water, I unclip the rope and Elizabeth walks him quietly out the exit ramp. | Amy K. Dragoo

5. In their next approach, I ride alongside again but this time without the rope. Suvio hesitates but then … | Amy K. Dragoo

6. … follows my horse into the water. | Amy K. Dragoo

7. Finally, Elizabeth approaches the water alone again. This time, Suvio walks in confidently. She walks him in a circle, allowing him to continue sniffing the water and familiarizing himself with the new sensation of moving through it. | Amy K. Dragoo


Make a Plan


A young and/or green event horse can be introduced to water as soon as he’s trotting and cantering on the flat and over fences in the ring, hacking outside the ring and going up and down hills under control. Give him this invaluable education before his first competition or clinic to avoid the potentially crippling fear created by a negative experience. Incorporate the following factors into your introductory schooling plan:

1. A suitable schooling facility. Legendary U.S. Eventing Team Coach Jack Le Goff used to say, “It’s possible to teach a horse to jump into a swimming pool—once!” In other words, you will lose your horse’s hard-earned trust if you ask him to do something unreasonable. Be sure that every body of water you ride him into has the following qualities: footing that is firm and level, not muddy or boggy; water no deeper than 24 inches; and overall dimensions of at least 24 feet wide and 24 feet across. Anything narrower than that might invite your horse to jump the entire thing. Finally, your chosen water jump’s introductory-level entrances and exits should be invitingly gradual—no steep Man From Snowy River banks!

Our farm’s water complex has an added benefit of banks on either side of the lower-level entrance, which serve as wings. They help to channel the horse into the water both physically and mentally. We keep the complex filled all the time so it is available for daily schooling year-round.

For riders who don’t have easy access to a water jump specifically built for eventing, think twice before practicing in a nearby creek, stream, pond or lake. Such natural features can actually add to a horse’s fear and distrust if they contain steep, rocky banks; boggy, sticky footing; deep water; strong currents or any other potentially disconcerting characteristics.

2. A good support team. All amateur eventers should introduce their horses to water with the assistance of a knowledgeable, qualified trainer, ideally mounted on a quiet, experienced horse. As I’ll explain later, having a “Steady Eddy” equine companion who can tell your horse, “Hey Dude, it’s no big deal,” while accompanying him into the water is the best way to instill confidence. It’s important that this companion be extremely calm and unflappable, as he may have to tolerate some dramatic behavior on your young horse’s part, such as big “leaps of faith” into the water.

You may also find it helpful to have a ground person with a longe whip willing to stand at a safe distance behind your horse as he approaches the water. This person’s role will merely reinforce your “go forward” message in an encouraging—never abusive—way.

3. Proper equipment. One of the pieces of tack I never go without on cross country is a breastplate with a strap across the withers. This provides you with something to hold on to so you don’t risk pulling on the reins and punishing your horse in the mouth accidentally if he suddenly launches into the water and throws you off balance.

4. Plenty of time. As I mentioned previously, to guarantee your horse a positive experience in the water, you must give him the feeling that there’s no rush. When time is tight, tempers flare and horses quickly pick up on your negative emotions. This is why a clinic is not the best scenario for introducing a horse to water. Clinicians are obligated to spend time on other horses and riders and other cross-country elements. Instead, for your horse’s early water lessons, plan to focus entirely on him and the water jump. Even if you travel a long way to a schooling facility, if you arrive late in the day, don’t try to squeeze in a practice session that evening and risk running out of daylight.



Getting Started


In the beginning of each schooling session, warm up over a few easy, straightforward cross-country fences—logs, coops, etc. The goal is to get your horse feeling confident and in front of your leg (forward and responsive to your leg aids). Be careful not to overdo it, though. Especially when you’ve gone to great logistical and financial lengths to set up a cross-country school, it may be tempting to get your money’s worth by jumping every obstacle on the course. This increases the risk of you and/or your horse arriving at the water jump mentally and physically fatigued, which can drastically reduce your chances of success.

