“Tis the season to be jolly”…The famous line from one of the most well known christmas carols, and yet the reality of christmas leaves many people feeling less than festive.
When you are young christmas is the most exciting time of the year. I still remember waking up at 5am to check the end of my bed to see if Santa had been. I got to spend the day with my cousins and my grandparents, and everything that I remember about that day was bright and shiny and exciting.
Is it that as adults we miss that sense of pure joy? Or it is that at this time we evaluate our lives? We think back to the image we had as a kid of what our lives would like like, and think…oops!
When I moved overseas I didn’t have any family living here, and for me christmas represented a day where I could go to my horse and there was no-one, and I loved it. To be the only ones in the whole world on that day just doing what I love to do. But other people got in the road of that. They would ask me, sometimes up to ten different people a day, starting from about the week before christmas, “What will you do for christmas?”. I would reply “ride my horse”, and they would look at me like “You poor sad pathetic homeless girl”, which was not the case at all, as I was perfectly fine. There was one time I even made something up, just because I didn’t want the pity, but then I thought why should I?
I believe more than anything it’s the expectations people put on christmas that ruins it, for them and for others. The expectations that the meal be perfect so the person cooking has to worry about it for a week before. The expectations that family will need to get along, which inevitable ends in a heated family discussion/argument between two people who never liked eachother but were forced together for the occasion. The belief that if you are alone you are somehow to be felt sorry for, when in reality it’s just one day…What about caring if that person is alone for the other 364 days of the year?
A study was released that reported “People say that they dread Christmas because of the expectations for social gatherings with family, friends and acquaintances that they’d rather not spend time with. And finally, many people feel very lonely at Christmas, because they have suffered the loss of loved ones or their jobs.” (psychology today)
This I know to be true.
Anyone who lost a very close family member early on will tell you that christmas after that, even if they were still a child, was never the same.
In fact, it became a day where you would sit around a table, decorated and warm, full of people that you love, but somehow instead of seeing all the people you love, all you would feel was the absense of the person that you once loved, who was no longer there, at that table. The table was full, and yet it was empty.
So actually I loved christmas in Portugal even when I was alone, because there wasn’t suppose to be anyone there that was missing. Yes my family were in Australia, but that’s where they were suppose to be.
It sounds strange, but I felt a sense of freedom from the expectation, and I could just enjoy the day.
Truth is though, if my dad hadn’t died when I was young, I would be one of those people with the tree warming up towards the end of November. The type of person who asks you in late august if you thought about what you want for christmas, and the person who, with absolute pleasure, cooks christmas dinner for everyone she knows.
A part of me is still that person. Recently I had dinner with a couple who I genuinely admire, and the wife was asking me “where my christmas tree was?”. I could see in her eyes everything that is still good about christmas. Forget the commercialism and the overeating, and the waste from the commercialism and the overeating…She had that warm excited child look, which I think every adult is lucky to hold to, even in just a small way.
I have that when I am with animals. Animals were the part of my childhood where I was free from everything else. At one point I had a magpie (gobble docks), a kangaroo(millie), two dogs ( beron and eddie), a cow (goosebumps), and my pony (jimbo) and so when I am with animals I feel like I am 6 years old again.
That’s what I saw in this beautiful person, that sense of warmth and care, and for lack of a better way to put it “christmas spirit” that I think is what still makes a part of this holiday truly good.
I worry about all the people that are alone this christmas, or are alone for the first time after a breakup or divorce, or are at a table where someone is missing… And to those people I think the best you can do is to be kind to yourself. Don’t expect it to be a miracle magical day, but instead just enjoy the best bit…Maybe it’s the dessert that you only have on christmas, or your crazy aunt that keeps things entertaining…Maybe it’s your dog who enjoys the turkey you cook more than you do, or maybe it’s going to ride your horse on a day when there is no traffic, and no noise…Focus on that one thing and who knows, it might not turn out as bad as you thought it would, or better still, you might even enjoy it!
I have thought about this a lot recently as I face not riding again. The question why do I love riding so much comes to mind…What is it about being on a horse that I crave, as I do crave it, it becomes almost like an addiction. Ask any person who has lived and breathed horses all their life and they will tell you. The thought of not riding is almost unthinkable.
I have read on this subject, articles that outline the different types of riders, and throughout my many years watching my mum teach all sorts of different students, I came to see that there are many many different ways to love and be drawn to riding.
The most common I see is the rider who is afraid of the horse, but loves him anyway. This is the person who typically spends more time grooming than actually riding, and I have grown to admire this person the older I get. The person who spends countless hours with their horse, just in his presence, only to pop on for ten minutes, praying it goes ok, and then return to the stable to again pamper him as if he was the king of her world. A person who in spite of their fear finds comfort and purpose in being near this wonderful animal.
Another is the competitor. This person started off with a deep love of horses, and gradually it became their job. They still love the horse, but don’t get the luxury to spend as much time with him as they would like to and sometimes find themselves missing the days when they didn’t have clients and calendar commitments, and they could just use riding as their escape from life, not as their life itself.
The next is the passionate learner. This rider has spent their entire life on and off the horse reading and thinking and arguing (often heated at it times) over the correct training principles. They love to discuss the horse as much they love to ride him, and they find huge reward in the teaching of the horse, the lifelong journey of finding harmony with mans best friend. They are saddened today to see what the competition world has become and often feel puzzled or even angry watching the warm-ups of some (not all) of todays top riders.
The next is the thrill seeker. They love the more adrenaline filled disciplines and may or may not care for the accolades at the finish but more the out of control feeling they get on the course. They love to let go, because perhaps in other areas of their lives they are particularly organised and strict, or maybe the contrary, they are always a bit on the messy side, and this allows them to bring that out and make something of it.
