July 31, 2009

Back in business!

Back to work, both for the twolegged ones, and the fourlegged ones!
Before we get some vacation fat trimmed off, we need some shoes...
Off to get some help, luckily it's walking distance!

Charlie behaved.
Fame almost behaved.
Got just a teeny-weeny bit bored at the end. Hehum.

While I was holding Fame, my daughter made a new acquintance. A very friendly one!
When we were finished, we took the horses up to the pasture again. We are not bringing them home quite yet.

Charlie was his normal, charming self.
He is such a cutie!

Yesterday the rain was pouring down, and we had a storm coming in. The weather was terrible during the night, and I had trouble sleeping, thinking of the horses.
I had to check up on them before going to work. Fortunately everything was fine.

This afternoon the weather had cleared up and we even had some sun.
Today we went on our first ride since we put the horses out on pasture.
Unfortunately I forgot my cellphone in the car, so I don't have any pictures from the ride - but it was marvellous!
My daughter was with me, and it was four very happy beings roaming the forest for an hour's ride.
The horses were eager and happy, and so were we!
We had all kinds of entertainment; meeting horsewagons, bikes in high speed, and even dogteam with bike, traning for the winter season. We had to pass wooden bridges with roaring water under - we had some heavy rainfall the last 24 hrs, so all waterways are flowing over.
The horses were a bit apprehensive negotiating the bridges, but went over after a slight hesitation - how good they were!
It is so good to be back in the saddle, yippeee!!!

I love the pasture where we have our horses.
It is meadowland and hilly, so they don't get too fat and they have to exercise when moving around. They have access to sheltering forest in bad weather.
When we get them back to work they usually are in pretty good shape - and eager to get back to work after having some time off. As we are :)

Outside it is still lovely, but the light green in the leaves has turned into a more saturated colour. And it is getting darker in the nights.
I have tried to transform the jungle outside our house to a garden again, with mixed result.
As I was a bit "behind" on the weeding before we left for vacation all was kind of wild when returning...
At least it is better than it was!

Enjoy your summer! Have some berries while they are fresh!
(and thanks to my daughter for the pics!)

July 29, 2009

Visit some friends!

Need some food for thoughts?
I have read some very interesting posts lately.
Why don’t you have a cupper, or grab a beer or whatever, sit down and go visit?
(I love that, sit down and visit! Outside my window it is pouring down, grey and cold. With storm warning for the evening. Feels like October. Nice to be able to visit someone and still be able to stay put, don’t you think?)
Now maybe you’ve gone visiting already, but don’t miss out if you haven’t!

First out is Kate at A year with horses.
She has been to a weekend seminar with Mark Rashid, and has in several posts given a detailed account of what happened.
I discovered Mark Rashid half a year ago, and have since bought four of his books.
He has a very thoughtful approach to horses, and I am very envious of Kate, who has been fortunate enought to be able to attend several of his clinics “live”.
I just loved his books, and I can highly recommend them to those of you that haven’t read them.
The first of Kate's posts is here.

The sofa princess has left the sofa for some tree-climbing.
Coming up is easy, but coming down???

Next three posts come from Enlightened horsemanship through touch.

The first post is called Do You Demand Your Horse’s Complete Attention?
In the worlds of traditional and natural horsemanship, there is a lot of talk about what constitutes respect. What are the horses really biologically capable of?
I leave it to you to read the post, it is a very good one, and please also read the comment from jme at Glenshee Equestrain Center here.

The second post is called Affirmations of Awareness for Horsepeople: On Perception
where Kim discusses the horses perception compared to us (and also cites some thoughts from Mark Rashid!)

The third is called The Dominance Model and Horsemanship by Equine Ethology Are Dead where Kim comments on a position paper from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior . Already in 2008, based on the most recent research, they outlined their reasons for eschewing any kind of dominance-based training.
Very interesting reading indeed, and again please also read the comment from jme at Glenshee Equestrain Center here.

There are some really good thoughts there. I feel I don’t have much to add apart from stating that I believe that all is well written and I wholeheartedly agree.

Thanks to my fellow bloggers for sharing your thoughts with the rest of us!
There has been a lot of awards going around, but I feel that your posts at least deserve some summer flowers….here they come!

Hope you are enjoying your summer all, and that you have better weather than we have here at the moment!

