Dressage: Sport Technique or Art Form?

Posted on August 10, 2018 by Jerrilee.
Categories: health, history, riding, training.

 

Nuno Oliveira in passage

The following is a feature commentary:

Dressage Commentary by Charles de Kunffy

The fashionable dressage terminology has recently increased by the word “technique.” It is just the word I would not welcome. There are references of various riders’ techniques for the improvement of everything, including the horse, his piaffe, his flying changes, his extensions, his attention, his contact and everything else under the sun. None of these are improvable by any techniques for the simple reason that riding is not a technology. Horses are not a triumph of mechanical inventions. Horses are living, complex individuals. They cannot be understood from an instruction booklet, even if it were written by Dante, Shakespeare, Moliere or Goethe, and they cannot be schooled by techniques. In fact, riding is a complex art. That positions it most decidedly opposite technology. Technology is predictable and based on instant and predictable responses of machinery to predictable mechanical actions

If riding would be a technology, it would come with an “instructional booklet” or a “recipe book” similar to those that are tormenting anyone who buys a gadget.  Not all horses produce predictable, or identical reactions to riders’ communications. Nothing more needs to be said than this: Horses are complex living individuals, not a piece of technology. Riding them is done by knowledge leading to understanding and wisdom. Instead of techniques, suitable to technology and machines, we need to develop the correct skills for communication in harmony with the horse’s nature.

Egon Von Neindorff

Had horsemanship ever benefitted from techniques, we would have long ago produced the necessary guide booklets and recipe books. However, as in fact none of that would suffice, we learned that riding is an art. Therefore riding, as all art involves the mind, the character, the virtues and the skills necessary to deal with a living partner in an artistic endeavor.  Practicing an art, mastering its principles is multi-dimensional and is based on inspirational mentoring and instruction by a master from whom we learn. It is a coaching art. It is acquired by diligent apprenticeship. And it is practiced by skills and not techniques.

Great masters mentored all great artists. Michelangelo was apprenticed to Domenico Ghirlandaio. Andrea del Verrocchio mentored Leonardo da Vinci. All art survives by the genius of its practitioners. One generation derailed can damage or destroy art. Especially, performing art!

Charles de Kunffy is an international dressage judge, author, and educator. You can follow him on Facebook.

Mustang Training Methods of the Blackfoot

Posted on July 29, 2018 by Jerrilee.
Categories: breed, equipment, handicap, health, history, riding.

by Steve Lock

indian-boys.jpg

“Na notoas inik wa akana inewa”  or translated: “My horse has killed many buffalo.”
The Blackfoot hunter who could speak such words had both wealth and power because a good buffalo horse was highly valued by the Native Americans of the Great Plains. The buffalo horse helped a man provide his family with more than just food. It also carried him into battle and bore him in honor during tribal parades. A well-trained buffalo horse was just as appreciated as a well-trained event, dressage, roping, or cutting horse of today.Initially, the tribesmen had to be taught the skills required to train their horses. Their teachers were usually the people they received the horses from, and it was mostly in this way that training methods were passed from tribe to tribe. Little has been written about actual horse training among the plains tribes, but the methods of the Blackfoot are well documented by John C. Ewers in his book The Horse In Blackfoot Culture. Even though, for our purposes, we are looking at the training methods used by the Blackfoot, other plains tribes are known to have used similar methods.

To begin, the Blackfoot started training the horses turning two to three years old. Young men trained their own horses, but elderly people often used the teenage boys within the family to train their horses. Blackfoot boys and girls rode well by the time they were six or seven years of age, but an actual training career for a boy could begin between twelve and sixteen years old, depending on how quickly he obtained his skills.  Mustangs were halter trained at first, then riding training commenced using a few different methods. Before beginning actual training, the trainer and his assistants caught and restrained the horse prior to placing a bridle in its mouth. The bridle the Blackfoot used was made from rawhide, or from hair taken from the forehead and forelegs of the buffalo. The material used was braided into a light rope sixteen to thirty feet long. The bridle was formed from this length of rope by tying a loop in one end of the rope, creating the end of one rein. From the loop, the rope ran along the neck of the horse to the mouth. Once at the mouth, the rope was tied in two or three half hitches depending on the severity required, placed around the horse’s lower jaw, and tightened. From there, the rope continued along the opposite side of the neck making a second rein, which then passed through the loop at the beginning of the first rein. The excess rope was folded, tucked under the rider’s belt, and used to keep possession of the animal if the rider was unseated. This type of bridle could also be quickly transformed into a halter.

