In early August the Equilearn Institute will be hosting a myofascial release technique workshop for clinical certification on our farm. The event will take on August 3rd through the 7th, then take a short break, and resume the 9th through the 11th.
They will hold classroom sessions for participants in the Carriage House part of the week, then hands on sessions with horses in the barn.
Hi all, this is Amira, your friendly amateur horselady and webmaster.
I wanted to share some thoughts on the topic of “shut down”. When I first heard the words “shut down” regarding a horse, I thought it just meant they were depressed. Maybe sluggish. Like the opposite of forward.
Shutting down is when a horse can’t cope with something scary so it essentially closes its eyes, plugs its ears, and sings “lalalalala”.
OK, so now we can recognize it in humans, but what about horses?
When a horse “shuts down”, it freezes in place. The legs might feel like they lock up or stiffen up. The head and neck don’t move.
The horse unexpectedly goes from zero (seeming perfectly calm) to 100 (bolting, rearing, lashing out).
An example of this 0 to 100 behavior is riding your horse into a new and scary arena. The horse stops repeatedly, and you kick to make it move forward. After several stops, something moves in the periphery and your horse loses its mind, bolting away uncontrollably.
Shut down doesn’t fix itself. A big problem is the horse is not observing the environment while it is shut down. There is no learning. Desensitization isn’t happening. Something has to be done about the shut down before you can progress.
An example is spending five minutes sacking out a perfectly calm horse, then the horse seems to jolt awake (sometimes with a big spook or twitch) after you stop. The shut down horse was not home during that entire exercise. A clue is that the horse won’t show any signs of relaxation (licking, chewing, lowering the head, etc) throughout the five minutes. Afterward, the horse doesn’t show any benefits from sacking out.
Warwick Schiller videos on groundwork helped me understand what was going on. In a few of his videos he mentions the shut down phenomenon. He recommends doing extremely gentle desensitization while keeping the horse in motion (if they are moving, they can’t go into la-la-land).
Here are several Warwick Schiller videos that I found very helpful to understand the concept of shut down in horses.
One warning: When a horse starts to come out of “shut down”, they begin reacting to things. So if you were counting on your horse stopping and standing when something happens, and now they are bolting instead, it can be pretty scary.
Remember that new reactions are a good sign. The horse is thinking now. They are able to start processing their environment and get braver.
Everyone should read this article on The Horse Magazine.
Here are some really interesting quotes from the article:
“Where it tips over, that positive tension, is if you let the horse get strong in the bridle. Once you let the horse become heavy on the hand and strong in the bridle, it’s not positive any more, because then there is a block. If you can create what we try to create, without heavy hands, without hanging onto the rein, if you can do it with self-carriage, then it looks beautiful. ” – Carl Hester
“The best thing you can do for self-carriage is the give and re-take of the reins. It is amazing how you forget to do that when you ride on your own. That constant giving the hand, taking, giving, taking, making sure that the outline is stable, the mouth is soft. ” – Carl Hester
“I was told by ‘Rocky’* ‘when you go forward you bring your body forward and when you want to come back, you bring your body back’. And it is amazing how most of us do the opposite to that.” – Carl Hester, referencing Franz Rochowansky (1911 – 2001)
wehorse.com has asked to partner with us to promote Working Equitation in the United States.
They are an online training website focused on Working Equitation, with great content from expert trainers like Uta Gräf and Pedro Torres. They also have videos on dressage, show jumping, eventing, ground work, rider’s position, and other topics for all-around horsemanship.
I listened to an interview of Mary Wanless on the Dressage Radio Show (dated 7/5/2019) and it blew me away. She has written several books on the biomechanics of riding and is an acknowledged expert in the sport.
“My sense is that we really want to get a hold of kids before they are twelve. I think that about the age of twelve the rot sets in when someone in pony club probably says ‘Right then, now let’s get the ponies on the bit.’ And that is the beginning of the end.
And I would really try and steer trainers and teachers and coaches away from really getting kids neurotic about where their horse’s head is, and really teaching them the baselines of how to organize their body. If we can teach a kid to sit well enough that the ponies natural response is to come up through its back and reach into the rein then the kid never gets paranoid about getting the horse’s head down, never starts fiddling and pulling, and never has to unlearn that later in life.
And I think unlearning that is the hardest thing for a mature rider.”
