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  1. #1
    yeahyouknowitsanalter Guest

    Default Training question: understanding contact

    I'm posting as an alter because I love the barn I'm at, and I respect where my BO has gotten with her riding, but I don't understand all her philosophies and techniques. I'm hearing different things from BO than, say, Jane Savoie, but I've never seen Jane train or ride before, so I'm not sure I'm interpreting her training methods exactly as she means them either. I'm from a different discipline and am really loving dressage. My BO has a tendency to be a lot more forceful with the contact and reins than I'm seeing from other dressage riders even, and I'm not sure what all the neck wagging is accomplishing. Is this a legitimate training tool (I'm thinking not really), and if not, how can I be more firm and definite about establishing contact without throwing away the reins? I know this is a topic that people take years and years to learn, and this woman is an accomplished rider whose horses go better than mine, so I'm hesitant to throw out her methods as ineffective when I'm obviously not doing anywhere near as well myself. I don't have access to a lot of different instruction (or really much of any other instruction at the moment), so I don't have a lot to compare this to. There's a lot of pulling the horse to the inside and letting her go, and a lot of flexing various directions. I was always taught to do a long, slow warmup and let the horse come to me rather than get on and immediately ask for collection, but I think I'm too soft on them sometimes. Any advice?



  2. #2
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    There is no way to tell if your trainer is good or not from what you describe or if you are right or wrong with your own idea of what training should be.

    I would say that it depends!

    Some horses need the long, low, quiet warm-up.
    Some need the forward, collected, active warm up.
    It depend on the training program of each and what the horse needs and what it is used to. (you don't start a 20yrs old stiff QH level 1 horse who's being ridden 2xweek like a 8yrs old schooling pSG TBx who's in a 6xweek program.)

    But to each their own, you are entitle of your idea of what you like, want and expect from your training sessions. If the 'style' of your trainer don't suits your needs, than go check elsewhere.

    And it is not because your philosophy is different than this coach that one of you is more right or wrong than the other.



  3. #3
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    It's impossible to say without watching you... but "neck wagging" and "pulling to the inside then letting go" are red flags for me. If she's having you saw back and forth with the reins (or "shuttle" the bit), I'd run for the hills.

    Frequently dressage riders ride (initially) with a heavier contact than say a hunter rider might be used to. The goal is to get the horse light, but it only comes through correct contact, and often that contact can be heavy at the beginning. But it should NEVER be achieved by pulling. Just like in hunters, you still ride back to front. You ride the horse up into the bridle. Your hands should pretty much be stationary -- not "giving" too much and throwing the contact away -- but never pulling backwards.

    For a horse who is stiff in his jaw, a tiny amount of "tickling" with the inside hand may help -- but really the solution is to ride the horse's back up. When the back comes up, the head correspondingly drops onto the contact.



  4. #4
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    Apr. 22, 2011
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    Quote Originally Posted by AlterBy View Post

    Some horses need the long, low, quiet warm-up.
    Some need the forward, collected, active warm up.
    This. You need to find out what works for your horse. Also, some horses like heavier hands and others prefer light hands.



  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by yeahyouknowitsanalter View Post
    There's a lot of pulling the horse to the inside and letting her go, and a lot of flexing various directions. I was always taught to do a long, slow warmup and let the horse come to me rather than get on and immediately ask for collection, but I think I'm too soft on them sometimes. Any advice?
    Depends a lot on the horse's level of schooling etc, but the description above sounds like it might just be simple counterflexions - a perfectly valid warmup method. It's all about context so nearly impossible to judge from your description. You might try asking her what the purpose is of those excercises - that would take the guesswork out of the whole thing and allow you to make an informed decision.



  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by rileyt View Post
    It's impossible to say without watching you... but "neck wagging" and "pulling to the inside then letting go" are red flags for me. If she's having you saw back and forth with the reins (or "shuttle" the bit), I'd run for the hills.

    Frequently dressage riders ride (initially) with a heavier contact than say a hunter rider might be used to. The goal is to get the horse light, but it only comes through correct contact, and often that contact can be heavy at the beginning. But it should NEVER be achieved by pulling. Just like in hunters, you still ride back to front. You ride the horse up into the bridle. Your hands should pretty much be stationary -- not "giving" too much and throwing the contact away -- but never pulling backwards.

