The Art of Natural Dressage

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PostPosted: Wed May 23, 2007 11:07 am 
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The aim of this forum is to stimulate natural dressage. Dressage means that we look for the collection that is taught for centuries by Haute Ecole masters. Natural means that we don't just want to teach collection, but in a natural way; at liberty with only a neckrope or cordeo to communicate with the horses' body. However, the dressage is not meant to be the goal in itself. Our idea is that dressage is natural in itself, as both collection and Haute Ecole movements are used by horses when fighting and playing with each other. Proud horses play, show their strength and defend themselves by collecting themselves. We want to use this fact in order to make our horses feel proud of themselves by showing them the way back to this natural collection, and therefore natural self-expression. Horses are just like people; you can't make them feel proud of themselves by just sitting in the paddock and whispering that he's so strong and proud. He needs to be able to see that himself before he can truly believe it. Your horse will only believe you when he is taught how to move beautiful, stronger and prouder so that he can believe in himself. That's our real goal, and natural dressage is helping us to achieve that goal.

The Cordeo
Dressage has been taught for centuries to horses by restricting their heads and steering them with bits and bridles. Recently the bitless bridle has started to replace the bit, which is a huge leap forwards in the wellbeing of the horse. However, every rein that is attached to the head, means that we interfere with this balancing stick. And only a balanced horse will be able to naturally collect. Next to that, the headset is the thermometer of collection; if a horse collects less, his head will go down and out. If he collects more, the head will move up and flex at the poll. The collection itself stems from the hindquarters so restricting the head doesn't make sense and won't help the horse. Because our aim is to collect the horse naturally, from the hindquarters, we won't restrict his head. Instead we use a cordeo, a neckrope that is placed around the horses neck so that it's resting against his shoulders and breast'. The cordeo can signal everything that the bridle does too, with the added benefit that the horses is at total liberty to use his head in the way he feels is right, so that we have the feedback we need to train him in the right way.

Natural Collection
Haute Ecole wasn't developed by man for warfare, but by the horse himself. Long before men started to teach horses to collect, horses were using this collection, the Haute Ecole movements and the airs above the ground when playing, fighting and impressing other horses. Every horse can therefore collect and do Haute Ecole movements. However, a lot of horses have lost their ability to collect during their lives with humans. Horses that are ridden for years on the forehand, will hardly realise that they have hindlegs to place under their body, and frontlegs that can be raised consciously from the ground. Horses that have been desensitised to the point that they have learned from their riders that halt is the preferred gait - because the safest - and that every faster and higher movement should be avoided, will have lost their natural pleasure in moving forwards and upwards and won't know how to collect anymore. Horses that have been driven harshly into tight reins in order to get them to collect, will only remember the pain and discomfort of this position and try everything to avoid it when they can. We won't ignore that part of the past of a horse. However, we will teach him to find joy in collection again, by teaching him that movement is fun, that getting stronger makes him feel prouder and that we want him to be happy with his body and strength. We're not teaching the horse dressage, we're inspiring him to discover his own, natural collection.

The Level System
First of all, there are no levels; the levels are only a way to organise the exercises that will be written down here that will help you to teach your horse natural collection. The levels do give an outline of where to start and how to proceed, so there's no harm in starting with level 1 and proceeding to level 2. However, if your horse knows every exercise in Level 1 by heart except for one, don't stick to level 1 untill he knows them all. The point is to inspire your your horse into collection, not bore him to death! So find your own way through the exercises and use your horse as guide. Exercises within the levels will also be linked towards exercises in previous and next levels, because most of the exercises built upon others.
There is however one exception: Level X: Play. Playing is important from the first to the last training session. You will play every training again, before, after and between training exercises of the other levels. Because it is the playing that teaches to horse that moving is fun and that collection is even better. Because we humans are slow, twolegged creatures with a bad sense of timing when moving faster, most of the exercises in the various levels will be taught in halt, walk and collected gaits. That will teach the horse ingredients, but they will only click together in movement, in play. Playing is inspiring the horse to move freely and boldly again. Playing is not standing in the middle of the arena and making the horse run around you. That is not inspiring. Playing is inspiring your horse to move by showing him yourself how much fun it is to move. If you have fun in running around, your horse will want to join you to see what it's all about. That's the start of natural collection: you initiate the movement, your horse imitates you. If he realises that you were right, that moving and running is fun, you have a very valuable tool in your hands; mimicry. Your horse has learned that mimicking your movements is fun. So if you run forwards, he will be eager to try that to and run along. If you stop, he will stop. That's the beginning. And if you slow down and then start moving more upwards...

