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Once you have learned to ride horses, then the hard work starts, which is how to train them. I am still learning that one. I invite you to join me on the quest. Below is a collection of articles I have written on what I have learned so far with much thanks to many masters. JP


Regarding the Art of Dressage...
"Dressage can be done by a rider in Topper and Tails on a Warmblood, a Cowboy on a Quarter-Horse or a Bedouin on an Arabian, but it cannot be *lived* truly without study, without effort, without principles and without compassion. If the horse doesn't display self-carriage, freedom of movement (within his genetic ability) and visible enjoyment when performing dressage movements, then the Art is surely only happening in the deluded mind of the rider." JP

Regarding the Piaffe...
The Master Nuno Oliveira most often created through the slowest of walk, the progressive, cadenced movement that results from the relaxed roundness of the entire top-line that represents true collection, not the frantic agitation or the rigid compression of the horse's front and back-ends obtained by impatient bit and whip actions. This collection seemed to effortlessly result in diagonal steps that announced the beginning of piaffe. JP
Regarding the Discipline of the horse...
Anybody who understands that a horse is much more at peace with a quick, negative reinforcement when called for, than with the permanent anxiety of not knowing where s/he stands, (created by owners who refuse to assume the proper herd-leader position they signed-for when they took possession of their horse). JP
Regarding the first 30 days...
Instead of getting on the horse the first day and spend the next 30 days (or his entire life in some cases) to erase the bad impression you may have created on your first ride, I suggest you rather spend the first 30 days systematically modifying his natural response to contact (through relaxation work) and his instinctual behavior (through a series of progressive exercises) into a new set of responses that will make your first day on his back, so to speak, a cinch! JP


Istoso in passage
On Collection: Thursday, May 20, 2010 (back to Article List)
Hence the difficulty encountered when describing the concept in its entirety, as well as in its possible variations.

I believe that defining collection as WHAT IT CAN DO really helps us understand how to achieve it. The function of collection defines its form and the form defines the method (which is particular to each horse). What collection allows us to do is part and parcel of what it is, because what IT IS is different for each horse and each purpose.

The act of collecting a high school horse implies the maintenance of cadence while achieving a modification of the balance of the horse and the speed of his travel. On the other hand, collecting a jumping horse may imply the modification of his balance, of his rhythm and his speed or maybe the maintenance of a constant speed in a different tempo. The collection of a bullfighting horse implies the ability to modify everything (gait, speed, direction, angle, balance, tempo and above all the level of energy).

Yesterday, I taught my student Lyndsey Oaks with her wonderful TB Taylor who is preparing for his first advanced event. The lesson was about jumping and collection. Until now (the last couple of months) I have helped her in the arena to work on self carriage: slight elevation of the neck, lateral flexibility, acceptation of the leg and whip aid for the horse. Most importantly, I worked with Lyndsey on the “fixed hand”, the notion that when the horse softens and flexes more in the poll (ramene), the hand softens too and the contact becomes virtual. This is a hard concept for a rider who earns a living riding race horses in training and does eventing as an avocation. We had some success and she has found the horse much handier when schooling over jumps.

In our lesson, we first worked on down transitions in the fast canter towards collection. She quickly remembered to raise her hands slightly as she had done in the dressage work (instead of using them down and backward as she is used to do when galloping), close her legs in a steady pressure for engagement and use the action of her chest for the slowing down signal. To her surprise, and even at a lively canter or slow gallop, Taylor came back to her very quickly, demonstrating the dressage collection: more flexion of the hind legs and pelvis, elevation of the front end, maintained activity, constant tempo, much slower speed.

We then worked on jumping and I taught her the concept of the decreasing stride, as explained by Jean d'Orgeix who was a very successful show jumper after the war and an inventive trainer of the French team in his later years. The decreasing stride consists in modifying the balance of the horse when approaching a fence so the stride becomes shorter but the speed remains constant. The practical exercise was to first jump single fences on a short stride, angle them up to 60 degree and finally jump a 2 stride combination in 3 without losing speed, first uphill (easy) then downhill (not so easy). She and the horse were brilliant and the horse soon realized that this jumping style was safer than his usual “powering through on the long one” as he has done for years. He ended up with a beautiful arc; knees up, back rounded that gave all involved a great degree of confidence for his advanced event coming soon. The video may soon be on Lindsey's Facebook.

The advantage of that approach is that the last few strides are so short and balanced so the horse can find the “sweet take off spot” very easily. The possibility of distance related mistakes is greatly reduced in this method. Additionally, by the collected balanced achieved, the arc of the jump is much rounder (hind feet well under the mass give a much greater vertical lift) and the high level of energy needed for a scopey jump is maintained by the constant speed and the speeded up tempo. This is the collection of the jumper: same attitude as for the dressage horse, but with a modified tempo.

Same horse, same rider, same lesson, same collection (as seen on a still picture), but one it is in a constant tempo and the other in an increasing tempo. Here we see 2 different purposes and 2 different styles of collection defined by the purpose of the exercise rather than by the simplistic definition of the physical positioning of the horse.

So, what are the constant features of collection? Is a particular attitude or exercise enough to define collection? Certainly not! A horse in levade can be considered collected ONLY IF HE CAN TRANSITION FROM THE LEVADE TO ANY OTHER GAIT INSTANTANEOUSLY. One tempi changes require a degree of collection, but if they are not fully controlled (horse keep changing without a clear order to do so, for instance), then true collection is lost.

There are many elements in collection that can be recognized with the naked eye: the elevation of the front end and its flexion towards various degrees of ramener, the engagement of the pelvis with the hind legs engaging and disengaging according to speed, the flexibility of the spine and the symmetry of the horse actions, etc. Other characteristics are less obvious but are even more important: the responses to the aids that show the permeability of the horse to the propulsive and retropulsive aids (whichever ones are chosen by the rider in a given case), the desire of the horse to increase activity instantly, to change or maintain tempo, to stay light on the hand, to approach scary objects with boldness and controlled mobility, to stay calm when danger appears, etc.