Training Methods

One training method used required a surcingle. Once the bridle was in place the rider mounted, passing a long band of rawhide under the horse’s belly as he did. Bringing the ends of the band up along the sides of the horse, he enclosed his knees and lower legs within the band and tied the ends in front of him. By exerting an outward pressure with his knees, the rider was able to make his seat more secure. The assistants released the horse, which was ridden until it tired. This procedure was repeated daily until no longer necessary.
Another training method was to use the pad saddle. As in any horse culture, saddle making was a specialized craft. Among the Blackfoot, women made the saddles. Saddles were considered valuable pieces of equipment, and women who were skilled saddle makers could use these saddles for trading purposes. The pad saddle was made from two pieces of soft skin cut in an hourglass type of shape, and placed on top of the other. Two rawhide lines were stitched down the center, spaced so they formed a gullet between them. The edges were sewn with sinew and then it was stuffed with deer of buffalo hair. There were D-shaped tabs on the sides for a rawhide girth and stirrup leathers.

For training purposes the pad saddle was placed forward, probably as far as the withers. The rider sat behind the saddle and held on to it for security while the horse tried to unseat him. Both the surcingle and the pad saddle method of training required an experienced rider, and were usually used when more preferred methods were not available.
The oldest and most common ways of training were the water and boggy ground methods. Using the water method, two people rode double on a trained horse and lead an untrained one into a stream, or pond, until it was up to its shoulders in water. The rider of the trained horse then held the untrained one steady while the person riding behind him jumped onto its back. One session of thrashing about in deep water was usually enough for most horses. They tired quickly, and could then be ridden to shore. After this, the horse was ridden bareback until ready for a saddle. Swampy or muddy ground was used in the same manner as water – the object being to bog the horse down. These latter two methods were especially good for people inexperienced in horse training. They were easier, and the rider was less likely to be injured if thrown. Once a horse was trained to be ridden, it may then be selected for further training as a hunting and warhorse, racehorse, or draft horse.

The choosing of a horse to be trained for hunting and war was not taken lightly. This would be a man’s best and most valuable mount. Since it helped him obtain food and raw materials for clothing and utensils, it was also an important animal to his family. Not just any animal could be trained for hunting and warfare. A buffalo can run nearly as fast as a horse, so a desirable mount had to be able to run at speed for some distance. Buffalo can also wheel about and turn very quickly, so a horse had to be agile and respond immediately to its rider’s direction. The uneven ground it sped across made it important that a horse be sure of foot. One other important quality was courage, because the horse had to be able to run among animals it naturally feared.

Young boys between ten and fourteen years old were the first to expose young horses to hunting. After the adult hunters started a buffalo herd running, the calves would soon fall behind. When that happened the boys gave chase on their young horses, shooting arrows at the calves. In this manner, the horses started becoming accustomed to chasing buffalo. Whether a horse could overcome its fear, only time and the hunt would tell. The buffalo horse had no small bill to fill.
While some mares were used, most horses chosen for buffalo hunting were geldings. The horse had to have shown itself to be fast and intelligent. Usually a four-year-old was preferred. Hunting and war horses were trained to a high degree, responding to leg aids and shifting of the rider’s weight. This allowed the rider to keep his hands free to use his weapons. Once a horse responded well to its rider’s direction, it was taken on the hunt. Using his whip, and much patience, the hunter taught his horse to move in alongside a buffalo, hold steady while he fired an arrow, and then move away to avoid the animal falling or attacking. It commonly took three arrows to bring down a buffalo, so handling this maneuver at speed was important. A good buffalo horse would act with minimal direction from its rider.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition documented the skill of these buffalo horses. While driving horses they had obtained from a friendly tribe, the party encountered a herd of buffalo. Upon seeing the buffalo, the horses “immediately set off in pursuit of them, and surrounded the herd with almost as much skill as their riders could have done.”
The buffalo horse also served as a warhorse because the same qualities were needed. For its duties as a charger, the horse was trained to allow the rider to hang from its side while it ran, to carry two people at a time, and to stay close to its dismounted rider. To teach the horse to stay near its rider, the trainer placed a rope around the horse’s neck, mounted, urged it into a run, and then stopped quickly and jumped off. When the horse tried to move away, the rider forcefully jerked on the rope. Survival in battle made it essential that warhorses remain near their riders. The buffalo/warhorse was indeed a valuable animal. The only horse the Blackfoot held in more esteem was a winning racehorse. A winning racehorse brought pride to the entire tribe, and enriched those who were smart, or lucky enough, to bet on it.