July 28, 2009

Today's entertainment

I believe it is Entertainment Time again.
As we get more and more international, communication might pose a problem.
But with skilled employees, anything is possible...

July 22, 2009

Is forward always good?

A tendency within the dressage sport lately has been to favour horses with a hotter temperament.
Which is not always so easy to ride unfortunately.
I have seen some riding lately that has made me wonder.
Riding in high tempo, with horses out of balance and on the forhand.

So when one of the dressage Nestors in Sweden, Bo Tibblin, had a post in the major Swedish equestrian magazine a while back where he touched this subject, I read with interest.
He was reflecting on what he sees in dressage shows on regional level.
He is looking for the basics in dressage riding, i.e. balance, rhythm, exactness and supportive riding - but is seeing much of a constructed balance which has its origin in the hands of the rider, and where the horse is working in such a high tempo that balanced turns and movements are made impossible.
And as a result he questions the education of trainers and judges.

I find this very interesting, also his conclusion that you have to look at the source, with those who set the standards - judges and trainers.

I am returning to the dressage basics again - but it is really such a good base to work from, so you have to excuse me for being repetitive.
The German training scale is acknowledged all over the world as the base for dressage education for the horse.
It is like follows:


The first three makes the foundation, and are so important as they aim for the horse to rediscover his balance under the rider.
So what do they mean?

Rhythm. The horse has to have a clear four-beat walk, a trot that keeps the same rhythm in collection and extension, and a true three-beat canter where you also keep the rhythm in movements, collections and extensions. Rhythm is a function of mental and physical relaxation. A tense horse often loses the rhythm.

Suppleness. The horse has to be loose and supple in the body, without any tensions or stiffnesses. The horse has to swing over the back to achieve a forward motion without locking up in neck, poll or hocks. He has to flex in the body and tackle changes in direction or gaits without tensing up or changing rhythm.

Contact. It is not only contact to the bit, but an acceptance of the rider's seat and aids. We need the horse to accept and respond to the aids while keeping a round outline with a soft,steady and even contact on the bit and with a relaxed jaw and mouth.

These first three building blocks are linked together, intertwined.

Far too often you can see riders that tries to solve a contact problem (getting the horse on the bit) by sending the horse forward in an attempt to get "impulsion", while forgetting about the rhythm and suppleness.
It won't work.

So what happens if you put in more energy than the horse can handle?

He will run, increase speed and get on the forehand. And you will lose balance and rythm. And he might tense up, or you might get problems with the contact as he either gets heavy in the hands through being on the forhand, or braces against you.
Maybe it is the request of suppleness/relaxation that most often is sacrificed or forgotten?
It takes time to build the necessary strength, balance and understanding in the horse. There are no real shortcuts. And your horse has to work in a relaxed frame of mind if he is to learn in an efficient way.

If your ground is weak, you will get problems in the work to come.

We have to get the first three building blocks established first before we can get to the second phase - the development of thrust from the hindquarters, impulsion.
Impulsion is that which creates the beautiful spring in the steps, the ability to carry in the hindlegs and the power and grace of the dressage horse.

Only when the horse through consistent training has aquired strength enough we can put in more energy and get the horse to move with more impulsion - while keeping the balance, the rhythm, and staying supple - and not only speed on forward.
All forward is not good.
Forward does not equal impulsion.

Now reading this it sounds a bit black and white, and riding is not that easy - is it?
What we are speaking about here is really a marsh full of shades of grey, where it is so easy to step wrong.

Problem is that a dressage horse needs a lot of energy, and he needs to be alert and ready to go forward at all times – being in front of the leg. This often creates some tenseness in the horse, which can be everything from clearly visible to very subtle.
It is so very much a balancing act, and where the pitfalls are situated is depending on each individual horse and rider.
Some horses easily tense up, other loses the rhythm.
Some have problems with the contact.

I am so very grateful to my instructors, who help me to perform this balancing act.
It is a continuous struggle, because to get the necessary hind leg activity you have to have energy in the horse, and during this work you will inevitably also run into problems with rhythm, suppleness and/or contact which has to be addressed and solved.

It is imperative that our guides, the trainers and the judges, are clear and consistent about what is correct.
Otherwise we might get lost on the way.

