The Art of Natural Dressage

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 21, 2009 12:45 pm 
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I noticed that we don´t have a Sticky about transistions yet. There is some info about them in several places, like in those topics...

Passage and collected movements
New exercises in trot?

...but I think they are so important that they deserve their own topic. So please feel free to add your experiences or questions here. :smile:

The reason why I was reminded to work on the transistions a bit more lately is Summy. As he relies on his front end a lot, both in movement and also when he is rearing, I´d like to help him to use his hindquarters in a better way and also get an idea about collection by doing transistions from standstill or walk to trot. When we practise standstill trot transistions, I start running and he runs after me, but instead of pushing himself forwards with his hindquarters, he jumps up with his front end like in a small rear and then follows me - so although they do look funny, there is probably not much use in them for his hindquarters. When we do walk trot transistions, he does the same too, unless I make my body language cue so minimal that he hardly changes his gait at all. But then of course there is not much benefit for the hindquarters either. As soon as he puts some energy into the transistions, we get the jumps.

Does anyone have an idea how we could work on that?

What I am planning to try is transistioning to trot on curved lines so that he will need his hindquarters to do an effective turn. And maybe put more focus on the playful aspect of him catching me when I start running, so that it will pay off for him to be fast in starting to run... But any other tips are greatly appreciated! :smile:


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 21, 2009 4:34 pm 
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Romy, my idea is that you teach Summy the wonderful feeling of having his head very low. At least below the withers but preferably even lower.

I'm learning a lot about this lately and this is a great opportunity for me to start to allow some of what I'm learning to gel in my head. I knew it was important for the training progression (forward/down/out - "out" being the nose) or you can call it long/low, but "forward" is a key component. But I certainly wasn't aware of ALL the benefits. It was recently explained to me (short and sweet!) by JP Giacomini. What he told me helped to fill in some knowledge gaps (of which I have many :funny: ). So it's very good for me to try and explain it. Of course I may get parts of this wrong, so anyone...please feel free to correct or challenge what I'm saying here! :yes:

There are two kinds of relaxation. One that is rather static and lazy (nice stretch, healthy for the horse). In this mode, either standing still or in slow movement, the horse is indeed on the forehand.

The other though is a "relaxed energy" in which the horse finds a freedom of balance and movement, allowing him/her to move with great fluidity and even collection - because once energy is added, the horse MUST balance the hind end more under himself (or herself) or risk falling on their face. Effort is required, but it feels easier for the horse because they are rounded, so they are more likely to feel good doing it and therefore are more likely to offer greater energy in this position because it DOES feel good to them...so it would be great for those like you :kiss: who like to allow the horses to find the movements on their own without too much interference. It has the potential to be a great "upward spiral" of beneficial effects.

Most of us know that in asking the horse to drop it's head, it is a nice relaxing stretch for the topline of the horse. We also know that within movement with the head low, a horse will tend to round up it's back if it is able to (that is, if nothing is impeding the back like a badly fitted saddle or a rider than cannot absorb or flow with the movement of the horse). There are great benefits for the horse in this relaxation alone. There are even greater benefits for the horse though when the head low position is coupled with energy and engagement.

Now...I'm still learning what "engagement" really means (what it looks like, what if feels like and what it means for the horse), so for now I'll simply talk about head low with energy. A good forward pace. When you add some energy (well, when the horse adds energy at our request or freely offers it) the horse's balance is more greatly challenged so they must compensate for the low and forward reach of the head and neck by reaching the hind legs further under themselves to counter balance. This reaching engages the tummy muscles, lifts the back strongly and you will also likely see the base of the neck lifted when the head comes up slightly and the hind legs are really driving the horse forward. Your horse may still look like he/she is travelling on the forehand, but if you watch the reach of the hind legs, you will see they are over-reaching (hind feet on or past the hoof prints of the front feet) to some degree. How much depends on the horse (conformation and degree of general fitness and to some extent speed and energy).

This is what you see good cow horses do. They are extremely low in the front, but they never the less can dance in any direction on the haunches because they are so under themselves behind. The entire body is an arch of power, and that arch can quite strongly carry a rider. I'm thinking of this FDO (forward/down/out) now as my magic position, and the one that Tam and I are working in a great deal lately. I am not the best rider...I'm still struggling to learn, so until I can ride better, this is our "holding pattern". I can still teach Tam to collect, but in a position where he can most strongly protect himself from me. Also in this position (in riding) if we stay off the reins, the horse seems to have a greater ability to remain in self carriage and balance. All I have to do is stay as neutral as can, concentrate on relaxing my own back, and just go with the flow. He's SO much more forward in this position. He likes it very much. This has "fixed" Tam's lazy walk. His walk is now energetic, forward and his back is swinging. It's a lvoely feeling. At the canter it's actually a bit exhilarating as he's so forward and his head disappears down...it keeps me from leaning forward because I feel if I did I would tip us on his face. :ieks: So it's helping MY balance in the saddle as well.

So now I have the means by which I can get Tam going in any gait, very forward and engaged, back rounded up and reaching well with the hind legs, then ask him to bring his head up slightly and see if I can still maintain the exact same feeling in him and in myself. Then ask him to drop his head immediately again. I am excited by this!

