Dressage (a French term meaning "training") is a path and destination of competitive horse training, with competitions held at all levels from amateur to the Olympics. Its fundamental purpose is to develop, through standardized progressive training methods, a horse's natural athletic ability and willingness to perform, thereby maximizing its potential as a riding horse. At the peak of a dressage horse's gymnastic development, it can smoothly respond to a skilled rider's minimal aids by performing the requested movement while remaining relaxed and appearing effortless. Dressage is occasionally referred to as "Horse Ballet." Although the discipline has its roots in classical Greek horsemanship, mainly through the influence of Xenophon, dressage was first recognized as an important equestrian pursuit during the Renaissance in Western Europe. The great European riding masters of that period developed a sequential training system that has changed little since then and classical dressage is still considered the basis of trained modern dressage.

Early European aristocrats displayed their horses' training in equestrian pageants, but in modern dressage competition, successful training at the various levels is demonstrated through the performance of "tests," or prescribed series of movements within a standard arena. Judges evaluate each movement on the basis of an objective standard appropriate to the level of the test and assign each movement a score from zero to ten - zero being "not executed" and ten being "excellent." A score of nine (or "very good") is considered a particularly high mark, while a competitor achieving all sixes (or 60% overall) should be considering moving on to the next level.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Stress and misunderstanding

         On facebook the other day I came across a post from someone who had made a short clip of a stressed out horse warming up in Aachen. The girl was clearly not in complete control, the horse not happy and although in my eyes she was trying to keep her cool she was also making the horse super round and trying to gain control with some abrupt transitions. There were many negative comments about this type of riding. I do not get involved in these posts on facebook, personally I think we have to be positive and, I cannot judge from a short video clip what is going on. It made me sad. I put myself in her place, making it all the way to a competition such as Aachen and my horse not being able to handle the atmosphere. I have never been competing in Aachen, but I have been to shows that seemed like Aachen to me! and when my horse was overwhelmed it was a very difficult and disappointing situation.
          It really makes me happy and appreciative that somehow I have found a different path of training. I do not look at this lady in a bad way or as if she is at fault, in the moment. Controlling 1500 pounds of frightened equine in a situation where you are supposed to be able to perform ballet movements does not seem like a comfortable situation for me. We build up the training systematically and clearly the horse was strong enough to perform movements of his level. The break down shows up when we forget to install the necessary relaxation and attention to each horses natural reaction to stress. Many people use the nervous energy of the horse to create impulsion and more extravagant movements. I have even had trainers tell me that the horse needs to be a bit scared of me (I do not say this in a bad way, only that it is a training tactic). The thing that I have always wished for is a system of truth, that when I apply an aid I notice does it get the desired result and will more of that aid get more of that result? To me that is the meaning of throughness. There should not be a.) the defensive reaction followed by manipulation and then the right reaction or b.) the point of no return where a little bit too much of an aid gets a completely undesirable reaction.
              This takes time and thorough truthful training. It also needs to be tested! Where we then take the horse into situations of stress, read the results and continue the training based on the feedback.
             I am in no way saying this is easy! I am only grateful that I feel that I start to find the path. In this way I am able to also help others find a healthy and connected partnership with their horses. A million thank you's to Tristan Tucker and his amazing generosity to share his journey with me.
            The other day I was teaching at a nearby farm. One of the younger trainers was having a difficult time with one of the horses. It was difficult for me to watch and not be able to help. I do not judge the situation, I have been there and I know all to well how it feels to have the pressure of the owner and not have the session go as planned. I thought back to when I was at Mr Schumachers farm in Germany. Everyone, even the sweet hobby riders would offer assistance from the sidelines. In the beginning as an American with an American attitude I was shocked that they would think of helping these other profi riders, and me. Later I came to appreciate their dedication, love for the sport and horses and the energy that they put into making our rides better! I so wish we could adopt this, non judgmental, generous attitude here. They were not going to tell me how to fix it, only that the hindleg was back in a halt or the horse was not straight, these kind of helpful tips. Learning to be open to this feedback was an awesome lesson for me. I also remember riding one day while Ellen Bontje was riding, (something that I tried to avoid! Because I was quite insecure). I was not getting through to my horse what I wanted and I am sure it was obvious I was struggling. Finally Ellen stopped riding and asked me "what! are you trying to do?" I meekly told her whatever it was that was going wrong, she jumped in, helped me out and then went about her merry way to finish her ride. While mine became much improved. These experiences are what made being in Germany special for me. The training, not the egos being the most important aspect of the day.
                  When I watch these young trainers I wish for an atmosphere of learning. The greatest men (and woman) in the world say that to keep a learning attitude is what keeps them successful. To ask questions is not showing that you are less, it shows that you are open and wish to improve. Of course who you ask is important, but even someone who is not a profi might have a different and helpful perspective.
                Be youthful in your approach
                Remember anything is possible
                Connection is the key

