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How to ask for one step
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Ride A Grey Horse
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 Posted: Thu Jul 8th, 2010 08:16 pm
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Dear Dr.Deb,

The series you're writing these days in Eclectic Horseman magazine,  "How Horses Work," is terrific.  The articles with their pictures complement the great knowledge-base articles, the forum threads, the Conformation dvd's, etc. - and they're a pleasure to read and learn from.  I've got the three that've been published so far, Soft Feel, Untracking, and Straightness, and I'm looking forward to the ones to come.

My question is about untracking my horse.

Oh - to anyone else who wants to get these, the people at Eclectic Horseman make it easy - when I called and asked if they'd please back-date my subscription to the beginning of Dr.Deb's series, they arranged that - I received the three issues that've already been published, Jan./Feb.,March/April,and May/June 2010, in the mail all together.

My question is how to make clear to my horse that when I ask him to untrack, I only want one step.

At first he was absolutely spinning his quarters away, which is because he was taught to do that by some moron (me). So I knew he was only doing what he thought I wanted.

(Sadly, I used a home-study program sold by a smiling couple who mostly made me gag but their program was easy, like painting by numbers, and people where I lived said it was supposed to be the real thing for horses.  Well, it wasn't the real thing.  My horse went through the motions, got both tight and dull which is quite an unholy combination, oh and also, he got the idea I didn't much like him.  My friends all said I was doing great.)

Now that I've re-discovered your work Dr.Deb, and the traditions you value, my challenge is to explain a new better deal to the Grey Horse.

At first it was really bad.  So here's where the part about presenting myself in a way that's clear to him comes in.  By keeping his attention on me, now, in the present (the only way I know how to tell him let's get a fresh start); by taking care not to put out too much energy;  by head-twirling first; by petting my way to the hindquarters (per the Mannering cd's) I've been able to say:  please don't spin outta here. 

Now
he'll take just one untracking step.

BUT... he doesn't leave it at that.

Say you're asking for the right hind:  he'll step under his belly with the right hind, I'll praise and drop any pressure (I think), and... he'll keep going:  he'll move the left hind out laterally, and he'll pick the right hind back up and move it  one hoof print south of the left.  And this is the best we've done so far.  

I appreciate his right to rebalance himself; but this happens in a way that doesn't feel right - it's fast, and automatic, and still feels like he's fleeing.

You know, as I'm writing, this isn't the only move that's still kinda fast and  automatic... or sluggish... not happy, not present. 
 
Please, can you help me sort this out this mess of my own making?

Very best,
Cynthia


 
 


Last edited on Thu Jul 8th, 2010 08:24 pm by Ride A Grey Horse

AdamTill
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 Posted: Fri Jul 9th, 2010 05:45 am
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Hi Cynthia,

I think Dr Deb is teaching or researching right now, but if you're looking for a few thoughts, I'll throw some in there.

The first thing that you've already picked up on is to not just let your horse dump his hip by just disengaging his hind end. The question would be why he's doing that, and you'll need to watch and feel him carefully.

One strong possibility is that you're blocking his outside shoulder with "contact" on the rein, and he's finding that block and turning it into a pivot. Are you practicing learning to give the rein with each step forward, or riding on a full release? Any sort of lifting up with either your outside shoulder or rein will be asking him to stand that shoulder up, and might be blocking the hind from coming under rather then around.

The other thing to try is to try to get the single step in concert with forward motion. If he's walking the centerline of the arena and you ask for the engaged step with the hind, he's less likely to spin out. Once you've picked up the feel of that, going from a standstill might be easier.

Best of luck! I'm looking forward to that EH issue myself, but my subscription apparently got lost somewhere between there and here!

Cheers,
Adam

PS - please don't  use that font again if you don't mind...I had to copy and paste your post into a text editor so I could read it. I think you pasted it in from a Word-type program, and the font doesn't come out very clearly on the forum.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Fri Jul 9th, 2010 06:34 am
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Dear Grey: A wonderful post. You encapsulate with perfect clarity, as only actual experience can produce, what the "fake", or "cheap", or "third rate" school of so-called "natural" horsemanship typically produces: dull, shut-down, resentful and/or fearful horses who are so anxious to get away from the schooling session that they rush through every requested maneuver, producing a mere sketch of the correct response. 

It has sometimes been difficult for some folks who have visited this Forum to understand why I rant and rave against all the wannabees who have branched off the well self-advertised gurus to produce their own "patent programs" which are supposed to solve all your problems with your horse, but which really only paint in large canvas the ignorance and lack of perceptivity of the people who produce the DVD programs. Just because something is offered for sale does not mean that it is any good. This is why I insist that there is no such thing and can never be any such thing as "natural" horsemanship, that it is all a sales job, snake oil, damaging, and wrong. The real McCoy goes by no name, follows no set program, recognizes no levels, and sells no franchises. It is, instead, all about observation, perception, feel, knowledge, experience, and courtesy toward the animal. There are no goals, but in learning to have no goals, you will achieve all things.

