Josepha's Ridingsystem of the Natural Academic Riding Art
After several clinics in South Africa Glen and Kerstin asked me to work out my 5 step plan which I teach most international clinics.
I came to the 5 step plan as I see again and again the same questions as to how to ride dressage and achieve collection (without bit or bridle).
I am writing a book about this but it will take time for it is finished so.. here is a glimpse of what I am working on (and this will also be in a DVD).
First I shall explain how I got to the 5 step plan which I have found very successful with myself and all my students.
Now, after going from English dressage, to classical dressage to academic dressage to AND in the last 20 years I have now come to the mix of AND and Academic Riding, which is actually just AND under saddle.
So, to my view, when we ride, we should simply follow the old masters such as De Pluvinel, Xenophon and La GuÃ©riniÃ¨re, but without bits & spurs.
For we are not training a war horse, but we are training for a healthy and happy horse, are we not?
Studying and training the academic riding art for a long time I have come to a sort of home & garden Academic training program which I thus teach in my clinics and might be helpful for some here.
I call this way of training "Natural Academic Riding Art"
Now, again, when you want to start riding I suggest that you go to the groundwork section and start first with the exercises you'll find over there.
You'll then start with the gymnastisation needed for more strength en flexibility, needed for your horse to carry your weight with the least change to damaging his body.
Next, when you start riding, it works in the very same way as the AND groundwork. When you get on and use a soft bitless bridle (my personal favourite is a bridle fashioned after the Vienna Cavesson) or a cordeo, or both of the together in a safe secluded area, you just keep you balance by trying not to be there. That means keep your own balance and use your stirrups not to press all your weight down on the back, which can then rise up when the horses tilts his pelvis.
Tilt your own pelvis in order to be able to have the largest range of movement in your seat and make sure you maintain breathing and keep your breath going from your lower belly. This way you and your horse are both calm and relaxed and you both can move easy and at best.
I know, this is al not easy without the proper help, but it gets a whole lot more easy when you do not have to worry where your horse's head or your hands are The key to natural or real collection is the horse's initiative!
Now, let your horse tell you what he wants to do and work with that for maximum result and reward in the same way as you would with groundwork: just reward every attempt towards initiative in (healthy) dressage.
Now, why you are striving towards dressage has a reason. You want your horse to move in the same way as he would without you on top (I call that "horizontal balance"). For it is that precise movement, without balance, crooked and on the forehand that injures a horse over time.
So, by doing the exercises the old masters taught us, you will help your horse gaining the strength and flexibility to regain the same balance and horizontal balance he had without his rider.
I personally believe that when you ride AND style (meaning your horse dictates the training) and you reach horizontal balance, your horse shall not be really harmed if your ride up to 3 times a week for half an hour in general. More riding needs more preparation I suspect. Just listen to your horse and watch his every movement all the time to make sure he is doing fine.
Edit: Andreja asked me to write an article for her new Natural Horse magazine in Slovenia.
I thought it might as well be about the 5 step plan.
The first article about why I think bits & spurs today should play no role in gymnastisaton you can find here:Tradition unravelled
The Slovenian translation from the magazine here:Slovenian Natural Horse Magazine
The second article about step 1:The 5 step plan towards horizontal balance and natural collection.
Last time we discussed how bits & spurs came to be a part of general horse training and why they do not need a place in healthy horse training today.
In this second part of this article range, I shall present to you a 5 step plan, which I extracted from the old masters teachings and can be used as a sort of "home and garden route to natural collection and high school movement".Step 1 Stretching and relaxing
What will be following next is a careful plan of building muscle strength, flexibility and duration needed for your horse to gain horizontal balance and from there reach natural collection under his rider. However, you shall not get anywhere if step 1 is not practised first and from now on after each exercise.
Before we go to the exercises, first some basic knowledge about muscle gain and how that works.
The stretching makes sure your horse will loosen up his muscles after contracting them. This will prevent stiffness and soreness for one, but also will make sure that your horse is able to keep building muscle tissue with enough flexible quality.
