I now know why people say moving is the most stressful time of their lives. I guess that's what older people say - i.e. people like me! I have changed home quite a few times in my far and distant past, but the biggest move was in 1979, when we left an idyllic house in Portugal to bring our entire stable of Lusitano schoolmasters to England. The reason? It sounds rather pretentious, but it was considered madness at the time - to introduce the art of Classical Riding to the UK!
Not only did the paperwork and form filling take over a year (it was post Revolution Portugal) to research and complete, there was a yard to build, an Olympic indoor school requiring planning permission, and the small matter of making the family home in Suffolk liveable in again- especially for clients. Exciting times! Yet, despite all the frequent overseas trips, the endless drives long before motorways - Algarve to Lisbon - the packing up, the jabs, vets certificates and passports, the travel plans - 10 days by train for the horses, lorries from Calais to Suffolk - we seemed to sail through it! But I was younger then.
This latest move involved only one horse - so that was hardly an issue. But downsizing is something else and in its own way just as revolutionary, at least to the heart. Without realising it, I was dealing with the collections of a lifetime. Then there was the CRC Office... that certainly did not exist in 1979, neither did the Lusitano Breed Society of Great Britain. With a wardrobe full of newsletters, minutes, and 10 years worth of fascinating correspondence as Lusitano Chairman - I could only ask, why oh why had no one from the present day come forward when I offered these up for reference purposes?!
Moving onto the remnants of 8 books and 25 years worth of articles - what did other authors do? I felt protective of each and every one, as well as the carefully ordered files for every DVD. Instructions for each half-second of footage, voice-overs, illustrations and...and .... I heard my voice cry: 'Yes, bin it!' - or a moment later 'no, keep it!' Looks would pass across the room and I have to admit, making those decisions to pack or chuck, almost floored me.
Space was an issue. Everything I needed immediately was going with me in the car, the rest going into storage - until I could find a house! I had two large dogs to accompany me and a very opinionated 19 year old cat. At the last moment, I had found a one bed-room holiday cottage only 5 miles from where Prazer would go to livery ... I was going ahead of him in order to greet him when he arrived at Water Farm. His stable arrangements had been planned forever and I knew it would all work out. What was more hastily arranged was where I would go, the house I had hoped to buy - having just fallen through!
I am quite happy now to admit, I found the last few weeks in Scotland grueling in the extreme. Despite lots of wonderful help in the weeks leading up - Angela and our last Admin, Melanie - doing sterling stuff, I felt as though my brains were frying. 'How can I not keep that? Surely someone might need this one day?...' and this was only the paperwork. Nevertheless, with their patient support - plus a gun held to my temple! virtually - we reduced the office from roughly 90 large crates (tea-box size!) to just 45. And I'm talking about only one room. With several others still in the throes of dismantlement, that last day was manic. The removal men had been there for three days and I was supposed to have left at lunch-time. The last minute stuff seemed to go on forever and I only got away at 4 pm, having of course forgotten to eat. The thought of then having to drive south for 6.5 hours was not brilliant.
I waved goodbye to Eden Hall but as dusk came down and we'd left the Cheviots far behind us, I knew it was madness to proceed. As usual, Allegra and her mastery on the internet came to the rescue and she managed to book me into an animal friendly B&B just off the A1 in Yorkshire. Taking one look at my face, the landlady was knocking at my door just half-an-hour later with a large glass of red wine and cheese on toast! The kindness of strangers.
After that, things could only get better. The animals settled beautifully in the car the next day, Prazer would soon be on his way, the sun shone, and miracle of miracles - I had actually managed to leave! I knew in my heart of hearts it was all going to be OK from now on. I had done it.
Thank you to all of you who sent such wonderful cheering messages and cards. My tiny cottage bear witness and I love it.
My next Blog - apologies for delay - will be all about Suffolk!
**This event is now fully booked but another Lecture/Demo with the same programme will be run on June 20th at Water Farm. Tickets will be on sale soon**
THE CLASSICAL RIDING CLUB AT WATER FARM PRESENTS
Sylvia Loch & The Classical Seat
Saturday 2nd May 2015
3.00 – 5.30pm
Programme to include:
Why the Classical Seat?
An exploration of the Balance and Functionality of the Seat
The Classical Seat & The Aids
Chrysi Warner with a Novice horse
Lisa Young with an Elementary horse
Questions and Answers
Afternoon tea or coffee and cake are included in the price
An enthralling lecture/demo to help ALL riders of whatever discipline
Tickets will be reserved and held at the door. The price is £20.00 each and £17.50 for CRC Members and under 17s. To be booked in advance through Paypal or a cheque made out to Water Farm, marking it on the back (CRC lecture).
We are expecting a high demand so make sure you book your reservation asap.