(In regard to riders being told to get their horse’s on the bit, and the effects)
“Well it gets riders thinking about their heads, thinking about their hands, the arm, the shoulder girdle, worried about the contact, and riding sometimes as though they barely existed from the shoulder girdle down. Whereas I really want to try and keep the rider’s attention on her pelvis, on her contact with the horse’s back, and what is happening in the horse’s back underneath her. How she stabilizes herself on the horse’s movement. And if we can teach a rider to be really thinking about how to shape a horse’s back, and get the back up under her, … to get the head down, we’ve changed everything for that rider.”
“And the shape of the horse’s back, and whether the back is hollow or whether the back is a firmer, higher, surface underneath you, really determines how the horse’s whole body works. … That push of the horse’s hind leg is translated in that chain of muscles over its croup, under the panels of the sidle, and up to each of its ears. So it is fine to show riders how to make that happen, how to feel if it is happening, how to know what to do if it isn’t happening, and how to change the horse’s body underneath them by how they use their own bodies. “
My own (Amira’s) thoughts:
Very very relevant to me.
Confessions of an amateur: I learned about the “jiggle” technique about a year and a half ago during a schooling show (not from my trainer), and while I’ve thoroughly explored it, it doesn’t seem to produce real roundness. At best, it reminds Sonnet (a well trained, athletic horse) that she is most comfortable with her head low. Most of the time, it is an artificial stimulus which reverts back to normal within a second. At worst, it focuses all of my attention on manipulating the reins, rather than riding in a balanced manner.
Listening to this interview makes me realize why Holly always discouraged me from obsessing about the horse’s head, and to keep the rein as stable as possible so that the bit is a safe place to go to.
This podcast goes into depth on what the judge’s are looking for in Introductory, Training, and First Level. There are lots of great insights here such as…
Stretchy Circle in Training 2 and 3: The judges want to see your horse demonstrate “seeking the rein” as you increase the length. Don’t throw the entire length of rein out at once, show a gradual seeking behavior. You should be doing half-halts and have light contact and communication during the stretch. The last quarter of the circle you should be returning to normal length (don’t do it after the circle).
Corners: Many riders forget that they should not do corners during a circle. Sometimes riders skip the corners before and after their circle too. If you are doing a circle at A, you will go into the corner before A, start your circle at A, continue circling, finish the circle at A, then go into the corner after A.
First Level: For leg yield in F1 and F2, the judges want to see a non-rushed, meandering leg yield. Use the full length available. The important aspects are to maintain the quality of your trot and to keep the horse straight (rather than the shoulder poking to the side). In F3 the leg yield is much more demanding.
Lengthenings: The judge wants to see your horse (slightly!) physically lengthen from nose to tail. This means let their head out a bit so that they can make a bigger stride. Change your diagonal either before or after the lengthening so that you don’t throw off your horse’s balance.
Lots more in the show, those were just teasers that stuck out to me.
Anyways, please enjoy this radio show (link below) -Amira
Complete beginner – introduction to Working Equitation and practice sessions with obstacles
Intro, Novice, and Intermediate level instruction for Ease of Handling, Speed practice and troubleshooting specific obstacles
Dressage discussion and practice WE-specific dressage movements
If you would like to schedule a training session, contact Holly Linz at email@example.com. Holly offers lessons several days a week and can give you a great introduction to the sport!
We have a fun group of riders at the farm regularly practicing Intro, Novice, and Intermediate level Working Equitation.
Pictures from our Working Equitation training, clinics, and shows
Keep Stables provides a beautiful, custom built Ease of Handling obstacle course.
For the July clinic, we brought chickens to liven up the round pen obstacle. On the first day, the horses had a chance to meet the chickens in the warm-up area (lots of space). On the second day, the chickens moved into the round pen.
All the horses did very well and learned to perform even with chickens nearby!
Tips for lance and ring in Working Equitation
The Working Equitation lance and ring should be introduced slowly to horses. For first timers, this means doing everything from the ground until your horse started to get used to the concept. In particular, rehearse all the scary conditions from the ground so that your horse learns it isn’t in danger.
Carrying the lance can be scary to a horse because it is moving near their head, following them as they move, and might touch or bonk the horse if the rider loses their balance.
Pulling the lance out of the barrel and returning it to the barrel makes noises the horse must get used to.
If you successfully lance the ring, it will make a rattling noise as it travels down the lance. Horses can be alarmed when the ring moves toward them (on the lance) and time must be taken to get the horse used to the ring traveling along the lance.
Riders must spend time learning to navigate their horse successfully with one hand while maneuvering the lance with the other hand in order to perform this obstacle smoothly.
