The more I teach, the more I believe a lot of harm is being done by trainers concentrating on the horse rather than the rider. Give me a problem horse and I'll nearly always see a problem rider.
One of my reasons for starting CRC was to highlight the existence of instructors who were not necessarily in the public eye but who had at least studied the work - if not taken lessons - from someone of impeccable background, well versed in the classical principles and who could make it sound simple. (The theory is simple, it's the practice that can be hard!)
To give you an example... The kind of instructor who knew the importance of, say, leg on AND leg off. Similarly, the ask and release of the fingers on the rein. Such a person would also see when the student is sitting too heavily or moving about too much. They would also know how to correct the rider who was restricting their horse on a circle by not allowing their own outside shoulder to come round ... And so on.
So - long before we trainers start to correct the horse, we should be addressing those matters which make it so hard for horses to give their all to the task in hand.
It would be nice to see more lower level trainers on our Directory too. You don't have to train to Grand Prix. What the average rider needs is a shrewd pair of eyes on the ground to look at them as well as their horse, and to differentiate between the different aids eg. Leg on to go forward is a different feel from legs on to go to halt. This needs to be explained.
Once the rider is in balance, and clear about the aids, the horse then has a chance to operate happily and easily without restriction.
So if you know of an excellent teacher who fills that criteria and who your horse likes too- do encourage them to join CRC and join our growing list. Experience and a good eye counts for a lot more than exam results.
Charlotte Dujardin and Scott Brash have both retained their World Number one spots whilst Fox-Pitt Eventing is back to Eventing World Number One spot on theFédération Equestre Internationale World rankings list, with Oliver Townend (Official) and Nicola Wilson Eventing both in the top ten! (www.fei.org)
It's been a mixed week. Lessons and lots of enquiries for lessons - preferably on Prazer. Several from far away, even the US. It does seem there's a dearth of schoolmasters in this country . The ideal is a horse sensitive enough to point out people's weaknesses without over-reacting -.but keen enough to give people some amazing 'feels' when they get it right.
Planning ahead for a year which is rushing past a bit too fast for comfort can test you. How much can one take on, how to make space for family and friends, how to prioritise? I have been self employed for the past 40 years but I must admit, it gets harder and harder to slow down or to say no !
When Henry and I opened the first Lusitano School in England in 1979, we never seemed to have enough students and it was tough. With no internet, no PR person behind us, and no knowledge of Portuguese horses in England to inspire people, we had to rely on regular Horse & Hound advertising. This cost a bomb and it was a constant juggling act hosting our classical dressage courses and paying the bills.
Looking back, we made some big mistakes. As well as luxury hospitality (clients even got breakfast in bed!)..and 3 course candle-lit dinners no less ...people got 2 lessons every morning, plus another full session in the afternoon - all on fully schooled horses. There was even an optional hack!
We never stopped... Neither did the working students who (all 7 or 8 of them) enjoyed a lesson every afternoon too! No wonder we needed so many horses and felt exhausted at the end of each 6 day Course! Then one day off and the next guests would arrive. We even employed a boot -cleaning boy!
It's probably human nature to give away too much when you're struggling to make a new business viable. In those days there was no real demand for 'classical' riding and to entice people we just offered too much. I now know that 2 lessons a day is ample for most people ... And many are quite happy with one. Its Quality not Quantity that matters but desperate to make a go of things, we provided more.
Roll on 35 years. Although the Lusitano horse has really taken off in this country, I am still surprised there are not more riding schools using them for lessons. These horses and their cousin the Andalusian (PRE) are wonderfully giving horses, they are natural schoolmasters and love to please. Riding an Iberian, will set the student up to get the feel of collection, lateral work, changes etc but it's up to the trainer to keep the horse balanced and 'sweet'. Maybe that's why we don't see more.
The old saying 'less is more' would certainly have made our own lives a little easier in those early days. No real regrets though ...Henry was proud of what we had achieved and we both realised we were just a little ahead of our time.
