Level 1: 1. Preparation for the Cordeo
The Art of Natural Dressage is Haute Ecole training at liberty. The aim of AND is not to produce humble, obedient horses. It is rather the opposite; to teach people how to be humble towards their horses, as that is the key for the horse to become the strong, intelligent and powerful creature he can and should be. However, safety and trust between horse and trainer form the highly important basis for any Haute Ecole exercise, so before they are trained, it is important to establish a communication between horse and human to prepare both for the cordeo cues and every other AND exercise. Only then you can tell your horse not only to speed up or run towards you, but also to stop when you ask and to give you more space when you need it.
These communication exercises are:
1.Touching the body
2.Asking the horse to back up
3.Turn the hindquarters around the frontlegs
4.Turn the frontquarters around the hindlegs
5.Backing up and coming towards
6.Lifting the legs
7.Lowering the head
All these exercises come back in the teaching the cordeo too, so it's very good to teach them to the horse before or while you start teaching the language of the cordeo.Trainer or trainee?
A humble 'trainer' is a trainer who politely asks and accepts that a horse can answer with both a yes, but also a no, and perhaps even a maybe. There is no threat of using more pressure or force if the reply is a no or a maybe. Rather than forcing the horse to answer with a yes, the trainer uses this answer to think about why he received a no. At a later time, after some thought and reflection, the question can be repeated to the horse, but it will never turn into a command. We don't want to teach the horse to reply with a stressed and sharp 'Yes Sir!' to everything we say, we want to teach him that we think his opinion is worth listening to, and that we humans will do anything to become worthy of his yes. Only when both human and horse are totally free in their reactions, they can truly be together.Rewarding, not pressurizing
Pat Parelli has collected all the basic movements a horse needs to know in order to play with humans safely in the system he calls 'The Seven Games'. They are the basic movements that every horse and trainer should learn. Parelli himself however teaches them to the horse with the threat of force if he doesn't listen. What starts with a light touch of the hair in order to ask the horse to move sideways, ends with a fierce pressure 'to the bone', as Parelli states, if the horse doesn't respond in the way the trainer wants to. This produces fast learning curves and the horse learning that he should reply with a yes to everything the trainer asks, but it isn't the way to teach it in order to use it in AND. In AND training the horse will need to learn the movements too, but out of his own free will, answering to polite questions, not out of fear of being forcefully corrected.
Listening to the horses' answers doesn't mean that we always have to agree with what he does, and if he's doing something dangerous for himself, you or your environment, you should prevent the danger in any means. That can involve correcting or punishing him. But: when teaching exercises we don't teach through corrections and avoiding pressure! We won't push harder if the horse doesn't step forward; we repeat the cue once or twice, see if we can use another cue or cue at another place, and then stop to find the cause of this negative answer or try it another day. Your horse will notice that, and will be even more eager to work with you the next time.The exercises
The following exercises to introduce the horse to the language of the cordeo are loosely based on The Seven Games, as they ask for similar movements. However; the way to teach the horse these movements differs completely because we don't 'motivate' the horse through pressure. Training-sessions also will last for only fifteen minutes at first, with playing, grooming, or grazing breaks in between. Try to use those breaks to think about what you're doing yourself too. Because the aim of these first exercises is not only to teach the horse these movements, but most of all to teach yourself how you can ask your horse politely to do them.
All these exercises are preparations for the real Haute Ecole exercises and for preparing the horse for the cordeo. You can teach them to your horse with cordeo on, at liberty or with halter when you put the leadrope over his back. Just as you shouldn't force your horse to go with you physically, you shouldn't force him to go with you mentally. Don't work for more than a couple of minutes when you start, and don't demand that your horse stays focussed all the time. He won't. Rather ask him a question and work on that no more than three times, and then walk away from him, run away from him, asking him to follow you and move freely. If he follows, that's great. If he doesn't do that yet, slow down to a halt in the distance and politely ask if you can come back again. Now you are showing your horse not only that you give him the space he needs, but also that you listen to his input. When all these exercises go well, you can start teaching your horse how to respond to your cordeo signals.1. Touching the body
This 'Friendly game' starts already when entering the paddock or stable. Don't walk to the horse, grab him, halter him or put the cordeo on and take him towards the training area, but instead wait for an invitation from his side. Walk up to where your horse can see you, and wait. If your horse looks up or turns an ear towards you, you have permission to enter his personal space a couple of metres more. There you halt again, maybe even take a step backwards to show him you are asking a question, and wait patiently untill he invites you furter by showing interest in you. Repeat this several times untill you reach him. If your horse doesn't turn towards you, but turns away or walks away, you politely take a couple of steps back and wait there untill you get an invitation to join him or a question to move even further back. With a horse with a harsh training system in their past, it can take very long before he trusts you enough to invite you to come near him. To add to that; every training you'll have from now will be taken in account for their answer. These horses are the most critical, best teachers you can have.