As an ex fitness instructor I know how important it is to stretch a muscle after a concentric contraction, which means the muscle shortens under the strain and resistance, as for example in an upward curl with a dumbbell or on the inside of a horse during a correct circle or shoulder in. After a certain amount of exercising a muscle, small tears in the muscle fibre will appear. This is what will cause muscle soreness within 24 to 48 hours. It was believed for a long time that lactic acid was the cause of muscle soreness, but exercise physiologists no longer believe that this is the case as lactic acid is not present anymore in the muscles 30 to 60 minutes after the training. It does present you with a burning sensation in your muscles during training though.
The little tears though which present itself in the muscle tissue, cause the muscles to swell and cause stiffness first (pump) and later soreness or pain.
Again the beauty of nature is shown here, for because of the pain, we tend to let the sore muscles rest all though we soon feel it lessens the pain if we just move about very slowly.
And that is exactly what the muscle needs to recover at it's best, rest and slow movement in turn until the soreness has gone. But that is not all. When the right nutrition is presented in the body (for horses that would be 24 hour supply of hay or grass suitable for horses), the muscles not only heal, they will become ticker and therefore stronger then before. This is actually what muscle growth is all about.
So in short, we destroy our muscle a little bit and then give it the chance to heal by rest and proper nutrition.
Now with humans this is already a complex thing. When we train ourselves, in order not to get injured, it is of the outmost importance that we get to know and listen to our bodies. Our bodies tell us when it is time to start training a certain muscle group again. To soon, and we get injured, to late and we need to start all over again.
When we therefore train someone else it is vital that we overview how our trainee feels. We need to know exactly what our trainee is experiencing, when and where in his or her body, to maintain muscle growth and prevent injury.
The line between injury and muscle gain is as thin as a knife.
With horses, this works absolutely the same way. So, if we ask training of our horse, and if we want him to gain muscle and above all, not get injured, we need to go about it the same way as we would in training a human.
But how, how to ask the horse how he is feeling? How to know if we can retrain a certain muscle group?
Simple, by asking the horse what he wants to do today, or better even, to see what he does not want to do today. If a horse does not want to do a certain exercise, which he did easily and gladly before, there is your vital information, that this particular muscle group is not ready to be trained yet. Especially if the horse had a workout 24 to 48 hours ago. For a horse as intelligent mammal experiences muscle ache the same way humans do. A horse would want to walk about slowly but not strain him self. (Therefore it makes a lot of sense to not keep him in a stall but outside in a paddock as much as possible.)
Now this puts me back to leaving the bits and spurs out of the training. Because when a rider does not use them, it is much easier for the horse to say â€œnoâ€ to a request of the rider. Which again, is the vital information a trainer needs from his trainee.
Second, bits and spurs can easily produce discomfort and pain, which then produces adrenaline in the horse. When adrenaline kicks in, even if it is only a small amount, hardly noticed by most humans, the horse shall no longer feel his muscles ache.
The result is that the muscles that need rest are worked again. Instead of muscle gain, the muscle will tear again before the tissue was restored. In 48 hours, the horse will be more sore still, and the change of injury will have increased severely. Simultaneously, the gain of muscle strength and flexibility will have decreased to a slim chance.
Nuno Oliveira says about it:â€œA horse will never tire of a rider who possesses both tact and sensitivity because he will never be pushed beyond his possibilities.â€
Nuno di Oliveira â€“ Reflections on Equestrian Art
Now back to the stretching. How does a horse stretch, simple, he stretches forward downward, therefore lifting his back and stretching his upper line. Mostly riders are trained to ask to horse to move forward and downward into the rein, be it with bit or bitless bridle, and this is indeed a possibility. But it will only work of the rider knows the timing and how to do this. A second possibility is to either ride with a cordeo only or completely let go of the reins after each exercise. It proves that horses naturally want to stretch forward downwards after they have contracted their muscles.
If the horse therefore stretches after each exercise, let him, or maybe even reward him. The stretching can be done in walk, trot or even canter. Because of this exercise being all about the horse not getting injured, let him decide in what gait he needs to stretch. Just make sure that if you are not sure about the rein aids, simply don't use them, and as soon as the horse stretches (and every healthy, relaxed horse will) reward him with your voice, so he knows he is allowed.