Stranger perhaps, I am still doing it. The horses themselves demand it.
Uh, uh ... Is that another email?
It's quite an honour to be invited to judge ones favourite breed at a big County Show like the Suffolk, or even grander - Royal Windsor. I was actually asked to do both this year, but the Suffolk was better organised and got there first! I'm glad of that... having just moved south to East Anglia, it saved a lot of time and made a lot of sense.
First it was the Lusitanos in hand, and later the Ridden Classes. The in-hand was for the young stock, 3 years and under or 4 years and over. Not a great turn out, but I liked the fact all the horses looked quite different from each other both in type, stature and colour... when too often we see a plethora of greys who look as though they've all popped out of the same model! Also, there were quite a few mares and that was a pleasant change. One always has to take account of the fact that they will be longer in the back than the short-coupled colts and stallions.
What really impressed me was how well some of the handlers ran! This is a pleasure to see as there is nothing more irritating to a judge than to see a nice youngster trotted up when obviously there is a lot more to show... but one just doesn't see it!
When it came to the Ridden classes most of the riders wore Portuguese costume ... which is very smart... and fully in keeping with a county show. Sober colours in stark contrast to some of the flowery hats that the stewards were wearing. In the crowded dining-room for judges and officials, it seemed the Suffolk Show had turned into Royal Ascot overnight!
When it comes to judging Ridden, I always think it a pity that judges don't ride the horses at a Breed Show, as in a Working Hunter class. I'd enjoy that!
Going down the line, I am always meticulous in looking at legs and feet as well as general conformation. Matters like the silhouette of the horse - how the neck rises up and out of the withers - broad loins, dropped crupper, well muscled shoulders and thighs as well as hocks well under - are all features of a Lusitano that conforms to the breed standard.
As for movement, one is looking of course for 3 good gaits as well as a quiet acceptance of the bit and the ability to go easily and willingly forward when asked to do so. Incidentally, the horse I put first in the purebreds was the only one whose rider thought to ask for an extended canter. It was balanced and fluent... Well done her!
That is a movement very important to the Lusitano or Andalucian working outside with the cattle in the fields. They must be able to advance or retreat swiftly at a moment's notice.
The hardest thing at the end of the day is when no particular horse shouts out at you. By that I mean that you are longing for just one animal to be so special, so striking, so stunning that you know without a single doubt in your heart that he or she should be placed first.
This didn't quite happen at the Suffolk although the first 3 horses were very lovely and worthy of their prizes. I shouldn't complain however; it's even worse when 3 horses shout out and you can't decide which one deserves the trophy! That can be very tricky indeed.
Having judged all over the world - the PRE (several times) in the USA, Australia and New Zealand, and Lusitanos in Britain, Portugal and Brazil as well again, as the USA - I would never say it is easy judging. I am very very hard on myself and very dedicated to making the right decision... so it can be quite a stressful experience even at a local county show.
People spend a fortune on their horses and especially getting them to a venue and back home again. Entry fees are not cheap, neither is fuel and often it means giving up important work and earnings just to show your horse in public. Every horse deserves to be judged in the most meticulous way and with the same attention to detail, even if you don't feel it is worthy of a place at the end.
I have the utmost respect for the organisers of any show and it will be a very sad day if this great tradition of taking your horse out in public was not rewarding in some way. I try my best to be encouraging whenever possible.... and hope that is reflected in my work.
Carl Hester joined an elite band of equestrian names when he was presented with the prestigious British Horse Society Queen’s Award for Equestrianism from Her Majesty The Queen at Royal Windsor Horse Show on Saturday (16 May).
The Award, which is made on the recommendation of the Trustees of The British Horse Society, is ‘For Outstanding Services to Equestrianism’.
As the most successful British dressage rider in history, Carl’s achievements speak for themselves. However, his contribution to the sport, and to equestrianism as a whole, goes far deeper than his many titles and medals.