There is also a great untapped benefit to the Goat On A Mountain. This position of course mimics the extreme of FDO (forward/down/out) and once learned, you can do Goat to walk transitions. If you have also taught your horse to walk forward well with the head down, they WILL drive out of the Goat with the haunches. Now...I have to say that my friend Paul introduced this concept to me over a year ago (maybe two?), but I didn't get the result I was looking for. Paul says that when it's done perfectly, you can work toward what he calls "Gateado" or a Cat Walk (?). Later, I understood that there is a huge difference in leading the horse out of the Goat, and DRIVING the horse out of the Goat. I was lazily leading Tam out of the Goat. So I finally got the driving part, but Tam would pop his head up at the same time. We almost got a rear he was popping so high. So that didn't work either. The goal is to literally crawl forward out of the Goat but with great strength and drive. Now, I'm thinking I have the key to doing it! :yes: Tam is getting so comfortable with working with his head low, that I am thinking that now I can ask him (slowly at first until he understands) to drive forward out of the Goat while keeping his head low and we may have what Paul was talking about all along.

Nevertheless, the Goat is wonderful, and it can't be a small coincidence that there are so many parallels between the GOAT and FDO even though one is stationary and one is moving forward.

So Tam is currently being a dressage cow pony :D And I'm amazed and fascinated with the whole concept of "relaxed energy".

Thank you for bringing this topic up Romy! Serendipity! :applause: :applause:

And here is more reading:
http://www.sustainabledressage.com/roll ... tretch.php

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 21, 2009 4:56 pm 
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Thank you so much for your reply, Karen - you are a star! :kiss:

I have been doing so much forwards/downwards and carrying the head low work with Summy, more than with any of my other horses. But it never occured to me to combine this with the transistions. Thanks for bringing up that missing link, that is something he will most certainly like a lot, because as you said, he really loves the stretching. Looking forward to trying it tonight! :)


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 21, 2009 5:13 pm 
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Yes, great topic!

Wanted to add some small things which I lately 'bumped in to'. When it comes to collection and gaits transitions. We had a hard time galloping in hand. But the clue was, to get her really on her hindquarters so she can gallop slowly and I wouldn't have the felling of being dragged by my horse.
The big thing we do right now is... make a circle in trot and from the circle go into gallop! Works really well.
The walk trot combination was really hard for me in the beginning, because she would start of with one step in gallop and then trot, this might as well be the jumps Romy talked about. I made my bodylanguage really minimum and the trot slower to start with, this way she didn't put to much energy in it (I couldn't do it more then two times in a row simply to not make her too energetic, she would get the idea after two times and still make the jump, trot fast and turn around to get back to the slow me :funny: ) Which we build up with lots of figures to trot (bends) and transitions within the trot. This all helped her to get more on her hindquarters and make that really great transition. Is this of any help?

The GOTM is a good exercise, since I've been practicing it Ruphina is showing way more collection, and were not even in a full GOTM yet!
The long/low energetic relaxation, this explains a lot that has been discussed lately around me. I tend to ride Ruphina with her head low and her nose out and they kept on telling me she was 'on her forehand' and that was ofcourse not good (and I was ruining the horse by riding like this and they even started believing that bitless riding caused kissing spines and spavium). But on the other hand people were telling me how well she was doing her trot transitions and how well she makes her turns... I always had the idea she really used her hindlegs and was rounding her back. But now I have more information to tell the opponent :rambo:

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 21, 2009 5:22 pm 
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Kirsten, look also at the Sustainable dressage page I posted. If you are like me, and reward the horse when they "look" right in a movement, then it's always good to be armed with all the correct photos you can get your hands on. Of course I have a much more difficult time knowing when to reward when riding, because I haven't really learned yet what "correct" feels like. This is when mirrors in an arena would be such a blessing. Someone on a discussion list suggested them, and oh, I would LOVE to have mirrors in the arena. But they don't. I can hope though. Maybe one day.

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 25, 2009 7:47 pm 

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Romy,
I do very similar to Karen. It is a hard concept to teach your horse that when they have a rider they need to be pushing from behind and not dragging from the front! Hill work in a walk is soooo great for this. They have no choice but to move the back feet under them. It can be quite taxing if the horse doesn't understand how to carry themselves correctly so start with gentle hills and progress.....
Backing is also a great way to get the horse to understand the movement starts from behind. If your horse can back well (and I mean lifting a foot at a time and really swinging relaxed and straight, which is much harder than you think), then the movement from backing to walking out forward will be a prefect transition.

I am also working like crazy on getting Morgan to use his bum more and already I can see the shape change taking place. He has been travelling pretty much with his nose on the ground and lately I have been asking him to keep this frame but lift his head just slightly. I do this by lifting the reins up gently and he now understands so all I have to do is go to lift and his head comes up. He takes a few strides and then drops again, so I ask again a little later. Each time the duration gets longer and each time he lifts his head he engages the back end more. His transistions up are now very active and clean......just need to sustain them past a few paces before he goes back to plodding on the forehand!!!!!!!

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Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans. - John Lennon


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