I consider all the topics below to be a part of my general teaching and training program. I have separated them to describe each individually because I have found that many riders are not familiar with these components of teaching horses and riders. To some extent the separations I have made below are artificial–good training is good training–but I have done so to help illustrate the things you will study when you choose to learn with me.
“The seat, the base of horse riding, is the quality that enables the rider to keep his balance under any circumstances; it is to be worked at and improved ceaselessly. Without a good seat, no good hand; no good legs, no freedom, no control; no independence of the aides. Without a good seat, no proper horse control, no possible training.” Commandant Jean Licart
One sees so many riders who lack the quality Licart is describing! They are not just beginner riders. We see them in the competition ring, teaching clinics, and on the covers of horse books and magazines. Yet how can they compete and teach when they do not have even the most basic of qualifications to train a horse?
I have heard many students ask their instructors, “How can I improve my seat?” The usual reply is that it will come “in time.” In the absence of an actual plan for improvement, this almost never turns out to be true. But do not despair, the seat can be improved quite quickly and dramatically!
What constitutes a good seat?
The horse is not static; it is constantly moving. Therefore, it is necessary for the rider to constantly move with the horse, to move her body to complement her horse’s movements. This requires balance, flexibility, independence of body parts, and coordination of body parts. If a rider cannot move in this way with her horse, she will constantly be banging him in the mouth and on his sides and back when she does not mean to do so. The horse will not be able to distinguish accidental banging around and shifts of weight from intentional “aides.”
Current popular ways to teach the seat are: using imagery, telling the student to hold various parts of their bodies in certain places, or to simply say, “It will come in time.” While these may be slightly helpful for some people, they alone usually do not accomplish the task.
The best way to learn to sit the horse is the way it has been done for hundreds of years in academic schools of horsemanship. The rider is put through a series of well-thought-out tasks that force the rider to learn to sit well. This is called dynamic seat training or the “mise en selle.”
I have been teaching dynamic seat training for more than 16 years. This thorough and effective method is the fastest way to stabilize and improve the rider’s seat.
Please see my blog for upcoming segments on seat training exercises.
If you would like to improve your seat, contact me for a free consultation and to schedule your first seat-training lesson!
In-hand work refers to training the horse while the rider is on the ground.
In its simplest incarnation, it starts with leading and training the horse to pay attention to the handler’s body language. At its pinnacle, it is performing the airs above the ground in-hand as seen in the classical schools of equitation. There is a whole world between those two extremes!
I train every horse in-hand. It is an easy way to introduce the horse to new movements and aids. It is easy to see and evaluate the horse’s entire body and reactions to the training. I teach riders to work in-hand, as it is part of a complete education for horses and riders!
Remember good ole B. F. Skinner from Psych 101? Well, operant conditioning figures big time into learning for humans and for horses. Most aids we use are operating on the basis of negative reinforcement. Your seat belt “reminder” is an example of one that has shaped your behavior.
I like my students to understand operant conditioning and I like them to experiment with positive reinforcement via learning about “clicker training.” Clicker training uses positive reinforcement and a secondary reinforcer (the clicker) to teach the horse a behavior.
I have found that clicker training helps my students be better trainers, have better timing and read the horse’s body language better. It typically improves the bond between horse and rider. Horses that have a negative association with something can get over that association with the help of clicker training. For horses that had rough handling in the past and have a general negative reaction to humans, clicker training can improve their enthusiasm for learning and working with humans.
Légèreté means lightness. The School of Légèreté refers to the teacher-training program the Philippe Karl founded in 2004. It represents a method of training horses that: respects the nature of the horse; is clear and measurable; does not use coercive techniques and gadgets; and is for all types of horses and disciplines.
It provides a clear method for a motivated rider to achieve high school movements even with a completely ordinary horse. This is refreshing and democratic given the huge amounts of money spent on well-bred horses these days! There is an abiding principle of minimalism and simplicity in the use of the aids. The school is based upon the works and teachings of such masters as: Xenophon, Fiaschi, La Broue, Pluvinel, La Guérinière, Dupaty de Clam, Hünersdorf, Freiherr von Sind, Baucher, Raabe, L’Hotte, Faverot de Kerbrech, Beudant, Oliveira etc.
I am very lucky to be one of the first students accepted into the School in the US. I have completed my first year, and though I am not certified to practice Légèreté in the name of the school yet (I will have to finish the course and pass my exams first), it certainly figures largely into my teaching and training!
Longing, like in-hand work, is a way to work the horse from the ground. It has the same benefits: the rider can see and evaluate the horse better; the horse can learn without the rider’s weight; it is a good way to introduce new things. It is done on a longe line with a cavesson or a rope halter.
Longing is NOT allowing the horse to run around on the end of the line to “blow off steam”! Basic longing includes training the horse to halt, walk, trot, canter, and change direction calmly and on command on the longe. This is a starting point to later train the horse over fences and in various transitions and movements on the longe. All serious riders should be competent in at least basic longing.
“Natural Horsemanship” Principles
Pat Parelli calls his work “natural horsemanship,” and I don’t know the exact history of the term, but in today’s horse world it has come to indicate a method that is very different than common training practices found in the US that were not so horse-friendly.
It means a focus on humane handling of horses, using pressure and release to create a language for the horse to understand. It is typically taught by trainers who use a western saddle and most of them can trace their educational lineage to Bill and Tom Dorrance. Bill and Tom Dorrance, interestingly enough, studied French Classical Dressage and specifically, Francois Baucher!
I have studied with several trainers of this description and it is apparent in my work with horses. I am thankful for the awareness of ethical training practices that these trainers have brought to the US. In many ways they are closer to the spirit of French Classical Dressage than what we see in the competition arena.
In Jamaica they say, “There are no problems, only situations….mon.”
Horses & “situations” often go together! I love to use all my background knowledge to help riders solve their “horse situations”… which often turn out really to be human “situations”! Some examples of behaviors I have helped horses and riders re-shape include:
- Rearing up and striking out
- Violent opposition to getting on a trailer
- Bucking with each canter depart
- Various fears (cows, ATVs, tarps, separation anxiety)
- Coming behind the bit (due to use of side reins)
There are no quick fixes once a horse has learned these behaviors. It takes time, dedication, and discipline on the rider’s part but these and many other undesirable behaviors are absolutely changeable!