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Mike Schaffer Dressage
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Pam
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 Posted: Tue May 1st, 2007 11:19 pm
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Well, I don't really have a question, just something to share with you all......for the Sounds of Silence here on the forum of late are deafening!

Since Mike Schaffer is on the Friends of ESI list I figured it would be ok to toot his horn.  I've been watching his training videos of his horse "Indeed", that he restarted, and decided to retrain my horse his way.  Since he has available, to download from his site, the training as it progresses, I decided I could take this on about a month ago.  I am at the beginning in the training, so I am only asking my horse for that slow muscle building trot for now, until he can develop his top line properly.  What I love about training him myself (as opposed to taking lessons) is that when he takes a wrong step (meaning walking on stiffly) I can stop him and start over.  In the lesson format with an instructor I found  I had to just keep going no matter how he was doing.  The thinking was that he would magically get on the bit and soften.  Well ,I found that this never occurred to my liking and I just trained him to go around badly, just like Mike says happens.  Now I am undoing that poor training and am happy to report that my horse has stayed ok 100% of the time since I have made the change. I even took him on a cool down ride outside the arena the other day and he stayed calm and attentive to "us" which is rare for him.   I have noticed that he is actually interested in what I am wanting to communicate to him as we ride.  This rarely happens in a lesson.  He usually tries to flee mentally, I think from all of the pressure and lack of understanding of how to really train a horse so that he is happy in his work.  Since I am taking my time with him, not accepting him moving badly but explaining more thoroughly what I want,  I am getting my horse back! 

I can't even imagine taking dressage lessons from the "typical' instructors now.  The basics, which are so important and Mike is such an advocate of, are completely missing from the average dressage instructors toolbox.  I don't know if they where never taught them or if they just don't know how to teach them.  I do know that I was always wondering why the warm up went so poorly in my dressage lessons, but I no longer wonder.  If you don't get that "softness" it ain't dressage!

So thanks to this forum and ESI, I am on the right path now, and am confident that I will figure this riding thing out.

Pam 

 

 

Last edited on Wed May 2nd, 2007 12:39 am by Pam

DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed May 2nd, 2007 09:53 am
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Dear Pam: Yes. One of the most important things I ever witnessed was a "private" videotape that Institute friend Tony Uytendaal showed me when I visited his home in Melbourne a few years back. The tape was of an old man, a former bereiter of the Spanish Riding School, who used to give Tony lessons. He was in his late 80's at the time (not Tony -- the Bereiter, I mean). He would get on Tony's Lippy stallion and just walk, but it was not "just" walking. Rather, he was waiting until the horse found himself underneath the rider. This "finding himself" is also what Mike Schaffer is teaching. To "find himself" the horse finds his balance, finds inner equanimity too, and there is a distinct feel to this which the old bereiter knew. So Pam, you are finding out what that feel is too. It's the very same thing that Ray Hunt has always taught, but Mike, who learned from Arthur Konyot, goes about it a little differently and I believe that this is helpful. You need both.

Best wishes, and do keep us posted as to how things progress with the two of you. -- Dr. Deb

Pauline Moore
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 Posted: Wed May 2nd, 2007 11:45 am
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This is a great conversation Dr Deb & Pam, and reminds me of a story told by a man from whom I had lessons more than a decade ago.  This person had been a head rider at the School in Jerez, as a young man having won just about every award throughout Europe, and as he tells it 'had a rather high opinion of his own abilities'.  At that time he was invited to watch a demonstration put on by an older man whose name has long escaped my memory, and was reluctant to go as he did not consider there was anything more to be learned.    At the beginning of the performance, my teacher thought that his worst fears had been confirmed about the whole event being a waste of time, as the old man casually walked into the arena.  For what seemed an interminable length of time, the horse was allowed to walk around completely relaxed and stretched out, and then, without seeming to do anything, the old man 'picked up the horse for the most perfect shoulder-in' that my teacher had ever seen.  Once again the horse was allowed to relax and stretch, followed by a 'perfect half-pass', and then a 'perfect pirouette', and on and on, as each perfect movement was followed by a time of relaxation.  My teacher relates that from that moment on, his entire life was changed, understanding that he knew nothing and wanting only to emulate the softness that he had witnessed. 

