Saturday, 18 April 2009

Dr Gerd Heuschmann Clinic - Day 2 - Ridden


First of all Id like to say, these are MY notes, MY observations made form MY experience. By virtue of being there, the demo riders obviously want to learn and improve and help their horses and I was very grateful for these people to allow themselves to be scrutinised. I am not perfect, I don’t pretend to be – a lot of the faults I noted are faults of MY OWN! I hope my observations do not come over as criticism as it is not intended or inferred .

Each rider told us a bit about their horses, warmed up, showed 3 basic gaits whilst Gerd observed. Gerd then rode each horse to assess how he could help and then put the rider back on with some instruction.

1. Henry – 7yr old event horse, competes at pre-novice level. Problems with inconsistent contact, snatching at bit, keeping head and neck still.
Rider was very nervous!! As would I be!! Horse was quite green and to start was quite inattentive to the rider. The rider obviously felt under pressure and looked quite tense and was doing a bit of ‘nagging’ with the hands to try and encourage an outline.

He started with asking for a regular rhythm in walk, then he asked the horse to step over laterally with the hind leg, very giravolta style, as he activated the hind leg he then raised his inside hand to create some lateral flexion of the poll to the inside. As soon as the horse relaxed its jaw and began to chew the bit, he gave the rein for the horse to stretch into and walked forwards into the stretch. He kept repeating this pattern on each rein until the horse was using its hind leg properly, was relaxed in through the back and soft in the poll and mouth. He then did the same process in trot.
The horse’s contact improved dramatically and it was a very nice soft picture. Gerd takes a ‘half seat’ in the trot to try and free up the back – he says he realises it looks ‘gay’ but it works lol!!!

Gerd asks the rider to relax the seat and inside thighs as the ‘gripping’ is making the horse rush out of his natural rhythm. He then asks the rider to raise her hands only – NEVER PULL BACK! He gets her doing similar exercises as he did – Shoulder in on a circle to activate the hind legs, raise inside rein for lateral flexion, as soon as the jaw relaxes allow the horse to move straight and stretch into the rein. THINK ABOUT HIND LEGS! Don’t worry where the head is, Turn the rear wheel and it work the front wheel.

My observations – Rider needed to keep a better bend in the elbows as she kept straightening her arms, which then didn’t help the softness of the contact. Kept giving away the outside rein and had real problems in not using a backward rein esp. inside rein! I know she was finding it very frustrating – I felt her pain! I think she would have benefited from putting her stirrups up a hole as I think she was loosing her balance slightly in trot, particularly when asked to give the rein forwards………

There were definite improvements by the end of the lesson. Gerd was very insistent on NO BACKWARDS ACTION ON THE REIN – which was good. While it is hard to change ingrained habits, I was pleased that the rider could feel a difference (for the better) by the end and that Gerd took her right back to basics rather than papering cracks.

2. Puzzle – A 16.2 IDXWarmblood Gelding at elementary level. Problems with curling back to the hand and wants to improve self carriage / engagement.

A very harmonious pair who work nicely together. She clearly adored her horse and they just seemed to have a really nice genuine connection.

He did the same exercises – Lateral steps for 5-6 steps, inside flexion until the jaw relaxed and walked straight into a stretched rein. Gerd stressed, RHYTHM first, always, before you do anything else. The horse found it difficult to make the last bit of stretch from poll to nose – this was interesting as Antsje also finds this hard. Gerd encouraged his by raising his hands up and forwards each time the horse curled back BTV.

Shoulder in FROM THE SEAT! Activate the hind leg, turn the rear wheel. Mobilise the jaw, a relaxed jaw is another key that unlocks the back. A lathering mouth is a sign of a relaxed back. At least every 5 minutes let the horse stretch on a long rein. The muscles shouldn’t be allowed to get tense. Work the horse like a concertina – bring together and allow to stretch.
Gerd got the rider to slow the trot – calm the trot down, slow the rhythm, bring the horse into balance, activate the hind leg. Now allow the horse to stretch forwards into the bridle keeping the SAME SLOW RHYTHM. RHYTHM IS FIRST.
NEVER sit to a stiff back, the back must be free before you can take it. Overbending – correct by raising hands up and forwards. Work on a circle is important to activate the inside hind.

My Observations – The rider had a nice upper body position and was well balanced. The contact could have been more sustaining at times, and the straightening of the outside arm allowed the outside contact to be given away. My favourite pair!!

