The Art of Natural Dressage

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 16, 2013 8:01 pm 
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I have been training today and we worked on the exercises we train while wearing a bridle so we can figure out in freedom how to perform them. But I have hit the same problem again, the problem that is the reason we train so much with our bridle.

Beau spend his years as a young horse on a pasture with a stallion, the stallion used to bite his withers all the time and Beau grew a huge muscle under his neck. It has gotten better with training and not being with that stallion anymore, but now 6 years later I still strugle with it.
When we try to do an exercise that needs him to collect more he will lift his neck using the wrong muscle. Having the bridle on lets me correct his head posture and then I can perform the exercises right, but when I don't wear the bridle I cannot correct him during the exercise, only afterwards.
I tried getting him to touch a whip that I hold lower but when he is concentrating on an exercise he forgets that the whip is there.

What should I do? I could put the bridle on and only use it to ask him to lower his head a little so the wrong muscle relaxes, but I would love to have a way of doing that without the bridle...

Can anyone help me??? I have been strugling with this problem for so long and I now feel I do not have much choice...

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Barbara

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 16, 2013 10:57 pm 
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I have already decided to see what happens if I only ask an exercise once and then go to relaxation before trying again, it is a shame that I lose the power he builds up then, but this might help...

I'm curious about your ideas...
Good night!
Nice dreams...
Barbara

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 17, 2013 6:43 am 
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Personally, I work without a headstall because I do not want to directly control the head position, not because I want to control the head position with other means. This is because with my horses, their head is a pretty reliable indicator of their physical ability to do the exercise in a balanced way. Therefore, I prefer not to work on head position per se, because for me it's much easier with this feedback than without, because I am not that good at perceiving certain things like stiffness or tension in the horse's movement alone.

For example, when Summy first started experimenting with the passage, he pulled his head way up all the time. This didn't look pretty and certainly wasn't the way it's supposed to be done, but it showed me that he wasn't able to do it without a hollow back and a lot of tension in his body, yet. Therefore, we switched a lot between different versions of trot, asking for a few steps of more upwards, then long and low, fast, slow, transistions to/from walk and standstill and so on. And now he does it without the head lifting all by himself, and I am confident that we can move on in our training because he is subtle enough by now. Same story with Pia and her trot in general and on a circle in particular, or currently with her canter on a circle - in each case it told me that we needed much more preparatory work before I could hope for a nice, round movement during these exercises. So at least in our case, I am actually quite thankful that my horses have moveable heads that they can pull up. Makes it easier for me to adjust my training to their needs. :)


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 17, 2013 8:15 am 
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I've looked again through your latest pictures and videos and I'm not completely sure what you mean when you say he's using the wrong muscle in collected movements. Maybe you can specify that a bit more?
When I watch Mucki in collection, I see that he needs his ventral muscles (bottom line) especially for collected movements. That also includes the muscles on the bottom of the neck (M. brachiocephalicus & M. sternocephalicus). So in my opinion the bottom of the neck will always bulge in collection. But maybe that's not what you mean?

I agree with what Romy said about the free moving head being a very good indicator of what the horse is capable of. I like to introduce movements and cues at liberty and then, when I feel like I want to use reins for example, I try to transfer the same cues to the reins.
I started doing classical groundwork with the caveson about two years ago and soon was faced with resistance. Mucki hated it to be caged in between the reins, just being told where to move, but not being able to experiment by himself.
To get over that resistance, I literally had the remove the caveson and start over from scratch. I used clicker training to teach him to target my hollow hand and then follow it. It sounds pretty much the same, but for Mucki it's a huge difference, as he knows that he can move his head away if he wants to at any time.
The second breakthrough I had with that kind of groundwork was when I taught him to bend toward me when I touch (or later just point to) his neck or base of neck.

With these two aids I can literally ask him to try a bend and loosen his neck, yet he knows he is still free not to do it when he doesn't feel able to. In transferring that to rein aids, he keeps that liberty feeling, even with the reins which otherwise would restrain him.
Of course I cannot use the reins in a way that require constant contact.