If horses refuse to stretch after an exercise something is the matter. I suggest you have your saddle checked, and maybe call in a specialist to check your horses back. A second possibility is that there is nothing wrong with your horse's body but that he fears stretching. The reason could be that the horse has experience pain from the bit in the past because he was never allowed to stretch before, or the (former) rider did not know how to and was to late with his hands. With these horses, removing the bridle is a fast cure to the problem.
Again a beautiful natural help for us riders. Giving the horse a certain freedom provides us with the information to know in what state he is and how to continue his training.
The next important thing is the fact that if the horse is allowed to stretch down in all 3 gaits, it helps the horse to find the natural balance he looses when a rider takes place on a horse's back. But again, here it is important that a rider does not interfere with the horse's key balance ingredient; his head. So, if you are not completely sure about your rein aids and it seems the flow is lost in the movement, again simply let go of the reins or ride with the cordeo only during this exercise and just try to feel how you best move and sit to not interfere with your horse's movement and stretching.
When your horse comes back up again, he is ready for a new exercise.
It is not hard to imagine what a great source of communication the stretching exercise can be between horse and rider. It makes the horse a large part of his own training program, just as it would a human trainee with his fitness trainer. And communication about the state the trained body is in, is the fastest route to success.Edith:
Ramener is as much a stretch exercise as it is a muscle building exercise. But as it is a very easy exercise to start with and a "feel good action" for most horses, I place it under step 1.
With Ramener the horse pulls on the overall Nuchal Ligament (F which goes from poll till tail) but engages the upper neck muscles (A,B,C and D).
With engaging this, the name of the muscles say it already, the head gets carried and the poll relaxes. Therefore Ramener is also referred to as relaxing the poll. Now many seem to think, that ramener is the same as rassembler (collection) but it is not. There is a form of Ramener during Rassembler, but there can be Ramener without Rassembler.
Pulling the head down will therefore not lead to collection. Even more so, it will prevent collection. Ergo, when the head gets pulled, the head and neck can no longer function as instrument of balance which will make the horse obviously loose balance which will result into falling onto the forehand. To prevent the horse from tipping over or falling on his nose E will go into effect to keep the horse from falling over. Often horses will start moving faster and faster for they feel like running down a mountain and to keep on their feet, they feel like running or else they will fall.
Horses ridden on the forehand because of pulled in heads have a poor upper neck line (hollow) and a bulging under neck (E) for that very reason.
A logic result of the former is that ramener will only work if the horse himself engages his upper neck muscles. When this does happen while pulling the reins it must be a lucky accident, but I've never witnessed it (Instead biomechanically the opposite happens!). It would only work with reins, if one knows how to use slight pressure and release with bit and/or reins the way for instance monsieur Karl explains. But why go through all the trouble when horses are happy to do it themselves and often even much more engaged by a sheer finger movement? The other thing is that horses never ramener when there is no rein or bit insight as it never really was their idea to do it in the first place, was it?
Ramener is very easy to teach, see the Groundwork section in which Miriam explains. I basically tought Owen by rewarding it while he did it himself because I was feeding his ego. You can also tickle the chin and when the horse pulls in, you reward and put an other cue in place later on.
The reason for ramemer is to have the horse repeatedly engage his upper neck muscles which will make them develop and grow (just like human doing sit ups or biceps curls to enlarge the muscles). The larger the upper neck muscles get the more automatic they will start to behave dominantly in the process of movement (standing still is also movement by the way; in the form of balancing), and that is obviously desirable as these muscles play an important part in healthy movement and of course balance and later on collection.
Having said that, I teach ramener only as a STAND ALONE exercise (in the beginning). I never teach it as a "keep your head this way during movement" exercise. The reason is that even though the horse is not forced to keep his head this way, he can still out of weakness start using the wrong muscles (E) because the rest of his body does not yet have the shape to support the true ramener. If it would, the ramener would then occur by itself, as the ramener in movement is a result of the tilting of the pelvis. This is also why reins have only a very slight part in collection if any at all, which rules out the believe that one needs bits for collection which I truly find ridiculous.