'Softness' became this man's mantra, and although I have no way of visualising that original demonstration, the riding of my teacher was the closest I have ever seen to a complete blending of horse and human into one harmonious whole, and therefore his story is one I can never forget.   I don't think it matters who opens the door for us, whether it's Mike Schaffer, Ray Hunt, the person I rode with, or unknown others, but having once seen and understood that wonderful softness with a horse, there can never be any going back or any acceptable substitute, we are hooked for life.

Best wishes - Pauline

 

 

Annie F
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 Posted: Wed May 2nd, 2007 07:24 pm
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Hi Pam,

Thank you for this post.  I was so happy to see your comments that I finally registered for the forum so I could participate (I’ve been visiting Dr. Deb’s site and the forum for a long time).

Mike is the cat’s meow.  He knows how to help the horse relax his mind and body, and knows how to help the horse learn—e.g. he teaches the horse (cognitively) to soften to the hand and the leg, then puts them on their “natural circle” so they are able to go in slow and regular tempo and rhythm.  Then they learn for themselves that the easiest way to carry a rider is to stretch, bend, and step under.  He makes this so accessible and understandable in the videos you mentioned, his book “Right From the Start,” and the draft chapters of his new dressage book that are also posted on his website.  It’s wonderful to have someone like him available to us here on the East Coast. 

I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with Mike, and in addition to helping the horse learn the easiest way to carry a rider, I can report that he also helps the rider learn how to make herself easy for the horse to carry.  Mike emphasizes having soft, relaxed contact, using aids that are clear to green horses, and allowing the horse to stretch and bend instead of trying to make him do so (as Dr. Deb says, being an “allowing rider,” waiting for the horse to release and soften, then giving the reins forward.)  I’m a 50 year-old horse lover who’s ridden on and off for a long time without much progress.  I have no experience training.  I have a 4 year-old Morgan mare who is very green and unbalanced.  It's wonderful to see my horse become more confident, attentive, and relaxed, and for me to learn with her.  Finding someone who has already helped me be partners with my sweet girl horse, including being able to rider better and help train her myself, has made me feel the same way you do—I could never go back to a trainer or a teacher who didn’t have this understanding, plus the tools to teach and show us how to get there.  I’m so glad to leave the language of “evasions” and “resistance” behind! 

Annie F

Pam
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 Posted: Thu May 3rd, 2007 01:03 am
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Dear Dr. Deb, Pauline, and Annie,

Thank you for such nice responses to my post!  I'm glad  I could share my experience with everyone and find some kindred spirits.  Although there are plenty of other riders around me on a daily basis, I don't feel like I can express what I am experiencing in my riding with most of them.  I see a lot of "working hard at riding and competitiveness" which I don't relate to at all.  I don't think the horses appreciate it much either.  My horse is finally starting to see that I am not a complete nincompoop (sp?) after all. 

Dr. Deb, I really like how you put it "he was waiting until the horse found himself under the rider".  Wow, what a statement!  It's the equivalent of giving a person their space just to be.  I really don't think much of people who can't do that simple thing for me, and  horses are no different than people in that sense.  A concept that is so simple yet so hard for us to get sometimes.  You are so right about when the horse finds himself, he finds his balance and inner equanimity too. My horse just feels better to me now in every way.  And yes, I hope to be able to attend a Ray Hunt clinic at some point.  Thanks for your support and I will let you know how we progress.  Not sure if I am right or wrong, but it seems to me that developing feel in riding circumvents the need for so much instruction by way of lessons.

Pauline,  Softness is now my mantra as well and I can never go back to the old way because I am hooked for life!  I'm sure my friends are going to get plenty sick of hearing me say that.

Annie,  I do have Mike's book and have read the drafts from his new one.  I really don't need any of my other dressage books because Mike says it all, and in plain English.  He holds nothing back.  You are so lucky to have been able to ride with him.  We are in the same boat as far as training goes, because I have no experience either, but I am willing to give it a go.  Boy, we sound like Mike groupies, don't we?

Happy Riding,

Pam

 

HollyByGolly
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 Posted: Tue May 8th, 2007 06:57 am
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Pam, thanks for your review on Mr. Schaffer. I wasn't familiar with him. I watched one of the videos with the sound muted (will take another look with sound when hubby isn't sleeping).

