The Art of Natural Dressage

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2007 4:26 am 
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Her spanish trot is more like a saddle bred park trot- all knees, no suspension. It isn't that I can't build off of it, but the trot over the cavalletti is more correct. Also, I think the spanish trot is physically difficult as well- I can use the cavalletti to not have to pester her about it, while still getting great effort. I just have to not do too much at once! The first day I over did it and believe me- She told me about it!!! (not so happy to see me next day so we went for a trail ride and creek stomping and that must have did it- she was much happier next day. She probably was tired though- she didn't splash near as much as usual)


I wish I had a nice area with 18 inches (about 50 cm off top of my head?) of water to trot through- she loves water and we could work on the muscles for suspension without all the dredded stuff- like a really fun aerobic class instead of jogging.

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Last edited by danee on Sun Nov 16, 2008 5:40 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2007 9:21 am 
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It sounds like she sure knows how to teach you! :D :wink:

The only thing I would like to add is: body follows mind. Not the other way round. Of course the other way round is how we have been taught to train horses for centuries (make the head come down, then he will relax; make the hindquarters get under more and your horse will collect and feel proud; make your horse back up and he will respect you as a leader... :roll: ), but when working at liberty you have to follow the rule that applies to every living being. And most of the time when you realise that, you realise the answer is not in getting your horse to do something, but in dropping that specific goal and do less to achieve it. It gives the horse more liberty to experiment on his own, to discover it himself and when that happens, your horse will love it even more.

Sjors is a good example of that: When you look at the video of Sjors I posted a couple of weeks ago, you see that Sjors has a nice, round posture when trotting around me, but isn't extremely collected: his head is held at shoulder-height, and not higher. I realised that at first this was because he was new to this posture and needed to find his balance and strength in it. But then it became more of a habit it seemed. He did everything, but everything with his head over there, which of course limits higher movement of the frontlegs in passage, Spanish walk and other more upwards gaits.

I could have looked for many solutions. Some would have started to train with a whip again in order to engage the hindlegs more so that the front end lifts and the head comes up. Others would start training with a halter and reins so that they could 'show' Sjors where his head should be by subtle rein-cues. I decided to give him his rewards a little higher over a period of time to see if he would start to like this position, but the only effect was that Sjors did raise his head flexed nicely when eating a reward, but also stretching his hindlegs out behind him while doing so. Of course you can repair that with a whip-cue again, but I didn't because for me this was just a sign that my method didn't work. So I decided not to focus on it anymore.

Then yesterday I was training with Sjors at liberty again, and I noticed that he has a habit of taking me over when making a halt at walk and trot. So I decided to go and focus on that: when I wanted to stop, I would deliberately slow down, shorten my steps in order to show him that I was slowing down, and only then stand still. Sjors would trot happily on, only then take his brain off the sleep-mode, realise that I was way behind him, and would stop. I immediately clicked and rewarded this halting, because that was what I wanted to see (preferrably with a shorter period of time between my bodycue and his reaction, but you can't have it all right from the start! :D ). Sjors realised that he should pay more attention to what I was doing and look at my body for signs on what to do. So I started to make it more interesting by walking next to him, slowing down to almost halt and then walk forwards again.

What almost blew me off my feet was that Sjors responded to that by mimicking my every slowing down - and collecting further and further. And while doing that, he raised his neck higher than ever and still with a nicely flexed poll. He has never done that before! It was just so amazing!


What I guess my point is (if there is any ;) ), is not to focus on the one thing that's not as good as you would want it to be (for me the posture of Sjors'neck, the passage that wasn't really lifting off the ground), but instead on the big whybehind it. If there's one thing that every dressage trainer agrees on, it's that if there's a problem somewhere in the training progress, you should go back to the basis to see the root of it. With Sjors myproblem :roll: was that he didn't hold his neck as high as I wanted. Sjors' problem was that he wasn't collected enough to do so. Our problem was that our communication wasn't subtle enough to work at that. Of course I could have thought of various ways to fix my problem, by learning Sjors where to keep his head, of I could have fixed his problem by making him collect and devicing ways to get his hindlegs under more - but that would have only fixed symptoms: the real problem was that our communication wasn't refined enough yet. We were still speaking with each other in three letter words (not the nasty ones, you dirty minds :twisted: 8) ). And of course I could have just deviced more three letter words in order to somewhat crudely point out what I wanted, but the real solution was to become more aware of my body, all the things I took for granted when moving (I just stop by banging to a halt, and Sjors should see that as a cue to collect himself, bring his hindlegs further under his body and softly come to a connected halt. Yeah, right 8) ). I needed to refine my bodylanguage to be able to be more subtle, in order to be able to ask for more subtle movements from Sjors. So now occasinally we already use a three and a half letter word. Yay. Progress. :D