On the other hand, different breeds do things differently. For instance, Arabians and Veiga horses (a particular line of Lusitanos selected for bullfighting) can collect the canter without much concentration of forces at their middle section (meaning the straining of their abdominal and intercostal muscles that creates the “postural engagement of the thoracic sling and neck” that was mentioned previously, while large warmbloods may need a considerable degree of engagement to achieve the same degree of lightness in the canter. I currently ride an Hanoverian that does a spectacular collected canter (hind feet under the girth, knees in his nose) that I achieve by the use of the inside spur, while my old Veiga stallion Hipogrifo can canter nearly on the spot in the in-hand work  just by a slight lift of the reins. Some riders use half halts to collect while others use the “effet d’ensemble”. Both have their advantages and both can present their dangers, the main one been the possible extinction of impulsion.

So, I really believe that collection is a function that presents itself differently in its different purposes and is achieved differently with different breeds. Ultimately, it is still “the ability of the rider to obtain instantaneous changes of direction, of gait, of speed, of tempo at any time.” How this ability to collect is developed is a slow process that starts with the first lessons of the horse, one concept at a time. It ends with a happy horse that "enjoys himself in his airs" because he has been given ownership of the process through a careful preparation that made his body strong and his mind benevolent toward his rider.

JP Giacomini

Notes On The Seat: Airborne vs Adhesive: Monday, July 12th, 2010 (back to Article List)
I am writing today on the question of the perfect seat, a subject of much discussion. To bounce or not to bounce, or rather to stay in the saddle as glued to it or to leave its contact temporarily as the energy of the stride creates upward thrust.

Nothing in equitation, dressage or horsemanships "is as simple as that" otherwise we would all be riding perfect horses that arecomfortable to ride, perform all movements in a brilliant fashion, guaranteed by the progression of the dressage tests and every horse with brilliant gaits and a good balance would become a Grand Prix horse–eventually.

In fact, none of that actually happens very often at all, and here we are discussing endless perfections that nobody has seen but only imagined–and would prove to be different for all of us if we actually tried to describe it in detail). Furthermore, we seem to take great pleasure at holding successful riders to an imaginary standard that we very rarely accomplish ourselves.

There is a general definition of the academic seat and here is my version of it:

Each part of the body must rest easily on the part below it. The pelvis must be "engaged" toward the front of the saddle with an equal weight distribution on the seat bones and the perineum (as long as the shape of the saddle allows it without hurting us).

The belly button must be dropped forward so the entire body of the rider is pushed forward by the "waves of impulsion that lift the horse's back in cadence".

The "belt" (belly button) must function in such a way that the torso of the rider does not oppose resistances to the undulations of the horse's back. (Nuno Oliveira)

The buttocks must be "open" and flat on the saddle. If any contraction of the buttocks is necessary to the transmission of an aid by the seat, it must be the upper part of the buttocks that contract, not their lower part. (N.O.)

The chest must be erect as if we had a line hooked in the middle of our chest bone pulling it at a 45 degree upward angle (Sally Swift)

The shoulders must be dropped and relaxed as this is where the hand begins. Contracted shoulders will create hard hands, regardless of the softness of the fingers.

Elbows must rest easily on the side of the torso without forcing (this is easier for fuller figured riders than for thin riders).

The forearms, when not acting on the reins, must follow the general direction of the reins.

Wrists must be in the Axis of the forearms without being forced in any direction

The legs must stay close to the horse and hang down, with the thighs as close to the vertical as the natural suppleness of the rider allows and without compromising the flat "shape" of the seat. The legs must not exert any constant pressure on the horse's flank; just maintain a soft contact created by gravity alone.

The knees: in order for the legs to "embrace" the horse properly and adapt to the shape of his barrel, it is the popliteal hollow (behind the knee) that must be in contact with the saddle, not the knee itself. Tight rider's knees result in tight horses' backs. The rider must "carry the knees" slightly best by using the muscles at the back of the thighs in order to avoid the "straight knee position" that will results in the seat being pushed out of the saddle in reaciton to the heel being forecefully pushed down.

The feet must be carried "toes up" rather than "heels down", as to not exert any undue pressure on the stirrups that would contribute to the stiffening of the legs and the lack of adherence of the seat. It is the widest part of the feet (behind the toes) that rests on the stirrups, with the weight resting slightly more on the inside of the foot rather than the outside.

Now comes the question of the motion of the seat. As we have already said, it is indispensable for the seat to move forward at every stride, lead by the belly button (not with the stomach in but with the stomach out, so the seat stays flat and does not "dig" into the horse's back). The rider's hips are lifted by the back when each hind leg engages and moves forward according to the movement of the shoulders (left horse shoulder advances in a right turn, left rider's hip advances equally). In fact this is the principal aid for turns. If the hip advances adequately, the hand needs to move very little to accommodate the bend.

There are many more motions of the seat that are essential to the riding of the horse, but I want to limit this article to the question of bouncing.

Is bouncing a good thiing, assuredly not. Should and can the seat be always glued to the saddle? I don't think that is actually possible at all times for a rider riding all kinds of horses at different stages of training.

Bouncing means that a body comes down when the opposite body comes up (or remains in a constant position) and, through the relative stiffness of both these bodies, creates a return of energy that sends the first body back up. When this happens to a rider, it means that s/he is going AGAINST the horse and he feels immediately aggressed in his back and stiffens up further, raising his head and losing his movement.