What exactly are you doing with the bridle that changes the situation? Maybe you can get that on a voice cue, so you can remind him anytime to regain that posture?
In the videos I've seen it looks like you use a permanent light contact with your reins. If you remove the reins now, Beau might be still waiting for the constant feedback that he got from the reins?

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 17, 2013 10:37 am 
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Quote:
I agree with what Romy said about the free moving head being a very good indicator of what the horse is capable of

me too.

i know both Tequila and Hercules tend to either get stuck or not express their preference as much on a line and our interaction becomes more of a monolog where i miss a lot of important input.

Quote:
I used clicker training to teach him to target my hollow hand and then follow it. It sounds pretty much the same, but for Mucki it's a huge difference, as he knows that he can move his head away if he wants to at any time.
The second breakthrough I had with that kind of groundwork was when I taught him to bend toward me when I touch (or later just point to) his neck or base of neck.

sounds like a great advice.

i often think abut the different ways we conduct our conversations and learning (both for me and the horses). there are times when we play and it is more about shaping, guessing and inventing. at other times i can come with an idea i want to convey and i will use guidance like mimicking body language. at other times i feel body language is not enough, either I'm not clear enough or i look too much like a human stuck with her own movement limitations. so having another way, like targeting body parts and other mutual built vocabulary helps, (for me it is as long as i am modest and keep the fun and the dialog which is something different for every horse and probably for every human too).

thank you Barbara, for your question and Volker for the description of you cues, i will give it a try to add some version of it into to our vocabulary too.

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 17, 2013 5:48 pm 
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Image

This is the way Beau likes to hold his head, it is indeed as you say his brachiocephalicus that is bulging. The thing I am worried about is that because this is a posture he has had for so many years he will go back to it so much that he will never develop a good topline. He holds his head like this when playing in the pasture or at any given time, he is so used to being tense that he uses the same muscles over and over again.
I tend to look at myself, I have always had a bad posture myself and I know how difficult it is to walk straight and I can do it when someone always corrects me, but will easily fall into the same posture over and over again.
I can ride Beau without contact, he will then stretch all the way to the ground and lean on his front legs with a lot of weight. It's that or having his head high in the air. I have been trying to get this better for 6 years and am only seeing the growth of muscle in his topline since I began riding with contact.
What do I do when he pulls his head up when I'm on the ground? I close my fist and therefore there is some pressure on his nose and he lowers his head again... I have been thinking about how I could teach him a cue to have his head low, but when we are in "action" he forgets to look at that and concentrates on where his legs need to be.

When he was 4 he could do some terre a terre and even a little piaffe, but always very tense. I decided not to ask those exercises again untill he was stronger, it took me a long time to get them out, he is very responsive to the images I have in my head and he wants to work very hard for me... which leads to him doing to much...

I will pay attention to imagining his neck being in the shape I want, now that I am writing this I know this might help!

I will try to take all your advice with me and will slowely keep practicing.

The nice thing about Beau is that he always wants to do things for me, but I know from when he was younger that he likes to have a feeling of contact, if not physical then mental, I don't think he will be feeling akward of there not being reins, we do try to do as much as we can using body language... I just have some trouble sometimes with him being so flexible and fast while riding, I have always trained him to react to small body cues and that makes it quite the challenge for me now, being balanced all the time :)

Thanks for the advice, I still feel a little like I'm drowning... but I at least have an idea of how to swim ;)

Big hugs
Barbara

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 17, 2013 5:54 pm 
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Barbara wrote:
I will pay attention to imagining his neck being in the shape I want, now that I am writing this I know this might help!


This, or also mimicking the way of moving that you would like to see him do. When I want my horses to produce round movements, it helps a lot if I move my own body in that powerful way, with some focus on the tension in my shoulders and the burts of energy coming from my core.

Instead, if I move like a little spring, mainly from my legs, this seems to make the horses move more flexibly and be more jumpy as well. :)


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 17, 2013 7:02 pm 
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I use the same things... but we already knew that :) I really need to come play with your horses so they can educate me :)

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 14, 2013 6:00 pm 
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Barbara, I just came across this thread. I know it's long past the date it was active, and I didn't read all the responses yet, but in asking a horse to move with the head low, you make that the priority over all else for a while. If he is consistently rewarded for the head being low (first at the halt) then he may start to offer it in movement.