If you can't make this date or there are no places left, we will be putting on the same Demo in roughly 6 weeks time... date to be announced under Diary Dates www.classicalriding.co.uk as well as on www.waterfarmdressage.co.uk and facebook
TICKETS ARE AVAILABLE IN THE SHOP ON THIS WEBSITE!
How to find us:
Water Farm Dressage Centre
People like to say - the end is in sight! - but I prefer the above title - new beginnings! I am leaving a wonderful place to go to new pastures, new yard, new people and new students. But hey! - much as I shall miss all that's gone before.... and more than a little... it's also challenging and exciting to step into the unknown.
Yes, some of you may have heard - most won't - I shall be homeless this time next Wednesday (25th March, 2015) as Eden Hall has been sold, but the new house I thought I had bought... has fallen at the last hurdle.
So, for now - it's into a rented holiday cottage which looks inviting but remarkably tiny on the brochure but that is because it was constructed for one - not necessarily one, plus 2 large dogs - dobie and lab - one 19 year old cat - Pansy the young at heart tortoishell and a mass of office stuff including much connected with CRC! Hopefully, this humble abode will provide the perfect base whilst I go house hunting again, and it has the added benefit of being just 20 minutes or so drive away from Prazer's new stable. Yes, for the first time ever in my life - I shall have a horse at livery!
One of the big attractions is the fact I shall never have to worry about muck clearing, frozen pipes, hay deliveries, licences, vets inspections or having to be bossy, e.g. reminding everyone to keep their dog on the lead, chiding people for not wearing hats to lead a horse out etc or dealing with someone's runaway cow falling into our water tank. (Yes, honestly!!) Indeed, it will be heaven to live under someone else's rules for once and the joy of having an indoor school to ride in again - no matter how it's chucking it down outside - will be delightful.
Ten days ago, we had a big Auction at Eden Hall. I knew I had to downsize by over 50 per cent, but throwing out collections of a lifetime is not easy. We ended up running a Country House Sale here at home and the prospect of opening up ones home to all and sundry drew in lots of local interest, press attention and ended up being surprisingly cathartic. There was everything from furniture, pictures, china, ornaments, kitchen ware, stable ware and garden paraphernalia. Even the old dog kennel, the rabbit hutch and the trampoline found an owner.... and one lady paid a fortune for a simple boot-scraper. Mind you, it was probably pre-war and they knew how to make things in those days, so perhaps I should have kept that one, after all.
So everything considered, I am getting myself together and hope that this time - a week today exactly - I will be settled into my new temporary abode with the dogs fast asleep in their baskets and Pansy the puss-cat, snug on my bed. It will be like the old days, touring the country in my horsebox to demo, and enjoying the satisfaction of making do in a cramped space with some surprisingly good fry-ups to boot!
It will do me not harm not to have Sky... and I have packed a load of books I always wanted to read - so let's just hope it all goes to plan and I can relax! - for maybe the first time in what will have been a very long journey (in both senses of the word).
Today was such a day! Windy, noisy - trees swaying loudly - a rush of air - everywhere. After some work in the school - all rather exciting - we braved the wind and went for a hack. At times like this you keep your wits about you... so many distractions, sounds, wind in the mane and in the ears... and spooks! My boy may be approaching his 19th Birthday... but he is as active and forward as ever - although tires more easily. Out on a long stretch of grassy track, as usual he wanted to fly - fast. First in trot, then in canter. The worse thing with forward-going horses is to pull - they than have something to pull against. No, the best way of containing all that impulsion and power is to sit as central as you can and let your weight DROP. Yes drop. Don't let your own energy get directed back in an already energetic horse, don't grip, don't pull back, don't lean back. Just drop your weight. More into the ball of the foot than the heel. Then, another little trick - push the rein back at him. Towards the base of the neck; even against the neck. If your reins are the correct length this has an immediate calming effect. Try it and see. Gravity is far more powerful than you think and it calms the horse and contains him.
Further to the last section of News, Sylvia's letter to Horse and Hound was published this week.
"I am a keen supporter of all equestrian disciplines and have a huge love and admiration of the horse. I have been lucky enough to live near Sylivia Loch in the Scottish Borders and seen at first hand her wonderful Classical Riding Club demonstrations at Ladykirk. An inspiration to all that have watched them. The importance of good riding, through the education of the riders at any level is paramount to the protection of the horse. To watch a horse enjoy his work in harmony with his rider is both elegant, exciting and beautiful to watch. I was thrilled to accept the roll of Ambassador and look forward to seeing the Classical Riding Club grow from strength to strength and to learn more myself about the empathy between horse and rider."
