Tag Archives: Rider aids

Forget About The Cake, I’ll Take Piaffe For My Birthday!

Forget About The Cake, I’ll Take Piaffe For My Birthday!

A special birthday edition post on The Chronicle of the Horse!



Part 3 of the Global Dressage Forum North America – Fascination with Bio Mechanics


This is a repost from my Barnby Notes journal.  I’ve decided to transfer the entire series bit by bit to my new blog.  Enjoy!

March 3, 2013

The scientifically inclined side of my brain was really intrigued by Stefan Stammer’s presentation, Bio Mechanics for the Dressage Horse.  As a rider, it’s important that I have visual images to back-up the verbal explanation of ‘how things work’.  Stefan’s gear box horse complete with all the bells & whistles, nuts & bolts was a great take home lesson.

Stefan suggested in order to control the power of our horse, we need to put the horse’s gears in the correct position – forward and upwards.  Riding the horse with the neck a little bit higher is ok.  The gear box consists of the forehand and hind end engine.   Stefan offered the example of a horse being stiff on the right side and weak in the left shoulder.  We must create positive tension through proper weight distribution by stabilizing the hip rotation and not with the position of the neck which is so often used.  Suppleness will be achieved through stabilizing.  Negative tension is equivalent to the ‘run away’ mode.

Especially during the warm up, think of muscular slings around the ribcage & hips of your horse.  Is the ribcage up and interconnected with the hips?  Don’t forget to install a springy, relaxed and supple system in your horse.  Of course, all of this requires a rider in active balance and is not achieved by using the bridle and spurs.

In conclusion, Stefan stressed that we should build the athletic points of the horse and this is not achieved by the actual movements, which is the finished product.  Test the gears of your horse often!  Are the front legs forward and ribcage up?

I could draw an example of Stefan’s gear box horse here, but it would not be pretty because if there are two things that I do not do well it is draw and sing.

I highly recommend checking out Stefan’s presentation for yourself!

Part 1 of the Global Dressage Forum North America – Meeting Klaus Balkenhol


This is a repost from my Barnby Notes journal.  I’ve decided to transfer the entire series bit by bit to my new blog.  Enjoy!

February 2, 2013

The Great Master!

Klaus B

A bit of background regarding the photo above with Klaus Balkenhol.  During a break in the event’s program, I crossed paths with Klaus.  I waved, smiled and approached with his book in hand, Success with Sympathetic Hands, for an autograph.  While I was on cloud 9, Klaus agreed to a photo.  I leaned over the table and Klaus said, come closer, come closer.  Thanks to our wonderful Dressage Masters, who make themselves accessible and perhaps more importantly willing to share all that they know, we are much closer to the art and history of classical Dressage than we may realize.  Klaus, it was an honor beyond words (I know very little German) to meet you.  I felt inspired in your presence to carry forward and apply your teaching philosophies of fairness towards the horse.  We should always surround our noble horses with kindness.  Thank you for the autograph, photo memory and congratulations on your GDFNA 2013 Life Time Dressage Achievement Award.

I’ve made a commitment to myself (and my horse) to save my pennies and attend at least one educational event annually.  As with any sport, it is important to stay current and informed especially when that sport involves a partnership with a living/breathing animal.  It also an opportunity to temporarily disengage from my daily routine, meet new people and be completely immersed in the sport I love.

Chosen events have spanned the spectrum of topics from veterinary care symposiums to watching our top riders perform at the World Equestrian Games (thank you, Dad!).  This year’s event was the Global Dressage Forum.  A first for North America.

Life takes a lot of patience!  And as Steffen Peters mentioned during his presentation, every mistake (or misfortune) should be viewed as a training opportunity.  Ironically, Steffen shared the analogy of being lost in a car and in a time crunch or missing a flight and how this can create too much pressure.  We learn more about ourselves in that moment and how we handle the situation is very telling.  Did I mention that my 7 AM flight (I was up at 4 AM) was canceled after boarding the plane due to a mechanical issue and that there were very few options remaining to arrive in West Palm Beach, FL and drive to the Jim Brandon Equestrian Center in time to hear Steffen Peters speak?  With literally no time to spare, my friend and I got off the plane, rebooked our flight (thank you kind gentleman waiting in line for handing us your priority customer card) and drove 3 hours to another airport.  We arrived in West Palm Beach and were fully prepared, or so we thought, with a ‘not really to scale’ printed map and Google maps downloaded on my iPhone; however, sometimes one still has to drive around in a lot of circles for an hour until figuring out their location.  As frustrating as all of this seemed, we were still approaching the dangling carrot.  It just took a bit longer than expected.

