Depression- What it is to me

After the huge response to my blog on mental health, I started to think about depression. I have been told many times before that I write as though I have lived a long time, and I have often thought about why that is.

For me I feel I have lived several different lives. There was my childhood. A time when everything was light, and free, and I would run wild around my family farm, always full of life, always happy.

Then there was my father’s suicide, and the 3 years that followed, years in which my mind remind light, just more mature, wiser, more aware of the world, and the fragility of life, and of the world we know as our own.

Then there were two years where everything got slowly more complex, and dark. My thoughts no longer let me feel the freedom I once knew, and over a very long and gradual process, I found myself suffocating from within my own self. I had depression.

Recently I had a very interesting conversation with someone who asked me how I got over depression. Here is the truth that nobody really addresses…You don’t! An alcoholic might not drink, but they will always be an alcoholic.

When I was seeking help for depression people would tell me, “you will get better”, “your mind can work again like it did”, “there is hope”, “now take this pill and talk it out”.

Nothing helped. In fact, the more I wished that I could get my old mind back, the worse I got. I would be filled with more guilt because I couldn’t snap out if it, and a sadness because I couldn’t remember how my mind used to be. I knew that it used to be different, that it used to work differently, and that suddenly, it just didn’t work anymore.

I think that belief that it could go back to the way it was, actually stopped me from pulling myself out of it. For me, depression is when your mind gets stuck, like a cd that gets scratched and keeps playing the same moment over and over. Typically the thing this is being replayed is the thing that you fear most, your greatest weakness, whatever it is in you that is the source of your inner most shame, or vunerability. For me it was the fear that I could have stopped my dad from killing himself, and that if I had of been more, or meant more, or done more, then he would have stayed.

This of course wasn’t literally what was playing on my CD, but it was the route of all the rest, and it would drag me down, again and again, making me feel useless, and guilty, and black, until I really didn’t feel I was worth anything at all, to anyone.

Then, once the depression has you, it uses that fixation to seep into everything else in your life…You are not good enough for that person, for that feeling, for that job, down and down, over and over, until you are so tired of your own self you can hardly find the strength the breathe.

You don’t want to see anyone, you can’t explain to them why you are so down. You can’t tell you family because it is a burden that they can’t see, and why should they have to worry anyway about someone so utterly useless and pathetic.

You don’t have cancer, you aren’t physically sick, how can you explain to them that some days the black is so bad you can even start to think about the peace that death might bring. How selfish is that, you are horrible, how can you think like that!

These are the thought patterns that appear over and over, and even though you know it’s ridiculous, that doesn’t stop it from taking over everything that you are.

This mind, the mind of someone who is mentally depressed, doesn’t dissappear. You can’t just undo it, or reverse it, or re-program it.

Am I happy now? Absolutely. Do I remember back to a mind before depression? Sometimes. Do I still search to get that mind back? No.

The key to curing mental illness for me, is first excepting it, embracing it, and then using it to get things done.

Sure, my mind can overanalyse, it can focus on one point and stay there, and if I let it focus on the bad point, I, and most people with a mental illness, can go straight back into a black hole.

Instead, I decided one day that I would be an international horse rider, and I had to get fit and healthy to ride my horse. Every second of every day after that I channeled all my mind energy, that was previously used to belittle and suffocate me, into my goal. I used the same amount of drive and determination, and strength I had put into going down, into my decision to go back up.

It was time consuming, and it takes work. You have to learn to listen to every thought, turn it around to make it useful and positive, and then put it to use.

Every, you don’t deserve, becomes, you deserve because. And this process, has to happen 100,000 times before it starts to actually shift the balance in your brain between bad vs good.

I think one of the greatest hurdles of depression is that they want to find a cure. Or that the person themselves want to be cured. When I realised that that was never going to happen, I got proactive about using the mind I had, to get where I wanted to be. If I didn’t have my mind would I have been able to move overseas alone, find a horse, start competition, and actually make it onto the international scene? I can’t answer that question.

Did my mind, one that could fixate on something and never give up, one that could drive me so far into darkness I felt no escape, did that mind, when put to something good help me? Absolutely!

Mental Health Week…

I have been really impressed recently with my sister, and the initiative starting in the Australian community to raise awareness to mental illness.