                Ride well :)

Monday, July 23, 2018

A Dressage Student's Handbook The Trot

        The trot comes in two beats, diagonal pairs, separated by a period of suspension. It is shown here in the photo above. The outside hind and the inside front in the air and travelling together, the inside hind and outside front on the ground travelling together.
         It is important that the thrust of the hind leg is the reason you post (or swing in the sitting trot), your posting or pushing must not be the reason the horse trots. Be sure to invite the horse to bounce in the period of suspension rather than push the back down. Obedience to the leg is necessary to achieve this. If you have a very hot horse that tries to run along, post very slightly slower. To do this keep yourself in the saddle just a split second longer and in the air just a split second longer. This way you are managing the balance and the tempo with your posting rhythm as well as the half halts with your reins. It can be that if you only use your reins you will loose track of the balance and natural movement of the horse, this in turn will cause you to balance on your hand and the horse will do the same, this will cause your rein aids to no longer work properly.
          If you have a lazy horse it is important not to push the horse along all of the time. Be sure to use your positive forward aids correctly and with good reaction and then go back to neutral so that your horse learns to move on its own without constant pressure. The application of the aid means go, the removal of the aid means stay the same, and is a reward. The horses are not born knowing this, so it is up to us to teach it. By neutralizing your leg aid you are allowing the horse to move freely, if he faulters, slows down or lowers his head as a response to you not squeezing or pushing you must teach him this is an incorrect response. Ride as if the correct thing will happen when you remove your leg, and push him forward and then remove the aid again. Do not get stuck in the rut of riding with a constant pushing aid because your horse misunderstands, teach him.
          If the back muscles are tense and blocked the hind leg will not be able to step under the center of gravity. This will cause difficulties in the self carriage and the aids being understood by the horse.
The goal of the rider is to find the optimum pace for the horse on a given day where the hind legs, front legs, back and neck all work together in the same size, strength and power. One then develops this through the ride to improve the strength level and suppleness of the horse. I find that it is best to return to this place of relaxation and balance often during the ride so that the horse always feels like what we ask is possible, the work is not overwhelming and they do not look to my hands, seat or reins when they loose their balance.
           Please feel free to email me at nancylaterdressagehorses@mail.com with questions!

I hope this improves your ride.

Always remember;
             Be youthful in your approach~Anything is possible~Connection is the key

Sunday, July 15, 2018

A Dressage Students Handbook The Walk

  The walk has four beats. There is no period of suspension. From this picture here you can see the distinct four footfalls.
                      1. Outside hind, just came to the round.
                      2. Outside front, on it's way to the ground
                      3. Inside hind, in the air and will come to the ground.
                      4. Inside front, has most of the weight of the horse and will be last to step forward.

         One side of the horse moves, then the other, the hind initiates the step.
          There is a slight nod in the neck which must be present in order for the back to be free and mobile. The neck must bob down and out rather than up and out. The working phase of each back muscle starts when the hind leg on the same side touches the ground. The muscles on the other side swing and relax provided the neck is allowed to nod.
          In addition to the neck I like to also feel for the rib cage swinging from one leg and into the other leg. As the hind leg comes forward there is a slight moving away of that sides rib cage. Allowing for this swing will also help the horse to stay loose in the back at the appropriate time and keep a clear walk. One can imagine one hip being picked up, pushed forward and let down, this is then repeated on the other side.
          The walk is the easiest place to spot a rider that manipulates the gaits. A horse that is not correctly through and has an artificial high head set will have to hold the  longissimus muscles in constant tension in order to hold the weight of the rider, thus causing a distortion or ambling gait (pacing).
When the neck is lowered and the forward downward nod is allowed the supraspinus ligament system is engaged to allow alternating relaxation of the longissimus muscles. For each level of understanding the amount the neck must be lowered or more correctly: allowed to lower is different. It is also possible that when a horse becomes tense from atmosphere or schooling that the neck should be allowed to come down more for a period of time and the nose allowed out and down to let the horse find that place of relaxation again before moving on.
           I find that hot horses that become tense at shows may need time with ground work, leg yields and transitions in order to find the relaxation. Loosing connection will further confuse and stress the horse, but manipulation will cause unhealthy pressure in the reins and a gait distortion. So staying focused on the swing, connection and proper reaction to the aids will bring relaxation and ultimately a correct pace.
            Please let me know if you have any questions!
             I hope this helps your ride!

               To be continued.....