We had one fellow write in here and question my wellknown viewpoint, politely saying that he could not, for his part, tell any difference between the well self-advertised gurus and the people on our Institute recommended list, who I claim  embody the real McCoy. But, being willing to at least try what I suggested, he went off to meet the real McCoy in the person of Harry Whitney. Then the fellow came back here and said: "NOW I get the difference", and he explained it this way: He compared the difference to going to parachute school. Everybody who goes to parachute school uses the same equipment. But, the fellow observed, there is a very crucial difference between a good parachute school and a third-rate one. When you go to the right parachute school, you go up in the airplane and you jump out, and your parachute opens on time. But when you go to the third-rate school, the fake school, you go up in the airplane and you jump out and your parachute ALMOST opens on time. LOL.

So, yes, all the problems you describe are of your own making, but just insofar as that is true, they are also potentially of your own unmaking. You trained your horse to respond the way he does; so now you have to pretend that today is the first day you ever met him, and you see how he responds is not right, and you then say, "OK, I have to train him not to respond that way, but to respond this other way which I know to be much better." You take a completely fresh start, with no prior history, no blame, and no baggage either toward yourself or toward the animal. The horse will notice this and appreciate it.

Now you also have to count the time. How many months, how many sessions, did that "other trainer" who taught the horse to respond wrongly, perform with him? You figure how many hours were previously spent and you can then figure it will take at least that many hours before the horse will probably be able to let down. You are never again going to have the chance for a 'fresh' response -- that opportunity has gone by -- but it can at least get to the point where the horse has no worries.

The fact that you have learned to pet your way back to the hindquarter is the crucial factor that has enabled the most progress so far. You can't pet any horse enough, actually; just so long as every 'pet' you give him is really sincere, really coming out of your being truly present -- not, in other words, mechanically banging on him or rubbing the hide off. The more love that flows out of your hands, the slower you go with your hands, the more definite you are with your hands so that the horse comes to realize that you are KIND -- that's all he wants, he wants you to be kind to him; but what he's gotten to think is that you might use your hands, or things that you hold in your hands, to hurt him, and this he absolutely dreads. So you use your hands to convince him that's never going to happen again.

So you pet your way back there, and then you ask him to take that one step, and you let him take it. You do that, let's say, two-thirds of the time. The other one third of the time, you pet your way back there, and then you pet your way forward again without ever asking him to untrack, and when you get back up to the shoulder and neck, you turn your back and just lead him forward a ways.

Adam is correct in noticing that part of the problem not only with products of the fake school generally but with your horse in particular, is that he has lost track of 'come forward promptly'. So when you lead him forward, you want the life to get down into those feet, so he gets ready to move, and it never feels like dragging a wagon load of bricks. You want him light and lively. But you also want him to think about stepping toward the front with those feet. It is very important when untracking to try always to have the last step the animal takes be a forward step, and that there should always be a 'forward-direction component' to the oblique step that constitutes untracking. So what you want is to encourage the animal to FINISH with the foot that did the untracking in a position that is farther forward than the other foot.

You can promote this through leading the horse forward. So sometimes you untrack him and ask for just the one step, sometimes you pet your way back and then forward again and then lead him forward; and other times, and more and more over time, you combine the two by first having him untrack, and then, before he takes the third or even the second step, you lead him forward. This is like turning a curve into a straight line; you let him shift his hindquarters but then you have him come forward straight.

This segues directly into maneuvers you will be performing under saddle; one of my very favorite exercises, and one you'll see Buck Brannaman doing all the time, is to ride the horse asking him to untrack, and let that balance out into the 'expanding the circle' leg-yielding exercise, what Buck calls 'drifting out'. Then when you reach a circle of say, fifteen meters diameter at a walk, you go around once but then ask the horse to expand the circle, to drift out, some more. You go this way, drifting for perhaps five or six steps, then straighten him out, go forward for five or six steps, then start drifting him the other way for five or six steps. Pretty soon when you're doing that you will "see" your new circle, you get on that circle, ride around once, then drift off it and repeat the whole thing. This pattern combines untracking/leg-yielding, riding circles without lateral component, and riding straight segments without lateral component, just as your ground handling work does.

In your general riding of this horse, I would also advise that you remember not to drive lateral work into the ground. Don't do too much of it, especially if you already know the horse is OK and is not minded to buck you off or run off. If he's not thinking about malfeasance, then you shouldn't be, either. When all things are good, then instead of doing any lateral exercise, what you do is go canter. Work at getting the absolute slowest canter you can get him to maintain. Just lope easy. Go on straight lines and fairly big circles, and do it, as far as possible, on a completely loose rein. Get into the canter, suggest to him to slow down without breaking to trot, and then time on the watch keep him in it for five full minutes.

When you come out, STRIDE FORWARD IN THE WALK and let him breathe in the walk but you BOOGIE the walk. This 'big' walk becomes his reward, the rest he earns by otherwise going well. You walk 'big' until the respiration is normal again, and then you either canter him again or else it's good enough, it's the end of the ride, and you get off in the work area, you take all the tack off in the work area, you pet him and make much of him, and then you let him have a good roll in the work area. Then you put the saddle back on him and let him carry it to the barn with the bridle hung on the horn and he's in his halter.

If you let him hand-graze some on the way to his stall, he'll blame you for that too, and the next day there's a pretty good chance that he'll whicker at you when he sees you. No horse ever minded getting enough work to make him breathe, so long as nobody is hanging back on his head or else driving him nuts with useless discipline that he has long since proved that he does not merit. Let him go FREELY FORWARD under saddle and lead him forward as he finishes untracking in hand, and he will soon forget that he had any worries, anxieties, or bad previous experience at all.