Katrina talked about how the community helped out after my dad’s suicide, and the stigma associated with his death that remained long after the tragic event.

I think the saddest thing about mental illness is that people don’t seek help because they actually can’t admit it to themselves, or understand it, so what would they say?

I was 11 when my dad died, and the worst part for me in terms of the community was returning to school afterwards. It was a small school, and I remember that the kinder kids would come up to me and say things like “your dad is dead”, or “mum said your dad killed himself”, or “I was told not to talk about dads with you”.

Some older kids would ask me if my dad got sick, and I couldn’t tell them yes because I didn’t see that. He went to work everyday, he got up, he went to bed, he wasn’t in hospital, so how could I tell another child he was sick? It seemed to me he wasn’t. I was with him everyday right up until it happened and the single and only time I ever thought that something was wrong was the night before he died. I was playing scrabble with him and my grandfather and I won. If you knew my dad you would know he wouldn’t just let me win, but his mind just didn’t work. He couldn’t think of a single word to put onto the board, and I felt a sort of sick feeling that I had never felt before.

For years I would just say “my dad died”, and like my sister, I felt awkward saying it was suicide, not because I hadn’t come to terms with it, but more because of the reaction of others. They would either pity me, or judge me, or laugh because they thought I was joking.

At some point I stopped caring, because I realised that their reaction was something they needed to deal with, and if I made them feel uncomfortable that was not my fault or intention.

But if I couldn’t see it, and I couldn’t explain it, and my father didn’t own it,  how then do we solve a problem that you can’t see?

You don’t have a tumour, or a broken bone. You don’t seem sick. So what then is wrong with you?

After not dealing with my dad’s death very well I was 14 when I started not being ok myself, and I remember standing in the kitchen one day, and because I didn’t know what was wrong, I just said to mum “I don’t feel right”. I didn’t know what else to say ,because I looked fine, and I was doing well at school, so technically I was fine.

All I can say is that I still know my father as a very smart, quick witted, strong man, who was loyal to his family, and whose funeral inspired a community, and a greater community, and pretty much anyone he had ever met to arrive at our farm to honour his memory.

So for that man to take his own life, there must have been something deeply wrong, and until society can accept that, and be understanding and compassionate about those affected, people like him will just stay silent.

Lusitano for Sale ULISSES- GP movements

Very very sad to put my little man Ulisses up for sale, he is truly the most beautiful horse I have ever seen and his piaffe and passage is like pushing a button, and is of the highest quality I have ever ridden.

He is now 14 and has been gelded, but is extremely fit, and is always full of energy! He would be the perfect horse for anyone who just loved to ride and train, and feel what it is like to have a horse with natural suspension and talent for collection. He has competed up to Prix St George level with percentages up to 67%.

He is very gentle, and a bit of a character, and needs someone who is also calm and gentle with him or he gets worried.

For enquiries write to me at warneyswhip.com.au

Filo das Figueiras- For Sale

My little lady is for sale as we can’t afford to keep them all in Portugal. Filo’s Sire is the Grand Prix horse Viheste by Alter stud,currently under Katleen Keller saddle, daughter of great trainer Dolf-Dietram Keller and was in the Normandy WEG for Brazil with Manuel Tavares de Almeida neto.

She was bred by the breeder of Batialo Herdade Das Figueiras, and is showing a great potential for Piaffe and Passage, even at such a young age.

She is still green but on her first ever time out she didn’t put a foot wrong.

For enquiries write to me at warneyswhip@gmail.com

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Portuguese School of Equestrian Art- New Performing Arena 2015

In July of this year the world famous Escola Portuguesa de Arte Equestre (EPAE), opened a new performing arena in Belem, Lisbon.

A historical place related to cavalry, both military and royal, the School has restored an arena that belonged to the Army- The Henrique Calado Riding Ring. The inauguration was on July 16th and since then the School is performing regularly to the public.

I recently interviewed one of the members of this historical riding school, Carlos Tomas, about the re-opening, and what viewers can now expect from this unique experience.

“The public can attend the morning exercise, performances or even gala shows, depending on the day and the response has been very good, although as there is construction work in the street just in front of the ring, it has been a bit confusing for us, for the horses, and for the public.