The Levels

Level X: Play
The games taught in this level are Run with me, Run to me, Run away from me (and only taught in that order!) and Mimicry - slowing down together, speeding up together, place bodyparts on objects, collecting; if the first three running games go well, your horse will start mimicking you all by himself, this is not something you teach him, it's not a trick! It's is inspiration waiting to happen; everything is possible.

Level I: Teaching the Cordeo
In this level the exercises are teaching the horse the language of the cordeo; which cue moves which bodypart? The exercises start only in halt and then move towards walk. Trot and canter are only possible when your horse starts mimicking these gaits in the Play; how otherwise are you going to urge him to move into these gaits?
The exercises in this level are:
Flexing the neck left and right, bending the body left and right, move the frontquarters around the hindquarters and vice versa, lowering the head, lifting the head and flexing at the poll (ramener), halt and backwards. When especially the last two exercises go well, you can start walking in hand with the cordeo.

Level II: Stretching
These exercises loosen specific muscle groups and teach your horse to move both his hindquarters and frontquarters more freely.
The exercises in this level are:
The bow, the stretch/crunch, mountain goat, stepping under with the hingleg in walk, lifting the legs, standing on a plateau, the jambette, Spanish walk.

Level III: Moving towards collection
These exercises prepare your horse for collection by straightening the body in movement: in walk, trot and canter. Also the horse gradually learns to collect more; first you only ask the stepping under of one hindleg and turn that into lungeing, then shoulder in strengthens the inner hindleg and makes that collect by placing it under the body mass, then the travers will collect both hindlegs by placing them under the body mass. When the horse know how to place both hindleg under his bodyweight, exercises such as the piaffe get within reach.
The exercises in this level are:
Stepping under with one hindleg, starting to lunge through the stepping under, shoulder in, travers, the half-pass (appuyer).

Level IV: Collecting
The collection is a result of both the Levels 1 to 3, and of level X, Playing. Only a horse who has learned that moving is fun through playing, will happily use his energy for performing these very intensive exercises. And only a horse who has been prepared by Levels 1 to 3 will have the concentration and body-controll to still be able to listen to your suggestions while performing these high-energy exercises.
The exercises are:
Collected walk, canter and trot, piaffe, passage, Spanish trot, School walk, Pesade and Levade, Lauf Courbette, Terre a terre, Airs above the ground.

All these exercises will eventually be placed in this forum. That doesn't mean that in the meantime you can't train! Be inspired by this and find your own way through these exercises. This is only a guideline, your horse is your guide!


Last edited by admin on Sun Sep 14, 2008 10:10 pm, edited 5 times in total.

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PostPosted: Wed May 23, 2007 12:56 pm 
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This is great stuff!

Things I have been looking for in NHE but nobody wanted to share. They were probably on restriction orders or banned for that matter :shock:

Thank you Miriam.

I have a lot of questions on what the stretching exercises are and how to teach them.

Will you eventually give us a brief description (photo would even be better) and how to teach them.

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PostPosted: Wed May 23, 2007 12:57 pm 
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Bravo Miriam!! Thank you very much for sharing this!


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PostPosted: Wed May 23, 2007 3:50 pm 
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I'm bouncing up and down in my chair! Thank you Miriam!


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PostPosted: Wed May 23, 2007 6:33 pm 
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To set one thing (important thing! ) straight: this is not an exerpt of Nevzorov Haute Ecole. This is the method of teaching Haute Ecole with a cordeo that worked (is working ;) ) for me.

It's of course very much inspired by Alexander Nevzorov, who was the first to show the world that Haute Ecole and collection are possible without reins too. But a lot of credit also goes to Bent Branderup, who studied and copied De la Gueriniere and Pluvinel with his own horses and deviced a method to train horses in dressage without contact reins. His methods proved very easy to copy into an entirely halter-less method of training, especially his work in hand. The stepping under is one of the exercises he deviced. Then credit goes to Chris Irwin too, even though that might suprise some people because he's more into roundpen-training and not Haute Ecole. But Chris Irwin stressed to me the importance of letting the horse look towards you during training. This means that the horse is focused on you - and only then you can ask him subtle exercises, and that really agrees with the ideas of De la Gueriniere that the horse should be always prepared to go into a volte. And a lot comes from tricktraining - but most of all it's based on clickertraining, because that gives you the tool to teach horses with an exellent timing, which we need for the more advanced, faster movements.

