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Eole - october 15, 2009

Today, I rode Eole alone in the large outdoor arena which was completely empty. Clear sky, chill wind, a good Autumn weather for riding. Ins...

Friday, 10 July 2015

Solene - july 9, 2015

I have not ridden Solene for two weeks. We were alone in the large covered arena, fairly warm but not as hot as during the latest heat wave we suffered here during the last week. The lady who rides Solene mentioned to me that she had found him rather lazy and not forward during the two last weeks. Also, he has got a little cut inside the lower lip which she assumed to have been caused by her double bridle curb. So I had to ride him with a Pelham instead of my double bridle on that assumption.
I was concerned by this issue of lack of forwardness, and I remembered a quote from JC. Racinet who said that: 'you should retain a horse which retains himself'. As I mentioned before, I had observed that Solene sometimes would 'retain himself' at the beginning of the session, i.e. refusing to respond to the leg asking for more impulsion instead of projecting himself forward instantaneously. I understand Racinet's phrase as something like:it is of no use to increase leg's action (including spurs' one) with a horse that goes behind the bit or even rejects demands for speed/energy increase. Rather, you should bring him back into slower action, at lower gaits (walk if at trot, trot if at canter), and ask him for just restarting into the next upper gait for just a few strides, and downward transition again. All this being even more effective on the circle. Indeed, it worked effectively today with Solene, after a patient, lengthy sequence of this exercise interspersed with rest at walk on loose reins, low and long, and lots of compliments at each upward transition. We ended the last 15' with a strong, energetic working canter which delighted me, because I had recovered 'my brilliant Solene' at last. Good posting and sitting trot followed, long and low. We stopped there and went back to the stables with some comforting reassurance as far as i was concerned.
I could not determine which was the root cause of this problem. There must be something latent in Solene about it, since I had noticed issues of that nature several times ago, but lighter and shorter. Stiffness in the right shoulder? But were there additional aggravations?: Very hot weather lately? Did the minor wound in the mouth played a role? And what about the fact that the lady who rides him tends to ride him (too?) softly and contents herself with a forwardness which she never brings to the 'vibrant' stage, letting it instead perhaps close to sluggish in my view?
Well, here are a lot of food for thought and future investigation.
Horsemanship is made of this sort of ups and downs, the latter being challenges, not deceptions or frustrations to the honest, persevering horseman...

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Solene - june 18, 2015

Empty covered large arena. Started with walk, with variations of speed, halts and reining back. Solene was not really forward, so I worked him on circles of various diameters, looking for bringing him low and long. When a horse retains himself, working on the circle is a great remedy. After 10', I chose to put him into canter rather than trot. I thereby applied an interesting point made by Le Rolland, viz. that it is often easier to put a horse forward at canter than in trot at the beginning of the session: when there is stiffness in the horse, canter is more comfortable for him than trot, because walk and canter have more in common than walk and trot.
It worked fine and we did a number of rounds on the large track, both leads, trying to increase impulsion with the seat, not the legs, going into circles each time the faintest resistance seemed to pop up and varying the speed until the canter became steady in pace and cadence showed up. We then interspersed canter with halts, transition to walk and back to canter on the four strides basis I mentioned earlier. This canter session took 15'. A rest followed at walk, loose reins but active strides.
We went then into a trot session, and I could verify that Solene felt easier, both at posted and sitting trot. We went into a corner and worked on small circles (a horse's length diameter) changing hands, going on figures of eight, ending by getting out on the large track and asking increased speed with longer strides. The impulsion piled up in the corner work frees itself out in a lovely way.
After a new rest at walk, we worked on the circle with shoulder-ins and haunches in or out, at walk. We then went into cadenced trot, low and long to get more elasticity in strides. Solene now enjoys working nose 'in the dust' and has acquired a better balance. He now longer stumbles, and knows how to lift his front feet to the level required.
We started a new canter session, and went into the climax of the day, i.e. flying changes on the large side, not on the diagonal. We have been preparing for this for some weeks, mainly with the sequence walk-canter-walk, reducing the number of strides of walk down from four to..zero. It was a great achievement for Solene, and a deep satisfaction for me when we successfully performed three flying changes on the same large side. I felt this unique sense of rhythm that the horse will give you when being able to achieve this performance: it becomes wonderfully easy, just need to move slightly your weight from on ischion to the other, together with small rotation of shoulders and a slight sliding of the legs in opposite directions from each others at each change. Just delightful. I had in my mind at that time the superb videos of Oliveira chaining up flying changes; and I could understand why he did not attempt making his own body movements invisible, which of course he could have done, like most great Masters (Le Rolland was stunning in this respect): he surely wanted to enjoy dancing with his horse!
We ended right there, with lots of compliments and pats to Solene, and a quiet minute or two sitting at rest before dismounting and enjoying a good grooming in the stables.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Solene - Inspiration from the Masters