Hoping that the construction will be completed by the end of the month, Carlos feels that this will then make a calmer entrance and one more publicly accessible.

“There are also some new riders and we have a new director-Teresa Abrantes and a new Master Chief-Rider João Pedro Rodrigues.”

Having trained with Master Rodrigues when I first arrived in Portugal, I was thrilled to hear he had taken the spot as head rider, knowing that his horsemanship, passion and talent, would surely lift the school to a new level.

“Since I was a kid I liked to see the School shows,” added Carlos.

“I always admired both the Alter Real horses, and of course their riders. I always wanted to be part of this School.”

Carlos hopes that with this new arena and new management more people will begin taking notice of the School and it’s existence, and people will take the time to witness the hard work and talent of Carlos and his peers.

“The audience is offered the chance to see the Alter Real (royal stud) Lusitanos performing all the High School exercises practiced at the “Picaria Real” (the Portuguese Equestrian Academy of King João V that used the Royal Riding Ring in Belém, actually the National Coach Museum).

These include the passage, the pirouette, the tempi changes and also the “airs above the ground”-the pinnacle of the baroque riding-such as the levade, the pousada, the courbette, the ballotade and the capriole.

People are particularly excited to see these exercises performed in choreographies complete with the typical costumes and saddles used in the 18th century.”

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Photo by “PSML – Rita Fernandes”

I would urge anyone who would like to witness true equestrian beauty to head to Belem and support something truly great, the product of talent, history, and passion for classical training.

Click here to view the program, available at www.arteequestre.pt!

Losing Confidence Part Two- Road to Recovery

One of the topics that I find many riders can relate to is talking about that moment when you lose your confidence. For some of us it happens early on in our riding career, whereas for others, they might go right into adulthood before they develop a very real sense of self preservation of fear.

For me it was a moment. I had always been the crazy, cowgirl, chasing cattle and galloping out of control across my farm in Australia. Falling off was just one of those things, and while it happened sometimes, it was never something I thought about much afterwards, and it certainly wasn’t something I stressed about before!

When Batialo was young, many people, (mum included), thought I was mad just for getting on. He was not at all a mean spirited horse, but he was a very HIGHLY spirited horse none the less, with an ego and intelligence, matched with a power that I had not experienced.

I have had horses that spin, but they typically lift off the ground ever so slightly first, and then turn, whereas Batialo sort of pushes himself to the floor and pivots, using his lowered position as a launch pad. Yet, my loss of confidence came on a horse that one day just switched over and went, well nuts.

Normally when a horse looses  it’s cool I’m thinking “how do I get back in control?”, but on this day, I was thinking “how on earth do I get off without being killed?”.

I ended up eventually throwing myself off and missing the arena wall by 2cm, a tidy landed had it not been for the fact that the horse turned around and stood on me, pushing my leg back to reveal the bone.

From that moment on I had fear. Fear of being hurt, fear of losing control, fear of knowing that we ride animals, and we cannot ever predict what they might do.

So how then do we recover after a loss of confidence? Some riders never do, they give up. Riders who cannot imagine not riding (me), keep at it. Some days are harder than others, but the very real truth is, you never go back to the way you were before. You can become a better, more aware, and far more realistic rider, but you will never have that carefree, “I am untouchable” feeling again.

I miss that. I miss galloping off on the farm and feeling so free. I still have days now when the wind is like a tornado, and I sort of creep out onto the arena waiting for the gremlins to jump out.

I started competing internationally this year, and I was hugely proud of myself not because I was doing it, and not because everyone said I couldn’t, but because I was doing it on my terms. Batialo was lunged well, I was careful, I avoided the horses that were obviously crazy, and I tried just to keep in my own bubble, push the quarters, shoulder-in, calm, relaxed.

Recovering from a loss of confidence, is about being honest! Don’t pretend you can when you know you shouldn’t. If you want to lunge the horse, lunge the horse. The person telling you you don’t need to, is not going to feel a thing if you fall off! Be honest with yourself about what horse you can handle, and when you need to ask for help.

Still now, having competed in huge atmospheres, I have days when the wind rattles me, and when I’m not ashamed to say, I feel afraid. Not of falling, but of never getting back up.

