As some of you are aware, I recently purchased a new dressage horse with the intention of training him and competing him in the dressage arena. I am in LOVE with him! He has an excellent character and can do dressagy things with his body already that I have never felt on another horse. I feel, however, that up until coming to me, he has been living in a cave. A cave that has no cows, or sheep….somewhere far from civilization. Like Siberia or something. Think, Plato’s Allegory of the cave. Well, Charming has left the cave and is having to make some, um, adjustments. Some new changes are more than agreeable for him:
- White bread is a gastonomical miracle.
- Blankets, although somewhat untrustworthy and suspisious at first are now a cozy luxury
- Hanging out with new ponies at the riding club, especially the little furry ones
- Extended spa sessions (aka grooming)
As with keeping with the balance of good and evil, there are also some things that are challenging. Like Cows…and Sheep.
Our first attempt at a leisurely hack out in the woods resulted in a lovely walk for myself, a near heart attack for Charming, and a face full of snot from an alarm snort so forceful it would have given the winds of Hurricane Katarina a run for its money. Seriously, the slimy pellets of snorted nostril mucus felt like bullets in my face. Mission “Walk in the Forest” was aborted, well played Charming, well played.
A few days later and undeterred from the failed mission, I enlisted the lady who owns the farm where I keep Charming. Karin is a lovely lady and has a equally delightful horse, Kariss.
Kariss was more that happy to lead the way and show Charming how to enjoy the forest (and bravely march pass the cows and sheep).
Now this is the part I felt was important to share. The previous day I had attended a clinic taught by David Dewispelaere. We met at the Global Dressage Forum and he invited me down to audit the clinic, just outside of Aachen. One of the big take aways from the clinic was deep breathing. I think it is so strange that in life, when you are learning something, it shows up in many places. I’d been reading and contemplating breathing the last few months (google “Wim Hof”) and here it was in the clinic. David reminded the riders to breath on many, many occasions. I even found myself breathing along with them. Such a simple solution- We forget to breath.
David would do a deep slow breath loud enough for the horse and rider to hear, whenever a horse or rider got nervous. It had a visible positive effect on their level of relaxation.
So, back to Mission “ Walk in the Forest”: Whenever I felt Charming tense up I took a deep breath myself and breathed out loudly in a relaxed way so he could hear it. The effect was immediate. I don’t know if it was him relaxing because I relaxed a little more or he relaxed upon hearing the relaxed noise, I am not entirely sure but the result was so clear I needed to share it with you guys.
When I remembered to make a deep breath and breathed out loudly and slowly, he relaxed in immediate response.
Mission “Walk in the Forest” was a success. We walked by cows, sheep, over bridges, past bicycles. Everyone, including Charming had a genuinely enjoyable time.
I am very thankful for Karin and Kariss for their “fearless” leadership and we must remember to be conscious of our breath in riding…and really in daily life. Thank you David, for reminding me.
Below are my notes from David’s clinic if you would like further reading:
October 31 2015 I had the pleasure of attending a clinic taught by David Dewispelaere. We met at the Global Dressage Forum at the Academy Bartels and he invited me to attend the clinic down close to Aachen he was teaching the following weekend. Being always eager to attend interesting events and looking for opportunities to educate myself I jumped at the opportunity. Having been trained by Reiner Klimke and Arthur Kottas certainly added to my curiosity.
The clinic was hosted by Zirbelhof in Belgium, just south of Aachen. Organized by Jeannette Aretze and Philipa Helg, the stable was nestled in the hills south of Aachen.
The clinic was well organized- I received an email outlining the clinic schedule and clear directions. The hosts were warm and welcoming, very kindly accommodating my native English language. The food was a well prepared pot luck lunch. Hot soup included and plenty of warm coffee.
Most of the horse and rider combinations rode 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon, David was able to build on the morning session. A tactful move as the riders were more relaxed and horses were settled and loose from the morning session and were able to made further strides in their training.
What was a pleasure to see from the riders is they clearly rode for pleasure and really loved their horses no matter the level of talent. David also treated each horse and rider combination with respect and a clear drive to help them improve their riding and harmony with their horse:
David kept the rides very quiet. Using gymnastic exercises to loosen the horse.
Small circles, halting to rein back ( very quiet)
Leg yield to shoulder in.
Lots of walk breaks after a successful exercise.
Halts encouraging and waiting quietly for submission in the jaw.
Small circles in renvers.
David gave the riders quiet and clear, simple directions.
David encouraged the rider and the horse to find their own balance. Not pushing for the crazy energy and off balance of being too forward. Clear to see when the horse found his correct and balanced rhythm he was able to soften his back, swing more through his entire body and come softer in the hand.
David gave a musical instrument analogy: say you play the flute. You need to play the notes of the scale. All of the notes. Not just one or two. You also need to be ( with your body and the rhythm of your body) in sync with the particular tune of your horse.
Lots of deep sighs from David- this relaxed the horse and rider. Encouraging the horse to be low and stretch over the back.
Staying in halt until the horse relaxes. Just waiting. Rider doing a few deep breaths and just waiting for the horse to stand still and relax in himself.
He suggested the riders to scratch the withers with her finger while riding. That area of the horse, when scratched, acts as a trigger point to relax the horse. Very useful in competition to relax the horse in a subtle way .
He encouraged positive tension in the riders position. Not hard negative tension.
For a couple of inverted horse, when David asked the rider to lengthen the reins, the horse’s head went down.
The rider is somehow blocking the horse and making him camel style. When the reins are relaxed, the head drops.
With one mare who was a little stiff and against the hand in the halt, David had the rider ride the horse in a little travers into the halt to stop the horses hind legs from falling out and keep the horse softer in the body, and have the horse step further underneath her self.
Reminding the rider to release tension. Deep breath, acknowledging the tension as to release it.
Keep contact elastic.
Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth and do your down ward transition.
Horses are musical instruments
What struck me as consistent threads between all the riders was a very good contact. There were no gaping mouths, not a moment of anger or roughness. If a rider or horse got a little tense David was very, very quick to relax the combination through either a walk break or a deep breath, and when I say a little tense he was so very quick to recognize and dissipate the tension. Quite remarkable, I think.