In my research to further improve our work with Solene, I discovered a wealth of guidance especially relevant to him from a book by Patrick Le Rolland about his 'Principles for Dressage'. I have always admired this exceptional ecuyer - just look at this wonderful picture of the Master on his famous Cramique,TB!-but I had not read anything from him until I found his book 'Les Principes de dressage' written by JM. Vié, one of his disciples, and himself. His teaching placed an overriding emphasis on energy management in motion, constantly concerned with regularity, cadence, rhythm, speed, balance and their subtle interactions with a paramount, overarching search for relaxation and happiness for the horse. After his career at the Cadre Noir, and his impressive international competition successes, he had become a world known teacher, but as General Durand wrote in the book foreword, his writings are not easily accessible because of his exceptional riding gifts which enabled an 'instinctive' perfection in managing aids and an extraordinary tact.
However, this warning should not be a deterrent for reading this book. The most interesting concept that I found in it is encapsulated in one of Le Rolland favorite phrase: ' keep what you have got'. My take on this somewhat sybilline expression is that any change in activity, horse position, degree of collection or bending within a given stride should not be done at the expense of a loss of 'propulsion', which I understand to be forward moving energy. One fall-out of this is that the rider shall never exceed what the horse can give at each stage of the training , even if this limit looks at times inferior to the rider's desire. Raising this sort of limit  hence becomes the main objective of the dressage, through a well thought-out programme spanning over time, requiring both patience and determination from the trainer. Increasing speed, or pushing the horse beyond his comfort zone is never a solution for improving the situation. Another point which spoke to me is the search for relaxation through working with neck downward extension, nose in front of the vertical. I did found that this approach was quite effective with Solene for dealing with his shoulder stiffness/pain.
Well, a lot more could be said about Le Rolland principles of dressage. I will stop here however, without though forgetting to mention than one way of learning from him is just to look and admire his pictures which tell so much as far as perfection is concerned...

Monday, 1 June 2015

Pacha - memory

I learnt from his owner that Pacha passed away suddenly recently. He never recovered from the illness that he suffered in 2012, and was retired ever since.
I shall keep a special memory from this little horse. He has been the only horse which I have worked in freedom, on ground, beside riding. The difficulties I had experienced in riding him at first prompted me to do this, in order to try and soothe down his anxiety which was a strong hindrance to get him calm and relaxed when mounted. It allowed me to get very close to him, and to build a kind of relationship which ethologists advocate for, very rightly I must say. We spent long sessions in the outdoor covered arena, working and playing in freedom. He was very keen to obey my vocal demands, and would stop, start, take whatever gait I requested. I particularly enjoyed him walking by my side, careful to keep at shoulder level, halting when I did, and adjusting his speed to mine. At that point, we could communicate in a manner that I would not have believed possible.
I could measure the quality of our relationship the day when a storm broke out as he was free in the arena, with me standing in the middle: when the lightning flashed, he was afraid and came straight to me for shelter and reassurance.
As I already wrote somewhere about Eole, my experience with Pacha has shown again that horsemanship is first and foremost a matter of sentiment.

'There is no secret so close as that between a rider and his horse'
Robert S. Surtees

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Solene - april 24, 2015

We have been keeping focussing on cadence and impulsion. But last Friday's session has stressed even more than before how respecting his right shoulder aching is paramount, and that the intensity of pain might change from one day to the other. It convinced me that a very progressive warm-up was mandatory. Otherwise, if you ask him something that mobilizes his right shoulder too early in the session such as:
- a bend on the right, he will show his pain by jerking his forehand,
- a request to trot not gentle enough, he will go into canter, or try a sort of unrequested passage.
- a request to speed up right lead canter, he will retain himself. Insisting may trigger attempts to defences such as kicking or bucking.
As I mentioned earlier, all these observations clearly show that it is not bad will, but really stiffness and pain. I had taken great attention to this before but this time, I noted that he reacted more sensitively. Maybe it was due to the fact that he had spent the previous day resting in the paddock. And maybe also his hormones springtime surge may have diminished his patience.
This pain problem seems akin to the one of Kelso, Mrs. E. Haillot's lovely grey that she mentions in her blog 'Connivence' referenced on my front page. This blog is a remarkable source of information, experience and education towards the'Belle Equitation' that I use much. I warmly encourage anyone dedicated to good horsemanship  in reading and watching  it as one of the best dressage diary that I ever found.
Coming back to Solene, and following E.H method, I looked for descente d'encolure on very light contact, and walked him for ten minutes without any other request than a few halts, followed or not by three strides reining back, mainly on the main track, with a few voltes in the corners. I did the same in trot, trying to transition from walk to trot without change in his low head carriage. A few halts again, with a few reining back followed by reversing immediately into trot. This lasted 15 ' and worked beautifully. I could feel Solene relaxing while at the same time gaining rhythm and cadence as well as elasticity in his strides. I could then go into 'regular' work, with shoulder-ins at walk and trot, transition canter/walk/canter on both leads, La Gueriniere'square etc..and good speed variations at posting trot, nearing at times extended trot. We ended up with a canter half pirouette on the right lead, and a lovely doux passage and then a long free walk on looped reins and a several minutes quiet halt to finish.
Lots of patting on the whithers and the croup, a few carrots and a good brushing in the stall after a lot of rolling in the straw were the reward of an excellent and instructive session.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Solene - april 10, 2015