I have to say I was mildly surprised. Then, the more I thought about it, the more puzzled I became. A new post on our CRC Facebook had basically poo-hooed the concept of biomechanics in riding. Whether they meant human biomechanics or equine, was initially hard to determine, although it soon became clear they meant the latter. What surprised me was this was the musings of an advanced level trainer and at first, quite a few of the trail followers seemed to agree ... 'oh yes, I ride by feel'....or - 'thinking about it too much can get in the way'.. or words to that effect.
How different from the philosophy of the old Masters! "Equitation is confessedly a science; every science is founded upon principles so theory must indispensably be necessary, because what is truly just and beautiful cannot depend upon chance." These are the words of one of England's pre-eminent horsemen, the Earl of Pembroke, penned in l778. His book Military Equitation still contains many techniques which we use in the schooling of horses for dressage today and there is an excellent article relating to this very practical horseman in the CRC archives. Indeed, many authorities before and since have echoed his wise words.
As a teenager, breaking and schooling horses and ponies often bought at auction and turning them into suitable riding school mounts, I admit I had never heard of the Earl of Pembroke, let alone more modern Masters such as Podhajsky or Oliveira. What I did have was the Pony Club Manual - my 'bible' - put together by educated cavalry officers for the young of the day. Quite simply, it gave me some very good pointers. It also helped me to teach - which, don't laugh - I was doing every weekend, aged just 16. My l960 version of this precious handbook was far superior to those dumbed-down versions that followed over the decades. It included the aids for turn on the haunches and for flying changes - now considered far too advanced even for AI students - and its painstaking advice on the rider's hands was admirable. I tried to follow all this to the letter and taught the same.
So why this issue with theory? I get the impression that for the many who ride and compete today, there are so many books and articles to choose from, the doctrine gets muddied and muddled along the way. Often, it's easier to talk about 'feeling' rather than establishing proven principles especially if the so-called trainer or writer is a little hazy themselves. I can only conclude this may explain a noticeable disparity in the riding methods of one school compared to another. Without the 'basics' being put in place, contradictions and confusions may follow.
So what exactly is biomechanics? As one author* puts it 'Biomechanics is the mechanics of living systems and differs from the mechanics of inanimate objects. The latter concept concerns the effect of a force on an inanimate object. In biomechanics, this pure mechanical functioning is modifed by the effect of gravity on muscular actions, the nerves, voluntary muscle control, automatic and learned patterns of movement' etc etc.....' In my humble opinion, the way in which we as riders impact on the horse beneath us is immensely relevant to all riding, surely? Our weight, the action of our hands and legs, our seat in the saddle and so on all create an effect. We would be very unfeeling riders if we failed to appreciate that everything we do has a consequence. So is it really fair to the horse not to have some notion of biomechanics particularly if we are going to take it upon ourselves to train?
Some may argue it's more rewarding to get all personal and feel ones way around a horse, experimenting with this and that and gradually getting there all on our own. I think that would be fine if the horse was an inaminate object, but to pursue a trial and error path with a sentient being risks souring his goodwill and may do real damage. Indeed, you would have to be exceptionally gifted to take a horse to Grand Prix dressage or at least school him to advanced movements without a fairly comprehensive idea of the biomechanics. And as to training others - even if you yourself, have a natural gift for schooling horses, how would you impart it to others less gifted than yourself?
My first insight into the subject was when I read a book called Thinking Riding by the late Molly Sivewright, Fellow of the British Hose Society who not only ran one of the most successful riding schools in England, but who had trained with the best abroad. Having also taken horses to GP level, she was well qualified to write on the subject and the thing that grabbed me in my own early career was the infallibility of one of those laid down rules.
This concerned the role of the rider's leg on the girth to create impulsion, to lift the forehand, and to bend the horse as and when required, all based on - you've guessed! - biomechanics. The author suggests that a good instructor will take time to explain these matters off the horse as well as on. For example, 'We must explain... that the intercostal nerve is nearest to the surface [of the skin] just in front of the girth, halfway between the lower edge of the saddle-flap and the horse's elbow. This nerve instigates an arching reaction om the horse's lumbar verebrae, as well as a strong forward reach of the hindleg on the same side.' For that reason students should never be allowed to kick or spur for forwardness well behind the girth - and yet even at higher dressage, I have seen more than one so-called 'advanced' rider using stronger and stronger legs halfway down the horse's trunk to try to get a reaction. If only someone had told them where to apply pressure and just as important - where not to! It doesn't take a lot of working out to realise that when the leg is applied too far back...forward movement is diverted.