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 30, 2008 3:41 pm 
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The first step essentially is to teach your horse that if you flick the whip against/under the hindfeet, this isn't a cue for 'go faster' from now on, but instead a cue for 'move more collected'. Every time your horse responds by first slowing down more, then collecting more, you reward him for this. Then when he really understands the fact that it's not about speed anymore, you start to ask for more exaggerated responses to this whip-cue: for a bigger upwards jump in trot or when making a transition towards trot.


I had been concentrating a great deal on a very collected trot with Tamarack. Primarily by using the method above, but with other cues involved as well. If I "annoyed" his back legs while he is trotting, I would also give the verbal cue for the Goat On A Mountain Top. My cue is "push". At the same time, my body language (pushing my own hips forward and bending my knees in motion - kind of a Klaus Hempfling posture).

Later, rather than swishing at the back legs, I would try a bit of swishing under his belly...with a touch under the belly. A cue more like the way Nevzorov begins to cue for Piaffe early in the training. Again, I would add the verbal cue of "push" and my Hempfling body language.

In this way...just fiddling around and experimenting, I could get moments where Tam's front end (base of the neck) is clearly lifted. Great!

Then recently, when Paul Dufresne was here, he cautioned me about losing Tam's extended trot. He told me not to forget to practice that as well, because a very important transition to aid in achieving the suspension one would like to see in the trot, is to transition from a collected trot to a working or more extended trot, then back to collected, etc. It was while I was practicing these transitions with Cisco, that he began to offer suspension and some passage.

So I have now been reworking the trot with Tamarack, so that any swishing of the whip behind him IS a cue to pick up the pace, but the fact that the swishing takes place at hoof level and not higher, and my body language again is saying to push under with the hind end and lift the base of the neck. In all this I can now "shape" Tamarack while he is moving...hind feet for pace and push, the tummy touches for a little attitude and lifting the front end, and I can even bring the wip forward and touch the base of his neck to remind him to lift from there (rather than just arching his neck) without him slowing down much at all.

So I am now getting slight clickable moments of more suspension with Tam too, at those moment when he's just got everything going right. It's lovely. At times he simply starts to canter, but then I drop my energy ask him to come back to a trot and we try again.

And for building the muscles that are required for passage/piaffe, I too am doing ground poles now and then. Sometimes on the ground, sometimes I raise one end, and sometimes I raise both ends of the poles.

Tam used to hate them, but of course now that he realizes a clean pass through them gets a treat, he's all for it!

As I learn more and do more with the horses, it's becoming clear that there is a myriad of small components that all have to come together to form the ability to do a passage. A lot of strength building (even in horses like Cisco that LOOK like they should be strong enough, the development of muscles still needs to happen), and a lot communication. It has Taken Tam a long time to understand a "sentence" of cues, rather than just one cue at a time.

When I first try to give two or three cues at once, Tam will get annoyed. So the communication is not perfect yet, but it gets better all the time.


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PostPosted: Thu May 01, 2008 8:07 am 
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I think Paul is very right indeed with his warning. :D

If you only collect, shorten and tighten the steps a horse makes, then at some point he will think that he's not allowed to do more relaxed, forwards or extended movements anymore - even if that's not what you had in mind at all.
For me passage therefore is more a kind of trot among all kinds of trots, than a specific exercise. When lungeing, we do a round of regular trot, half a round of collected trot, then something more upwards resembling passage and then a relaxed forward trot again, in order to show Sjors that it's not just a trick, but a way of moving so that both he and I put it in the right perspective. 8)

The real collecting of the trot and the first steps towards passage also we didn't get from doing things with a whip or making Sjors more lively, but rather from transitions from trot to halt. When we started doing that, Sjors very quickly seemed to discover that he needed more collection to be balanced in such a transition, and got himself a shorter, higher frame during those transitions. Actually, now I come to think of it, our collected trot actually is a kind of half-halt in which I mimick the cues for halt (raising my hand, shortening my steps) but do not bring myself to a real stop. And our passage attempts happen when I do that and add some voice cues for a little more action in that short, upwards trot.