And yes, I'll write down the methods on the exercises when I find time to do so. Probably not in the order of the level, but then again the levels aren't that strict anyway. :)


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PostPosted: Wed May 23, 2007 7:06 pm 
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Miriam, this gives me a great starting point to begin to order my thoughts. This is what I'm so excited about.

Besides my training record here, I plan to begin a training log of my own to keep track of what is working and what is not, with Tamarack, and to try and keep track of the order things are done in. That order will hopefully be logical, as you have presented here, and done with the goal of gradually developing the appropriate muscles at the appropriate time (given that he is a young horse), and not so much on whether or not the movement is perfected.

For instance, on the topic of Piaffe, it has been very beneficial to teach Cisco the pattern of the movement in slow motion (lift this pair, then lift that pair) so that I am certain he is comfortable with how the movement should be done, but that it is entirely up to him now, WHEN the movement will occur with lift and collection and power. He (being an extremely honest and willing horse) will say when the time is right, and I know that the development of his muscles must continue and become even better before he will feel ready to do this movement. So horse first, always, but that does not mean we cannot show them the way.

If a desired movement is not going well, then one can address it from a developmental point of view (what did "I" miss, or do wrong), rather than a "training problem" (what did the horse do wrong) point of view. I am delighted with this, as it keeps the needs and wishes and emotions of the horse in the forefront and of the utmost importance.

I can tell you, that as excited as I was to find NHE, and to discover this wonderful philosphy, I am equally as excited to be in a place where we can all share knowledge freely.

THAT is why I'm bouncing up and down!


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PostPosted: Thu May 24, 2007 2:04 am 
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Karen wrote

Quote:
I can tell you, that as excited as I was to find NHE, and to discover this wonderful philosphy, I am equally as excited to be in a place where we can all share knowledge freely.


I share Karen's view 100%.

This is turning out to be a genuine, open and generous forum on the Art of Natural Dressage.

Miriam,

Do you use the clicker when you play with your horse for examples in the Run with me, Run to me, Run away from me

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PostPosted: Thu May 24, 2007 7:32 am 
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Yes, personally I do use the clicker because it gives you the oh so needed timing for your rewards. And as we don't work with building up pressure and letting it go again as reward, we need positive stimulation to reward the horses instead. So next to hugging our horses and telling them how great they are :D that will probably be food (Alexander uses that too, but without the clicker), but later on also the running games. For example; when working on collected movements like travers, cantering forwards can be quite a release.

I would advice everybody to use at least some sort of rewarding-signal (click, whistle, short word, doesn't matter what) when working with food, not only for the timing but also for clarity for the horse; if he doesn't get a click or 'X' or 'Perfect!' every time before his food arrives, he won't know when he will get a reward, get insecure and start looking for the food himself and bites in every hand he sees. When instead you just have some means of saying: 'This is good, this is what is getting you the reward I'm reaching for now', your horse will know what exactly he did right, what he is getting rewarded for, what he can do to get more rewards - and most important; when he won't be getting rewards. Every time he doesn't hear this click/word/whistle, he won't get food, so there's no need to look for it either - it simply isn't there.


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 17, 2007 5:13 am 
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Miriam wrote:
I would advice everybody to use at least some sort of rewarding-signal (click, whistle, short word, doesn't matter what) when working with food, not only for the timing but also for clarity for the horse; if he doesn't get a click or 'X' or 'Perfect!' every time before his food arrives, he won't know when he will get a reward, get insecure and start looking for the food himself and bites in every hand he sees. When instead you just have some means of saying: 'This is good, this is what is getting you the reward I'm reaching for now', your horse will know what exactly he did right, what he is getting rewarded for, what he can do to get more rewards - and most important; when he won't be getting rewards. Every time he doesn't hear this click/word/whistle, he won't get food, so there's no need to look for it either - it simply isn't there.