On the other hand, when we see a rider leaving the saddle at every stride but we do not notice the horse becoming increasinly stiff, something esle is at play: the rider is going up and down WITH the horse's motion, but this motion is simply too big to keep the rider down in the saddle. The rider is going up when the horse goes up and down when the horse goes down, they just separate in the up motion and rejoin in the down motion. I call this kind fo seat the "Dalai Lama" version of horsemanship (because of the levitation part).

Years ago, there was a famous Australian show jumper called Kevin Bacon. He rode in the 1964 Olympics with his little "Waler" Chichester and was still winning internationally in the early 1980's. He had figured outthat if he elevated himself during the jump then that was that much less for his horse to carry during the jump. He became known as the "Flying Australian" as he was a foot above his horse at the top of the fence. I sawChichester win the GP and the Puissance in Paris in his 20's and it didin't app

Nuno Oliveira used to let himself go slightly airborne in the extended trot, but he never lsot the cadence of the horse or his position and I think his horses were much rounder and freer than many a horse ridden with an adhesive seat. In fact I have seen many horses ridden with an apparent perfect seat be tense because their back was hollow and therefore easy to sit.

Good equitation (and dressage) is often counter-intuitive. Ultimately, the timing and feel of a good rider (the "equestrain tact") trumps all other notions of supposed correctness. I watched a number of riders with apparently great seats in Florisa this spring and I wouldn't let them ride one of my horses for five minutes because they had no tact. Judging riders by artificial standards of correctness and classicism distracts us formobserving the horse, who is the only valid judge of the riders' ability. If the rider is seating backwards like Jean Francois innding up liek Lorenzo, or slightly airborne in the trot, we should look at the horse. If the horse is happy, I for one, am satisfied that the rider is riding well enough to obtain that result.
JP Giacomini

Addressing Head Positioning: on the bit or not
Tuesday, August 24th, 2010 (back to Article List)
I think that the whole conversation about IFV (in front of vertical) or BTV (behind the vertical) is really based on the fact that even the uneducated person can recognize it, while it is much harder to see if a horse is using his back correctly. That requires a much more subtle observer and less off-the-cuff judgment. Let's not make IFV the litmus test of equestrian sainthood and BTV the mark of evil.

Any temporary position of the head is tolerable as long as it doesn't hide a deeper problem. More important is the question: can the horse that is behind the vertical come up when asked and go forward when the reins are released, and stay in balance? If he can, he is not behind the bit and all is well. Can the horse that is ahead of the vertical come on the vertical when asked to flex? If he cannot, he will push against the bit and pass behind the legs, which is the gravest defect of them all.

There is no ideal UNIQUE position, but many subtle differences of position the rider needs in the moment to achieve some influence on the rest of the horse's body. On the other hand, there is a UNIQUE quality of contact that is ideal: complete lightness to the hand (with a mobile jaw) combined with a solid eagerness of the horse to follow the hand when it advances.

Lightness may have a slightly different meaning depending on which side of the river Rhine you learned riding, but that is a detail. When Col. Lesage went to Lorke's stable to ride Kronos after the 1936 Olympics, he said, "as far as the horse Kronos was concerned, there was very little difference between the Romanic (French) and German Schools."

Riding is fluid and the position(s) of the horse are dynamic. Maintaining that horses must be ridden in a supposed perfect position 15 degrees in front of the vertical at all times only results in stiff necks and hollow backs.

Please let's not bring up again the FEI rules that define the position of the finished horse as on the vertical or slightly in front, yet have accepted LDR as a training position for warm-up. If the FEI is right, it is right in both cases, and it is wrong, well, we can't pick and choose what suits the idealism of the moment and expect to be taken seriously.

I had a Grand Prix jumper in my arena last week that was ridden in a snaffle in exactly the same position as Biotop, alternated with occasional long and low as a reward. As soon as he achieved it by dropping his poll slightly, his back connected and he became completely happy and comfortable. Until then, he showed the slight in front of vertical position many seem to prefer, but his back was disconnected and his balance was imperfect, hence his frustration.

ANY position that is held for too long and is forced (including, but not limited to Rolkur) is conducive to discomfort and tetanic muscles. There is more to riding than cardboard cut-outs of the front end. The back and the back-end are equal in importance to the position of the front and the horse's work must be judged as a whole.

The Mystery Of The Outside Rein: Tuesday, August 24th, 2010 (back to Article List)
Many years ago when I was a young student at Nuno's school near Lisbon, he asked me to ride a horse called Hectolitro in the lesson because he had ran out of lessons horses due to a sudden influx of students. Hectolitro was an old fashion Lusitano stallion with a heavy front end and a weak back end. Nuno was usually riding him and he maintained him in a collected balance that palliated his poor conformation. However, my seat was not sufficient to obtain the same effect and, as the lesson progresses, I left the horse get more and more on the forehand, lowering his head and starting to think about striking the horse walking in front of him in the lesson. I survived the walk and trot, but when we started the individual canter work, things started to unravel completely. The horse began giving stronger and stronger resistances on the right rein (I was doing a right circle) and throw his head up every time I touched the right rein (which was obviously too often). I will spare you the details of that lesson, but suffice to say, everybody became very frustrated (the horse, the teacher and yours truly). Nuno kept telling me to stop using the inside rein to turn right but offered no replacement solution. After several episodes in which he got on the horse to show me and I got back on still without a clue, I finally stumbled on a feeling that was quite different, the horse balanced himself and kept his head more stable and the contact on the outside rein increased while the contact on the inside rein all but disappeared. As this (as of yet unexplained) transformation occurred, Nuno jumped up, called me in and told me to get off the horse, embraced me as if I had just discovered the cure of cancer and took me to the local cafe' to have a well deserved "bagaco" (Portuguese white alcohol that will wake the dead).

