Beginning the Piaffe

Having recently started putting “piaffe” in Batialo’s mind, I began reading up on piaffe, and realised that there are many ways to teach piaffe, and of course this depends on the type of horse you have.

If you have a horse that is naturally tense and “jig jogs”, your approach would need to be a lot different from a horse who does not naturally trot on the spot. The golden rule is to make the horse want to piaffe, and never force him to do it, or make him associate the piaffe with fear or tension, and always find the right way to approach the piaffe, for that horse!

Having taken the week off riding due to an inflammation after a very tidy spin (Batialo reminding me that nothing good comes easy), I decided to try some new things with B to help him learn the piaffe and thus make it more easy for me when I am riding him.

I am of course talking about work in hand, which is a vital teaching method and one that all riders should at least be aware of and understand in order to know how that transfers to the work in the saddle.

I asked master Carlos Tomas from “Picadeiro Quinta das Cabanas” (click to like his page) to come out as I am not confident in work in hand, and I’m not allowed to ride for a few days so possibly walking around in the sand wouldn’t help either. And let’s face it, better to ask a rider from the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art!

Carlos was really great, and as Batialo has never really done much work in hand, I think he was surprised as to how quickly he understood what to do. You could see his ears thinking, hmmm, yep he wants that, and by the end Batialo would begin the piaffe steps just on Carlos voice commands, with no need for the light touch of the whip.

As he is only just beginning, you can see he still hasn’t learn to come up in the shoulder and allow more shoulder freedom, but in training piaffe you cannot ask for all at once, and must allow the horse to learn, and develop.

The key with working in hand is also to keep the horse straight by bending the horse towards you away from the wall, in order to keep his shoulders always in front of his haunches.

Then you begin to ask the horse to lift his back legs and sit under himself as he starts to find the rhythm of the piaffe. Again the key is to always reward, and not ask too much, as you must have the horse WANTING to do the piaffe.

We see riders in the Grand Prix spurring every step of the piaffe because the horse has been taught to do it with strong aids, and never learnt to do it alone.

The horse, if correctly trained, should stay in the piaffe alone, with only the riders legs touching each stride to keep the rhythm.

In order to achieve this, you must ask little, and stop before the horse stops, stop before he says he has done enough, so he always waits for you to say when to stop.

By the end of the lesson, B was starting to say well “ok that’s easy what’s next”, and Carlos says he is not a horse that will need to do this sort of work for too long. Some horses get tense, or stressed, but B sort of got a bit bored of it really.

If you have a horse with talent for the piaffe, don’t overdo it. “Ask little, reward often” and you will hopefully end up with a horse who enjoys piaffe, and therefore wants to give it to you.

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Stay tuned for piaffe on the horse…

For the full article on PIAFFE go to Eurodressage via this link…

“The secret in riding is to do few things right. ” (Nuno Oliveira)

The secret in riding is to do few things right. The more one does, the less one succeeds. The less one does, the more one succeeds. (Nuno Oliveira)

This quote is true in training and in life! Sometimes we try to do too many things, and we end up just doing a lot of things “more or less” ok, instead of a few things, or just one thing, really well.

You know those restaurants you go to that say “Japanese, Indian, and Italian Menu”, and while there is loads of choice most of the food is pretty average. Whereas if you find a place that pretty much serves one thing, you save time ordering, plus typically the one thing that they do, well they are bloody good at doing it!

I used to ride into the canter pirouette, and do way too many things all at once. I would kick, and tighten, and try to soften him, and bend, and turn my shoulders, and relax my hands, and pretty much screw myself into a ball, and by the time we actually got to begin the pirouette Batialo was thinking “What the hell is she doing?”.

Often we see riders who are cantering down the side, and all they really should be thinking is, “am I straight?”

Instead, they think, wow I’m not straight so I’ll just try a flying change. Then the change is crap, and they give the horse a good kick in the guts because of course it was him just being lazy…

Why not work on the simple things first? Am I straight? No. Ok so I need to adjust the bend, I need to work out where my horses weight is tending and I need to correct it. Then, when you have the canter straight and relaxed, surprise surprise you get a good change!

