Okay... So... I'm a little frustrated.
I come from saddle seat. There are good instructors and trainers and bad instructors and trainers and all manner of instructors and trainers in between. But.... for the most part, they teach largely the same things, some more thoroughly and in far more more detail than others, or with some small nuances changed. But... they all follow a fairly similar progression
NOT the case in the dressage world, I'm finding.
Right now I'm stewing in conflicting information and have no way to sort it out.
I am hearing different priorities from all different people.
1) Farm's instructor that I don't really like that well but readily have access to....
2) My friend who is a student of #1 and so of course has the same priorities on a horse.
1 and 2 are saying BEND BEND BEND BEND BEND. Which doesn't feel like the right thing to do with Andy right now- he's only reaching the point right now where he's reliably relaxing, stretching into his bridle and using his whole body a bit better as he moves. He doesn't feel strong enough in the body just yet to "bend at the waist"- the way they want and I don't want to overface him. When I put my leg on him to ask for bend, he notices the aid and acts like he wants to... but I don't think he has the physical ability to control his muscles like that just yet.
3) Clinician that I admire. I listened to her teaching similar level horses and riders, and she doesn't ask for nearly so much bend- just focuses on gaining control over the individual parts of the horse. She prioritizes straightness and promptness of the aids.
4) Rider I admire who is a disciple of #3. She's said she will help me with my guy a little. Not sure what I will hear from her but I know she has a pretty low opinion of #1...
5) Is a friend of mine who has a saddlebred who is showing first level. Has studied under a trainer who has had multiple grand prix horses and has an excellent reputation (even I've heard of her...). She says that #1 is a blithering idiot (basically) to be shooting for bend with Andy where we are now.... I should be prioritizing Calm, Straight, and Forward and the bend will follow naturally. I also have an invite to come out and ride her horse a couple times to get a feel for what I should be looking for...
I have a feeling that I should be following my gut and more going with 3/4/5 because the "end product" is more in line with what I would like to ride but when 1/2 is what you hear on a daily basis it's hard to tune that out (though I think that the end product there is a little bit stifled, flat, and dull even if all the buttons work pretty well.) my head is spinning with conflicting information and I am frustrated because I'm in a foreign discipline with no real way to discern the gold from the chaff....
You are good to be thinking through what is best for your horse. Can you make arrangements to ride with 3, 4, 5 in some manner or another? Hauling to lessons, or can they come to you: meaning- CAN you ride with them/one of them/some of them, routinely? I ask b/c if you can, it makes it easier on you in dealing with 1 & 2, as you can just listen then say "#I'm working with #3 on some other things right now, thanks" and just wear that line out until they learn that you are not listening.
It's the nature of the beast, in a way, conflicting opinions. When I go to shows and see lots of horses together, I watch all the horses in total: if a trainer has a full string of inverted or hollow or BTV horses that just don't add up to 'good' in terms of harmony, forward, obedient, etc...then they aren't the trainer for me. If they only have one 'bad' horse out of the five they have at the show, and I can see they are trying to show the horse the light LOL and help him find the right way, then that horse is a one-off whose story is not 'the' story....and he's a horse that is learning a new story. Bookmark that trainer, you know?
If you seek 'bend' the wrong way, you screw up forward. I think that's the issue 3-5 are worried about...
I'd recommend getting some books on classical dressage training, and the training scales. It's unclear without seeing your horse who's really right, but if you admire to product of 3/4/5 and not 1/2, then you have your answer. Having moved a lot, I found reading up on things and know some of the core truths helped me determine who to trust. My cardinal rule for all trainers- LEG to HAND, not vice versa. If the trainer is too handsy, they will NOT be my trainer. But based on your description, I can't say that 1/2 are totally wrong, because a lot of classical trainers and literature discuss bending to get straight. Circles, shoulder-in, haunches-in, etc. A good program for installing stuff you need for body control - assuming horse knows forward - do leg yields along the wall - nose to the wall, body at 35 degree or so angle. This helps the horse understand the lateral aids, and you have the wall to prevent too much forward, so you don't get too in the face. Then do some shoulder fore, then progress to shoulder-in, haunches-in, etc. You can just work on getting a few steps at a time, so you aren't expecting the horse to carry anything they aren't physically ready for. And distinguish between forward, bending, and lateral aids in the beginning. Exaggerate for the green bean. Leg at the girth for forward or bending around (inside of the circle), leg back for lateral, and anywhere in between to make a distinction between what you are asking. As they start to understand, the degree of difference between the leg positions will become more subtle. But I have always heard you use lateral and circling to become straight - straight is really hard, so while forward is early on, true straightness is farther down the training scale. Anyway, good luck, but you know who you believe in more, and if you need more validation, beef up your library with books and magazines, or read past articles online.
It's nearly impossible to recommend what you should be doing with your horse via the internet, though bending is one of those things that is an exceptionally valuable tool to supple your horse. Also keep in mind that "straightness" does not mean "only on a straight line." You should still have straightness on a circle while the horse is, yes, bending.
