Solstice has passed…we’ve turned the corner and we’re headed toward longer days and a whole New Year. At Trafalgar Square Books, we took a look back at the books we published and DVDs we released over the last 12 months to remind ourselves what we learned about improving horse-and-rider partnerships and performance in 2013.
“No matter how good your coach is, he or she cannot help you if you are not willing to put yourself out there and learn. There is an art to being a good student and to listening and accepting criticism without taking it personally…If you want to really succeed, you need to make your coach feel truly a part of your riding career.”
“When grooming a horse it is common, I find, for the base rings for cross-ties to be positioned high on walls (or posts, depending on stable design). This is often combined with very short lengths of rope or flat nylon, usually only just long enough to reach and clip to the side rings on a standard halter with a little sag or ‘give’ on each side…this practice holds most horses in an unnatural position. The horse’s head is held so the neck is above the parallel (or almost parallel) line from the withers commonly seen in the horse at rest. This results in tension from the poll to the croup and encourages an ‘upside-down’ neck and hollow back…Over time, this habitual positioning has a bad effect on the musculature necessary for the horse to round and work over the back.”
“Introverts tend to prefer a horse that will do the task fluidly but with less speed and more perfection. They like control—precision riding, for example. They want their horse to be proficient at lateral movement, stopping, backing up, or ‘putting his nose’ where asked. Introverted riders are known to be very quiet with their body language, with quiet hands, and not aggressive with their movement. Any horse they ride needs to be receptive to subtle body and leg cues.”
From THE BALANCED HORSE:
“It is not always understood that the more collected the horse, the more precarious his base of support. This requires a lot of trust—the horse is literally putting himself at our disposal—so we must treat this with respect. If you have difficulty with this concept, then consider the opposite. A young horse at halt with a rider on his back will generally try to spread his weight over all four limbs. You could compare the balance to that of a table—a leg in each corner. This is a very safe position from the horse’s point of view…At the other end of the scale is the fully collected horse….provided we ourselves stay erect and central to the movement, the horse will [still] feel safe.”
From RIDING BARRANCA:
“While I love the silence of riding by myself, I also enjoy showing family and friends my favorite spots, exploring new places I wouldn’t dare go to alone, riding at dawn or under a full moon, meandering beside the Sonoita Creek where one can wander in and out of the water beneath the carved out bluffs, lying down in a field of wildflowers and dozing off in the sun, or finding a surprising, fresh trail. But the familiar can also be comforting. My familiar horses are my greatest solace, along with my old broken-in saddle and well-worked reins.”
“Likening ‘being ridden’ to learning to ski occurred to me when I started teaching my students comparative movement and the systematic evolution of training from the horse’s perspective. Just as the advanced skier becomes accustomed to the sensation of gliding down a mountain on a pair of skis attached to her legs, so the dressage horse can learn to move forward with power, swing, and harmony with a rider on his back. The skier who can use her knees and hips well and has sufficient conditioning can make skilled and fluid changes of direction, even on difficult terrain. It is the same for a dressage horse: the better the horse can shift his weight to his hindquarters by flexing his haunches and the better condition he is in, the smaller the turns (all the way up to pirouettes) he can make while maintaining impulsion and balance.”
“I don’t want you to be a wimp or a barbarian. I want you to be effective and to stay in the middle of the scale. If you want your horse to understand what you’re asking him to do, you have to be effective. The best way to turn your horse into a willing partner is to be a great leader. How do you become a great leader? By being black and white with no shades of gray. You’ll make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult. Just because you want to be in the middle of the scale doesn’t mean that you get to stay there all of the time. The middle of the training scale is like a line drawn in the sand. If your horse is disrespectful toward you and doesn’t pay attention, you’ll step toward the harder side of that line. Once you get his attention, you can jump back to the easier side.”
From HORSE AGILITY: THE DVD:
“Setting related fences at angles that are at least 180 degrees to each other makes the approach to the next jump, as well as the subsequent track that you take when you land and canter away from it, much easier. Wider angles allow you a much better chance of setting your horse up to be straight to the second jump (perpendicular to its center, which is best), and keep the flow of the course much smoother. In order to determine the angle between two jumps, visualize a line extending straight out from the poles of each obstacle, creating a virtual angle that you can then measure.”
“Writing your goals down on paper also stimulates a portion of your brain called the reticular activating system, the same area responsible for awareness. This means that writing goals not only makes them more memorable, it also makes you more conscious and aware of them. It stimulates the portions of your brain responsible for thinking, seeing, and writing. Read the words of your goals out loud and the areas of the brain that control speech and hearing will also be engaged. Obviously, the more areas of the brain you stimulate the more effective your goals will become.”
From THE ALCHEMY OF LIGHTNESS:
“When we go through the learning process with the horse—that is, creating our partnership with him, learning to dance with him, and to communicate with him both in and out of the saddle—we have to learn the basics. It is like when we learn to play the piano, and we are first taught where to place our fingers. Once we get the basic mechanics of moving our fingers, it becomes automatic—we do not even have to think about it anymore…Riding a horse is the same. We have to learn the basics first until gradually, our physicality is automated and we are ‘doing’ less and less. Then we can arrive at a certain spot where we start to feel.”
From SUFFERING IN SILENCE:
“Along with ‘trainable’ or conditioned reflexes, both horse and human have many parasympathetic, non-consciously controllable reflex points, where the muscles react to a stimulus of nerves…A saddle that sits on one of the horse’s specific reflex points can cause many problems. As with humans, the equine spinal column has nerve ends, which protrude between each of its vertebrae. Some of these are actual reflex points, and depending on the length of the horse’s saddle-support area, there are between four and six of these along each side of the backbone…Using even light pressure you will be able to observe a very subtle muscular reaction and ‘flicking of the skin’; using greater pressure to approximate the feel of a saddle under a light rider causes the horse to drop his back.”
“When the rider’s lower back and pelvis are correctly aligned she can let go of counter-productive tension in the hips and legs, thus unifying her body with that of the horse in order to remain with him over fences. Her weight becomes part of the system of horse and rider, allowing the horse to use himself more fully without rider interference over the jumps, and providing her with a much greater ability to guide, balance and correct the horse when necessary between fences. When the lower back and pelvis are not correctly aligned, a rider has to use more muscle strength in the torso as well as gripping power in the legs to remain with the horse’s body or suffer the consequences of being jostled forward and back over the fence—or even falling off.”
You can check out all our latest and greatest books and DVDs online by CLICKING HERE.
A very happy 2014 to all, from the TSB staff!