The more things change…

Article from HorseMagazine.com , it is a repost from their own article from 1986.  Still just as accurate today as it was then.

 

Chris Hector takes a lesson with Tina Wommelsdorf

We published this story back in 1986, it is a sobering thought that 30 years down the track, the same fundamental problem shows itself over and over again in the dressage arena…

You’ve probably witnessed the conversation a hundred times.

The horse has disgraced himself.

The offence may vary. Perhaps he cantered too fast, or too slow, or refused to canter at all – the post mortem often has a depressing sameness: Perhaps he is sore, maybe you should try BTZ? Do you think his teeth might need attention? Have you tried him in a mechanical hackamore? I had a horse that wouldn’t canter and my chiropractor had him right in ten minutes! It’s his breeding, those XYZs are always a problem…

And on and on goes the list, and all the time the cause of the problem is sitting right there (literally) in front of them. The rider simply cannot ride well enough to expect the horse to perform!

The horse has not yet been born that will continue to function with the rider bouncing, gripping in the saddle and pulling on his mouth. Sure, you can bang a double bridle on his head and hide the problem for a while. Or get one of the fix-them-quick experts to do an instant ‘re-education’ job on him – to bash him into submission for a while, but eventually the truth will out.

 

Eventually he will run through the most severe bit. Eventually no amount of bashing will cower him into submission. And then we are back with that original, inescapable conclusion.

The problem lies not with the horse but with the rider… and it is a case of rider heal thyself.

Of course there will be some who take the other option. Sell the horse as a hopeless case (he probably is by now), and start in on wrecking another. That this sort of process is repeated time and time again all over the land, is a everlasting condemnation of those instructors who are more interested in telling their clients what they wish to hear than offering them a simple and surefire solution:

‘We will just have to get your position right. On the lunge, with no stirrups or reins, until you are secure in your seat.’

It is not such a pleasant experience, but a month or so on the lunge can be the beginning to a lifetime’s enjoyable riding, for both horse and rider, and surely is not such a price to pay?

Of course there are some instructors who will not absolve the rider and blame the horse. Instructors like Tina Wommelsdorf. Tina has travelled the length and breadth of Australia spreading the message that riding starts with the rider. Go to one of her schools – as I was fortunate enough to do recently – and the message is hammered home.

The horse’s problems are problems caused by the rider. Until the rider learns self discipline, no success can be achieved.

It is not a fashionable message, not a welcome one to many, but Tina has seen fashions come and go. She has seen the gimmick trainers with their instant solutions come, and just as quickly go… and nothing in their routine of miracle cures has caused her to deviate from the principles she learnt in ten years at the German Riding School. Principles that were re-inforced and hammered home by the late Franz Mairinger, The principles by which Tina trains her own horses, and. the same principles that produce the greats of the dressage world, like Dr Neckerman, like the present day superstar, Dr Klimke.

“The problem lies with the rider’s body,” says Tina, “because the body reacts to what the horse is doing instinctively, and not at the rider’s command. The riders are not aware of what is happening, so they get stuck with their hands, which is the worst thing. Or they don’t push – which is also bad. In other words, their body is just reacting to the horse instead of being told what to do by the rider’s mind, so that they can train the horse.”

“Even riders who can sit quite well, don’t seem to be in control of their hands. The hands can wreck everything. If you surrender both reins, if you have a loop in the reins to teach yourself not to hang on – then you can’t hang on, and you have to ride forward instead of sideways. It doesn’t matter how well they can sit, if their hands are not under control and they jam, then they cause a jam in the horse. You can’t isolate the jam in your own hand, if you have a jam in your hand, you have a jam in the horse.”

“Unless the rider is completely in charge of the hands and is able to ride the horse into a forward reaching hand, he will create a jam in the horse, and then the horse cannot perform to the best of his ability – in fact, usually the horse will not be able to bend to one side.”

“The rider must concentrate on position. Your position is everything. If your position is wrong, then the horse cannot go. It is technically not possible because you are causing that famous jam.”

“You will even see it in the higher tests. Riders are stuck on one rein, and it is usually the side that the horse is naturally bent to. The horse does a lovely half pass to one side – and next to nothing to the other, because the rider is holding the horse on that rein. The horse can’t bend the other way.”

“The best way to overcome this problem is to surrender the contact on both reins, so that the rider’s body cannot involuntarily take up one rein and hold it. While the rider’s hands maintain contact, the body is just so quick in instinctively holding one rein that the rider is just not aware of it. Particularly since the rider has probably been doing it for a long long time. If you surrender both reins, if you have a loop in the reins to teach yourself not to hang on – then you can’t hang on and you have to ride forward instead of sideways.”