You may not fit into any of these categories, in which case you would be like me. I am a combination of all of these. I grew up on a huge farm, and still to this day my favourite thing ever to do on the horse was to gallop across the paddock at home and bring the cattle in from out the back, with my Kelpie at my side. There is no greater feeling than that where the only two people in the world are you and your horse. You can create this in the competition arena, or in a crowded training ground, and this is the feeling that we as riders crave. When the rest of the world disappears and it is just us….I also have a piece of every other category. I love to fly across a cross country course my heart beating. I love to teach my horse piaffe and feel him learning and getting excited that he knows and understands what I want. I love to ride into the competition ring, to the sound of applause, and feel my horse grow a little underneath me. And I love to talk to my mother for hours on end about impulsion or collection, and watch videos, and discuss scores or tests, or what exercise would help best with our latest conundrum. And I also love to just be around the horse, and quite often I am scared…scared to fall, scared to be injured, scared that he will fall or be injured.
Horse riding becomes an addiction, it’s a passion that overtakes us and drives a huge part of our lives. I know before I even begin a conversation with my mum how her ride went that day, and I am sure many horse riding husbands have learnt when to just keep quiet…
So if the major part of your day is spent thinking about horses, and training horses, and getting back in the saddle, then which type of addict are you?
I have now lived away from my home country for almost 7 years and I feel lucky to have embraced another country and allowed it to be my home…
Because that is actually the bottom line, you have to allow a new country to become your own, travelling is a choice and so is your decision to travel with an open mind, or a closed one.
I worked two summers at the top of Australia, on some of the most beautiful islands in the world, and what I witnessed from nature was breathtaking, and what I witness from tourists…equally astonishing in all the wrong ways.
People who had travelled 16,000kms or more to look at something, without ever really seeing it.
Some I still remember quite clearly. The French couple who would go for hours without eating until they found something “French” to eat. The American who threw a fit at the end of a diving excursion because I told him that “no he could not take some of the coral (protected natural habitat for thousands of amazingly rare and beautiful species) home with him.
“But I only want to take a little bit”…He said to me, as if in his own ignorance he couldn’t imagine the impact it would have if every single person who visited the reef took “just a little bit”.
The guy who told me the tourist walks were too clean and would dissapear off into the national rainforest and then tell me how “untouched” it all was when you went into the areas where humans were not allowed to go.
Sometimes I didn’t have words, and I am typically a person who knows what she wants to say.
But there were other people who kept to the rules, and were polite and felt grateful to witness such a beautiful part of the world, and yet I felt they took nothing away from it.
I can relate to this in some way. When I first arrived in Europe I travelled a lot. I looked at many different countries and cultures and things I had never seen before in Australia. But I am not sure I saw that much.
I think at that time in my life I was trying to get away from the old, rather than actually see something new.
We can look at something a thousand times without ever really seeing it.
By the time I got to Portugal, I was ready to see something, to embrace something, and to start again.
It was a decision to love this country, just as much as it was luck that it happened to be such a perfect fit for me.
At the moment I get slightly frustrated most days when I read the expatriate facebook pages. While often they can be quite helpful, they can be sometimes rather frustrating for someone who actually let another country in.
People message the page asking why they don’t fit in, and then go on to complain about just about everything. It’s like asking why your partner isn’t happy, while constantly telling them how awful they are.
Often I find people that move overseas and then compare everything to what they had a home. “The beaches aren’t the same, the food isn’t the same, the language is hard”, and they go on and on, and I wonder if they spent that time going out and seeing something new, whether that might be time better spent.
I understand that a part of us does it subconsciously, we compare what we know to what we are yet to experience. Imagine though if every person you met you compared them to another person that you already knew? That every time you had a beer you compared it to that one time that beer was so good and so you were forever disappointed… I am guessing you would end up in a loop of the same, and never really be open for something different, or maybe even something better?
I don’t have the answer, but one thing that travelling, and working with foreigners, has taught me, is that we do have a choice as to whether we just look at something or whether we actually see it… and to whether we allow ourselves to see something for what it is, rather than for what it is not.
I have started working on my book “North of Everything” which I hope to finish by the end of next year…Stay tuned 😉
Our mind can be our greatest weapon, or our biggest weakness, depending on how we control it.
And we do control it…
I have always been fascinated with the power of ones own mind. I have seen it destroy someone that I love, and I have also seen it keep someone going through impossible odds.
We witness it everyday. The person with depression who forgets why he loves his family, the grandfather who holds on just to see his grandson being born, the cancer patient who refuses to give up.
There is an aboriginal folk story that I read about when I was little, where the tribe leader would “point the bone” at a man who had deceived the tribe in some way, and that man would be dead within the week. It wasn’t a special bone of any kind, just the regular sort, but because the man accused believed in the ritual…he died.
I used to say that “If you strongly believe something, it’s already happened…because even if it hasn’t happened, it might as well have.”
Truth is you can convince yourself of pretty much anything if you set your mind on it. And once you convince yourself you unconsciously make it true. You can wake up and decide that you hate your life, and let that destroy every good thought you have.
My mum would always say to me “don’t let your mind go there”…and there is so much truth in that…Everyone has good and bad thoughts, it’s whether or not you choose to explore them that matters.
The second part about the mind is how it affects those around us…We project so much onto other people without even realising it…
In 1964 Harvard professor Robert Rosenthal, performed an experiment with students and teachers to prove that “If teachers had been led to expect greater gains in IQ from certain students, then increasingly, those kids gained more IQ,”. This theory has now been proven many times over, that what we expect from people we often create for them.
I believe this…The less you think of someone, the more they prove you right to be suspicious.
But can you do this for yourself?
I am facing this at the moment. I can’t and most likely will never do the thing that I dedicated my life to. My writing, and teaching, and my dream…the reason why I moved across the other side of the world, was in a large part to start again, but in the most part it was to pursue my dream of international competition, specifically to continue my life with horses and make something from that.
