Thursday, 30 June 2011

1949: overbent

I was browsing through “Academic Equitation” (1949) by General Decarpentry and I found this picture, and the caption made me look twice:

The caption reads: “The German [the horse on the rigt] horse is circling at the trot on the right rein (he is slightly overbent). Taine [the horse on the left] is circling at the canter on the left rein. Both riders are using a lightly adjusted curb rein. Note the temporary drawing back of the outside heel of the riders, particularly obvious on Taine”.

What caught my eye was the authors comment about the horse to the right: “he is slightly overbent”. When I first looked at the picture I didn't made the assessment that the horse on the right was overbent. Would you?

I find it intriguing to ponder how our perception of a horse that is on the bit have changed since this book was written in 1949 till today.

But who was General Decarpentry, you might ask yourself. What could he possibly know about dressage? Apparently he knew a lot. He decided at a young age to pursue a career in the French cavalry. For fourteen years he was a member of the Cadre Noir, eight of there as “Ecuyer" (riding master). From 1933 he was active as a judge in international dressage competitions in Europe and worldwide. For several years he was also chairman of FEI's dressage committee. So this is not the view from an isolated hermit, but from one of the most prominent dressage judges at the time. I find this very interesting and food for thought.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

The Blue Cross Body Scoring - keep your horse slim

I would draw your attention to today's post contains some strong images, sensitive readers be warned.

To be overweight is an escalating problem for ponies and horses. Being obese increases the risk for a horse and not least pony to get laminitis and a number of other obesity related diseases.

I would highly recommend all to take a good look at the english Blue Cross and their Fat Horse Slim-project

The pony on this picture gets a 4 on a scale from 1-5 where even half steps count. In my eyes this pony looks just like many other ponies I see today, at first I even regarded him to be on the slimmer side. But believe me, after seeing what it looks like inside a horse with only a slight roundness, I aim to keep my horses closer to 3 than 4.

The horse begins to accumulate fat on the inside before it really shows on the outside. And a glimpse of how it may look, you'll see here. Inside the abdominal wall

The mesentery

And finally the neck crest

and that's on a horse that did not seem to have a crest ...

As a part of giving your horse a healthy life, take the time to read through the Blue Cross website. Buy a weigh tape, feel and look at your horse to see what body score point it gets. Help your horse to keep its weight by not over feeding it, and analyze your hay so you know what the horse is actually eating. Strive to be on the green side, even during the green grazing period.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Klas Adam Ehrengranat, Father of Swedish Equitation

I was moderately interested in history in school, but when I realized that every century have some relationship or other to horses and different stiles of riding my interest was stirred. So, what do you know about Sweden around the end of the 18th century?

I now know that our very own "Father of Swedish Equitation" was alive then. Klas Adam Ehrengranat (1751-1842) was a veterinarian and an officer in the cavalry. He studied horsemanship and equitation both in Sweden at Uppsala University, and abroad in Denmark and Prussia. During his career he was at one time head of Flyinge (a Swedish breeding, training and schooling facility that dates back to the 12th century and is still in operation today) and later the riding instructor to the royal family. Ehrengranat trained horses to the level of the airs above the ground and that is one reason he is know as the "Father of Swedish Equitation".

Ehrengranat wrote three books:
Hasledens byggnad, fel och fullkomligheter (1809)
The structure of the hock, incorrections and perfections

Om hästens rörelser i deras samband med ridkonsten (1818)
About the horses movements in connection to the art of riding

Ridskolan eller ridläran (1836)
School of riding or the art of riding

When Ehrengranat wrote the booklet ”About the horses movements in connection to the art of riding” he also constructed a wooden horse that has movable joints just like a real horse. With this he could show the horses posture for any given movement. This horse model is preserved even today.

The book "School of riding or the art of riding" (1836) is centered around the traning of both horse and rider all the way to the airs above the ground. This book can in rare cases be found in second-hand bookstore, or be studied at the Royal Library in Stockholm. I have read parts of this book. It is not easy to read since it contains some words not used in Swedish today. For instance the horse's legs are called “leggings" based on the English word “legs” (Swedish for legs would be “ben”), and gaits are called "allyrer" after the French word "allyr" (in Swedish this is called “gångarter” today). But for those that mange to decipher this, the book is a fascinating read. For example, Ehrengranat discusses what we today would call equestrain tact. Ehrengranat states that the most important skill a rider needs for equestrian tact is the ability to feel sensations from the horse. When you sit on the horse in a relaxed posture and the horse move in the different gaits, movements occur in your body and your joints. This is the sensations you recive from the horse. It is the rider's ability to perceive these sensations that Ehrengranat say is the basis for euestrian tact. A rider with good equestrain tact will be able to determine when to give and aid, and with what intensity.

Ehrengranat ends his book with a section he called "Some Truths", this is a short selection of them:

"Delay the goal until tomorrow, when the outcome of the battle is threatening to become adventurous, this is how punishment is avoided. In this there is mastery. Hit the horse anyone can.”

"All riding must begin with the horse's head”

"From the head through the spine and the centre of gravity the rider influence the horse legs, the more he perfects this, the more he gains control over the horse's hooves."

"The rider's hand is the hand of a virtuoso, whose tact is above any satisfactory description"

Thursday, 9 June 2011

A sense for touch develops perception

We often say that humans have five senses: hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch. I have found some interesting facts about touch in the book "The Senses of Animal and Men" by L and M Milne.

In the book, they point out that the experience of touch differs between touching and being touched. Touching that is caused by us as we move is barely noticed by us. If you have long hair, for instanse, and put on a jersey your hair will be pulled on by the jersey but that doesn't bother you. If someone puts something on your hair you will react right away.

