Volume 4

ID article 953

As instructors, we can be so busy teaching riders how to move so that they become part of the horse and the movement so that they don't interfere in what is in the horse that sometimes we forget to mention that there is another important reason that we help the riders learn how to move with their horses.  A reason that has nothing to do with the horses and everything to do with them.

Funny that we can miss this especially if you have been part of a therapeutic riding program where you have seen the undeniable results of placing a human on the back of the horse and seen the healing that can happen, how movement can be restored, how spines become realigned and motor processes begin to fire up once again, not in the horse but in the human.

Allowing or with the help of a guide finding how to become part of the movement on the horse not only allows the horse the opportunity to be all he was always meant to be, not only does it provide access for a healthy horse, but a horse that can move can begin the process of bringing health into our bodies.  

There is a reciprocity that is amazing to observe.  Provide the human with limitations physically and put them on the back of a horse with a healthy back and we begin to heal the human.  Take a human and teach them how to find and allow full movement to the horse and we help the horse.  We can undo damage and bring health back to the horse and then, of course, the human will again find the same.

Somewhat appropriate don't you think?  That each of us can help the other be healthy.

So often when we look at animal welfare we look at the physical and forget the emotional and mental welfare especially when we consider our horses.

We don't look at the effect of being separated and alone does to a herd animal.  We don't look at the effect of being locked up in a 10 by 10 stall with barely enough room to move might do for his mental health, surrounded by walls day after day.  And when it comes to the emotional health of our horses we rarely consider this aspect when looking at Equine Facilitated Learning Programs.  We think nothing of using the horse to help bolster the human that is going through a rough emotional time.  Using the horse as a conduit, thinking to help the human find a place of healing.  But what about the horse?

What does it do to take an empathetic creature, a herd animal and ask them to be present to emotional crap?  To take that in and somehow in the process provide a source of healing?

Those who do, say they give the horse a choice.  That from a herd, a single horse might choose to come help.  But are they choosing to come to help that person or are they coming because 'You' asked them to?  And they want to please you, they want to help you.  Your asking, you presenting them with the situation making them feel like they have to help 'you'.

I have to admit from the very beginning I cringed.  I backed away thinking no, you can't think this is okay to do to the horses. These creatures that are emotional barometers, what right do we have to ask them to do this? To take on what another feels.  To take on that pain, that distress.  How is that okay?

I believe in the power of the horse.  I believe in the horse as a conduit towards health.  I believe the horses are here for a reason.  I know they can present us with a path towards awareness, consciousness, towards light and life, towards finding the beauty and health and joy of what we were always meant to be.

These creatures that are the hunted, that always have fear haunting the edge of their consciousness have learned to somehow live in joy and light.  Playful, curious, loving, caring for each other, bonding strongly to those that they consider as part of their family. That is their lesson.  How to live in the light.

One thing to search for the light, another to ask them to live or experience darkness with us.

From the beginning, I shuddered at the thought. But my reaction was instinctual, emotional, strong, without thought.  My heart crying out for the horses, no matter how intentially kind those are involved are.

Never thinking it is not just them.  It is not just the horses that we have to think about how we affect their emotional and therefore their physical health.  There are others that are part of our families and a recent study studied just that. How much stress, how much cortisol pumps into the body of a dog who experiences with empathy the stress of their owner?  And the answer is disturbing.  And more than just disturbing, it is frightening to think that we could create such changes with those that live with us.  Creating a responsibility to us that we should not dismiss, should not turn away from.

So while my first reaction was instinctual, some would say emotional, without basis, it came as no surprise really to see the proof of it in the biology once we take the time to go look.  

Horses are healers.  Horses can do so much for us.  Their ability to augment what is possible is astounding.

It is not that I don't believe in a Equine Learning Facilitated Program, it is just that here like everywhere we need to consider all aspects to look at every situation with a 360 degree viewpoint, look at everything from all the angles.  Looking always to the influence that we exert often without our own awareness.  Looking always to protect the horse.  

There is a right way and a wrong way to involve our horses in programs of healing.  They can help us towards consciousness, awareness, towards joy.  They have skillls and possibilities that are astounding once we understand those possibilities. 

But through all of that we have to support who they are in the first place.   And the trauma of us, should not be a burden placed by us upon them.

Further information available in our course.... 

Reference https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-43851-x 

 

(Note voice for video based on this article.  Divide content perhaps too much for one article)

The Things You Take For Granted..

 

I can't​.

 

The ability to walk.

 

The ability to walk on grass.