                  Be youthful in your approach ~ Know anything is possible ~ Connection is the Key


Friday, July 13, 2018

Dressage Student's Handbook continued

              Understanding how your horse moves:

                                           Each horse will have positive attributes and even the most athletic horse will have a weak link. It is important to constantly be aware of the optimum gait on each given day.
                                           Knowing some basic conformation and how the energy moves through the horse will help you better influence your horse when riding. Watch horses move live. Get familiar with the four beats of the walk, two beats in the trot and three beats in the canter. This should become natural to watch over time and positive attributes should start to be noticeable quickly as you become more fluent. Does the horse move in balance front and hind? Are the steps rhythmical and the same size?  Is there relaxation in the joints? Does the hind leg reach under the balance of the horse or push out behind? Does the horse move over the shoulder?
                      No matter what movement the horse is doing pure gaits should persist.
                                           We add lateral work and upper level movements to clean, good gaits. The gaits are improved in suppleness and impulsion with movements, however, they need to be clean and relaxed before you add difficulty. Relaxation is built on understanding, so when tension creeps in causing rhythm problems step back, connect the dots for your horse and then move forward. When you have a particular area that you know your horse gets tense think of ways ahead of time to present the information in understandable chunks and make it possible for your horse to do it right. More small questions that get the right answers will benefit the training better than a big question that creates confusion and refusal. When you take your lessons be aware that your focus is just as much on communicating correctly with your horse as it is with making your instructor happy. Your instructor seeing your horse understand you will be happy!! When something does not make sense it is best to ask a question during a break rather then put extra miles on your horse in confusion.

                                           In the next chapter we will go into the gaits more thoroughly. So be sure to stay tuned. If you have questions please comment below, or email me nancylaterdressagehorses@gmail.com

         Be youthful in your approach, know anything is possible, connection is the key!

                                                To be continued.....

Friday, June 29, 2018

Just another day

Here we are in New Hampshire at Heidi and Dick Venuti's beautiful Kilgore Farm.
             The sun comes up early in New England in June, it is a fresh morning and the birds are super happy, everything is clean from the rain yesterday, and they are joyful in the sunshine. The hummingbirds are happy to visit the feeders and I love to hear them buzzing around outside my window.
               I still struggle with the internet, but today I am blessed with some phone service and a precarious hotspot signal from my phone. I make the riding list for today while I reflect on the training from yesterday.
                The horses were all patient and worked well even though there was torrential rain for most of the day. Today we will make a point to walk and work outside, as well as give them their normal happy time in the big paddocks we have here.
                Yesterday I had a very productive lesson with my new young training horse. He was not having an easy time in his transfer from the braking in stable to the hunter/jumper stable where he was to be trained, so he found himself in the school for delinquent warmbloods. Several months later we picked him up to have a summer of Carousel Coaching. He got off the truck from Florida shell shocked and distrustful. He is super smart and wants to please, but completely unsure of his body, his job and his handlers. The past month with him has been one of the most fun training experiences of my life so far. I am so grateful to Tristan Tucker who has taught me so much about reading horses and connecting the dots for them when they are fearful and reactive.
                 The month started with ground work only in the halter, work in the stall, work in the grooming area and work in the arena. This guy was known to be spooky and distracted, which led to fear and bad behavior. His work in the arena was amazing to watch and connecting with him as he became more relaxed and willing has been so much fun.
                Working this horse with touch and noise has been amazing as his whole body was in such tension, even in the stall. Watching the waves of understanding and relaxation go through him is so gratifying. I always say we need to video this horse so we can document the progress. This one I kick myself, I would love to watch this over and over again, especially on the days when I forget where he came from.
                The beginning of the week we started working on leg yield movements in hand, along the wall, away from the whip and toward the whip. One of my favorite Tristan exercises. He is so careful and nervous, watching him process the aids and think about how to move his gangly legs is so fun. As he becomes "like a cooked piece of spaghetti" as Tristan would say, it is clear that he is letting the aids through with understanding and confidence. Yesterday we were able to take it to the mounting block, where to spite a lot of tension he was able to understand and bring himself to the mounting block. We were able to repeat this several times and I was able to mount him in a relaxed and happy state at the mounting block bare back in the halter. As I took him back to his stall with his neck hanging in a relaxed way from his shoulders, his eyes soft and happy and his feet hitting the ground in a slow rhythm that reflected soft joints  I was so proud of him.
          I had an awesome day with my Glorious working on Piaffe and flying changes and Enzo getting stronger on his self carriage for the canter pirouettes. However, when I look back at yesterday with my new guy at the mounting block, that was the highlight.

                                Just another (amazing) day!

                                       Embrace the Journey,

A Dressage Students Handbook, Part 1

                 This blog is written by an avid student of horsemanship who has specialized in dressage. I have also become a trainer and teacher, but this is not about that. It is written to help you be the best student you can be and go forward with steady progress and understanding.
                I do not plan to teach you "how" to ride here, instead to master the art of learning. To help you understand some fundamentals that exist no matter what level you ride.
               I am so grateful for the experiences I have had thus far on my journey with horses. I am thankful for my students and the horses that have led me on this path of learning.
                Through this blog I hope to help others grasp the principles of learning early on their path (however, as with me, it is better late than never!), thus creating a more joyful journey. Dressage is not easy, but it is not as complicated as it may appear at times. I hope you are able to use this handbook to navigate the difficulties with confidence and relaxation.

