Growing up on an Aussie cattle farm in Australia was a long way from my first big horse trek to Germany.
I spent two months working with one of the top German Breeders, and while his horses were incredible, both in power and confirmation, the weather was not!
Determined to find the right place for my training, and my internal thermos, I ventured to Portugal to fulfil my mum’s dream of owning the chosen horse of her God, Nuno Oliveira…the Lusitano.
I quickly fell in love with the breed, and while as a whole they don’t pocess the length and power of the warmblood, sometimes you come across a well breed one that can match it in the world of German bred horses.
Combine this with the breed’s natural ability to collect and overall ‘try hard’ attitude, and you have a horse you need to be Edward Gal to ride.
I began my training with the most taltented rider I have ever seen in real life.
Trained by the classical master and leader of the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art, João Pedro Rodrigues, his Prodigy Gonçalo Carvalho Conchinhas, had a position on the horse that was like silent perfection.
Under Gonçalo’s command, I first had to learn to ‘do nothing’.
It is a german saying, and Ingrid Klimke’s favorite riding quote, that “In der Ruhe liegt die Kraft”, meaning you find your strength through the quietness. I know now what she means.
“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.
So many riders ‘bang and crash’ about on the horse in hopes of producing something spectacular, when in fact the more still you can become, the more aware you are of what is going on underneath you.
I first had to learn how to feel the horse, to know every thought in his head , and to sense any tightness throughout his body. To do this I had to be completely still, and for a few weeks I felt like a statue of unimportance, establishing a solid position, but not really doing much else.
But this was what Gonsolo wanted, and I quickly became aware that through my silence, I had formed a connection with the horse. Gradually, and over many weeks and many horses, I began to feel when the horse was and wasn’t working over the back, and I developed an ability to respond to the horses will within the split second that he tried to follow it.
It was only then, once I had established the correct seat, and the strength to remain completely silent on the horse, that I was allowed to start really riding him.
Gonsolo said that until I could learn not to interfere with the horses natural balance, I would never be able to improve the quality of his movement.
To improve the quality of a horse’s movement you need to make sure you know where the horse is comfortable. At what position of the neck, and speed of rhythm does the horse let go right through his back, allowing him to step up from behind.
The dressage world wastes so much time arguing about where a horses neck should be during training. Up and out, round and down, roll kur, we have all heard them. Right way, wrong way. Truth is, no one way is the right way.
Edward gal confirmed this in his comments at the dressage forum in Portugal where I watched him take 20 minutes to transform a tense horse into a freely moving and stretching horse.
He said “Every horse is different.” Wow revelation! But it is true. Every horse is different, and so gonsolo trains every horse in the optimum position for that horse, according to it’s point of natural relaxation.
This was difficult to teach me at first, as it is all based on the rider’s ability to feel the horses back. But I learnt by doing, and by watching Gonsolo undo what I had done.
Then one-day he no longer had to spend 20 minutes freeing up the horse after I had warmed it up. I developed the sense as to where the horse should work.
The important thing in all this is to NEVER force the horse into position. The correct balance is found through use of the legs and the seat to gradually enable the horse to search for his own contact, let him make the connection with you.
Then every time he “passes the hand” you allow a little more just by “opening the fingers” until he can open in the poll and stretch down without losing the rhythm.
However this only works if you have one crucial ingredient in place. The ‘inside leg/outside rein’ relationship is the most important to keep the horse straight and connected with the rider’s hand. Without this you can never establish balance, and the horse will simply fall out through the outside shoulder, with his quarters to the inside, enabling him to lock through the back and have a very easy time of not doing much at all.
You do not need to put the inside leg on. More it is there, like a post, reinforcing your position into the outside rein. The outside rein also isn’t pulling or working, it isn’t back or up, it is just there, ready to catch the horses weight and maintain straightness as he works himself around your new friend, ‘the inside post’.
Once this is established you can test the balance, maintaining the soft link between you and the horse’s mouth.
If the horse is in good balance and swinging over the back, you can see by the swing that develops all the way to the tip of his tail.
From there everything else is easy. Once you have a horse listening and connected and moving through from behind, the movements are merely additions to the basic work. It’s this work that gives the horse it’s strength.
Having established a position and effected use of the aids, I was now ready to begin lateral movements. Read on next issue for work in the shoulder in, and training the young horse in piaffe with help of the long rein.