That said, many horses are not in the habit of moving with their nose in the dirt so you have to show them that they can.

One. Step. At. A. Time.

Slowly, slowly build it.

At the halt, develop your preferred cue for head down. Work on it until it's solid. If, for a time, that ALL you do when you are with him, he will give it more importance as well. In other words, he'll offer it without you asking? When you get to that point, then you give the head down cue and the walk forward cue at the same time. He may or may not get it the first step, but reward him anyway and ask again. And again. And again. Have a huge party the first time he gets a few steps with his head down.

Then very gradually you work toward one trot step with the head down. One day, possibly a canter stride. But reward the attempt to put the two together and only gradually shape it toward perfection.

One day, he'll give you a good solid trot with his nose in the dirt. On that day, ask him to speed the trot up a little.

What you might see, if he keeps his head fairly low, is that he moves from behind rather than the front, his neck will arch and you'll see the muscles along the top of his neck bulge from the poll to the withers. Stop and party, ok? Party long and hard!

It is a good method to encourage a horse to round themselves from nose to tail (or rather, tail to nose ;) ) through little effort on your part other than a lot of patience. Then you will see that the underside of his neck will look very different. :yes:

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 14, 2013 6:20 pm 
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Yesterday Lena called my attention to Pan's current head posture in trot. He is trotting long and low pretty much all the time now, and also moving in a very loose and forwards manner. For a moment I was wondering why, because we have never done anything about his head posture, or his way of trotting in general. And then suddenly it occured to me that this had been an automatic consequence of the way we were training, even though it had not been my intention. We had inspired him to trot by making grazing contingent on trotting, so that whenever he trotted (or later when he trotted in a more engaged way), I stopped and let him eat grass as a reward. Therefore, during the trot period his mind was focused on the grass already, and as a consequence he did his fast trot with the head low.

I can also manipulate the head position now by touching his chest with my hand (while riding you could use a cordeo for the same thing), and in that way I can ask him to lift his head a bit more while keeping up the fast gait. For me the interesting thing about this is that for the first time I feel like I can get this "Spannungsbogen", that tension in the horse while trotting that some dressage people are always talking about. In the past, I was told that this was not possible without a headstall because then the horse would just lower his head passively instead of leaning towards the bit. Well, I guess leaning towards the grass works just as well. 8)


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 14, 2013 6:56 pm 
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Fantastic Romy!!! :applause: :applause: Yes!

See, I had taught Tam to do this a few years ago (go with his head down) by simply clicking and rewarding his head going down, but didn't get it right under saddle until just recently. I have ridden with his head down (in all three gaits) but didn't recognize (or feel it) if/when it was resulting in anything but just going along with the head low. On the ground, I could see it, but didn't really know what it all meant in the bigger scheme of things. I knew it had the potential to increase his engagement, and I knew it had the effect of relaxing him. I also was aware of the concept of relaxed energy...but again, I hadn't stumbled across getting all put together (and understanding the how and the why together)...until now. Now I can FEEL the looseness in his back. I can FEEL the swing. I can CAUSE it to happen and I can ensure I don't block it (which I was doing a lot of before).

Sometimes I feel incredibly stupid that I've been on the verge of something this basic for a long time but hadn't really gotten it correct (thought I did). But then I know that I do that a lot. Get something, lose it, then find it again later. That's just me I guess. :yes:

What is so interesting is that it can happen with nothing at all on the horse. A horse can find it in any number of ways, and they really enjoy moving that way. Then all there is for me to do is stay out of his way and let it happen. ;)

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 15, 2013 2:46 pm 
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I haven't read everything exept your first post, ( not that I don't want to, I very much do, but no time).

However, if the horse does not take over the releasing of the lower neck muscles even after 1 thousand descente de mains after asuming Ramener with the cavesson, you can add the cue of the legs. Take your legs a little further back and sqeeze them a little same time you ask for Ramener, then make that your additional cue. As it lifts the belly a little, it really helps with ending in Ramener. Think about when you give leg before you go over a small fence or groundpole with a horse who does not lift his legs enough by him self, that feeling. Also when you ask Ramener, do you mimick it with your body and really lower your breath? this is also an important part :)

Hope this helps :)

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