                                                Be youthful in your approach
                                                Know anything is possible
                                                Connection is the key

                 Chapter One

                           The controls;

                                  The first and most important lesson to learn is that no matter what the level is, the basic controls hold true. Your steering, brakes and gas pedal are more important than where the neck is. Always remember this. Also, how the horse gets ready to process the aid is important to train correctly, as this will be very important during stressful situations.
                                  The left rein means turn left
                                   The right rein means turn right
                                   Two reins mean stop
                                   Two legs mean go
                                    The right leg means move left
                                    The left leg means move right
    Use the rein aids in a blocking, leading or suppling manner, do not pull back.

                                    No matter what level your horse is, these basics hold true. When riding at the upper levels with an educated horse aids maybe processed close together to create more difficult movements and half halts. However, even the educated horse must understand how to process these basic aids correctly, instantly and without resistance.
                                    You may be saying "But I thought we turn from the outside rein?". (Indirect rein.) I believe in "direct aids". I believe the horses want to participate. I start my training from a belief that horses want to please us. If that is where we start, from then on all aids need to come from this place. Positive aids that make sense and can be clearly given and then released because the horse gives the correct reaction.
                                     I do not want to get into training philosophy, however, just a small note; the outside rein only makes sense to the horse if he is supple and following the inside rein. Non of this includes pulling back. The rein aids are given in a leading or blocking manner, pulling back already creates confusion, so should be avoided. When the horse prepares for the aid with active resistance this must be worked through to create the correct response before moving on in the training.
                                      When a horse does not understand the basic aids it is time to step back and teach them. One can teach from the ground first and then from the saddle. As a beginner student of dressage this might be something you ask your instructor to help you with. It is important to note that when the basic aids get the wrong result, complicating the matter by trying to put aids together into half halts or complicated movements will only further confuse your horse. If you are a beginner student have your instructor teach you how to teach your horse. Be honest when things do not feel right. Sometimes this is hard to see from the ground, if you find yourself in a situation where the reins mean go and the legs mean stop, do not agree with your horse that this is how it is. Discuss this with your instructor and go back to the basics to correct the problem, then move on from that correct base again.
                  If this is helpful to you please send me an email and let me know how it improved your ride.

                                    Embrace the journey,
To be continued.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Positive aids

            I have a feeling I might have touched on this subject before, because it is super important to me. So you have to suffer through my soap box again. However, I think this is a really great subject and for some, may be a life changer, if you can hold on to the concept.

            Why do we start riding horses? I cannot answer the question for you, but for me it was about partnership, connection and team work. I competed in all horse sports; jumping, eventing, competitive trail riding even arabian park horses, riding was all I ever wanted to do. I got stuck on dressage in high school and that is all I have ever known since then.
              I believed it could be a partnership, yet it did not feel like this when I was taking my lessons. It was super clear that I was not good at saying what I wanted and the horses could not hear me. There were all sorts of reasons the instructors gave me, at the time I could not hear the right words and my body did not respond the right way.
              I was almost 30 years old when I met Conrad Schumacher and he said the words "the horse can positively anticipate what needs to be done and work with you toward that outcome" I wanted to hug him! This is the knowledge I had been looking for, this makes sense, this is what my heart wants to participate in.
              So many times I had heard that the German Principles were so strict, don't go there. to Germany, it is too hard, they are not nice. Why did this German guy say what I had been looking for? Because he understood the Principles!! And what fun is that.
                So my lesson for today is positive aids and I learned it from Conrad Schumacher, Ellen Bontje and Tristan Tucker.
           Believe that your horse actually wants to please you. This is number one. If you start out your ride with this in mind everything you do from that moment forward will be different. EVERYTHING.
             Believe that if you train your horse to go forward from a normal aid, and then actually go forward with him forward is what you will get.
               Believe that if you ask your horse to wait with an aid that he understands, wait is what you will get.
             HOWEVER!! if you tell your horse to wait and push the crap out of him and he does not understand how to let the rein through and bend his hindlegs and hips then you get a million pounds in your hands and have to squeeze with your thighs to keep your tight butt in the saddle it is not going to work over the long term. NOT! 
            And from here it all goes south.
          Half pass turns into aids that actually tell the horse what not to do instead of what to do. Pirouettes are a terrible confusion of manipulation and strength.
             We have amazing, talented horses.
       Why would you put your butt in the saddle if you were just there to manhandle a horse around the arena?
              Start by believing your horse wants to participate, and train from there. Positive aids; turn, go stop, it all starts and finishes there.