Truth is, once you admit it, and you can share it, you will find that there are many others just like you. We are not untouchable, we love our horses, we trust our horses, but there comes a point in every riders life when they discover…falling off hurts!

To support good riding, purchase our new Classical Riding Polos, with a donation going to a horse rescue charity.. Click here to find out more

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Warneyswhip Classical Riding Polos

Wouldn’t it be great if you could ride out everyday in something that represents the way you feel about riding? Well, Warney’s Whip recently teamed up with Polish design team True Rider, and set out to design a comfortable and cool range of riding polo tops, that support classical dressage and a happy horse!
I really appreciated the True Rider philosophy, and their range of clothing is of the highest quality, made from the finest cotton, that gives the rider lasting comfort, and with the classical quote, a polo to wear with pride!
To kick off this four part series, designed by the talented graphic artist team E-questrianart, we are releasing a set of two polo tops, in navy and grey, each with a unique classical riding quote from my work.
Alternatively you may choose your favourite and select just a single riding polo, but of course buying the set gives you a discount :).
To add to the benefit of this purchase, a 1 Euro donation from every polo sold will be given to a selection of non-profit horse rescue charities from different parts of the world.

If you read my articles on my blog, or my classical series on Eurodressage, and if you have somehow benefited from something that I have written, please support us, and support classical training, and a horse that is happy to see his rider, and a rider who loves his horse!
Click here to make your pre purchase at True Rider...Hurry pre-orders available until end of September!!11928784_852417321502665_613507325_o-2

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Can’t ride :( Can’t wait to ride!!

There are times in every riders life, where you can’t ride as well as you wish to. Be it an injury, or illness, or your mind is just stuck on something outside of horses, and you can’t seem to find that connection you need to really communicate with your friend the horse!

These times can be very frustrating mentally, as most horse riders will agree that riding sort of, at some point, is what keeps our minds functioning at a productive level. After a bad ride people will ask you what’s wrong, and if you say, my horse didn’t understand me today, they will look at you like “Oh wow what a crisis!”

The truth is, for people who grew up riding, who breathe riding, who know themselves better through the eyes of their horse, a bad ride, or not riding, can really cause an emotional crisis.

It can sort of feel like your world is falling down around you, but trying to explain this to a non-rider makes you seem like a complete drama queen because by the look of you nothing is really wrong.

I found that it’s best not to try and explain to those people why your down. I complain to my mum, who has been riding all her life, and absolutely gets it! She doesn’t then ask, what’s wrong, she just knows.

During these times, it is great to have a back up plan. The question is how to keep your horse engaged, interested, and working his muscles, while you are not at your best?

Some people would think that flying around the arena at 100 miles an hour is how you make your horse work hard…WRONG! Others believe that extended trot is hard for the horse, extended canter also…WRONG! In fact, most of the more difficult exercises,  (in terms of mind and body engagement for horse and rider), are performed at the walk!

The ones riders are most familiar with are traverse and shoulder-in, at the walk, often done on a circle or up the long side. However, a more difficult movement to perform is the walk stepping over.

It’s very similar to shoulder-in on a small circle except that you aim to keep the horse straight using the outside rein and very gently allow the horse to cross his back legs, trying to keep the shoulder on the inside of the circle, but not blocking it in the one place.

This is not a pivot around the shoulder, but a small circle, where the horses back legs cross in a wider circle, around his front legs crossing in the centre.

Imagine two circles, one of a small radius at the front, and one of a wider radius at the back.

The key is to get the horse to move off a light leg aid, or even, as he learns, off a seat bone aid, and then release the aid until he learns to keep stepping over alone.

It seems so simple, and yet for the horse this exercise is extremely difficult. Imagine our bodies, many of us can go for a run, but if we try to hold a plank position for 60 seconds we collapse in a heap.

These exercises at the walk, if executed well, will make you tired by thinking, which is the key to good riding. More importantly, if you can get the horse to move into lateral exercises at the walk, off a seat or very light leg aid, you will be AMAZED at how much difference that makes to the work at the trot and canter.