We can by a gentle stroke with the fingertips determine the material of a surface with our eyes closed. By touch we can feel the quality of fabric, paper structures, detect thinthin engraved or etched lines in metal or glass, sense temperature and viscosity of a fluid. But to keep our attention awake the touch has to be in motion, or else we cease to recognise the feeling.

The book describes the importance of vibrations as when someone lies on his stomach and an apple core falles down on his back he'll notice tha landing (a vibration) but because the apple core lays still he'll forget or ignore it. If it landes a fly on the back and it takes a step or two the skin has vibrated a bit more and we get an irresistible urge to scratch.

The feeling and sensation of touch is something that is of great importance to us who ride and who want to develop our equestrian sense. If we hold your hand on the reins with a certain amount of force and then keep the hands perfectly still, we cease to feel the force with which we hold the reins and we lose the ability to receive signals from the horse. It is the moving of the hand on the reins and the horse's movement of the bit and bridle that keeps our sensibility alert.

The same goes for the horse. If we take the reins and then just keep holding the rein our touch ceases to be a signal and becomes "something" that the horse eighter ignores or tries to get away from. To keep the horse's sense of touch alert, we need to create movement.

The rein aids in classical riding, has a built-in circular motion in each direction of the aid, induces motion of the horse's mouth and corner of the mouth. If you find yourself with a unresilient contact in the reins, vibrate the reins to awake both your own and the horse's sense of touch. The circular movement can be as large as or as small as the rider and horse needs according to their level of training. The circle is a stimuli to keep the riders fingers and arms moving and thereby helps preventing the rider from becoming rigid.

The sought for quiet equestrian hand and the quiet horse mouth is possible where movement is allowed and desired. Any other stillnes is quiet struggle and cramp.

"Learning the art of riding is difficult, that is why it is so fun."

Gehnäll Persson

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Elevation of the horse's neck

There have been several comments made about my Swedish version of the blog entry about ”LDR”. Thank you to all of you who took the time to send me your opinions. This blog is based on my thoughts in response to these comments.

One comment was “I believe caution should be exercised with all extremes, even the one I have seen you [student's of Philippe Karl] perform when you ask the horse to stretch its neck to the extreme in the other direction! That is not natural for the horse either!” (My translation).

First, before I address the philosophy behind the training technique of elevating the horse's neck, I would like to argue that if something I do is considered ”extreme” or ”unnatural”, that in itself is not an argument for other extreme methods of training, like rollkur. These are separate ways of training and should be discussed and analysed separately.

Perception is subjective
We can try to use conclusions from scientific studies to determine what is right or wrong in terms of how to ride, and how horses perceive our requests. But in the end it's still a subjective assessment that affects both the scientific results and my personal decisions in my everyday life . I have previously written about "directed perception" here on the blog.

”Directed perception” means that I see that what I expect to see. It also means that I interpret what I see according to a previously established pattern. The challenge with directed perception is to try to understand, to see, my own patterns of directed perception. What I want to do in this blog is to explore why I am OK with raising my horse's head. I have already talked about why I do not think it is OK to place the horse in the rollkur so I will not spend more time on that subject here.

What I personally think is OK to ask for from my horse is to a great extent based on my gut feeling. I think I ask more of my horse when I ask him to go into the trailer (he has been very afraid of the trailer. Even if, after much work, he is OK with it now, he is OK but still stressed) just because I want to travel to a Philippe Karl clinic, than when I ask him to raise his head for balance and gymnastic purposes.

Why raise the horse's head
Why do I raise the horse's neck and head? It's all about balance. A horse that carries its head and neck at the height of the withers, has 60% of its body weight on the front legs. In order to transfer part of this weight to the hind legs, the head and neck have to be raised.

The order for educating the horse according to Philippe Karl
The order for educating the horse according to Philippe Karl is 1) mobilise the jaw, 2) raise the neck, if that is what that particular horse needs. Depending on the individual's conformation and use of self when moving, the individual horse might need to raise or lower the neck in the beginning of his/her education. All horses must ultimately be able to both raise the neck (for collection, for example piaffe) and lower the neck (eg in order to increase stride length but move slowly) according to the the requirement for balance as required for a particular movement, 3) bend the neck to the right and left in high and low positions, 4) flexion of the poll which means the horse drops his/her nose, but retains a high neck. This way of educating the horse in how to relate to the bit is called flexion.

In order not to put pressure on the horse's tongue – the most sensitive part of the horse's mouth, the rider has always to act on the corners of the horse's mouth. This means the rider has to raise the hands when the horse's head is high. Also the hand should never act backwards.

A picture says more than a thousand words

Since I included a film clip showing rollkur in my last post, I wanted to include a film clip of flexion here. After some searching on the internet I found this clip on Youtube with a short sequence of flexions at a lesson with Mr. Karl.

Why so high?

How high the individual horse can or should raise the head and neck is due to how the horse carries himself and his rider. If the horse puts pressure on the bit (either due to resistance of weight or resistance of force) the horse has to raise the head and neck in order to be light in hand and to be in balance and self-carriage.

I say "must" here since it is all about the influence of gravity on the horse's body (a body on four legs with a front lever arm, the neck, that affects the weig distribution between the front and the hind legs). I wrote earlier that everything is subjective, but the gravitational pull on the horse's body is not subjective, it can be measured objectively.

The effect on the horse of the elevation of the head and neck
In my experience this way of training will make the horse light in hand because he/she balances him/herself better, bearing more weight on the hind legs with good use of self which will allow suppleness. This will in turn result in the development of all its gaits, including the walk. This is why I am OK with this training method.

What is your reaction to the video clip showing a rider learning the high flexions?

Thanks to Mark Stanton of Natural Horsemanship Magazine for proof reading! All remaining errors are all my own.