 

The ability to stay centered and balanced against even the most minute of changes in the ground beneath my feet.

 

 

I can't take any of this for granted.

 

I have been healthy, unhealthy and back again.

 

I have lost function, regained it...  Sometimes only to lose it again.

 

This has been in some ways the greatest gift I could have received as a teacher as pain identified individual muscle groups activity as I moved throughout the day, the loss of proprioception highlighting how much this necessary ability, the ability for the body to automatically do those tiny constant minute adjustments that allow you to stand, that you are not even concisely aware of, that provide righting reactions so that you stay upright as ordinary movement constantly puts you out of balance and how incredibly frightening it is to be on the back of the horse when you have lost this.  When righting reactions do not happen automatically and every balance displacement adjustment lags because of that delay and what that means to the rider, how loss of control of other muscle groups showed that strength in riding is not always the answer.

 

My loss has given me personal experience and actually shown how little strength, power and core strength that you require to stay upright on a horse. Of course I knew this information viscerally having worked and started a therapeutic riding program decades ago. An experience that started my Foundation of knowledge as I watched incredible riders show a joy and crazily enough no fear to take bodies that were so limited and joyfully embrace the concept of being put on the back of a horse.

 

Riding is about stability.

 

Riding is about stability - it is not strength that gives me the ability to stay stable and developing the ability to be stable and upright is easily found by a baby within a very short period of time when he starts out that he doesn't have the muscle power just sit upright on his own. Having had my own personal experience as well as having the experience of working in a therapeutic riding program and see that placing the human body on a horse can create stability when none to be found when they sit up in their own wheelchair relying on the support provided by the seat, the back, and the sides of a wheelchair sounds even requiring to be bound to the chair to sit upright, it frustrates me to no end to see instructor after instructor insist on how important core strength is, as if you need to be a bodybuilder to sit on the back of a horse when reality is, the truth is, there's nothing further from the truth.

I have had more than one rider more than one instructor vehemently

argue with this point with me. But having had my own personal experience having seen others could not walk ride how can I possibly, logically, not realize that core strength is not the answer. Perhaps it would be or perhaps it is, if you put yourself in a position when you are riding where are you are working or training in such a way that your body and your horses body are diametrically opposed in movement. When the opposite is a reality that the horse's body basically balances you while in movement which is why therapeutic riding works! Because we can take a body that does not have the power the strength or the proprioception and automatic righting reactions to stay upright and balanced we can take someone who can not sit up on their own who can when set on the back of a horse while the horse is in movement. The support, the synchronicity created between the two bodies is incredible to behold.

There are those that would argue that while this might be true in the gait of the walk but a much different scenario happens when working in Trot and Canter. And this cannot be denied which is why we usually see therapeutic riding being done mostly at the walk and not as frequently in trot and canter.  Even if it this is true or maybe especially at this is true it is the training of the horse that determines how strong you need to be especially if you have created a horse who does not have full range of movement and rather is constricted through the back.

 

There was a time in my early years of instructing that I always taught the posting or rising trot first usually long before I would teach sitting trot to my students. I think fueled by the belief that rising trot was far easier for the rider to learn and that many people attempting to learn how to trot for the first time end it up literally being bounced out of the saddle.

I was fortunate enough to have my own school horses and because of that I eventually realized that this was not necessarily true.

 

Because the difference is in the physical abilities of the horse and it was difficult for many, was easy for my riders and students who from the very first time asked to go into a trot while sitting experienced no problems at all.

One more example of showing half the concept of strength and what we need on the back of a horse is sometimes determined by the training process is used on the horse. If the training technique that we require requires the horse to protect his own body by stiffening through the back then yes of course you will need a lot of strength because the horse's body will be working against yours. And as we all know the horse weighs considerably more and has a lot more strength than we have. So the more that our training has inadvertently detrimentally, affected the horse, the stronger you will need to be.

There are those that would have you believe that as the horse advances in his training as he becomes the super athlete, say in dressage, then you were looking at a completely different scenario and of course you require strength to ride this Super athlete. After all you are riding a horse with superpower who has been bred and trained to show incredible movement not riding some simple Western jog.

Training to the upper levels can be done in two different and distinct ways.  One has a horse that is under tension and in that tension Expresses flash not from strength but from rigidity. Sadly this particular training methodology is far quicker as it doesn't take the years of building muscle and sinew and bone that the other method does.

The second method requires time, a lot of time , it is here that you layer strength upon strength, building a foundation that has to be correct, that allows the next layer  - each level not readily accomplished.