“The rider is inclined to do all the corrections with the hands, when the riders should be doing the corrections with the seat and the legs.”

 

Right through the school, Tina emphasised the importance of correctly riding forward and into a corner – rather than trying to pull and steer the horse onto the line.

One youngster was so spooky in the indoor school, that his rider had come equipped with trotting blinkers… and still he attempted to shy out of the corner!

“No, don’t pull, just ride him straight into the corner straight, forward,” came the command.

“Impossible,” came the reply.

“I will show you.”

Tina positions herself a few yards in from the corner. The rider rides straight ahead, the horse comes to a halt, deep in the corner, his chin practically resting on the wall of the school.

“See, it works.”

“But you were standing there … ”

“OK, I will stand back, now do it again.”

Tina is well and truly clear of the corner and the horse still goes deep and comes to the halt. And to drive the lesson home, Tina gets on board, and rides the horse dead straight into the corner with a half-moon loop in the reins! The rider is impressed.

“You can demonstrate to the rider when you make them ride straight into the corner and stand next to the wall, they CAN get there if they ride forward. They will wobble all over the place if they try to ride sideways! Once the rider goes straight into the corner, they get the feeling of riding forward, instead of trying to hold the horses out. Then they can transfer this same feeling to riding on a curved line, also forward, then they get the idea of forward riding.”

“If you can make the horse go forward, then the hands will not be tempted to act incorrectly. I want the rider’s hands forward reaching so you are bringing the horse to the bit – not the bit to the horse. If you start with the head, you are not riding the horse, you are jamming it in. You must bring the horse to the bit, so he is engaged and carries himself.”

“The head position occurs all by itself, it falls into your hands. The horse’s nose will not poke out if you can push him sufficiently to take more weight on the hindquarters. He will automatically round himself if you have an amiable contact with him.”

Christopher and Cedar contemplate the mystery of the forward reaching hand…

Perhaps I am a bit thick, but for a long time I had problems understanding Tina’s ‘forward reaching’ hand. Somehow I had it in my head that the hand had to actually move forward at the moment of the push. What Tina was talking about is far simpler. The forward reaching hand simply means that the hands are positioned well in front of the body, making a straight line from the elbow to the bit.

Tina would demonstrate over and over again that if you let the reins go long and the hands come back to the body, then that forward going impulse is lost. The immediate worry was that by shortening the reins you would shorten the neck, but it soon became apparent that with the hands in the correct position, Cedar could still travel in a long outline and on a relatively short rein.

But the horses were not expected to rush around the arena with absolutely no contact. Once the rider’s hands had learnt the lesson of the no contact position, they were expected to half halt/check (remember most riders back then had no idea what half halt meant) over and over again…

“You can’t keep on pushing without checking. Otherwise the horse gets faster, faster, faster. You have to have half halts to maintain a tempo that is yours – otherwise you can’t push. And unless you can push, you cannot train. You have to keep on checking the tempo of the horse so that you can push him, and when you push you can engage the hind legs correctly, and then his position will follow. He is light in front and he will round himself.”

“Very often the half halt is completely misunderstood by the riders. Or mis-executed! Instead of checking and easing off, they are checking and getting stuck, and it becomes a halt. If you read Reiner Klimke’s writings you will find that he says it is the most important thing in your riding – and that if you get stuck with your hands, you are not riding the horse anymore, you are holding it.”

“The rider should say to himself: ‘I am taking my hands back only reluctantly, to slow the horse down. I will immediately allow them to go forward again, so that I can ride into a forward reaching hand’. The rider must control himself before he can control the horse … and must maintain that control.”

“That is the most important step in your riding is that you can control yourself, and that you know at all times what your hands, seat and legs are doing. You are aware of yourself and your actions.”

 

“If the rider cannot control his body, then he must go back to the exercises to promote an independent seat. Once the seat is independent, then the arms and legs are independent. Until they have that seat they must go back onto the lunge. No reins, no stirrups· until they learn to sit because they are balanced and not hanging on. If they are not balanced they grab with the legs, and they push the horse inadvertently, and then they grab hold of the rein to slow it down. It is a vicious circle. Or they hang onto the reins for security and that is backwards riding. They are holding the horse instead of riding it.”

 “Forward is the most important ingredient in all your riding. If you listen to the Old Masters, they always say ‘Forward is everything’. Ride your horse forward and straighten it. That is always neglected, no-one wants to listen to it, they all want to hear about indirect, opposing reins, and God knows what complicated expressions… when forward is everything. If they follow that forward principle they could ride!”