I appreciate everyone who organized and attended this event.  There are opinions circulating regarding what was liked and disliked; however, I never, EVER imagined having an opportunity to see so many in our sport (Ingrid Klimke, Rudolf Zeilinger, Steffen Peters, Wolfram Wittig, Arthur Kottas, Bo Jena, Grant Moon, Hilary Clayton, Stefan Stammer, Christopher Hess, Stephen Clark, Gary Rockwell, Lendon Gray, Sue Blinks, Anne Gribbons, Kathy Connelly, Betsy Steiner, Leslie Reid, Jan Ebeling, George Williams, Felicitas von Neumann-Cosel and the list goes on!) come together, collaborate and share their knowledge over a 2 day period.  We are all so very fortunate!

Simplicity, adjustability and honesty resonated throughout Steffen Peters’ presentation on the training of the horse.  Steffen encouraged riders to be productive.  In other words, give the horse a job from the beginning.  What can we do right now, today.  Encourage the horse to reach respectively to the bridle.  Need another way to look at the half halt?  Think of it as bringing the horse back to you.  Our aids should be reminding and not supporting.  Steffen used the pirouette as an example, don’t use a correction if it is not needed.  Make the correction logical, analyze and refine your aids every day.  Allow the horse to use its own muscles and not ours.  Rider control comes from the seat and core muscles.  Feel for that perfect moment that you can release.  Test it within the gait and not between the gaits.  It is always about the contact, it is never not about the contact.

Stephen Clark emphasized it should be more cooperation not submission.  Steffen added that professionals must be able to show passion to the horse in the warm-up, outside of the competition arena.

Happiness Can’t Be Labeled


This is a repost from my Barnby Notes journal.  I’ve decided to transfer the entire series bit by bit to my new blog.  Enjoy!

January 10, 2013

In today’s modern society, it’s easy to affix a label to almost everything.  Categorization happens quickly, sometimes automatically, it’s an imbedded part of human nature.  In fact, I got my hands on a label machine one year and went crazy.  I am not sure what I was thinking whilst plastering those tiny white stickers throughout my entire house.  If I forgot to label a bathroom light switch, would I never know to turn it on?  Was it really important that I label that light switch and let everyone know, without a doubt, it was a light switch?  Did I truly believe that my labels were necessary in order for family, friends and guests to function happily and efficiently within my house?  In many instances, I could probably have saved myself a lot of tape and spelling misfortune.

So why try to label everything?  Will my labeling change the results?  Could a misplaced label become a hindrance?

I’ve been asking myself these questions and have tried in earnest not to be so quick to label without having all of the facts and even then I hesitate because there is always an element of my own perception, emotions or preconceived ideas.

I’ve removed most of those labels in my house, they were starting to get old and faded.  And to be honest, no one was really paying any attention to them.  I’ve also removed many of the labels I’ve placed in my own riding and those adhered to my horse.  She didn’t like them much anyway and most of them have changed over the years.  I’ve discovered there are some things that you just can’t label.  Happiness associated with meaning, derived deep from within, can’t be labeled.

Why?  Because it won’t stick.  Try it!

I am free to explore and move about the cabin, or rather the dressage ring.  Every morning my horse peers out of her stall window with anticipation of my arrival and to greet me before I even get inside.  When I enter the barn, her face is pressed up against her stall door.  It’s contagious energy to be around a horse who fully embraces life.  She will often start half steps a la happy as we head out towards one of the outdoor rings.  That always gets me in a fit of giggles.  She knows it too!  I used to think textbook flying changes would not be possible.  I smile at that now.  She absolutely loves to show me what she can do.  She is the soul of some former Grand Prix-ish dressage horse, in a different body, here to teach me how to ride and approach life with more patience, compassion and beauty.  I am merely just up there giving her my support and lending a hand where I can as her co-pilot (in training, of course).

