The Art of Natural Dressage

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 23, 2009 3:46 pm 
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Today, during our ride, when moving from shoulder-in left to shoulder-in right at walk, Jackson maintained his flexion for about three steps. It is the first time this has ever happened. I ride using a sidepull and loose reins - almost a mix of english and western style - he is never pulled into a move, I cue shoulder-in with weight shifts and by lifting a rein.

My question is: should I accept and reinforce this? I can't see from my position up top whether he is stepping under behind, or whether he is overflexed, and I worry that I would be reinforcing something that is not good for him nor what I was hoping to achieve :smile:

To give a little background - Jackson was 4 and recently backed in Ireland when he came two years ago. Since then, only I have ridden him, and it has been all either bitless or bridleless. I started following the suggestions in Alex Kurland's Riding with the Clicker, but felt there was too much -R and so just worked more at liberty. He has been able to walk and trot in shoulder-in at liberty for almost two years now, and has been able to walk in shoulder-in and leg yield ridden for about a year. In the last few days, he has been offering shoulder-in at trot. He will "ramener" at halt at liberty on a cue from me (I suck my tummy in ;) ) and has taken one or two steps holding it. We work for about 1/2 hour every morning, with about 10 minutes of that ridden.

I have never ridden a horse in collection and hoped that Jackson and me would learn together - but now I find it would be helpful if I could recognise that what he's offering is the right thing :smile:

Any advice at all would be welcome - please keep it simple for me, though! I am Irish and Ireland has yet to produce a dressage star - this is no coincidence if you learned to ride there - we can produce beautiful horses but we are a bit rough and ready when it comes to riding them ;)


Last edited by Copperbay on Fri Sep 04, 2009 4:03 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 23, 2009 4:38 pm 
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The exercises themselves are the key to healthy self carriage under the rider and thus collection.
I would not worry so much about what the head or neck does, seeing as you allow him to use it as balancing instrument.

And that is probably what he is doing, searching for the proper balance and horisontal balance. If free, the head position is a result from the body (Pelvis, abdominals...).

If possible ask someone to film you from the side, to ease your mind.
But personally, I am not worried with this information :)

Sounds to me you 2 are doing excellent. 8)

Thus I mean, do not reinforce it, just keep the attention to your seat and body and to the way his body feels.
Collection by the way, feels like you have more horse in front of you then behind you) :)

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 23, 2009 8:36 pm 
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What I do is a little different than some...and that is I consider several aspects of a lateral move as separate, rewardable components and will reward them individually here and there, a little randomly. I have said from the outset that I tend to train both ends of the horse and work toward the middle :D

Josepha is a wonderful teacher and what she says is true...if you reward only for one thing, concentrate on the hind end for now. It is very helpful to have someone watching and let you know how well he is stepping under if you can't feel it for yourself.

I can feel some things better than others! For instance, I am terrible at judging how far my horse is stepping under behind. I can tell when he's stepping under of course, but not the quality of it exactly. So if I have no help, I will reward for fluidity (if it feels smooth and effortless) and really, the horse's state of mind...which is rather funny because he is always in a good frame of mind if I do my part correctly...so he gets the reward when I do it right :-). It's only fair...he puts up with me when I don't get it right!

Another thing I can see/feel more easily is whether or not he is using his inside shoulder properly, and not dropping it. If the shoulder is lifting, it is more likely he is also lifting from the base of the neck (someone correct me quickly if I'm mistaken here!) and it seems that a natural result of this is a nice arching of the neck....and a natural prerequisite is a proper bend. So if he's using his inside shoulder properly (which I can see/feel) then I know that several other things are also going correctly. Reward!

But in groundwork, you can of course see it all happening - so you don't really need a spotter to watch you - then you can work on the ground, reward often for good hind end usage. Then you get on, try it in the saddle and then get off and do it on the ground again. If your balance is ok in the saddle, it's likely he's also doing it quite well then too. So don't be afraid to reward if it happens to just feel good.

But back to my "both ends toward the middle" philosophy....

