The Art of Natural Dressage

Working with the Horse's Initiative
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 24, 2007 11:12 am 
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Eda wrote:
But, now I am really getting the point of the essential point of your views. So, you are saying that as the horse is capabable of having learned reflexes withing its behaviour you are beliveing that it's also capable of having those reflexes within it's body movement to achive higer collection which the horse would never achive at libery and that without influencing the head? To achive the same Haute Ecole (without the "bad" sides) without a bit or blidle? So you never create the circle of aids which is after all is not needer for simple work in the saddle, but for the higher steps of it?


I think that horsetraining should be done with the horses' body and the horses' mind in mind. For the horse there is no circle of aids: he can do all the movements we want from him in dressage without us sitting on board, giving weight-aids, leg-aids and rein cues. He can do them totally at liberty without any human nearby at all, because that's where dressage started: people saw what horses could do with their bodies, how they could move when playing, fighting and flirting on their own. And tried to recreate that. And then indeed you need to balance your aids, because with just pushing with your legs, the horse will run away, and when just pulling the reins upwards or backwards, squeezing them or anything else, the horse will back away, halt or buck you off. The 'circle or aids' is a purely 100% human concept in order to teach humans that they should balance their leg- and reinpressure out: if you use more of one, you should counter that ('energy') by using the other more too. if you don't, the horse will stop moving in that same gait and instead change gaits. The idea of the circle of aids is invented in order to teach humans how their horses have been taught to respond in the classical dressage with it's classical dressage tools.

There's nothing wrong with that - but it's not for the horse. It saves the horse from being drawn and poked and then being punished for not responding in the right way, but the circle of aids only exists in the head of the rider who has to balance out all his 'tools'.

Horses don't have a circle of aids, and don't need it either. They can do everything on their own already, even when every horse has a certain specialisation or is built more in this way or that. Still every horse can play, show off and therefore naturally collect. What happens when a horse collects naturally, on his own, without human intervention? Not a circle or aids, but a circle of muscles and mind that starts to work together instead of against each other. The horse momentarily realises that he can both place his head into a more upward position and tuck his hindlegs further under the body: that he can put more strain on all his muscles and by that become more balanced and more supple. That if you want real control, you dont just tense your biceps and let the triceps hang loose, but you tense both a little, so that your arm is truly balanced and ready to respond any minute.

So there's two (of course in reality much more ;) ) ways of riding, training horses towards collection: one is to bring along a lot of tack and learn how to use them upon your horse: that's the circle of aids.
The other is to teach your horse how to use his body in such a way that he collects naturally again, but now conscious instead of unconscious when playing with mates in the field. That's the circle of muscles: training both his body and his mind. And that're where groundwork comes in, because when using no tack at all, just his natural responses, you need to start at the most natural starting point for the horse: the ground. There you first ask him if he wants to train with you, and if he doesn't want to, you look for ways to become less threatening and/or demanding so that he does want to come along with you. There the circle of muscles is connected with the circle of the mind. You work both on the bodily and mental side of collection: you use classical dressage exercises - without tack! - like the shoulder in and travers to stretch his body and make him more supple. These also teach your horse to focus himself and be calm and cool, while on the other hand you run and play with him and run around in order to teach him that showing off his power (collection!) isn't wrong at all. Then the horse will start to combine both tracks, and become collected, make himself more impressive and taller, while on the other hand stay cool and focused. Only there the riding in collection starts.

By the way, just because you don't use reins anymore doesn't mean that you have no control over the way the horse performs certain movements! That's where you can follow the classical dressage ideas pretty good: you don't form your horse through the reins, but through exercises. Sjors tends to tense and hold his head too high during the passage. The solution is not adding more aids, but changing the passage after a few steps into extended (collected) trot, and then bakc to passage and then trot. That way he will start to take the relaxed back and more level head set into the passage, because he sees the extended trot as more comfortable as he has already reached the right body posture over there.

So just because you don't have reins of spurs doesn't mean that you have to accept everything the way the horse does it. You do have to accept and reward that indeed in the beginning in order to make him more sure of himself, but after that you can start shaping his behavior by countering it with other exercises, or refining it by combining more exercises together.