Good luck and keep us posted. -- Dr. Deb

 

 

Ride A Grey Horse
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 Posted: Sat Jul 10th, 2010 06:23 am
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Dear Dr. Deb,

Thank you very much for your answer. 

First of all for telling me I now get to take "a completely fresh start, with no prior history, no blame, and no baggage either toward yourself or toward the animal.  The horse will notice this and appreciate it."  This is so level-headedly positive, I'm walking around feeling lighter if that makes sense.  It's really very moving to be helped like this.  I could never describe it to anyone.  Just, thank you.

What a rich, detailed, practical Rx - I hear you saying that petting the horse sincerely is really the first, most practical part of all.  I did go out and get started on that after I read your post, taking care to be all there, and the Grey looked surprised,  but (wonderfully) not skeptical.  When it was time to let them out into their field I opened the gate with one hand but kept loving on him, and he and his pasture mate didn't thunder away down the hill right away, they hung around for half a minute or so.  That's an all-time first - so, while I realize things will never be as good for the horse as if I hadn't put him through such rubbish, it's quite a beginning.

Adam, thank you for the helpful reply, with clear ideas that I'll also be aware of as I ride. 

A lot of crummy things are about to change.  It's a very appealing plan Dr.Deb, and *I can do this.*   Well... I'm slightly daunted by the idea I can help him ever move forward freely.  But I'm just going to follow Dr.'s orders, and believe.  It's all printed out and taped to the refrigerator.  

With gratitude,
Cynthia




Ride A Grey Horse
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 Posted: Mon Jul 12th, 2010 01:29 am
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Dear Dr.Deb and friends,

Things are going well, but I need a nap.

I've read Dr.Deb's post aloud to GreyHorse, with the last sentence and its wonderful assurance; I'm petting him with love that is present not absent-minded; asking (or not asking) for untracking, as Dr.Deb lays out; casually started a little bit of drifting under saddle; and I'm only posting again so soon because it's wonderful - the horse is responding so cleanly, not holding onto past stuff, as I start to get it right. Today I did think he gave me a sort of Lord-what-fools-these-mortals-be look - but anyway he's definitely hanging around me more when I'm in the paddock.

The problem is, being present is killing me dead. I'm finding I've got 100 ways to not be present. (My horse has a few, too - funny thing.) Lots of my 100 ways seem to involve doing too much. Like say in petting your way back to the hq, when you get around his sternum, why not ask for a belly-lift while you're right there? Just to be accomplishing something. Because I feel like I'm not getting anything done. Then I remember, wait: I'm petting this horse with clarity and deliberation, and it's about him being ok. Not doing anything??!!

Recently I read a little in "True Unity," and there's a memoir by one of the elderly teacher's students, a cowboy, who wasn't making much of the horse he was riding. He wanted to get some particular things done with the horse. But instead, all weekend the teacher had him love on that unloved ranch horse, and everything changed with the horse. Somehow it all got done, too. Then the cowboy joked to his friend "I went to a clinic and it cost me $50 to learn to pet my horse." But he said it'd be worth ten times, a hundred times that.

Best, zzzzzz
Cynthia

HorseSpeak
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 Posted: Thu Aug 12th, 2010 08:05 pm
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Hi Dr.Deb,
Just getting aquainted with your approach to horses...I really appreciate your comments - they are FOR the horse and ring true from my experience. So glad my friend introduced me to your Birdie Book - it's like "going home!"


DrDeb wrote:
Dear Grey: A wonderful post. You encapsulate with perfect clarity, as only actual experience can produce, what the "fake", or "cheap", or "third rate" school of so-called "natural" horsemanship typically produces: dull, shut-down, resentful and/or fearful horses who are so anxious to get away from the schooling session that they rush through every requested maneuver, producing a mere sketch of the correct response. 

It has sometimes been difficult for some folks who have visited this Forum to understand why I rant and rave against all the wannabees who have branched off the well self-advertised gurus to produce their own "patent programs" which are supposed to solve all your problems with your horse, but which really only paint in large canvas the ignorance and lack of perceptivity of the people who produce the DVD programs. Just because something is offered for sale does not mean that it is any good. This is why I insist that there is no such thing and can never be any such thing as "natural" horsemanship, that it is all a sales job, snake oil, damaging, and wrong. The real McCoy goes by no name, follows no set program, recognizes no levels, and sells no franchises. It is, instead, all about observation, perception, feel, knowledge, experience, and courtesy toward the animal. There are no goals, but in learning to have no goals, you will achieve all things.



You take a completely fresh start, with no prior history, no blame, and no baggage either toward yourself or toward the animal. The horse will notice this and appreciate it.

You are never again going to have the chance for a 'fresh' response -- that opportunity has gone by -- but it can at least get to the point where the horse has no worries.

You can't pet any horse enough, actually; just so long as every 'pet' you give him is really sincere, really coming out of your being truly present -- not, in other words, mechanically banging on him or rubbing the hide off. The more love that flows out of your hands, the slower you go with your hands, the more definite you are with your hands so that the horse comes to realize that you are KIND -- that's all he wants, he wants you to be kind to him; but what he's gotten to think is that you might use your hands, or things that you hold in your hands, to hurt him, and this he absolutely dreads. So you use your hands to convince him that's never going to happen again.

or else it's good enough, it's the end of the ride, and you get off in the work area, you take all the tack off in the work area, you pet him and make much of him, and then you let him have a good roll in the work area. Then you put the saddle back on him and let him carry it to the barn with the bridle hung on the horn and he's in his halter.