3. Cadbury – 10 yr old mare competing at Inter 1 level. Would like to improve engagement and self carriage.

Beautiful little mare! Very stiff on right rein. Quite a tense horse and everything is very rushed – rider hanging on for grim death lol! Trot is quite choppy and rhythm is irregular. Horse is very crooked esp for such a high level! Genuinely surprised! (Im naïve!)

Noseband and flash loosened. Same exercises – lateral steps / flexion / stretch. Mare picks it up VERY quickly and paces transform. Gerd works on slowing the Rhythm with the seat and at times using both hands raised if the horse is not ‘on the seat’ Trot work really improves as the rushing stops and the back starts to work and swing. Same is done in the canter and the mare is allowed to stretch down in the canter to help supple and release the back muscles. He also lets the mare have a little Pipe Opener down the long side to free her up some more. She struggles to maintain the canter on the right rein due to her crookedness.

Shoulder in from the seat – more value in lateral movements when carried out with a long neck. Give the contact with a friendly hand. ‘MIND TO THE GROUND’ Rider to relax, stay calm. Rider has a VERY defensive position – everything about her is backwards – rider needs to be FORWARDS, needs to be forwards with the horse, but the horse is to wait ‘on the seat’
You can see the tension in the riders forearms! It is a MOUTH not a piece of WOOD!
Relax your seat, sit like you are the most beautiful lady in the world! I take your swing, You take my swing – Find the Balance. WE HAVE TIME!!! Take your time, slow the movements, BREATHE!!!!
Sit as close to the withers as possible – rider is too close to back of saddle.

My Observations – this was interesting! Rider was very tense and stiff – the Mare responded by RUSHING! Rider got tenser and stiffer – Mare responded by RUSHING!!! Was very enlightening. You need to take that leap of faith and GIVE the reins. Holding a horse winds them up and destroys the paces. There WAS improvement in the end. Rider found it VERY hard not to hang on the reins. Independent rein use also seems alien – give inside, and the outside rein goes too! Reminder of the importance of a poised but relaxed posture – from a taught fraught perfectionist, how I sympathised with this lady!

4. PONY – didn’t catch name! A last minute squeeze in by Sven Kold who is treating the horse. Been investigated for possible kissing spines – unsoundness issues. Ridden by a very sensitive young teenage girl.

The warm up was done in a coffee break. Pony was ridden round the perimeter of school on a short contact with head ‘set’ for a good 10 mints no stretching.
Pony was took through its paces for Gerd – pony unlevel and rhythm was inconsistent esp at trot and canter.
Gerd said he would ride in walk – he gave the pony a pat and the poor thing just flinched! Wouldn’t let his ears be touched and was obviously so sore all over – in fact, he seemd to take advantage that someone was listening to him and looked proper pissed off.

Noseband loosened and flash removed. Rode the same exercises. On the right rein the pony could barely move when asked to step laterally, he nearly toppled over he was pivoting so heavily on his shoulder. Gerd, took him on the other rein, worked him a bit on this, then changed back onto right rein – there was a definite loosening up and the pony started to step over and stretch into the rein. After about 10 minutes the walk just transformed and became long and swinging, with a lengthened neck. Gerd then touched his ears and pony didn’t bother at all!! Obviously he had managed to release some of the tension in the poll area from the stretching.

Gerd was obviously quite bothered about the condition of the little pony and started off quite tough on the rider I thought. Not nasty or intimidating, but I think he really wanted to make a point about the contact. He was quite sharp whenever the rider used a backwards hand. But the rider was actually a nice light little rider, and soon she and the pony were going around looking a completely different picture.

My Observations – This lesson had me feeling quite emotional. The difference in the pony from start to finish was incredible. He came in looking sour, tight and sore and left looking softer mentally and physically. I feel SO ANGRY about the state of general instruction that such a young child can be riding in such a damaging way! She LOVED her pony and said she didn’t want to give up on him, and I bet she would be mortified if she thought she had contributed to his problems. I really really hope that both pony and rider get the right help.

5. Solo – Anglo Arab gelding – allrounder doing endurance, le trec, RC activites and working at elementary level.

Ridden in a Dr Cooks bitless bridle. Horse was very nice and sensitive and had a lovely natural suspension in trot. He is conformationaly challenged being long backed and a straight hind leg. In canter the leg stayed almost straight, the croup raised and almost bunnyhopped along!

First time riding in a bitless bridle!! Again – same exercises as before to activate hind leg and release the back. There was improvement made, esp in the canter – but still seemed not quite right on the left. The leg didn’t seem to come through quite right somehow and the croup was definitely higher to this side in canter than to the right.

