Learning to be an Equestrian, not just a dressage rider…

Guest blog by Jane Broomfield of Silverdale Horses

When talking to various people in the horse world, I get a little concerned when they describe a person that has just started their journey with horses as competitor in a specific discipline, for example, a hunter jumper rider, a barrel racer, or a dressage rider.

Take a moment to work out what that means…. from the first time they sit on a horse, they have already been put into a “class”….

The job of that first coach is to teach a new rider how to begin their journey as an equestrian.

New riders need to be taught a basic understanding of the seat, the connection between the arms, hands and bit, basic good position, and how to ride a horse that may not do exactly as you would expect.

Like horses, riders need to be treated as individuals… Not a one size fits all approach

I spend as much time as it takes with each client to get them secure in their seat. They need to understand the correct position of their bodies, use each aid independently and have an idea how to react when things don’t go quite to plan. This takes time and patience from all parties.  I explain that this is what is going to happen and it will take time.

Riders should not be rushed, you would not expect a runner to run a marathon after 5 training sessions!

Fix your position, before trying to ‘fix’ your horse

Like our horses, we also have a correct way of going, regardless of the discipline.  Even experienced riders need to check them from time to time, it is scary how quickly we can fall into bad habits.

Holding your arms and hands correctly is not just for dressage, its for jumping and all other forms of riding too!

A rider with straight arms,  hands below the horses neck and open hands means they have no real control, and a horse that lives on the forehand. Relaxed shoulders, elastic elbows, thumbs up and carry your own hands.

Shoulder, hip, heel line is for all!

Imagine if your horse magically disappears, would you fall on your arse?  Then, you will fall on your arse when you horse does in fact disappear! Because at some point they will!!

Practice your 2-point

Everyone  should be able to ride in 2-Point or  jumping position, you never know when you will need it!

Independent leg aids

The ability to use your legs independently and move your horse away from the leg is necessary for both the dressage and jumper ring, even out on the trails…. How else are you going to get close enough to the gate to open it without having to dismount!

And keep a open mind

We can all learn from each other and we should all learn how to ride a dressage test, navigate a round of jumps or ride gymkhana games, you might just learn something new!!

With thanks to Jane Broomfield

5 top tips for riding in collecting rings

How to ride safely in a collecting ring.

 

It’s showtime! Which definitely means having warm up in busy collecting rings, but also for anyone who shares an arena at a yard, here are our top tips for having a nice ride in the company of others.

1: Pass left to left – the oldest and simplest of the rules. Always pass left to left when working on the outer track. If you struggle with left and right, write an “L” and an “R” on the back of your gloves.

2: Walk on an inner track – this allows riders travelling at a faster speed to continue around the outside, without you getting in their way. Likewise when transitioning down to a walk check there is not someone cantering up behind you, who might not be prepared for you to slow down.

3: Do not block the entrance – simple courtesy mainly, but also horses can often nap leaving or entering the collecting ring or arena, so it basic safety to keep it clear for people who may be having a difficult time persuading their horse to enter or exit.

4: Look up! – do not ride round staring down. Firstly it will tip your centre of gravity forwards, causing your shoulders to round and straining your neck, and secondly you cannot see where you are going! Simply being observant while riding with others will make you safer in the arena. It is always good to notice that there is a horse out of control at the other end, giving you plenty of time to come back to a walk and calm your own horse down.

5: Red flag on right, white flag on left – if there are flags on jumps, be sure to follow this rule, thereby preventing head on collisions. Do not cross in front of jumps without being very sure that no-one is approaching and certainly do not loiter around in front of the jumps.

If everyone can follow these tips for good arena and collecting ring use, we will all have a more enjoyable time. Remember a smile goes a long way, riding and competing are meant to be fun! Also, we are all human, mistakes happen. It is very easy to get engrossed in what we are doing and forget to look around and nearly crash. But most people will be forgiving as long as you apologise. A simple “sorry” goes a long way and can prevent a small incident escalating into a massive row. Do put a green ribbon on a young horse, and a red ribbon on a kicker, so that other people are aware of your horse’s behaviour. If we all act responsibly and politely we will all enjoy ourselves.