It requires a commitment on the part of the rider and of the trainer to ensure that no tension is entered into the horse's body especially tension into his jaw, his neck or his back.  And then as you push the horse to greater and greater effort that you always drop back from the line where tension is introduced into his body.  If today you can only do two strides then that is good enough because tomorrow he will be able to do three. And if not tomorrow the day after that or perhaps the week or the month coming up but once we introduce tension a body that moves through flexion and extension in much the same way then we have lost.

I will not deny that if you go for the upper level movements in the right way that you will become healthy that you will become strong that you will find that you might end up using inordinate amount of strength and trying to help and support and request that your horse use yet even more power because there will never ever be enough power for what you want him to do. And doesn't that last statement just resonate with you as a place that is so different from what so many people experience on the back of a horse.  Most are afraid of their horses taking off of taking and resting control and power away from the rider.  Where what we experience is completely the opposite there will never be enough power.  Not once you have found true collection because when you find that the power just makes him grow bigger and stronger and more upright and lighter on his forehand the energy goes up it doesn't go forward.  It is incredibly exquisite to be the recipient of so much grace and so much power placed into your fingertips.

And you will find it through that process that there is such an exquisite balancing of power from left to right in front to back within the horse in that the place that you sit is a balancing point or as the horse progresses there is less and less movement in your own seat there is a connection of balance between you and the horse an Exquisite space that is silent answering especially as you approach the perfection of piaffe and the perfection of the collected walk. 

Because as we have spoken about before that are resolved from the other training that they just exist inside the horse that these two movements are not ones that you train it is the training and other aspects of the horse that provide and hand these to you freely.

You do not train piaffe.  It is just there.

You do not train collected walk. Just one day it will be there.  Probably not as soon as the piaffe.

And in those moments when both of those are readily available to you you will discover something astounding.

So yes beyond the walk, the more untrained the horse, the more strength the rider will require but you will require so much more strength if the training is incorrect.  And this strength that you require will be exponential to what you would require if you didn't create tension in the horse's body.

I remember this one Kentucky bred thoroughbred that I received from a very well knowing well respected researcher into biomechanics and the first time I got on that horse there was a rocket launcher and it said you are going to get your bum lifted out of that saddle and now and my seat flew up I bet a good 6 inches into the air on that very first step of the trot.

No I don't hold the owner responsible for his training because she had only had him for a short period of time and had received him as payment and haven't really had the time to work with him which is how I ended up with the him. I had never before or since felt so much come through and push me out of the way with so much strength and so much speed before. It was you will post now!  Yes, sir!  Right away, sir!!

His story is one I will tell another day as it had its ups and downs depending on who he was working with at the time but as he learned to move within his back and his body there was a change.

Turns out that retraining any horse is the matter of removing tension - tension that resides in the body and because of that, tension that resides in their hearts.  And sometimes you will never win you will never have the horse that you could have had if that tension had been introduced in the first place. Which makes me incredibly sad for the horses.

You might have noticed I have segwayed from One concept to another as I so frequently do but it can't be helped in some ways because everything hangs together it is all part of a whole. Which is why when you try to cherry pick learning different pieces from different instructors with different training methods that you will not have success.

 

 

[Need to pick which category this article will go in afterwards.  Need to rewrite in a series of articles.  What broke? 1. relative vs absolute raising of the withers 2: shortening or raising of the body of the horse. 3.  Lateral vs Longitudinal Access. 4. Teaching the horse to flex upon contact with the bit.]

???Is this series better suited for HFL or Kjrsos???

For many years Dressage by Henry Wynmalen was my bible.  At the time, there were a mere handful of books available on the subject of dressage in English, but it was much more than that.  I found a resonance which I frequently find as soon as the concept of 'lightness' becomes the cornerstone of the work presented.   There was a resonance with me that I carried into my work in the decades that followed when I read his words. 

"The rassembler is an unlimited achievement, wherein the bridle, horse and rider have become absorbed into one entity; the bit possesses a limiting effect no longer, the forward impulse travels right through it, without let or hinder; actions of hands and bridle-effects have become mere messages to the horse's nerve-centre."

This became my goal.  "An unlimited achievement."  When I read Wynmalen that is what I heard. "The bit possesses a limiting effect no longer."  I went looking for that.  I wanted a horse without limitations.  I wanted to be 'absorbed', to become one with my horses where "bridle-effects.. become mere messages" to the horse's nervous system.

