Archive for October, 2013

Comments Off on A Post on Raleigh’s Top Horse Training Facility

A Post on Raleigh’s Top Horse Training Facility

October 17th, 2013

Check out this wonderful blog by Anne Cain. Anne is a real estate agent based in Central North Carolina. Her blog is a great way of learning more about farms available for sale. Thank you Anne for the kind words about WHS!!

Comments Off on Top Horse Boarding Facility’s Lessons Learned – Part 4: Dressage and Connection

Top Horse Boarding Facility’s Lessons Learned – Part 4: Dressage and Connection

October 10th, 2013

As the Head Trainer at Whispering Hope Stables I, along with the Owners, pride myself on not only providing the best horse boarding facility in the Raleigh/Cary/ Apex, but on emphasizing both educating & training our equestrian athletes along with their riders. At WHS my focus is on core dressage techniques which create the necessary groundwork for other disciplines including hunters, jumpers, cross-country, and pleasure riding.

If you have followed this series on demystifying dressage while we work our way through the training pyramid; you will have hopefully gained some insight into the first two building blocks of the pyramid. Although all parts of the pyramid work together, the dual foundation principles are Rhythm and Losgelassenheit, translated essentially as “relaxation with elasticity and suppleness.”

If you have been practicing some of the steps I have described, you should be well on your way to recognizing a clear and correct rhythm in each gait and controlling the horse’s tempo without pulling on the reins. As a result, the reins can now be used to flex and bend and help to create relaxation and suppleness laterally and longitudinally (over the top line, flexing the poll, jaw, and stretching the back.)

So now, welcome to the most elusive part of the pyramid – Connection. It is no accident that this section is sandwiched right in the middle with impulsion, above rhythm & relaxation, and below straightness & collection. There can’t be a steady connection without having the following:  some knowledge what the correct rhythm for each gait feels like, a feel for a steady tempo, and the ability to create the relaxation necessary for acceptance of the bit and proper function of the musculature of the horse.

In a good connection the horse completely accepts the aids and willingly moves forward, pushing over his top line into the bridle.  What it looks like is this: the legs which rest in a constant but very light contact against his sides, thus creating more energy with a quick and indiscernible squeeze to ask him to push more. The seat either allows the forward or half halt shifts that energy back, asking the horse to load the hindquarters and lift the shoulder so that energy presents itself as an upward movement rather than a quicker tempo. The reins are stretched snug, neither pulled tight to restrict movement, nor hanging looped. Hanging reins are often confused with lightness, causing some riders to feel the horse is in a frame when in reality the horse has dropped the connection to protect himself from wayward rein aids. Any time the reins are hanging the connection is lost and the horse is not only behind the bit, but behind the leg as well. This usually presents itself as a ball of tension in the short poll muscle located a few inches behind the ears. To correct this, ask your horse to push more from behind which causes him to reach toward the bit, then gently flex a little left or right to unlock those muscles and release your horse to stretch down. When the horse is energetically moving off of a light touch from the leg, and he/she has relaxed his/her neck muscles such that the head is lightly resting onto the bit, you should have a good connection. The horse is eagerly awaiting your next cue, which from this position can be as sensitive as a closing of the ring finger on the rein, He/she will then feel that pressure and flex in the direction you are asking. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Now, keep him that way for 45 minutes through all the gaits and movements and you have mastered dressage.

Regrettably, that’s not quite how it goes in real life. Connection is something we are constantly tweaking and improving. In a split second your horse is leaning on the right rein, dead to the right leg, or you have nothing in the left rein.  And God forbid if someone walks by with an umbrella and all is lost.

When they are learning, you may only get that perfect feel for a stride or two at a time; which is okay. The goal is to improve the focus incrementally each day. What makes a great competitor isn’t necessarily the fanciest gait on the planet, as much as his ability to focus on his rider, maintaining that connection.  This in turn ensures that little adjustments and transitions are constantly being made unbeknownst to the observer.

To maintain that focus, the horse must relax into the rider’s hand, trusting that he/she is not going to be unexpectedly yanked. Your horse is vulnerable by relaxing their sensitive gums against a piece of metal connected to the rider’s hand through the rein and we must honor that by diligently working to keep the hand still and quiet. Whisper with the fingers on the reins- don’t yell. The same logic applies to using the leg aids. If the rider has not mastered her own balance and her right leg is constantly banging on his side, it isn’t fair punish him for ignoring it. If the horse is ignoring an aid then go back to the basics showing him, even from the ground if necessary, the reaction that gets the reward. We’ve all seen the riders yelling “You aren’t listening!!” at a horse, when we can clearly see the horse has no idea what the correct response could be.

Training is a language that must be learned by both the rider and horse in baby steps. Give an aid and reward the correct response. Your horse may lean into the leg the first few times instead of moving away from it, which is normal. Keep at it and when he moves away, make a fuss over him. Make it crystal clear. Subtleness comes with practice and lots of it.

Connection isn’t just about having perfectly still legs and hands and a perfectly obedient horse. To create connection, you must put your horse first, understand your own fallibility, and be as forgiving of your horse as they have been of you. If the rider is listening, the horse will too.

Written by:  Laurie Hutchinson

Head Trainer

Whispering Hope Stables

Laurie Hutchinson is the Director of Training at Whispering Hope Stables, Raleigh’s Premier Equestrian Facility. In 2013, she is competing Whispering Hope Sporthorse’s Hugo Boss in the USEF Young Horse Dressage Program for 6 year olds and her own Veva Rose in the Grand Prix and the USEF Developing Horse Grand Prix for 8-10 year old horses. She can be reached at (919) 851-6237 for lessons, training and clinics.