This morning I rode to the most beautiful song, “In Your Shoes” by artist Katie Drake.  Songs often give me inspiration during my rides.  Some days I find it hard to separate from every day stresses and to find that place of relaxation and breath.  I am a huge fan of using music to quiet chatter and get back to where I want to be.

I am pleased this morning with how responsive and supple her shoulders are to the slightest of aids.  I am able to ask for more lift in her shoulders using a gentle reminding 1/2 halt with the outside rein.  This is followed by a forward question from my legs which if timed correctly sends energy up from her hocks and softly arcs through every vertebrae in her back.  The feeling and appearance is similar to someone performing a pull up in the gym.  I close my eyes and feel for balance, if both shoulders are equally raised her footfalls are light and airy.  I just love that feeling of soaring!  Today we worked on lifting of the shoulders on a circle, using shoulder in, renvers and baby half passes.  If her shoulders start to drop, I would turn the exercise into leg yields or go back on the circle, regain the shoulders and then continue.  When her shoulders are soft like room temperature butter, I just have to think about swooping across the arena with more opening strides for a half pass.  There is no resistance.  I keep tabs on my butter and make sure it doesn’t become refrigerator hard.  I contribute her shoulder advancements to our commitment with the ground work program.

According to George H. Morris, “The happiest horse is a beautiful ride”.  I am going to write that on a slip of paper, put it in my pocket and keep it with me.

I am not a rocket scientist and no, my horse does not have wings (last time I checked anyway), but we can still fly!  Oh boy, can we fly!

Just wearing my cape!

Just wearing my cape!

Find your cherry pie!


Mmmmmmm pie, cherry pie!  Is it just me or do the majority of my recent blog posts have some sort of sweet thing making a guest appearance?  While it’s true that I’ve been known to slam on brakes and lose all sense of the outside world when I see a bakery display case, I point my finger to early morning Basic Training workouts as the reasoning behind my altered state and sending my otherwise normal metabolism through the roof.  These workouts have got to burn at least 3000 calories in one hour! Seriously, Santa and his reindeer aren’t going to appreciate those large holes I’ve created these past 3 weeks.

Last night we enjoyed dinner out with some friends and my husband described my post workout ravenous eating habits as entering the pantry and coming out with everything edible and ripping off box tops.  Really, it’s not that bad.  Just need food quickly and food that doesn’t require any arm strength for its preparation.  For example, I was making eggs after a workout and asked hubby if he wanted any.  He was disappointed that the end result was boiled eggs.  I thought you were going to scramble them?

Sorry to disappoint, but this entry isn’t really about me stuffing my face with cherry pie, I’ll save that for my post Gallop & Gorge 8K run.  It’s about giving yourself the opportunity to enjoy life’s deliciousness no matter what shape or form that comes in.  There will be times when we don’t feel deserving or confident and push the pie aside for another time, another day, but that will just make you crave it even more.  When I was a child, my mom would make the most beautiful handcrafted pies on Sunday.  She would proudly display her creations in the kitchen before dinner.  My brother would walk by and select his pieces ahead of time by licking his finger and poking it through the pie in random spots multiple times.  Boys!  I would get so mad that mom would carefully select an unadulterated piece for me and put it on a clean plate.  I would then wrap it and hide it in my piano bench for later.  Sadly, I would tend to forget about it until I pulled out my books later that week to practice.  Life would have been so much better if I just ate the pie.  The whole thing?  Absolutely!  Gross brother germs and all.  Alas, that opportunity is gone.  I’m not that skinny kid anymore.

There are times in life when you just need to go for it and be spontaneous.

