Saturday, February 20, 2010

Once more unto the breach, Dear Friends

This weekend I have been attending a workshop for trainees who wants to teach according to the philosophy of Trollspeilet. The philosophy is often mistaken for something that has been invented by Hanne and Pelle (who is Trollspeilet), but this is not exactly true. The main focus is balance between horse and rider, and how important the riders seat is. In my own experience I have learned how important it is to have a balanced and stable seat, and how to use each muscle to get the desired effekt. The theory behind this philosophy is that of Müseler, Guerniere, Belasik, Podhajsky, Kottas, SRS (spanish riding school), the german training scale and the rules of dressage from FEI. Trainers that has contributed to the development of riding skills and knowledge include David Oliveira (portuguese WE world champion and bullfighter), Arthur Kottas (previous first chief rider of SRS), Claire Lilley (student of Arthur Kottas) and Inger Helsing Hansen (educated at Le Cadre Noir de Saumur).

So, this weekend 12 trainees, 2 trainers and lots of different horses gathered to learn, discuss and put it all into practice when we taught eachother. It was a weekend packed with theory and practice in a lovely mixture!

The first theory lesson started at 9 am, so it was an early start since you had to plan how to avoid the queue to the bathroom! Anyway, Pelle talked about what Trollspeilet is all about and what we have to look for and correct while teaching others.

Some people who attended the workshop work as instructurs on a weekly basis, but others, like myself, has never or only a few times tried to teach others. I don't know about the others, but I was afraid to be the one at this workshop who didn't really know what to do when trying to correct the other participants. This was adressed by Pelle during the first theory lesson. Nobody is perfect, and there will always be something to change or enhance in every rider. Even those who have been teaching for a long time will be nervous about new students because you never know what to expect.

The trust between rider, trainer and horse is one of the most important aspects of instruction. If the rider doesn't trust the instructor, he will not try his best. If the rider does not trust the horse, he will not relax. If the instructor does not trust the rider, he will not be able to get the best out of him.

Trollspeilet works on a daily basis with horses that has picked up bad habits or has an unhealthy pattern of movement, and most of the riders we will encounter at the beginning will be both riders and horses who has a bad seat, or the horse moves in a way that will be harmfull over time.

To quote Müseler:
"A rider often complains that his horse:
* has a hard, dead mouth
*is stiff at the poll (in the case of highly strung horse)
*gets above the bit
*leans on the bit
*has a wrong bend in the neck (behind the third vertebra)
*throws its head about
*is ewe-necked
*gets behind the bit
*draws itself in at the poll
*hollows its back (in the case of highly strung horses with weak backs)
*makes one or both hind legs stiff, takes short over-hasty steps (in the case of highly strung horses)
*goes crookedly
*lets its tounge hang out
*throws itself against the leg
*loses its pace and impulsion
All these bad habits disappear immediately when the horse is obedient to the aids." (Müseler, p 69, 2007)

So to change this pattern of bad movement, Müseler has a small "recipie":

"*The horse must first learn to go forward in response to the driving influences.
 *When it succeeds in this, it should be taught to bend towards the inside.
 *When that has been learned, it should be taught to stretch its head downwards.
 *From this position, it must be encouraged to accept the bit.
 *When it has freely accepted the bit, its is given collection by half-halts."
(Müseler, p72, 2007)

"Many riders are puzzeled by the necessit of obtaining a low head and neck carriage when the aim of the horse's schooling is to make it higher in front and lower behind. Raisning the forehand is of value only when it is the result of achieving a lowering of the hindquarters (relative head raising). (...) Teaching the horse to lower and stretch its neck is essential in encouraging it to loosen up in the back, in giving it collection and making it bring its hind legs further forward." (Müseler, p 74, 2007)

Therefore one of our goals for the weekend was to get different horses to stretch its neck down and forward. This is not to be mistaken for Long-Deep-Round, the nose of the horse is to go forward. It was fun to see that by following the "recipie" that Müseler has written down, all the horses stretched their neck and engaged their backs. Now, it might not be as easy as it sounds. This will work, if the rider has a good seat that can follow the horse's movements. And the problem with many riders is that they actually don't follow the horses movements. You are supposed to controll the backmovement with your own movement of your hip, not the other way around. So if your hip joint is stiff you will actually stop the swinging of the horses back. If this is the case you can stand in the stirrups or just do light trot, this will make it easier for the horse to get movement in the back, without you interfering with your weight.

The next thing we wanted to focus on, was the hind legs. If you control the hind legs, you control the horse. The power of the horse mainly comes from the hindquarters, either as a propelling role with the racehorses or a carrying role as with the dressage horse. The horses centre of gravity is, from natures side, just behind the front legs. "A dressage horse, and most certantly one that is to do Haute Ecole work, has to do rather more carrying than propulsion with its hind legs and has to get them well forward and under the center of gravity. This is called collection. (...) Collection is achieved partly by training, such as bending the haunches and sideways movements, particulary shoulder in, and partly, if more indirectly, by the overall training program; and of course, by every single half-halt that is asked for generally." (Müseler, p 65, 2007)

There are different exercises you can use to engage the hindlegs, one of the most common is the shoulder in and the one we use frequently, the giravolta. This is an exercise you work in-hand and the movement should circle around the trainer in a kind of turn on the forehand. The inside legs step forward and across the outside leg. If you are the instructor and want the horse to bend the joints more, you can use the whip and gently tap the joint you want it to bend. This is an exercise you need to use with caution, since each horse react very differently to the whip. For example, the horse i had this summer, you could just point at the leg you wanted him to lift, perhaps just barely touch him. On the other end you got Hugo, Pelles horse. He needs alot more stimuli to bother move his legs. 