When you feel adequately warmed up, approach the water jump in an active, purposeful walk. Sit squarely and securely in the center of the saddle with your legs wrapped around your horse’s sides, holding the breastplate strap with one hand. In your initial approach, have your lead horse follow several feet behind you so you can see how your horse reacts to the water on his own. This will give you a good reading of his aptitude for the sport. If he walks into the water with little hesitation, that’s a good sign. However, if he hesitates or stops, that’s not necessarily a bad sign. Many top-level horses are cautious about water in the beginning of their careers.

Your reaction to hesitation is critical. Think offense, not defense. Immediately encourage him with a cluck, a nudge of your legs and perhaps a tap with the stick on his shoulder. Be firm and positive but committed to preventing the situation from escalating into a fight. Give him a chance to test the water. Allow him to sniff and paw at it if he wants to. Then gently ask him to step in. Whatever you do, don’t turn him away from the water’s edge. Trying to re-approach from a longer distance or at a faster speed will only get you stuck farther away from the water. Instead, hold your ground and make it clear that his only option is to go forward.

If after a few minutes he is still unwilling to step into the water, ask your companion on the lead horse to walk alongside him and clip a lead rope to his bit. Then ask her to walk her horse calmly forward into the water, simultaneously giving a gentle tug on the lead rope. Nine times out of 10, the green horse will follow the experienced horse into the water. Again, be prepared for a dramatic leap—and ready to praise your horse the moment he takes it.

If he still isn’t willing to enter the water at this point, it may help to have a ground person stand behind him—far enough back to be safe from a kick—slowly waving a longe whip to reinforce your forward aids. She can even lightly tap him on the haunches with the whip. Again, be very careful to keep the mood encouraging, not punishing.

In extremely rare cases, it may be necessary for you to dismount and remove all of your horse’s tack. Your expert on the lead horse can then work directly with your horse to persuade him to enter the water. This can be especially beneficial if you are inexperienced and/or anxious about the situation. With time and patience, even the most stubborn horses can be convinced in this way to overcome their fears.

Once your horse is in the water, he may still want to sniff and paw at it, familiarizing himself with these new sensations. Give him time to do this. Then quietly exit the water and re-approach it in the same positive, forward way you did before. Do this several times until he’s walking into and out of the water confidently.

Throughout this first session and the next several ones, do everything at the walk, asking your horse to maintain the same speed and stride length as he crosses the water. Save trotting—which creates more of a splash and requires more effort to move through the water—for the fourth or fifth schooling session.

If your horse is entering and exiting the water fairly confidently after 10 or 20 minutes, leave the water to do something else briefly—for example, jump a few other types of fences. Then, if he still feels fresh and positive, come back to the water at the end of your ride for one more mini-session. This way, you get two schools in one.

Introduce the Trot

1. When Suvio is really comfortable walking through the water, Elizabeth picks up a balanced, steady trot. | Amy K. Dragoo

2. As they reach the water, she keeps her legs closed on his sides and her shoulders back to encourage him to continue moving forward. At the same time, though, she softens her fingers on the reins so he can stretch his nose down toward the water. | Amy K. Dragoo

3. You can tell by Suvio’s expression that the bigger splashes from his trot are a little disconcerting at first. With repetition, though … | Amy K. Dragoo

4. … he gets used to the splash and trots through the water in a nice rhythm and pace, staying straight and relaxed. | Amy K. Dragoo


Trotting Through Water


Once you’ve gotten your horse’s feet wet for the first time, your job is far from done. Even if he seemed confident, it’s important to follow up with another session to reinforce the lesson and quell any initial worries he had. If you’ve traveled a long distance to a schooling facility, plan to stay there for a number of days to fit in these invaluable follow-up sessions. Otherwise, find a way to get to a water jump again soon—ideally within a few days.

After the first two or three schooling sessions, you should have a good idea of your horse’s comfort level. If he is on the braver end of the spectrum, he may need only occasional refreshers every few weeks or so. If he’s on the more cautious end, he may need to revisit the water daily or near daily for several weeks. When we have green horses sent to us for intensive training periods, we take them down to the water jump almost every day, even in their dressage saddles after a flat school.

As your horse’s confidence grows, follow a logical, step-by-step training process, building on his skills gradually and giving each new challenge time to sink in. After several successful sessions at the walk, try trotting into and through the water. Be prepared for his reaction to the new sensation of water splashing in his face. Also continue to encourage him to regulate his speed and stride length throughout the exercise, just as you did at the walk.