Even before this, riders will be walking, and feel well my horse is not walking well, is not straight, is not listening to my seat, so I’ll just trot.

Take time to think on the little things, because the big things won’t come until all the little things are in place.

It’s like when you rush off to the supermarket and buy a whole heap of crap you don’t need and forget the one thing you did need because you didn’t stop and take time to figure out why you went there in the first place.

Don’t aim for the flying change until you can do a good, straight, balanced walk to canter transition off a light aid. Don’t aim for half pass, until you can do a balanced crossing, rhythmic leg yield. Don’t do a canter pirouette until your walk one is damn near perfect.

Don’t aim to be the restaurant that serves everything but can’t do one thing right. Be the place that makes a damn good taco, and just be the most awesome taco in the world!

Solved One Problem and New One Pops Up?

Perhaps it’s just me, but did you ever notice how when you tackle one issue a new one pops up in it’s place?

Guess this is the circle of training, and the journey of dressage, but it is quite easy to get frustrated during these times, and question yourself, or your horse, or what you are doing!

I find that if I have the trot feeling really great, the canter will feel skewiff, and if the canter is on a top level, the trot or the walk, or something else will feel like it has dropped off a little.

One of the major problems for vets is that they are called up by riders who cannot understand why their horse is lame, but then overlook the fact that they rode for 5 minutes on the right rein and 45 minutes on the left rein, because the left rein is more comfortable.

In the weeks where the canter is feeling super it is easy then to forget the walk and trot, and just enjoy the feeling that you are getting in the gait that is going well.

Remember that balance in dressage extends far beyond just sitting in the middle of the horse, and keeping his weight to the back, it is about balance in everything.

Balance between the right and left reins, balance between what I ask for today, and what I ask for tomorrow, balance between asking too much or too little.

Try to always have in mind that you must work all aspects of the horse, all gaits, all sides, and all frames.

People argue a lot about where to have the horse’s head, but Nuno used to say that you should be able to adjust the horse’s head without altering the attitude or rhythm, and by working the horse in different outlines you can help to gain gymnastic and elastic muscles over his topline.

If one thing is up and another goes down, always have in your mind….Am I Balanced?

Click here to read the full article Balance at Eurodressage…

Show Your Gratitude Towards Your Horse

If you are a well brought up person, and someone does something nice for you, you say thank you!

In dressage training, the thank you is in the release of pressure, which is why it is SOOO IMPORTANT that after ever aid, you have a release, it tells the horse that when he responds the pressure comes away. If that doesn’t happen, and happen in the instant that your horse yields, you are not training, you are merely punishing, and confusing your horse, and he will not yield next time, because why should he?

Horses pick up on more than we realise, and sometimes it is also important after a good ride, to say thank you to your horse.

For me, it can be performing a solo performance of the “dirty dancing theme song”, but for others it can be simply just taking a minute and showing your horse how grateful you are.

Others might think you are nuts, and good for them, your horse will understand, and appreciate that you know what he is, and what he does for you.

A huge inspiration for me, classical trainer Sylvia Loch, talks a lot about touching the horse, patting the horse after they respond well, and that in the touch the horse connects with the rider, and finds reassurance and encouragement.

Release the pressure, pat your horse, tell him he is important, never forget that like us horses sometimes need to be reminded that they can do it, that they are special, that what seems impossible now, will become easy in time.

For the full article on Rewarding Effort in Training, click here to go to Eurodressage

Why Can’t You Just Sit in the Right Position?!

 

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Here is a photo of me in Valencia at my first CDI. Batialo had pulled a tidy spin 5 minutes before we entered, and if you picture a broken hip, and scar tissue, and a horse that spins, you can imagine that quite often that is a little bit of bummer. To compensate for my discomfort my right leg comes forward to unconsciously take the pressure off the inside. In the photo two strides later I had corrected it, and the leg was back in a more suitable position.

There will also be a reason or an excuse not to sit well, so I am determined even with those issues to sit as well as I can.

