Monday, November 11, 2013

Lightbulb Moment

This is now floating in the air above my head.

I had this moment on Saturday night while at dinner with N and her family. We were talking about riding and getting Ashke to give to pressure. I have been processing stuff in my back brain for a while and based on that conversation, finally had an aha! moment.

So, for some background - I grew up riding bareback. Like true bareback, without a pad, or handle of any kind. My mare didn't even have a mane to hold onto. When you ride bareback you count on your thighs and butt to hold you onto the horse. So, when we walked I would ride loose and relaxed on her back, not holding on to anything at all. Riding mostly by balance. My lower leg would hang loose at her sides. When I wanted her to move faster, I would tighten my legs and shift my weight forward just a bit. There was one day when I was riding with my sister on double with me, bareback on Queenie. We were talking and riding at a walk. She never held on, because she rode the same way I did, by balance and feel. I tightened my knees and Queenie burst into a canter from a walk. A few moments later I asked my sister a question and was surprised when I realized she wasn't behind me any more. I turned Queenie around and went back. My sister was sitting in the middle of the trail on her butt with her legs in front of her, laughing her ass off. Queenie had leaped out from underneath her and the first thing she knew was landing on her butt on the ground.

This method of riding is completely opposite to how we are trying to ride now. Instead of tightening pressure with my legs, I am supposed to maintain a constant level of pressure. Instead of leaning forward to initiate movement, I am supposed to lean back and keep my back straight. Instead of tightening my seat to propel movement forward, I use the tightening of my seat to indicate a stop. Instead of leaving my lower leg dangling and loose, I am to keep pressure against his sides and use the bump of my heel to get him to raise his back. You would think I wouldn't remember how to ride the way I did in childhood, but that is not the case. My body remembers and is trying to reimpose all of those methods on my aging body.

Poor Ashke. It's a miracle he isn't more confused.


  1. True classical dressage is based on riding the way you used to ride bareback. Those theories of pressure-all-the-time, be it reins or legs, come from German style dressage, which is what has sadly pervaded the modern dressage arena and it is the #1 reason why I moved away from competitive dressage. Lily has 0 tolerance for that style of riding anyway. If you want to learn more about true unadulterated classical dressage, check out Jean Claude Racinet's book Another Horsemanship and Klaus Hempfling's book Dancing With Horses. It's a completely different style of horsemanship, where less is SO much more! They both have videos on You Tube as well. The way you used to ride was absolutely correct-it was true harmony with your mare.

    1. Oh good. Thank you for this post, because I was beginning to go crazy. I really want the harmony and reaction from Ashke that I experienced with my mare. I do, also, want him to properly use his back, but he is so sensitive that I don't think I need to be as firm with him as N is with Cali. He prefers to have less contact once he knows what I am asking him to do. And no whip. If he is a little numb to my leg, then we need to work on something else.

      I really do want to get back to riding the way the Lakota and Comanche did - which was how I rode when I was a kid - and still have him using his back to carry us. He gets pissed when there is pressure all the time, and reacts better to my leg when there isn't. I think one of the issues we are having at the canter is because I still am unbalanced part of the time and it's throwing him off. (Freaking fruit loop, as he would say.)

      I just got the Tellington dressage book on kindle, mainly because I like how she is with horses and Ashke did well with the obstacle stuff she has. I will also look into the two books you suggested.

      Thanks again for your clarity. Wish we could go out for drinks sometime. Unfortunately, it is a bit of a drive. :)

    2. I'm glad I could help! :) Racinet is very different from what traditional dressage trainers teach, but I think you will enjoy him, especially after seeing it in action. I love this slide show of Racinet riding his horse Chester: Note his leg position! Just like what you described. :) And he rides the horse in a double bridle, but in at least half those photos both sets of reins are loose. And Hempfling is just...amazing.

      Lisa Maxwell is one of the few remaining French classical dressage instructors. She was a longtime student of Racinet's and she has instructional videos on Giddyup Flix. Her videos are very clear and informative. This video is excellent:
      Aaaaaand...check this out!! (Backyard Dressage: Dressage for Endurance, also by Lisa Maxwell) I haven't watched that one, but I think it's next on the list to watch!

      All of their principles are the same in that they are based on the goal of eventually minimizing communication with the horse until it is almost imperceptible while encouraging self-carriage: the horse eventually carries himself properly all on his own, once we have gently shown him the way there. There are no breed preferences as all of them believe that ANY horse can do this. I think these trainers might be the key to helping you find the riding style that you want to achieve.

      Yes, I wish we were closer! It would be awesome to talk horses over drinks. :)

  2. I'm the exact same way!! I grew up riding bareback just like you did and I still fight not to do those things while riding dressage. I'm going to have to check out the stuff Saiph posted! It looks very interesting. :)

  3. Hmm. I still ride the bareback way, just added a saddle.