To transport children and others who could not walk or ride, a sled was used. This sled is commonly referred to by its French name, the travois. For travois pulling, larger mares over four years old and of gentle disposition were preferred. The travois was made in an A-frame shape using two long poles with a platform for the cross piece, and was drug by the horse. It was not originally developed for the horse, but was adapted from its use on dogs. Tipi lodge poles were also drug by the travois horse. These were tied in bundles, and attached to both sides of a horse. Household goods were more commonly carried on a makeshift platform attached to the lodge pole bundles rather than on a travois.

One way horses were trained to pull the travois was to first place a rawhide rope around the base of the horse’s neck. Next, a length of rope was tied to each side of the piece around the neck, and extended behind the horse where they were attached to a dry buffalo hide. The hide had to be tied far enough behind that the horse could not kick it, or more importantly, the boys riding on it to provide weight. Another way to accustom a horse to pulling was to have it drag two wooden poles, which crossed near its head. Whichever method was used, it was repeated until the horse became used to the weight and pulled quietly. Then it was ready to pull the real travois, or lodge poles. An unloaded travois weighed around fifty pounds, and the average load a horse pulled was 250 to 300 pounds.
The European method of mounting horses from the left had a practical design at one time, related to when men carried swords. The Blackfoot method of mounting a horse, while differing from that of Europeans, had a practical design also. Their method related to whether a person was left or right handed. They claimed it felt more natural to mount from the side of the hand the rider used most. If a person was right-handed, that meant grabbing some mane in the right hand, placing the left hand on the horses back, and then swinging up onto the horse. If you should wish to try this at home and find it difficult – remember their horses’ height averaged around fourteen hands. A sixteen or seventeen-hand horse will present a bit of a challenge. You may end up with a face full of shoulder.

Women rode astride, wearing long, loose skirts that facilitated easy movement, and covered their legs while riding. They usually used a wooden saddle. The pommel and cantle were of equal height – about ten to twelve inches. They were set into two sideboards that served as the panels. The entire frame was covered with buffalo rawhide. Soft skin stuffed with grass was used under the panels to protect the horse’s back. When a woman mounted, she put one foot the stirrup and pushed the opposite leg between the pommel and cantle; they were too high to swing a leg over. Imagine mounting a western saddle with two horns about a foot high!

To start a horse moving, the Blackfoot made the sound “sh” several times, while leaving the reins loose. To slow or stop, the command “ka” was said while pulling back on the reins. This latter command was also used to quiet horses while dismounted, especially in dangerous situations. No voice commands were used in turning, which was accomplished by using an open rein in the desired direction of travel. The better trained horses would turn in response to knee pressure on the opposite side, or by the rider shifting his weight in the direction of the turn. The horse would continue to turn until the rider’s weight was centered again.

In training and using horses, Native Americans took some of the European’s methods and adapted them to their way of life. The use of a wood-frame saddle covered with hide, the use of stirrups, the whip, the lariat, and the practice of gelding were among the things borrowed from Europeans, mainly the Spaniards. The horse owning tribes did not generally adopt the use of spurs, a bridle with a metal bit, or the practice of branding as a means of identifying their horses.

Compared to the overall history of Native Americans, the horse era covered a relatively short period of time, but they quickly learned to use these animals. The generations that grew up with the horse produced excellent riders, and the horse became an inextricable part of their lives. They undoubtedly experienced the same joys and frustrations of horse training that we do. That they were successful can be seen from the colorful accounts of their expert horsemanship written by Europeans and others who encountered the horse owning tribes. Success to the trainer of a buffalo horse meant meat in people’s bellies, clothes on their backs, and shelter over their heads. That was why it was important for a hunter to be able to say, “Na notoas inikwa akana inewa.”