Carl is a wonderful ambassador for horse sport, bringing an enthusiasm and accessibility to dressage that has undoubtedly helped to widen its appeal. He continues to promote the very best standards of welfare, horse care and training and, above all else, helps an ever-increasing audience to appreciate the joy that horses bring.
Quite simply, British dressage would not have enjoyed the same level of success on the international stage without Carl’s expertise, knowledge and guidance. But most of all, it is his generous nature that the panel felt marked him out as an exceptional sportsman and a most deserving recipient of the Queen’s Award.
On receiving his award, Carl said: “Working with horses is my life. It is an amazing privilege to receive this recognition for doing something I love… and to receive this award from The Queen is incredibly special.”
The Chairman of The British Horse Society, Claire Aldridge, accompanied Carl to the presentation. Commenting on the award she said: “We are delighted to be able to bestow this honour to Carl on behalf of Her Majesty The Queen. There could be no greater recipient for this award than Carl, who has dedicated so much of his life to his sport. Not only has he made his country so proud with his own achievements, but he has so generously put such passion into developing the success of others – all the time keeping the welfare of the horse at heart.”
Carl was nominated for the award by The British Horse Society and British Dressage and was unanimously voted by the selection panel and BHS Trustees as the worthy winner. Other dressage recipents include Jane Goldsmith, Stephen Clarke and Jennie Loriston Clarke.
‘A Classical Schooling Guide’ is exactly what the title suggests, a guide. Michael J. Stevens has written a book for both the novice and more advanced riders to refer to time and time again. It is also a good book to introduce riders to the principles of classical riding. When it comes to classical, I always feel people think it is complicated and unachievable for the stereotypical everyday rider. It’s not, it’s quite the opposite. The beauty of classical riding is that it can be achieved by anyone with the right teaching, knowledge and skill. Here, Stevens generously shares with us his own experiences and collection of information he has gained throughout his years of riding.
Stevens gives confidence that any horse has the potential to be versatile, easy to ride and well skilled with the correct training. He states “The principles of good riding can be applied to any horse, and there is pleasure to be had trying to bring out the best in any individual.” He goes on to say that it is not always necessary to buy an expensive horse to realise your dreams and “it is not necessary to spend a fortune if you want to improve your riding skills, further your knowledge and have a good horse to ride.”
‘A Classical Schooling Guide’ is a book that simply and clearly covers tried and trusted means of educating horses to become versatile and easy to ride. The book begins first with the rider, as “being able to ride is only the first requirement”, briefly discussing the language and history of riding before progressing on to the rider’s position. I like how he describes the classical, 3 point seat in a straight forward manner so even the most novices of riders would gain from his words. The author refers to the Masters, such as Baucher to confirm his writings, “… Baucher tells us that a rider is well seated when every part of his body balances on the part directly below it… the vertical seat is the one to aspire to.”
The book then moves on to the schooling of the horse, discussing contact with detailed work about curbs and diagrams to refer to before leading onto laying the foundation of the horse’s training. Stevens is straight to the point enabling us to improve our understanding of training objectives and how to achieve them. He also helps us to know which exercises will gymnastically benefit the horse and for which purpose and how to overcome inevitable difficulties. This is where the book is able to come into its own as a guide and one that I, or anyone, should feel are able to pick up and refer to whenever they need to.
Drawings accompany the author’s writing about the curb bit, which is a beneficial aid and also for all the exercises detailed. My only quibble, being one who prefers to read and visualise, I would like to see more illustrations concerning the rider’s position and when detailing flexion and bend. Saying this, the author writes in such a way that it is not necessarily needed; it is just my personal preference.
All in all, ‘A Classical Schooling Guide’ is a well written book detailing an author’s experience and knowledge of classical riding. It is a book that anyone with a love for horses will gain something from, enjoy, a great addition that will be added to my book collection to refer to time and again.