I scanned some of the book chapters and already something jumped out at me, how the small circle encourages the horse to bend onto a larger (easier) circle. Why didn't I notice this before? Spiral in, spiral out. Makes a lot of sense now.

It is so hard to find a good trainer, but they are out there...somewhere. I must have gotten lucky, because my new instructor is terrific. What a relief to be told to give the rein forward, allow the neck to lengthen, forget about his head, get his hind end moving correctly first, etc. My horse loves her, too. And he loves his lessons. We're finally happy!

Holly


tricolchin
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 Posted: Wed May 16th, 2007 11:22 pm
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I found Mike Schaffer's videos through ESI, then purchased his book.  ESI has continued to give me that feeling of "yes!  THIS is what I've been looking for and craving all these years!"  I am finding correct knowledge regarding horsemanship, instead of learning a style of riding.  I am learning how to help my horse find his balance with softness, while being 100% okay.  It's a beautiful thing to work toward with your horse.  When they get it or when they just try for you, it makes one melt with appreciation.

My horse is too young to ride, but he is learning on the ground to do Mike's exercises in addition to Doctor Deb's list in the Ranger piece, etc.  etc.

After reading Mike's book, I understand now why dressage lessons on school horses all those years could be so difficult.  They were not taught to move straight, nor were they soft.  How could they possibly be relaxed and ready to work?  It is difficult to learn to ride (listen to an instructor shout instructions) when you cannot help the horse move correctly and you are struggling against him instead of working with him.  In fact, it's exhausting and counter-productive.

My lessons used to be about forcing a horse to listen to my cues which, of course, does not work.  Now I know that one has to help a horse find his balance so that he will be willing and happy to carry you.  As Mike states, when they learn it, it is like sweet feed...they will want more!  Especially if you stop before they need to stop. 

~Katherine

Pam
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 Posted: Thu May 17th, 2007 12:39 am
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Katherine,  Glad to hear that you too found your way out of the insanity and back to your horse!  Another life saved.

What first got me interested in M. Schaffer (after seeing his name on the recommended instructors listing @ ESI) was the Grand Prix clip he has on his web site.  I've seen lots of Grand Prix rides but when I watched his video clip I thought that he had something extra going on with his horse.  I thought to myself,  "This is how I want to ride".  That changed everything for me.  It was the beginning of the end of my traditional go nowhere training as well.  He rides as though he is on a Sunday stroll with his best buddy and his horse looks to me like there is nowhere else he'd rather be.  I then realized that the way I was being taught to ride, was not working.   Although I knew things weren't right, I just didn't know why.   I keep the visuals of his rides, from the Grand Prix ride as well as the training rides with Indeed, in my mind and find it helps me to create that softness in my horse that is really unique to good horsemanship.   Although I don't have a trainer right now, I at least feel like I have a chance.  With the support of  Dr. Deb. and the members on this forum, and my virtual trainer, Mike Schaffer,  well I just feel like mountains can be moved!

Happy Riding, 

Pam

 

Last edited on Thu May 17th, 2007 12:42 am by Pam

tricolchin
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 Posted: Thu May 17th, 2007 03:18 am
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Thanks Pam,

I often hear Mike in my head saying, "he is not allowed to go incorrectly" whenever I see a video of horse or a horse in person that is allowed, by his rider, to go forward without being soft and balanced. So many riders and trainers are making this mistake.

I first was able to comprehend what straight really meant through Doctor Deb's articles on the ESI site, the Birdie Book, and her Dialogues in Horsemanship cds.  It is actually quite a simple concept, yet so mind blowing when I first came to understand that I had never learned this despite my many instructors and lessons.  I like how Mike describes the Natural Circle and has the human walk it so that it really sinks in.  I also like how he reminds the reader that small increments of learning will help the horse get the larger picture eventually.  Taking it slowly, but correctly ("right from the start") is certainly the way to progress. 

~Katherine

Last edited on Tue Jun 5th, 2007 03:36 am by tricolchin

Pam
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 Posted: Tue Jun 5th, 2007 01:21 am
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Dr. Deb,  You asked me to let you know how it goes with my horse.  Well, first of all, I am having so much fun training him myself it outta be illegal!  Every ride is what I consider to be a "good" ride now.  He is amazing me in his ability to learn so quickly and his willingness to be with me.  I really think he actually enjoys our rides now and looks forward to them. 