What does that mean for me?

I read a lot about the position, about where your legs should be, and where your hands should be, and it all makes sense to me, in theory.

Have you ever seen a rider who seems to just sit perfectly on the horse, but is completely ineffective as a rider? Alternatively, have you ever seen a rider who has the complete wrong posture and physic for riding, and yet the horse seems to flow along completely free and with impulsion?

There are some top riders who have their own style, a unique position that works for them. Do they discover this as the horse develops, or does the horse develop in response to their position?

In my lesson with Joao Pedro Rodrigues in Batialo’s early days, he rarely instructed me to do something specific with my body, but would set up the parameters so that when I got it right, when the horse understood, he would tell me so I learnt to remember what that felt like.

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The ideal position for me then, is the position that does not in any way hinder or suffocate the movement of my horse, the freedom of his shoulder, the lengthening of his neck.

I may never be able to get my legs fully back underneath me, so I must retrain myself to allow my hips to remain as open as possible even with my legs slightly forward, while also working on the unison with my horse.

We all typically have one hand that pulls back further than the other, and if you don’t think you do then try riding with your left thumb in your right hand and see what happens.

We can all tell ourselves to “sit in the right position!” but if we sit there, and we do nothing but look pretty, is that the most effective way to train our horses?

Instead of concentrating on “Is my leg in the right position, or are my hands in the right spot?”, try thinking on “Are my legs loose, and is my hip open?”, and “are my hands relaxed or are they stiff and pulling against my horses mouth?”.

Most horse riders unfortunately have some sort of issue, usually due to a nasty fall the experienced sometime during their career, and if not, they have a tendency or a weakness that they must always keep in mind.

Changing your attitude towards position can help a lot to free your mind, and instead of thinking “am I in the right position?”, start thinking “am I in any way blocking my horse, am I balanced on both sides, and is my body going with him, relaxing him, and giving him the confidence to give me his best?”

 

For the Full article on POSITION click here and go to EURODRESSAGE

Losing Confidence Part 2- The Impact

A rider who provides me with much inspiration,Ingrid Klimke said to me recently, “Try to foresee the things that can happen and do not wait until it is too late.”
I started thinking about all the ways that this can be applied to dressage, and the mindset that we must carry into every training session.

Quite often what happens after the too late scenario is that you or your horse, or both, lose your confidence.

I have spoken about a loss of confidence before, but I think I never fully delved into just what that can really mean for horse and rider.
If a horse loses their confidence, or their trust in their rider, it can in some cases take years to get it back. I know horses that have become so terrified of their rider that they end up not even letting people pat them on the ground.
This sort of loss goes deep into the animal, and only a horseman with patience, compassion, and more patience and compassion, can help the horse slowly find his trust in us again.

When a rider loses his or her confidence, it can be equally as detrimental, and what is sometimes underestimated, is the impact this loss can have on the rider’s entire life.

You know those days when you have a good ride, and just everything in life seems better. The sun is brighter, people don’t piss you off, you can burn the toast three times and it doesn’t matter, cause you had a good ride ;).
So what happens to the world when suddenly, the thing you have done possibly all your life, your natural passion, and in some cases your reason for getting up, becomes a point of fear. Fear to the point of nervous aches, and anxiety at just the thought of falling off, or getting bucked about, or being out of control on a horse heading flat out into chaos.
We see children who start off their riding career like this, petrified, and their parents push them to do it, and perhaps some overcome it, but more often than not the kid ends up more afraid, and the horse will of course pick up on this fear, and if they are a smart pony, well, it’s a party.
However, if you started off as a rider who was not afraid of anything, who would gallop flat chat through the Australian bush jumping anything and everything, racing the other horses, feeling free, and untouchable, then the change in your attitude can be quite devastating.
For me it happened slowly. Suddenly I realised I wasn’t invincible, falling off hurt, and getting back on got harder, as the horses got bigger, and more powerful.
Admitting to myself I was afraid, was the hardest thing to do, and then trying to make others understand, was even more difficult.
The second element though, is what that means for your life outside of horses. You know those great ride days, well imagine that the thing that is at the heart of that peaceful joy, is suddenly associated with fear.