No further explanation was given, but I tried to keep repeating the feeling on different horses the next few days and realized that when I put my weight on the outside stirrup, the miracle of the light inside rein (that Nuno was preaching everyday) occurred every time. I since understood the following: if I put my weight on the right side, the horse will put his head on the left side to balance it and in so doing, will take the contact on the rein outside that bend and drop the contact inside that bend. This will happen without any action of the leg. Much later I realized that this position (loading the outside stirrup) was also congruent to the back lifting on the inside of the bend and to the rider ending up sitting *passively* on the inside of the bend (just like classical theory indicated). It also became evident that the bend so obtained was even throughout the horse and moved the middle of the horse out, not the shoulder (as a bend obtained by the inward push of the inside leg tends to do), so the horse didn't become crooked as a result of it.

Having the horse take the contact of the outside rein and releasing the inside rein can be very easy if the correct weight distribution is effected, while it can become completely impossible when the rider does the reverse. Once the horse is *on* the outside rein by that simple method, this fundamental aid can be used to control both the shoulders and the quarters by using it in different directions. If you use the hand above an imaginary 9:00 o'clock/3:00 o'clock line perpendicular to the horse's spine, it will affect the shoulders inward or outward as needed. I you use the hand below that line (let's say toward 8:00 or 5:00), it will affect the haunches. In those actions lie the secret of the straight horse, of half-passes and pirouettes and of flying changes.

AIDS FOR SHOULDER-IN: Friday, January 21st, 2011 (back to Article List)
The aids that De La Gueriniere recommended to perform the shoulder-in (the movement he invented) are the use of the inside leg in the middle of the flank of the horse and of the inside rein acting toward the withers. This is a yielding to the leg – and to the hand, not the test movement bizarrely called "leg yielding", but the actual aid action. The use of the weight on the inside also results in "chasing" the horse in the direction opposite the bend.

This is the easiest way to get a horse to move sideways and it was the first to come to DLG's intuition. It is also the most used technique on every continent to "get horses crooked" as Nuno used to say. Instead of easy, it might be best to say "the intuitive way". What I explain below as the "hard way" actually requires less effort from the rider and produces better results from the horse, but it is less intuitive than the other one, particularly for riders who have already experimented with the first technique.

This is Leg yielding used as an aid system. It has the advantages to be simple and effective, historically validated, and intuitive to most riders.

However it has many problems. The first one is that a rider forcefully sitting on the inside of the bend tends to have the reverse effect on the bend by preventing the raise of the back on its inside. The other one is that the action of the inside leg may entice a sensitive horse to move sideways too much or too fast, while a lazy horse (or a contracted one) tends to shortens his stride a lot. I remember a discussion with a reputed judge and he was wondering why a lot of horses with a nice trot would end up with a short stride as soon as they are asked to move sideways. My belief is that it is due to contractions in response to the niggling of the inside leg applied to the shortened flank (already contracted by the bend) on the inside of the bend.

My understanding is that the best way to accommodate the bend is to lower the outside stirrup so the back can rise on the inside of the bend and carry the rider's weight. The other part is that the best way to make the horse move in shoulder-in is for the rider to lead with his/her outside shoulder, so the horse comes "under the weight". This offers the advantages of bringing the horse close to the outside rein (controls the outside shoulder) and to the outside leg (guides the outside hind forward so it reaches out for a longer stride). If the rider learns to ride the outside of the bend, the horse never loses his amplitude and uprightness and the inside takes of itself.

These aids that I use for the shoulder-in belong to a continuum between the aids for passing the corners and making round circles (also described in a previous post on corners) and half passes later on (that you can see on my YouTube videos: "lessons in half-pass technique", six parts). This system of aids is germane with my views of the way the horse's back flexes, another subject on which I have written at length.

The other important aspect of the aids is the action of the seat. The seat must move horizontally (so it doesn't dig into the horse) and its action must be absolutely lined up with the direction of the horse's legs (the path of travel). This is done regardless of the position of the horse in relation to his travel (straight, bent, SI or HP). When we look at a horse from the front or the back, in line with his line of travel, the legs must be moving completely straight in relation to that direction, regardless of their angle. That is the direction the seat must move toward.

The shape of the seat fits with the bend; the angle of the body fits with the line of travel and fits the angle of the horse with that line; the tempo of the seat's movement fits the cadence of the horse's gaits, the movement of the seat fits the line of travel.

It sounds complex, but so is a truly beneficial SI, compared with a horse simply moving sideways with a little inside bend. Thanks for the opportunity to explain further.

Three Tracking and Four Tracking–Shoulder In Discussion
Sunday, January 16th, 2011 (back to Article List)
This is a excerpt response from a conversation on Van Shaik's writings in "Misconcpetions and Simple Truths in Dressage", by Dr HLM Van Schaik, J.A.Allen. (Page 94-95 or In the edition published in 1751, on page 107) Discussion included questions about 3 tracks, 4 tracks, crossing of legs.

If I understand the crux of your query, based on Van Shaik approximate translation, you are asking about the difference between "par dessus" and "au dessus". They both mean "on top of" or "over" and are expressions that actually mean the same thing in this case (in my understanding). "croiser et chevaler": Croiser is to cross. Chevaler means "being on a horse", but in this case it means straddling. As Van Shaik said, quite rightly, DLG was not the greatest writer and he often repeats himself, I guess to reinforce his idea.

Shoulder-in prepares a horse to put more weight on the hind quarters because during every stride it brings the inner hind leg under his belly and puts that leg in front ("au dessus") of the outer hind leg, which "causes flexion of the inner hock."

When he says that SI places the inner hind in front of the other one, he does not mean "the foot exactly in front of the other one", but the entire leg in front of the other leg.

The confusion about the tracking of the hind legs is that it has been assumed that for the legs to track straight in line with the direction the horse is travelling in, the pelvis has to be parallel to the wall. It is not so, as the legs can travel in a straight line with the pelvis at any angle with the wall.