It has not been easy for me to face up to that reality. I feel like I have failed in every possible way, but the reality is I have not. I believe that my physical inability to do the thing I love has actually just uncovered something that needs to be dealt with…I still have not forgiven myself for things that I did, or things that I had nothing to do with, from years ago. Sometimes I have to actively tell myself just to give myself a break, because not everything in the whole world is actually my fault.
It’s a freeing thought actually. The thought that regardless of what I do, and what I achieve, I will be ok, because I deserve no more or no less than anyone else. Learning to see myself with the same amount of care and affection that I give to everyone else.
It seems so simple..Just don’t be so hard on yourself. But the truth is I have spent a lifetime trying to make up for something that in reality I had nothing to do with.
You may think me weak for admitting it, and I don’t really care, over 100 people wrote to me last week to say that they admire me, or I inspire them, and a part of me is proud of that, and a part of me wonders…why? Why do I inspire them?
I think it’s because in my articles, both in life and in horse riding, I say the things that people think, and as one lady said, I “say it like it is” and not in a way that would make me sound better, or more knowledgeable.
In training I say how much trouble I had with an exercise and suggest a new approach, instead of saying how well I can do it and then explain why I can do it so well…
People also were writing to ask what happened? Basically I have an injury that has been getting slowly worse for 20 years, and a specialist had told me that surgery to lock the pubic bone together is the only solution.
I have since then seen other physicians who say that fusing the pubic bone of a 30 year old woman, cutting off her chances of ever..riding, or havinga family, or even running, is ridiculous.
I am trying again with the physio from my favorite football team (Benfica) and a pilates trainer who is just the the best, and who knows what the future holds…But one thing is certain, this experience has reminded me of the things I still need to work on, and I am finding that “giving myself a break” is not such a bad thing after all.
I have now received my last residency permit (I hope), because in 9 months time I can apply for Portuguese Nationality.
I have been asked why I want Nationality?
In truth I don’t actually need it, and it would probably be easier just to keep applying for residency because of the paperwork required to actually become Portuguese.
Someone told me recently that just because I am granted citizenship it doesn’t make me Portuguese. They were right of course, but for me it signifies more than a dual passport or the right to be here as long as I wish. To me it’s more than that.
An important thing which we all crave, even if we deny it, is a feeling of belonging. People find this sense of belonging in all sorts of ways. Some people belong to a church, or belong to a book club. Some are part of a sport or sports team, similar people who share a similar drive or passion. I feel I belong when I am on the horse, like it’s normal, like it’s where I am meant to be. I feel I belong when I am next to someone who makes me laugh and with whom I love and admire.
And, I feel, and have felt for 6 years, that I belong in Portugal.
I do not know why. I love this country for many reasons. But more than that I love who it allowed me to be. People romanticise moving overseas and I am not going to do that. In the beginning it’s lonely. But then again I know people who are surrounded by the familiar and they are far more lonely than I have ever felt here in Portugal.
The weather here helped a lot in the beginning. It’s hard to be down when you are on a beautiful beach lying in the sun, even if you are there by yourself.
Portugal is becoming more and more popular as a tourist destination and I believe it’s because of the feeling that you get when you are here. Aside from the food, which is delicious, and the landscape which is unique and diverse, Portugal has a relaxed and welcoming feeling that can’t really be described. It’s a feeling that I needed because my mind runs way too fast. The people that I admire the most are those that have mastered the ability to be in the present moment, a feeling that I have only in the last two years come to truly appreciate or understand.
I am trying to use this now, as I give horse riding another try…I have given up the thought of competing for now, for now I just want to ride, and to enjoy riding not just for being on the horse, but for being with the horse. Horses have been my best friends since before I knew what friendship was, since before I could actually walk or talk. They got me through the worst times in my life, when I wanted the world to dissapear, because when I was out on my horse, it felt like it had. It was just me, and my horse, and nothing else.
I think everyone needs their own thing. Their own escape. I was talking recently with someone about how often that escape is part of who we are, the lighter side of our character, the side that makes life fun…and when you stripaway all the ways we have to let that part of us come out, then often you are just left with someone who resents the person who took that away, and themselves for allowing that to happen.
Portugal gave me the freedom to understand that not everything that happens in life is your fault. Despite knowing this I am still hugely self critical, and often really harsh on myself. I judge myself on a scale that I would never in a million years expect others to live up to, and for some reason riding is my escape from that also. It’s funny that in a place where you are judged, you feel free from judgement, but I guess that’s just how life is ;). I am sure I would find another way to escape, to feel like I have a thing thats just mine, that I enjoy, and I feel proud doing, but I feel that won’t be until I truly give up the idea of riding …
As for Portuguese nationality?…No I don’t need it… and no it won’t make me Portuguese. I am Australian. I will always be Australian, and I am lucky to come from a nation that allows me dual nationality. But I do have this feeling that I belong here, and that is a hard thing to describe sometimes to people, particularly my family who love Australia so much…I still love Australia, but gaining nationality is just something for myself, something to say… I came here, I stayed here, and this is where I belong.
I once heard a friend of my mother’s say that she wished there was somewhere she could go, near lisbon, near the beach, where she could have her own small apartment at the horses, do Piaffe and Passage on a Lusitano, see the
Portuguese school of Equestrian art, and also be shown around Lisbon and it’s surrounding areas by someone who knew where to eat the best Portuguese tarts, and could explain a small piece of Portugals very vast and interesting history.
I set out last year with my mates at the Cascais Riding Club to make that happen, and having now had successful trips with riders from Ireland, Finland and Australia, we have worked out that riders want a flexible holiday, that they can design themselves, and they want everything to be accessible and simple, so they can just enjoy it.