If you let him hand-graze some on the way to his stall, he'll blame you for that too, and the next day there's a pretty good chance that he'll whicker at you when he sees you. No horse ever minded getting enough work to make him breathe, so long as nobody is hanging back on his head or else driving him nuts with useless discipline that he has long since proved that he does not merit. Let him go FREELY FORWARD under saddle and lead him forward as he finishes untracking in hand, and he will soon forget that he had any worries, anxieties, or bad previous experience at all.

/quote]

Ride A Grey Horse
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 Posted: Wed Sep 1st, 2010 10:56 pm
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Dear Dr. Deb and friends,

Things keep changing with my horse, and it's like a different world.  It all started with loving on him in a true mindful way.  You could see him see it's a whole new deal.

For the original problem I wrote in about, it's a great help to lead forward as soon as he's taken the one untracking step. Dr. Deb said:
"Adam is correct in noticing that part of the problem not only with products of the fake school generally but with your horse in particular, is that he has lost track of 'come forward promptly'. So when you lead him forward, you want the life to get down into those feet, so he gets ready to move, and it never feels like dragging a wagon load of bricks. You want him light and lively. But you also want him to think about stepping toward the front with those feet" -
and this seems to be carrying over.  He's more responsive in general, not all the time you know but a lot. Horses are amazing.

The drifting-out-your-circle pattern is great.  Dr.Deb,  the truth is, the circles are widening out in all ways.  In order to ask GreyHorse to untrack and drift outwards, I had to finally figure out how to feel when he's lifting his inside hind leg off the ground, so I can ask at the right time.  For this, I got my husband to watch and call it out, until I felt what the saddle was doing - then for a few days I would call it out with him watching, to be sure I'd got it.  (I can't actually feel the foot, but this method is a beginning.)   I've been meaning to figure this out ever since I read Woody, where you explain "The Master's Way" of straightening the crooked horse.

And the ultimate widening of the circle, I guess, came in realizing I didn't really have his attention all the time - nowhere near.   This is changing hugely.

So that's a progress report.  There are a dozen other things but this is the gist.

The one result of becoming more present that I don't like one little bit, is that it's hit me what an ignorant rider I am.  You said to canter as slowly as possible, and I can't get my horse to canter slowly at all - he'll tear along or break to a trot.   I was just fixing to ask about this, when the great new thread "Setting up the horse for haunches-in" appeared.  I've also been reading "Who's built best to ride?"   Realizing you do not ride well, when you thought you were really kind of spiffy, is an awful feeling.  The Forum is definitely not for the faint-hearted.  Anyway I'm very grateful to be here.

Thank you and best,
Cynthia  



DrDeb
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 Posted: Thu Sep 2nd, 2010 06:45 am
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Cynthia, you are doing just great. I wish all riders would come along and get more interested in some of the areas that seem most important to you right now.

As to cantering your horse slow: understand (as I said in the 'haunches in' thread) that this takes quite a bit more strength than cantering fast does. When a horse goes fast, he can 'cheat' in a way, and let momentum handle a lot of the work. When he goes slow, he has to pick up each-and-every-foot. Sound familiar? Sound like one-step-at-a-time?

So, as long as you are focusing on one-step-at-a-time at a walk, you are also preparing your horse to do the same at any gait.

Now, next time when you ask your horse to canter, try these two things:

1. Make a very conscious effort NOT to "run him up into it." If he does not have the strength and balance necessary to take the canter from a halt, then you take it from a walk. If he does not have the strength and balance to take it from a walk, then you take it from a trot. But your ultimate goal, your horsemanship objective, is to get your horse to where he will take a canter upon the lead you have specified ahead of time, from a halt. And so I want you to have that picture in your mind's eye -- I don't care if he has to trot, but you keep that picture -- the next time you ask him to canter. To canter on a right lead from a halt, he has to REAR UP SOME, REACH UP AND OUT with the right forelimb, and at the same time STAND DOWN upon the left hind leg. Try this yourself, skipping, so you get the feel of it. Then, when you ask your horse to canter, he will do what he has to do, but YOU have this picture. And so long as you have this picture, your horse will try to meet it, because he can see whatever picture is in your mind.

2. Absolutely, categorically, totally, completely, avowedly REFUSE to let your butt come off the saddle. Especially, your outside cheek, i.e. the left cheek for a clockwise curve/right lead (of course you are not asking the horse to depart canter on a straightaway: always ask the green horse on a circle). So you are walking on a right-hand circle and you intend to depart on the right lead. The signal for this is that you:

a. KISS the saddle and STAY KISSING SMOOOOOOOCH with that left cheek

b. This does NOT mean "push down", "smash down hard", "weight the outside cheek more heavily". It means ADHERE -- no upward motion, not even any air bubbles, a complete tight "seal". It also does NOT mean "slide to the outside", "shift your weight to the outside (or inside)". It means: ADHERE; you continue to sit square in the middle of your horse. It does not mean "post faster and faster until the horse gets going so fast that it must either canter or fall on its face." (This is what 99% of unsophisticated riders do). What do you do? You simply ADHERE.

