Dedicated to the Art of Classical Riding for the Mature Rider
January 2007 - Vol 1, Issue 1
Happy New Year and welcome to the first edition of the Cavalier! If you are like me, you are looking for information about classical riding and training that is effective, down to earth, and makes sense to you. Well, The Cavalier promises to provide that and more. In upcoming articles, look for enlightening ideas and helpful techniques from some of the best and most talented professionals out there, who are truly dedicated to this noble art. In addition, I hope to offer an open forum for enthusiasts who want to explore in more depth, the wonders of the human/equine relationship from the classical perspective.
The only problem is I am exceedingly older than when I last raced around the countryside on my trusty mare, Jaicka. What a saint she was to have put up with me back then. She has since moved on to her well deserved reward and I miss her dearly. Now I have to start up all over again and without her.
I thought back in my middle thirties, when I first took up riding, it was pretty late for me to get started in this sport. Isn't this something only kids do? Well, I am in my fifties now and can you believe I am starting over again? I am sure that my family thinks I am insane, but there we have it. I am crazy about horses and I am determined to make the Big Comeback, whatever my age is. What I have learned in my absence though, is that horse ways have changed exceedingly. Methods of doing things I thought were absolutely correct, I am finding are not only wrong; they might even be harmful. New ideas, or maybe the resurgence of the classical old ones, are now coming forward to challenge my thinking.
One thing for sure, at my age and present condition, I just can’t get on any horse and try to ride like I used to. I found that out when I was summarily bounced off the back of one of my horses after a humiliating little bit of a spook. And I am concerned that as an older rider I could get hurt more easily. After years of no physical demands, I am about to the point where I need one of those elevator lifts just to get up from the living room couch. How the heck am I even going to get on top of a horse, let alone ride it. (Thank heavens 3-step mounting blocks are available and acceptable now, and made in cool colors too!) I have a long way to go to get back to the confidence and physical stamina I used to have, that is for sure. My instructor assures me though, that with time and determination, I will find my way back. Easy for her to say...
But, where do I start if many of my earlier held notions are not useful to me now? What are the methods or tools available that can get me to the point of enjoying riding again? I wonder how many of you out there share my dilemma either as a beginning older rider or one who is coming back to it in later years? Don’t feel alone. Forty and fifty year old beginner and returning riders are the fastest growing demographic in the equine world. Or perhaps you are of any age, have been riding all along, and are now interested in looking beyond the trail ride, to a deeper awareness and understanding of this partnership.
It is easy to feel that these classical ideas are only for the "special" riders out there and not for mere mortals as many of us feel we are. Well I want to dispel that myth right now! The beauty of Classical Dressage is it is for anyone who is interested in learning about it. You do not have to be an international competitor with a bazillion dollar equine to learn and benefit from this wonderful approach.
I invite you to come along with me on my journey as I seek to learn and understand the divine mysteries of the horse through the classical connection. I hope you will enjoy the ride. -- Nancy J. Knettell, Editor in Chief
Competition has given a new perspective to dressage riding not only in the United States but to the rest of the world. But, what has competition given to dressage? We now have a 12-month show season, which means 12 months of work with little or no time off for the horse. This puts added mental and physical stress on our horses, which in turn now requires mandatory drug testing at all major shows. Also startling are the recent reports of poisonings and mutilations centered on competition horses. It seems we have become like the rest of the horse world, where the glory of the win take importance over the horse.
Trainers are also under pressure because the equestrian consumer wants a quick return on his or her monetary investment and expects the trainer to produce a winner in the shortest time possible. Surely many dressage trainers have encountered this situation and I wonder how many horses have been ruined at an early age because of forced training. In taking a serious look at dressage, we must question the integrity of modern training practices. Trainers must satisfy instant consumer clients in order to stay in business; they must produce a winner or starve. The question of personal integrity is involved here: Does the trainer sacrifice personal principles of training in order to eat, or make a stand and starve? It is rumored that some of our finest trainers have been reduced to buying state lottery tickets in hopes of winning, just to keep their facilities from going under!
Anywhere in the horse world a person can purchase any number of books, magazines, video tapes and gadgets, and be overwhelmed by the vast varieties of methods, styles and devices reputed to teach our horses dressage. There are endless streams of messages concerning correct dressage; how do we decide which is correct? If one is truly interested in dressage one question must be asked: Is dressage a sport or an art form.