Depending on how much access you have to a good water complex, it may take your horse weeks or even months to graduate from this phase of his training. Give him plenty of time to solidify this foundation. The more confidently he is walking and trotting through a simple water question, the easier it will be to introduce him to the next step: jumping obstacles in combination with water. I’ll explain how to do that next month.

Originally posted on practicalhorsemanmag.com.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Bernie Traurig: Keep At It Until You're An Artist


The need to “practice, practice, practice” the American forward riding system is the message from Bernie Traurig’s recent workshop.


 SEP 7, 2016


Bernie Traurig taught a three-day workshop with the focus on the American forward riding system at Coker Farm in Bedford, New York. In the background are (from left) Tiffany Avon with Forever Z, Jennifer Wright with Logan and Phillip Williamson with Edingburgh. | Amy K. Dragoo


Most riders want to improve their riding. Whether the goal is to complete their first 2-foot-6 hunter course or win at the grand prix level, the desire to create a better partnership with the horse is pretty universal. And for legendary rider and clinician Bernie Traurig the recipe for that success is simple: adopt the right system of riding and then practice it relentlessly.
“A famous pianist once said that the amateur practices a melody until he gets it right. The artist practices until he never gets it wrong,” Bernie explained to a group of riders and auditors who attended his recent workshop in Bedford, New York. “And the only way you get good at this, is to practice it.”
Bernie is a highly regarded rider, teacher and horseman. As a junior, he won both the AHSA National Hunter Seat Medal Final and the ASPCA Maclay National Championship in 1961. He represented the U.S. Equestrian Team at home and abroad (including the 1982 World Championships in Ireland) and has won more than 60 show jumping grands prix. He was inducted into the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame in 2009 and in 2010 he founded the video learning website EquestrianCoach.com.
Throughout the three days of lessons and lectures during his workshop at historic Coker Farm in Bedford, New York, Bernie emphasized that perfecting the basics of the American hunter/jumper forward riding system would propel each rider’s eventual success over fences. “We focus on the simplest of things,” he said. “Trot into a line. Halt and back up. Canter out. Halt and back up again. It’s the very basics of schooling.

Bernie emphasized that perfecting the basics of the American forward riding system would propel each rider’s eventual success over fences. “We focus on the simplest of things,” Bernie said to the riders including Jennifer Staniloff riding Princess. “Trot into a line. Halt and back up. Canter out. Halt and back up again. It’s the very basics of schooling.” | Amy K. Dragoo

“Yet everything we do here is the basis for show jumping. Horses have to instantly go forward and come back and respond to the lateral aids in both directions. You have to be in charge of the track. You practice everything you will need for the show ring.”
The forward riding system was developed by Federico Caprilli in the early 1900s. It was further refined by Brig. Gen. Harry D. Chamberlin, Capt. Vladimir S. Littauer and Gordon Wright, among other horsemen. Today, the system is endorsed and taught by George Morris and is advocated by the U.S Hunter Jumper Association Trainer Certification Program. Bernie, who trained as a junior rider under Capt. Littauer, said the system is “the basis of everything I do.
“The system we teach is based on three parts: the position of the rider, the way we use our aids and a schooling system,” he explained. “Those three parts, when they come together, make a great product.”

