Posted on Tuesday, November 4, 2014 by Heather Dodd
by Demelza Hawes
I’ve been invited to write some articles for CHN What’s On about the most common errors and problem areas I see, both when judging and training riders. So, over the coming months I will discuss with you the areas most riders stumble upon when competing and educating their horses, whether it be in dressage, their flatwork for show jumping or eventing, or just pleasure riding. Let’s face it our horses can always improve in their movement…as can we.
But first, here’s a brief introduction to the team that is HawesBordas.
Both Nicolas (Bordas) and I trained in Saumur, which is the birth place of the French National Equestrian School, home of prestige and tradition in classical equitation. There, we trained a minimum of 3 horses to be ready for advanced level competition in each discipline of Dressage, Show jumping and Eventing. Training with the elite Cadre Noir masters was a real education.
We both compete here in the UK and have worked in a variety of different yards for many top riders and Olympians in Europe. Training the horse correctly according to his structure and biomechanics is our passion.
Intro over…Here’s the first article:
I have to say, THE most common fault I see, is riders over riding their horses in the pursuit of “impulsion” or “more activity”. Resulting in speeding!
Regularly I see riders, not only in their test but also in their warm up working with a walk and trot that is too fast, and often a canter that is either way over-pushed or too held together and bouncing on the spot.
In a test this results in paces looking rushed in the attempt to show activity and it pushes the horse out of balance, forcing the rider to “steer” with their hands and using too much contact. You see how this can spiral out of control leading to a hollow back and lack of suppleness. The work you do as a rider ends up being harder and harder, whereas, it should become easier and easier.
So, with all this pushing to show off the paces, the judge never gets to see the horse’s natural movement, or way of going. This is then reflected in the marks due to balance issues, odd shaped patterns and also your collectives will be sorely hit.
Rectifying the Problem
Unfortunately the problem cannot simply be solved by just slowing down in the test, although this will give a sticking plaster effect short term.
Whether you have a pony, a cob, a Connemara cross or well bred sports horse, we can all achieve to improve or let out what is naturally there. The biggest factor in achieving this is to develop the rider’s feel for the paces. This means doing exercises with no pushing involved and no pulling, just letting your horse move. Try this:
- Riding with your eyes closed in all paces, especially over walk and trot poles. With a long rein and a slow rhythm.
- Learn to compare your horses walk and trot in the school, and when out on a hack, across fields or on a road/track. The same for the canter, question yourself as to what FEELS more active and naturally forward. Is it more comfortable for your horse outside or inside? I bet I know the answer!
These are easy steps to develop your feel and also to really know your horse’s movement and stride length, so can be practised regularly. Do be sure to understand that this development is a progressive learning and something that never stops and so must always be encouraged and checked.
By increasing your feel you will begin to understand the difference between speed and impulsion.
SPEED = Running, heavy on your hand or light and behind the vertical, downhill and often irregular strides.
IMPULSION = Feeling the horse move easily under you, feeling his hind legs working behind your seat, with activity and desire. Increased manoeuvrability of the shoulders through your contact is then felt as a by product. The back lifts under you and through to the withers.
To develop impulsion with your new found feel:
- Warm up – make your first steps in walk trot and canter, natural steps. Don’t touch the mouth and make him move forward off your leg with oomph! Follow his strides, light seat and guiding, wide and light hand/arm. Half halts keeping him ultra slow, so he waits and pushes.
- Begin taking up the contact. Sit taller, robust and agile through your core, maintain natural rhythm and steps. Hands following his head/mouth.
Now he is connecting in natural steps to a soft following hand. Please note the head must act as a counter balance to the hind quarters, so the neck must move. DO NOT BLOCK THE FRONT END. If you are worried about a forward contact, put a neck strap on to build your confidence.
Now to add impulsion, simply make many transitions.
PACE TO PACE – smooth, waiting steps to the next pace, half halt before and ride forward in the new pace.
INSIDE PACES – keep smooth, subtle, but at the same time reactive to the leg. Maintain your balance, and ride forward after the half halts. Add to a circle to question suppleness.