Wow! Suddenly I discover that there actually is a system in what the ponies and I do! :shock: :lol:


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 07, 2008 2:58 pm 
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I took a 3 year old mare to a ISR/Oldenburg Inspection two weeks ago. She a client's horse but I have had her in training since she was a yearling so she understand mimicry really well and has a pretty high play drive. To work her on the triangle I would first collect up and than blast it forward. This worked so well because it got her over her haunches and than her 'big' trot was still correct. I had to let it out slowly at first, but by the inspection we could do just two collected trot steps and than GO!

She scored a 7.5 on Elasticity :cheers:

The inspector gave me some really great complimetns on her handling. It was nice to make such good use of all the ground work we've done.

I just started playing with passagey/piaffy kinda somthing with my mustang, Rave. We do odddles of transiitons beside each other- than I kind of confuse him by going but not 'going'. He isn't sure wether he should trot or back up so he stays 'on the ready' and when that happens to be diagonal I really lay on the praise and rewards. He gets a little too hyped, but the cookie makes all the difference! We intermingle spanish walk (I can't seem to get anything spanish tort like form the spanish walk) so he knows somthing upward is to take place. He keeps wanting to rear instead. We have not worked on rearing much at all but it has become his default. I just verbally say no and don't reward it and ask for somthing diagonal and reward that instead. At the end I somtimes ask for a rear and reward it so he knows the difference in cues, but I'm not sure that idea is working?? He is such a skeptic and finds this stuff a little to stimulating so I can't work on it much.

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 07, 2008 4:46 pm 
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danee wrote:
We do odddles of transiitons beside each other- than I kind of confuse him by going but not 'going'. He isn't sure wether he should trot or back up so he stays 'on the ready' and when that happens to be diagonal I really lay on the praise and rewards. He gets a little too hyped, but the cookie makes all the difference!


When I read your description, it sounds similar to what I've seen Silke Vallentin do during a demonstration in which she wanted her Frisian to be more alert. He was standing in front of her wheelchair and she gave within a minute five conflicting cues telling him that he should go left-no right-no left-right, which hyped him too because he was just standing there, not knowing which cue to follow (and which correction to evade when he would be too late). It did get him very attentive and 'sharp', but at the same time he got very stressed and tense if you checked his bodylanguage. Giving lots of cues after another can indeed be a good way to wake up your horse, but is he waking up out of interest or out of stress?

With a tense horse especially I wouldn't work with a lot of backing up transitions, simply because backing up is an emotionally tough exercise for most horses and can cause quite some stress in itself, especially if you start asking for sharp transitions to and from the backing up. Transitions from walk/trot to halt achieve the same, without the stress (that is, if you don't use pressure to ask for the halt of course 8) ).

Edit: by the way, I was writing this for improving the trot at liberty, but in your diary topic I read that you're training this on line with him? The tools that are used can also be a cause of stress, especially in sensitive horses. If leaving them off indeed results in that your horse isn't near you most of the time, then that can be an important cue for how he feels about the training with the tools. And then even at liberty, sensitive horses require a lot of sensitivity in order not to frustrate/stress/overheat them! :wink:

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 07, 2008 4:59 pm 
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With Tam, I have had to "condition" him over time to accept energetic actions from me...so we began well below his threshold and over the course of this past year he now does not generally get stressed when I ask for energetic things like pushing off from a Goat On A Mountain. It has taken a long time though, and he can still leave if he feels overwhelmed. We have been playing more with the "tiger" and for this too, I cannot "attack" him with it...if I dodge toward him rather than only moving away from him, he may indeed leave still. He does not like that kind of energy from me.