Dressage: Just a French Word for Training

Bernie is one of the few professionals to reach the top of the sport in all three international equestrian Olympic disciplines: show jumping, dressage and eventing. Throughout the three days, he emphasized the critical difference between the fundamentals of classic dressage and the “non-clashing aids” of the forward riding system.
“People have confused these two systems for decades, but they are different,” he explained. “Dressage is based on the combination of coordinated driving and restraining aids. This is necessary for the sport they do, but these are highly sophisticated aids.
“It takes a long time to develop understanding in the horse and a long time for the rider to be able to delicately coordinate these aids,” he added. “Without a lengthy step-by-step process of training, coordination of aids can easily become clashing aids that confuse the horse. Or as Littauer once said, ‘a razor in the hands of a child.’”
 Bernie explained that dressage is based on collection and central balance with the rider balanced on the seat. A dressage rider in a downward transition engages the hind legs by riding the horse forward with her seat and legs, riding the energy up to a gathering hand. By contrast, the forward riding system is based on forward balance and nonclashing aids with the rider primarily balanced in the stirrups.
 “Our rideability comes from repetition of smooth, prompt upward and downward transitions. We ask a horse for a downward transition by closing our fingers, increasing the contact with a direct rein. If our downward transitions are practiced in a prompt way, we encourage natural engagement. The promptness of the transition rebalances the horse automatically, engaging the hind leg automatically, developing agility and strength,” he explained.
“The leg still supports the downward transition but without a forward-driving effect,” he elaborated. “Therefore, it’s a non-clashing aid. In its simplest form: legs to drive forward, hands to come back.” 
 Tiffany Avon was struggling with downward transitions with her 12-year-old gelding Forever Z. It gave Bernie an opportunity to demonstrate how her clashing aids confused her horse. “In the canter downward transition, you sink, don’t sit and you open your upper-body angle a little bit. You are always in balance with the horse, but don’t sit too early as he begins the transition or the seat will act as a driving aid,” he explained. “Just sink and be light—you could put a piece of paper between your butt and the saddle.” She lightened up in the saddle and Forever Z gave her crisper transitions.

Make Your Warm-Up Productive
Bernie asked Phillip to demonstrate a suppling exercise for the horse’s neck: Phillip put his bay gelding, Edingburgh, on a small circle to the left then widened his inside hand and applied pressure directly back outside his left hip until the horse gave in his mouth. | Amy K. Dragoo

Each of the riders was challenged to warm up their horses thoughtfully, using basic but specific exercises to make their mounts attentive and reactive to the aids. “Every moment in the tack you are either training or untraining your horse,” Bernie declared.
He encouraged the riders to start their sessions with a forward walk with impulsion and rhythm, adding that “there are only two ways to walk: a relaxed walk with a long and loose rein or with contact, marching forward and following the neck movement. And NOT on the cell phone,” he added emphatically. “Think of discipline, think of making every minute productive.”
After asking riders to create an elastic contact with their horses at the walk, Bernie moved into a series of exercises, including upward and downward transitions, lengthening and shortening, circles and half circles, serpentines and halts. He challenged the riders to be specific in their warm-up choices.
“So am I going forward because he is behind my leg? Am I using an open rein to turn him sharply? Am I going deeper in the corner because he’s avoiding the corner? Am I doing walk–canter transitions because he’s fresh? What’s your plan?” 
Phillip Williamson, one of two former USHJA Emerging Athlete Program riders who received grants from Bernie and the USHJA Foundation to attend the clinic, demonstrated a suppling exercise for the neck. “Horses are stiff and usually have a stiff side on the left,” Bernie explained. “This is a great way to loosen the neck up.” He had Phillip put his gelding, Edingburgh, on a small circle to the left then widen his inside hand and apply pressure directly back outside his left hip. “It is a bit awkward. You tactfully overbend the neck, wide left hand, hold until something gives. As soon as he softens up, go back to the normal bend. The timing has to be good. If you hold the bend and let go before he gives, it is meaningless. Hang in there until something melts.”
As the riders loosened up their horses, Bernie encouraged them to work toward being prompt in their transitions. “When you turn your horse out in the field and he is fresh, he may passage or piaffe. Then he is running to the gate and you think he is going to jump it. But he stops in three strides. And he can stop because he is using his hind end. That is natural engagement,” Bernie explained. It is the promptness demanded in upward and especially downward transitions that encourages a horse being ridden to engage the hind end naturally and improve his balance without the rider’s driving leg, Bernie said. “Littauer taught this. Our system won’t work unless you practice promptness. You do thousands of these transitions to make your horse rideable. It doesn’t happen in a day.”
He used the canter depart as an example of where riders needed to perfect their transitions. “If you put your leg back and the horse doesn’t pop into the canter, you get haunches-in. The horse has to react to your leg instantly,” Bernie said. In a canter depart to the right, “left leg back, lighten your hands and ask for the canter. That’s simple sign language for canter at a basic level.”