“My horse has killed many buffalo.”

photo from engraving by William Cary, 1874

Horses and Plains Indians; R.E. Moore

Posted on July 22, 2018 by Jerrilee.
Categories: breed, equipment, history, riding, training.
scene from movie: Dances With Woves

scene from movie: Dances With Woves

The Indians got their first horses from the Spanish. When the Spanish explorers Coronado and DeSoto came into America they brought horses with them. This was in the year of 1540. Some horses got away and went wild. But, the Indians did not seem to have done much with these wild horses. They did not start to ride or use horses until much later.

In the 1600s there were a lot of Spanish missions and settlers in New Mexico just to the west of Texas. This is where the Pueblo and Navaho Indians live. The Spanish in New Mexico used Indians as slaves and workers. These Indian slaves and workers learned about horses working on the Spanish ranches. The Spanish had a law that made it a crime for an Indian to own a horse or a gun. Still these Indians learned how to train a horse and they learned how to ride a horse. They also learned how to use horses to carry packs.

In the year of 1680 the Pueblo Indians revolted against the Spanish and drove the Spanish out of their land and back down into Old Mexico. The Spanish were forced to leave so fast they left behind many horses. The Pueblo Indians took these horses and used them. The Spanish did not come back until the year of 1694. While the Spanish were gone the Pueblo Indians raised large herds of horses. They began selling and trading them to other Indians such as the Kiowa and Comanche. The Pueblo Indians also taught the other Indian tribes how to ride and how to raise horses.

Horses spread across the Southern Plains pretty quickly. French traders reported that the Cheyenne Indians in Kansas got their first horses in the year of 1745. Horses changed life for the plains Indians.
To read more of our guest article click :  R.E.Moore

Horses for Healing

Posted on July 18, 2018 by Jerrilee.
Categories: equipment, handicap, health, military, riding, therapy, training.

Combat veteran Rick Iannucci with Cowboy Up!

Photo:Melanie Stetson Freeman

On June 8,2018 the U.S. House of Representatives passed bill: HR 5895, (the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act of 2018), which included an amendment to increase funding for the Veterans Affairs’ Adaptive Sports Grant Program for equine-assisted therapy. The amendment, introduced by U.S. Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) increases funding by $5 million for fiscal year 2019. The funding will enable an expansion of services that use equine-assisted therapy in conjunction with mental health care treatment and services to veterans.

excerpts from article by April Reese in Christian Science Monitor:

For 2-1/2 years, a stream of Iraqi and Afghan war veterans – many carrying both physical and psychological scars of combat – have found their way to Mr. Iannucci’s Crossed Arrows Ranch, about 15 miles south of Santa Fe, N.M. After first learning to groom and walk the specially trained quarter horses, the vets work their way up to mounting and riding them around the arena. As the veterans bond with the horses and learn how to “read” them, they begin to heal and feel connected with the civilian world again, Iannucci says.  “Horses are so in tune with you – if you’re uptight, they’ll know,” he explains. “They coax a certain level of contemplation out of you. They demand for you to be in the now. When the vets start working with the horses, they immediately start calming down.”

Some arrive with physical disabilities, such as limited use of arms or legs wounded in combat. Others are dealing with traumatic brain injuries, a result of roadside bombs or sniper attacks. Many have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “We call it ‘post-traumatic spiritual disorder,’ because we think the thing that happens to people in war is a wounding of the spirit,” Iannucci says. “Our goal is to find that [wound] and start working on it.”

Iannucci, a compact man with a purposeful demeanor and a walrus mustache, grew up in horse-racing country in southeastern Pennsylvania. From about age 12, Iannucci trained and rode quarter horses his family kept at his cousin’s farm. After retiring from his job as a US marshal working in Colombia, he moved to New Mexico and returned to horsemanship in earnest. He bought the ranch and built a horse arena, initially to provide a place for children to ride. A few years later he started inviting veterans to come and work with the horses. Word about Cowboy Up! began to spread. Brig. Gen. Loree K. Sutton, former director of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, visited the ranch last year. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D) of New Mexico has also paid a visit. “Rick doesn’t hesitate to take on a challenge, but he’s also a very humble and patient person,” Mr. Lujan says. “The program is truly impressive. Just to see the faith these men and women have is incredible.”