Quote:
To be honest- Mr. Nevzorov's horses are tense (physically, as well as I belive that mentally) and lack in relaxed and long stepping behind.


That's not the problem of training horse without bits or reins, that's a problem Nevzorov himself or his specific training system. Because just like the classical circle of aids, when working without any tack you have a circle of the horse: both muscles and mind influence each other directly. If the only break or rest you offer your horse during training consists of wild running and wild games, your horse will be on the one hand more sure that you really do allow him to express himself in collection at the most wild, but on the one hand be mentally tense because every moment he might be asked to leap off again - and that means more muscle tension. There's no real mental break. The same goes for the muscles influencing the mind: horses relax when their head goes down into a grazing-like position, so stretching forward-downward has a very strong mental benefit too. But when, like in NHE, you don't use or stimulate this headset at all and instead only ask for a collect flexing at the poll or wild running at liberty, the muscles can't tell the mind to relax.

That's not 'bad', it's a choice that is made in that system: rather have flashy, heavy collection with an exited, maybe even stressed horse, than a more cool horse performing a calmer, maybe more boring, collection in the same exercises. It's just what you want to get. For me, I love collection and I really think it benefits the horse, but I don't want to loose the mental component out of sight either: the horse should be both physically and mentally relaxed when collecting, otherwise I think it is harmful for him. So our training sessions are less flashy and slower, but that's because I want to keep that circle of body and mind in one piece, instead of breaking it in two and try to reach collection by only working on one half. But the really interesting thing with this is that with the same lack of tools you can already create two totally different ways of collecting horses, with different kinds of collection as result!


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2007 3:23 am 
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Miriam, I greatly appreciate your latest post on this, and want to thank Eda for continuing to ask the niggling questions which have prompted you to make it. I do so love honest and well intentioned questioning, which can lead us all at least to deeper thought, greater introspection, and better understandings of others viewpoints, if not to perfect agreement. :D

As I read your response, I had a deep feeling of peace and understanding, and I do believe that you are on the right track. I like your differentiation between the rider's circle of aids and the horse's circle of muscle,(and skeletal system) and circle of mental, emotional and physical connection.

I also like to imagine that the rider can still employ a circular approach, but it is not so much through the balancing of opposing cues, but through the wholistic, focused and circular mental imagery that we can develop as we are communicating with the horse, through the balanced and integrated blend of our own mind, emotion, and muscular system, rather than through the one dimensional approach of finely executed aids.

I know that this is rather "airy fairy".. and difficult to precisely define, but it is something that I feel very strongly, and sometimes atain with my horses.. despite my lack of knowledge or experience in any form of higher training.

My belief is that the more we can develop an alternative communication system, the less we will need to rely on the physical aids. As you say, the horse doesn't NEED us to frame him into position. He already posseses this ability. He only needs us to find a way to communicate our exact wishes to him. The traditional physical aids provide a simple and workable system for doing this. But they are not the ONLY method of communication. Every one of us will be challenged as we continue this path to develop our own ways of communicating, with individual horses. These "languages" will have some things in common, as we find the same answers, and we share the things that work, but they will also have individual differences, based on our own selves and our horses.. just as we communicate in slightly different ways with different people.

Whether an individual can attain the levels of perfection with their horse that Eda is talking about, without reins, and what that "perfection" will look like, will depend greatly upon the individual, because this style of communication is so much more subtle, more open to individual interpretation, and dependent upon emotional and mental states of human and horse. I think it is impossible to draw much conclusion about it from watching one man interact with his horses. Nevzorov's horses are reacting to Nevzorov's personality, not just to his physical actions. My horses will react to my personality, and Miriam's horses will react to Miriam's personality.
The end results, EVEN IF we were able to reproduce EXACTLY each other's physical actions, would be different. And of course, we DON'T reflect each other exactly.

For me there is no given answer, or model of the perfect training relationship or demonstration of horsemanship to be striven for and held up as the ultimate destination. There is only a multitude of possibilities, the path before me, the knowledge that whereever my destination turns out to be will be a wonderful place (regardless of what it looks like to onlookers), and the deep feeling that the horses require us to move in this direction, away from entrapment and the lack of freedom of spirit that the traditional model creates for the horse.