Yesterday was really a test though.  We were riding in the outdoor arena like we always do and suddenly the water truck appeared right next to us.  The owner of the barn proceeded to water the adjacent round pens and then the trees that run alongside the arena.  In the past  I think I would have just gotten off my horse and waited until he was finished because it is an old truck and makes lots of noise.  Not to mention the sound of the water hitting the trees.  This time we just stopped for a brief moment, looked at the truck, and then proceeded on our ride.  We even rode right along the side where the trees were being watered!  Not only did we ride next to the spray but we actually carried out our routine and I didn't feel distracted or annoyed by it at all.  My horse stayed calm, but did watch the truck out of the corner of his eye, without loosing his focus on us. 

 I wonder if he stays focused simply because I do or if he just likes our rides more now and feels better in general.  He is definitely staying in that "happy place" almost 100% of the time.  So much for spooky TB's.  He is a non-spooky horse now.  I find I like this way of being so much that I am fiercely protective to preserve it.  Anything that comes up that might alter this way of being, I find I refrain from subjecting him to.  His happiness is my happiness.

Our dressage is really coming along as well.  Even though I don't have a trainer (besides my virtual trainer, M. Schaffer) I am confident that we can do this.  I finally understand what the goals are, which I cannot not honestly say I did before.  I think the goals for good horsemanship and good dressage are one in the same.

 

Thank You,

Pam

Last edited on Tue Jun 5th, 2007 01:24 am by Pam

Annie F
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 Posted: Wed Aug 8th, 2007 09:07 pm
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I have been so interested reading some of the recent threads, such as the new knowledge base on mannering, understanding more about the horse's (and rider's) birdies, and evaluating how old you can keep your horse healthy and active, not how young he can do something. I can relate so closely with the questions and experiences shared by everyone, and I appreciate the guidance and challenges Dr. Deb and others present here. I don't have any specialized skill or deep experience to contribute, but I have been very fortunate to have an opportunity to work with a friend of ESI, Mike Schaffer. I've talked about that before on this thread.

I hope it is all right with everyone if I say a little about the things I have learned from Mike (and Dr. Deb) that I think relate to some of the current topics everyone is discussing. I'm not trying to promote Mike, and in fact I when I asked his permission to send a post on this, and to use a photo with him in it, his only concern was that someone might think he had asked me to post it. He didn't! But if anyone feels this post is inappropriate, I will remove it.

I also hope it is ok to attach photos. I know attachments take up valuable space, so Dr. Deb if you need to remove them, I understand. I just think these 2 pictures are "worth 1,000 words."

Since I can only figure out how to attach one photo, I will split this into two posts. Hope this isn't too inconvenient!

I have a young Morgan mare ("Cherry"). I fell in love with her sweet, affectionate personality and her good mind, but I resisted buying her for a long time, because of her initial training. The first picture was taken a year ago the day she came back from being backed (I blocked out the rider's face--it wasn't me but that doesn't matter). She'd been taught primarily that she must tolerate having a rider on her back, and she must comply with the "aids" right away. She was put in a martingale because she was high-headed. Her sire was a champion park horse, so everyone thought that was just her natural way of going anyway, and the situation was worsened because her training made her tense--she was never allowed to relax or to think over any requests made of her. In her "True Collection" article, Dr. Deb talks about the results of using tie-downs, and you can sure see that with this mare. Months later I bought her (a long story I'll spare everyone ;-), and we started taking lessons with Mike. Recently I had an opportunity to put her in training with him for awhile. He has essentially started her all over again. This process, which has mostly been done through groundwork, on the longe line, and through long-reining so far, has required a lot of skill and patience on Mike's part, but it has been so wonderful to watch!

More in the next post, below.

Annie

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Annie F
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 Posted: Wed Aug 8th, 2007 09:12 pm
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Hi, this is a continuation of the last post.