As for the crossing, it can only be judged when looking at it from a point of view placed in front or behind the longitudinal axis of the horse (or to be precise on a tangente that touches the arc formed by the spine in its middle). To cross, the inside hind needs to pass the vertical of the middle of the body while the outside hind stays on the ground long enough to get on the other side of that same vertical.

However this is mostly a false debate because the 2 hind legs travel on 2 different lines in relation to the spine. The outside hind travels on the vertical of its own hip and the inside hind (the one that is engaged under the body as DLG requires as a condition of the movement) travels in front of the vertical of its respective hip. The inside hind will land in front of the outside foot if it steps short or will land beyond the outside foot if it steps further, without any of the other elements of the movement being different.

But if we pay attention to DLG's stated purpose for the shouder-in, he says that it serves to "put the horse on its haunch" by lowering the inside haunch in the process of crossing over the other one. To lower his inside haunch, the horse needs to land his inside hind foot far enough under the body (both forward and sideways) that it will necessarily cross over the outside foot in relation to the vertical of the middle of his belly. A step in which the inside hind only lands in front of the outside hind is simply ineffective at lowering the haunch, and that renders the SI pointless as far as DLG is concerned. This is why I do not feel that the 3 track shoulder-in fulfills the original purpose of DLG.

It is easy to try the movement ourselves by stepping sideways: if our foot inside the bend simply gets in front of the other one, it doesn't pull our hip down, but if we cross it over, we will feel the pelvis drop on the inside.

Early Training–Bends and Circles Question:
Saturday, January 15th, 2011 (back to Article List)
Let's look at the education of the young horse in terms of the big picture.

A young horse needs 2 separate skills immediately as he starts his education: going forward and bending to the inside of the turn. The acceptance of forward movement (and later the desire for it) is the psychological building block on which all subsequent work is built. The sooner it is instilled in the horse, the better. We start it with foals (leading when they are a few days old and briefly lunging at weaning timeâ€"a carefully guarded process of teaching the foal to move, bend, and arc, move in and out of our space, being always observant of biomechanic and physiological safeguards for the young developing horse's legs, etc.). This lunging is done only long enough for the foal to understand that he needs to pay attention to the handler rather than to his mother and his buddies. That is how the foal becomes "human-centric" rather than "herd-centric" and acquires the first level of symmetry.

The second skill needed to transform the unmounted animal and prepare him for dealing with the requirements of carrying weight is to bend on the inside rather than to the outside as he does in natural life. Again, this is something better done as early in life as possible, so the horse grows with a supple. relaxed body rather than a stiff one. This education (effected at the slow walk) doesn't require any amount of physical strength (as long as the colt is not ridden), just relaxation (which Endotapping can induce in mere moments). The transformation of the horse from contracted to relaxed (on a basic level) is a neurological change that is like turning a switch on (or rather off) and takes no time other than what it takes to convince the colt of its possibility.

From a compliance point of view, the colt needs to learn to do a turn around the forehand, a turn around the back end and a few sideways steps on a straight line. This is all obtained by the use of the lead line acting in the opposite direction as the one we ask the colt to move on, associated with our body language (moving into the colt's space and a delivering a few taps for energy on either the butt or the shoulder. Translated into future riding aids, it corresponds to the inside rein (acting at a slightly backward angle: toward 8:00 in order to move to the right for instance) and the inside leg tapping on the flank. Every colt can and need to learn those skills to be handled in the barn.

Two or three years later, when the horse is about to be put under saddle, those skills must be perfected in hand with 2 reins attached to a cavesson of sorts (I use a padded chain weaved into the side rings of the halter because it is very easy to adjust and it creates a light, responsive horse). As the horse is ridden, forward movement needs to be re-established under the weight, turns need to be taught and eventually the basic bend. With the added weight of the rider, this is now a balance problem that takes more time to resolve than in the work in hand, but good preparation pays off. I believe that relaxation is more germane to the issue of balance than actual strength. Young horses who look ill at ease under the rider lack relaxation above all and they will develop adequate strength quite quickly to get the hang of something they are asked to do for a few minutes. It is sustained strength that can take a long time to develop.

The principles of turning can be taught on the lunge lines, first through spirals, then through changes of direction on the lunge line. We teach the horse to understand the effect of each opening rein by associating it with direct stirrup loading and the support of the whip on the other side, as follow: to create a bigger circle on the lunge line, use the outside rein as an opening rein in the direction you want to go to, load the stirrup on that side and point the whip held in the inside hand toward the horse's face, while the handler is maintaining forward movement with the lunge whip. Eventually, light tapping with the rider's leg opposite the opening rein will introduce the horse to the leg aid, but it is really the slight threat of the whip that is the determinant factor in the change of direction. Reverse everything to turn toward the inside. To do a complete reversal of direction on the lunge line, apply the same idea, but really shorten the rein inside the turn to make sure it really acts forward (correct opening rein are much better done with a short rein and a too long one), while the handler draws the horse forward toward him as the change is initiated. Use the lunge whip to point at the horse on the new outside of his turn. Very quickly, the horse understands that any of the signals (shortening of the inside rein, being drawn forward, loading of the inside stirrup, etc.) corresponds to an impending turn.

The only element to add to the turn to create bend is the transfer of weight to the outside while keeping on with a lighter version of the opening rein. This new concept can be facilitated by a little work of lateral flexion of the neck practiced in hand and under saddle, at halt, then in movement. Because the horse has learned to follow the loading of the stirrup, it is easy to control direction and bend: not enough turn: load the inside stirrup; too much turn and not enough bend: load the outside stirrup. This differentiated loading can be adjusted from stride to stride. It has the great advantage of loosening up the horse's neck and shoulders and increase relaxation and roundness of the front end at the basic level (lowering of the head as a natural consequence of diminished tension).