I will concentrate on, and reward for, correct front end usage in some cases when that has been a difficult thing for the horse to achieve for some reason (which may include isolating and rewarding only for ramener in movement - especially when bridleless!). In Tam's case, he tends to overflex, so I reward him for a more moderate flexing/bending when I see it happen (both on the ground and in riding).

So what components might I isolate and reward independently?

I would love it if everyone would add to this list, because I might miss something good!

1) Stepping under
2) Lifting the inside shoulder
3) Quality of the bend
4) Ramener
5) Emotional control (which is more up to me than the horse...it's my responsibility to keep my request clear, understandable and not to ask more than the horse can do...and he will stay calm and relaxed in return...but he can still be rewarded for it!!)
6) I will even reward if I see the abdominal muscles contracting...because that tells that the horse is really lifting into the movement and not just moving sideways.

The horse will tend to know what I'm rewarding for if I a) focus on that part of his body and b) through consistency (they will tend to sort out what body part is being rewarded).

I will reward for any tiny attempt to do things correctly in a way that is healthy for the horse and within his ability at the time. So I will not wait for a full, correct movement. I will reward for any attempt the horse makes in the movement while he's learning.

Eventually, by rewarding for all these independent parts, and also by NOT rewarding occasionally, the horse begins to combine the elements and in essence, begins to form "sentences" out of all the single "words" he's learning. And getting loads of rewards in the process!

I hope that helps! Can others add to this please? Or correct if I've said anything inaccurate (which I am known to do!!!). :yes:

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 23, 2009 9:03 pm 

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A good discussion. One thing I found very helpful when doing lateral work was to do it on a beach with firm slightly damp sand. I would integrate movements at the walk whilst on a trail or do a session on the beach. I could then see where the footfalls were and whether my bends were correct. I am coming to believe that it is not as much about teaching the horse the correct movement (although it takes time for them to figure it out trying to balance with our weight) but more about us learning not to inhibit the horse from moving feely under us and when we get that right the horse is able to biuld the correct muscles and carry us longer in a collected frame.
I think you feel when the horse has moments of collection as he starts to move lightly and freely and comes up under the saddle to meet and carry you.
I think the best would be to video as Josepha suggested and then the others can pehaps offer suggestions. I know I would learn something from that.
It is hard to explain the "feelings" part of riding, but I guess that's why we want to ride these beautiful animals!
Jackson sounds amazing.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 23, 2009 9:10 pm 
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I don't have a beach to ride on....(Imagine here a smiley that is crying loudly with many tears!!!!)

I'm soOO jealous!

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 23, 2009 9:19 pm 

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It's not all it's cracked up to be, it can be a scary open place where a horse can get eaten by boogey boards, dogs and umbrellas!!!!!
Do you know someone with a sand arena?????

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 24, 2009 6:28 pm 
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Thank you everybody, this has been really helpful :)

First, my friend has pointed out that my post was confusing :) We do not ride in an arena, all the schooling is done on laneways and narrow paths, so I suppose what I am really doing is switching from shoulder-in to shoulder-out (is that correct? :smile: - so for one, horse is walking as if he's about to start a left hand circle but moving forward. Then I ask him to swap sides so that he is walking as though about to start a right hand circle but while moving forwards.) It is the steps in between switching the bend when he maintained his flexion.

Josepha, yes - I have always tried to let him find his own balance, although I worried a little at the start that I would have a western pleasure horse who only ever moved with his nose on the ground :smile: Fortunately, this hasn't been the case!

Morgan, I have done something similar to your beach ride last year when we had snow, and from going back over the prints, he does a correct 3-track shoulder-in in terms of foot placement. So he is stepping under from behind well, as far as I can see?

But - yes,as Karen says - to balance, he does often stretch forward with his neck rather than lifting through the base of the neck. I try only to reward (click) the tries when he lifts :smile: This is both on the ground and ridden. I do click a variety of things, more so on the ground because I can see and select :smile: and hope that in time, they will all come together.