Mobilize Your Leg
To help Nancy Buzzetta avoid giving her horse, Shimmer, two different aids while halting, Bernie had her practice an exaggerated braced leg to help stabilize her in the tack. | Amy K. Dragoo

Creating a deep heel and the ability to change the position of the leg are critical to being effective, especially during downward transitions, Bernie emphasized. He described three potential options for the leg: the normal position with the stirrup leather straight up and down; a displacing leg, set farther back to affect the haunches, used for canter departure and haunches-in/out, counter-canter, etc; and a braced leg, where the heel is driven down and the leg moved slightly forward of the vertical.
“You know, you are taught to sit and don’t move,” Bernie explained. “Nonsense. You need mobility and range of motion. It’s called mobilizing your lower leg.”
He worked closely with Nancy Buzzetta, who was struggling to achieve a crisp halt with her horse, Shimmer. During downward transitions, her leg was slipping back and her heel was sliding up. “You are giving him two different aids accidentally by losing your position,” Bernie explained to her as he grasped her lower leg. “He can feel a fly on his skin. Your leg goes back, and you are squeezing and brushing him with your heel. See that tickle spot there? He can feel it, and this is sending your horse forward.
“Not to withstand that if that horse stumbles or stops, you are a missile over your knee,” he added. “You need a deep heel, a stable leg in the halt. If necessary, a bit of a braced leg. This stabilizes you in the tack.”
Bernie explained the benefit of exaggeration in training. He stood in front of Nancy’s horse and told her to “waterski” her legs. “Show me the soles of your feet,” he demanded. “Just shove that foot right to his elbow.” He then had her trot around with her leg in and out of a braced position.
“It is a half-inch difference between toppling over your knee and stability. We can’t change it if we don’t exaggerate it. I want you to think ‘soles of my feet’ before you increase contact in a downward transition. If you do that exercise, if you are disciplined, you will fix it in a month.”

The ‘Epidemic’ of Inside Leg to Outside Rein
To encourage riders, including Shaina Humphrey riding Blink, to go deep into a corner and jump an oxer on an angle to a vertical, Bernie placed an orange cone in front of the oxer that riders had to canter around. | Amy K. Dragoo
The group addressed a popular concept that Bernie emphasized was misunderstood, overused and overtaught.
“It started because many people would go through a turn abusing the inside rein diagonally across the wither, overbending the horse. Many trainers started to preach inside leg to outside rein to help people keep their horses straighter,” Bernie explained. “What has happened is an epidemic, a virus, of inside leg and outside rein.” 
He said that inside leg to outside rein is useful in many situations for more sophisticated horses and riders. “Shoulder-in, shoulder-in on a circle, engagement of the hind leg, straightening effect—all great examples of use of the inside leg to outside rein. But your inside hand and outside leg still play a part in the orchestra.” 
Bernie doesn’t stress the technique for intermediate riders, however, especially on hunters and jumpers. “We have two hands and two legs. I would like both the rider and horse to understand and obey all rein and leg effects, coordinating them properly where they apply, before they focus on inside leg to outside rein.”
He suggested that intermediate riders adopt a simpler technique. If their horses were simply cutting a corner or popping a shoulder inward, they should move both hands, separated “as if they had a steel bar between them,” together toward the outside. On the left lead going around a corner, for example, this would mean using a right opening rein and a slight indirect rein in front of the wither toward the outside, adding a little inside leg for support.
“If I want to ride a turn or change my track, this is where you use your hands together,” Bernie explained. “The indirect inside rein affects the shoulder toward the outside and it gives us a little shape of the neck; it flexes the horse. The right opening rein slightly holds the horse out in the turn and the inside leg is applied.”
Bernie had the riders practice the technique by trotting straight toward him then moving the front end of the horse toward the arena wall. “Keep our hands separated— two hands steady, connected by that steel bar. Move both hands toward the wall,” he coached the riders. “You are affecting the shoulders of the horse. The hindquarters will follow. Once you practice this, it becomes invisible. You barely move your hands toward the outside and he moves over. Bending lines, controlling shoulders on short turns, it is so useful.
“All those horses I rode, all those hunters, you would see nothing—invisible aids— and they moved laterally like cutting butter. It’s a beautiful thing,” Bernie added.