The Cascais Riding Club now allows you to organise everything yourself before you come, and offers a range of different extras so riders can create their own riding holiday.
Once you book the flight, I organise transfers to and from the stables, and the apartments (via this link) are located at the horses. http://www.quintadabicuda.com/?page_id=128
For a more luxurious stay there are many lovely hotels around the corner, and if your husband is more for golf than horses the golf courses in the area are quite famous.
Non riding family members (sisters, kids, parents) can also head off to the beach that is 5 minutes away, and choose from surf, paddle and a range of other activities on offer.
Once the family is entertained, you can choose between one to two riding lessons a day, given by me and the team at Cascais Riding Club, and you can inform me beforehand what you wish to work on, and also send video of your riding so I better understand your horse, and your own journey.
To see the surrounding area we then offer day tours of lisbon and or Sintra with ‘Amazing Discovery Tours’ to see the old castles and the very unique lisbon centre on a private tour with a portuguese local guide who is also a very good friend of mine.
We now also offer a morning trip to the Portuguese school of Equestrian art to watch either a training or a show depending on your preference, and you will be taken as a guest by one of the riders of the school itself.
For more information, write to me at email@example.com and start designing your own dream holiday today 🙂 🙂 .
Full list of prices for the CRC package, including lessons and accomodation, below…
3 days (2 nights)
5 days (4 nights)
7 days (6 nights)
The Individual Pack includes the Bungalow Studio, with capacity for 2 people, and 1 riding lesson per day, beginner to intermediate level, for 1 person.
(Bungalow with 2 rooms)
3 days (2 nights)
5 days (4 nights)
7 days (6 nights)
The Double Pack includes the Bungalow with 2 Rooms, with a total capacity for 4 people, and 1 riding lesson per day, beginner to intermediate level, for 2 people.
3 days (2 nights)
1 Half-day kids entertainment
1 Half-day kids entertainment
5 days (4 nights)
3 Half-days kids entertainment
3 Half-days kids entertainment
7 days (6 nights)
4 Half-days kids entertainment
4 Half-days kids entertainment
The Family Pack includes the Bungalow Duplex, with total capacity for 4 people, 1 riding lesson per day, beginner to intermediate level, for 2 people and Kids entertainment as indicated in the table.
*High Season – June 15th to September 15th and Easter Holidays
Kids Entertainment can include the following games: traditional, water, science, football, treasure hunt, cooking, artistic expression and gymkhana.
I set out 5 years ago to compete internationally, and in 2015 I made that happen. People read my classical training articles in most part I believe because I don’t sugar coat it. I don’t say “and then you just pop the horse into a shoulder-in and it’s easy”…I explain that each step in dressage is one step forward, and it takes patience and resilience to continue through the ups and downs.
I don’t say that you just arrive in Europe and get a good horse, and go to a competition and smile all the way, because that is just not going to happen.
It’s now more than 18 months since my last big competition, because I was badly injured and I damaged some tendons, and tendons can take a long time to recover. This was made worse by the fact that I continued to ride, and to persevere, even though I knew, in my gut that that horse was just not right for me.
This horse had been my best friend, partner, and reason for being in Europe and ,when I was with depression ,my reason for getting up at all.
And yes, that was very very hard for me to admit.
I have learnt throughout a lifetime of riding that there are two things that make a top sports person, and neither have to do with physical talent, or technique.
One is a passion for the sport. A drive that can take you beyond all the disappointments and set backs…A drive that will make you get up at 3am and drive 6 hours to a freezing cold competition in the rain, and stick at it through all the times when you messed up, or forgot the test, or finally actually did a good test and didn’t get the marks that you possibly deserved.
The second thing is humility. Being humble enough to say I didn’t do well today, the judge was right, and most importantly, this horse, no matter how much I wish him to be, is never going to reach his potential, with me as his rider.
For whatever reason…You might be too small, or too tall, or yes even too much of a women, because some horses just need a man!
Having this mix of passion and humility will not guarantee you get there, but it will put you ahead of all the people who waste their time on a horse that just doesn’t suit them, or that they are afraid of, or that they just don’t connect with.
Unfortunately for me, I did click with Batialo. Sometimes I honestly believe he knows me better than anyone, and I will never forget the day that a little girl at the stable said to me that she knows nothing about horses, but she could see that that horse over there was mine, and that he just adored me.
But I can wallow in self-pity all I like, that won’t change the fact that I have spent the last 18 months trying to recover on a horse I am afraid of, a horse that knows I have lost my faith in him, and my faith in myself when I am on him.
It’s not because he does anything, he doesn’t. It’s because I lost my confidence on him, and I can’t get it back.
Einstein says that “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”.
And I was quite honestly going insane, but worse than that I was losing my own sense of pride and achievement, because I felt like I had failed my horse.
And that is something an athlete can never do.
I have thought a lot about giving up riding. But I can’t. It’s not just a sport to me. It’s also something that I share with my mother, who taught me to ride before I could walk, and who has shared my journey since the beginning. It’ my reason for calling her at 6am before a competition and asking her what do to if this happens, or why I can’t get the left half pass in the test. It’s true I ride for myself, but I also love that my best friend (mum) shares it with me.
So first I will enjoy teaching, and I have a lot of people booking for the “Warneyswhip classical Riding holiday” which is an all included horse riding holiday, complete with airport transfers and tours of Lisbon and Sintra :).
It’s true that Batialo will never be “just a horse” to me…and as I write this blog I am in tears that I know are not going to help anything. But he is at the peak of his career and I can still take pride in knowing that if he gets to Grand Prix I was a part of it.