 

Music of the Peers

Posted on July 12, 2018 by Jerrilee.
Categories: breed, history, riding, therapy, training.
USEF photo of Stefen Peters & Ravel (2012 Olympic Freestyle)

The dressage industry was one of the last disciplines to add the element of music to competition. The freestyle ride was long debated and denied as a performance class mostly because performance judges feared the option given to riders to create their own programs would initiate a trend toward circus-like presentations. In their opinion, over a period of years, the aberration of dressage movements could leave the classical principles of dressage in the shadows of  history. In the 1970’s, however, came a more immediate threat for the dressage industry: the financial burden of its horse events. Rising costs of stabling, insurance, maintenance of the ring footing, required such an excess of cash that the backing of corporate sponsors was essential. As they came on board, these sponsors began to encourage show organizers to consider more  ‘entertainment’ in the dressage field since it lacked both spectators and public appeal. To them, the musical freestyle seemed to perfectly fit that need.

The United States Dressage Federation and the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) met individually to decide on restrictions to set in place to protect the historical and classical nature of dressage in musical competition. Judging sheets were designed to include technical and creative scores. Freestyle riding forums were set up worldwide in order to publicly define acceptable performance movements and also to somewhat direct the quality of music expected. During the 1980’s, most freestyle riding refrained from extravagance with presentations almost exclusively relying on classical music. In addition, these original musical rides, constrained by rigid adherence to traditional movements, were only modestly artful in scope. Even so, dressage lovers were thrilled with the new classes. While spectators still yawned, the concept of dressage as a living, spontaneous “art form” was now dawning on its devotees. It gained even more momentum the moment it was finally allowed into the Olympic Ring in 1996.

With the new millennium came new riders with fresh ideas. New talent pushed toward the impossible in freestyle riding. No longer did Beethoven and Bach rule the freestyle ring. Hand-picked music picked up the beat with modern tunes. Daring riders heated up the competition through their innovative uses of mandatory movements. Overnight it seemed that empty bleachers became standing-room-only. The new phenomenon of the freestyle dressage class had commenced. Audiences cheered and applauded their favorites in the classes. Sponsors were elated. Judges were thrilled. Spectators left competitions with GPS directions to find the next up-coming freestyle event. Dressage became known as the ‘ballet of horseback riding’. Eager to keep competition classes fully attended, riders were generously rewarded in their scores.

However, some conservatives squirmed. The dark side of freestyle, so long ago feared, was beginning to emerge. Observers who set up alongside warm-up rings chronicled the use of controversial training methods bordering cruelty to defenseless mounts. Not only did Grand Prix riders lack common horsemanship, their brutality was heartily encouraged as the new, productive training method.

So-called ‘Roll-Kur’ technique seen in 2008 Olympic warm-up 

It was the shock wave that blackened the freestyle classes. In the 2008 Olympics the division widened between dressage camps as infuriated classicists revealed the barbarism of the new “Roll Kur”, a training technique that forced the horses to move briskly forward with their heads pulled into their chests, or all the way onto their knees. In addition, they pointed out that the  Individual Dressage Champion of the Olympic Games never performed the required full-stop at halt at any time during the test. Nor did its extravagant leg movement ever co-ordinate with the horse’s torso movement. The pressure of the bit in the horse’s mouth was so severe that it created a ‘blue-tongue’, proving lack of circulation, something never acceptable in correct dressage. It was demanded that the FEI, an organization long considered the protectorate of equestrian sports, meet to resolve the issue before the next Olympics. By the time of the 2012 Olympics,  stringent qualifications, ensuring that horses were more humanely prepared for show events, were put to the test. These corrections are still being evaluated and re-written to improve the public representation of classical dressage within both standard and freestyle Grand Prix classes. It is evident that the state of global dressage will always require keen scrutiny to maintain the classical principles. But the true highlight of the dressage freestyle is its breakout from the obscure timidity of its earlier days. It is finally acknowledged as a beautiful and accomplished art form. It has pranced forward to prove that both quality and musical entertainment are possible in the dressage industry.

Same horse in 2012 Olympics.Corrections to use of bit show a more classical ride

Horse Art for the Garden

Posted on July 9, 2018 by Jerrilee.
Categories: equipment, history, hoofcare, riding.

No longer are home owners and horse fanciers interested in the ‘concrete statues’ of old. Today’s garden is alive, thriving and re-inventing itself in a whole new form. From sophisticated residences in the heart of busy Manhattan to lavish villas in Melbourne, a lush green garden is as popular an addition as ever, especially when flavored with unique pieces of art.

