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.

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

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


Book Review

Posted on May 17, 2018 by Jerrilee.
Categories: equipment, health, history, riding, training.
Learning Riding Posture

Learning Riding Posture

“Dude! Did You Just Fall Off?” is a delightful kid’s e-book on Amazon’s Kindle that skillfully and humorously attempts to prepare the horse newbie for their first and, hopefully, subsequent encounters.  It boldly asks:  what would you do if you were invited to go horseback riding, had never even been near a horse, but really wanted to go?

Obviously this is not a common invitation for inner-city dwellers, but for the nearly 30% of rural school children, and even higher percentage of suburban students, a recreational weekend just may indeed include a friend’s offer to see their family’s stabled horse. Facing the reality of being near such a big animal and actually sitting on its back can seem adventurous,  but nearly everyone quickly discovers a sudden level of panic once they become face to face with such a large animal.

This is why we picked the “Dude!” book off the shelf of Amazon. This book stands apart from the plethora of previous books by the way it brings horseback riding into your home and helps you practice balance and posture before you even head out to your friend’s barn. The list of straightening and correcting exercises range from simple body adjustments to learning ready-to-use moves while in the saddle. It had such great ideas plus a wallet saving price of only $2.99. Download it to your phone or tablet and refer to it right on the way to the stable. Personally, we found it just as helpful for adults. Enjoy..

Doma Vaquera Equitation

Posted on May 5, 2018 by Jerrilee.
Categories: breed, history, riding, training.

doma_vaquera.jpgby Jerrilee Streeter

Doma Vaquera is a Spanish phrase that defines the individuals in Spain who work with the cattle and bulls on the ranches and out on the hillsides. The doma vaquera is a person who has a special manner, or style, in which they dress. There is special riding tack , and a unique, individual way in which their horses are taught and ridden that distinguishes them from other riding disciplines. In Spain, some Doma Vaquera still go into the bullring to challenge the bull and still others demonstrate their skillful riding as they guide their horse in their work among the cattle. Included with the regular gear that a doma vaquero works with is the use of a garrocha. The garrocha is a long wooden pole used as an extension of the doma vaquera’s arm to activate, push, and guide cattle along the hillsides. In countries outside of Spain, the Doma Vaquera has evolved into a riding discipline that simulates the pattern work and movements of a working bullfighter mount. The rider still wears the traditional outfit and saddles the horse with the traditional gear to practice a combination of lateral jumps, sudden stops, and pirouettes which are used by today’s working doma vaqueras. There are even riding competitions where participants can show their horse’s special abilities in performing the patterns and movements of the doma vaquero horse. This includes the garrocha which, when used in the competition arena, can be an artful, breathtaking performance, especially when the rider works through the maneuvers without the use of the reins. A demonstration of this can be viewed on the La Garrocha . (To preserve the purity of the performance the link has been kept in its original Spanish format.Click video to begin)  Doma Vaquero will show an public demonstration.

for riding demo.

The First Cowboys; the Vaquero

Posted on May 4, 2018 by Jerrilee.
Categories: breed, history, riding, training.

The Vaquero vaquero.jpg

The Vaquero, or Mexican cattle herder, came from Mexico in the 1800’s and eventually became employees of the cattle and horse ranches that developed in the southwest.  Two parts of the southwest were predominantly Vaquero namely, Texas and  California. In these states the parents of many vaqueros  raised their families on the ranch where they worked, and as their children became Vaqueros and married, they too raised their families there. The beef industry was a powerful market, rising to its peak in the nineteenth century. The daily duties for a vaquero required long hours of strenuous livestock management, seeing to the transportation of cattle which they drove through rugged, raw territories to the markets where they were sold and shipped. The vaquero was also responsible for the breeding, branding, and safety of all the cows and horses on the ranch as well as the maintenance of the fencing and stabling. Although the western United States was still Mexican territory during this time, the ranchers carried a lot of influence since they were the providers of the food and the mounts for the Mexican Calvary, and eventually the US Calvary.

‘Most vaqueros were men of mestizo and Native American origin while most of the hacendados (ranch owners) were ethnically Spanish. Mexican traditions spread both South and North, influencing equestrian traditions from Argentina to Canada.  As English-speaking traders and settlers expanded westward, English and Spanish traditions, language and culture merged to some degree. Before the Mexican-American War in 1848, New England merchants who traveled by ship to California encountered both hacendados and vaqueros, trading manufactured goods for the hides and tallow produced from vast cattle ranches. American traders along what later became known as the Santa Fe Trail had similar contacts with vaquero life. Starting with these early encounters, the lifestyle and language of the vaquero began a transformation which merged with English cultural traditions and produced what became known in American culture as the “cowboy”. ‘ (J.Malone, p 3)

As eastern and mid-western settlers began their migration into the western territories they watched and learned the vaquero methods of cattle ranching. They adopted these methods when establishing their own ranches. When the western territories became adopted into the United States, many vaqueros stayed on to work for smaller ranches since many of the elaborate Mexican ranches were dissolved and their territories divided.
For a rare opportunity to learn more about the history of the Vaquero from someone who had personal experience, read Jesse Wilkinson’s site:   Vaquero.

equi-works

equi-works