I have learnt in life, when you fall off the horse, you have to get back on…But this time I will be getting on a different horse, but with all that I have learnt from the last 5 years, with a very talented friend of mine…
Thank you Batialo ❤ 🙂
“The relaxation of the mouth alone is not enough. It can be deceptive, because it does not necessarily lead to lightness. It has to be accompanied by the relaxation of the entire horse. When he relaxes the back, it will definitely have repercussions in the mouth.” (Nuno Oliveira)
In order to demonstrate this point I had to use a fairly “cowgirl” shot of me and Batialo…but my point is that lightness, is not about having loose reins, or even a forward hand…Lightness is about the whole thing, about 100 things coming together in unison allowing the rider the room to give the rein without the horse losing the…engagement, rhythm, balance, uphill, tendency, cadence, and forwardness of the movement.
This is lightness…
This is NOT lightness…
I am constantly being shown pictures on social media, with comment after comment praising the rider for “lightness” and I look at it and think, sure the rider is letting the rein loose, but anyone can do that if you pick the right moment.
Lightness is not the rider’s ability to loosen the rein, is it “the consequence of impulsion and collection.” (N.Oliveira (1998, 43).
So how do we tell if a horse is truly light? And how do we achieve this?
The common mistake we see is a horse that is simply bouncing up and down and therefore not into the contact…
““The great mistake about lightness is to have a horse ridden on floating reins neither round nor full of impulsion. This is not equitation, it is trail riding. We should only release the contact when the horse is round and in impulsion.” (Nuno Oliveira)
Alternatively riders think they can just push the horse into the rein, and then allow…and so we end up with two ends of the spectrum, with lightness lying very neatly in the middle!
“Many riders in the name of impulsion, put too much tension in their horses. Others in the name of lightness, have their horse “abandoned” (without a sufficient connection). The truth of equitation is in between those two extremes.
So how do we obtain true lightness?
Well first we must have our horse in balance, and this can only be achieved when he can bend as easily to the left, as he can to the right.
Then we must have our horse round and on the bit, and this can only be achieved when he is in front of the leg and moving alone.
Then we must achieve collection, and true collection, which is not to be confused with just squishing the horse into a ball of tension…
“The difference between a compressed horse and a collected horse is that he collected horse can put his nose toward the ground (stretch) while staying round.” (Nuno Oliveira)
Lightness is not something that magically happens when we give the rein. It is something that is achieved over years of training, with the use of exercises and transitions and a system of correct reward and timing.
“We must obtain a horse that is round and light by the nuance and delicacy of our techniques, rather than by using “legs like a wrench” to obtain by force some flashy immediate effects.” (Nuno Oliveira)
So the next time you see a picture of a horse and rider, and you think, wow lightness…check again…this is not to criticise but to learn and understand…to differenciate true equestrian art and appreciate it were it deserves the merit.
A great principle for the entire conduct of dressage is to have the right dose, first of relaxation and second, of the necessary energy. In fact, the horse is not a machine, but a living being. Therefore, riders must know what dose of relaxation and degree of vigour to employ with each horse.
What we often see is a rider who is asking for more impulsion WITHOUT first establishing relaxation and instead of watching an artful dressage test, we see a boxing match as the rider attempts to bang and crash their way through a test aboard a stiff plank.
We cannot ask a horse for more expression until it is relaxed and the most obvious sign that a rider is asking for expression without relaxation is that the horse becomes tense in the neck, comes back off the contact, and the rider then begins to pull on the horse’s mouth and push with the legs in unison, generating more and more tension, and a less and less happy horse.
Often we see riders pushing the horse forward in the walk by thrusting the torso. I don’t like this, and I find that riders who do this actually override the walk. A rider with feel should go with the horses walk, and allow the horse to walk out by thinking of relaxing the hips and taking the thighs off the horse.
The rider can then use flexion to the inside, with a relaxed inside leg to help the horse engage and become more loose through the body.
The signs that the horse is relaxed can be seen in transitions. A horse that is released will come easily to the halt, just off the riders seat aids, without the rider needing to pull the reins…The horse will then remain at halt until the rider asks him to move off!
Then if you feel that you can do relaxed and forward transtions, you can start to add collection, but not keeping the horse in collection for too long.
It is not enough to get a relaxed trot and then think “Oh great, well that’s done now I can do all collected work,” as a good rider will constantly adjust the horse, maintaining the relaxation throughout the session by adjusting the position of the neck, the degree of impulsion, the tempo, the rhythm, asking the horse to engage both mentally and physically in order to employ all its muscle at different stages and at different degrees.
So, how to first get the relaxation and recognise that the horse is relaxed?
Carl Hester spoke at the Dressage Convention about first getting the horse relaxed at the walk. This is a crucial part of training and a rider should not begin to trot until the horse will stretch out in a relaxed, rhythmic, walk.
However, if your horse begins the lesson a little spooky, it is often best to do a little trot first and then come back to get the horse relaxed at the walk.
A relaxed horse will allow his rider to let his frame come out and open, without rushing or charging forward and without falling forward on the shoulders.
If a horse can walk out in a longer frame and maintain the swing and push from the back to the front, the horse is relaxed and you can begin the trot work in the same relaxed attitude.
If the horse can not walk with his neck stretched out into the contact, I would start with a nice contact, elastic to the horses mouth, even if he is a little behind, and then use a little leg until you can ease the rein out and he understands that you are asking him to take the rein out. This takes time, and gentle aids, and must encourage the horse to find the stretch.
Nuno Oliviera used to stress the point that a rider should not work physically hard on the horse and so the key to a good riding technique, is to engage the horse, and create impulsion, without looking like you are running a marathon uphill.
“The criteria of a good rider is a rider that we cease to notice, and we only watch the horse.”
So how then does a rider employ the necessary energy, without increasing their force or physically work load employed on top of the horse?
By using the aids effectively and at the right moment, so that the horse will learn to carry himself.
My trainer often tells me not to be afraid to let the mistake happen, meaning that I sometimes need to let Batialo loose his impulsion for a second and then touch him up, in order to prevent my pushing him all the time.