Quite possibly many of you have gone through this at sometime, and trying to explain what you are going through to a non-horsey person can be rather difficult.
You may have a good job, good health, a horse to ride, family, and all seems fantastic, so what is wrong with you?
It’s important in these moments to talk to other riders that may understand. Not the crazy cowboy who thinks falling off is fun, but someone who gets just how much that will impact you, and how much you will feel that as a failure.

Truth is you can get through it, by making the right choices, the choices for you, and not the choices that other people will respect.
No you cannot just ignore it, and push through, but admitting it is the first step. Then you must take action to solve it, little by little, day by day, until you can finally say to yourself, well I’m not invincible, but I am damn well enjoying every minute of it!!

See Eurodressage for the full article on Letting Go of Fear…

Who is Leading Who?

My Grandma used to take her little terrior “Max” on a walk. Well in reality Max would take my Grandma for a walk, which is why when I asked her where she was going on this walk she would stare vaguely at me with a look that said “Ka Sera Sera” (what will be will be).

I thought about this on my horse today. Often we watch riders who think they are leading their horse around the arena, when it is quite plan to see that the horse is leading them.

They will stop at the side of the arena, and tell you that their horse is just petrified of that chair, and when you look at the horse, he seems like he is having a nice snooze and only notices the chair when the rider creeps him up to it, clinging onto him as if their life depended on it.

It is a wonderful, beautiful thing to create a partnership with your horse, but if you are not leading the dance of dressage, you cannot effectively teach the horse anything.

You must create lines on the arena and follow them, and if your horse goes off the line, you cannot just say “Oh well that is sort of where I wanted to go so I will just smile and pretend like that was my intention”. If you wanted to canter at C, and it didn’t happen until H, do it again!

Settling for being led around the arena, makes your horse feel like he is the boss, and then when you get in a tight spot, he will not look to you for guidance or reassurance, because he has never been able to rely on your commands in the past. For him they are merely suggestions, and if you come across something that really scares him and you are suggesting it’s ok, how can he believe in you?

The best way to earn your horses confidence is to make him understand that when you ask him to give you something he gives it, that you keep his attention with you, and that you are not always trying to guess what he is thinking, but focusing more on him understanding what you are thinking ;).

Click here for the Full article on Eurodressage on “Dressage a Dance For Two”

Why horses?

Today marks 18 years since my dad died. He died when I was 11 and well that pretty much made the 15 years following into a bit of a mess.

I always rode horses. Sometimes I try to imagine what it must be like, if you don’t ride horses, to sit on a horse. It must be really weird, but for me it is like walking, or breathing, so trying to engage in that feeling of a non rider is very difficult.

At some point horses became my refuge, as I’m sure many of you can relate to. Whether it be your escape from work, or family, or even maybe from yourself, horses become a reflection of ourselves, and of the freedom we aspire to.

They are a mirror of our own thoughts, which may seem extreme, but every rider will tell you that on a low day, their horse will seem low. That is of course because horses are naturally empathetic animals. They feel what is going on with the other members of the herd.

It has been proven that horses help to calm and relieve stress. They help lift us up.

Sometimes, when you look at your life, and where you are at, and what you are doing, and what you wish you could be or do better, just take a deep breathe, and thank god for horses!!

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Bipolar Horse

Having gelded my Lusitano about 4 months ago, I have read that it takes between 6 months to a year for the gelding effect to kick in.

Three weeks after Batialo was gelded I started to notice the difference. However, these differences would last several days, before he would be back to his usual playful self.

As a stallion Batialo was exceptional to handle, but to ride he would just produce too much energy, and at times unfortunately it became scary for me to be on him. He never meant to be naughty, he just had all this lovely wonderful excitement, and the hormones added in were a cocktail that my limitations could not meet.