“It is really sjmple. All collection should be forward, everything is forward. The minute you get a problem, forget what you are doing, just ride forward with both legs, until you have the hindlegs correctly engaged. Then try the exercise again.”

“The great riders are forward riders. Look at Dr Neckermann, he is absolutely the embodiment of forward riding. I have watched him time and time again, and he does all his corrections forward. When his horse won’t stand square and well at the end of the lesson – he rides forward out of that halt time and time again. He never corrects a horse standing still, he rides forward and out to correct. There is no backwards correction, it is all forward.”

“All movements are forward movements. The flying change is a forward movement, and if you don’t ride them forward, the horse will swing the quarters and you don’t get a straight . line. People seem to think that they want to change from the left to the right. Really the horse must just canter on, either on the left leg or the right leg – forward, not side to side.”

“People don’t seem to want to admit that it is so simple. Perhaps because carrying it out and learning it is not so simple for the rider. The body is basically frightened, self preservation plays its part. When someone gets on a big seventeen hand horse, the legs want to grab so you don’t fall off, the hands want to hang onto the reins so he doesn’t get too fast… To set yourself completely free and say ‘Yes, you may go, I want you to go forward, I will make you go’ takes a lot of self discipline. But that is the only way. When you ride a horse forward, he doesn’t want to run. he horse only runs when he is on the forehand.”

“It all starts with self discipline. With the rider! You ride as you live.”

 

 

 

For the original article, click the link below:

Chris Hector takes a lesson with Tina Wommelsdorf

 

Isabelle vom Neumann-Cosel Dressage Seat Clinic notes

Sue and I (Amira) went to the Isabelle clinic “Improve your dressage seat” last week.   It was mostly a lecture, with a short rider demonstration toward the end.  Here are the things that really spoke to us:

On torso position

  • Everyone is crooked to one side, just like horses.  Everyone must go through a process to correct it by getting feedback from their trainer / others, or looking at a mirror.  It is a long process – bodies want to revert.
  • When you see a crookedness to one side, move your PELVIS to the center, not your shoulders.
  • To avoid collapsing to the inside when going through a corner, make sure you are “looking over the outside ear of the horse”.  Your outside eye should like up with the outside ear.

On legs

  • During the demo, the rider had a very stiff knee and ankle which were not absorbing the movement.  We saw pronounced movement in the hips to compensate.  Isabelle pointed out that the rider’s pelvis was tilted forward  (the front was pointing downward) and said that this blocks the ability of the knees/legs to follow the motion.
  • 2-point is a good warm up for your ride at trot.  The knee should be flexing with each stride, not just the hip.
  • When cantering, focus on a stable upper body with the pelvis moving and legs moving.
  • The aid for inside leg should be a DOWNWARD and weight-bearing movement of the leg.   She demonstrated standing and preparing to pivot and step off 180 degrees to the right.   When you prepare for the right turn, you stand on your right leg, your center of gravity goes above your right leg.  Your left leg stabilizes (friction) against the floor (slightly to the rear) as your torso turns to the right.   When you lift your left leg, the pent up energy from the torso rotation occurs and your entire body pivots right.   The inside leg aid should feel like that preparation step before you lift your outside leg.

On skeletal rotation

  • Rotating your arms and wrists so that your palms face upward and elbows close to ribs is the correct posture for dressage.  (I THINK she said that this makes your arms move independent of shoulders. This is the opposite of having your hands out in front of you with the palms down.   I think she showed that when your rotation is closed, moving your arms forward pulls your shoulders down and forward.)
  • How to carry a whip then?  Since you can’t carry it with your palms upward, or even at a full 90%, whips are harmful to this posture.  1) Don’t always carry a whip, practice without it sometimes.  2) Try to keep the rotation in your shoulder/elbow even if you can’t keep it in your wrist.
  • We should practice stretching and rotating our legs so that our toes point toward each other.  She demonstrated by standing with an extreme bow in her legs and the toes were 45 degrees to the center.
  • But you can’t hold that position on a horse because your knees have to fit around the horse?  She said to pay attention to the feeling in your butt and upper legs while holding this rotated posture on the ground.  Try to get the same feeling / muscle tension when riding.

 

 

 

Some good dressage quotes

Here are some really insightful quotes about Dressage and horsemanship which I want to share.  – Amira

Mary Wanless on learning through the levels

From www.mary-wanless.com

I increasingly think that within the sphere of dressage there are two kinds of riders, and I hope to encourage a ‘third way’ which avoids the traps inherent in both positions. There are those who are content to ride preliminary dressage tests forever, and those who have great ambitions that will not be satisfied until they reach Prix St George – whatever the cost to the horse.