Sometimes a rider needs to test the limits so that they can push forward that bit further each time, allowing the horse to grow strong without the constant push from the rider.
A rider that we cease to watch, is one that can touch the horse at the exact right moment, and then release the aid immediately, so the horse learns to keep his own momentum and engagement without the constant “crutch” of his rider’s aids.
“Dressage consists of finding a way to get the horse to employ itself to the maximum in the chosen exercise and then maintain the work without the help of the aids. A trained horse is a supple horse, pleasant to ride, happy and not a horse that gesticulates.” (Nuno Oliveira)
A rider with effective aids, does not necessarily need to be strong physically, but must have the timing, and accuracy of mind, that sends a clear message to the horse.
“The best judge to appreciate the quality of the rider’s aids is the horse. Look at his attitude, his ears, his eye, that tell the truth by their expression.” (Nuno Oliveira)
To achieve a horse that can go along alone and a rider that we cannot see because their aids are subtle and efficient, we first need to relax ourselves, so we can feel what our horse is doing. And to relax effectively you need a balanced position yourself.
Then, when we can feel that our horse is relaxed, and we can give him a touch to say “come on, a bit more please”.
This is not the important part. The important part is after the touch and too many riders then touch again, and again, and again, until their touch is just one giant pronounced constant push, that tells the horse he does not need to respond to a light aid because the aid will just stay on all the time.
If your horse doesn’t respond to a light touch, touch again a little firmer, and release when you get a response.
If your horse stops when you release your aids, something is not right, as you cannot increase the impulsion or engagement if your horse cannot first keep himself in a forward movement when his rider is relaxed.
The degree of vigour we must employ on each horse does vary, as some horses are naturally more sensitive than others, but the golden rule is, first relax, both horse and rider, then ask once and collect information.
Sometimes the most important thing to remember for both rider and horse relaxation, is to focus on breathing. You can do this at home when you start the lesson, big breathe in, and big breathe out, and try to feel the horse underneath you. Another good relaxation exercise is to ask for shoulder-in or shoulder-fore on a small circle, as this engages the horse, and helps him to listen to you, and thus relax in the process.
Stretching is a vital element to the training of dressage. It is the reward to the horse, it loosens the horse’s body and it allows the energy to flow naturally through the horse, while confirming and testing every aspect of the training.
However, there is often big confusion between a beneficial, positive, rewarding, engaged, elastic, “through” stretch; as opposed to a long, flat, out-the-back, running, “drink of water” stretch.
The focus falls on the horse’s ability to stretch out his neck and while this is a key element, it is just ONE of many key elements inherent in an effective stretch!
The most important thing to remember as we let the horse stretch, is not to loose the roundness and engagement of the gait, and while length in the neck is important, the stretch is actually a test of whether the horse’s energy is being driven by the hindlegs, through the horse and into an elastic contact.
“It is important to remember not to let the horse get long through the body in the stretch. Length in the neck is not length in the body and we must think that the horse stays round through the stretchvand that the power is driven from the back to the front.
If we simply let the reins out long, the horse might open his neck angle, but without engagement and the energy channeling through from behind, we will loose the power out the back and the horse will become longer (his hindlegs going further out behind him.)”
Nuno Oliviera used to say that “relaxation is not lack of energy”, meaning that when we relax our horse, we must ensure that we maintain the activity and impulsion so that we can test if our horse is working correctly over his back.
How many times have we seen a rider that is holding the horse up in a collected frame and because they have not established correct impulsion and lightness, when they let the reins out to stretch the horse, the horse goes “plop” on the forehand, his hind legs go out behind him like a duck, his back gets flat and long, and his trot goes, “piddle piddle piddle, run run run!”
His neck is longer, sure, but what else has the rider missed in the mean time?
If a rider has their horse engaged into the contact, “through”, with the energy coming from the back of the horse, when they gently let the reins out, they will at the same time lift and engage the horse so that as his neck lengthens, he will lift slightly across his top line, creating a lovely curve up over his back and the length will thus be seen only in his top line and not in the flat pancake across his back.
I call it the “bold” stretch, as it feels as if my horse is on a gliding mission!
Nuno said that in the entire work (that is all of it,) that it is “important that the rider gets the feeling that the haunches are pushing the body of the horse, not that they are following it.” (Nuno Oliveira)
If you let the energy go and the horse falls forward and lets his neck out, all the energy will escape and the horse will chase his front end around the arena.
If a rider lifts and allows gently, until the horse can balance and stretch without losing his energy flow, the stretch becomes an effective tool in the rider’s ability to engage, relax, strengthen, and elasticise the horse.
Then, just as the stretch can test if you have the horse’s weight on the hindlegs and the energy flowing “up and out the front door”, you can use the work to test your stretch.
This means that once you have established a working, active engaged stretch, where the back of the horse lifts and he becomes rounder, “bolder”, in his work, you can gently retake the reins, shift your weight back and ask the horse to come back into a more collected frame.
Can you do this without hauling him up off the floor of the arena?
Can you do this with the use of seat and leg?
Do you feel the power lift him up, or do you?
The transition to and from the stretch, should be executed with ease, balance, flow, and should seem as the rider merely shifts the energy a little, embraces the horse, boosts the cadence and re-establishes a rounded neck, elastic contact and collected position both in terms of rider and horse; posture and outline.
Active stretch or long, flat running: put your stretch to the test!
We have all heard that before…”I now have my horse on the outside rein”.
Many instructors use this term as a means for the rider to stop the horse falling out through the outside shoulder, and early on in my own dressage training I even wrote an article about the inside leg/outside rein connection.
But since then, and having seen 100’s of lessons and ridden a range of different horses, I no longer use this term in teaching inexperienced riders , because they often get the wrong concept and apply it incorrectly.