The same system of influencing the horse can be used throughout the horse's education all the way to Grand Prix. As the horse becomes more sensitive and learns to respond to the outside stirrup loading, the tension on the inside rein diminishes by itself and the contact increases on the outside rein because of the bend the horse is adopting: if the outside shoulder is loaded, the horse needs to bring his head to the inside as a counter-action. This is much more effective, elegant and painless than endlessly shoving an unbalanced horse with the inside leg in hope that he will eventually take the outside rein and drop the inside one. As long as there is any weight on the inside shoulder, the contact on the outside rein will remain elusive and temporary at best. A horse trained that way will take the contact on the new outside rein (and drop the new inside rein) through a change of direction as soon as the loading is inverted, his neck will stay round without being forced, he will remain upright and he will lift his back as a direct consequence of the lateral flexion obtained without force—sound too good to be true for dressage riders who have suffered for years through ineffective methods? Just try it in earnest and let me know. )

The conclusion to this long description is that the inside rein/ diagonal aid is specific to the young horse (learning to turn) and the outside rein/diagonal is specific to the trained horse (learning to bend). They have to be taught as a progression and one cannot jump to step two before step one has been mastered completely. From then on, the teaching of shoulder in, travers, half pass, renvers etc. is only a more complex form of this basic system in which the bend is secure because it is comfortable to the horse and has become a natural solution for dealing with the weight of the rider. This is a biomechanically correct approach that serves the long term well being of the horse and is not that difficult to achieve even for an amateur rider.
Regards, JP

Collection and Extension: Monday, January 10th, 2011 (back to Article List)
The style of horses (breed) creates techniques and methods that correspond to the strengths of those horses, and their riders often indulge in the easy stuff and neglect the hard stuff (that is specific to them). If you want to learn about piaffe, you go to Portugal. If you want to learn about extensions, you go to Germany. If you want to be a complete rider, you go to both places and neglect nothing.

True dressage is a whole. It is composed of many movements, many techniques, using different positions of the horse and different progressions of training. One cannot use the fact of being good at one aspect of it to dismiss the importance of another.

Notes on the Half Halt: Sunday, March 20th, 2011 (back to Article List)
WHY do we do a half halt and is it as indispensable as it is made out to be?

Half halts are defined in various ways. The first one is as solutions to "resistances of weight" (Baucher), which simply said means the horse putting more weight on the forehand. The other practical definition is a "the intention of a halt not fully executed". In practice this means that it uses the change of speed as a way to rebalance the horse: the rider plans to trot at 5m/hour and the horse has crept to 5.5 m/hour, so s/he brings the speed back to 4.5 m/hour for a couple of strides and let it creep back to 5 m/hour (the original desired speed). The problem with that technique is that the horse always creeps back to a higher speed and the rider has to repeat the process very often. As we hear the advice of the half halt repeated often, we must assume that the half halt technique that relies on temporarily reducing speed never fixes the balance issue and the horse who is subjected to it never achieves a permanent state of balance, in other word, never achieves self-carriage nor true lightness.

This half halt is achieved by a traction on the reins to slow down the speed and maybe a downward action of the seat and a squeezing of the legs (according to Museler). This is a questionable technique on 2 accounts. First, at the cognitive level, 3 actions at once are very confusing to a horse and are not likely to be understood to their full meaning. Second, if the 3 main aids are used at the same time, the horse has no place to go: the hand brings the weight back, the seat pushes the back down, the legs engage the back leg and lift the back and there lies the conflict. If the legs and the seat are in conflict, what goes down will win over what should go up, so the back tends to go down and the hind legs flex but do not really engage.

Another consideration is the half halt as a technique for collection. How can this be done? Collecting a horse (as opposed to simply practicing "collected gaits") implies various modifications of his posture. The first one is the elevation of the front end, or rather the "verticalization" of the front legs: getting the front legs to push upwards when they reach the vertical rather than push forward when they are already leaning forward. The second one is the rounding of the back (lift of the dorsals under the saddle). This is achieved by the action of the spurs pressing the lower part of the ribs close to the girth and by the seat sliding forward toward the pommel. The combination of the fixed hand and the pressure of the spur at the halt and in the slow gaits constitutes the "effet d'ensemble" which is a PREcondition to collection because it modifies the posture positively but it lacks one of the main elements of collection: increased activity (also known as "vibration" or "tride" in old equestrian French).

When is the half halt (or any part of it) useful in some form for the improvement of collection? When the excessive thrust of the hind legs needs to be reduced, it is appropriate to load the croup a little bit to stop its upward vertical action. This can be done by a slight backward action of the hand and an increased loading of the seat, but without action of the legs: this action shortens the horse slightly and swells the ribs, so the rider's legs must remain out of the way. The loading of the hind legs is effective to a point with certain types: enough of it flexes the hind legs of powerful horses and makes them comfortable to sit; too much of it tends to crush down the impulsion of flexible horses and prevents them to produce enough thrust necessary to go forward in the working and medium gaits. This is why half halts have become an equestrian "religion" in Germany and Holland where most horses have powerful gaits, yet are rarely used in the Iberian Peninsula were flexible Andalusians and Lusitanos hardly ever need half-halts in their training. How can such horses be corrected when they occasionally lose their balance? I suggest the use of the French version of the half-halt, the "demi-arret" to be sufficient. It simply consists of elevating the front end without slowing down the pace by impeding the activity of the back end.

