The Art of Natural Dressage

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 20, 2009 7:59 am 

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this is a comment from a rider on another forum discussing SA's new initiative to allow bitless dressage.
im faced with the following question and not sure how to explain it:
anyone who can help me explain it?


""Connection" is the way you describe the way a horse works from hocks, over the back, into the bit. Connection is more than simply contact, which is the communication which horse and rider have through the bit.

I'm not sure how a bitless bridle would show connection. It might show self-carriage, but that is not the same thing, and that, to me, is a problem.

Q, this is why I'm not sold on bitless dressage. PK(a fanatic here in SA) hasn't put me off bitless riding, because not only do I have a bitless bridle, but I ride in one (or in a halter) and have jumped sans bit, and hack sans bit. I just don't believe that one can perform dressage, the way I understand it, without a bit.

I have also had a horse who was very difficult to bit. Strangely enough, once I'd sorted out my hands, bitting him became much, much easier. He was always a little difficult in his mouth, but that taught me to ride with quiet hands and a consistent, yielding contact. Although he was never a good dressage horse (too bloody naughty and moved like a pony), we managed some respectable marks.

A horse with a damaged mouth is a different story, and I have also owned one of these (Diceman, who you rode), but again, he was schooled to go in a bit.

FWIW, if a horse cannot go well in a bit, then, IMO, it is unsuitable for dressage and you should find another discipline for it. You would not try to make a confirmed stopper / sloppy jumper into a showjumper, or a spooky, balky horse into an eventer. I'm not sure why anybody would insist on making a horse with a difficult mouth into a dressage horse.

It seems to me that dressage is being seen as the discipline of choice for people who are afraid to jump or who have horses with jumping issues. But, because there are schooling problems with their horses, they want to go out and change the dressage rules to make it more accommodating.

Dressage is a demanding discipline, and the rules regarding throughness, connection and acceptance of the bit are there for a reason. I find it remarkable that people want to circumvent them rather than work hard to adhere to them (or find a more suitable mount!)

You may not play squash with a tennis raquet - you don't see people trying to change those rules! "


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 20, 2009 10:53 am 
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There was a similar series of questions before, so maybe this old thread can help you:
Reins, why or why not?

I especially like Miriam´s post on the second page. :smile:


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 20, 2009 11:00 am 
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whaha! the same question we always get here as well. :)

It is in my book Bitless without trouble!
As I have to translate it to english anyway, if I have time this afternoon I shall translate that piece and put it here.
As we say in Belgium: two flies with one wack :yes:

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 20, 2009 7:53 pm 
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I am not the one to answer the question, but my natural reaction to the question is that it is/was the same struggle I went through regarding the poll release. Is it the same if you don't have a bit? My own conclusion is that it is, because it is not only a position of the head/neck/shoulders/back/etc., it is a state of mind of the horse. Being "on the bit", willingly, is a state of mind of the horse. The emotional state of the horse is intrinsically tied to the the state of the muscles and specifically, the state of release and the how they give us their head. It's a matter of trust to have it given willingly.

I hate the term, "on the bit", because it is misleading. The bit has nothing to do with it. It is a state of mind and a physical "giving" of the horse. Without a bit, when one has a horse in this state, it is indeed more freely given - and therefore has more merit to me in terms of the demonstration of trust between the horse and rider, than when one has a bit. With a bit, you can take it from the horse even if the horse has some resistance if you are physically strong enough. Without the bit, one is showing that they have truly convinced the horse to give it willingly.

You can take it a step further into bridleless - where my real struggle was - can you get the same things without a headstall at all? IS it the same?

I finally realized that it was because of the mental/physical connection. But for the sake of this question - with a bridle, I think there is more "obedience" (man, I hate that word) demonstrated without a bit than with a bit. And it demonstrates more skill from the rider.

Is the proof not in the successful completion of the dressage tests?

I really should get some video of Cisco. It's not perfect, but darn he's got his moments.