If dressage is a sport, then all that is required is that horse and rider execute the movements at prescribed times, not unlike football players on the playing field. No further skill is required. However, if dressage is an art form, beauty, grace and elegance are also required beyond athletic ability. This is required not only of the horse but of the rider as well. What good is it to have a beautifully trained horse when the rider looks as if he is sawing wood? Incorrect riding is not prevalent only in the upper levels as well. One has only to watch films of world class championships and wonder where the art of the sport is.
Throughout the world there are facilities where classical principles are maintained; one of these is the Spanish Riding School. Worldwide some of our most respected riders have trained with the masters of the school: Franz Mayringer, Karl Mikolka, Hubert Rohrer and Richard Waetjen are just a few. After 400 years of success and influence on the dressage world it is hard to doubt the integrity of the Spanish Riding School. I am not so naive to think that the School is perfect; however, the School has sincerely tried to adhere to the philosophy of classical riding. Many other persons including Dr. Henri L. M. van Schaik, Nuno Oliveira, Robert Hall, Dr. Gail Hoff-Carmona and others have spent a lifetime supporting and promoting the classical viewpoint. Violet Hopkins, at her Tristan Oaks facility in Michigan, tried to redevelop an interest in classical riding and training by offering seminars and clinics with some of the world's best riders and trainers. Ms. Hopkins' efforts produced only a half-hearted response simply because the message being given is the now famous "Things take time." Time seems to be the only thing we have too little of these days. Equestrian enthusiasts are willing to spend thousands of dollars on horses, tack, training equipment, show expenses and other necessary devices to produce a winner. However, these same people are unwilling to spend time on the most important aspect of all: correct and humane treatment.
We live in a world that is stressful and hurried; time is at a premium. In our rush to conquer our world we leave behind a trail of extinction; some things are lost forever, and no amount of money or technology will bring them back. The dilemma we face is crucial; standards of riding are on the decline. The late Dr. van Schaik quotes in his book Misconceptions and Simple Truths in Dressage a passage from W. J. Gordon's The World of London:
“The ease with which a man will lose his eye for the horse is notorious. Let even a good judge live for a while among second class horses and he will insensibly modify his ideal, and he will only get back to his true taste by another stay in first class company.”
This is as relevant today as it was when written in 1893. We have fallen into the second class realm by lowering our standards of excellence and we continually accept second class performances from our horses and riders. The main problem in the United States is that there is no one place where standards of excellence are maintained. To quote the late Ms. Hopkins, “The United States needs a centralized riding facility concentrating on the basics of horsemanship and correct riding and training; a place where a student may participate in the training of a horse through all levels of dressage, under correct supervision, maintaining a constant philosophy through the entire program. Without such a facility we will continually grasp at false doctrines for the answers to our dressage questions."
All these problems have been addressed before. It continues to be a series of problems with which equestrians in the modern world are challenged. However, do we want to be known as the century that brought on the extinction of classical dressage? Without correct guidelines and high standards in the dressage community, the art of dressage is lost to those of us who truly love the horse. -- Felice Vincelette
Editor's Note: I want to welcome Felice Vincelette as a contributing writer to this publication. She is a lifelong horse-woman devoted the Art of French Classical training. Throughout her more than thirty years as a trainer, instructor, breeder of the rare Lipizzan horse, and therapeutic educator, Felice has developed and perfected a unique program based on the elements of French Classicism, integrating healing therapies and the natural language of horses.
Felice is available for private sessions focusing on establishing open lines of communication between the horse and rider. As each horse/human relationship is unique, Felice will formulate a training program tailored to suit the needs of each partnership. Her training focuses on establishing open lines of communication between the horse and rider through the use of the horse's natural language. This development of a language unique to each partnership will open doors not thought possible by modern training methods.
To schedule a private session for your and/or your horse, or for information regarding training, instruction, clinics or workshops, please contact:
192 Beauty Hill Road
Barrington, NH 03825
Phone: (603) 664- 8091.
Editor's Note: I have asked Jean Tattan, an accomplished rider and equine sports massage therapist, to answer a few of the most common questions that she receives in her practice. I know I have asked her some of the same questions myself!
Question: Is equine sports massage a treat for my horse, or a valuable tool to keep my horse healthy?
Answer: Although any horse can benefit from the good feeling you get from a massage, it is truly a way to prevent injury and keep your horse healthy. When used after a horse has been injured, equine sports massage therapy reduces soreness and promotes healing. When used as preventive therapy without injury present, it improves blood circulation, hastens the elimination of toxins from the body, enhances muscle tone, helps make the horse more flexible, increases range of motion, boosts performance, restores mobility and can extend the overall life of the horse. By minimizing discomfort, you can maximize performance. Massage therapy is a way to keep horse and rider working together as a team for the long run.