Am I right in guessing that if he had been stepping under in shoulder-in, he should have maintained this for a few steps as he went straight? I do hope so! I will try to persuade my not-interested in horses boyfriend to come along with the camera over the next few weeks :smile: It is only that I am worried about specifically rewarding a movement that puts him on the forehand, even if it seems correct when I am sitting on top :blush:

We are doing really well - today at the end of our little lane, he stepped out into the road for the first time in nearly a year - he has been really worried about the road and we have been slowly working to make it less frightening by leaving strategically placed buckets with apples along our route. The strategy seems to be working, because today he ate his last apple and then walked on past the bucket to take me on a longer ride :smile: It makes me very happy, because it confirms that allowing him to decide when he's ready works - it is hard to explain to friends because they all believe horses naturally avoid work and if I leave him to his own devices he will do nothing. But it's not true :D

Ka


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 24, 2009 6:45 pm 
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Quote:
Then I ask him to swap sides so that he is walking as though about to start a right hand circle but while moving forwards.) It is the steps in between switching the bend when he maintained his flexion.


:applause: :applause: :applause: This was a magic moment for Cisco and I too...changing bends. His only problem though is ME...and my clumsy aids.

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It is only that I am worried about specifically rewarding a movement that puts him on the forehand, even if it seems correct when I am sitting on top


We have to reward the ATTEMPT, even if it is not yet fully correct, so they will attempt it again. We shape it gradually. If we wait until it is correct, we could be waiting a long time to give that poor horse a cookie (or a rub or a scratch, etc). If you reward even the attempts that are very far from correct, then they horse will try more, try harder, and the willingness to find the correct thing with you simply magnifies wonderfully.

Quote:
he has been really worried about the road and we have been slowly working to make it less frightening by leaving strategically placed buckets with apples along our route


:yeah: :cheer: :yeah: :cheer: :yeah:

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 24, 2009 6:55 pm 
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Thank you Karen, you made me :D


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 24, 2009 7:36 pm 
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And just promiss your boy friend something in return for giving your crazy gals at the AND some video :green:

Only so we can tell you that your horse is amazing, you are a wonderful rider and you are doing sooo well :yes:
But then this time, you shall believe us :D

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 24, 2009 11:58 pm 
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Copperbay wrote:

so I suppose what I am really doing is switching from shoulder-in to shoulder-out (is that correct? :smile: - so for one, horse is walking as if he's about to start a left hand circle but moving forward. Then I ask him to swap sides so that he is walking as though about to start a right hand circle but while moving forwards.) It is the steps in between switching the bend when he maintained his flexion.


Hi. From what you are describing it sounds like you are going from shoulder-in left to shoulder-in right.

I am a little confused though. So presumably he is in flexion in the shoulder-in OR is he flexing for 3 steps as you make the change of bend/direction?

Quote:
Morgan, I have done something similar to your beach ride last year when we had snow, and from going back over the prints, he does a correct 3-track shoulder-in in terms of foot placement. So he is stepping under from behind well, as far as I can see?


3 tracks is good.... :applause:

Quote:
Am I right in guessing that if he had been stepping under in shoulder-in, he should have maintained this for a few steps as he went straight? I do hope so!


Yes! The shoulder-in is a collecting exercise which encourages more weight to be carried by the inside hind leg. So you would reap the benefits of that as you went straight. And that is probably how and why he flexed for 3 strides (if I am understanding this correctly), because he had more 'push' and 'collect' or 'throughness' through the back which resulted in true flexion at the poll with adjacent carrying the weight behind and lifting of the forehand. Neat!

Quote:
I will try to persuade my not-interested in horses boyfriend to come along with the camera over the next few weeks :smile: It is only that I am worried about specifically rewarding a movement that puts him on the forehand, even if it seems correct when I am sitting on top :blush:


Karen's description of rewarding the try means that you can even afford to be wrong yourself!!!! :smile: And soon you will develop your own feel to be surer of your feel.