Perhaps if my main concern was to attain to classically correct dressage or haute ecole, I would spend more time debating with myself whether this could be achieved without the use of the traditional aids and devices. Because the end result, doing it without, is most certainly unknown.. reaching into uncharted territory, guided mainly by inspiration and emotion, rather than by established fact or schooling.

Much safer, if we want a predefined end result, to follow those who've already gone before and shown us a way that provides a picture which mirrors what we want to attain. But if we don't yet see that picture, or if we reject the means to the end, we must make the choice to step into the unknown, and accept the gifts that brings us.

A little philosophising from my early morning brain.. hope that hasn't travelled too far off track from the practical questions that were being discussed here..

Cheers,
Sue


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2007 1:44 pm 
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This has been a wonderful conversation! What better way to start my day than with smiles, nods of agreement and a good cup of coffee!


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 01, 2007 12:54 am 
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Yep, Sue! You said:
Quote:
My belief is that the more we can develop an alternative communication system, the less we will need to rely on the physical aids. As you say, the horse doesn't NEED us to frame him into position. He already posseses this ability. He only needs us to find a way to communicate our exact wishes to him. The traditional physical aids provide a simple and workable system for doing this. But they are not the ONLY method of communication. Every one of us will be challenged as we continue this path to develop our own ways of communicating, with individual horses. These "languages" will have some things in common, as we find the same answers, and we share the things that work, but they will also have individual differences, based on our own selves and our horses.. just as we communicate in slightly different ways with different people.


Just last week my friend filmed Cam so that I could see what our collected canter looked like as well as what was going on with piaffe.

In reviewing the tape, I saw a happy, relaxed horse who was not doing a collected canter at all - he was merely cantering a very small circle - both inhand and ridden. The piaffe (inhand only) still has lots of forward movement and a funny little hindleg kick out that I knew I had accidentally captured as an artifact.

So, during a ground session with the cordeo a couple of days later, I thought about how I would ask Cam for the beginnings of a true collected canter. He is ready for it as he has been practicing exercises and good collection for longer periods for well over a year now. He has become quite strong, well-muscled and balanced.

I visualized what I wanted and asked very softly for a collected canter making sure I had a light-hearted attitude. Cam immediately launched into three gorgeous strides of what I would call a "school canter" as seen on the NHE principles DVD. I stopped quickly and rewarded him for the wonderful and successful effort. Then asked on the other side with the same excellent result. Then I rewarded and we had a wild session of fetch the toy.

What was amazing to me was how little it took to achieve what I had visualized. I think this is an example of the building communication and understanding we achieve when we interact so intimately with our horses. It also helps to have such a brilliant over-achiever intent on pleasing me like Cam! :lol:

As for piaffe, on the ground I have to watch out for that occasional funny little kick, but Cam certainly indicates a developing understanding of what I'm looking for.

Some of my friends take lessons from a dressage instructor and they want me to show the instructor what I have been doing without a bit or spurs. I am reluctant to do this because that instructor has a very firm idea in her mind (based on much formal education and training with "masters") as to what she feels is the "correct" form. I don't want to get in an argument about this, because I feel Cam is offering the "correct form" for his degree of education and development at this time. This instructor feels that a horse can never be truly balanced or collected without a bit and without the rider telling him exactly what position to maintain.

Cam's movements are exquisite and natural and he offers them in an energetic but relaxed manner. To me, it has never been better than this. Of course we will continue to develop and refine and build on the various movements, but I am very protective of his efforts and don't want to subject him to a trainer's critique. A trainer who is already quite miffed by the bridleless aspect and why anyone would choose that as a valid method of working with a horse. :!:

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 11, 2007 8:01 pm 
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Wow, Great thread!



First of all, the circle of the aids... We sit in the middle of the horse, yet we create energy behind- how do we (any dressage rider, bit or not) create energy in the hind legs if we don't touch the hind legs? Obviously it can be done- so why would we need to touch the head in order to recycle that energy???