    For a horse who is stiff in his jaw, a tiny amount of "tickling" with the inside hand may help -- but really the solution is to ride the horse's back up. When the back comes up, the head correspondingly drops onto the contact.
    This seems to touch the issue here well.

    Some trainers are smooth, have steady seats, educated legs and hands of silk to complement that.
    You never see them doing anything much, no matter if the horse is rough or heavy or very resistant.

    Other trainers are very "loud", they have to pull the horse around and keep demanding this and that to get thru the resistances and it doesn't look that pretty and is rough at times.

    You can see that at warm ups, just different ways of riding.
    One important difference is, does the horse keep going forward, loose and soft during what is happening?
    If not, if the trainer seems to be fighting the horse thru that, then the training is not quite correct to get that horse past whatever the trainer is looking for, it is just a fight without teaching moments.

    I agree, ask when you see your trainer doing that and has quit for a minute exactly what was she doing and what for, that will educate your eye to what the trainer is doing and either answer your questions well or make you decide that trainer may not be for you, if you still are not sure that is a good way to train.



  7. #7
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    Jul. 2, 2009
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    I think trust your instinct on this one. I had a similar epiphany about my local trainer...i decided to shell out $400 for Jane's Happy Horse Series and couldn't believe all the things I learned that trainers never even MENTIONED...things that were SUPER important. My riding has improved dramatically and if I do start working with a trainer for more advanced stuff in the future...they will be carefully selected. Jane is amazing...and if your trainer's riding style doesn't mesh with hers...i'd run



  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lost_at_C View Post
    Depends a lot on the horse's level of schooling etc, but the description above sounds like it might just be simple counterflexions - a perfectly valid warmup method.
    I just started really focusing on dressage less than a year ago, and it was difficult for ME to accept how heavy I needed to be with the horse I was riding in order to "get him there" so that I could be soft and elastic. My trainer has made it very clear to me that there is a huge difference between being heavy and resistant and being harsh or pulling. And as my body and I have come to understand how all this works, it takes much less time and work to get this horse round and on the aids. Once that happens, we ride along with an amazingly soft, supple contact.

    Another thing this particular horse does is that he fails to obey the right rein (he just braces against it and hollows his left side), so my trainer sometimes has me flex his head to the right quite a bit. It feels like a lot to me, but I've seen videos of my lessons and it really isn't excessive. Once he gives to that flexion,(usually takes once or twice around a 20m circle) I can slowly bring that hand forward and he fills up my left rein and comes on the aids beautifully. Then once again we are riding in that soft, elastic contact that is what we're working for.

    I don't know enough to say if your trainer is being too harsh or not... but I wanted to offer my experiences as someone relatively new to dressage.
    "Winter's a good time to stay in and cuddle,
    but put me in summer and I'll be a... happy snowman!!!"

    Trolls be trollin'! -DH



  9. #9
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    I'll just add my 2 worthless cents- since switching to dressage over a decade ago, I have almost never met two dressage trainers that agree on anything(lol)- if one trainer says one method is correct, another one will almost always disagree(lol).
    Go with your gut- YOU know your horse, and how you want to ride, if this method seems incorrect, or harsh, etc... remember there really are other trainers out there, and one of them will work for both you and your horse-
    It's your money, your time, your horse !



  10. #10
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    I would say it depends on the horse and the rider.
    I just began taking dressage lessons, so granted, I know nothing, but I'm a sensible person and a competant rider, so take the 2 cents for what they're worth.

    My horse is very light mouthed and tends to hide behind the vertical. I am told I have light "sympathetic" hands. I was expecting all kinds of foreign adjustments from my new coach as I learned the dressage version of contact and the concept of seeking the bit, but it has been the opposite. She has kept my contact very very very light and has been coaching on position, subtle technique and timing, not "in your face" contact and massive amounts of leg I was anticipating.

    Yes, my horse has come out of hiding BTV, is accepting steady (light) contact, and we are starting to work on straightness.

    Dressage is pretty fascinating. I should have started years ago.



  11. #11
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    I have found a direct correlation between the accomplishments/prestige of a clinician and the degree of lightness and "do less" they expect from me.

    The people with lower accomplishments have lower expectations and don't mind a little more obvious ride; the better clinicians are on that like WHITE ON RICE and catch the slightest squeeze of the fist (I don't even *dare* move my arm, haha!).