The trainees instructed each other in pairs, two hours saturday and two hours sunday. I have instructed others before, but then mostly jumping, so this was my first time and I was quite nervous. After talking to some of the other trainees I discovered that most of the others, even tho they had more or less expreience, was some what nervous about the lessons. On saturday our only focus was to find the riders weakness and try to help them improove their weakness. We were 6 riders and 6 instructors at the arena at the same time, in other words almost total chaos! Luckily, no accidents!

We started out each lesson by instruction on our own, while Hanne and/or Pelle observed. After some time, Pelle went around the arena, talking to the instructors and gave us tips on what to look for and correct in the riders. This gave us the opportunity to discuss what we thought might be the issue and what to do about it. 

First lesson on sunday we were focusing on getting the horse to use the back and seek the support of the reins. Hanne and Pelle chose horses for everyone so that both the riders and instructors were given a challenge. This lesson I was instructing another of the trainees on Chico, a big hanoverian who was given to Trollspeilet because he was lame in the frontlegs and the vet didn't know what to do or what caused it. He is usually very tense through the back and really needs to stretch his neck forward and down. We worked him on a circle, inside leg to outside rein, while leading in with the inside rein. The rider wasn't able to be loose enough in the hip to do seated trot so I got her to ride light trot and focus on contact on the reins. The horse is easily spooked and I think she might have been abit afraid to let go of the rein and make him stretch his neck. But when she did it, the horse responed really well and at the end of the lesson he was relaxed and through the back. I wish we had photos at the beginning and at the end of the lesson, would have been fun to see. 

The last lesson on sunday we were focusing on the hind legs, we wanted the horse to shift the weight backwards and really use the hind legs. This lesson we both (me and my partner) rode young lusitanos. I was riding Bosco and the other one was riding Brasil, they are are half brothers and 3,5 years old. Since they are so young we didn't demand too much of them, other than go correctly and use their back and hindlegs. The fun thing about young horses is that if you sit in balance and use the aids correctly, the horse responds so quickly, they almost surprise you! The last lesson we were laughing half the time, because every time I corrected the rider, the horse responded so well we just had to laugh.  

The rider I was instructing was struggeling with almost the exact same problems as I do, and it was fun to see them from "outside" and find solutions to them. At the same time getting instructions from someone who knows what I struggle with and who is able to use other words to describe certain feelings. 

I learned ALOT this weekend, most imporantly to trust myself, my own skills and knowledge and that I can instruct others and actually help them! I believe everyone who attended the workshop had a great time and learned alot, it was a great group of people and we all look forward to next time!

So, once more unto the breach, Dear Friends!

Unfortunatly I don't have any photos from this weekend, but if you follow this link there is alot of pictures from the different lessons. Remember, this is in a training situation, it's not always picture perfect ;) 

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


Billie over at camera-obscura has posted the logo and text, and invited us to do the same in solidarity with Dr. Heuschmann and his message at the meeting on Feb. 9th. Please consider adding your voice to this important debate, and adding logo and text to your blog as well.

The FEI is holding a closed-door round table meeting on Feb. 9th to discuss the training method known as rollkur, or hyperflexion, which involves pulling and holding the horse's muzzle to his chest. This practice is known to have many negative effects on the horse, both physically and psychologically. Gerd Heuschmann, the lone voice for the horse at this meeting, has my support and appreciation as he presents his case "for the good of the horse" along with petitions and letters saying NO TO ROLLKUR.

Please take a moment today and again tomorrow to think positively about the outcome of this meeting. It will make a difference

Sunday, February 07, 2010

One-day-course with Pelle, and tryouts round two!

Pelle from Trollspeilet had a one-day-course at the stable today, he brought Bosco so I could "test drive" some more. I have to say, I really like that horse! 

My assignment for today was to get the right movement in my hip. The movement is the same as when you are doing "squats", and apperantly I didn't know how to perform them. Luckily for me, Pelle is also experienced with training people, not only horses. The trick is not to just collapse in the knees, but to push the bum back and pretend to have a weightbar across the shoulders and lift it up. Lift the horse, through the back, and up in each step. 

It's funny how well you can feel Bosco's back when he works correctly, and almost everytime i manage to get the aids correct he "prustet" (horse blows through his nose, relaxing sound). He gives good feedback on whats right and whats wrong. We did mostly walk and trot, some canter but not to much. 


Pelle having fun, running infront of the camera

A big thanks to Sissel, for being my photographer for the day!