I reread his words on rassembler and mise en main again and again.  Every moment on my horse was the search for the 'unlimited achievement' it became my holy grail.  I was gifted by having two explosive copper thoroughbred mares during this time period, whose every answer to anything was more power.  Forward was never anything that I had to go searching for.   Looking for lightness to control that power where I could reach a level of lightness where "the bit possesses a limiting effect no longer, the forward impulse" travelling "right through it, without let or hinder."  Now that was a challenge.

I read Wynmalen's words on engagement of the horse further underneath the body. "The basic principle of that work is eminently simple; it is merely that of gradually increasing the action of the hocks by getting the horse to engage these just a little further underneath the body; it implies the shortening of the base whereon the horse moves just a little; the horse brings his rump and quarters a little nearer to his head; to do so, the horse must of necessity lower his quarters a fraction, resulting in a relatively higher position of the forehand."

What I read and what I heard - there was a difference.  What I heard and took to heart was the concept of engaging the horse and I began looking for the higher position on the forehand, welcoming every surge of energy that brought me closer to that.  Looking for a new balance on my horses.  Doing all that I could while I tried to achieve greater and greater lightness, not just light but merging so that I became one with the horse, to encourage power to morph into a higher carriage.  A carriage unrestricted, where "the forward impulse travels right though", "without let or hinder."  Trying all that I could to not be an impediment in any way to the power of the horse.  This is the journey that Wynmalen sent me on, one that I reveled in, one that brought me great joy, one where the horse's just became more and more beautiful in the work, not just with me but also with my students and the horse's they rode.

To me what had been amazing though about this particular text, is that re-visiting it twenty years later, I found the same truths had been born out by my own experiences, by my own teaching. I found that amazing that this text had stood this test of time and the testing of different breeds, with different training, and students with such diverse backgrounds.  The words I read were as true as when I had first read them. Not realizing that we all filter everyday experiences based on our own life experiences, our viewpoints, our desires and even our personalities.  This filter creating a different reality for each of us.

That filter, my filter meant that without realizing it, what I read and what I heard might be two different things.  I saw certain words and didn't see others.  Didn't realize how other riders with different life experiences, different expectations, might come to Wynmalen and see a very different reality.  I had found an incredible gift, words to inspire me, encouragement to search for a holy grail where power was unlimited, the horse never diminished and lightness, the merging of horse and rider the absolute goal at every level of riding.

But there was more.

Part II Next Issue

 

 

 

 

 

Why is the Head on the Vertical?

 

Ask Yourself why is the Head on the Vertical?

 

Have you recently watched someone ride?  Perhaps in your local arena, or maybe even more likely online.  The next time you do, take a look at the horse.  Especially if someone claims to be a dressage rider or instructor.  See the pretty arch in the horse’s neck.  See the forehead on the vertical. 

 

Take a moment and reflects so what does that really mean? 

 

Does this mean that this person is riding well?  Does it mean that the horse is well-trained?

 

In nature we see the horse put his head in many different positions.  Ahead of the vertical, nose lifted as high as it will go and behind the vertical as well, so why is it that we give so much attention to where the head is when we ride?  Why do we care if someone is riding behind the vertical?  If the horse does it naturally when we are not on their back should we really care?  Is this something we really need to worry about?

 

From a different perspective ask yourself why is it that we consider someone riding on the vertical as someone who is riding well, especially if the rider is someone who is a dressage rider.

 

Well to answer the second questions first, why is it that we consider someone riding on the vertical as someone who is riding well?  Throughout history horsemanship has changed, what is considered correct in one generation is not necessarily considered correct in the next generation.  So that often the very first question we have to ask, is how do we tell when it is correct?  When is it right?  And how do we know and what do we use as our guideline?

 

The horse becomes our guideline.  How healthy is the way that we ride?  Does the horse, become more and more athletic?  Can you see his conformation changing, getting better?  And it will, you can change a lot on a horse by the way you train and ride, perhaps more than you realize. 

 

Or is the opposite true?  Is the horse showing signs of bridle lameness, early onset of navicular, or consider the average age for horses in your sport?  And of course, check out what is happening with his muscular development. 

 

The problem of course is that while an experienced and trained instructor can often tell at a glance at what is going on with a horse just by examining his muscular development.  Not everyone can.  Even better than looking at the horse’s muscle development is to analyse the movement of the horse in all gaits.  But while there are very few people that can tell how a horse is doing by muscular development alone there may be even fewer that have learned all of the intricacies of analyzing the movements of the horse, although there are many that know some of what to look for.

 

Part of the problem of course is the speed of the movement of the horse.  Difficult to catch exactly what the horse is doing without the use of a slow-motion video camera which can be truly illuminating when you do a frame by frame screen capture.