The author's objective is to explain how to school the horse from the ground before attempting to ride, starting with fundamental techniques and providing progressive exercises to work through.
She then goes onto explain that she has not gone into great detail on the equipment, concentrating rather on the use and application of the equipment for groundwork.
The book is nicely illustrated with photographs and offers brief explanations following a straightforward content. The layout of the book is very pleasant and easy to read. I particularly liked the common problems and solutions at the end of each chapter also the examples of exercises to try.
The book impresses upon the reader the importance of groundwork and is persuasive in this point. For those new to this discipline, it could offer a straightforward introduction, although it would be necessary to be familiar with the equipment if required to do so.
For those with more experience it may encourage the use and importance of working from the ground and in this case would be a valuable refresher to knowledge already acquired. Overall it sets out a structure to groundwork which will benefit many readers.
Susan Monaghue, Northumberland
I always think the hallmark of a good yard is the attention paid to health - not just general cleanliness and care of the horses - but matters like teeth, feet and backs etc.
Having only recently arrived in East Anglia from Scotland with Prazer my 19 year old stalliion, one of the most pressing things was to get his back checked over. Travelling is not just mentally wearing for some horses - Prazer happens to be pretty laid back about it - but physically it can take its toll. This applies in particular to long journeys. There is nothing natural about having a horses tied up - basically in one position over several hours duration - with all the stops and starts of motorways and minor roads in between.
So it was, I was more than happy to discover that Gerda Warner who runs Water Farm is of the same opinion as me, and whilst all ready to hunt around for my own back person - the one in Scotland being too far to call! - I was mightily relieved when she told me her own practitioner was due in very shortly. That person was well worth waiting for.
It is always an added bonus when the qualified equine chiropractor (on this occasion, I have been to horse physios before as well) also turned out to be a vet. Being adept in two disciplines has to be a bonus and so it proved to be. I was also impressed that for the first time ever, this highly proficient gentleman had brought his own portable ladder, and proceeded to treat Prazer and the other horses from above, as well as simply side on, behind and in front.
There was a considerable amount of manipulation, but I was very pleased when I was told Prazer has one of the most supple backs he had ever come across in the older horse.... 'I've seen 7 year olds stiffer than him'. I was informed there were no constrictions there, but there was an issue with the right side of his pelvis - probably from the lorry - which would explain why I had noticed a certain awkwardness in canter left recently.
Unfortunately, it is all too easy to part with money to someone who just 'does backs' but who has no qualifications whatsoever. Horsey folk can be incredibly gullible when parting with cash to someone who 'everyone on the yard' uses and swears by. I made that mistake long ago with a particular young stallion that had arrived over from France, and who never recovered from some quite innocent manipulations. Whatever it was they did, it turned out to be highly damaging and for days one could not go near his poll.
Prazer is going beautifully after his appointment and I can only say - if in doubt - perhaps go with your gut feeling and wait for someone in whom you have 100 per cent confidence. It's your horse, and often only you know best and 99 per cent may not be good enough.
I must admit I got quite excited when asked to do a book review for the CRC. The book chosen was The Riding Doctor by Beth Glosten MD. As with any book on riding you hope to pick up on a few tips that will help you progress and improve your own riding and briefly after flicking through the pages I knew I wasn't going to be disappointed.
The author describes her own experience to which many riders I'm sure can relate. After taking a break from riding to pursue a medical career, she found that in middle age when she finally returned to the saddle, riding was much more of a challenge. Gone was the confidence and suppleness she took for granted in her teens, instead replaced with a feeling of awkwardness, tension and back ache. In her frustration she decided to turn to her medical knowledge to look at the anatomy and the workings of the human body so she could evaluate common postural and muscle imbalances and the challenges that we are faced with on horseback. She came to the conclusion that over 90% of the riders she assessed had postural issues. Some minor and an awareness was all that was required to remedy, but some had caused compensatory tension and dysfunction that could eventually contribute to harmful and misalignment of the spine and early wear and tear of the joints if not addressed. All of which would in turn preclude effective riding and add to health problems in the horse too by disrupting his balance and movement.