In order to ADHERE, you must SIT BACK. You must not collapse forward. You must not hunch your shoulders down. You must not stick your chin out to the front. You must not bend forward at the waist. You must not "go fetal". You must be brave. You must sit right up there with the proud posture of a mounted bullfighter -- high chest, big wide open shoulders, hands where they belong -- carried at the leve of your navel, with elbows always having a 90-degree bend, wrists relaxed, fingers closed upon the reins. You must feel that your crotch is always trying to pass your sternum. You keep your breastbone BEHIND your crotch. This is what makes your ass stick down.

It is also necessary to do this "sitting up and sitting back" with great relaxation in the muscles that are in your crotch and legs. The abdominal muscles need to be strong; they are what pull the crotch forward with each "stroke" of the canter, so that you have what is called a "following seat". So the abdominals do much, but the legs do little. This implies that you are capable of staying on the horse's back not by gripping/strength, but by balance, which when present is like dancing, you zig when he zigs, you zag when he zags, and requires almost no leg strength. The only activity in your legs should be when you give the initial impetus and signal to canter, which is: brief pressure from the outside calf, followed as the feet start coming forward with a 'sweeping' pressure from the inside calf. The sequence is: outside-inside, which makes it distinctly different from the signal to trot, and which imitates the actual action of the canter -- which is as if the animal had been split down the middle from nose to tail, so that his outside legs swing forward a quarter-second before those of the inside half of his body.

Remember, too, that once he changes the footfall order from that of a walk or trot to that of a canter, that the departure is the first step of the canter; but every step after that is just a "ditto". In other words, every canter "jump" is a departure. This is where is becomes one-step-at-a-time, only for cantering it's one-jump-at-a-time, the "jump" being each time when he goes to anchor the key leg, which is the outside hind. When he puts that leg down against the ground, you feel his butt muscles bunch up, because he's getting ready (once again) to lift the whole rest of his body -- to 'rear up some' before he 'reaches forward and outward' with the leading forelimb. The horse that races off at a canter is trying to avoid this strength move by shuffling the effort off onto the inside hind leg, so that the job of pushing the body forward can be shared by both hind legs more or less simultaneously. So you just hang on to that picture, and see how slow you can get him to go, and when he does slow down, then you reward him the best way you can think of -- rest as soon as you can without making him think you didn't want to canter --  to let him know that going slow at the canter is what you have been wanting.

Please continue to keep us posted as to how things are going for you. Cheers -- Dr. Deb

 

Brandy
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 Posted: Thu Sep 2nd, 2010 08:08 pm
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Dear Cynthia and Dr. Deb,

I just have to thank you both for this thread and all the information here.  Cynthia, I could have written your posts (in fact I wondered if I had an alter ego who was typing when I slept) but you are more eloquent than me.  I can relate, so very much, to your process here.  Dr. Deb, your answers have been most useful to me, too.

 

Thank you both.

 

 

Ride A Grey Horse
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 Posted: Sat Sep 4th, 2010 04:14 am
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Dear Dr.Deb,

Thank you.  Your answer is the most wanted, most useful gift I could ask for.  All my riding life canter has been something to muddle through - hang on and try to look cool, with no clear idea what's happening at each moment.  Reading your explanation made me picture good riders riding, and say:  Oh, so that's what you all are doing, yes, of course that's it.  After reading through a few times (it's very memorable), I did some mental rehearsal sitting on a gym-ball, then rode today and I couldn't stop grinning.  It's not that GreyHorse slowed down his canter on the first day, but my picture of canter is slowed down.  I can start to see it.   I can hardly believe this.
 
Brandy, thanks for posting. I'm sorry you went through the same damaging stuff I did; but I'm so glad you, and I hope others, will be using Dr.Deb's teaching about this.
 
With gratitude, Dr.Deb, and best to all,
Cynthia


 

soda
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 Posted: Sat Sep 4th, 2010 06:26 pm
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Dr. Deb,

Thank you for explaining how to ask for the lope.  I have an issue that I would like your help with.  My quarter horse is soft and responds well to my legs.  She has one of the smoothest trots I have ridden, and I never leave my saddle until she trots faster.  When I am in the round pen and ask for the trot she responds well, but when I ask for a faster trot she hurries and tightens in anticipation of loping.  I noticed you mentioned in this post to never hurry a horse before the lope.  To help my mare, I have been asking her to trot slow then faster, but never asking for the lope.  When she is in her faster trot, I pay attention to my body for relaxation, and I wait on her to relax in the fast trot.  When she does, I ask her to walk.  Can you offer any other help?

I recently returned from my first Harry Whitney clinic in Montana.  Before attending the clinic, I have come to realize that my body language in the round pen (probably not the only place) has been "shouting" at my horse and I have been chasing my horse rather than "going along with her".  Harry gave me help with this.  No doubt this affects other areas of riding.  I have always been a fast mover wherever I go....I guess I have a get there and get it done syndrome.  I have been really making an effort to slow my pace down, especially when working with my horses.     

Thanks,

Christine

 

 

 

Ola
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 Posted: Sat Sep 4th, 2010 09:32 pm
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Hi DrDeb and all,

I would like to add one more question about horse's tempo. I am reading Mike Schaffer's book now and the chapter about rhythm, tempo and speed really made me think. What is the point in changing horse's tempo? Should I look for his own, natural rhythm and try to maintain it in all gaits and manoeuvres? I mean, if horse's legs move like pendulums, they have an "oscilation period" and then they can swing freely, regardless of the length of the stride. So is it beneficial to change it, going slower/faster?