 

The other part of the problem is the years of training and education required on the part of the person doing the analysis compounded by the problem is there is often no way to determine if the knowledge that they have acquired is correct.  Unfortunately, it is just as easy to learn the wrong information as it is to learn the right information.

 

Through the centuries there is the picture of the horse that is correctly trained, a standard that has become established through the years.  While it can be tricky to evaluate the way of going as discussed if for no other reason than the speed of the horse’s limbs, it is far easier to pick out certain key elements that are easy for everyone to see, no matter what their level of expertise is.  And thus, collection in so many ways has come to be defined by where the head on the horse is positioned.

 

This came about as most horses, please note not all, will come closer to approaching the vertical the more they are collected.  Please note the words “will come closer.”  Looking through historical documents, pictures and even video from 60 years ago, we will see horses that are clearly collected that are not “ON” the vertical.  Some horses often are showing brilliant work while they are well ahead of the vertical whether that is due to conformation or way of going.

 

So something that we’ve seen as a standard on horses after years of training and developing under experienced horsemen became one of the standards or at least an easy way to tell if the horse was working in an advanced frame.  Again, please note the word “advanced”.  A horse in an ADVANCED frame.

 

But does that mean every horse that has his head on the vertical is collected or working at an advanced frame?

 

No of course not.  If you tie a horse’s head and bring his head back to the vertical, he is just a horse with his head tied so short that his head is on the vertical.  As a matter of fact, this is the opposite of what we actually want when we are trying to develop our horse to moving and carrying himself better than ever before.  The last thing we want is for the horse to “shorten” his frame or “shorten his neck”.

 

When we shorten the neck we “compress” the neck and the accompanying structures, creating limitations by false angles and limited access to the incredible muscle structure in the neck.

 

Well then how or why does the head come back when the horse is correctly collected?

 

The mechanics of the head approaching the vertical should be the same whether the horse is being ridden or moving about by himself freely if he has the correct strength and musculature to do the movement correctly.  But note it is also true that we often see the horse doing this movement incorrectly, when he doesn’t have the muscle development necessary to carry himself with strength and agility.

 

It is easy to imagine the muzzle of the horse coming closer and closer to the vertical is coming about because the nose is coming close and close to the neck and the gap between the head and the neck closes.  And this exactly what the horse does when he is either not strong enough or he has not been trained correctly and/or he is still carrying himself in the first or second level of balance and still is not carrying more of his weight on his hind end.  The only way for him to come onto the vertical is push through the base of his neck and along the top of his neck muscles from the base and then his muzzle comes closer and closer to his neck and chest.  You can try it for yourself.  Sit with your head in a natural position then lengthen the back of your neck from your base upwards.  Your head drops, and your chin comes into your chest and your ears and their position to the vertical rotate downwards.   This is what happens to the horse, which is why these horses are never poll high and the bend is always happening in the neck rather than at the poll.  Which by the way is one of the best ways to ascertain if the work of the horse is correct.  Look to see if the horse is poll high.  Not a pretend poll high but a real poll high and that he is not bent in the third or fourth vertebrae of the neck instead.  Look at the ears are they pointed down towards the ground or facing forwards into the movement and direction that the horse is moving in.

 

Instead in a horse that is beginning to carry more weight on his hind end, he stretches through his back, through his lumbar area, and through the base of his neck as well, but because of the stretch in the lumbar area he brings his hind legs more under himself, changing the angle of the front end, changing the angle of the base of the neck, so that the neck come to reside more above the shoulders or closer to doing so then residing in front of the shoulders..  It is this change in the angle of the base of his neck to the torso as he lifts and lengthens creates, that allows his nose drops because his under-neck muscles release, his top line properly engaged and with the stretched out topline his nose relaxes and comes closer to the vertical.  But only because of the changes in his body.  Not because of anything that you are doing to ensure that his head falsely takes a position that you perceive as desirable.

 

The nose approaching the vertical is only correct if the BODY has changed, otherwise it is all fake and actually becomes deleterious to the horse.  This creates the completely wrong muscle patterning.  Begin your horse in this pattern, with his nose on or approaching the vertical while his is in the first or second level of balance and chances are your horse will never be able to develop further or develop the muscle patterns that he needs to achieve the third level of balance.