Ran through the same exercises with the rider as before. Gerd was not sure about the canter to the left and Sven to take a look at the differences on both reins. In the end, the rider was advised to get a cautionary examination of the horse.

RE: Bitless – Gerd said that he found the horse very sensitive and responsive to the bitless bridle but one thing he DID miss was the ability to mobilise the horse’s jaw by using a bit. The bit mobilises the horses jaw and makes the horse chew and relaxes its poll. The first entrance into a relaxed poll is chewing.

6. Don Proviano – 6 yr old gelding competed at Nationals in 2008 and now working at elementary.

Lovely horse with very nice natural rhythm. The paces were not quite correct though as he had a short hindleg action which didn’t step through completely but hovered and snapped back to the ground with quite a thump.

Noseband and flash loosened. Same exercises. Find the rhythm / lateral steps / inside flexion / straight into stretch. Horse found it a bit alien to stretch at first!! He was also wanting to plough forwards rather than take a slower rhythm. Once he started to understand the concept, the stride became looser and longer – and what do you know! The hind leg action stopped the hovering and he began to step through properly resulting in a much quieter footfall.

Become more lazy in your seat, make your seat more relaxed, slow the rhythm by your lazy seat. Take the inside hind out of your seat, SI in position on a circle.
Aim for self carriage – the horse can carry his own head!! Give him a friendly contact – don’t HOLD with the reins. RAISE hands – NEVER a backward hand. Taking the hands backwards stiffens the back, a stiff back looses the hind legs. Turn the rear wheel, activate the hind leg and BRING the HORSE to the BIT! To round the horse, raise the inside hand. Form your horse out of a lazy seat – inside flexion for a chewing mouth for a relaxed poll.

My observations – A strong ‘proffesional’ rider who made a real improvement by the end. The difference in the hind leg stepping under once the contact had softened was wonderful! No more hovering, and the footfall was much lighter.

7. Welfonprinz – 17.2hh Gelding working at elementary level.

For saying such a big horse, the horse reacts the most to Gerd’s weight lol!! Same exercises!!

Canter is good for the trot in this horse – keep the energy from the canter into the trot. Carry your hands softly in front. Always organise your horse from behind to front. Downward stretch in canter is great for strengthening the back – 2 wheels turn to the maximum so back is stretched to the maximum.

8. Freddie Fox – 12yr old gelding eventing to intermediate level. Find it difficult to step through with his hinds.

Quite a long backed horse with a gangly conformation! Horse put through hi paces and handed over to Gerd!

Horse taken through the same exercises as before. As the horse began to stretch forwards and release the back, he suddenly didn’t look that gangly anymore! His neck took on a much nicer shape – possibly because he was using the muscles correctly? Gerd was having fun with this horse I think!!

Again, same kind of rider issues with overuse of inside hand. RAISE the hands – NEVER BACKWARDS with the hands. Once the horse has found its rhythm THEN you can start to influence the hind legs and ask for flexion – RHYTHM FIRST!
Rider seems more balanced in canter than trot – they get some very nice work in canter. Transitions between trot and canter in a stretch position is wonderful for strengthening the back.

9. Caribbean – or ‘bean’ cos she’s full of beans lol!!! Working towards PSG – wants to work on soft through the neck and more engagement. Same rider as Cadbury. Horse is half sister.

Horse is stiff on right rein – same as other horse! Rider is again very defensive in position, very strong contact and the mares response is to RUSH! Mare was also very spooky and ‘wound up tight’

Gerd tried to mount from the ground, but Mare was NOT happy about this and chucked in a few bucks knocking Gerd over and managing to escape!! After catching her up, Gerd mounted from a step and began to work her just the same as the rest. He let her stand and look at any ‘monsters’ she believed she could see, and within 10 minutes she had calmed right down and began to listen and respond to Gerd. Again, he kept slowing the rhythm THEN activating the hind leg, asking for flexion and then a stretch. Clever mare picked it up very quickly and her paces just came alive. She is a very nice horse when moving correctly.
Gerd was aksed – how would you hack this horse out? He replied – Id open the door!!! Hahahahaha!
Gerd said to the lady – This is NOT your horse! This is a completely new horse – it is a shire horse!!! Ride your horse like it is a calm horse and she will be calm. The rider tried very hard to relax, but it must be hard under these conditions! At times the mare was getting wound up bit Gerd managed to dissolve it before it became a problem. Take the Horse to the Bit – not the Bit to the Horse! The horse wants to GO! Give the feeling YOU want to go but the horse stays with your seat! DON’T react to what the horse reacts to – CALM DOWN – MIND TO THE GROUND. Your body gives the rhythm NOT the reins!!