However, sometimes while working in the transitions later on, while going from halt to trot for instance asking the ramener before the trot can be of benefit. Many roads lead to Rome, it all depends again on the horse and the situation with when to practise ramener, just as with all other exercises. Asking ramener as a sole exercise during halt can never harm and it is much fun for horse and his human!
__________ Next article shall be about step 2 which I shall be placing here also then.2. Circles
Circles are the next step towards horizontal balance and straightness. But, it will only work when the circles are done correct. This means pulling the inside rein will only cause to make your horse loose balance (the balance instrument is in the head with all mammals, so interfering with the head produces loosing balance, so how logical are reins in allâ€¦?). The horse will then go on to the forehand and drag himself around the circle on the inside shoulder which will injure him ultimately.
Correct circles are difficult they say, nonsense! Just use your body by turning your hips into the direction you want to go and leaving the head alone. Imagine you have a stick on your belly and point that into the direction you want to go.
Your outside leg will fall in to place (behind the girth) and so will your inside leg (on the girth). It is a logical choice for the horse the bend his body and put his inside leg more underneath his body, to regain more balance when you move your body that way and voila: a correct circle.
When using the cordeo, you can choose to use the cordeo like you would reins during neck reining.
If you have a horse that is used to turn on the inside shoulder and is very crooked, keep contact with the outside rein to make the weight on the outside shoulder somewhat more heavy and thus relieve the inside shoulder. Open your inside rein, keep it loose and do not use it to bend the head!
Ask the bend with your inside leg. If it does not work, wait!
Your horse simply can not make the bend your asking. Using the inside rein will only cause the horse to lean into the inside shoulder again.
Your horse needs time to straighten up. Do groundwork (the stepping under).
When your horse wants to go straight or change hands, let him, he knows his own body best.
Now, in the correct circle, the inside of the horse will use the same muscles which he would use to collect, the outside of the horse stretches. It is like a biceps curl and when you exercise regularly but correct (no inside rein!), your horse will find horizontal balance and later own collection underneath you.addition: If it is impossible for your horse to stay of his inside shoulder for a whole circle, then just ride serpentines and figures 8 for now, changes direction the moment your horse starts to lean on one shoulder.
When starting with the laterals, you will see that the circles will improve for reasons explained in the next step.
3. Lateral work
Within the lateral work the horse even reaches further underneath with his hind leg. During shoulder in the inside leg steps completely under the body towards the point of gravity and during Haunches in (Travers) and Haunches out (Renvers) the outside hind leg steps under.
This is so the muscles around the inside our outside hind leg develop thus that they will automatically take over the work and allow the horse to carry his body weight and later that of his rider with his haunches and abdominal muscles.
It always depends on what your horse offers first but it is usually best to start with yielding in order for your horse to understand the concept of laterals.
After the yielding start with shoulder for and shoulder in either with the reins (I prefer the De Pluvinel cavesson) or the cordeo.
It is important that your legs hang long when you ask your horse to go forward.
When you ask any lateral movement, put your leg a little further back. This way your horse can distinguish clearly between forward and sideways.
Keep your hips level to the hips of your horse and you shoulders level to the shoulders of your horse.
In short the aids would look like this:
- A little bend in your body as if to go on the circle (as described in step 2)
- Inside leg a little back giving the aid saying, please move away from my leg
- Outside rein or lifted cordeo asks; please do not turn but stay on track
- Optionel: Inside rein and/or cordeo moving to the inside asks bent but RELEASES as soon as the horse bends (Descent de main)
- keep hips level with the hips of the horse
- outside rein or lifted cordeo asks: please stay on the track
- outside leg moves back
- Inside shoulder moves back
- inside leg stays long
- keep hips level with the hips of the horse
- Inside rein or lifted cordeo asks: please stay on the track
- Inside leg moves back
- Outside shoulder moves back
- Outside leg stays long
The shoulder in is different from the yielding and the placing if the haunches as now you do not want the whole horse to move lateral. You want the middle and hind hand of the horse to move straight and only the shoulders to turn in.