    So I am disinclined to believe a trainer who tells me to be heavy first or do lots of heckmeck so that "eventually" my horse can be light.

    My horses go much better when I am riding under a trainer who tells me to be light light light and stop noticing everything and it is ok if the horse isn't perfect, with a constant emphasis on softness, and all so that the horses will offer lightness TODAY and be playful in their work.



  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by yeahyouknowitsanalter View Post
    My BO has a tendency to be a lot more forceful with the contact and reins than I'm seeing from other dressage riders even, and I'm not sure what all the neck wagging is accomplishing.
    If the trainer bends the horse one way, straightens, and bends the other while maintaining the impulsion (and that's the crux of it, the impulsion), I would not be overly concerned. However, you use the words "neck wagging" and "forceful." Words that to me are the antithesis of correct dressage work.

    This leads me to think that the trainer does not understand about riding a horse forward from the hind end into the bridle. She is using her hands to muscle the horse into an outline. This is unpleasant for both horse and rider, will prevent the rider from learning correct basics which will inhibit her ability to become a really *good* rider, and teaches the horse to lean on the reins rather than carrying himself. The whole point of dressage is to create a horse that is a pleasure to ride because he carries himself and responds to light aids.

    I don't agree that some horses like a heavy contact. These are horses that have learned to lean through incorrect training/riding. Although some horses may prefer a firmer contact than others, heaviness is something else altogether and never desirable.

    Good post from meup. I also only want to work with people who are committed to correct basics and teaching the horse to be soft to the aids.
    Charter member of the I-Refuse-to-Relinquish-My-Whip Clique



  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by meupatdoes View Post
    I have found a direct correlation between the accomplishments/prestige of a clinician and the degree of lightness and "do less" they expect from me.

    The people with lower accomplishments have lower expectations and don't mind a little more obvious ride; the better clinicians are on that like WHITE ON RICE and catch the slightest squeeze of the fist (I don't even *dare* move my arm, haha!).

    So I am disinclined to believe a trainer who tells me to be heavy first or do lots of heckmeck so that "eventually" my horse can be light.

    My horses go much better when I am riding under a trainer who tells me to be light light light and stop noticing everything and it is ok if the horse isn't perfect, with a constant emphasis on softness, and all so that the horses will offer lightness TODAY and be playful in their work.
    That is what I was trying to say, thank you.



  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by rileyt View Post
    It's impossible to say without watching you... but "neck wagging" and "pulling to the inside then letting go" are red flags for me. If she's having you saw back and forth with the reins (or "shuttle" the bit), I'd run for the hills.

    Frequently dressage riders ride (initially) with a heavier contact than say a hunter rider might be used to. The goal is to get the horse light, but it only comes through correct contact, and often that contact can be heavy at the beginning. But it should NEVER be achieved by pulling. Just like in hunters, you still ride back to front. You ride the horse up into the bridle. Your hands should pretty much be stationary -- not "giving" too much and throwing the contact away -- but never pulling backwards.

    Agree with rileyt.

    I will temporarily open up one of my articles on The Quality of the Contact. I hope it helps!




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  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lost_at_C View Post
    Depends a lot on the horse's level of schooling etc, but the description above sounds like it might just be simple counterflexions - a perfectly valid warmup method. It's all about context so nearly impossible to judge from your description. You might try asking her what the purpose is of those excercises - that would take the guesswork out of the whole thing and allow you to make an informed decision.
    This exactly. Sometimes that "wagging" is trying to get the horse to give in their neck, jaw, etc... especially if they're locked down. Riding in nice 20 meters circles will NOT unlock the jaw/neck. So ALWAYS ask (and do what she's telling you to do) - why am I doing this? What are we hoping to accomplish? Should I ALWAYS do this or are current circumstances dictating this course of action?

    Even BNTs ask for bending like this when the horse "locks down". There is a thread on COTH somewhere where someone asked the same sort of thing and immediately people stated "you should NEVER do that" - which is not true. A red flag to me is the word "never", unless it's used in a sentence like you should never beat your horse to death - sometimes there are circumstances where you need to act differently than the "norm" - maybe the norm isn't working, it's been tried and the horse isn't responding, etc... hence why you need to ask the more experienced trainer/instructor the "why". Once you ask the "why" you can decide if they have no idea, are blowing smoke at you, or best yet - that you can now "feel" the reason they're telling you to do "X" so NEXT TIME you ride and feel it you will know what to do.