LATERAL WORK – progress once you have spent time making him confident to working all types of transitions to leg yields, shoulder –in, travers etc.
Be as imaginative as possible, keeping the balance and the rhythm. Try to find all the gears in each pace.
You will find with these quick repetitions your horse will really push more from behind and the engine will really be firing now so all you need to do is point and go…and balance yourself and him! Do these changes in pace just before you enter your test to keep him listening and waiting for you and keen to do the job.
To find out more about how Demelza could help you and your horse, visit www.hawesboardas.com
Posted on Thursday, April 3, 2014 by Heather Dodd
Practical horsemanship is based on the work of the legendary American horse trainer Monty Roberts, perhaps better known as a horse whisperer, with whom both Grant and Dan have worked. It is non-violent and involves exposing horses to situations they find stressful in a calm and progressive manner, always rewarding them by removing the stress as soon as they have shown some acceptance of it.
One of the two horses brought to the demonstration was Wise-Spares Bluecash, or Cash to his friends, a stunning six year old appaloosa stallion bred by NORC membern Nicki Bellenie. Nicki has bred, trained and shown Appaloosas for a number of years but, even with professional help, has been unable to ride Cash as everyone who has tried to sit on him has been bucked off. Cash was acknowledged by Grant to be ‘quite a challenge’.
Using a safe environment, a 20 metre diameter pen in the indoor arena at Babington Dressage owned by George Martin, Grant and Dan took Cash through a series of potentially stressful experiences. Initially Cash was worked around the pen loose and then on the lunge in both directions, and then a saddle was put on, something he has experienced before so that was not particularly stressful.
While Grant held him on a loose lunge line Cash was introduced to the idea of being ridden by Dan moving the end of a long pole from the ground to the saddle, followed by plastic bags tied to the end of the pole. Then a large gym ball was moved against Cash’s sides and onto the saddle. Each time that Cash showed acceptance he was rewarded by the object being removed and Grant giving him a stroke.
Then Wayne arrived. Wayne is a life-size dummy. Gradually Wayne was moved into position on the saddle and tied on firmly. At this point Cash showed his potential, bucking around the pen and doing his best to get Wayne off. But Wayne stayed put and fairly quickly Cash seemed to accept him.
Then it was Dan’s turn – everyone was holding their breath. Very slowly he lent over Cash, then Grant lifted him up and
down alongside Cash and incredibly, just 50 minutes after first coming into the pen, Dan was sitting on a fairly calm Cash who took his first few ridden steps without doing anything to get his rider off. Quite amazing! Owner Nicki described it as
‘absolutely magical’ and I suspect Cash may be seeing more of Grant!
The second horse, Sam, a beautiful black seven year old mare, presented a rather different, but perhaps more common problem. Sam is owned by George Martin and Cas Bear and, unlike Cash, can be ridden and has striking paces. But she experiences anxiety when exposed to different situations. So Grant and Dan set about desensitising her to a variety of objects, including the plastic bags on the long pole, the gym ball (Grant used her legs as goal posts and her back as a tennis net – no problem), a large blue umbrella and a hula hoop put back and forth over her head.
Despite some hesitation, once she had investigated each of these objects, Sam seemed to accept them all. Grant then brought a large sheet of blue crinkly tarpaulin into the pen, the sort that makes a lot of noise when you (or a horse) steps on it. He laid the tarp out and encouraged Sam to walk over it. There was no way she was going to do this, so he folded it into a small strip and she walked over that quite happily if somewhat exuberantly at times. Then the tarp was opened out again and once again she refused to move close. However, by going back to the narrow strip and repeating the exercise over and over again, with an ever increasing size of sheet, and with the help of sections of the pen being brought in behind her to increase the pressure to cross over, the session ended with Sam walking nonchalantly over the spread out tarp on her own, following Grant who was wielding the large blue umbrella and kicking the gym ball.
This demonstration was organised by NORC’s committee. NORC’s next demonstration is on Showing with Jo Bates and will be held on Wednesday 16 April – see NORC’s website for more information on this and other club activities