Regards,
Ola

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sun Sep 5th, 2010 04:37 am
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Yes, Ola, it is extremely beneficial to learn how to change a horse's tempo. This is one of the many "fundamental" transitions, and it is by means of transitions that the horse becomes more highly capable of carrying a rider through complex maneuvers of all types.

Now we need to be clear here, because many people who look at this thread may not be too sure exactly what "tempo" means. It does NOT mean "speed" in terms of going so many kph or mph forward. Instead, tempo specifically means how many beats, that is hoof strikedowns, per minute. If you make the analogy to an automobile, tempo = rpm's. Anyone who drives a car that has a manual transmission with a tachometer knows that you can be going quite slow in forward mph or kph, and yet because the car is in first gear, the "revs" or rpm's can be quite high. Likewise, if the car is in cruising gear or fifth gear, the car can be going quite fast in terms of mph or kph, and yet the "revs" are low. You see also from this that the forward speed is the RESULT of the rpm's, so although we may notice the speed that is not really what we are addressing.

This is precisely what we want to teach our horse: to get these two things separated. If you did not teach this, Ola, how do you think the horse is ever going to achieve piaffe, which means zero or close to zero forward speed, with moderate tempo, i.e. a tempo higher than the actual forward speed? Most horses don't offer this without some help from their human teacher, and even if you have a horse that will piaffe at liberty, he will not enjoy doing it under saddle unless you practice. And so, how does one build a horse up to this, so that he begins to guess, when you are riding him, that this might be what you want, i.e. without the use of a ground person with whips, cross-ties, or any form of trapping?

Likewise, I doubt you have seen this Ola in your country, but if you ever see a videotape of someone riding a Paso Fino horse, the skillful trainers in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Colombia take this to the ultimate possibility, which is to have near-zero forward speed with "revs" as high as possible, so that the horse's feet move so fast they are literally a blur, while the body creeps forward at less than 2 kph. When this is not forced, but properly trained, it is beautiful and at least as valuable, if not more valuable, than piaffe.

Now you have been stimulated to write with this question because you read my answer to someone else, regarding cantering her horse slow. To have made this connection is perceptive of you, and it leads me to think that you probably already guess how teaching tempo change is done: by repeatedly asking for it.

You want to get your horse to where he will walk with the LONGEST POSSIBLE STEPS. To ask this of him, you visualize it and he will try to meet your internal picture.

You ask for 50 long steps. Then, using the least rein signal possible -- connecting your feel not to his mouth, but to his front ankles -- you inhibit the length of the steps until you get the SHORTEST POSSIBLE STEPS. Ask for only 10 steps as short as the horse can make.

Then see HOW SOON you can change back to long steps.

The next time you change from short to long, see HOW SMOOTH you can make the change.

And the next time, see whether you can make the long steps EVEN LONGER THAN BEFORE.

When you change from long to short, see HOW SOON you can change from long to short.

The next time, see HOW SMOOTH you can make the change.

And the next time, see whether you can make the short steps EVEN SHORTER THAN BEFORE.

Always take at least five times as many long steps as you take short steps, and I do mean you have to actually count them. Four or five changes from long to short, then change directions in the arena and do four or five more. Then leave this subject for a while and go do something else.

Within a couple of weeks, your horse will be going so short when he is "short" that you will feel that you are actually picking up the individual feet with your hands, i.e. you will feel like you have the beginnings of Spanish Walk.

Likewise, when he is "long" he will be out-walking everything else in the barn, and his walk will take on a lively, impulsive, supple, lion-like quality that should be the ideal of all horsemen. The walk (to put it in German) will have "erhaben"; in Spanish, "brio".

Now notice I have said here nothing at all about changing the TEMPO with which he sets his feet down; only changing the LENGTH of the steps. And I have also only mentioned work at a walk.

When the long-short-long transitions at a walk are fluid, easy for the horse, and a well-established part of your daily rides -- which will be a matter of a year or so -- then you may start asking the same at the trot and/or canter, depending upon which gait the horse is better at.

There is a difference in the advice I am giving you here and that given to the first person who wrote in to ask about cantering slow. In her case, the horse is stiffening, losing its balance, and rushing. Here I am assuming we have a different situation, since you do no mention that your horse is "running off". So what I am telling you here is the method for systematically teaching the horse to shorten and lengthen the steps at all gaits. The other lady can very well get onto this protocol, too, once the circling technique that I mentioned to her has begun to work, and she is sitting the canter a little better.

Once the horse gets to the point where you can shorten him noticeably at a trot, you can think about piaffe. You will ask him to shorten, stay with short steps for only two to four beats, and then lengthen. This is similar to the "rocker" exercise; the "up" transition will become more and more powerful, without, however, ever being in any way hurried. People at my barn notice that when I ask Oliver to make the "up" transition, he sits down behind; if you practice correctly, this is a usual result.

