Jan 172020

By Patty Wilber

It might be apparent from the blogs that I kind of like horse training and horses.  Each horse is different and despite the fact that I have started a good number of colts (100? 150? I have not kept track) I like that it is not uncommon that I say to myself, “Well, I haven’t seen THAT before!” So much to learn!  So little time!

I also have really enjoyed having my own trainer/coach so that I can continue to get new ideas and techniques, because part of the fun for me is finding which keys to use to unlock the potential of each horse, as best I can.  I find getting in-person coaching with a particular horse under me really helpful and more fun than videos or reading.

BUT, right now, the cow guy I am working with is in Clovis (200 miles away) and so I can only go once a month at best, and thus I have “resorted” to books and video.  On dressage.  Not even western dressage. Gasp.

But, why dressage you may ask?  

1.Two of my friends have horses that have been diagnosed with mild cases of kissing spine.  One found an article about exercises that can help alleviate the problem and those exercises are dressage based. 

Kissing spine.

Radiograph of the mid thoracic spine showing evidence of kissing spines. (picture source linked above.)

Normal spine.

 2. When I started Lucy last year, I didn’t work on developing very much flexibility or feel with her for reasons we don’t need to go into here, but suffice it to say that I regret it.  I am working to correct that and I felt like I was spending too much time arguing with her and not making the kind of progress I wanted.  The kissing spine article kind of sparked an interest in dressage exercises and a FB friend of mine posted a number of interesting dressage-based exercises, which I happened to see.

3.  I went to Clovis to work with Clay Hight at Hight Performance Horses (for cow stuff) and he does a lot of circles that are sort of shoulder-fore/in (a dressage exercise) based and a lot of haunches in type moves that also reminded me of dressage.  He does not teach his horses to go sideways in a counter arc like I have, but likes them to be straight to arced in the direction of travel and that made me think of dressage “side-passing” as opposed to the dressage “leg-yielding” which was more similar to what I was doing.

Dressage stuff just kept popping to the forefront!

So, I got some handouts (shoulder fore and shoulder in).

I watched a video series by Marijke de Jong.

And I bought a book!  Katrin Silva is horse trainer and a facebook friend based in Santa Fe and she just published Dressage for the Rest of Us.  

Well, right on topic, for me apparently!

I really enjoyed Katrin’s book.  Her philosophy resonated with me.  Her stories throughout the book were engaging, and in chapter 10, especially, she talked about various dressage exercises that are foundational to her training program. That was my favorite chapter. You can buy this book here!

And so, based on all that insight and info, Lucy and I have been working mainly on shoulder fore (we have not progressed to shoulder in) with a big focus on the inside hind riding toward the outside front leg (beginning stages) and long and low exercises.  While I have always liked bending and lateral work, this more focussed set of exercises has helped her become softer in her poll and neck and we are moving in the training direction I want to go more rapidly and with less stress.  Her lovely trot is feeling even more lovely and her ability to softly go faster and slower as well as maintain a nice balance is improving.  Fun stuff!

I also tried it with Penny, and perhaps because she is a “finished” horse, she was really willing to put her body where I asked and she seemed to really like the long and low.  I thought that was strange because she never particularly liked going low like a western pleasure horse.  This long and low is, well, long in addition to low and I can feel her moving with more power and a longer stride, from behind.

H and I worked some and I am impressed with his natural suppleness, but then I left him with Clay two weeks ago to get more face time on cows since I have no cow access right now around here. I hate having him gone, but to my mind, he has the makings of a super cow horse, so he ought to have the chance to get a good start on the stuff! And I can pop over to see him every couple of weeks reasonably easily.  

Next weekend, if the weather permits, we are off to Clovis! I will work Lucy on cows, and will tote along one of my new (6 rides in) colt starts for a field trip, not for cow work. She is a tall, laid-back, pleasure-bred horse. H will come back the end of March and a few people I know should have cows here I can use, by then.  

Happy Friday!



  8 Responses to “Dressage?”

  1. Inside hind to outside front is an amazing stretching exercise but not the best target criteria for shoulder-in. The whole strength of shoulder-in is the horse’s understanding of bringing up the outside leg straight in relation to the track, where it fully supports the horse from behind and brings the horse solidly into the outside rein. Too much inside-to-outside can twist the pelvis, especially if one isn’t super careful with the tracks, and can create a problematic emphasis on the inside rein (equals crooked horse). Seriously good stretching exercise, but not the muscle to build, if that makes sense.

    She says, completely unasked for.

    • I think we might be in OK territory here, despite my perhaps less than accurate articulation. No twisting that I can discern! 🙂

  2. Back in the ’70s, I and my two oldest were for a time(I the longest!) students of a gentleman named Jack Bates, who was a renowned Western show judge and trainer of riders. He always urged us to read, not every article in the current ‘horse’ magazines, but instead, just two Dressage masters…an Engishman named Henry Wynmalen, and the legendary Col. Alois Podjasky(not sure of spelling on either, haven’t checked lately!), who was Master of the Spanish Riding School during WWll. Unheard of by and with other ‘western event’ trainers back then! So…I’d say you are on a good path, that will advance. your goals…Also….there is a top Dressage person right here in Edgewood….do you know of her?