In conclusion, how to envision half halts? They are necessary when they are needed (when the horse occasionally loses his balance,) but they cannot become a "fix-everything" training habit that replaces the gymnastics of transitions between gaits, variations within the gait and the combination of lateral exercises. Half halts can be done in various ways: by the hand acting alone upwards to change the position of the neck and shoulders (Baucher), by the hand acting backwards to slow down the pace temporarily (La Gueriniere), by the seat alone to minimize the upward thrust of the hind legs, by the spurs acting by pressure against a fixed hand to increase the engagement of the hind legs (Raabe). The only method I find counter-productive is the one in which the hand, legs and seat are active at once (Museler): it tends to confuse the horse and shut down his activity, especially if it is used endlessly as some modern authors advise. Eventually the trained horse must have acquired the suppleness of his hind joints, the rebound of his front legs, the soft lift of his back that are all the elements needed for creating a form of collection based on self-carriage and self-propulsion. At that stage, half halts must be finally discarded and the educated horse must be ridden forward in his new balance that permits all the transitions upward and downward to be effected in lightness. This lightness is the result in part of those early half-halts used appropriately. The rider must use of discernment for when and how often to use them, but must also remember that the proper training of the horse is only partially based on their use. There is a whole catalog of movements designed by the classical masters from the 16th century onward in which the half halt occupies only a small place.

Respect and Trust: Sunday, March 6th, 2011 (back to Article List)
Respect: to refrain from intruding upon or interfering with; to respect a person's space.

Trust: reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, generosity, surety, character, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.

Respect and Trust are often quoted together as 2 of the qualities we wish to have in the horse-human relationship. They are presented as a given and authors often explain the basis of respect but rarely dig into the mechanisms of trust in the training process and in particular in which order we should seek them. Many riders think that trust should come first. I have a different opinion: trust needs the relationship to exist in order to arise, because trust is based on the understanding of the other's behavior and on shared experience. Trust means that the other party to is reliable: "I trust that you will do this or that", "I am expecting a predictable outcome", "I know that my behavior will beget a measured, appropriate response". For any of those phrases to be true, what do we need? If the rider has worked at establishing respect, meaning to teach the horse to refrain from entering the handler space, wherever the handler goes, then respect is assured. In other words, the horse learns to give up his space to the handler, just like he will do in the standard herd behavior in which a higher order animal will demand and obtain space from a lower order one.

If the handler does not abuse his/her privilege, uses an appropriate degree of communication, rewards the horse for surrendering his territory, engages the horse to walk back towards him or her after moving away and repeat this process several times in exactly the same way, trust will arise. The horse will start to generalize the response of the handler and believe, until proven wrong, that submission will get him comfort, praise and social acceptance by the handler.

Horses live on their last experience and learn fast: 3 or 4 similar pleasant experiences will erase previous behavior and become the basis of a new belief: "if I move, I do not get threatened and I get praise and approval". Pretty soon it becomes: "my human is always nice to me, I just need to move my feet when s/he ask". Eventually the horse believes that he is training the handler to praise him by doing all those little things that we humans are so interested in.

Gaining respect means first getting the horse's attention, which is done through the display of a powerful but calm presence. Gaining trust means first getting the horse's interest, which is done through a soft and engaging attitude.

For that system of establishing trust to work for the horse, the handler has to become trustworthy, which means that s/he will reliably present his/her request in the same way every time and will never forget to appreciate in some way what the horse has done. That approach will ensure that the horse also becomes reliable. This form of discipline of the horse is based on the self-discipline of the handler / rider.

As an example, let me recount a training session I had today with a young mare getting to be started under saddle. She has already been tapped into relaxation, been exposed to a belly rope that she accepts and relaxes on. Today, the plan was to put a saddle pad and surcingle (loose), then the saddle with a tighter girth. As I was fixing to place the saddlepad and girth, she kept fussing and moving away a lot more than she really needed to. I remembered that her main issue was to be extremely pushy, so I decided to re-establish a little respect. I asked her to back from vibrations on her nose with the padded stud chain we use with all the youngsters. Instead, she repeatedly offered small rears. I insisted until she backed lightly with all 4 feet on the ground. The result was very interesting: she relaxed, lowered her head, softened her eyes and remained completely calm as I placed the pad and surcingle on her back and around her belly without any trouble. What was obvious is that my insistence on getting respect, the praise she got for giving it, immediately created an attitude of trust that was the opposite of her earlier behavior marked by worry and insecurity. This seems counter intuitive, but horses (particularly dominant ones like this mare) that get put in a suitable place in the pecking order, immediately calm down and gain trust in their leaders, much more so that horses who are "courted" and never dominated properly (which means calmly and with proper consideration). This might not be the current PC line of thought, but it is what I have observed many times with a grest number of green horses.

Half-halts and methodologies: Saturday, May 21st, 2011
(back to Article List)
The problem with most methods is that they are the reflection of one person often dealing with one horse or with one group of similar horses. Horses do not get trained by fixed methods or scales or a fixed set of techniques, however effective they might be in certain cases. Horses get trained by the simple principle: Do (carefully and progressively) what is hard to do (for the horse) and it will usually resolve its most important issue.

A horse with a low neck needs careful raising of it
A horse with a high neck needs it lowered and stretched
A horse with a weak back and loins needs to work overbent for some time
A horse with a lot of natural cadence ("schwung") in the straight away needs very frequent transitions between various lateral movements and to learn to change his tempo on command (increase the "vibration" / activity of the diagonals)
A horse who lacks cadence needs work in straight lines with priority on tempo to acquire "schwung"
A horse with ample gaits and a slight downhill balance needs half-halts
A short gaited horse with an uphill balance does NOT need half-halts

Sometimes we need shoulder- in, other times we need lateral flexions of the neck with a straight body ("flechi-droit") Sometimes we teach passage before piaffe, other times we should teach piaffe before passage (more frequently). Sometimes we must insist on the flexibility of the neck, other times it is its stability that matters.