When you get permission to come to your horse, you start to stroke him around the whithers and neck. If he agrees with this, you try to stroke further and further over his body. If you go too fast or too far, he will show you. Then you retreat to where you were allowed to stroke before, or even to lift your hand and take a step backwards, to show him you don't want to crowd or force him. If the horse decides to stay or bends his head towards you, you have permission to start again. Do this several times, several days, over and over again until you reach the point where you can touch the horse all over his body. Then you can start to ask him for movement, and for stroking him with different objects than your own hand (like a rope, a whip or anything else).Why?
This first exercise is very important, because it's very easy to fall into the trap of only touching your horse if you wants something of him or to give him a cue. The problem with this is that your horse won't learn to relax under your touch because he needs to react to it all the time. With that you lose a very important training aid; relaxation through touch. Stroking and massageing the horse in a good way not only loosens and relaxes the body and muscles, but also the mind because friendly touches can release endorfines. And if you show your horse that your touch is very relaxing, he will start to look for it and for your company more.2. Asking the horse to back up
This is not simply a movement; it's a question. Your cue is not a command, it's a hint towards which way he should move. When you stand next to your horse, facing his tail, you stretch out your flat, outstretched hand in front of his chest where your horse can see it. If he doesn't respond, you slowly move your hand towards his chest untill your index finger rests on his chest. If the horse doesn't respond, you don't apply more pressure, but you add your middle finger, then one by one the other fingers untill they all reast on his chest. If your horse still doesn't respond, you just repeat the same, subtle movement from outstretched had to touching fingers untill he does respond by rocking his weight back only the slightest amount - and you praise him with your voice and by stroking him, giving him a treat or walking or running with him through the training area. If you are polite in your question, your horse will start to react more to this cue and in the end will walk backwards when you just hold your hand in front of his chest or give a voice cue.Why?
Backing up is a very important exercise, both for the training of your horses body as for his psyche. When going back with a good head posture (not upwards and drawn backwards), your horse actually collects because he rotates his pelvis in order to be able to push himself backwards. Compare it to a horse leaning on the forehand in walk: he will barely move his legs forward, but keep them standing under his body, pushing to the rear for a long time. The same goes (in the reverse order) for backing up: the horse places his hindlegs only a little behind his body, and then push them into teh ground, forward and under the body. That's where his legs will also be when collecting. This is also the reason why it's not a good idea to practice long stretches of backing up if the horse is not yet 4 years old. His bones should be ready first for these kind of pulling powers on his sinews.
The mental part of backing up is that the horse moves out of your space in a polite way. It's a gesture of respect in the horseworld. It only becomes a gesture of submission when you dominate the horse while asking for it! So use it politely yourself too. Don't ask it too much, too often, only when it's for training his muscles or when he's getting too much in your space - and then reward the horse with praise and treats if he does back away politely!3. Turn the hindquarters around the frontlegs
This exercise is done in the same way. You are allowed to touch the horse all over his body, now you stand next to his hindquarters and stretch your hand towards them, where he can see it. Wait. If he doesn't respond, you slowly let your hand approach his HQ untill your index finger lies against his side. Wait. If nothing happens, you put more fingers against his side, or you can repeat this movement untill he starts thinking of moving his HQ away. Reward this! If instead he moves backwards or forwards, you move with him with your hand in place. If that annoys him, you step back politely untill you're invited in again.Why?
This exercise is a preparation for all sideways movements, just as the one below, because you're given the opportunity to move both sets of legs away from you4. Asking the horse to turn with the frontquarter around the hindlegs
This is the same exercise, but now you want ask the shoulders and neck to move, so you stand next to the shoulder or neck, and place your finger over there.Why?