Quote:
We are doing really well - today at the end of our little lane, he stepped out into the road for the first time in nearly a year - he has been really worried about the road and we have been slowly working to make it less frightening by leaving strategically placed buckets with apples along our route. The strategy seems to be working, because today he ate his last apple and then walked on past the bucket to take me on a longer ride :smile:


What a great idea!

Hope that might help a little.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 26, 2009 7:57 am 
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It sounds like fromt where you are at asking him to hold the Ramener for more steps at liberty might be the most beneficial exercise to focus on- of course only your horse can tell you, but if you are hoping for him to hold felxion longer in the saddle doing it longer on the ground makes sense.

What is his flexion like during the shoulder-in from the ground?
Also, If he is on the forehand even during liberty shoulder-in I think transitions IN shoulder-in could be a big help. ridden transitions in shoulder in may help if you find he isn't realy stepping under.

I find many people think they are doing shoulder in when the horse is really just overbending th neck and bulging through the shoulder. If you get him to tape you get some footage from in front and behind as well to double check your hsoulder in.

My not at all interested in AND husband just did a bridle-less shoulder-in at a trot the other day- and I wasn't even pestering him to try it! For a first ever attmept (that I know of ) it was really nice!

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 27, 2009 9:18 am 
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Quote:
My not at all interested in AND husband just did a bridle-less shoulder-in at a trot the other day- and I wasn't even pestering him to try it! For a first ever attmept (that I know of ) it was really nice!


wow! :applause: :)

But we know now that others would call that happy accidents :green:

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 04, 2009 3:59 pm 
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Just to update this :)

Thank you all for the advice :smile: We have had a "happy accident" ourselves (hmm, was it an accident, or was it hours of training tiny increments?)

Various things happened with Jackson and I over the last few months since I posted this - all very good indeed. The insecurity and fear he'd had since we moved fields has disappeared - he is now a happy and very confident horse who loves going out and exploring the world again.

We do a lot of walks in hand - we have an off-road surfaced path next to the field and can go for miles along it (probably about 20 or 30 miles off road, but we haven't got that far!).

We also ride along it - but I never press this issue, because I have always known that Jackson doesn't enjoy me riding as much as me trotting alongside.

We continued to work on our groundwork, with a lot of attention to ramener at halt, walking at liberty in a nice circle with inside bend, stepping under correctly, and shoulder-in. His shoulder-in is correct - he doesn't ever drift over, he steps deep underneath with his inside hind and lifts through the base of his neck. I don't c/r shoulder-in that is droopy or not correct, I just give him a scratch and wait for the next attempt.

We continued to do shoulder-in when hacking - he likes doing this and will often offer.

About two weeks ago, walking in-hand on a very breezy day on the track, he decided he was feeling lively and broke into trot, but for some reason lifted his shoulders, dropped his nose and did a collected trot. I fed him all my treats, let him graze for a bit and went home.

Next day I was riding rather than leading - and experimenting with how I moved (see other threads on riding and rider position etc. :D ). I decided we would try some walk/trot transitions, and work on a new, better cue. I pulled my shoulders back, opened my chest and thought about "floating" - and Jackson offered the collected trot he'd done in-hand :D I dismounted and he got a lot of treats again :D

We have only managed two short rides since then (with a week's holidays for me in between), but now he (a) has become incredibly enthusiastic about me riding, (b) offers the collected trot as soon as I am mounted and have my stirrups sorted out and (c) will do it spectacularly well even if I drop my reins and ride off the neck strap. Next step for us is cordeo only, I think :D

So this post is really a big thank you. We have achieved something that has caught the eye of all our traditional friends, who felt this would not be possible without repetitive schooling, a bit, possibly training aids such as draw reins, and certainly not possible without me having regular lessons with a traditional instructor in a school :D Who needs that, when you've got AND?


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PostPosted: Fri Sep 04, 2009 4:44 pm 
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:cheer: :cheer: :cheer: :cheer: :cheer: :cheer:

It sounds absolutely wonderful and so much like I try to do with Tam...studying how we both move, how I affect him and looking for those teeny tiny improvements in his movement and rewarding him for it.

Very cool! I'm very happy for you!

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