We see riders who then fix the outside rein as if that will control the shoulder of the horse…But does it?
The answer is no. A fixed outside rein may give the rider the impression they have a contact but it actually just blocks the horse from being able to bend and step through with the inside hind leg . The outside rein must have a connection but it must also ALLOW the horse to bend. It will not straighten the horse unless it is properly applied, in conjunction with all the other things that need to happen at the same time.
i have found that using the word “connection” as opposed to “contact” works well, as often we see riders who think that “contact” means you pull the horses head in so the reins have weight in them…That is not contact.
In addition, taking the outside rein to correct and straighten the horse should be done for one stride, and then the outside rein must allow, and then correct again if needed, while those 100 other things are still happening.
One of the best ways to learn the concept of Inside leg to outside rein is to learn to ride a ‘correct” s/in.
Many riders ride a shoulder-in by pulling the inside rein to get the bend. Incorrect. And if they then hang on to the outside rein without allowing the horse to bend , they just end up with a blocked horse which physically cannot step under with the inside hind leg.
A correctly ridden shoulder-in enables the rider to learn how to bend the horse through the body.
Once a rider can understand and feel this concept, of bending the horse through the body, they will better understand how the inside leg and outside rein act in unison to channel the energy
In addition to the “hold the outside rein” term, riders are also often told that the inside leg must remain on, to push the horse into the outside rein…Also wrong.
The inside leg should be like a post, that the horse bends around, but if you don’t know how to establish the correct bend then putting your inside leg on and holding on the outside will only serve to block the horse, and your body, and typically then your inside leg will draw up and your outside rein will pull back, and ye ha you are a cowboy.
Plus, your inside leg can only work well, and remain long, and be applied in the correct way, if your position is correct.
Nothing in dressage, should be held for long periods of time…The outside rein should not be fixed, but act more like a faucet, letting a little bit of water out at a time. The inside leg must ask and then release.
No it’s not easy.
Nuno Oliveira used to say…
“To straighten the horse
1. By acting on the forehand through using the outside rein toward the neck when the horse is falling outward or away from the neck if the horse is falling inward.
2. Later when the horse is trained and collected, we straighten him using our leg aids.
NOTE: We must never hold the leg tight against the side. We must never use continuous aids, but rather, momentary aids.”
So how then can riders help to keep control of the shoulders without simply thinking inside leg into outside rein?
I have found that to straighten the horse, it is better to think about the position of the shoulders, both his and yours, so not to get stuck with a strong contact on the outside, but a crooked horse.
Secondly, you must think that whenever your shoulder is open, your hip on the same side must open also, as often we turn our shoulders and block with our hip which makes the open shoulder ineffective.
A great way to help you determine where the horse is putting weight (on which shoulder) is to take the centreline. Often we get lost on the wall of the arena as it provides us with a security, but it also hides where the horse is falling out.
Take the centreline and with an even connection on both reins try to feel into which shoulder the horse is putting more weight . Video it if you cannot decide if the horse is straight or not. Think of your two hands as being in line with each shoulder, and then adjust accordingly…
Take your two hands out (when horse falls in) or towards the neck (when horse falls out) depending on where the weight is going, all the while keeping your inside leg down and long, and applying it when you feel the horse losing the forward energy into the outside rein, and then releasing when you feel him respond.
The outside rein must keep a connection ,but also allow, in correspondence and unison with an elastic inside rein that asks the flexion, while your upper body and hip enable the horse to bend, and your legs keep the forward momentum and ask the inside hind of the horse to step under his centre of balance.
Mare for sale…Lusitano…write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information…
Walk before you Run!
I often have people contacting me in search of their dream horse, and I love to help, but sometimes I get frustrated for a simple reason.
I will show a nice 6 year old, and they will ask is he doing flying changes or passage, and I think “I hope not”.
It’s common in the dressage world these days to see horses at 6 already performing exercises that require high levels of collection, and this is not good for the physical nor mental maturity of the horse.
I would prefer 1000 times over a 6 year old that can walk, trot and canter on a straight line , and that bends evenly to both sides, than a 6 year old who can do all the tricks, because a 6 year old that is doing all the tricks for me just means that it will take 12 to 18 months to undo what has been done.
Nuno Oliveira used to say that “No complicated riding before the horses are going truly forward. In dressage, the difficulties are often created by a lack of good basic work (which is the foundation of the house).”
He is right of course, and yet people underestimate the value of waiting until the horse is ready, or are not aware of what “ready” means in terms of dressage training.
Does the horse move easily off the leg. Is the horse light on the contact? Is the horse straight? Does the horse bend to the left and right evenly? Is the horse moving forward alone or is the rider pushing every step?
Can the horse bend correctly on a 20, 15, and 10 metre circle, at walk trot and canter? Can the horse stretch out the contact without losing the rhythm, balance and engagement of the gait, in all three paces?
If the answer was no to any of these then the horse should not be advancing to any collected exercises until the above is achieved and consolidated.
And yet time and time again we hear people who want to learn the flying changes, and when they are asked to do a canter to walk transition, it is a complete mess with little or no engagement, and the horse falls on the forehand, and without this transition the hope of the horse learning to change correctly will be limited at best, and still people want to just get on with it.
It’s as if they want to get to the end of the story before they have even come to introduce the characters, and that may be all well and good if you don’t really care if you get it right or not, but in terms of the health of the horse, this is like putting a toddler on a high beam and asking him to cartwheel.
If you want to teach your horse the flying change, great! Work patiently and with commitment every day, on getting the horse straight, and even, and engaged, and with transitions from walk to canter, canter to walk, and then one day you will ask for the change and the horse will have everything in place to give it to you.
I hear people tell me that their horse doesn’t do flying changes, or that their horse loses rhythm in the passage, or that when they ask the piaffe he just stops, and I find it hard not to ask them if they know how to ride a circle.