For the same reasons as the exercise above, plus one.
If you can ask your horse to move his shoulder away from you with one finger touch, you can ask him not to crowd you when he leans too much into you. Again, moving away by your horse is a sign of respect, so reward that a lot in order to tell him that you respect him for that too.5. Backing up and coming towards
You have learned how to back your horse up with just a handsignal, in the end without even touching him. You have also taught him that you will move backwards to invite him to show interest in you. These movements you can combine into a yo-yo movement. While standing in front of your horse, you raise your hand towards his chest, and he will take one or more steps backwards. Then you respond by slowly walking backwards, away from your horse. If your horse likes your company, he wants to invite you back in and when he sees that you don't come towards him but instead move politely further away, he will come towards you. In the end you only have to lift a finger and your horse will back away, and you will only have to bow slightly to ask him to come back. What started as polite questions, now turns into a graceful dance. Why?
On of the most impressive play exercises involves the horse running around you while you just stand still and admire his play. This actually is taught through this exercise too, because you learn him to both move away and come back again. The thought is the same and the horse will see the similarities. Only: don't train this with horses that are younger than four years old because of the strain on his spine that is caused by the backing up.6. Lifting the legs
When you can touch your horse everywhere, you start stroking a front- or hind leg specifically. Stroke it, leave your finger in one place or touch the leg lightly in several places. Don't force anything, just ask your horse with your hand to focus on his leg and on what he could do with it. As soon as he only thinks of moving away his bodyweight from this leg, you take your hand away and reward the horse. In the end you only have to point at the leg or look at it, and the horse will lift it.Why?
This exercise is the starting point of the Haute Ecole. You not only teach your horse to lift his legs, you make him aware of them - and of the fact that they can be raised. If your horse gets this idea, you can develop it into the jambette (stretching a leg forward in halt), the Spanish walk and Polka, the Pesade and the energetic Haute Ecole jumps, and over another route into the half steps, piaffe and levade.7. Lowering the head
Lowering the head is just that: lowering the head to anywhere in between the height of the withers and the ground. There are several ways of teaching this exercise to the horse: the method that's the most free, is very easy; stand next to the shoulder of your horse and soft and firmly stroke over the top of his neck, from ears to shoulders. Keep doing that untill the horse -accidentally or not- lowers his head a little, stop stroking him and reward him immediately. WHen you repeat this again and again, the horse will let his head hang down lower and lower, and stroking his neck will become the cue to lower the head, a cue that you can give both from the ground and from the saddle. Another, more traditional way is to teach a horse to follow pressure, by haltering him and then pull (softly) the leadrope down untill the horse gives in and follows the pressure - you release. This method works just as fast, but horses are less eagerto perform it when you don't have a halter on because then there's no pressure to avoid anymore.Why?
Lowering the head is one of the most important exercises of the preparation work, because it immediately affects both his biomechanics and his mindset. All the other exercises (except for the touching his body) just move bodyparts around. The difference with lowering the head is that the latter immediately influences the way the horse feels too: A tensed horse will drag his head and neck up, and a horse that has his head and neck up all the time, will be both tense and produce adrenaline. To top that, such a horse isn't focused on you or training, but on something else. A low head not only makes it easier for the horse to focus on you, it's also healthier; in the first place a low head carriage causes a release of endorphines so that the horse both physically and mentally relaxes. Second, but just as important though, is that a head that hangs low naturally stretches all the muscles in the back and the neck that form the topline of the horse. A grazing horse stretches those muscles all the time, keeping his very important spinal cord healthy and flexible. A horse that's stabled and eats hay from a hayreck, almost never stretches these muscles to the full.
That's where the Haute Ecole training comes in too; if a horse is always lifting his head and neck in the false way, this will become his default posture. You can still teach him to flex at the poll, but that's tiring for a horse who isn't used to that posture. The result is that the horse will stand flexed for a short while, and then move his head up and wrong again the rest of the time. If instead you teach him that it's safe, easy and healthy to lower his head, you create a new and healthy default posture; head down. So if the horse can't keep a flexed, collected neckset for a longer period of time or during movement, he will lower his head and stretch his spine rightly instead, which is not collected, but very healthy too.