At the four months mark we are now at a period of clear cut Bipolarity. One day we will come out and he will be gelding Batialo, no foofing, no tension, no bossy power play. Other times he will come out as stallion Batialo, ready to show off his exuberance as he sees fit.

However, while the gelding days are particularly more pleasant, there are new issues that have been stirred up just to keep me on my game. While Batialo no longer does he signiture spin out of nowhere in a release of testosterone, he is more scared of physical objects. The stallion Batialo was not scared of a single thing, in fact the only thing I ever saw that generally made Batialo anxious was when we put his foot in a bucket of ice after a nail got in the wrong spot, and he moved his leg and the ice rattled, and it was a look I have never seen before.

That look in his eyes when the ice rattled, is now a look that I glimpse on the gelding Batialo days, and you can see that without the manly balls confidence booster he is a little bit more timid.

However, if I encourage him, and congratulate him, and overdo it with the confidence pep talks, he will carry on and not push the issue, so the ego is still very much in tact 😉

I think perhaps that is the thing that I’m finding. Before Batialo would start playing and I would try to control it and he would just get more and more playful. Whereas now he might play, as he is still full of life and personality, but when I say, ok now work, he says, ok fair enough.

However, his signature move, the sideways head, (which he only does for me and one other lucky person), is still very much alive!!

Yesterday, a lovely gardener pulled a tree down at the side of the arena, (yes a while tree), and there was that split second where I was watching the tree come crashing down in front of me, and praying to god in my mind that I would stay on top. Once the tree came crashing down and the split second was over, I found myself thanking god that I was riding a gelding!!!!!

 

 

A Smiling Mind=A Happy Horse

Have you noticed how when things aren’t going well some riders get more and more frustrated and stiff, and take it out on the horse who gets more and more confused, while other riders manage to breathe, relax, and give the horse the confidence to help him understand.

I am typically a person, like many horse riders, who is thinking and doing ten things at the one time. In fact, when you see me, my mind is probably already ten steps into the future.

I recently read a lot about two major fields of self-discipline, and I found that as I began to adapt my mind and body to these practices, the results on the horse were amazing!

Now, I used to think that meditation was for people who were bored, or crazy, and I found the practice frustrating and so termed it useless.

Like anything in life meditation takes practice, and while I certainly could not zone out for three hours, I find that even applying the method for 5 or 10 minutes a day, makes a huge difference to my approach to everyday life.

When I began meditation, my mind would rush off into a thousand different things, what I would do, how my horse went, I’m hungry, my back feels stiff etc, etc.

I learnt not to fight against that, or get upset with myself for not being awesome at meditation. Instead, I just tried, when I remembered, to bring my focus back to my breathing, to being in that moment.

Many of you will say you don’t have time, but the ten minutes it takes you to bring your mind into the present, will actually make you that much more productive for the entire day, you will be surprised.

I downloaded the app “A Smiling Mind” onto my phone, and use the programs to help get me through that ten minutes, which started off feeling like 3 hours, but gradually began to feel like 5 seconds.

The second thing that I delved into was Pilates. Again I thought Pilates was dead boring, and my heart rate would flare up when anyone tried to tell me to slow down and breathe.

I started with an instructor, Duda Tranquilo, and I have to say the change in my freedom of movement and comfort on the horse has been incredible!

As riders we can easily identify and thus move different parts of our body, and Pilates not only helps to increase that body awareness, but helps us to uncover all the natural imbalances that we all have, and that our horse has to put up with!

Have you ever thought that your horse leans on the left rein, but never noticed that you yourself lean over to the right?

Being able to find your centre, helps you to more naturally locate it on the horse, and with time you will see the difference.

The Core Training For Equestrians program was my first step in finding my point of balance, and gaining strong elastic muscles, and a solid core, but the mind work is an extra level, and while body awareness and strength is crucial, mind power is everything!

If you want to ride a happy horse, give him every opportunity to understand you, provide him with a calm rider, who is physically aware of their body and the way it works.

He might just thank you in ways you never expected 😉

Click here to get your own personal core training program. 

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Warney’s tip: Do What You Love!!!!! 