These stunning horse sculptures make a fascinating addition to this distinctive garden. (from decoist.com)

sculpturing by DophinsbyCindy.com

This garden sculpture of a “Black Stallion Running Horse” is made out of mosaic tile. The horse 7-1/2 feet long, weights 60 lb. and is designed to stand on a hillside, pasture, gate entry or as a focal point in the yard or garden. Made by DolphinsbyCindy.com.

Garden art can either dominate, or supplement nature’s plants in your garden. There is no question that adding amazing art pieces bring novelty and distinction to the backyard. But you can also create your own. Look around your barn to see what you can use to create your own show pieces. From horseshoes nailed onto broken rakes, to chewed and broken fence boards converted into garden borders, by recycling those well worn tools and utensils with your favorite flowers and plants you can create a true garden sensation. While it may not be as elaborate as the art by Tom Hill, you may be just as delighted with the results of your own project.

Horseshoe art by Tom Hill(artisttomhill.etsy.com)

Learning the Riding Posture

Posted on July 1, 2018 by Jerrilee.
Categories: equipment, handicap, health, history, riding, therapy, training.

excerpt from Nancy Nicholson,Ph.d book titled: Biomechanical Riding & Dressage  (click on diagrams to enlarge)

Riding the Elastic “Ring”


Riders sit on top of the rib cage, which is an elastic structure by virtue of its connections with the spine and the amount of cartilage connecting it to the sternum. It is remarkable for several reasons:

1)     there are no floating ribs (connected just at the spine): ribs all are connected by cartilage at bottom of the trunk,
2) the horse’s center of mass is located within it,
3) it is adjustable in term of its “bounce response” or “tuned reaction” by means of neck and pelvis position acting via elastic ligament or tendinous tissues, and
4) the ribcage may act as a “spring-loaded” mediator of bend in the thoracic spine.

These features create a structure which might be compressed by the grounded leg (potential energy) and could immediately make it available to the airborne leg (kinetic energy). Presumably, a horse can adjust its spinal posture according to what it needs to do: stand, walk, trot, canter (maneuverable gait) or gallop like hell (optimal covering of ground). Millions of years of dealing with predators have honed equine conformation to be excellent for middle distance running: lead changes (change of bend to the rested diagonal pair) allow the other set of muscles to extend endurance, not to mention the ability to kick while moving. But we want to ride this animal. As La Guérinière has pointed out, we will not want to ride everything the horse can do! Adjustable bounciness is a key to understanding aids which a rider gives. It is simple to state what a rider may do: doing it is very difficult.

The Elastic Horse

Basically, a rider is able, by using lower body aids, to adjust the posture of the horse by positioning its spine so the rib cage is set up for each movement. Half halts are the name given to the aids by which a rider asks the horse to adjust his posture in order to control the joined centers of mass. As you can see from the second diagram below, these should should come mainly from the lower body, which is placed so that the rider may affect crucial muscles which “tune” the rib cage. If that were all we had to know about dressage, we could all go home after reading the above sentences. Because the postures a horse can achieve lie along a continuum, there are a huge number of positions possible. A rider must learn them by feel in order to give an appropriate half halt. That is why a ground person with sharp eyes and a sense of what is most important at a given moment is essential to give the rider feedback on what is functioning correctly. It is up to the rider to inform the ground person how the movement feels.

Three Basic Principles of Dressage

Posted on June 25, 2018 by Jerrilee.
Categories: handicap, history, riding, training.

clinic in Chesapeke City
photo: Hassler Dressage

 

from Dressage Today, Charles de Kunffy brings forward the basic principles of training the horse dressage.

As a young rider in Hungary, I remember how three moments of evolutionary breakthroughs made all the difference. Like all young riders, I was impressed when I looked at the sophisticated equine professors that moved with big, round necks, as opposed to thin, inverted racehorse-looking ones. Being pragmatic and used to getting things done quickly, the easiest solution to achieve a round neck seemed to be manipulating the neck so that it appeared to be round. My coaches got on my case, leaving me with a sense of desperation. If not actively working on the horse’s neck, how in the world would I get such a round and tall carriage?