The second picture is after about two months with Mike. Can you see how much happier Cherry is? Ok, first of all I have to say that she is just under 15 hands and he is a tall guy (over 6 feet!) used to riding his 18 hh warmblood--so he and Cherry don't exactly match! But they have become quite a team! Just look at their body language. Mike is calm. He is never wishy-washy and corrects her, or any horse he is working with, very strongly if needed, but he is never angry or emotional about it. (His book says corrections must be "clear, effective, and over with"). His arms are relaxed and his elbows bent, with his hands close to his body--the same kind of position and relaxed contact he advises riders to have in the saddle. He is not standing in a stationary position, but is moving out toward Cherry, to keep her, in turn, "moving out" on her circle. And it is not a big circle, because he is using the circle to help her slow down, stay in a steady rhythm, step under herself, and learn to balance her angle and movement. This is comfortable for her, so she can relax and learn. It is also the easiest way to carry a rider, so the better she learns this the more she can enjoy being ridden in any situation, and the longer she can stay healthy doing it.

And Cherry is very relaxed. Her eye is soft and her ears show her relaxation and her focus on him. She is reaching forward and starting to use the muscles over her topline, and her neck already looks better. Mike has never put a martingale or draw reins or anything of the kind on her. Instead, he spent time teaching her that when she felt the rein (pulled upward toward the corner over her mouth, never backwards, or down on the bars), she should soften--i.e. relax her jaw, bend at the poll, and reach forward. She learned this little by little, not in a day or a week or even a month. First she learned it standing still, and then walking in-hand, then on the longe, and now it is being transferred to her work when she is under saddle. She is beginning to understand it, not just to mechanically comply. This is something else Mike emphasizes--if a horse doesn't respond to an aid, you don't apply it harder and harder--you stop whatever you are doing, and take a few minutes to reinforce the horse's understanding of it. Over time your aids can get lighter and lighter, so you don't jangle the horse out of balance every time you ask for something. He says that energy comes from the horse, but relaxation is taught and then allowed by the rider. You can't MAKE them relax or carry themselves in the right way, but you can allow them to do so. I think this is something Dr. Deb says too--getting over the idea that we should (or even can) "make" the horse do something. You teach the horse to relax and reach forward, and then you wait while he figures it out, starts to do so, and learns how good it feels.

I can't do all these things the way Mike does them, although he also works very hard to teach all of his students and clients about everything he is doing, and I have learned a lot and gotten better. My big challenge now is to relax ("stop trying to look all dressage-ey " Mike keeps telling me :-) and ride with more "feel" and tact, and learn to soften back to Cherry the minute she softens to me--as Dr. Deb also describes in "True Collection." Riding this way is easier for me, too!  (Oh, and I really thank Dr. Deb for telling us women to stop worrying about keeping our toes pointed forward as a major criterion of good riding--so nice to get past that!).   I'm probably not as trainable as Cherry (I'm a lot older, for one thing), but I am really enjoying the journey she and I are on and I am changing too, little by little.

I think my overall point here isn't that "Mike is good" (even though he is) or that my horse is special (I'm prejudiced and think she is adorable of course, but she has no exceptional talents)--it's more to observe that Mike and Dr. Deb and the other friends of ESI are on the same wavelength, and when I see results like these, seems like it has to be the right path. At least, it's sure the path I want for me and Cherry. But I have to remember that we just can't be impatient with our horses or discouraged with ourselves when results don't come overnight. If we "look for the try" as Mark Rashid says, and reward the horse (and ourselves) for trying instead of getting stressed and asking for more and more right away (in Mike's words, "you have to be willing to accept "yes" for an answer..."), then little tiny steps eventually add up to the changes in our horses and ourselves that seem so breathtaking.

Thanks for indulging me.

Annie

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Pam
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 Posted: Wed Aug 8th, 2007 09:36 pm
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Ok Annie, I am completely jealous of you...but happy for you too!!!

Pam

tricolchin
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 Posted: Wed Aug 8th, 2007 10:29 pm
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Annie,

  Thanks for sharing her progress with us.  Great to see Mike in the pictures--I was happy to learn that Dr. Deb also has some pictures of Mike from a clinic on the Inner Horseman Vol 10 (2006) CD.   Wonderful stuff!

~Katherine

Annie F
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 Posted: Sat Aug 11th, 2007 07:57 pm
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Katherine,  thanks for mentioning the information and photos in The Inner Horseman-- I didn't know there was more info about Mike there.  I will check it out!

And Pam, I do feel incredibly lucky right now.  I hope my little mare grows up to be as good and fun a citizen as your horse sounds!  I think "bowing for cookies" would be a great horse game show ;-).  It's impossible to explain to those who aren't horse crazy how they just fill up your soul, isn't it?

Annie


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