I think this is a great example of when it is invaluable to educate yourself. There are different "correct" ways to reach the same goal, some work better for certain horses than others. I would never, ever, ever listen to one trainer like they're spouting gospel. No one gets it right ALL the time. It's up to you to decide what is best for you and your horse. Always keep the training scale in mind. You should read, watch, attend clinics, ask questions, etc. at every opportunity. Soon you'll start to learn how to recognize what works for you, what doesn't, and how to take away the valuable parts of a so-so lesson and brush off the rest.
i totally and 10000% can relate..... if i weren't a generally optimistic person i would be bitter and angry over the time i have wasted with bad information/ bad trainers etc.
what i would suggest to you is to start to read the classical works in dressage.... so you understand the basics and foundation and will hopefully be able to recognize when you hear correct instruction and when not.
the progression of a horse is:
rhythm/regularity/relaxation (and forward)
then add in bend via turn on the forehands, leg yields which helps the horse bend in the body and reach for the bit since lateral flexion leads to longitudinal flexion (aka the inside hind needs to step over to get the horse to reach to the bit properly.
add in bended lines etc.
no need to bend the neck - unless horse gets stuck in a TOF then using an opening rein to get it unstuck is fine.
anyway, there IS a tried and true manner of progressing horses which is adhered to by many folks.... unfortunately those are few and far between here in the good ole USA.
Personally, from experience with my young mare of whom I started myself, we do not 'focus' on bend. In my opinion you cannot ask a horse to bend in the body PROPERLY until he/she has found straightness through their body.
Most horses are built like bananas and naturally arc their bodies to one direction. (You will notice when they graze, they prop one front leg up slightly and arc the body around that leg).
You will need to take that naturally occuring bend and teach him to straighten and hold straight. This takes a lot of strength. Just think if someone told you you were not allowed to write with your 'writing' hand and had to use the other hand.
In a sense you have to make them ambidextrous and it is hard work and utilizes mucles you didnt know you had.
Once he/she has found straightness and can hold it for you, given you may have to use some LIGHT aids to keep it, you can then start to teach bend.
Then, like another said do serpentines and shallow serpentines, set out cones for yourself as a visual aid of where you want to be, use spiral circles etc.
And do make sure you have an independant seat and engage your core to hold yourself in the centre of the saddle so you do not 'throw' him into bed but rather he curves his barrel around your leg.
Everyone has opinions, it is hard to pick which one to listen to. My experience has taught me to try each one that makes sense to you and use the one that you and your horse both progress best with.
i dont think that it is that linear. it is an organic thing and "real" straightness does not happen til way later, altho the very basics of it are important now - ie give on the heavier rein, etc.
but to get a horse to seek the bit they MUST learn to cross their inside hind over aka TOF, LY etc. this is the most basic idea of all - horse leg at girth means go, horse leg behind girth means step over.
those two things can be combined to create bend.
again, i suggest some time spent reading the classical theory.
a short selection might include:
Podhasjky: Basic training of horse and rider
Steinbrect: Gymnasium of the Horse
If you have the cash then try to get Das Dressuferd by Boldt. it comes in a german/english version now.
Michael Putz - Riding with Understanding and Feeling
I will say this - and it is something I have found in my travels through the dressage world.
Some trainers are great for people just starting, some trainers are great for people who know a fair bit, some trainers are great for young horses and some trainers are not.
some trainers will teach what they are learning whether it is the right thing for the horse at that time or not and some trainers will train just the horse or just the rider.
It depends on what you need and what feels like it is working at the time, place and position you are in.
Go with your gut - no question there - you need to do what works for both you and your horse. If I had a trainer that just asking for the same thing all the time either you are not getting it or it is not working - either way you would need a different perspective. If that different perspective feels better than you have the answer.
Bend is important and should not be ignored. But how you go about it is critical. First and foremost, the horse has to have energy before you ask him to bend. He must move forward from the leg easily and with impulsion. Then you start asking for bend. But, you ask in degrees--a small amount of bending for just a few steps and always rewarding him for the smallest effort. Build on it from there.
As far as reading books, that's helpful to a point, but there is absolutely no substitute for hands-on experience as well as watching top trainers and auditing lessons and clinics. You can read all of the best training manuals in the world, but they can't teach you feel, or train your eye, or educate you in dealing with various conformation and personality types.
It's a no brainer IMO that you can scratch 1 and 2 off of your list. 3 would be my first choice if you can afford her and if she is accessible. You did not say what level #4 and 5 have trained horses to--not the level they have competed at but actually brought horses to. There are too many "trainers" out there who may have competed at fourth level on a trained horse but never schooled a horse beyond second. Obviously, they will be limited in how much they can help you. OTOH you don't need to be breaking your piggy bank on an Olympian at this stage of the game.
1 and 2 are asking for correct bend, as far as I know- it's from the horse's core, moving the ribs off of the leg, not a caving neck. I'm just not sure that the horse is physically able to give me what they I need to be insisting on having right now.