I think what many of us are looking for is a new list of aids. We used to hear that inside leg and rein created bend and the outside leg and rein controlled that bend. Well, now we are down to just leg, and squeezing with one or both legs is not likely to produce bend. Bending our own rib cage, and sitting slightly to the inside, is something that can really help shape the horse(at least that is what I do). We need to discuss the aids in our own torso because the leg simply cannot and should not take over for the action of the hand. This is for a different thread, obviously, but I bring it up becuase people come here wanting to know if reinless (or even just bitless) dressage is even possible, and we say yes it is. Well that is an ideal, but what people really need is the building blocks to get there and you may be able to teach your horse an entire Grand Prix test at liberty, but that doesn't mean that you as a rider would have a clue as to how to ask for a balanced circle from his back.

I too have struggled with the same things Eda talks of, but I am at a spot now where my questioning is a little different...
I know bridle-less dressage is possible, but I have yet to hear of anyone who is a beginner rider and starts their own horse who is otherwise untrained and does bitless (none-the-less reinless)dressage. The reinless dressage I do is because I have ridden with reins- with a bit even. I believe Alexander along with some people on this forum, have trained pretty impressive dressage reinless, but they had previous training with a bit with traditional dressage trainers. Of course, bitless training is young and there is time for this to change, but if someone wants to ride their horse in collection so as not to injure it, they must have a good seat first. How do they ask for collection without a good seat, and how do they get a good seat if they don't ride because they refuse to ride a horse not in collection, which they don't yet know how to ask for??????? All the ground work in the world will not help this.

Our veiws are from the top down- in a perfect, already knowledgable person it can be done. But how does one go about it from the bottom up? Either they injure horses on their journey of learning, or they quit the journey as to not injure the horse.

This is where I struggle with AND. Hopefully someday I'll have a string of lesson horses that will help riders learn to sit to natural collection, but for now i need to continue learning it myself- which doesn't always resemble the ideal.

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Last edited by danee on Sat Aug 11, 2007 8:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 11, 2007 8:16 pm 
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danee wrote:
if someone wants to ride their horse in collection so as not to injure it, they must have a good seat first. How do they ask for collection without a good seat, and how do they get a good seat if they don't ride because they refuse to ride a horse not in collection, which they don't yet know how to ask for??????? All the ground work in the world will not help this.



In Classical Dressage it is normal to teach unexperienced riders on experienced horses and vise versa.

I have only ridden my unexperienced (unridden) horse when a teacher was present for months. And still we are not even trotting, although I've been riding for 20 years already. I don't think a horse will be really hurt by riding uncollected a few times, only when its structural. A good seat teachter has to be able to learn you a good seat without hurting your horse. It's a pity its not permitted to have a seat teacher (which are mostly Classical schooled)present while riding according to NHE.


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PostPosted: Sat Aug 11, 2007 8:27 pm 
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You are lucky to have a classical teacher... here I have only dressage competitors. Some old and very respected, some have even been to Vienna and have seen classical riders, but they are still dressage - and this is very visible in the competitions, unfortunately :( if you don't have any opportunity to learn from a good teacher, you can at least ask someone to take pictures or short video of you and then analyze it yourself. Or, you can go to a clinic to learn riding - fortunately this is already available in Poland :)


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PostPosted: Sat Aug 11, 2007 10:20 pm 
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The only way I can think of is to go to Heather Moffett's and do an Equisimulator course to truely learn a good seat. It is possible to learn the seat aids on the machines aswell. I had another go at the conference that was on their and just from using the machines and being pointed out things to do with my seat and correcting them and learning feel and timmings correctly greatly improved my seat.

So for anyone be a beginner, it is the best start to riding you ever could have or those of us who have been riding for years the course is worth the money.

Oh it is the fastest and simplest way to learn a good seat going on Heather's Equisim, why I say Heather's when they are others out there cos I believe she is the only one who teaches us and her teachers how to use our seat correctly and quietly and simply so all can understand. We then have the basics to add to for when we ride reinless. :D


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PostPosted: Sat Aug 11, 2007 11:01 pm 
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Cheryl wrote:

Quote:
Cam's movements are exquisite and natural and he offers them in an energetic but relaxed manner. To me, it has never been better than this. Of course we will continue to develop and refine and build on the various movements, but I am very protective of his efforts and don't want to subject him to a trainer's critique. A trainer who is already quite miffed by the bridleless aspect and why anyone would choose that as a valid method of working with a horse.