So, next time you stub your toe, have a migraine, back ache, neck pain, etc, don’t let it get you down. USE this time to work on the very simple, yet hugely important aspects of dressage…

 

When I woke up In Portugal

It’s true that when I arrived in Portugal I didn’t have any idea of what to expect! Portugal was not a country that sprang up very often in geography or history, and I was always told that the Dutch discovered Australia, and that was that. There was a vague mention of another country perhaps popping in before, but there was never any detail given about those “might have been” voyagers, and I really didn’t know the first thing about the country, its history…That it is known for its salted cod and grilled sardines, its amazing beaches, and diverse landscape.
I had never to my knowledge met a Portuguese person, and I had never ridden a Portuguese horse. Why did I come? The easy answer is I came to find mum a horse, but perhaps a closer version to the truth is I wanted to run away and start again. Sometimes in life we can become so caught up in who we think we are, we can’t remember what really makes us. We become surrounded by people who know us as one thing, so that becoming something different is almost impossible. I love Australia. I love my home. But too many of us get stuck in a version of ourselves, without ever testing to see what we might be, who we are.
You often hear people say that wouldn’t it be great if you could just leave and start again. I quite literally did that. I’m still the same person who left Australia, but making yourself start again, alone, means you have to decide who are are, and be that, with no predisposition, or history, no ideal or self judgement.
Obviously for many people just starting again is impossible. They have ties or family or responsibilities. But what if you could just start again, who would you be? What would you be known for?
We spend so much of our lives trying to live up to someone else’s expectations, trying to be somebody else, or impress somebody else. Well, what if you had to only impress yourself? What if you were your own audience and the opinions of everybody else didn’t matter at all. Guess what? The truth is, as my mother used to say “nobody else really cares what you do!”. This doesn’t mean that people don’t feel for you, but in truth, what you do and who you are, is completely up to you.
For me, everything used to be a race. My mind would work at such a rapid speed that I quite often couldn’t even hear what other people were saying. Gradually, as I began to rearrange my thoughts, I slowed down, to the point where I could see and feel what was happening around me. When you can do that, when you can learn to be just in this moment, you suddenly begin to appreciate all the crazy, coincidental, amazing things that are happening when we are too busy to notice.
It has now been over two years since I last when home. I miss it sometimes, but I love my life. People ask me if I miss my mum, and in truth we have a far better relationship because everyday we talk. When you live with someone or near someone your conversation is typically “want a cup of tea” and “good morning”, whereas because we sit down and Skype we have to actually discuss things, usually about training, and exercises, or what is happening on the other side of the world.
People often ask me what I have learnt in Portugal, and it’s interesting to note that what you really learn when you view more of the world, is more about yourself.
I can tell you that if you tell a Portuguese mum that you don’t like what she has cooked, she will not just pop on some toast, but will go back and cook a whole separate dish from scratch, and enjoy doing it. I have learnt that time here is more fluid, but that time spent in good company is time well spent. I have been invited into another culture, and in doing so, learnt more about my own.

Some people can visit the whole world, and yet see nothing. Others can learn more about themselves from a ten minute conversation with a stranger, than in a lifetime of pretending.

Try not to base who you are on the way someone else thinks of you, and never try to be like somebody else. If you are trying to be like someone else, there is a very real possibility that the person aspiring to be like you is going to get very confused…

To know more about moving to Portugal, buying property in Portugal, or purchasing your own dream horse, feel free to write to me…There are loads of great opportunities 😉

Stop Banging Your legs about, This is not the Hockey Pockey…

 

Recently Batialo was really feeling down. He got a flu from a long trip, and I could feel him (he is a big baby) saying he just wasn’t feeling himself. He just had a small cough really, but he is overly dramatic, and in the work I was being careful not to make him uncomfortable while he recovered.

He did recover, pretty much overnight, and came out one day saying “ye ha, I feel awesome again”…SPIN!! Since then there has been about three spins in a row, and the doctors say I have inflammation of the pelvis, and can’t imagine how horse riding could do that, as it is not a high impact sport like football.

I think in the minds of the “non-horseys” dressage, or horse riding in general, is taking a passive stroll out around on a very relaxing sort of zen field trip.

One thing that you might notice about dressage people is one, they don’t like to stop riding even if they have pain, and two they are a tad should we say over possessive about who can ride (or even touch) their horse.