Question: I’ve had my horse for a year and he developed the habit of bucking. What can I do?
Answer: When your horse resists, refuses a command or acts up, consider it a sign that something is wrong. Bucking, rearing, tossing the head, refusing the proper lead, and an inability to bend can all be signs of muscle injury. The one thing to remember is that this is your horse and you know what is normal and what is different. Listen to your gut. If you think the horse may have a physical problem, have it checked. Whether you call the veterinarian, or an alternative therapy provider is up to you. Nowadays, there are alternative therapies available to horse owners, like chiropractic, acupuncture and equine sports massage therapy. When equine sports massage therapy is used after injury, the therapist can work in conjunction with your veterinarian to get your horse better, faster. If the therapist is called in before the veterinarian, the veterinarian must be called if there is no improvement after the first massage.
Question: How can you tell if my horse will benefit from massage?
Answer: Any horse can benefit from a massage, but if your horse has a soft-tissue injury that will respond to massage, you will likely notice that something is wrong. The horse may walk differently, hold its head differently and may even be sore enough to flinch when touched. A certified equine sports massage therapist can evaluate your horse in about 10 minutes. The therapist will look for places where the horse is reactive to touch and search for areas that are tight and hard. When muscles becomes stressed, they develop small areas of tension that feel like speed bumps. Left untreated, they grow, cause pressure, restrict muscle movement and become a source of pain and discomfort. As the “speed bump” increases in size, it draws in fluid, which can act like glue and cause adhesions. When a muscle reaches the point where it can no longer move, it can pull and tear. After it pulls and tears, the horse may need surgery.
Question: My horse has tendonitis. Can massage help?
Answer: Yes. Tendons are the ends of muscles that attach to bone. They are less pliable and more susceptible to injury. Tendons can become inflamed when muscles are tight. The tightness of the muscle causes it to pull on the bone. Massage therapy relaxes muscles. When the belly of the muscle is relaxed, the entire muscle is longer, and therefore, less likely to pull on the area where it attaches to bone. Sports massage focuses of the cause of muscle injury with the intent of relieving pain and preventing future injury.
Jean P. MacDougall-Tattan is an award-winning journalist, a certified equine sports massage therapist, Reiki Master, and owner of Equine Muscle Menders in Merrimac, Mass.
Editor's Note: Have you ever considered a massage for your horse before and after each ride? A quick routine can take as little as fifteen to twenty minutes to complete. Massaging your horse can help keep an older horse more comfortable longer as well as create a lasting bond with a younger one. In fact, Jean now offers a new service. She will come to your barn and show you a series of effective warm up massages tailored to your horse's needs. You can use them anytime, whether it is to connect with your horse when are just hanging around him, or before and after your ride. While they are not intended to replace serious deep muscle therapy, they offer a wonderful way to ensure that you and your partner will enjoy this outing and look forward to the next. Jean can be contacted at (978) 346-9300. To learn more visit her website at www. EquineMuscleMenders.com
Jean, as a regular contributor to this publication, also will be pleased to answer any general questions that you might have regarding this form of therapy. Please feel free to email or send them directly to The Cavalier at email@example.com or mailing address listed below.
Teach your horse to drop his head on command.
Ever notice when any horse hears or sees something they think is scary they will lift her head as high as they can. They are scanning the horizon to see if the scary thing is something they should just ignore or run from. Well, you as the rider are supposed to be the one calling the shots about when, where, and how you are moving, not the horse. In fact you want your horse to defer to you when there is a "scary" situation. By teaching the horse the "head down" command, you can give yourself a measure of control in potentially out-of-control situations.
When a horse's head is down he sees the world in a different way. He is less in his flight mind and more in his thinking mind. In fact, by you asking him to drop his head you are telling him that what he thinks is a scary thing, is really no big deal. Also, a head down position is a less dominant position in the horse world. This is another reason to insist that he maintain a head that is lower than yours. It is a position of respect. For a horse that might be the top of the food chain in his herd, this tells him that you are not part of his herd. You are his herd boss. He is to defer to you.
There are several ways to teach this. One way is to put some pressure on the top of his poll with his halter by pulling down firmly with the lead shank while you say the words, "head down." The minute he drops his head, even for a little bit, release the pressure and and reward him. You cannot hold his head down so if he shakes it or puts it up in the air, try and continue to make steady contact with the halter at the poll while repeating the "head down" command. But, it is important that you do reward him with a release of the halter and a "good boy" even if he drops his head the tiniest bit. Repeat this activity with your horse every time you work with him in halter. This is one of those lessons that requires hundreds of times of practice until he does it automatically.