Backed up by my relentless coach, my patient horses soon revealed a most surprising discovery: I could influence the neck’s position from the haunches rather than from the reins. The principle of this discovery is similar to the principle of sweeping dust into a dustbin with a broom. As you sweep, the dustbin travels forward to receive the dust. It has to move in order to receive the dirt being gathered up. Similarly, the horse is gathered up from behind by energizing his haunches and giving him the room through the reins to articulate freely. Trying to achieve collection by working on the horse’s neck cuts the horse off in the front. Confining reins prevents the hind legs from powerfully supporting the rider’s weight and balance by lifting him with suspension. Following this, I realized that a horse consists of three bascules:

The neck (the easiest to access and manipulate)
The back (which takes more knowledge and skill to engage). If a horse has what we called a “warm” back–loose, supple and oscillating–he can lift the rider. It’s almost like sitting on a suction cup; it comes up and supports the rider’s pelvis. On the other hand, if a horse has what we called a “cold” back–low and stiff–the rider achieves nothing other than growing old sitting on it.
The hind end (the haunches should thrust the pelvis forward to lower the croup and to actually articulate at the lumbar-sacral joint). This last bascule is the one that is widely ignored by riders. If it were addressed, one would see many more horses that lower themselves toward the ground in supple strides from elastic joints. Horses with unexercised hind leg joints move stiffly with high croups. Horses with ill-developed muscles, lacking strength and suppleness, might appear to have round necks but remain still disconnected through the topline.

Once I understood to ride the horse’s hindquarters instead of his neck, the second breakthrough came when I realized that riding is a dancing partnership with the horse. Every horse has a certain signature rhythm–a footfall that’s like a fingerprint. Only when a rider aids in the rhythm of the horse’s footfalls will they make sense to the horse. Horses don’t understand banging and poking with legs out of phase with their footfalls, although the rider might use an occasional kick as a wake-up call. A horse that’s pushed out of his signature rhythm will run off and not be able to do relaxed extensions.

So we were asked to get into a rising trot and tell our coach when we found the horse’s perfect rhythmic profile. Once we had established that, we were able to stimulate the horse to more activity without changing his rhythm. This resulted in a dancing, free, forward, suspended and rhythmic movement without the horse being confined in the front.

The third important principle was an understanding of how to keep the horse together without confining his haunches from the reins. My coaches insisted that the reins may be used for a thousand things except to inhibit the haunches or to set the shape of his neck. A well-schooled horse will collect on even sagging reins into a piaffe or school canter. No need to hold him together, only drive him from leg and seat. Consistent and knowledgeable use of half halts educate the horse to understand the leg aids not merely as “go” but also as “energize” without running off.

When thinking about collecting a horse, many riders only think of closing him longitudinally from hocks to bridle. However, one must realize that one closes the horse also laterally from outside leg to inside rein and from inside leg to outside rein, like an X. Half pass and the shoulder-in, for instance, are exercises that utilize this concept of closing the horse laterally. In the half pass, when the horse is closed correctly, he lowers his outside hip and thrusts his pelvis toward the inside shoulder. In the shoulder-in, the inside hock is supposed to reach so deep–not just across but deep forward–that it reaches level with the outside stifle. The rider who fails to close the horse longitudinally as well as laterally will fail to engage him.

These three principles allowed me to train to higher levels. I wish you well in riding your horse in your horse’s native rhythm, closed from behind, strong and seated, elastic and supple.

Tribute to those at Little Big Horn

Posted on by Jerrilee.
Categories: equipment, history, military, riding, training.

Excerpt from the historical pages of QuarterMaster Museum

Water Carrier Ravine – Little Big Horn, Montana 25 June 1876

On 25 June 1876, the 7th Cavalry under the command of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, engaged the combined Sioux and Cheyenne forces along the banks of the Little Bighorn River in Eastern Montana. The 7th was part of a combined Army campaign to bring the Sioux to the reservations. Approaching the Indian village, Custer divided his command into three battalions; one under Captain Frederick Benteen, who took three companies and Regimental pack trains and maneuvered to the south; one under Major Marcus Reno, who launched a frontal attack against the village from the south. Then the remaining five companies went with Custer, to attack the village from the north. Every man in Custer’s command died. Reno’s attack was repulsed and he, along with Benteen were besieged for two days on the bluffs above the Little Bighorn, besieged by an estimated 3000 warriors.