 

And this is the crazy thing about all these dressage and western riders riding around with their horse’s heads on the vertical.  They have just set themselves and their horses for FAILURE!  It is so incredibly frustrating to see again and again and once trained in this manner there is no guarantee that the way of going and the damage can be completely undone.  Ever.  That may sound harsh, but it is true.  The repatterning required with horse that has learned to move incorrectly is a bear.  It is difficult, tough and sometimes near impossible even with excellent instruction and retraining.  Something of course can always be done to make it better, but there is a good possibility that it will never be what it could have been.   Few trainers want to tell you this truth, often because the riders just don’t want to hear it.

 

As we mentioned previously but does that mean every horse that has his head on the vertical is collected or working at an advanced frame? No but today that is what we see in arenas around the world.  We see horses in any frame, any way of going, of every level working their heads on the vertical, because that has become the standard that everyone is striving for.  That is something everyone can see.   See I am a dressage rider, my horse’s head is on the vertical.  It does not matter that I got it there by lunging him for endless hours with his head tied down with side reins.  See I am a wonderful dressage trainer, see how the horse’s I ride all have that pretty arch in their neck and their heads are on the vertical or more likely slightly behind the vertical, while at the same time their hind legs go stretching out behind them, a clear indication of a horse whose energy is all working out behind.  This is not a definition of collection or forward.

 

See the pretty arch in the horse’s neck.  See the forehead on the vertical.  Well at that moment unless you see the hips are well lowered and basculed, the horse coming under himself, and not pushing out behind chances are that you are seeing someone that is not riding correctly.  Someone who is either holding their horse’s head into a position, literally pulling it back from where it should be, or someone who has been taught to hold their hands in one position so that the horse stays behind or a horse that has been taught that this is what these silly humans seem to want through years of training and/or equipment all designed to keep the horse’s head in a certain position. 

 

Allow the horse his head and then use it as a gauge as to the progress of your training.  If you do this, while you might not be able to do Grand Prix today, but you are ensuring that one day, it just might be a possibility.  You are also ensuring that today, he can breathe optimally, he can see where he is going, that you are not compromising his muscular development, that you are not forcing your horse to carry yet even more weight on his front end which will create physical problems in the future.

 

There are three levels of balance.  On the forehand, balanced and collection.  In collection the horse creates more freedom in his movement on his front end by carrying more weight on his hind end.  It is or should be the horse’s decision where to carry his head and how.  Creating a false head carriage does not mean that you are a dressage rider or a fabulous trainer.

 

This was never about where his head is, it has always been about what his body can do and do well.

Need to check if originally published in April 2008

Need to place in courses and how to differentiate.

Date the course to go live 3 months after this article is published.

Note that  this article will be going into Classes for Instructors under?  Evaluating the Rider

 

Many riders struggle in knowing where to put their faith. In knowing who they should trust with the training of their young horse. Knowing who to trust as their trainer. Which books should they read? 

 

The difficulties for a beginner who has no way of knowing more than any instructor who has ridden even a limited number of years. 

 

This problem goes on as the rider advances. While they may now have more years of experience under their belt, their experience and time learning all the nuances will always be less than the instructors and trainers that they go to. 

 

Lost riders do the best they can, but often they take the wrong path, and find themselves having to begin again. 

 

The curb bit with its lever arm is a telling bit. While with a snaffle you can easily fool others into how pressure you are or aren’t putting into it. With the curb bit it is not quite so easy. 

 

When the horse is at rest and the rider is as well, the bit actually looks quite awkward in the horse’s mouth, as the head of the horse stretches out, muzzle outstretched the bit aligns itself with the tongue and the mouth of the horse. 

 

The curb bit ends up sitting with the long lever arms stretching forward aligned with the horizon and the horse’s mouth, looking a little awkward actually as if the bit really shouldn’t be here. 

 

We need to remember that when riders are adjusting the curb chain which to some extent is what gives the curb bit it’s very real power, they are adjusting it on a horse not a work. With the bit not engaged by the rider. 

 

In some ways this can be quite dangerous as the rider truly has no idea once they climb onto the back of the horse and engage the reins how tight that curb chain really is getting! Which is why it is often a good idea to have a second person double check and possibly adjust the curb chain once the rider is up and has picked up the reins. Play with the reins with various strengths, relaxed, and engaged, to see how the curb chain tightens with your particular combination of horse, rider, bit and curb chain. Don’t ever take this for granted. Do not assume unless you have checked that there hasn’t been a change. 

 

If you don’t have someone to help you when you are mounted you can alternatively take the arms of the bit and swing them back towards the horse to see for yourself how at different heights the curb chain is adjusting to the horse. 

 

But much more than this once you understand how the lever arm and how far back it swings is very telling on how much the curb bit is engaged, this provides you with an invaluable tool when you are evaluating other riders, as a judge or as a spectator. 