 

Pippa’s Journey (so far!)

Pippa is my 11 year old 16.2hh mare who I have owned since she was about six month old. From a young age we (my partner Paul and I) showed her in hand for many years until we decided to start up a family business in Stourport on Severn 7 years ago. During that time Pippa had been lightly backed and had an absolutely gorgeous foal named Kipper (shired by my own little stallion Bertie,) however we sadly lost Kipper as a young colt.

 

Due to having Kipper and our energy being focused on the new business, Pippa became a much loved family pet but had very little work. She was a very green nine year old who had barely cantered with anyone on her back let alone anything else. It was until the summer of 2017 where I started again with Pippa and began to ride her.

 

During the summer I went to Lincomb’s adult camp which was one of the best decisions I made. It kick-started my motivation and boosted my confidence and I began to discover how much talent Pippa really had. She had never jumped before or done cross country but at this camp we did everything! During one of the lessons at the camp I met my instructor Angela, who has since been a massive help and incredibly supportive along Pippa’s journey. We began to have jumping lessons as well as flat work lessons and even began competing in local competitions.

 

However, things suddenly hit rock bottom in September 2017 when two weeks after I had lost my other mare Kalini, to colic (who I had also owned since a foal) Pippa too had colic and I was faced with the impossible decision as to whether to put her through surgery or not. After deciding to send her the next few hours were some of the longest hours of my like waiting to get the call from the vet to tell me how the surgery went. Luckily she pulled through but there was a huge road for recovery. Since then I have always known she was a fighter, there was just something in Pippa which made her fight that my other mare unfortunately did not have.

 

2018 was rather a quiet year for Pippa. She spent most of the year recovering and I wanted to give her as much time as she needed. We began doing some light work towards the end of the year and even some small dressage tests but had not been back jumping or cross country. During this time I began to sense that something was wrong due to her behaviour, mainly on the ground. She began to skip into canter on the left rein in particular. Due to her surgery I was determined to get everything checked and make sure that she was okay.

 

In early 2019 I booked Pippa in to see physiotherapist Sue Palmer and after an initial assessment Sue recommended I see a vet and suspected that she could have ulcers. From this I booked her in for an appointment at the vets and after a endoscopy they were able to confirm that she had two gastric ulcers, one that was stage 1 and another which was a stage 2 ulcer.

 

After some treatment (and some more treatment to prevent them coming back) Pippa is now on the mend (again). We have began to have some lessons and the improvement is already amazing. We have even began jumping again and it seems that Pippa has definitely missed it to say the least. I’m definitely excited for the summer and have booked into Lincomb’s adult camp once again hopefully alongside some local competitions for the summer. I’ve had many horses over the years but she is my one in a million horse and my absolute pride and joy. It has taken us a while but hopefully we can begin to expand both mine and her abilities and have some fun again.

 

With thanks to Emily for sharing her story with us. If you have a story you would like to share, please email lizzie@ethicalhorseproducts.co.uk

Making the best of it…

This is Britain, number one topic of conversation in Britain is the weather. The thing about the weather is it is always changing, you can never depend on it, and you can’t predict what sort of weather you are going to get on any given day.

One day you are schooling your horse in lovely sunshine, the next day it is too hot and he is really sluggish. The next day you get on and the wind is blowing and he is really spooky, and then the following day it is pouring with rain and your horse spend the entire session pushing his quarters inwards. It can get really frustrating!

Acceptance is the key to everything. If you turn up at the show on Sunday morning, and the weather which has previously been perfectly sunny all week, suddenly turns into a howling gale, the first thing to do is to accept it. Yes, your horse would have gone better in perfect weather, but so would everyone else’s. Yes, you would have had a nicer day in the sunshine, but it’s not happening. Some things we can control, for example our reactions to our circumstances, how well we have prepared our horse for the show, but on the day we can’t control everything.

If you never ride your horse when it is windy, you are going to struggle at the show. However, if you have made a point of always riding your horse in all weathers, you can at least feel prepared going into the ring.