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 21, 2009 9:08 am 
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Well, I'll poke my nose in here as well. I also has something similar to this in my mind when I was deciding whether or not I should listen to my Freckles and take that nasty thing out of his mouth ...

The people on this forum taught me that there are at least two kinds of dressage. :)

There is Competitive or Modern dressage - which, based on what I have abserved and am learning, is mostly for the benefit of the rider and uses bits and whips and spurs and stuff to create "frame" and "contact" and "connection" and all that.

Then there is Academic Dressage which is what we try to do which is for the benefit of the horse, and after we people get the Academic Dressage right for a while so that the horse gets all the appropriate muscles and strength? Then we can do the Modern Dressage bitless and free :evil:

I hope this is accurate? But it's the way I have come to think about questions like this. I am finding that training Freckles in this way is taking a bit longer? But he learns what he learns and I don't have to re-school the same stuff every day to keep him at the level we reach. Even if I don't ride for 2 months? He still remembers what we were doing. :applause:

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 23, 2009 8:07 am 
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Hmmm, I have turned this one over in my own head many many times and the reason it is so difficult is that contact is a confusing and difficult subject even when everyone in the conversation is using a bit and doesn't mind doing so!!!!

Lets first discuss contact with a bit just to understang what the average person thinks of when they hear 'contact.' One of the best descriptions I've heard of how proper contact with a bit should feel is that at anymoment you could give with the hand and hte horse stay in self carraige, AND that in that exact same moment you could give with the hand and have the horse stretch to the contact. This is awesome to me as I've heard many trainers say how important one or the other is, but rarely do you hear about these two xercises be talked about together. (This description was given by Karen Rohlf by the way) In a bit a horse should want to reach for your hand, but he must never lean on your hand. THis is such a fine line. Two dressage trainers could look at one horse and one say he needs to be more solid in the contact and looking for the riders hand and another may say he needs to be softer. If everyone could agree how much rein contact is exactly enough than dressage would be rediculously easy. This is THE topic that splits the dressage community!!! This is what puts the Anky's and Werth's on one side and AND members on the other. I've been up and down the whole darn spectrum (well, not into rolkur, but i have ridden on strong contact) and I have things I love and hate on almost every section of the spectrum.

But when you look at Karen's definition it narrows down the specturm considerably. If you use anywhere near the contact that is often seen in dressage today, you'll never get a horse that you could give the rein and ride without him changing position (I'm talking give the rein completely for five minutes, not three steps as is required in some dressage tests!) But if you don't get a horse used to contact it would be difficult to get him to reach for your hand (of course here we all know there are other ways to get a horse to stretch, but this answer is for the masses who are looking at competing in dressage, not for those who do mounted target training sessions :-)

So, if you are riding in a halter, the same would apply- if you can encourage the horse to stretch tot he halter or bitless crossover, or whatever, and if the horse stays in position when you drop the reins completely, than the connectio is perfect even to competition dressage requirements.

As for the whole 'why do dresage with a horse with a bad mouth'... well, I better leave that one alone!!!!!! this one doesn't deserve a response.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 23, 2009 8:41 am 
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That's a lovely explaination Danee. :f:

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 23, 2009 3:46 pm 
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Wonderful post, Danee. I kind of wanted to quote the whole thing in my response, because I kept going, OH, that's interesting, and then... OH, that's interesting, and... OH, that's interesting... but my quoting the entire thing I would be rather repetitive.

I am getting more and more interested in Karen Rohlf. I have the opportunity to possibly audit a 5-day clinic she's doing here in MN... I really want to go!

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 23, 2009 10:08 pm 
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It is interesting that the comment that started this thread she says simply that it is not the same and can't be the same. No why, no discussion, no debate. Weird from someone who rides bitless in other disciplines. I find that when people do not want to talk about whys and hows it is often a sign of just not wanting to be convinced. You can't debate that, can't engage. Of course this is not a universal, but I am so sensitive that it is best for me to know when to be careful and when to "go for it".