 

This often is the first thing that I look at any time I look at a picture. Through this process it has been disturbing to note how certain riders always have the curb bit fully engaged. The lever arms pulled back so that the arms of the curb are even with the horizon, there is no relief for the horse. Not from the bit, nor from the curb chain. 

 

Since this is a marker that anyone can see it is difficult to understand how the very top riders are getting the marks that they are getting and for what? Having the best hold on the horse? Having the horse that puts up with the most? Throughout the entire test from walk to trot to piaffe the bit never changes, the maximum pressure is kept up at all times. 

 

If it is a requirement that the horse be ridden in the maximum pressure available at all times, how can this be a dance, how can this be about harmony, how can this be about the horse fully participating. Where is the lightness? 

 

For years we were told that an aid should never be seen only felt between rider and horse. The master horseman was quiet to the outside world, no matter how talkative the conversation between the horse and him was. Nowadays it seems the opposite is true. The aids are not whispered, they are shouted. This seems to be true of most of the aids including the bit. A bit that is always fully engaged. 

 

If you want to truly understand the mastery of the rider before you, look first to the curb bit. If the rider can only ride with the curb bit fully engaged they are being a bully not a rider. 

 

If they speak of lightness, of cooperation between rider and horse, realize the truth is not in the words but in the picture of what is happening right in front of you. 

 

The curb bit does not lie. You can tell in a moment, in a single glance, what is happening between rider and horse. 

 

This guideline is one that can be taught even to the beginner rider. A guideline that tells the truth always. 

I am not looking for a pleasant stroll out in the back forty.  This is a challenge.  This is pushing and prodding for more power, more energy, more strength, more everything.  I want more.  

Difficult for some to imagine, when they are worried about horses taking off or not stopping that they might get to the point where there isn't enough power, enough strength in the horse,  that you are asking for more and more and more and the horse goes this is all I have today.  You glory in what you have today but look forward to what might be built up and available tomorrow.

This is intense, driven, challenging, exciting, exhilarating.  And it is hard work.  Especially for the horses.  This is creating the ultimate athlete.  The ultimate connection between horse and rider.

The principles of Kjrsos are the right base for everyone no matter what they do with their horses.  The horse's body doesn't change just because we are asking him for something different.  What is healthy for the horse's back, doesn't depend on what it is doing.  His back, the spine, the muscles don't change.  He can become stronger, but the basic structure stays the same.  Healthy movement is healthy movement for jumping, trail riding, dressage, reining.  When you play with posture, insist on carriage, you can interfere with what is healthy for the horse.  Healthy movement that protects the horse is our first consideration  always.  It is on that, that we build everything else.

It is on that base that we continue on from, that we look to create more.  Always challenging the horse for more.  Looking for next level of potential.

But always happy with what this horse that we are  on right now, can give us.  Some horses will never go beyond a beautiful, rhythmic and balanced walk, trot and canter that we can delight in.  Other horses, provide us with an opportunity to go beyond that.  The problem for those with only one horse, is that the horse that they have may not give them what they want.  But this can not be about us.  It can't be about what we want, or any kind of timeline.  There is no sense of time, when it comes to working with horses.  It may take years to undo what has been done and years from now all that you might have is the basics beautifully executed.  And that is an amazing and wonderful ongoing journey.  Because that is what this horse needs.  The next horse might go, I am ready for more.  We can't plan ahead for where we will end up with the horse.  We have to ride the horse in front of us every day and be pleased with what we have.  Happy to have this time to share this time and space with this horse, the horse with us, right now.  We have to give him what he needs.  What is best for him.

But for those horses that are up for it, the work is hard.  It is demanding. It is challenging.  It is asking for their bodies to play as hard as they were when they were young foals.  Pushing hard, pushing their boundaries, looking for new access, different balance points, twisting and turning with the pure joy of living and the pure joy of just being able to move.  Because this is what it is, while it is hard work, it is not work, it is joy, it is delight, it is exhilarating, it is addicting in how wonderful it feels to experience. 

 

Restoring the freedom the grace, the flight, the power.
 
Kenning noun

A conventional poetic phrase used for on in addition to the usual name of a person or thing, especially in Icelandic and Anglo-Saxon verse.
 