Methods are decided by observation, reflection and experience, not by books (though they have their important uses) or "school dogma". Criticizing BSM or BFM is pointless because they both applied to certain horses vey effectively, just not to ALL horses. The same can be said of every other method: it works in certain cases and not others, that simple.

Let me give you the Nuno perspective on half halts. In one year of lessons with him daily (up to seven lessons a day at certain periods) and in 4 years of work with his disciple Dom Jose Athayde–riding up to 10 horses a day from babies to older ones trained to GP, I do not recall an instance when Half-Halts were mentioned other than, maybe, in passing. In Nuno's complete works, which covers 285 big format pages, there is not one chapter on half-halts. There are many on halts, rein backs, effet d'ensemble, lightness of the leg aids, the mouth and the tongue, the action of the hands, etc. and no title called half-halt or demi-arret. To be sure, Nuno was as influenced by La Gueriniere and Steinbrecht as he was by Baucher, so it is not a "school" thing!

I have trained over 15 Grand Prix horses and have only used half-halts very occasionally to reduce the driving power of overly long gaited horses with the seat, as it is adequately used in Germany. I use demi arrets (upward actions of the hand that do not reduce the amplitude of the gait) to enhance the elevation of the front end or to keep the balance in extensions. Mostly I use my legs to engage the horse and improve the balance by reducing the base of support of the horse (place the hindlegs closer to the front legs).

A horse in collection is in self-carriage and in self-propulsion, which means that he is alert and in charge of his own balance at the pleasure of his rider's indications. Using a 100 HH during a test tells me that the horse is not in balance and not paying attention to his rider. Just being in the saddle should be enough to get the horse's attention. I have ridden hundreds of tests (in 5 different countries) and won a fair share on all kind of horses in front of competent judges including Charles deKunffy, Marianne Ludvig, Steiner and many others. My students have won many more tests, including international competitions, and have never I made the half-halt the basic strategy of their work. Rather, using a half-halt is the proof that the riding is not going as planned and the horse has temporarily lost his balance.

Every school of horsemanship has its own "favorite recipe" and they indulge in it often excessively and rarely look at it from the outside. Doing a million halts, in the Baucher Second Manner supposed mode, or doing a million half-halts in the supposed modern dressage mode, is focusing on the wrong thing. Instead, people need to think more about developing the forward desire of the horse and his participation in the training process. Try to do a million transitions from one movement to the other, one balance to the other, one gait to the other, and the horses will get trained.

Are You a Purist of Method?: Saturday, May 21st, 2011(back to Article List)
The meaning of method (according to the dictionary: a procedure, technique, or way of doing something, especially in accordance with a definite plan). This post was elicited by the idea presented by another member that some consider Half-Halt as an inalienable part of training while others supposedly consider the absence of Half-Halt equally recommendable.

What I am saying is that the technique chosen to train horses may well follow many useful principles.

On the other hand, it is a bad idea to use a SYSTEMATIC approach (meaning no exceptions) to horse training and apply the same method to all horses. It is much smarter to choose the technique (and the set of steps that can be construed as method) in function of each horse's specific difficulty.

What works with one horse is pointless (or can even be disastrous) with another horse. Nuno Oliveira never wrote "a method" because he thought that it would be proven wrong by the very next horse he acquired to train. He spoke of the "spirit of the method", which is a preferred choice of techniques, a set of principles, a group of goals that creates a certain style of a finished horse. He was against setting a progression in stone and he usually found an adapted solution to each problem in his vast equestrian culture.

As an example, I generally work my young horses on the lunge line until I found a horse that was too excitable on the lunge but was very calm under saddle. I quit lunging him soon after his initial backing because it was unproductive. After 8 months of work, I tried again and he now lunges very well and seems to be learning some balance and cadence from it. This is a perfect example that a commonly used method (though generally excellent) did not work in a particular case. The other techniques I have described in the list have very frequent exceptions and we must be very observant of the horses we train before deciding on a course of action.

I am suggesting that trainers need to keep an open mind and not assume that Baucher's Second Manner or Baucher's First Manner, or the German scale (or any other method system) are made of absolute rules that are supposed to always work. Furthermore, because horses evolve constantly, what works today is not guaranteed to work tomorrow. Thank you for reading.
JP Giacomini

On Straightness: Saturday, May 21st, 2011 (back to Article List)
There are as many degree of straightness as they are degrees of education of the horse. If the horse could acquire straightness at an early stage of education, what would be the point of training?

Direction: The first degree of straightness is "straightness of direction", which consists in teaching a young horse to describe correctly the figures of the manege work (straight lines and curves). This is done by the early development of impulsion.

Posture: The second degree is "straightness of posture" in which the horse's spine is progressively lined up with his displacement. This is done by assymetrical gymnastics and assymetrical aids.

Symmetry: The next step is symmetry, in which the horse learns to perform movement equally well left and right. It takes the life of the horse to get that done!

Uprightness: The final stage is complete uprightness, which depends on the symmetry of the bend. I have used this progression in the general marks of the tests in the www.traditionalhorsemanship.com.

I never believed that you could use the same criteria to judge the straightness of a training level horse and the one of a GP horse, any more than you could do for his impulsion, gaits etc.
JP Giacomini

Article List
On Collection
Notes On The Seat: Airborne vs Adhesive
Addressing Head Positioning: on the bit or not
The Mystery Of The Outside Rein
Aids For Shoulder-In
Three Tracking and Four Tracking–Shoulder In
Discussion Early Training–Bends and Circles Question
Collection and Extension
Notes on the Half Halt
Respect and Trust
Half-halts and methodologies
Are You a Purist of Method?
On Straightness

JP resides in Kentucky and conducts clinics internationally. Schedule a J.P. Giacomini clinic today!
859-748-9091 • jpgiacomini@gmail.com


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