    With all respect and admiration,
    Margo Cox-Townsend

    • Hi Margo, and people down below. I read several Podhasky (sp?) books in highschool–pretty sure I was in HS) and I remember his story about the horse Nero? that was an evil SOB, except he really was not–he has some back pain and weakness, if I recall, and so AP spend a good long time helping the horse get strong and correct and of course then the horse was brilliant.

      Yes, I do know of the person you mention and I am going to go to the author in the blog, first, but I might also try the Edgewood person. Given all I want to do with cows, I hope I can really improve my core training exercises quickly. hahaha. Anyway, I am looking forward to getting some refinement and corrections on what I doing–and then shooting down to Clovis and applying it to cows.

  3. I was converted to dressage–not as my primary riding activity, but as the foundation for a horse’s healthy and safe movement under a rider’s weight by three things primarily: The Disney movie about the Spanish Riding School and watching the horses move, Alois Podhajsky’s first book, _The Complete Training of Horse and Rider, and my friend Kathleen’s work (based on classical dressage via Podhajsky) with an unpromising horse she’d bred, a horse that was half warmblood, one quarter mustang, and one quarter mystery. The dam was short and stubby and extremely athletic; the sire was a beautiful Trakhener, tall and “full” as those warmbloods are, and extremely athletic.

    Her horse was 16.2 when grown, full-bodied with warmblood sized hooves…but with knees and hocks sized small for his height and body weight (and he wasn’t at all fat.) Longish in the back, gorgeous classical front, hindquarter not a full as hindquarter as his forequarter…a mix of body types that should have made him a gangly, top heavy, awkward beast (and he was at ages four and five.) He also had no sense of rhythm, as most horses are born with. Kathleen used only classical dressage to train him, and brought him up slowly, level by level. Turned out he couldn’t jump, and though he was pretty fast galloping, hard turns and stops made him sore. So she just kept him in dressage, one stage at a time. He never had brilliant gaits…but he learned to manage his own body and he was training Grand Prix and showing Prix St. George when she died. I inherited him at 13, and a year later he poisoned himself with a lantana bush and nearly died of the liver damage. But even when sick, and having to be forced up every two hours, once up he walked carefully, straight and level. To the day of his death, at 26, he moved better than he “should” have and his back stayed “up”, his abs relatively firm, even after I quit riding him. He knew how to collect himself, protect himself…it was heartbreaking, that last day, but still…dressage saved him from years of misery and made Kathleen very happy. I’ll email you a picture of him (with me on him, alas, not her.)

    Long and low in dressage is not at all the same as “low” in western pleasure. Western pleasure allows the horse to go along with their head on the ground and their backs almost hollow…the point of long and low is to bring the back up, begin strengthening the underline, get the back supple all the way to the muscle attachments to the withers. I didn’t really understand it when I was trying it with my first horse, Ky–Kathleen got me to understand it (and this is, um, 25 years ago or so). The exact head position doesn’t matter; it’s what the back end is doing, what the back is doing, that matters, and for most horses the head will be low, but not as low as a western pleasure horse. It is the weirdest feeling at first for a formerly western-riding person, when a horse really does “chew the reins out of your hand”, reach down and forward on its own. Kallie, the mare I lost last year to founder, had begun accepting the invitation and go long and low, but then…her founder problem was just too critical and we had to put her down.

    You might enjoy taking a look at a young British trainer I’m now following on You Tube. She’s an eventer, training small horses/ponies for junior riders, most of them Welsh or Connemara ponies or crosses. You’ll find people who think a stubby-necked high-headed pony can’t learn to go long and low, but she’s doing it. She’s got her own channel, Elphick Event Ponies. I’d suggest the Vlogmas #10 video, and you can move on past the early stuff to 8.28. Meg’s a sponsored rider, and doing social media as part of her contract with her sponsors so entertaining a lot of viewers is important to her.

    • I am looking forward to seeing the picture. In the long and low video and photos I have seen the head is lower than WP, but still different and the feel was a lot different on Penny. Lucy still has a ways to go on this front.

  4. Horses like long and low dressage style because it allows and teaches them to stretch, strengthen, and lift their topline, and strengthen their abdominal muscles. In short- use their bodies as they are designed to do. Western long and low is false – the “low” is just “head down” with no engagement of the rest of the topline. The back ends up hollow, the abs unengaged. Physically this has to be uncomfortable. Try doing any kind of physical work with your own core engaged then unengaged. You will feel the difference

    • I definitely felt the difference in my finished horse that had never liked the western pleasure training I did with her. She always preferred HUS, trail (the class) and being out in the back country. She got her WP ROM in open and youth but it was never her thing. I tried the long and low and more inside leg to encourage that drive from behind and low and behold, her stride improved, um instantly, and when I asked her to drop her head, down it went and she kept her drive. AND she LIKED it. That was cool.

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