In the ‘third way’ people would progress up through the competitive grades in the way a young horse is ideally supposed to. But few riders either have, or learn ‘en route’, the skills that are required. The truth is that most people have at least one ‘sacrificial horse’, who they ride without enough skill or respect to be ethical in their approach. They might be determinedly competitive, or just putzing around, but either way they are doing that horse a disservice. Hopefully, they then meet a good trainer who helps them dig themselves out of the holes they have dug themselves into. Depending on how easily they turn things around, that horse may remain their sacrificial horse (but will, we hope, be the last of the line), or he may become their ‘laboratory horse’.

This is the horse on which they discover how the rider/horse interaction works. When you reach this stage, your riding may not always be brilliant, but you are heading in the right direction, and working it out as you go along. This rider could, in theory, go up through the competition grades making that ideal progression, but she is likely to find that the lateral movements pose her some big difficulties that keep her in the laboratory. More likely, she will make that progression on her next horse, who will benefit from all the learnings on the other two, and will not have to suffer her inept attempts at riding.

Some of the people who come on my courses arrive saying ‘I’m only a happy hacker, and I do the odd competition, but I want to ride my horse in a way that does not hamper him. I want to know that I’m being ethical.’ What usually happens is that they get to this stage and find it so exciting and satisfying that they want to learn more! But it is fine to choose to stop there, and horses do not stand in their stables thinking ‘This is terrible. I’ve been wasted. I’m seven, and I ought to be at medium by now!’

However, it saddens me enormously when the choice not to progress has been imposed on the rider through resignation. This happens when she becomes convinced that she does not have the talent to go further, and resigns herself to doing her prelims at the same skill level. This dooms her to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. This is a completely different ball game to learning from experience, perceiving the rider/horse interaction with increasing clarity, and discovering that your skills are growing – even if you make the choice to keep entering prelims.

I look forward to the day when the vast majority of riders receive lessons which give them the basic skills that their horses need them to have. And I also imagine how ordinary riders, with nice but ordinary horses, can work their way up through the competition grades, without being considered – by themselves or others – to be an elite group of privileged riders (and also without being looked down upon because they are not riding large expensive warmbloods). In the ‘third way’ they become learning riders, who already have good baselines, and are working hard, honing their skills as they go.

Balance in Movement, Susanne von Dietze

On troubleshooting fork and chair seat (Pg 141)

The length of the stirrups is a potential cause for chair seat or fork seat. … Too short a stirrup encourages the chair seat, too long a stirrup forces the rider into the fork seat.

Balance in Movement, Susanne von Dietze

On forward (Pg 132)

The biggest and most common mistake when bending and straightening a horse is not to ride the horse forward enough.  Each turn requires strength and impulsion.  And when the forwardness is lost in a turn, the horse inevitably comes onto the forehand and becomes tight.  Only a push-off from behind enables a horse to free his front-end and to carry himself. Only then can the rider gain influence over the forehand and position it as desired.  The more weight the horse takes up behind, the lighter the forehand becomes and the easier and freer the front end can move and be adjusted to the hindquarters.  Remember the famous statement. ‘Ride your horse forward and make him straight!’

Balance in Movement, Susanne von Dietze

On troubleshooting lateral movement aids (Pg 133)

Another, a little unconventional, tip for feeling correctly balanced during a lateral movement is: ‘Take off the saddle!’  Without a saddle, you can feel your seat bones much more distinctly next to the horse’s spine and you can clearly determine whether you are loading your inside seat bone forward-downward, or if you are collapsing in the hip and evading by using your upper body as a lever.  Horses who find lateral movements difficult can often be more easily shown what is required of them without a saddle.  The saddle remains an alien object between horse and rider.  Of course, the saddle allows much better stability for the rider and thus facilitates a stronger influence.  But many seat faults can be wonderfully concealed with a saddle, from the instructor as well as from oneself.  Without a saddle, one is a lot more dependent on balance and much less able to compensate through strength.

Forward? What the heck does that mean?

(Amira again)  Last week, I found myself wondering what the heck Forward is.  Like so many horse concepts, it isn’t simple.

The conversation went like this…

Is it when the horse goes faster?  Not always

Is it going slower, aka “trotting in place”?   Maybe, if the horse isn’t starting to crash.

Is it that stage right before the horse changes to a faster gait?  Eh….

This is forward  —  (the horse appears to be trotting)

This is not forward – (the horse appears to be trotting)

I hope you are laughing at my pain <grin>.  There really was a good conversation, but a lot went over my head.   I think I’ve got a better grasp as a result, but still a long way to go!

I wanted to share this detailed article about Forward, which might help us prepare for that conversation in the future.

Dressage Today: Charles de Kunffy Explains the Meaning of “Forward”