Since the previous post, we have worked on improving cadence. The first point to recognize is that cadence requires impulsion, but is not a given once impulsion is here. In a way impulsion is raw energy, and cadence is the outcome of controlled, driven energy, as shown in a sketch I did from a Cadre Noir exhibition. With Solene, cadence needs to be established straight from the beginning of the session. Following S. advice (S. is the former national show-jumper who is a manager of the barn - I mentioned him previously on this blog, as an excellent advisor), I reduced the length of the walk initial section of the hour, looking only for energetic strides with a few flexions and descente d'encolure, and then I went straight into posting trot at a very brisk pace, with variations of speeds (accelerating on the large diagonal, slowering down on the short sides). At the start of this exercise, Solene speeded up with some precipitated strides, and sought for gaining speeds by 'knitting strides' multiplying them instead of extending them into longer, controlled strides. The latter is precisely what I want to get from him. Applying Oliveira's advice about the importance of the role of the rider's small of the back, I tried to use my back at each sitting in the saddle, making myself 'heavier' in the saddle at each sitting. 'Heavier' of course is not a proper word, just an image of sitting a tat longer, on a flat and deep seat, with a slight pressure from the calves. After a while, I felt a level of energy in Solene's pace which allowed me to let his head go lower, his neck longer on a soft contact and I felt like driving him with my seat only. And I suddenly felt his front legs extending more and his back limbs pushing harder - cadence was there! This is a delightful impression for the rider, especially on Iberians who are so often, and wrongly, taxed of being almost unable to deliver extended trot...
The beauty with cadence is that it is not only a physical feature, but perhaps more importantly a psychological disposition adopted by the horse under impulsion and leading to the graal of the vibrating, brilliant animal that all horsemen are looking for. Once cadence is inside the horse's mind, everything becomes easier and more brilliant.
I could verify this by asking him, after a delightful canter session, two pirouettes at each lead which were surprisingly successful, and a passage that was a dream compared to what he had already given me earlier. In both exercise, the big change was the rhythm of course, but also the wonderful willingness of the horse to go through the figure without slackening energy.
S. was pleased with these results, I was just delighted, and I think that Solene, who ended up with an impeccable square halt after a long free walk, reins looping as a reward, was happy too.
A bunch of carrot was the prize for him back in the stable, with lot of kind, soft compliments from me and scratching on the whithers and patting on the croup which are his favorite treats.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Solene - march 27, 2015

Large indoor arena, empty. Focus of the day was cadence. Like many Iberian horses I believe, Solene can easily loose or miss cadence. It is necessary to mobilize him at the beginning of the session, building up impulsion and ensuring contact with the mouth.  We started the walk session with energetic strides, horizontal neck and dialog between fingers and mouth, with lateral neck flexions from time to time, then seeking neck extension. Shoulder-ins on the left, and very light and moderate on the right which is his 'painful side'. At the beginning, he shows that any movement involving bending on the right is aching by a little jerk of the shoulder. It is clearly not bad will or defense,  pain instead which soothes only after warm-up.
Then, 10' posting trot at rather brisk speed, with variations and change of leads. Progressively I try to let his neck stretch out and down, with light contact and nose far out, not in the dust. I keep an eye on his stability, regarding the risk of stumbling that he showed when we first met. This seems to improve clearly, and he keeps his balance on this type of attitude much better know.
Then some reining backs between sitting trot and walk sequence. Still not perfect: his first response is too often raising his head. I try to work this with asking reining back immediately after very slow walk, which seems to produce some effect.
Canter is as ever very good. Sequences of walk (4 strides) and canter (4 strides) around several rounds of the arena, with change of leads at each canter strike, works very well. Solene seems to enjoy this part as a recreation, and as a result, my aids become almost intangible, thanks to his willingness to play the game. For sure, a most enjoyable part of the hour.At the end, I asked him a flying change on the large length from counter canter to straight which was still a little fuzzy, but better than before. He has been used to flying lead changes on diagonals which invites the horse to change. But changing on the straight, long side of the arena requires more from his mind. The good thing with Solene is his straightness: even when changing lead not perfectly well, he will not carry himself sideways at once. I think it is me who need to work the flying change by a more precise, more delicate request.
Then a few spirals at canter, which prepares him to pirouette. He is quite willing to do it, but his hindquarters need some more strengthening before he can keep sufficient impulsion and bounce till the spirals reduces to the pirouette itself.
A few minutes at sitting trot after this session which has piled up impulsion, and a lovely passage over a few strides in lightness (mouth beginning to talk) as a delightful reward - cadence was there indeed!. We end with walk on looped rein, and square halt.