I will never be a good rider because…

I will never be a good rider because…

I am not fit enough, I have too many things to do, I haven’t got enough time or money, my horse isn’t good enough, I don’t have the right trainer, I am in too much pain, I’m overweight, I’m underweight, I am scared/tired/crazy/busy!

Every single one of us can think of at least one reason why we will never be a good rider. I have thought of many reasons, many times, and got frustrated with myself, and my ability.

Until you decide to do something about it, you can just keep on making excuses and stay happily in your comfort zone of “well I have a reason, so it just will never be”.

When I was 22 I broke both my hips. The pain of that experience has never left my mind.

When I began riding again, I would burn my back with hot water, because the hip pain was transferred to my back and if I numbed it I could get through.

When I was 27, I still believed, whole heartedly, that I would never be able to ride properly again. I would do sitting trot for one circle, and be almost in tears. It felt like knives going up my butt.

Finally I decided that I had to try everything, so that at least I could say that I had tried EVERYTHING!

I began with a treatment where they injected HEEL TRAUMEEL a German homeopathic relief into my hip, combined with strength training to build muscle in the area during the window where I couldn’t feel the inflammation.

Gradually I began to work with my body again. Even doing a single squat was a huge accomplishment, as in the past if I tried to move my hip at all I would feel tiny spasms of pain as the tendons fought to keep with the movement.

It took a great deal of mental power for me to do as the trainer asked me, and even when I began training with a person whom I trusted whole-heartedly, my fear would often get in the way.

In Portuguese they say “Lamentar uma dor passada,no presente, e criar outra dor e sofra novamente”, which translated means “Mourning a past pain in the present, is to create other pain and suffering again”.

My Training coach and I started “The Core Training For Equestrians” after I began to realise myself the importance of off the horse training. Not only did the pain gradually lesson, but I found that I was able to enjoy life again in new ways.

When I got the muscle back, I found the right Oesteopath who could help me adjust my body and  correct my posture in order for me to gain more trust in myself.

Finding the right help is tricky, and you need to find someone who not only believes in you, but also understands what your goal is all about.

Vanessa, my guru and Oesteo, is also a horse rider, and therefore understood my goal and also my stubborn disregard for any advice to stop riding!

Now, I have days where I don’t even remember my past pain. I feel like I have a new life again, because finally the thing that I love to do, I can enjoy!

I still have days where I’m a bit sore or stiff, but these days just remind me how far I have come, and how lucky I am.

My point is, you will always have a reason why you can’t be the best you can be on the horse, and the only person who can erase that excuse is you!!

Click here to read the full article at Eurodressage 

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Starting the One Tempi’s

When I first started the flying changes with Batialo I was very worried that I would stuff them up! I was convinced that if I began them in the wrong way I would ruin him and he would never be able to do them properly.

The trick was to begin step by step, and the most important thing was to never forget the walk canter canter walk transitions. These transitions are the building blocks of the flying change.

The second thing I learnt was to feel for the “flying change” canter. This canter may not be your most engaged canter, or the most collected, it is the canter that you know your horse can more easily find his balance for the change. It may be that you have to push a bit more forward, or slow a little bit, allow the horse to come more out in front etc, whatever it is that makes it that bit easier for him to perform the new task that you are asking.

It is important then, even when you have established the change, to always go back to the canter walk transition to check. There are some days where if I can’t get the good canter walk walk canter transition, I don’t even attempt the flying changes. It would be like going for a sprint when you feel like you are not really jogging that well to begin with.

This week, after feeling confident in the two times changes I began my first attempts at a one one. Again I thought I would muck it up, but I realised that if I just thought about getting him in “flying change” canter, which for Batialo is slightly more long in front and with a slower less active canter, I could ask for the one one, and within two days, he had pretty much got the hang of it.

By the Friday I could ask for a one one one, and for now I’ll leave it there, taking my time now to go back to that canter walk walk canter transition, to remind me and B what it’s all about 😉

For the full article on The Flying Change, click here and go to Eurodressage 😉