So remember, we live in Britain we can’t control the weather, but we can control how we cope with it. Make sure your horse is used to being worked in all types of weather. Remember to accept that the conditions on the day may not be perfect, but we just have to make the best of what we have.

Off horse exercises!

By Amy Craske

A good part of the work I do is as a riding instructor, both at a local riding school and freelancing with people’s own horses. I’m training with Mary Wanless and Ride With Your Mind to become a rider biomechanics coach, so I do focus a fair bit on people’s position and how the horse is responding to it. If you ever get a chance to have a that kind of lesson, I highly recommend it. If you have, I’m sure you will have been surprised at the huge difference making small changes to your position can make to your horse’s way of going. The thing is, often riding in a more balanced and effective position is hard work – it requires you to use muscles that just don’t get used very much on a daily basis! Sitting in an office chair, or whatever your daily job entails, rarely requires you to keep your balance on a moving object! And this is without even thinking about undoing any bad riding habits your body may have gotten into.

 

Adding to the problem of fitness is the fact that many of us are slightly divorced from what is going on with our bodies; our proprioception is not very good. If you haven’t heard the term before, lift your hand up and touch your ear. Did you need to be able to see your ear to be able to touch it accurately? That’s because you are using your proprioception. Unfortunately, most people have more difficulty working out what their lower leg is doing than finding their ear! Given all this, I’m often asked what people can do out of lessons to keep the good work going. Obviously the ideal would be to ride lots more! But with how busy most of us are this is difficult, and if you are going to a riding school may require remortgaging!! Lots of different riding methods have their own exercises to help with specific issues, I know RWYM. But for a general work out which will TONE your muscles, give you greater control and proprioception I personally think Pilates, Yoga or Feldenkrais are brilliant. They both, with a good instructor, also have an element of helping you control your breathing, practice mindfulness and get better at centring yourself, all of which are enormously useful skills around horses. So, do you have any other recommendations?

 

My all time favorite books on dressage

By guest blogger Stephen Forbes of Solo Equine

I’ve compiled a list of my all time favorite books on Dressage. All of these books have had an influence on my approach to training Dressage horses.

1) The Complete Training Of Horse And Rider by Alois Podhajsky

This was one of the first books I ever read that was about Dressage. To this day I still recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn the fundamentals of Dressage training theory. It covers all of the essentials in an easy to understand format.

2) Reflections on Equestrian Art by Nuno Oliveira

This is a super simple and fun to read book. It introduced me to Nuno Oliveira, and subsequently a 3 month trip to Portugal to study the Portuguese system of riding. Nuno’s deep love of horses and his devotion to the art of training for the pure beauty of it has always been an inspiration to me.

3) Riding Towards The Light by Paul Belasik

Paul Belasik takes storytelling to a whole new level when it comes to Dressage. His passion to learn and share this knowledge in the way humans were designed to learn, through engaging stories, is second to none. Often as much philosophical as it is a training guide, this book will sit well with the thinking rider.

4) Gymnasium Of The Horse by Gustav Steinbrecht

I don’t believe there is a more thorough book on the technical aspect of Dressage training than this one. The chapter on Shoulder-In itself took me a few days to get through. While dry, this book digs deep into the details that make Dressage what it is.

5) Misconceptions and Simple Truths In Dressage by H.L.M. Van Schaik

This is another fun book to read which covered some cool things I hadn’t heard of before. An example of this would be how some old classical masters taught a 2 beat walk before teaching piaffe. Some interesting stuff!

6) Academic Equitation by General Decarpentry

This book was written by a member of the Cadre Noire who eventually wrote the first FEI rulebook on Dressage. I found this book super fascinating as its the first book written on Dressage from a “Classical Dressage” trainer with a passion for sport. There are some really cool insights from his observations of watching the Olympic Dressage competitions of the early 1900’s.

7) Art Of Horsemanship by Xenophon

This book blew me away as it was written in 400 BC. Xenophon describes training horses in much the same way we approach training nowadays. So many principles he discusses are still relevant, which shows the deep understanding Xenophon had of this art. Impressive.