The piaffe, just as the more ordinary types of trot, the walk, and the canter, does have a certain 'preferred' tempo in every horse. What Mike Schaffer is telling people in his book is very sensible -- when your horse is green, you should do everything you can to make what you are asking as easy as possible for him, including finding out, and then asking for, his preferred rhythm. But as he becomes trained, indeed the very definition of that is that he will become more and more capable of expanding out of his most-preferred step length and tempo, and at that point, you will find that you can dial them both up or down.

You are probably familiar with this concept in the training of a show hunter: some jumps are "trappy", and to negotiate those successfully you have to be able to "rate" the horse, which does not mean so much just slow him down or speed him up as it means shorten or lengthen his steps, so as to come in to each jump optimally.

With most horses, our main need will be to teach the animal to slow the tempo rather than to increase it. With most horses, it is easier to get them to speed up than to slow down, so permitting the horse to continually go fast does nothing for his training. Many, many horses that you see being "dressage schooled" are being ridden 20% or more over the tempo that would benefit them the most -- and notice -- this without the rider having the least idea of how the LENGTH OF THE STEPS affects the horse's ability to CHANGE THE TEMPO, especially to slow it down.

The "rpm's" -- the tempo -- of an average-sized, 15 to 17-hand green horse at a trot are in the range of 80 beats per minute. The same horse, after a few years of someone asking it to change the LENGTH OF STEP longer-shorter-longer as I have described above, will become capable of trotting at half that tempo, and this is where the piaffe starts to become possible.

Likewise, the canter of a green horse tends to run about 100 bpm, though a stiff horse, an unbalanced horse, or a frightened one may push that up to 150 bpm. After training as above described, the same animal will become capable of cantering at around 60 bpm or even slower, so that the forward speed may become as low as 6 kph/4 mph while the step-length remains moderate. This is the ideal place from which we can then teach the horse to pirouette -- the slower he offers to go, the stronger and better balanced he is, the better; for it takes a great deal of strength and balance to perform the pirouette.

I was lucky to own Painty Horse, who until his death in 2005 was still teaching me many of these things. Painty had the most superb canter I ever rode, and I doubt that I will ever find another horse who is as good in that area. But if you show your horse where these good things are, Ola, I am sure that he will be glad to teach you too. You may be surprised at how very capable he might be. -- Dr. Deb

Blue Flame
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 Posted: Sun Sep 5th, 2010 09:01 am
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DrDeb wrote:  . . . . In order to ADHERE, you must SIT BACK. You must not collapse forward. You must not hunch your shoulders down. You must not stick your chin out to the front. You must not bend forward at the waist. You must not "go fetal". You must be brave. You must sit right up there with the proud posture of a mounted bullfighter -- high chest, big wide open shoulders, hands where they belong -- carried at the leve of your navel, with elbows always having a 90-degree bend, wrists relaxed, fingers closed upon the reins. You must feel that your crotch is always trying to pass your sternum. You keep your breastbone BEHIND your crotch. This is what makes your ass stick down.

It is also necessary to do this "sitting up and sitting back" with great relaxation in the muscles that are in your crotch and legs. The abdominal muscles need to be strong; they are what pull the crotch forward with each "stroke" of the canter, so that you have what is called a "following seat". So the abdominals do much, but the legs do little. . . . . . 



Hi DrDeb and all,

My questions relating to the quote above are:

What is the position of the pelvis during all of this with regards to forward or backward tilt?

Is the "sitting back" related to just the upper torso or does it include tilting the pelvis back to sit more on the pockets as well?

I ask this because other material I have read describes variously;

Advancing toward the pommel/dropping the pubic bone - to make room behind for the horse to round up into.

That sitting back creates a driving seat - something I thought that would be counter to achieveing a slow canter.

That sitting back/creating a driving seat can be more than some horses backs can handle and thus tend to flatten or hollow their backs.

I had my daughter canter her horse today following as best we could your instructions above - holding the image for the horse and being careful not to "run him up" into the canter. We had good success with the horse showing us his ability to canter from walk with only two trot strides. Once he was up into the canter, my daughter was indeed able to adhere to the saddle better when she kept her sternnum behind her  pubic bone.

However, while the horse did not seem rushed to my eye, he did maintain more speed than I would've liked and was reluctant to canter any slower. Previously, we have been able to get some quite nice slow canters by cantering 1 circle, stop, 1 circle, stop.

That is the background for my questions above. Is it possible that in sitting back that we have created a driving seat thus causing the horse to canter faster? Do we need to be wary of pelvis tilt? Or am I missing the mark altogether and something else is causing the speed?

EDIT:

I'd just like to add, in case it is relevent, that I did ask my daughter to try spiralling down see if that slowed the horse. We also made sure that she wasn't trying to slow him with a square feel while doing this. Finally we tried having her lower her energy level - probably not the thing to do since the horse works harder at a slower canter. These attempts did not really have the effect we were looking for.

Respectfully,

Sandy

Last edited on Sun Sep 5th, 2010 09:15 am by Blue Flame

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sun Sep 5th, 2010 10:34 am
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Sandy, there is no such thing in all the world as a "driving seat". You can have a PUNISHING seat -- that's the kind of seat that causes a horse to hollow its back. You can have a CLUMSY seat, one that bounces or slides around, and that won't have any good effects either. But by no power on earth can you, or anyone else, cause a horse to go more vigorously forward by pushing any part of your pelvis down into him. You are therefore worrying about a "distinction without a difference". In other words -- it's just words. It isn't real.