Throughout the book there are examples of real rider challenges to help us become more aware of how we use our bodies and how it affects the horse. She promotes good posture on and off the horse and to ride mostly from the centre (core) of our bodies with quiet rein and leg aids.
The content of the book initially looks quite complex, definitely a reference book rather than an easy read. The detailed diagrams of human anatomy are very useful for those of us who like some visualisation into how our bodies are structured and give a better understanding of how we use and mis-use our bodies when relevant to balance and the giving of the aids. She describes the correct spine alignment and the different habits we can adapt. She describes how supple joints are essential and how we can inadvertently use the legs and arms to cause tension and stiffness elsewhere in the body. What we do in the saddle isn't always what we think we do and every rider should be aware of their postural faults and reassess regularly.
Good posture is good for back ache and good riding.
As a certified Pilates instructor too , the author recommends various exercises tailored to suit individual problems and is very clear in her instruction that these should be done mindfully to retain a neutral spine.
Good riding comes from fitness combined with body awareness, respect and control.
Personally I like the book very much and feel I have gained helpful information. I also feel it is a book which I needed to read to compliment what I already knew about self awareness. If I had anything negative to say about the book it would be that the diagrams showing correct rider position show the seat too far back in the saddle for my understanding of the classical seat. The correct position in the saddle can make all the difference to good rider balance. This could just be an illustrative error though and in the author’s defence she doesn't really describe the position in the saddle knowing of individual preferences.
I would certainly recommend this book to any serious rider's reference library. It would also be excellent for instructers to help recognise and understand their pupils’ difficulties which are not always easy to correct.
The overall message being that :-
Healthy, balanced riding is not only beautiful but good for our health and our horses too.
We are all made up of the same components but how we arrange them reminds me of a saying by the late comedian Eric Morecombe. In one hilarious episode, when playing the piano, he was stopped by the conductor and told that he was playing all the wrong notes! His reply was :-
" I was playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order!!"
Book Review by Alison Lambert
I have only heard of Nuno Oliveira through various other sources and have always been very taken by his training ideas and theory. Not training with force but with feel is something that is an uncommon sight nowadays. Luckily though, we can still see and learn these lessons through people like Sylvia and Eloise, but it is still mostly an uncommon sight even though it was second nature to the great Masters almost half a century ago.
Having happy horses working with you is far more productive for both parties than forcing the animal to perform under duress and while reading this book I found that this was the undercurrent of the entire book - i.e. happy equals harmonious. By the second page I found myself nodding in agreement to the training ideas and classical statements - “Observe your horse, let him train your eye and feel.”
The book is very sympathetic towards the horse and its behaviour and its individual achievements. Conversely, it relies on the reader to be sensitive enough to recognise the progress of the horse and this subtle moment can sometimes be missed even by the more competent person.
I did find however that the idea of only lunging with the inside side rein only attached was not something I could relate to. I think it very important to activate the horses inside hind leg during lunging, but not at the expense of teaching him to fall out of the outside shoulder due to lack of support on the outside rein. We are always encouraged to support our horses, and I believe the same principle should be applied when lunging too.
I was taught using the well established ‘training scales’ where collection is the last and highest achievement and rhythm and balance are first established and used as a foundation. The same classical ideas can be seen throughout this very enlightening read. Starting slowly and doing it correctly from the beginning saves time later - no matter how easy it is to cut corners and thereby introduce mistakes. I feel this book does make the effort to start with the reader from the very beginning of training right up to riding half pass etc in a very constructive way.
When I teach, I have been told my sessions are like ‘painting by numbers’. By keeping it simple, I found this book imparts information in a similar way, like an easy to follow instruction guide.
Review by Chrysi Warner