When moving through other obstacles, Kimberly recommends balancing the lance on your shoulder so that it doesn’t get caught on anything.
When you lance the ring, it is important to catch it with your thumb as it travels down the lance. If you don’t catch it, the ring can go around your hand and the lance and lock them together (this is bad).
When you place the lance back into the barrel, you should be ‘laying it down’ not just throwing it in. This improves your score.
Jumps in Working Equitation
The jump obstacle in Working Equitation is meant to be a ‘working horse’ test. The intent is that a horse can jump a small hay bale or log on the trail. No huge jumps!
Intermediate jumps are a maximum of 22″ high and Master’s level are 39″ or less.
General information about Working Equitation and Keep Stables
Keep Stables is an official group member of the Confederation for Working Equitation in the United States!
We have a group of active Working Equitation riders who are schooling Intro through intermediate level Ease of Handling and Speed Tests, and a variety of levels for the Dressage phase.
National Championship Speed Trial Video (MUST WATCH!!)
This video is just fun to watch, and shows what Master’s level Working Equitation looks like. It is the “speed trial” phase, which is scored by how long it takes to complete, so the rider is moving fast!
Never tried Working Equitation before?
We are amateur friendly and have riders of all skill levels to practice with.
Do you have a Baroque or Spanish horse such as Andalusian or Lusitano?
These breeds are naturals at Dressage and Working Equitation due to their beautiful movement, collection ability, and temperament. Holly Linz has trained several Andalusian horses up the levels.
We are a sponsor of ERAHC (Eastern Region Andalusian Horse Club) and between our farm and First Choice Farm, we have a large group participate in the August breed shows each year. As of 2018, ERAHC is now offering recognized Working Equitation shows each year, either standalone or as part of their breed shows.
What does Dressage have to do with WE?
Being educated in English / Western Dressage gives a major advantage to riders who want to do Working Equitation.
Dressage teaches you and your horse the balance, collection, and coordination necessary to perform well on an Ease of Handling or Speed course. For example, an upper level WE horse performing the figure-eight would be doing a collected and upright canter with flying changes for each change in direction around the obstacle. These are dressage skills.
Dressage by itself is an entire 1/3 of the score for most Working Equitation shows! No obstacles – just precision figures and movements in a small dressage arena.
Because Keep Stables riders already specialize in dressage with Holly Linz as our trainer, we find that Working Equitation is a natural next step to progress in our skills and have fun with our horses! It helps to keep the horse and riders mind fresh, and have new way to approach training goals and challenges.
Keep Stables is located in Woodbine, MD which is about 45 minutes north of DC, 30 minutes west of Baltimore MD, and 30 minutes east of Frederick Maryland.
Our farm has a full complement of Ease of Handling equipment.
“El Blanco Diablo” the white bull figure for the precision lance obstacle
A full size solid gate with latch, and a rope gate
Side pass poles
Rein-back obstacles such as the cup, bell, and L-shape
Figure riding obstacles such as figure-8, drums, single and double slaloms.
Bank and water crossing
Working Equitation Clinics and Training
Please email us for the schedule of our clinics and small group practice sessions – we are accepting new students and horses for training, and offer regular clinic days for outside riders.
Our upcoming events calendar can be viewed at the bottom of this page (scroll all the way down). This calendar generally has the big events for the farm. Practices and schooling are scheduled less formally.
Our head trainer Holly Linz can assist you in learning the ease of handling obstacles and give dressage lessons to you and your horse.
We have access to a nearby farm with beef cattle and will have a few trips a year to practice cattle handling and get used to the ranch environment.
What is Working Equitation?
Working Equitation is a new, rapidly growing horse sport that is amateur friendly and lots of fun! It has spread to several countries worldwide, and is strongly influenced by the Spaniard cattle handling traditions.
Style is important in Working Equitation – riders are allowed to choose their own style of dress and tack, and are not required to wear helmets. Examples include: Formal English, Portuguese, Western USA, and Spanish.
A wide variety of tack and bits are allowed such as hackamores, snaffles, curb bits, and bitless bridles, which makes the sport welcoming to a wider range of riders. Riders are expected to stay consistent with their style by using the same dress and tack for all phases of the Working Equitation show.
A Working Equitation show has four phases:
Very similar to the USEF / USDF Dressage Tests, the Working Equitation Dressage tests are performed in a 20×40 meter dressage arena and follow the same basic movements as English and Western dressage tests. For example, Intro dressage has walk-trot figures such as 20 meter circles. Novice dressage includes a short rein-back and turn on the haunches. Intermediate and higher tests include collection, flying changes, and other precision movements.