You have to understand, Sandy, that 99% of people who say they are dressage instructors (that is where the concept of a "driving seat" comes from, from that group of people) -- they do not know what they are saying. They are just saying things, repeating phrases, that they have overheard people whom they consider "big time" or "important" to have said. Almost never do any of these people have the slightest real knowledge of human or equine anatomy; if you get into a conversation with them, you will find that they are all mixed up. Neither do they have good understanding of muscle function or biomechanics, especially the peculiar biomechanics of collection.

So, if there is no such thing as a "driving seat", how does a person stimulate the horse effectively, so that he raises the life within him? How also does a person induce or cause the horse to round up? The primary bodypart in both cases is the calf of the leg.

Once the life rises, then the seat follows. And what causes the seat to follow, indeed the whole basis for the seat itself, is the small of the back and the muscles that invest the small of the back. It is the elastic oscillations of the small of the rider's back that control the seat and allow it to follow synchronously the oscillations simultaneously being made by the horse's back. 

The most important group of muscles that control the oscillations of the lumbar back -- and this is true for both the horse and the rider -- are the iliopsoas complex. These muscles are large and hugely important for the maintenance of good posture, and are the actual "core" of the so-called "core muscles". Yes, the abs are important; so are the transverse abdominals and the internal and external obliques, which make up the sides of your waist between the ribs and the hipbones. But the iliopsoas, which is neither visible nor palpable because they lie within the abdominal cavity below the diaphragm but in front of the vertebral chain, are the most important.

When the rider has fit iliopsoas muscles, you may know it by a very certain sign, that they quit pinching with their butt muscles. For the moment the iliopsoas is not fit enough for a certain task, the butt muscles turn on as a compensation. So the rider must teach herself, at first on the ground, to tuck their fanny without the slightest effort being made by the gluteal muscles of the buttocks. This is easier at first if practiced on one side at a time.

Once you quit pinching with your butt, that makes your butt a lot softer and squashier as you sit on it, and this in itself will help you to adhere. The less effort you make with any part of your crotch, butt, or thighs, the better you will adhere. The only part of your leg that is ever to be active anyway is the part that is below the inner bone of the knee. When riding on the flat, which is what we are talking about here, one must never tighten any muscle of the thigh, or pinch the thighs or knees together.

Now as to pelvic tilt, the first thing you need to do is go over to "knowledge base" at our main website, and download "Who's Built Best to Ride" and study that paper. One of the first things you will discover is that if you are female, it is highly unlikely that you have ever been able to sit "on" your pockets.

Another thing you will learn is that the whole business about lowering the crotch (which instantly causes the lower back to become more hollow) is an insane, damaging hangover from European courtly fashion of the 17th and 18th centuries. The same wrong, destructive ideas affect not only horseback riding but also ballet and gymnastics; and although one still does see hyperextended lower backs in these athletic activities, there are movements, especially among the parents of children enrolled in ballet, gymnastics, ice skating, and ice dancing, to put a stop to it.

The idea that by lowering your crotch (and hollowing your back) you tilt your tailbone up and thus "make a space for the horse to round up into" is a WONDERFUL example of the same ignorance that informs much of dressage coaching today. I just love those people, I'm telling you Sandy; they are the source of such mirth for me. But if you listen to them, they will be the source of actual physical destruction to your body and your daughter's -- if you ride with a lowered crotch and a hyperextended (hollowed) lower back, you not only will not be able to follow the horse's movement, if he takes a hard little crowhop at any time, you will be in danger of rupturing a disk.

When a woman sits a horse, she must make a special effort -- you will learn when you review the "Who's Built Best to Ride" article that a typical woman literally cannot sit the same as a typical man -- she must make a special effort to RAISE the crotch. This has the effect of flattening out her lower back. It cannot become completely flat -- this is not physically possible -- but a woman rider can at least work to guarantee that, no matter what the horse does, her back does not become hyperextended. You want the most ease and "release" in the muscles that lie on the outside of the back -- the ones you can put the palm of your hand on, like old Grampa does when he walks with his cane. These muscles are the long perivertebrals, the longissimus dorsi, the 'backstrap muscles' of the elk hunter, and what they do when they contract is hyperextend the lumbar back and make it more hollow. So you want those muscles as much 'off' as possible, while maintaining an elastic fitness of the opposing iliopsoas complex, whose contraction acts to coil the loins, i.e. to round the lower back and make it, in the human, less hollow.

As to why your horse didn't slow down as much as you might have liked, my dear, you do need to re-read the transmissions above where I mention that cantering slow is a strength move. It takes time to develop the requisite strength. This means:

1. Always practice the right thing -- don't waste your time and your horse's life by allowing him to run off. If he speeds up, either ask him to slow down, or stop and start again.

2. Give the muscles, tendons, and ligaments time to adapt to the new and greater requirement. It is unheard-of that it should take less than six years to produce a completely finished horse, one that can canter at 4 mph.

3. Practice regularly, but keep the 'bouts' short where you ask the horse for an effort greater than the one he is currently able to offer comfortably. In other words, one of the secrets to training successfully is that you peck at it, like Michelangelo carving out the 'David': the statue did not fall out of the marble with a single blow; rather, it took hundreds of little taps.

I'm glad you and others are trying some of these things out. The benefits are there for anyone who is willing to let their horse show them the way. -- Dr. Deb 


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