Major Reno’s command attacked the village as ordered located on the plains in the background. Repulsed, Reno led his men up a ravine, losing a third of his regiment along the way. Joined by Captain Benteen, neither man knew of Custer’s fate but knowing that their own situation was desperate, ordered their men to dig in.  By the second day, the men were suffering from lack of water, especially the wounded. Survivors later described the situation: “..the sun beat down on us and we became so thirsty that it was almost impossible to swallow.”

Quartermaster Medal of Honor Recipients:

Captain Benteen called for volunteers to make an attempt to get to the river. Seventeen volunteered. Four men were selected to provide covering fire including Blacksmith Henry Mechlin and Saddler Sergeant Otto Voit, both Quartermasters. The attempt was successful. Nineteen Medal of Honors were later awarded for heroism at the Little Bighorn. Two of those went to Mechlin and Voit. These two, along with two other sharpshooters, positioned themselves on the bluffs on either side of the ravine to provide covering fire. During this engagement only one trooper was seriously wounded.

The above is a canvas at the Quartermaster Museum,Fort Lee, Virginia


June 25,1876;The Horse who Survived

Posted on by Jerrilee.
Categories: breed, equipment, history, riding.

by Diana Linkous
comanche-horse

photo: US Calvary;Comanche the war horse, after a battle in 1870

Comanche, a famous war horse, born June 25, 1861, fifteen years to the very day before the battle of “The Little Big Horn”, was a 15 hand bay gelding, thought to be part mustang and part Morgan. He was bought by the U.S. Army in 1868 in St. Louis, and sent to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. A handsome looking horse, he was purchased by Captain Myles Keogh  for $90 to be used as his personal mount.  In the fall of 1868, his unit fought the Comanche tribe in Kansas. During the battle the horse was wounded. Unaware, Captain Keogh continued to fight from his back until the battle was over. Afterward, he discovered an arrow broken off in the horse’s hindquarters. As a tribute, he earned the name Comanche for his bravery in continuing to carry his master despite his own pain.

In 1870 during a battle again against the Comanche tribe, the war horse was wounded in the leg. He was lame for over a month this time, but finally recovered. Then, in 1871, Comanche was wounded in battle once more, this time in his shoulder.   The cavalry was very proud of this brave horse who  recovered quickly, then bravely returned to battle despite being wounded so many times.

On June 25, 1876, Captain Keogh rode Comanche into the valley of the Little Big Horn and the battle known as Custer’s Last Stand. This time they were fighting the Soux and Cheyenne tribes, and it was the last great battle for the Native Americans. They defeated the 7th cavalry and killed every soldier. The only member of the 7th cavalry left alive after the battle was Comanche.  Comanche was found two days after the battle with many wounds, and was very weak and barely able to stand. He was taken in a steam boat to Fort Lincoln, where he was so weak he had to be supported by a sling. He was nursed back to health, once again recovering from his battle wounds.

Comanche was officially retired and it was ordered that no one would ever ride him again. His faithful groom, Gustav Korn,  seen in most photos holding the horse, stayed with him. Comanche was given the title  “the Second Commanding Officer” of the 7th Cavalry, and his only duties were to be led in the front of official parades occasionally. In December, 1890,  Gustav was called back to duty for the battle at Wounded Knee.   He was fatally wounded.  Comanche had lost his faithful friend. On November 7, 1891, downhearted from waiting for  Gustav’s return, Comanche passed away. His body was mounted and put on display at the University of Kansas, where it stands to this day.

A reader’s comment: Captain Miles Keogh was an Irish mercenary. Early in his career he had served as part of the Pope’s private Vatican Army. He was awarded a medal, that he always wore on a chain around his neck. When the Cheyenne killed him on the Little Big Horn, they discovered the medal. Recognizing it as a religious device, they left his corpse alone. His was the only 7th Cavalry KIA whose body was not mutilated. During the US Civil War Captain Keogh served on the staff of the great cavalry officer, Brigadier General John Buford (1st Cavalry Division). They intercepted the leading elements of Robert E. Lees Army of Northern Virginia in front of Gettysburg on June 30, 1863 and held them up until the rest of the Federals could arrive on the field. Hence, they were instrumental in the Union victory in that important battle. Captain Miles Keogh introduced the famous cavalry canter song “Garry Owen” to the 7th Cavalry Regiment. It remains so to this day, and the slogan and greeting among members of the 7th is “Garry Owen.” It is a very stirring tune. Aloha, Mark Mallory.

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