The simple things take time, the tricks are the icing on the cake. If you get all the other elements in place, the rest will be easy.
If you have a 6 year old, he is 6, he should be learning to mentally and physically cope with the demands of training, not the demands of collected exercises on top of all that.
Go slowly, be kind, reward the smallest improvement, and let your horse grow up!
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What Are You Achieving?
Sometimes we finish a ride, and the horse is tired, and we are tired, and yet nothing was actually worked on.
This can happen for a range of different reasons, some of them legitimate, and others not.
I sometimes can have weeks where I achieve very little in terms of training because of either my own physical restrictions (i.e. pain or injury), or because the rider that is going through a phase or isn’t tuned in enough to listen to the horse, or a lack of confidence means you tend to just try to “get through the ride” without getting hurt.
A lack of confidence can often result in this sort of mentality, where a rider merely gets on and off and tries do a bit in between, praying all the while that nothing will happen, no dogs will run out, or trees will make a noise, or a gust of wind will come up at the wrong time.
The other reasons might be a lack of focus or goal. i find that even if your goal is to ride a preliminary test and gain a certain percentage, then that in itself gives you more direction in training. This goal should be given with a date, which of course can be extended, but at least it’s there, so you don’t keep putting it off.
We might go out to ride, and feel the trot so great we just sort of float around enjoying it, and forget to actually better it by using transitions, and suppling exercises.
How many times have we seen videos of a horse and rider going all the way around the arena in a fancy trot, and I think, that’s great, but is there a purpose to that? Are you making the trot better? Are you making the horse more supple? Or are you just tiring the horse out until you can finish the training?
“Many riders are happy to get their horses tired by running around in the arena in trot or canter. This gets the horse tired. “Working a horse” is something else altogether.” “( Nuno Oliveira)
So you need to ask yourself, do you want to train the horse, do you want to establish a connection with him based on trust, respect, and communication, or do you want to sit there and look pretty, or get a work out and go home?
If you prefer the first scenario, then as I said you need to set goals, and not just goals to aim toward, but every day goals.
What am I trying to achieve today?
And more importantly, when you finish riding, don’t just rush off to your life, reflect!
Reflect, reflect, reflect!!
Ask yourself, how was that ride, how does my body feel, did I achieve what I set out to?
If you need to, keep a journal of what worked, and why.
You will quickly find that it’s in the reflection that you learn the most about your journey on your horse. Talk to him. Ask him how he felt. He isn’t going to answer you, but in the process you will establish a greater connection with him and you yourself will begin the reflection process.
The two elements of dressage that I find are most easily forgotten are reflection and breathing.
So…Incorporate this into every single training….
Think, what am I setting out to do…Breath while you are doing it…Reflect on how you did it, and whether or not you are on the way to your goal…
Think, Breathe, Reflect!!
My horse is not straight!
No he isn’t! This is one of the most common things I hear in teaching…My horse has one side more difficult…I prefer the left rein to the right because my horse feels different…Why does my horse only bend left…
Then, even worse, we see riders in top level competition and they do a lovely half pass to the left, and then a leg yield to the right! Why?
Because the rider has not addressed the fundamental part of dressage which is that the horse has both a concave and a convex side, and so yes, your horse is not straight!
Concave: having an outline or surface that curves inwards like the interior of a circle or sphere.
Convex: means curving out or extending outward
Nuno Oliveira wrote a lot on this topic, and it is something that you really need to think about, draw a picture if you have to, figure it out, and trust me if you can nut this one out the rest of dressage training is much easier!
A horse that is straight moves completely differently, and once you have felt it, well, you will understand why there is so much written about it.
“Example of a horse that is convex on the left side; he naturally bends right. When going on the left rein, his tendency will be to have too much weight on the left side and to resist on that side.
REMEDY: left rein lighter than the right, the left side will always be the difficult side, but without forgetting to keep the contact with the right rein. Use continuous vibration upwards on the left rein the entire life of the horse. To bend him left, replace the action of the left rein by the action of the left leg near the girth. Use the calf, not the spur. This will correct the problem at its source which is the deviation of the rib cage to the left.” (Nuno Oliveira)
“Example of a horse that is convex on the right side; he naturally bends left. When going on the right rein, his tendency will be to have too much weight on the right side and to resist on that side.
REMEDY: right rein lighter than the left, the right side will always be the difficult side, but without forgetting to keep the contact with the left rein. Use continuous vibration upwards on the right rein the entire life of the horse. To bend him right, replace the action of the right rein by the action of the right leg near the girth. Use the calf, not the spur. This will correct the problem at its source which is the deviation of the rib cage to the right.” (Nuno Oliveira)
Read this…Re read it…Go out and feel it, and then read it again!
It is not something that you correct in one lesson, but something as Nuno points out that you work on for the entire life of the horse.
Next time you watch a test, ask yourself…Does the horse bend more one way than the other? Or does it not bend at all to one side?
It is not just incorrect, it also adds strain on the horses muscles, ligaments and joints, as the horse is constantly putting more weight into one shoulder.
As a rider we often have a side that is more relaxed that the other too, and this can be made more difficult by the fact that our horse is built with a convex and concave side.
However, as riders it is our job to, with the use of exercises, correct this imbalance, and create a supple forward moving horse.
“It is by working the horse through different exercises in the same bend that we can often supple up the horse on the difficult side.” (Nuno Oliveira)
This is why it often helps to have eyes on the ground and if not a video camera so you can see for yourself if you and your horse are even.
You must ask…”Is my horse with the same amount of bend on the left and right rein.”
“Am I sitting in the middle of the horse”, because often because of this lack of symmetry in horses, riders tend to sit more to one side than the other.
Then gradually over time you can create a horse with even bend, who is supple even on a straight line.
But it has to be thought about and worked on, every single day.
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