So I take it slow. He is now following the tiger with even more energy and will strike at it with his front feet...so progress is there, but very slow with Tam. So sometimes it just takes the time it takes!


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 10, 2009 11:03 am 

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Just to add to the post on teaching flexing when walking or trotting, I managed to do this by teaching "the pose" then adding the cue of a kissing sound, then when Ted was walking I did the kissing sound and he flexed, I rewarded this and when he got the hang of it moved on to trot. I do sound like a bit of an idiot blowing kisses but it works! I can be riding him round then ask him to flex with this cue and he will straight away.


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PostPosted: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:23 am 
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I haven't had any experience in teaching piaffe or passage from the ground.
So for me it is more easy from the saddle.

From the saddle, first you have to strengthen and make your horse more flexible so he can carry himself and you with his abdominals and hind quarters.
So simply put, follow the 5 step plan, which are nothing more than an extract of the Classical Riding art exercises of the old masters, mostly De Pluvinel.

The transitions are for me the best thing to get to piaffe.
From walk to trot and back and later on from walk to canter and back. And last from halt to canter and back.

When you horse starts to collect during the transitions down and up you can begin with the 'in between gaits' as I call it. So let's say you are in trot, you ask for walk (with your seat only! or maybe the cordeo, but NO reins! This is essential, for when you use the reins, your horse looses balance and false on to the forehand and the use of your transition is lost!).
Now, before your horse goes into walk, but you feel him intending to, or when he just goes into walk, ask for trot again with your buttocks. When just arrived in trot ask with your seat (and cordeo) to go back to walk. Keep this going for a while. I have had a lot of horses showing the first signs of piaffe right then and there.
3 to 6 months of following 5 step plan was enough for most healthy horses.

From the ground this is yet an experience I have to have... As a youg adult I have seen people hitting and pulling horses from the ground into what my grandfather called: 'Bear on hot platter', so before AND I never even tried teaching it from the ground having sort of a bad taste from it because of past traditionaly experiences.

Now, if I had a healthy horse to work with myself I would try this with the tiger. The trot/walk transitions, moving up the energy wit mimicry and voice/clicking tongue. I tried it with Owen, but his bad leg won't follow.
Maybe Inocencio once I can get him to follow the tiger in te future. For now I still need it to keep Ino out of my hair.

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 11, 2009 3:27 pm 
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Josepha, lovely post! I have to say that even clicker training piaffe when it is freely offered may not go as it should. Tam was trying much, much too hard, getting too far under himself and getting stuck there briefly...so rhythm is impossible. So my point is, even if the horse is offering it on their own with no pressure it can still be all wrong and look too stiff and uncomfortable. For someone else, it may wrok very well, but just not for Tam.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZqu4lFV_tU

So I too am waiting until I have a nice walk/trot transition, and then hopefully walk/canter and halt/canter from my seat alone before we revisit the piaffe under saddle now. In hand, I am doing only slowing down of an expressive trot (in cordeo only or on lunge, and sometimes at liberty when he's really connected), then forward again and I'm not trying to get to stationary for the piaffe. It will come when it is time, and perhaps one day Tam will offer it in a more correct way. Right now is not the time - yet!

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 26, 2009 10:15 pm 
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Hi Karen:
Tam is working so hard to please you. I just love the video. You can tell by his posture that he is trying so hard to get it right. It's great to see you training.
You've just answered my question about how to teach Corado to walk while lifting his leg. I will ask him to mimick me. He already does for alot of things so that should work. I will keep you posted.
Jocelyne

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 27, 2009 12:42 pm 
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Karen wrote:
Josepha, lovely post! I have to say that even clicker training piaffe when it is freely offered may not go as it should. Tam was trying much, much too hard, getting too far under himself and getting stuck there briefly...so rhythm is impossible. So my point is, even if the horse is offering it on their own with no pressure it can still be all wrong and look too stiff and uncomfortable. For someone else, it may wrok very well, but just not for Tam.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZqu4lFV_tU

So I too am waiting until I have a nice walk/trot transition, and then hopefully walk/canter and halt/canter from my seat alone before we revisit the piaffe under saddle now. In hand, I am doing only slowing down of an expressive trot (in cordeo only or on lunge, and sometimes at liberty when he's really connected), then forward again and I'm not trying to get to stationary for the piaffe. It will come when it is time, and perhaps one day Tam will offer it in a more correct way. Right now is not the time - yet!



