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.
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.
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...
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.