Well, it seems the two most important concepts for me are missing in everyday training! One, teach the horse to move away from pressure! Two. Inside leg to Outside hand!!! Every rider overused the inside rein and gave away the outside rein – and most riders couldn’t use both reins independently. If they gave one, they had to give both! It’s a bugbear of mine as it took me a LONG time to understand this properly and yet its SO important! I also was amazed that horses at higher levels of training did not possess the building blocks of the training scale such as relaxation and rhythm!

The conference was a brilliant experience and I have learned a lot! And although Im sure the ‘stiff lady’ came under a bit of criticism, I have to say I learned the most from her! I am always just a step away from falling down this trap myself, trying too hard, being too stiff, having a horse that ‘runs’ from this feeling and instead of relaxing you get more stiff and start hanging! It isn’t pretty! So it was just fascinating to watch just how horses react with Gerd and with their rider.

It really all is about the seat and rider balance – we cannot HOPE to influence our horse, until we can influence ourself! To improve your horse, you MUST improve yourself!

It was a fascinating weekend, to be able to understand how correct riding positively influences a horse yet bad riding ends up breaking a horse down is very enlightening! At times I felt sad and angry how we damage our horses by our ignorance and how people pay good money for trainers to teach them all the wrong stuff! Yet, I came away inspired and with renewed enthusiasm and could not wait to get back to ride my horse!!

If you haven’t already, buy his book or DVD – he really is worth listening too.


Claire said...

now that IS interesting, vicki!

how many times did he loosen the noseband and flash? every time? Molly is riddenw ithout a noseband (too much grief to get the bit in, never mind with that as well, LOL)

I'm reading similar stuff lately - Wynmalen on the young horse, read yesterday over breakfast, just push him on to get the back end going and the front will come.

and we ALL try too hard, it's very difficult not to.. especially in front of an audience!

hope that pony is now allowed to relax....

I have read his book, at Trudi's last year ... devoured in virtually one sitting, much to partner's disgust!

Danni said...

Thanks (again!) for the write-up Vicky.

Much food for my thoughts! I've been reading and re-reading his book since I first read your report :)

Friesianluv said...

Thanks for this Vicky, lots to mull over here. I bought his book after reading your write-up and I 'ate' it all at one sitting too!
Wish I could have been at this talk in person.


Cabruze said...

Will read when brain not feeling so tired! Great to see you last night!

Anonymous said...

I only just discovered your blog - thank you for the excellent write-up. It emphasized to me the importance of independence of hands (inside and outside reins can and do need to be independent), independence of hands, seat and legs, and how important it is to not coerce the horse - no tight flashs or nosebands (or in the hunter/jumper world, severe bits) to coerce the horse into doing what you want without really training (yourself not the horse - it's almost always the rider, not the horse, that's the problem!). Great post!

epona said...

Glad you all found it useful - Welcome Kate :-)

Nearly every horse had the flashband loosened if not removed completely ;-)

It is so very often the rider that is the problem lol!! we have to educate ourselves the best we can and work with the horses correct biomechanics if we hope to do as little dammage as possible.

It was such a GREAT weekend :-) Id recomend him to anyone!

Anonymous said...

Stopping by again to let you know that you have an award on my blog! )

epona said...

wooohooo!!! an Award!!! Thanks Kate :-) Antsje normally gets all the awards hehehehe!!!!

GoLightly said...

Wow, what a great post!

Thank you, well said!

Cut-N-Jump said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cut-N-Jump said...

I am going to have to go back and read, reread and reread this a few times hopefully to soak it all up before I begin riding my newest acquisition.

And as Claire was asking about loosening the nosebands and flash's, I have to say I am disheartened lately by looking at bridles since so many have drop, flash, crank and figure 8 nosebands on them.

Riders in my area anymore seem to crank the mouth shut, keeping the horse from finding any release from their heavy hands. Pairing these with stonger more severe bits, they aren't training the horses they are annoying them. Lighten up, loosen the noseband and let the horse go for a change. The results are amazing!

And Thank You GL! for providing the link. I have found another place to spend time online. Yay!

epona said...

welcome Go Lightly and Cut n Jump - glad you found it interesting! In fact I havent read it for a while and was inspired all over again afterwards lol!!

Linda Fink said...

I just discovered your blog while searching for info on Dr. H. Thank you so much for writing this. I attended a lecture and clinic of his this past weekend and was so involved in watching that I did not take many notes. Your notes helped set some of his methods in my head. Like you, I now want to get on my horses and see if I can put these ideas into practice. Thanks again!