- keep hips level with the hips of the horse
- outside rein or lifted cordeo asks: please stay on the track
- outside leg moves a tiny little back
- Inside shoulder moves back
- inside leg stays long
In the drawing we see a shoulder in on 3 tracks, developed from shoulder for.
When the horse gets stronger and more flexible you can move up to the shoulder in on 4 tracks:
La GuÃ©riniÃ¨re called Shoulder in the mother of all exercises and with good reason. Within the shoulder in the horses works hard on his balance, his ability to collect (inside), his general strength, his flexibility and his overall tact, mobility and body awareness. It improves all the other exercises without doubt and the horse will experience more shoulder freedom very soon.
Also it really sets the aids and understanding between you both. Lightness is an absolute must for shoulder in, or else you will never get it, it will only be some sort of yield. The horse needs absolute freedom of movement to perform shoulder in, however natural, still difficult.
Make sure you only ask with the (inside or outside) leg with which you move the horse away from your leg.
Ask the moment the hind leg is lifting from the ground: that is the only moment your leg aids will actually be an aid as you will act on the natural reflex of the horse to move that leg further underneath the body because you give a tiny squeeze on the abdominal of that side.
When do you know if the hind leg is lifting? You feel it when the abdominal is retracting from your leg. On the other side, the horse's "barrel" will swing towards your leg.
When the belly moves away from your leg, that is the moment to give your leg aid.
Descente de main et des jambes
Always remember to relax your aids after you give an aids. It does not matter if your horse gives the answer you'd hope for or not. If you did not get the respond you'd hope for, simply ask again. Please do not increase your "pressure", for you that will surely kill the lightness in your aids necessary to develop to a higher level within the movement and exercises.
It is vital that your are not "working hard" but simply only move those body parts that are necessary for the various exercises and engage the muscles that go with moving those body parts with the least amount of effort.
It is of vital importance that you allow the horse his movement of head and nexk at all times. Without that he can not use his instrument of balance and the horse will fall onto the forehand immediately. Therefore descente de main et des jambes is so important.
The basic gymnasium
Try this all from the ground either in freedom, with cordeo or with De pluvinel cavesson in walk, the under the saddle. If you have someone that can help you, one can ask the horse the laterals like during groundwork while one rides and give the lightest possible aids until the helper on the ground is not necessary anymore. No helper? Then just be even more patient. Ask one stride and reward even the tiniest attempt! Build it out from there and remember to ALWAYS relax your aids no matter what reaction you get from your horse. No response is also an important response, keep that in mind. You need to adjust (and ask again with the same softness), not your horse.
First of course try all the laterals from walk. Only when you get a lot of fluidity and at least 5 to 10 strides with ease can you start asking in trot and when trot goes smooth then canter. All the rest stays the same.
You can either see it as two separate exercises: lateral in walk and lateral in trot.
But a great result shall come from asking the horse to start trotting while in lateral walk. Remember, one stride or even the attempt to trot should be rewarded enormously. All the time you take now will come back to you and your horse times 100.
More in transitions with step 4.
What you will notice after a few weeks is that your horse will start moving more from behind, because he is developing the muscles on both sides of his body for collection (Rasembler); haunches, abdominals, back, neck.
Because you work both sides evenly the horse will become more straight, of vital importance to be able to carry himself and his rider correct and without ultimate harm.
You will notice that the transitions will become smoother and better and as a result you will see that the horse will start to lift the withers and back with which the base of the neck will bulge and the poll will relax (Ramener). Te rising of the withers results in more shoulder freedom and therefore in a lighter fore hand.
5. Muscle building (Canter).
I shall work out the rest of the step next time, if there are people interested.Edith 16-11-2010; worked like crazy to get the next step finished (3 laterals). Might be still full of mistakes but will go over that later. I've also called it Josepha's system, because it is just my uptake, not an absolute truth but I can't keep saying 'in my view, my experience' etc. the text is long enough as it is!Edith 17-11-2010 put in Ramener under step 1
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