To sum up, if you want to ride in the best way possible for your horse, you need to work with him. In other words, your aids should create a natural and spontaneous response. It worries me greatly that that those age-old, proven methods - all based on biomechanics - are not available to all. I guess that was one of the reasons I started The Classical Riding Club. As I wrote in my latest book** - 'With the demise of cavalry, traditional principles [based on biomechanics] have all but disappeared and riding has gone through many changes, not always for the better. Contradictory advice is everywhere. Different countries now promote different styles, while teachers of little experience or understanding of the entire spectrum, abound. With the emphasis not so much about how to ride, but rather on what you ride, the aids are often forgotten'.... Whilst correct aiding can liberate the horse, incorrect aiding can exert a very adverse effect.
To conclude, unless your trainer has a reasonably good grasp of the biomechanics of riding, I would be seriously worried. There must always be a reason for a particular action of the seat, hand or leg but unless that person can explain how and why it affects your horse, you might do better to brush up on your literature instead. There are some very good classic books out there, both old and modern and you might like to start by browsing through the CRC libraries. Good luck!
* Equine Biomechanics for Riders by Karin Blignault
** The Balanced Horse by Sylvia Loch
Carl Hester's Horse & Hound comment is always good value and can cause controversy. So it would seem from the activities of Twitter and Facebook in recent days and what seemed a fairly harmless remark was seized upon and then (to my mind) taken out of context in the Letters Page the following week. This has caused something of a furore in some quarters and it will be interesting to see if Horse & Hound publishes any more letters this forthcoming week, i.e. on Thursday, 15th January. Here we reproduce the Comment and the Letter - with the latter of which, we firmly disagree. As regards a closer look at the interpretation of the FEI ruling - clearly Carl has made a good point, since too many confuse the height of the horse's crest with the height of the poll - and this is regrettable. CRC's position is that this calls for better clarification on biomechanical issues at judge training - as opposed to a change in the Rules themselves.
This is the letter by Dr Susan Kempson which was published in Horse and Hound, 5th February 2015.
'I am writing to support Carl Hester's request to the FEI that the rule of the poll being the highest point for a dressage horse be removed. Looking at the photographs of the dressage horses in the same edition, only one had the poll as the highest point. This horse was the one who looked the most unhappy.
Anatomically, the only way a horse can fully engage and move through his back is with the neck round and the head very slightly behind the vertical. Watching all the top dressage horses, including the magical Valegro, the poll is never the highest point.
As I watched the horses at Aachen last Summer, there was only one with the poll as the highest point, and his head and neck had been pulled backwards. It was horrible to watch as the horse was clearly very unhappy.
Despite this, he did receive good marks from the judges. It is definitely time this was removed from the FEI rules.'
It is with great regret that we learn of the passing of Geoffrey Gibson. As well as being a Master Saddler, he was a very able horseman, who insisted on sympathy and tact at all times and was well versed in the precepts and principles of classical horsemanship. As a trusted friend, he rode regularly at my stables in Suffolk in the early 90s and was an enthusiastic supporter of The Classical Riding Club when we first started up in January, 1995.
GEOFFREY GIBSON. 1930 - 2015
I have to thank John Lewis for sending me the details from The EDP of the death of this great Equitation Master and Master Saddler. My trainer between the 1970's and 80's. Photograph taken of Geoffrey, during this time with Palomo, Sylvia Loch's beloved horse.
I would like to pay my sincere respects to this man. Who had the discipline of the Masters of That era. Did not adhere to quick fixes, and instilled in me the art of dedicated training.
A generous but very strict teacher, he would buy me books from Allens book shop in London, this gave me a vast catalogue to help me. Until I looked in the front cover, where he would add a note of his own. Usually berating my equestrian shortfalls.
I learnt so much from this great man, who new so many great masters himself, and past on everything he could to me. I will remain always in his debt. Many of the sayings and the way I teach today, came from him. If at any time you think me strict. Then you have to know what I came from.
Sincerely and sadly felt. Sue Barber, Pinelodge Equestrian Cenre, Norfolk
Most of us know about War Horse the stunning play, later made a film - of Warrior and his soldier owner from Devon. But there is another horse crying out for recognition. Equally incredible, the story of The Sikh, a Thoroughbred mare that belonged to Lt. A. C. Vicary of the Gloucestershire Regiment has come to light. The courage and sheer tenacity of this beautiful horse, with her white blaze and two white socks is mind-boggling. Dodging artillery fire and bombing on the Western Front she worked tirelessly for the allies for almost four years - first in Belgium, and finally ending up in Russia. But that's not the end of the story. The amazing thing is - despite all they had gone through together, she walked most of her way home. Her courageous master went on to be awarded a Military Cross and two Distinguished Service Order medals. At the end of the war, their long tour took them through Turkey, Greece, Italy and France... a journey quite unimaginable today. If you want to know more - tap into the Daily Express website - the story ran on Thursday January 22nd. I think CRC Members might help calls for a Petition to commemorate her through the War Museum. Something to think about to show you care....