July 14, 2009

Summer reads

As the horses are enjoying themselves on summervacation (and so are we), I thought I would make a non-horsey post this time, and share some books instead.
First I though about just writing about my recent favourites. But as I assume that many of you have read the same books as I have, I decided to only write about Scandinavian authors instead. Might be new reads?
I will start with the one with a decieving title (and cover):

It is by the Norwegian author Per Petterson, and is called "Out stealing horses"
I am sorry folks, it is not about horses.
In the summer of 1948 Trond and his father is living up in the forests close to the Swedish border. Trond is 15, and what he experiences in those weeks will change his life.
More than 50 years later he is moving to a small cottage in the middle of nowhere with his dog, and something happens that brings the memories from 1948 back.
This is a lowkeyed book about a mature man, reflecting back on his youth from a self-inflicted isolation - which perhaps brings the memories even more vividly back for him.

In the summer time I like to read crime novels.
Here are two of my favourite Swedish authors: Camilla Läckberg and Liza Marklund.
They both have female leading characters.

Camilla Läckberg first.
Her first novel is called The ice princess and is taking place in the small town of Fjällbacka where the writer Erica Falck is returning after the funeral of her parents. She finds her childhood friend, Alex, with her wrists slashed, and her body frozen in an ice-cold bath. Has she has taken her own life, or is there something more behind the tragedy?
Camilla Läckberg was voted Swedish Writer of the Year for 2005, and her books have also been filmed as television series.

Next one out is Liza Marklund.
Her first book in the series of the reporter Annika Bengtzon is called The Bomber.
A bomb explodes in the recently constructed Olympic village in Stockholm just months before the Summer Games are set to begin.
Annika Bengtzon is a crime editor for the Stockholm tabloid Kvallspressen and is set to cover the incident. She is not convinced that it is a terror act, and as she digs deeper she uncovers some secrets which get her into trouble (of course!).

Then over to Stieg Larsson's Millenium Trilogy, where The girl with the dragon tattoo is the first book.
These books have become very popular not only in Scandinavia but also abroad, and are now also filmed.
The main characters are a bit out of the ordinary; a disgraced financial journalist and a socially outcast female superhacker.
It is a quick paced novel, hard to put down.
It is always a risk to get disappointed when something becomes very popular, and I have to admit that maybe my expectations were a bit too high. I liked the novel, but didn't find it extraordinary.

And from crime novels over to a book that made me laugh. Often.
Morten Ramsland is Danish, and his novel "Doghead" made me think of some of John Irving's books.
It is a story about three generations of a bizarre family, each generation with their own dysfunctions. It is a totally crazy story, and I am amazed about the imagination of the author. Get some entertainment today, and read it!

Ken Follett's Pillars of the earth has many fans.
Here you have a trilogy set in the same period, but set in Sweden/Jerusalem instead of in England: Jan Guillou's Crusades Trilogy.
The books are very popular in Scandinavia, and have also been filmed.
The main character Arn is high born, but is brought up by monks in a convent where he learns to read, ride and fight. The books tell us how he turns to a Knight Templar, fights in Jerusalem and later returns to Sweden where he plays an important role in the fight of the throne.

The last item is not a book, but a movie - and one of the better I have seen for quite a while.
Max Manus - Man of War.
It is about the resistance in Norway during WWII, and is built on the memoires of one of the most prominent heroes, Max Manus.
I believe that the movie gives a very good description on how it was.
From the somewhat naïve start with the oh-so-young-and-innocent-20-year-olds, who wanted to do something when their home country was invaded in 1940.
And how the effort and strain wore them down over the years to come.
The move is a nail biter from start to end, and all is based on what really happened.
A quality movie with good actors and stunning effects. To make a realistic impression, parts of Oslo was converted to the early 1940s - the Nazi flag was raised on top of Stortinget (Norwegian Parliament) for the first time in 60 years.
We are lucky to still have some of the main characters alive, and the movie was very well received by them, something I find both reassuring and touching.
The film set a national record for a Norwegian film on its opening weekend, and is the 2nd most seen Norwegian movie all times.

July 05, 2009

The wiggly horse

Stillearning wrote:
HOC, when you have time, could you also write a description of riding a horse straight, as in keeping equal weight in each rein, etc.?....I'm currently riding a "wiggle worm", so would enjoy your input.

So here comes a try.
First, I hope that she means the same as I do when it comes to a "wiggly" horse.
To me, it is a horse that pops out here and there.
Like when you are riding on a circle, the shoulder falls out. So you correct it, just to find that the horse then places the hindquarters to the inside instead. So you correct that etc, etc.