I like this very much, it explains it well. Cody is such a food hound, I worried about giving him treats. And at the very beginning, he hounded me constantly, jsut because I had them. Then by the end of the second or third lesson, he stopped. If he wasn't offering something 'treat-worthy' he wasn't getting a treat. Period. This is also wonderful for his confidence, because he is never really sure, no matter how loud you praise, if he is truly doing the right thing. But with a 'Good Boy!" (my click) he is suddenly excited because he knows he did it exactly right. I swear you can see him just grin ear from ear in pride! :D


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 17, 2007 2:08 pm 
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I use two words "well done" as the "click, this is suberb" and "well done" "treat" when she gets a treat for it... and before she can pick the treat out of my hand I say "get it" .. seems a lot but it works great and prevents biting and begging.

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 28, 2007 1:23 pm 
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I wich understand english better than now... It seems very intresting to me but it's hard to understand everything :oops: And it is not only my english it is also a new method I've never seen before so that's hard and it's a long way too for to be able to practice that!

But thank you very much for that it helps me a lot!!!

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 28, 2007 1:38 pm 
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Miriam wrote:
We're not teaching the horse dressage, we're inspiring him to discover his own, natural collection.
That is beautyfull :D

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"Training a horse is not only gaining his submission as it is often said.

It is also making sure the horse takes pleasure in doing everything that is asked of him"

Nuno Oliveira



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PostPosted: Sun Dec 30, 2007 4:35 pm 
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Hello Miriam (and everyone):
I have started a new Daily Training Schedule for 2008 for Corado and my new horse, Magic. This is where I will start.
I think I was going too fast because I wasn't emphasizing mimicry anymore but working on walking with cordeo or teaching the cordeo.
I will start from the start: games (all of them); once that is ok, then level 1 (teaching the cordeo); then Level II (Stretching). I think that will be my goal for 2008. If I don't reach it, that's ok, at least I'll know where to start in 2009.
Thanks Miriam for this guideline. I'm sure I'll have fun moving on with AND.
Jocelyne


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 30, 2007 9:13 pm 
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Well, I don't see why you shouldn't reach this within the first month actually. :oops:

After all, introducing the cordeo (left right, halt, walk, ramener and head down) only takes a few sessions. The I would just go on and start with the stepping under, and then the shoulder in etc. First in walk, then in trot.

The stretching exercises (bow, crunch, standing on the pedestal etc.) aren't very hard things to teach either - and they don;t really have an end either: you always repeat them to stretch even further in each exercise. For example, Blacky really knows the bow and the crunch very well, but I'm sure he can go even deeper if we train more.

So I think that at the end of 2008 you will have accomplished a lot more than just the teaching the cordeo and the stretching, and will have done the stepping under and shoulder-in in walk - at least!

Because once you get your horse motivated, it goes really fast - and there the Games come into play. If you only focus on the focused cordeo work, your horse will think training actually is quite boring again and you will experience that you get less results over time and that you have to use more pressure to get things done. If you try to spend at least 50% of your training (and in the beginning maybe even more) on games and just playing, mimicry and running around together, your cordeowork will become so much better too. Because 1) your horse will realise that moving is fun, and 2) because he realises that training with you is fun and exiting, and 3)that the focused cordeowork are actually a very nice alternation from the wild play.

It's the symbiosis of both the play and the focused work that makes the training both interesting and leads your horse to collection. So actually I wouldn't just do the games the first months untill they are good, and then start on the focused work again. If you feel that you do need to place the emphasis on pay first, then just set up your training in such a way that you spend 80% of the time playing (especially chasing the tiger is great), but that inbetween every now and then you do a focused exercise for a minute; for example, you ask for a few steps of stepping under on a volte, or you ask for the ramener in halt or a bow or crunch, or you start with the jambette for a few minutes, and then go and play again. Just make every focused episode really short (2 to 3 minutes), and very soon your horse will start to offer longer focused work on his own, as just playing and running around being wild can become quite boring (eand tiring, and for an insecure horse even frightening) too.

So I would say, start with lots of play, but do incorporate very short sessions of focused work too, and then play again. And then look at what your horse offers: does he want to play more, or does he want to do more focused work? The trick is to find that ideal balance in which your horse loves both the play and the focused work, and isn't bored/tired by one of these.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 30, 2007 9:42 pm 
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Recently there was a discussion about training without bridle to the Grand Prix level... as a proof ;) whatever the reason could be 8) anyway, I realised that what we don't have is the concept of extended gaits, especially as coming before collection. Isn't it because we are more linked to classical horsemanship, than to modern dressage? So, if we add "level 5 - extended gaits", then the result would be a horse at the Grand Prix level? :lol: sorry, but those sport dressage concepts are so funny for me now :P

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