Shape Your Track to Nail Your Distance

Bernie emphasized that once a horse was responsive to the aids, the rider could shape the turns and control the track to improve a difficult distance. Here Jennifer Wright jumps Logan over an oxer as part of a course. | Amy K. Dragoo

The ability to control the horse’s shoulders and move them laterally (to “shape out” in a turn) became critical as the riders advanced to exercises over fences. Bernie set a challenging bending line that started with a tight right turn out of the corner to an oxer then six or seven strides to a vertical. He wanted the riders to go deep into the first corner and jump the fence on an angle toward the direct line to the vertical for six or jump the oxer straighter and ride a bending line to the vertical for seven. Most of the riders struggled to get it right. 
“This is very difficult, to shape this tight turn. Most people can’t do this because they don’t have control over the shoulders,” he said, eventually placing an orange cone in front of the oxer to force the riders to ride farther out to angle the fence. “Use your hands together to shape out and set up that angle. Or get that first early distance and then a quiet seven in the bend.”
Bernie emphasized that once a horse was responsive to the aids, the rider could shape the turns and control the track to improve a difficult distance. “Manage the track according to what you see. Don’t commit to the track until you see your distance.
“Where do you think this might come in handy?” he asked. “In a bending line, if I want to use the wide track I use my hands, shift them out and the horse would move right out. Beautiful! Or in a tight rollback. Maybe when I face the jump, I don’t like the distance. I’m going to shape it out and now there is a nice distance because I have changed the track.
“Shape it out until you see it or until you like it,” he concluded.
As the riders practiced controlling the track over higher fences and with tighter turns, Bernie warned them not to create a track that left less than three strides to the fence. “Three strides out is very fast on a jumper. Watch the videos of the best in the world. They are rarely less than three strides out to the big oxers. It gives you time to work a situation out,” he counseled.

Be Purposeful in Your Practice
At the end of three very intensive days of training, Bernie reminded each rider of specific techniques that he or she could take home and practice. He recommended using poles on the ground or low cavalletti to reduce the wear and tear on the horses.
“What is the most important part of your body in riding?” he asked. “Your brain. This is a thinking sport, right? Don’t get in a hurry and do it again, do it again,” he said. “No. You stop and think about what went wrong and make a plan to correct it. 
“The only way you get good is to practice. How do you practice? Daily poles on the ground. You see these cavalletti? If your stable permits, you do hundreds of them. Keep at it until you’re an artist at it.”

Bernie's Basics On Bits
Bernie checks the bit of a horse. At the clinic, he switched out more aggressive bits for a rubber dee-ring snaffle. | Amy K. Dragoo

Bernie Traurig shared his belief in using the mildest bit possible for a horse, taking into consideration the rider’s ability as well. On several horses in the clinic he switched out more aggressive bits for what he called “the basement bit”—a rubber dee-ring snaffle. “This gives us a baseline for the mildest bit, and we can work up from there,” he said.
“Don’t put anything sharp in his mouth because he has to submit to pressure. If the bit is too strong, he can’t take the pressure. I want him to obey my rein aids nicely without pain. A strong bit might work for you in the ring, but not for training.”
A good example of this philosophy was Caroline DeVincenzo’s horse, Keaton, who showed up in a twisted full-cheek bit. On the second day, Bernie switched the horse into a rubber dee-ring snaffle.
“We saw some impressive results with this horse,” Bernie said after the horse worked in the milder bit. “On the first day he was angry, kicking at her. He wouldn’t stand still and he wouldn’t go forward. He was unhappy in his mouth, he had pain. He was sticking off the ground yesterday, afraid of the bit.
“We put him in a rubber dee, she had plenty of forward. I am loving this: by downsizing the bit, he is accepting the pressure and you are now able to school the horse. He is accepting the milder bit and even giving you flexion. Little by little, it will come. He is a trainable horse in a rubber snaffle.”
Bernie advised the group that most horses could be ridden without the gimmick bits that “deviated from the classical. You’ve got to experiment with horses. Just put a normal bit in his mouth and see if he likes it better.”
Go to www.PracticalHorsemanMag.com for more from Bernie Traurig about the American forward riding system and clashing aids. For more information on Bernie Traurig’s clinics and workshops, go toEquestrianCoach.com and click on clinics/workshops.

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of Practical Horseman.