I have had the same experience with Beau, when we had only started AND for some months, I got some terre a terre's and even a piaffe out of Beau, but it was so tense so stressed and that at liberty, not even a whip or a cordeo in sight, and yet, he was trying to make me happy and he know I love those movements. I decided not to exercise them again and haven't now for about a year and a half, I hope in time he will be able to do it again but then more loose and supple.

I never thought you could 'force' a horse into something just with your happiness :)

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 Post subject: passage
PostPosted: Sun Jul 21, 2013 4:55 pm 

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this is an entry from my diary, but I sure would love to hear some ideas on this! :)
so I thought I would re-post here...


... I think I finally got a fairly clear idea of what I mean by passage. That's rather helpful to trying to train it :)

The issues we were having came mostly from too much speed/forward!
The movement is a "parade" gait, a promenade, if you will. It is not a highly suspended movement - not suspended with 4 feet of the ground that is! I misunderstood the "highly suspended" description of the (newer) texts. Instead, as I understand it (and seek it) - it is suspended diagonals. - the horse lifts/flexes the diagonal pair of legs and suspends them in the air while bearing weight on the other diagonal. this is why the pictures of a classical passage never show the horse with all 4 in the air! I pondered this "discrepancy" for a long time :)
As well as "hovering" on a diagonal at a time, the movement is also not really going anywhere. At the most the distance of 1 foot forward at a time (a human foot, not a horse one, I assume :smile: ). This has been clearly defined by the old Masters - the horse's hoofprints shall be placed no more then a foot ahead of the last print. that is really a very short step!
And the croup will be still, like in the correct piaffe - you can rest your glass of wine there... hmmm "a coffee table croup" - a new phrase to sweep the nation? :funny:

In order to do this, the horse assumes the right posture. He cannot bounce stiffly off a shoulder and a straight hind leg and dwell in the air - for that is not the classical passage. When I began to ask for a movement fitting into the definition, the horse got more on his haunches, slowed down and became "silent" in his steps. No stomping, it looked like he was floating. How interesting! - when he became more ground-bound (instead of trying for some sort of Spanish trot/extended up and forward trot) - he looked more like he was floating, not touching the ground! :huh: cool...

Incidentally, when I reviewed my video of first attempt at using mimicry (and got the best passage-like movement to date) - I bend my weight-bearing knee/hip, lean back and lift the other leg and take small (relating to ground-covering) steps...

So now it does make more sense to me and the horse to train passage from piaffe, or a very collected trot. :)

And last night we had a few moments of a pause on one diagonal. Which seems to be at the core of this movement. The slowness and bottling up of energy... So I am thinking of playing with cueing the hind leg to hold up.
I think I need to be extremely careful here, because many horses taught to lift the hind leg do so by transferring the weight forward - very obvious in horses trained to piaffe this way... and I want none of that...
but perhaps if I stay with the correct balance as my priority...
then again, if I cue the front leg (as established with the SW training), the diagonal hind seems to follow due to the neurological trot gait pattern... so perhaps I am safer with that technique. well, I will keep playing away with this :)
poor Special - he is the one who has to teach me how to train everyone else.... :)


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 21, 2013 5:13 pm 
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I think you have it :yes:

Spanish Walk is a classically acceptable way to achieve passage. Piaffe to passage works for some horses if they have a naturally bouncy and lifted piaffe. My horse does not (he has naturally more of a marching piaffe), so slowing or attempting to stall the passage has aided the quality of his piaffe.

With SW to passage, you may initially get more front end hopping and less going on behind, but that's ok...if you get it a little more forward, it will balance itself out and in time you can slow it down again.

Also, collected trot to working trot transitions (rather rapid...a few steps of each) or rapid halt to trot or even walk to trot transitions can elicit passage-like steps that can be built upon.

If you play and experiment with it all, you will find what works for you horse. :yes:

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 22, 2013 10:34 am 
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very interesting! thank you Zuzana an Karen for the clear explanation!

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