I may be one of those people, but also because I find the greatest reward not in competing or in any form of success, but in teaching Batialo. I don’t want someone else to hop on and teach him, because when he gets to Grand Prix, I want to say that it was me who got him there, even if it takes me ten times longer than a so called professional (which just means someone who gets paid let’s face it).

So back on we went, and while I am pretty damn uncomfortable, it has been a huge wake up call for my riding. I pretty much get a small jolt of electricity down my leg when I use them, and this small old has reinforced just how often we use the legs unnecessarily. I have to make sure that every little leg aid is worth it, cause well it hurts, and so I have trained myself and my horse, to make really sure every leg aid has a purpose and that purpose is well and truly carried out!

You might say, ah yes hahahah you are a crazy out of control leg thrashing, and ok if you think that, but perhaps if you could imagine tiny bolts of electricity pumping down your thigh when you use your leg, you might be surprised at just how many useless, unwarranted, and unproductive leg aids you are actually giving.

Try to stop using your legs for two circles and see what happens? I meant literally don’t touch the horse at all.

It seems very simple, but quite often we can be hocky pockying ourselves all about on top of our horses, without us even knowing it!

Who Is My Horse?

Often I ask people about the personality of their horses, and they tell me “he really works hard”, and “he is talented”, and “nice to ride”, and I wonder if they ever really tried to understand who their horse is.

Does he prefer carrots or apples? Is he afraid of thunder? Does he have a high tolerance for pain or does he moan about a prickle in his foot? Is he funny or serious? Proud or embarrassed?

These questions to some will seem ridiculous. To others, perhaps those who have known horses their whole lives, will get exactly what I’m talking about…

Who is my horse?

Batialo eats Bananas, but ONLY if they are the last thing on offer. Carrots and apples are on par with eachother, but sugar lumps, well those are the rump steak of the sweets in his world.

He is not afraid of anything, and there was only one time that I saw him genuinely scared and that was when he had his foot in a bucket of ice after a nail stuck into his hoof, and when he moved and the ice shook, and a look came on his face that I had never seen before, nor have I seen it since.

He thinks travelling is boring, but he loves going to new places. And, he is my inspiration in life for one very simple reason, which has nothing to do with his talent, or the way he his to ride. He just loves life!

If he were a human he would be one of those annoyingly happy people, who is always joking with everyone, and even when he is exhausted still has a smile on his face. And man does he think he is hilarious! If no one else is laughing as his joke, you can be sure that he is.

A vet can inject him, or pull his tail, or take blood, or pretty much anything without him being tied up, but if someone treats him unfairly, you can consider them permanently warned.

He is a giant sook though. If he has a slight stomach ache  he will look rather pathetic, and will tell you, a lot, just how god awful he is feeling.

Furthermore, he is the only horse I have ever had that when he has just been fed and I call him, he will come away from his food to see what I want. He will of course have a face like “Sarah hurry up because I’m rather busy”, yet nevertheless he will come, and he will wait until he knows what I want. (and if I don’t have a reason he will give me an interesting look, bit like the look of Maggie Smith on Downton Abby).

People often wonder why their horse doesn’t understand their aids, or more importantly when they get in a strange environment, their horse doesn’t trust them and instead gets out of control and anxious.

Batialo plays, but it’s because he thinks he is just the bees knees, and sometimes it is all a bit boring. But he trusts me. Absolutely.

When people wonder why their horse is afraid, why the horse doesn’t trust them in the saddle, I would ask these people a very simple question…Do you trust people who don’t know who you are?

Would you trust someone to lead you if they never tried to understand what makes you tick, what are your fears, your strengths and your weaknesses?

Chances are you wouldn’t, so take the time to know your horse, and think about how the personality of your horse should be catered for in training. You do not train every horse the same way, because of course every horse is different, not just physically, but in terms of WHO THEY ARE!!

Once you know who your horse is, you can earn his trust, his respect, and what greater thing is their in life to have earned the admiration of an animal.

 “It is not the audience that we must impress and seduce, but, quite to the contrary, the horse” (Nuno Oliveira)

Stay tuned to Eurodressage for the full article on “The Horses mind”, with quotes from Ingrid Klimke, Stephen Clarke, and many others.

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