This morning my horse and I tried something completely different.  I’ve picked away at the crust for some time, even studied the lattice for years, but set aside the whole pie… until today.  What a lovely morning, the air cool and crisp, but with a lot less bite than yesterday.  I was calm and Noel was totally relaxed as we tacked up in the barn.  I had no expectations going into our ride, but felt that it might be time.  I started with a nice stretchy walk on a free rein.  Taking in the autumn colors and enjoying the sunrise.  We transitioned naturally into trot serpentine loops.  This is one of my favorite all-time exercises for loosening up her muscles and testing her response to my seat.  She was incredibly balanced and even on both reins.  This was so easy for her.  As we picked up the canter, the bluebirds started lining up along the fence on cue.  What a fun audience!  Her canter was perfectly uphill with enough collection to perform almost any exercise.  We’ve worked tremendously hard at improving her canter.  Lots of patience.  Her canter rhythm followed my breathing or maybe my breathing was following her rhythm?  I made a decision in that moment to ride the changes down the long side and on the quarter line.  I took a deep breath, applied my aid and she changed canter leads, I counted to three, took another deep breath and she changed to the opposite canter lead, I counted to three took another deep breath and she changed canter leads again.  While not officially 3x tempis from a counting perspective, it was wonderful nonetheless.  We immediately celebrated with lots of neck rubs and snorts.  Tears welled up in my eyes.  Not because I was sad, but because we broke through our own barriers and ate that whole yummy pie right there.

Performed just like my dreams.  I probably should have leaned back more, but I was a wee bit over the top excited!  If it never happens again just like today, that will be OK because I now feel whole.  We found our cherry pie!

Thank you, Noel

Thank you, Noel

Don’t practice your art,
But force your way into its secrets,
For it and knowledge can raise men to the divine.

Ludwig van Beethoven

Something about those mountains ~ Part 1


October is a favorite month for many of us.  We all have our reasons.  For me, it’s transitioning from a fast paced summer to a renewing autumn that intrigues.  A time to take pause and discover life’s natural treasures and resources.  I say discover rather than rediscover because just when I think I am too old or immune to have that same giddiness of a child discovering something for the first time in nature, I am proven wrong.  So wrong.  There seems to be an endless supply of laughter and teary-eyed provoking discoveries to fill my sensory system.  For me, my husband, and our good friends this was our road trip weekend to the mountains.  We jammed to Neil Young, over stuffed the jeep with orchard apples (some picked, some bought), hiked a forest that was location scenes for The Hunger Games and Last of the Mohicans, and enjoyed a cascading waterfall while snacking on boiled peanuts.

Simplicity is powerful

Simplicity is powerful

One of the most beautiful things about nature is that it does not care about your goals, strengths or weaknesses.  It lets you decide.  Nature provides the freedom to release ambitions or fears and permission to relax an overactive mind.  To breathe and explore.  I’ve learned to take what nature is willing to give me or rather what I need.  Nature is so giving.  If you want to get rid of tension, go for a hike and run up the hill, if you want to refresh your soul, go for a swim in an open body of water and if you are hungry, pick an apple from the tree.  Nature’s simplicity providing so much opportunity.

Nature also motivates me more than anything artificially contrived.  If you’ve followed my past posts, you already know that I’ve been experimenting with the less is more concept in my riding.  I’ve improved my partnership with my horse as a result.  As I prepare to attend the Spanish Riding School next year, thank you to The Dressage Foundation and The Heldenberg Training Center Fund, I’ve spent the past few months making holistic changes as a rider that are purely for the benefit my horse or any future horse I am lucky to ride.

With the exceptions of a few special rides, I use a simple snaffle bridle constructed of nice leather.  This particular bridle has no flash attachment or dropped noseband.  I personally appreciate a horse that will softly chew or mouth the bit and has the choice to move their jaw.  I find that a relaxed jaw decreases tension through the neck, back and hips.  Clamp your own teeth together, I find it difficult to relax unless I release the pressure.  I’ve spent much time studying the anatomy and mechanics of my horse’s mouth and have finally found a high quality, well balanced, perfectly comfortable, simple yet precise eggbutt snaffle that we both immediately adored.  A natural design that has improved our communication beyond description.  Nothing more than a whisper with the intensity of a soft breeze.

I’ve also discovered that I don’t need spurs on my horse.  I’ll wear them on occasion, but rarely ever need them.  I’ve taught my horse to be more aware of my body and respond to the slightest of aid.  I’ll think flying change, decide exactly where I want it, take a deep breath and she’ll produce the most amazing change.  I know some horses are born more sensitive than others; however, all horses can become more aware or perhaps it is we who become more aware.