    Thats riding, not just being a passenger - where you can feel an issue (starting/occurring) and resolve it ASAP so it doesn't become a habit.
    Sandy in Fla.



  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Valentina_32926 View Post
    This exactly. Sometimes that "wagging" is trying to get the horse to give in their neck, jaw, etc... especially if they're locked down. Riding in nice 20 meters circles will NOT unlock the jaw/neck. So ALWAYS ask (and do what she's telling you to do) - why am I doing this? What are we hoping to accomplish? Should I ALWAYS do this or are current circumstances dictating this course of action?

    Even BNTs ask for bending like this when the horse "locks down". There is a thread on COTH somewhere where someone asked the same sort of thing and immediately people stated "you should NEVER do that" - which is not true. A red flag to me is the word "never", unless it's used in a sentence like you should never beat your horse to death - sometimes there are circumstances where you need to act differently than the "norm" - maybe the norm isn't working, it's been tried and the horse isn't responding, etc... hence why you need to ask the more experienced trainer/instructor the "why". Once you ask the "why" you can decide if they have no idea, are blowing smoke at you, or best yet - that you can now "feel" the reason they're telling you to do "X" so NEXT TIME you ride and feel it you will know what to do.

    Thats riding, not just being a passenger - where you can feel an issue (starting/occurring) and resolve it ASAP so it doesn't become a habit.
    Very good post! If something doesn't make sense then the rider should always ask "why." Occasionally we must do things outside of the "beautiful dressage box" in order to work through a specific problem. As long as the issue is rectified and the horse isn't being mistreated then these actions, used temporarily, are fine.

    However, if your trainer can't fully explain "why," and you aren't seeing improvements, then that is a problem.



  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Valentina_32926 View Post
    Sometimes that "wagging" is trying to get the horse to give in their neck, jaw, etc... especially if they're locked down.

    Wagging is never correct. It's just a more politically correct way to ride from front to back.

    If a horse feels locked in the jaw or neck, it is ALWAYS the state of the back and/or hind legs that is causing the horse to feel that way to the rider.

    Don't correct the symptom, correct the root of the problem. Do exercises to relax the back (ie real bending - not neck wagging), and exercises that engage the hind legs, and the neck will become soft, and the jaw will feel supple.






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  18. #18
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    Agree 100% with lstevenson...wagging is actually NEVER correct.



  19. #19
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    Wagging is just wrong. That's all there is to it.

    However, taking and releasing is fine. Take for instance my TB. Since he's green, I can't ride him entirely off the outside rein yet (he's still learning to fill it) so I quietly give an release on the inside. Small half halts, with plenty of give. There's nothing wrong with that. Wagging back and forth on the reins ("seesawing") is wrong. I can't think of a single GOOD reason to do that.

    Is it possible what you're describing as "wagging" could be changing the bend frequently? It might look weird but changing bend a lot can really help some horses if done correctly.

    Also, next time you see her doing this, ASK HER! If it turns out she's doing something perfectly valid and correct, then you'll have learned. If it turns out she's doing something incorrect and abusive, then you'll know to get the heck out of there. Best of luck to you
    I've heard there's more to life than an FEI tent and hotel rooms, so I'm trying it.



  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by meupatdoes View Post
    I have found a direct correlation between the accomplishments/prestige of a clinician and the degree of lightness and "do less" they expect from me.

    The people with lower accomplishments have lower expectations and don't mind a little more obvious ride; the better clinicians are on that like WHITE ON RICE and catch the slightest squeeze of the fist (I don't even *dare* move my arm, haha!).

    So I am disinclined to believe a trainer who tells me to be heavy first or do lots of heckmeck so that "eventually" my horse can be light.

    My horses go much better when I am riding under a trainer who tells me to be light light light and stop noticing everything and it is ok if the horse isn't perfect, with a constant emphasis on softness, and all so that the horses will offer lightness TODAY and be playful in their work.
    Ditto this!

    But there is also the notion that being "light" means you cannot be "assertive." Which IMO is not good either. So it's all a very fine line....
    We couldn't all be cowboys, so some of us are clowns.



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