I wouldn't make it a point to show an instructor what my horse is doing, at the request of a third party. If the instructor sees you, some day, by chance, the perhaps it is fate, but I don't suject what I do to any criticism either. I don't want to have to explain why I'm doing something or worse, HOW (cause half the time I can't explain that right), and I don't need to hear some snob possibly say, "what the point?". Because they will not SEE the point, regardless how I would try to explain it.

I have only shown my progress to an instructor (Paul Dufresne) who fully understands the concept of "just having fun with my horse".

And honestly, even if you wowed the instructor, what would it change? Anyone who wishes to compete in dressage must use a bit...the FEI has decreed it so. No bitless bridles in a competition.


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 12, 2007 1:49 am 
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Quote:
Anyone who wishes to compete in dressage must use a bit...the FEI has decreed it so. No bitless bridles in a competition.


Well when we all get the knack of it just flowing riding bridleless then why not for fun and to show what is capable of when you work in harmony with your horse that we could do this?

If I ever get round to doing a dressage comp I will certainly do it bitless, and I will only do it for fun not to see where we come as such as that is not what concerns me, also I would be doing it to show others what is possible without the bit. :wink:

But that is when madam and me are working in harmony and she listens to me when we are out somewhere different, there will be a time and she will let me know. :D

We all could set up our own one over the internet as their is dressage that is done like that you get your test sheet and someone videos your test and then you get marked and placed against the others. What I dislike about dressage and other sports is the need for a quick fix or result. Critique is good I welcome it as I would not be able to learn where I am going wrong, mind you I am my own worst at times, well perfectionist, but I have taken a step back, but by my perfection it is working in harmony with my horse so we flow together. :D

So learning to listen more to my gal and reconsing what she is saying to me some is clear and other is not so but am getting better.


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 12, 2007 8:23 pm 
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Interesting views and discussion.

I was thinking about Heather and her simulator too :)

Also one thing: regardless weather one rides with bit, with BB or bridleless... when riding frequently each week, most of us will damage our horse.

I think we can do indeed a lot of body work without a horse: tai chi, fencing, alexander, pilates etc.
Next we can study and meditate.

Then, once a week on a school horse (just for the seat) or simulator even should be enough.
Within AND there will never be much riding anyway.
It is all about the horse being balanced and ourselves being balanced.

It is not so much about riding anymore, it is about both horse and human on a path to physical and mental 'greatness', being all that you can be.

Huomo and equus universalis so to speak.

Don't think, feel :)

See what I mean?

So, a long day work... I am going in to my pyjamas and crash on the cautch with the cats :)

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 13, 2007 4:34 pm 
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I think riding can be beneficial to both horse and human. I would like to think this anyway. I am not saying that a horse NEEDS to be ridden. They obviously are not born with a human on their back.

But if one has the relationship with the horse...the mutual trust, the open communication, and if the person has done everything they can to strengthen the horse both mentally and physically, then the horse can most certainly teach the person how to ride!

Cisco is just such a teacher. He is so clear in his "yes" and his "no".

I never push him past a no. A no from him does not mean "I don't feel like doing this today". It means he is NOT able to do something - whether it's because I am not in correct balance, or if he is physically not able regardless of my balance.

If one listens to the horse, the horse will talk. I don't think you need a simulator (although I DO think that would be SO COOL to have access to one).

We do not have to be perfect. A strong horse (mentally and physically) can easily compensate for a little imbalance from a rider. They are powerful beings. But I do think they have to know we are trying to be as good as they are. They can see and reward a "try" in us, as well as we reward a "try" in them.

I do think it comes together in the end.


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 19, 2007 11:06 pm 
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If anybody would like to read a short text about reins in riding according to Karen Rohlf it's to be found in her last newsletter: http://www.dressagenaturally.net/newsle ... letter.pdf


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