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 24, 2009 12:44 am 
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I find that when people do not want to talk about whys and hows it is often a sign of just not wanting to be convinced. You can't debate that, can't engage.


Oh, beautifully put, Annaliese! I think you're absolutely right.

Love the replies here -- as I look back at the original comment, I'm struck by the fact that not only is "connection" a very specific definition (horse - bit - rider) but also that self-carriage is somehow seen as less, and suggests that there is no connection between horse and person when it happens. What I infer from her statement is that a horse with good self carriage with a rider on his back without a bit-built "connection" is simply a happy accident -- that the person can have no impact for good or bad on how the horse moves unless the bit is there, and therefore somehow this isn't successful dressage.

To me, this confusion is a really good example of how our goals can flip around and get backwards on us -- the point of connection, as I understand it, in dressage, is to ASSIST the horse in self-carriage, not replace it. Connection is the tool, not the goal. (To my mind, this is the same backwards argument supporting things like rolkur...the point isn't to get the over-rounded neck -- in true collection that emerges through the whole body, as an element of collection not its point.)

I also think it's a literalizing of what connection can mean. The easiest way, certainly, to think about connection is with something on the head/bit in the mouth.

But the trouble maker in me asks that if it's only possible to do with those tools, why aren't there similar tools on the hind end? If humans are able to affect how the horse moves in the hind without tack communicating directly, why in the world does that connection require tack on the face/in the mouth?

(And I agree with Danee about the big question marks about how horses with "difficult mouths" shouldn't ever explore dressage???? :blonde: :ieks:

Another end vs. means different understanding for me, at least, about dressage -- and I think she lands firmly in the dressage show world with her last comments -- she seems to be excited about the competitive sport of dressage and her goals with it, not the art of dressage as a benefit for any horse and rider.

Very different perspective than I have, at least...

Best,
Leigh

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 24, 2009 2:35 am 
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Quote:
Connection is the tool, not the goal.


Yes, that's where I'm at.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 24, 2009 2:28 pm 
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First rough piece of translation of 'Bitless Without Trouble' (Thank you Simone!)

Q: How do I get connection with my horse without a bit?
A: A many heard comment or question from those not familiar with bitless dressage. Which would suggest that dressage without a bit would be impossible.

First of all, I ask the question to each person what ‘connection’ is according to them.
What people mostly say is the following: "The rider energises the horse with the legs (impulsion), after which the rider restricts the impulsion with the bit. The forehand then would slow down to which the hind quarters would move more under. The horse would then move through his back.
This is then an ongoing circle in which a circle of energy would flow between legs, seat and hands."

First of all, for this system one does not need a bit, it works the same way with a bitless bridle. And second, this can be done also even without a bridle because the clue is the balance, timing and experience of the rider to influence the horses movement and the way he moves.
The horse learns that certain ‘tokens’ with the bit mean that certain things are expected of him. He can learn the same without a bit, be it then with (slightly) different tokens.

! Advantage: When a horse moves with his head and neck arched while you are riding with a soft bitless bridle or without bridle at all, you know that your horse is probably arching because of the tilting of his pelvis, not because he tries to get away from the pressure of the bit.

Q: How can one ride a horse onto the bit, without a bit?
A: The question is; ‘what is onto or into the bit’? Here we find that people give the same answer as for ‘connection’.

But again it has everything to do with the whole body of the horse and with the seat of the rider, which needs to allow the horse to use his body in a healthy way.
‘Onto the bit’ therefore only from the Academic Riding or Classical Dressage point of view appears totally by itself, just from having a correct seat, practising the classical exercises and keeping a ever so soft contact with the head (without ever restricting or interfering with the head position!).
If one realises this, then it is not at all hard to imagine that the same result can be reached without a bit.

