Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Ask yourself this?

Are you making progress with your horsemanship?

I am constantly amazed by the money that people hand over to trainers in return for not a lot really. If you want to employ a trainer to help you progress your horsemanship, here are some guidelines I reckon you should follow.

a) You should make tangible progress in every session.
b) You should leave with more knowledge and less confusion than you arrived with.
c) You should understand what the job is that you are trying to do.
d) Your horse should understand what the job is that you are asking him to do.
e) Your trainer should be concerned if you are not making progress.

That is some basic stuff just about your sessions – The next list is about you and your horse, and is just my opinion. I would go as far as to say that if these things aren’t happening you need to think about what you and your horse are actually learning in your training sessions.

a) You should be learning to relax on your horse.
b) Your horse should be learning to relax with you on board.
c) You should be training your horse without the use of force or restriction.
d) Your horse should be learning to carry you correctly.

Put in a nutshell, I guess what I am saying is if you are using any bracing in yourself, you shouldn’t be. If you are using restrictive tack you shouldn’t be. If you are pulling your horse in at the front you shouldn’t be. If your horse is over-bending he shouldn’t be. If your horse is worried about the bit he shouldn’t be. If you have a backwards pull in your hands you shouldn’t have. If your horse isn’t going forward when you ask he should be. If you are doing all the work to keep your horse going you shouldn’t be. If your horse is travelling on the front end he shouldn’t be. If your horse isn’t willing to do what you ask he should be. And finally, you should understand what riding in balance is.

If you don’t understand anything about any or all of the above you should ask your trainer to explain these things to you, and make sure that you understand his/her answer, and that you are happy with it.

Monday, 2 May 2011

At last!

At last we have written down some principles.

Photo taken at this weekend's clinic

Working with respect for the horse’s physical and mental well-being, and with the aim of improving both.

Teaching the horse to understand, be physically able and mentally willing to do what you want, rather than the rider having to push, hold, cajole, argue, force and ‘manufacture’ the horse.

Understanding that balance is crucial for your horse, especially when carrying a rider, and working to develop it right from the start of training.

Recognizing that without ‘feel’ results will always be mediocre, and that it can be learned (but maybe not taught).

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The two ways to train horses.

Surely there must be more than two ways to train a horse. Well, I don't think there are. You either train the horse to accept restriction or you train it to work in freedom. You might think that there is a spectrum between those two extremes, but there isn't. There is a spectrum of restriction, ranging from simply appalling to not too bad. But freedom is freedom, it isn't on a spectrum and you are either doing it or you are not.

One thing is for sure, it's quicker and easier to train a horse to accept restriction, and if you measure progress by what the horse can do, you might even begin to think that it is indeed the best way to go. Walk, trot, canter, hack, hunt, jump, or even do some fancy moves. You can get your horse to do all this pretty quickly by holding it in place. Once the horse has accepted the pressure of the bit in his mouth, and the power of the riders hands and legs, then all he has to do is surrender and go wherever he is pulled or pushed.

I guess it is fairly obvious that I don't like that system of training very much. I can see it suits some people's needs, but the thing is it's not very good really, is it? The horses might be doing a semblance of the job, but there is always something wrong with how it's being done. Because of the restrictions the horse has no natural balance, so his movements are always, at best, going to be slightly wrong. I mean, think about it, if you take away all the physical support from the rider and the tack, could the horse still do all that stuff. Let's face it, he wouldn't have a clue. The restricted horse is trained to accept the movements that the rider physically makes him do.

To sit on a horse that understands to travel in balance, and happily moves to the smallest ask - now that's what I call a nicely trained horse. And producing a horse like that, now that's what I call good horse training.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

So what is dressage?

So what is dressage? Is it that ghastly stuff you see where people pull their horses around using severely restricting equipment? Is it forcing your horse into a shape that you saw in a book, but at the same time having no idea why you are doing it? Is it doing fancy moves to show off to your friends? Is it a competition? Is it honing your riding skills to such a degree that you can manufacture the horse that you want? If you think it is any of the above I have to say straight out, for the sake of the horse, I disagree with you. So what is it then? Well, I’m pretty sure it’s exercises to help your horse travel straight and in balance. This is important stuff to a horse, physically and mentally. Straightness and balance make horses feel good. But it’s not something you can force on the horse. You have to train the horse himself to maintain the correct way of going. So if you are using your tack or your seat or your arms or your legs to keep your horse on track, then the job isn’t done. People may think you are a good rider, and you might be too, but the truth is you are manufacturing the horse. Our 2011 clinic plans are now up.