Once your horse has this down pat, whenever you see that he is not paying attention to you, ask him to drop his head. Whenever you approach him and his head is higher than yours, give him a tug on the halter and ask him to drop his head. Also practice this when you are in the saddle in a safe area, by giving a bit of a downward tug on one rein and saying the "head down" command until he responds instantly.
You will see how effective a communication tool this is when you are working with a young horse when introducing new things to him. If you are taking him for a walk in hand on the trails for the first time to get him used to the wild and wooly woods, whenever he raises his head in alarm or is not listening to you, ask him to drop his head. Continue this practice and some day when you are riding and you encounter an object making your horse nervous, you can ask him to drop his head. This may give you a measure of control in a tough situation and perhaps prevent a nasty spook.
In the article, Dressage: Sport or Art?, Felice Vincelette asks some very tough questions about our responsibility as equestrians to our horses and to the art of classical dressage. But, how can anyone relate to something that was developed centuries ago? Why should we even care about maintaining demanding standards that seem so lofty that they appear impossible to relate to, let alone achieve? Aren't we doing "dressage" now anyway, so isn't it automatically "classical?" And finally, if it is so complex to understand, how do we even start?
The key to beginning is to start from the beginning. Follow the Yellow Brick Road! And the road starts with creating a beautiful and powerful image in your mind of your horse and you moving together in harmony. But, that can be a challenging task. Beauty can be subjective and illusive. That is true, but if you are interested in the classical tradition you need to start with gaining a "correct" image of beauty based on the science and methods of the true form. And in order to create this beautiful picture you need to have a reliable model from which to obtain that image. There are so many false images out there that is it hard to choose the correct ones. In addition, most of the tradition is being practiced in Europe. It is difficult to witness it directly if you are not near to one of the schools practicing the art form.
But, with the advent of the Internet, we now can access information from all over the world. The two schools that are still practicing these ancient arts, The Spanish Riding School in Vienna and The Cadra Noir de Samur in France have interesting websites. The Spanish Riding school can be viewed at: http://www.spanische- reitschule.com/ The Cadre Noir can be viewed at: http://www.cadrenoir .fr/siteene/GB_SITE/gb_home.html/. There you will find pictures of horses trained to high levels while still in harmony with their riders. The beautiful images that both schools offer are stunning and inspiring. They will help you to start to create a correct image in your mind if you wish to pursue the true art of classical riding.
Another form of investigation is through reading literature from the master's pen. One book to start with is: My Horses, My Teachers by Alois Podhajsky, the famous head of the Spanish Riding School. It is surprisingly delightful read, and will get you started on your journey to create your own vision. I also recommend a recent reading of Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. This book goes a long way in reminding us all about our responsibility to our equine partners who can say little about their treatment.
As one thinks about some of the original uses of the "dressaged" or "prepared" horse one might think of images of a group of equestrians in the nineteenth century riding elegant, well schooled horses on a lovely Sunday afternoon along a city park bridle path. While dressage had an undeniable military element to it, it was also used for preparing a horse to carry an individual calmly forward in the company of others.
I hope the answer to the other question of what are the benefits of the classical method will become apparent in upcoming issues of this publication. I can assure you that you will find this approach fun and addictive as well as rewarding, and not as difficult as it might seem. -- Nancy Knettell
Riding horses can be a dangerous activity that requires your full attention and full responsibility at all times. This information is offered for instruction and general purposes only, with the understanding that you will use it wisely and at your own discretion. And, as always, there is no substitute for a fully qualified instructor, a safe place to ride, and a hard hat.
In coming issues, I hope to explore further how the Classical Connection can help both you and your horse achieve harmony on the ground and in the saddle. I welcome all your comments and suggestions. And if you have questions that you would like answered by the contributors to this publication please feel free to email them directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will be pleased to answer them in the coming months.
If you know of others that you feel would be interested in receiving this publication, please feel free to click on the "Forward Email" link below. As this is an Opt In service only, if you wish to continue to receive this publication, please make sure that you click on the Sign Up! button above. And, if at any time you wish to unsubscribe, the link to do so is provided at the top of this email and below.
I want to thank all the contributors to this publication for their help and support and for making a dream come true for me. Ride with a smile and...
Never give up!
Best wishes from Fox Chase Farm,
phone: (978) 346-0042