From the Confederation website:
What is the Working Dressage phase? It is a test to show the rhythm and regularity of the natural gaits and the precision of the horse to prepare for the other 3 phases. These are achieved through systematic gymnastic movements which are judged individually on a scale of 0 -10. Working Dressage does seek to demonstrate a horse’s natural athletic ability, willingness to work and lightness as does traditional Dressage and Western Dressage.
It differs from Competitive Dressage as there is not an emphasis on extension work and the trot is only used as a training gait and appears in the tests less and less as the levels advance, focusing on the working gaits of the walk and canter.
Working Dressage creates an opportunity to chain together the movements usually practiced in a work situation with cattle. Working Dressage requires that a horse show regularity and purity of gaits performed in horizontal balance who is then able to continue on to perform obstacles, work cattle and remain obedient at fast speeds.
Ease of Handling
This phase is most similar to a Trail Competition, but is less about surviving and more about showing that you and your horse are working together as a team. The test replicates the tasks a cattle working horse would be expected to perform during a day on the ranch.
During a test, you will be expected to move through about 10 obstacles such as a gate, an L-shape, a low bridge, and slalom poles. You might stop by a barrel and hoist a jug of water overhead, then set it down. In between obstacles, you would trot or canter. Sometimes there are live animals in the round pen obstacle (such as chickens), which tests your horse’s experience and temperament.
You are judged by how efficiently you and your horse progress through the obstacles. Does your horse wait calmly while you manipulate the gate? Is your figure-8 around the barrels round and symmetrical? Does your horse willingly walk over the bridge or do they try to race across?
From the Confederation website:
What is the Ease of Handling phase?
This phase which in other countries is also called ‘Manability’, ‘EOH’ ‘Style phase’ ‘Obstacle test’ or ‘Handiness test’ is an obstacle type event in which horse and rider must overcome elements which symbolize the difficulties natural and not, relative to those likely to be encountered in the field (i.e. crossing bridges, passing through gateways, side passing, etc).
The manner in which the obstacle is executed – focusing on agility, submission, working attitude, as well as ease of movement and of handling – is scored by a judge the same way as the Working Dressage test on a scale of 0-10 for each element.
The speed phase goes through the same set of obstacles as the Ease of Handling test, but the score is based on completing the obstacles at speed. For example, the rider who completes all obstacles in 2 minutes will beat the rider who completes the obstacles in 3 minutes. If you cannot perform an obstacle, there is a set penalty assigned such as 10 or 30 seconds added to your time.
This is an exciting competition to perform and observe! Remember though – none of these phases are required; some riders will only perform the dressage phase and ease of handling while others will sign up for all four during a competition.
From the Confederation website:
What is the Speed phase?
This is the second test of handiness, the first “EOH’ (listed above) is a test of technical handiness; this is a test of time handiness.
It is a timed obstacle race, using the ‘Ease of Handling’ Obstacles. This is the same event as ‘EOH’ but measured in an objective way by the use of a stop watch -timer. The goal is to promote the horses which are most manageable. The individual scores are based on elapsed time through the obstacles and time penalties for course errors.
The routes and the penalties applied for the mistakes must be such as to prevent any attempt to promote just the top speed, and not the handiness which would be contrary to the spirit of the discipline.
It is the most exciting element in the Working Equitation competition series.
This phase is only included in some shows since it can be difficult to find appropriate livestock. Riders are judged in their ability to separate a specific cow from a group and herd it into a holding pen. This takes equitation skills similar to a Western Cutting Horse.
From the Confederation website:
What is the Cattle Handling phase? The Cattle handling phase is the essence of the sport of Working Equitation. It is performed by a ‘Team’ of three or four riders.
This is a timed test which is to prove the skills of the competitors with cattle.
The constraints of the test are to show: 1.) A calm approach to the cattle. 2.) The isolation and the sorting of the cattle in respect of the integrity of the herd. 3.) The conduct of the cattle sorted efficiently and accurately. 4.) Teamwork.
The event consists of team members individually separating a particular animal from the herd, and then as a team herding it into a separate pen. It is similar to the American sports of Team Penning or Ranch Sorting.
WE United or Confederation for Working Equitation???
In the United States, two major groups have formed to organize Working Equitation events and shows. These groups are the Confederation for Working Equitation and WE United.
The Confederation is active with ERAHC (Eastern Region Andalusian Horse Club) which puts on multiple Working Equitation shows each year on the east coast.