I think this problem, as well as the solution, differs a bit from the crooked horse (link to earlier post). So again I hope I have understood your question correct, stillearning?

First, I must say that my input here is just some personal comments from how I would have tried and solved the problem if I experienced it myself. I am not a professional trainer, and I do not know your horse or you as a rider, stillearning, so take it for what it's worth, ok?
And I am (as always) happy to get input/comments/questions from others!

Anyway, here are my 2 cents:

A wiggly horse is not easy to ride.
It is an evasive pattern in the horse, and I believe we'll have to go back to basics, as much of the problems we experience when riding is solved by looking at the base requests on the horse.

Many riders have heard of Steinbrecht's dictum
"Ride your horse forward and make him straight",
and I believe here lays the answer to this problem.

I would start by checking that my horse was really thinking forward.
I would make sure that he kept a clear rhythm and was in balance, but I would otherwise not worry too much about frame or collection. Sometimes this problem creeps up if the rider worries too much about frame and forgets that the horse always has to be in front of the leg.

So what to do?

I would want my horse to think forward as soon as I soften my hand, with the slightest touch of the leg. If he doesn't, I have to correct.
I would praise a lot when I get a reaction, and if I get more forward than I asked for, I would avoid putting on the brakes immediately as it will confuse my horse.

I would try and keep my horse relaxed, but attentive.

Exercises: Work much with transitions within the gait.
First, find a good working rhythm, and get your horse to relax and with a soft contact on the bit. Then, while keeping the rhythm try and soften your hands and get the horse to lengthen some strides. Don't ask too much in the beginning. Make sure he doesn't tense up and increase speed and rythm. Posting trot makes it easier, and helps you and the horse to think about the rythm. Help him with a tap on the hind quarters from a dressage whip if he doesn't understand. Praise immediately when your horse offers the right response.
Then through half halts, softly collect again for a few steps. When you collect, it might again be necessary to tap on the hindquarters to help your horse to understand that he needs to activate the hind legs, and not solve the equation by working with less energy.
And repeat.
For each time, find the working trot/canter in between and make your horse relax before you again start to ask for lengthening/shortening of the strides.
What you should be looking for is that the horse actively seeks contact on the rein.
Make sure that you have a true three-beat rythm in the canter, also when you collect. If you get a four-beat it is due to lack of impulsion - get some more energy into the work!

Keep the balance in corners and in changes of direction through half halts. Make sure that your tempo here is not larger than the horse can handle. If you feel loss of balance, collect more or make a transition downwards.

Then start to work with transitions between the gaits.
Concentrate on quality.
In the transistions upwards, remember that the movement has to start with engaged hindlegs, and not by pulling with the front end.
Concentrate on how it feels.
Does your horse respond quickly? Is he using the front or the rear engine most when getting started? Does your horse get heavy in the hand? Is he tensed or relaxed? Again, use a dressage whip if necessary to tap the hindquarters to help the horse understand what you want.
Downhill transitions:
Prepare, prepare is the key. Collect the horse first through half halts. Try and use the seat, and as little hand as possible. If you feel that the horse falls on the forehand and get heavy in the hands - correct it by not doing the transistion but to ride on again - like you have been doing when riding transitions within the gaits earlier. Ride the horse forward to get the hind legs working again. Then make a new attempt.

Try and keep the horse relaxed all through the work.
If he tenses up in the poll or jaw, he will not work correctly. I would then introduce some circles and flex to the inside, with an immediate release on the inside rein when he gives. I would make sure that when I ride my circles I have a soft, but steady contact in my outer rein. If I lose that contact, I would add more inside leg, to engage the inside hind and achieve bend in the body.

In the base of the German training scales lies
1. Rhythm
2. Relaxation and
3. Contact

All these three are important when we work with the wiggly horse.

We have to send the horse forward, to get a true contact - but while maintaining the rhythm and keeping the horse relaxed.
Remember that the hand has to be quiet, as the engagement comes from the hindlegs into the hand to create a correct contact.
The rider's seat also plays an important role here. To keep a quiet hand the rider needs an "independent seat", i.e. he should not be depending on rein contact to keep a good balance.

Did that help, stillearning?

Don't forget to praise and reward...and have fun!