Examples

The most admired kennings were derived from Norse myth and literature.
".. a kenning is a different name for a thing.  Instead of calling the sun, the sun,  you call it a day-star."
Christina Sunley,  The Tricking of Freya 2009
 
Origin

Kenning, an Old Norse (more properly, Old Icelandic) technical term in poetic composition, means "poetic periphrasis, descriptive component."  The term seems to have been first used by Snorri Sturlson (1179 – 1241), Iceland's most distinguished man of letters.  Students of Old English and Old Norse poetry are very familiar with kennings.  e.g. these four kennings for ship: in Beowulf, saegenga "sea-goer," ythlida "wave-crosser": in Icelandic poetry, branda elgr "elk of beaks" (I.e., a ship with its two ends projecting out like an elk's horns) or baru fakr "wave-horse ." Kenning in this sense entered English in the 19th century.
From Dictionary.com
 
Wave-Horse.
 
We can see the white horses power surging through the waves. And there can be no denying that a visual kenning that all of us hold in our hearts, is the thundering power of the herd running and twisting with flashing hooves and manes waving in the wind of their own creation.
 
So it shouldn't be too surprising that in a time when it was thought bad form to call something held dear and valuable by its true name should have been given the kenning that represents basically "the one who runs." Imagine holding the concept of something so dear.. that the horse was held that dear by our ancestors.
 
For that is what happened in the time of the proto Indo Europeans, who based the word Kjrsos/Krsos on the word ker... to run.
 
This is the kenning of the horse.... to run, to run swiftly and powerfully.
 
To run and all that entails.
 
Freedom...
 
Power....
 
Grace....
 
Flight....
 
And we have in one way or another taken all of those away from the horse. 
 
We contain him in ever yet smaller spaces, try to control out of fear of the very power that we so lust, with equipment and training that curtails him more and more.
 
We lock him up, prevent him from travelling..  Lock him up into smaller and smaller spaces... until we too frequently lock him up in a 10 by 10 room... a creature of flight contained.
 
Because at some level we want what he has... and somehow we hope that if we can capture him... we can capture what we feel, what we see, when we look at the horse.
 
We don't accept his full power... although we so admire it..  lust for it.  The merging of freedom and power to accept that into our own beings.  To do so with grace, to allow our spirit to soar unshackled, unburdened is the most precious gift we can give ourselves.
 
But we don't accept his full gorgeous natural power, because we are afraid of it.  Lust for it, but fear it. 

So we tie him down with bridles and training methods that have become more and more powerful especially over the last 50 years...  for containing the horse,  head down, long and low, round, massive obsessively tight nosebands, specialty halters, binding him down, working the horse behind the vertical and the list goes on and on. 
 
Never realizing that in many ways we are actually only creating even yet more danger for ourselves, by creating, traumatized creatures that hurt, and are only given the choice of giving up or, one day rebelling explosively.  Luckily for us, but sadly for them, most of them choose the first.  To give up, to surrender to the damage to the heart and soul, to the traumas of a healthy way of movement resulting in a body, that carries pain, damaged by this false way of going.  And perhaps the worse damage is not allowing him to be what he was born to be, to take that gift away from him.
 
While we need to stay safe, we at the same time need to restore the nature of Kjrsos.  To restore and welcome the power, giving freedom not only in space, but perhaps more importantly in communication, in allowing the horse a voice, and more than allowing the horse a voice, allowing him to speak to us, about things he has to say.
 
And we have a gift to give to the horse.  To bring back his power, to not only allow but to listen to his voice.  To give his spirit the right to do what it was meant to do.  It cannot do so, when shackled, beaten down by us.
 
And that is what we do, when we take away his freedom, when we use training methods and gadgets to control, to take away his power because we are afraid of losing control.
 
In freedom, in giving up control, we can invite the horse to not only have a voice, but to be open to what he has to communicate to us.  His purpose in life will be left unfulfilled at this time, if we do all that we can to suppress his power, his grace, his soul's flight. 
 
He has something to say.  It is up to us to hear it.
 
And perhaps one of those messages, is that together we can achieve so much more. Perhaps reflecting in some small way, how when we bring together such two diverse physical bodies that when allowed, together, we can become so much more than we can apart.  We get to taste a joining that bridges across our two limited physical selves, where we bridge a language barrier through touch, where thoughts are translated and expressed in another physical body other than our own.
 
A horse's soul cannot take flight, cannot be all that it was meant to be, if it lives subjected by us, as if he was no more than a slave.  Celebrate the soaring flight of the journey that awaits ahead of you, one that together you can reach where neither one of you could alone.  Reach for a grace of spirit, for the power that belongs to each one of us,  for the freedom from contentious judgement and striving, and be fully alive in this presence.  The presence of Kjrsos.