From dressage rider's point of view, if the horse is onto the bit, he is moving correctly.
The problem is though that it takes an enormous amount of riding skil, to really know when a horse is on the bit. And a lot of riders mistake a horse that is bending his head to try to get away from the pressure of the bit as a horse ‘onto the bit’. And now, the bit (or the hands holding it) is actually preventing the effect that is supposed to come from being onto the bit.
Without the bit, it is therefore much more easy for the horse to reach out for that soft contact with the riders hands by moving correctly through his body.

As far as I am concerned, the phrase ‘onto the bit’ can go to the dustbin and be replace by ‘onto the seat’.

For it is the feeling in our seat which should tell us if our horse is moving correctly. And this can also be very well the case without reins or a bit even.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 24, 2009 2:41 pm 

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It is amusing to me to read that first post about no "connection" without a bit. Has she never seen a picture of a classical rider doing piaffe without any contact on the horses mouth whatsoever, with reins hanging loose? To do school movements such as piaffe without rein contact, where the horse sustains the movement himself is seen as the end result of the dressage training. It is what we are supposed to work towards i.e -"self carriage" - which to me means where the horse does not need the reins to guide his movements. If we took the classical masters bridle away my guess is that the horse would still move "on the bit". This is how I have always understood it anyway. I think alot of the problem is in the definitions of connection all being different for different people.
I am of the increasing thought that we need to get rid of the term "on the bit" altogether. We need to ride a horse's shoulders and not his head. I find if the shoulders are coming up the head sorts itself out. That way we get rid of the obsession with "contact" and head carriage. I am also wondering if the "modern" dressage horses are unable to move in a "connected" way if we take the bit away, due to the way they are trained. I have ridden supposed well trained horses who merely tuck their noses in when a contact is taken up on the reins, but the horses are still not moving over their shoulders or backs. Superficially it looks pretty but the horse is not connected front to back (or should that be back to front really?). They do not often look to me like they are moving as freely over their backs as they could be. This way of looking at the horse would indeed make it impossible to get a "connection" without a bit. As it would be needed to tuck the horses nose in to make it look right to compensate for lack of real balance and strength over the back. The horse would not flex at the poll itself unless it was working through properly and if ridden for head carriage only it would need a bit to "shape" it. I wonder if that person understands truly what a well connected horse really feels like. I often get riders who "connect" their horses and then think their horse are running off with them, as they are being bounced out of the saddle with the power but they are not, they move properly! Perhaps a reason why people feel the need for bits in order to rein the horse in when it does that?!


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 24, 2009 6:25 pm 
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I often get riders who "connect" their horses and then think their horse are running off with them, as they are being bounced out of the saddle with the power but they are not, they move properly! Perhaps a reason why people feel the need for bits in order to rein the horse in when it does that?!


I think so! I'm beginning to think that impulsion is the trickier part in a way. That middle ground between fully forward and collection...the controlled impulsion.

In all I have done with my horses, the collection seems to be the easier part! After a friendly warning from my trainer/friend Paul, Tam and I have been working almost exclusively on the ground on developing the self carriage for the extended gaits with Tam...for me, most easily expressed/seen/recognized at the trot. Am I wrong in thinking that this area is where the term "on the bit" most applies in the traditional sense? Where many riders really feel they have to "rein in the front and drive the haunches"? Because the highly collected gaits seem easier to achieve with slack reins (or no reins). I mean, I realize that impulsion is required even in the highest collection, but that "bunching up of energy" seems easier for a horse to explore without some contact. Or maybe it's just ME expressing my own shortcomings in my experience/knowledge? Might be the more likely answer! :yes:

To me, it will be a wonderful feeling to have both and with patience and feeling my way along (I really am learning as I go!) I am confident that I can get there.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 24, 2009 6:36 pm 
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this can be done also even without a bridle because the clue is the balance, timing and experience of the rider to influence the horses movement


Yes Josepha! I need more experience! It's a good thing that every step of the journey is so fascinating in itself, or I would have given up long ago. It is so much fun though to puzzle all this out, apply what I think I know, discover what I don't, adapt different ideas...oh it's all a blast!

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