8) Breaking And Riding by James Fillis

For those of you interested in the French school of training, this is a fascinating book. Fillis studied the methods of Francois Baucher but I find Fillis’ books much easier to understand than those I have read that Baucher wrote.

9) Lyons On Horses by John Lyons

While this book isn’t dedicated to the sport of Dressage, this book made me think about my approach to training horses probably more than any other book. It delves deep into the nature of horse psychology and helped me understand why horses react the way they do.

10) The Nature of Horses by Stephen Budiansky

This book helped me understand horses from a more scientific perspective, again which helped me clarify some of my approaches to training. Some cool studies are discussed in this book which gives lots of food for thought!

So if you are looking for some summer reading, you won’t be disappointed in any of the above books!

Happy Reading!

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Why we need good foundations…

By Lizzie Hopkinson

One of my favorite quotes is a Hemingway quote: “we are all broken, it’s how the light gets in.”

When we experience setbacks we can feel as though everything that we have worked towards and built up was all pointless. But often setbacks show us where we have gone awry in our building up. Often the foundations are simply not good enough to support the work as we move forwards and the cracks start to appear.

Sometimes you need those cracks to appear to show you where the problems are so that you can address them and move on in a stronger fashion.

For example many horses struggle to stand still at the end of a rope quietly in their own space. You might not think this matters, you never need your horse to do this, but so many problems that we experience with our horses come back to this basic skill.

Many loading problems are not loading problems, but are simply groundwork or handling problems. Often by breaking the problem back down into its foundations we can resolve it at a basic level before moving forwards again.

So if something is going wrong as you try and ask more, such as moving up a height in jumping, or trying to work up a level in dressage, don’t regard it as failure. See it, rather, as an opportunity to take your training back down to the basics and see where the problem lies. It is easier at the lower levels to work round problems rather than resolve them. But problems, like molehills, have a habit of popping up again at inconvenient times.

So the next time you begin to struggle, go back to basics. Can your horse stand in his own space? Can you get on without him moving? Can you move one leg at a time? Keep working through the basics and you will find the weakness in your foundations. Fix that, and you will fix the problem higher up.

Behind the vertical?

Dr Hilary Clayton is an internationally renowned veterinarian, author, researcher and clinician. Her work in the field of equestrian biomechanics has provided incredible insight into equine sports, and the relationship between the horse and rider. She has carried out research across an extensive range of areas including, though not limited to; bit fitting, saddle fitting biometrics, kinematics, kinetics and locomotion. Her work has helped to further knowledge and to improve welfare for horses across the globe.

Dr Hilary Clayton was involved in the research into the head and neck position of elite dressage horses in competition between 1992 and 2008. While we would assume that the general level of training and welfare has increased throughout that time, their report made for interesting reading.

In the FEI handbook it states that: “The head should remain in a steady position, as a rule slightly in front of the vertical, with a supple poll as the highest point of the neck, and no resistance should be offered to the Athlete.” The team evaluated video of the horses and categorised them as on or in front of the vertical, or behind the vertical. The collected canter and collected trot show that the amount of horses behind the vertical has decreased over those 14 years.

However the results for the passage and piaffe show a very different picture. In 1992, 48% of horses in the passage and 45%, in the piaffe, were behind the vertical. By 2008 these figures had risen to 71% of horses being behind the vertical in both the piaffe and passage.

Obviously there are all sorts of conclusions that one could draw from this, but it is worth bearing in mind, that we should always hold the welfare of our horses at the utmost of our minds. It is important that governing bodies regularly review and maintain their own standards to ensure a high level of welfare across the world

(Comparison of the head and neck position of elite dressage horses during top-level competitions in 1992 versus 2008 by Morgan J.J.O. Lashley, Sandra Nauwelaerts, J.C.M. Vernooij, W. Back, and Hilary M. Clayton. Published in The Veterinary Journal, 2014, volume 202, pages 462-465)

 

Dr Hilary Clayton is the author and producer of “Activate Your Horse’s Core” available from our shop.