He's a teenaged long time saddle seat horse, switching to dressage to attempt to address some of the physical defecits he came back from a period of time off with. He is just getting fit, learning to use his body in a different way, and he's in the process of learning a whole new way of relating to the world- relaxing down into his bridle instead of raising up, and understanding that sometimes a leg aid is just leg aid, it's not meant to "revv his engine". He's starting to comprehend just staying in a neutral spot between my aids instead of bulging and falling inward/outward and working more from my seat and less from my hands.
He's a horse with a great deal of "try" and right now he's giving me a lot of effort, but he also has a massive "FU" button if he's being overfaced so I want to avoid that at all costs. He will happily move his body away from my leg but I don't think he's strong enough in his core yet for much more. He has a hard time staying forward and not curling into himself when I do ask him for bend. I can see that he's freeing up his topline a great deal more on the days that I longline, and the muscle has improved, but it's still very weak. The muscle in his hind end is also filling out a bunch, but still not very strong either. I just don't think that he is ready to keep up with 1 and 2's expectations. Heck, it wasn't until six or so rides ago that he was able to give me a trot that wasn't broken in two and was clean enough to post. He might be able to introduce a step or two of it, but definitely not able to do it for a continuous, extended period of time.
I think for now I'm going to have to go "thanks but no thanks" to 1 and 2 The more I think about it, the more it just doesn't feel like what the horse needs. This is going to be a challenge because 2 is my best friend and the person I ride with most days of the week and she is trying her best to be helpful.
3 would be someone I would LOVE to ride with I think, but she's only up every couple of months for clinics. I am REALLY hoping to get into the one in June, but all the spots might be filled already. If I don't go to ride, I will definitely continue auditing.
4 and 5 are amateur riders who are willing to help me out as I'm starting this endeavor, not someone who would really be a coach/instructor. 4 is beginning to school second level (has brought her horse along from the ground up and has done really a beautiful job with her) but has given me suggestions before working other horses that made a good change for me. 5 has been up to third level with a few horses over the years.
I have the unfortunate problem of not owning my own trailer, so hauling out to lessons isn't much an option. But I don't know who in my area (Flint, MI area) who is 1) good and 2) makes farm calls.
Hrm... well, for now, I'm going to keep doing like I'm doin. And going to go spend some more money on amazon for some reading material... ;-)
It sounds like your gut is telling you the same things as your brain about 1 and 2. Correct isn't just doing the things which are technically correct, but with feel and timing for what is right for an individual horse.
I wouldn't train with a trainer who has a tendency to have submissive automatons as it sounds your first option turns out. I want my horse to keep his light which makes him special even as he learns and improves. Nothing brings me more joy than the feeling radiating from my horse as he revels in the bliss of balanced, forward, uphill movement. I don't think we'd ever get that if I were following the direction of a trainer who wanted to rush him and push too hard.
Originally Posted by Silverbridge
If you get anything on your Facebook feed about who is going to the Olympics in 2012 or guessing the outcome of Bush v Gore please start threads about those, too.
It is okay to ask you horse for bend while long and low... and you should.
Like others have said, it's hard to evaluate without seeing the horse. Having worked with more than my share of saddleseat horses making the conversion, I can tell you that first you need to encourage your horse to go forward... RELAXED! Not often what one sees in saddleseat. However, without the bend, all the weight will transfer to the inside shoulder on the turns and your horse will lose balance and stiffen again. Bend is as much or more about the stretch of the outside muscles of the horse as it is the contraction of the inside of the bend.
Why not just try walking shallow serpentines, no further than the quarterline, and just ask for long, low, mild changes of bend. Think "snake" with his spine following the line you set with his poll. Most saddlebreds that have done saddleseat have "quick" hinges at the jaw, but not soft. Work on connection during all the exercises. That doesn't mean you have to have a death grip on the front end... soft, easy, low, relaxed. His conformation will allow you to bring the front end up after he develops correct muscling along his topline and abdomen.
All young/green horses travel slightly crooked in the beginning. Straightness means back feet follow track of front feet, whether on a straight line or curve. "Bending" is a term that I think has been a bit misused over the years. You use school figures...circles, etc., to make the horse straight....easier than trying to "straighten" the horse on a straight line so to speak. JMHO
its a lot easier to think of "bending" as "straight bending" ie: the horses body follows the line of travel - so if you are on a circle the horses body follows that circle poll to tail.
this does not mean the neck gets bent and the body is straight.
however, remembering that the path is not the same as the goal, when we work crooked horses they will be heavy on on rein and we need to give on that rein *even if* the horses neck goes wonky..... just work on even contact, reaction to the inside leg and forward and things will improve.
I'd recommend getting some books on classical dressage training, and the training scales. ....
Looking at the dressage training scale it starts with rythm then goes to suppleness (which includes bending and relaxation)... so I see where trainer #1 is coming from.
BUT when introducing a new concept to a horse they can not get and MAINTAIN it for long periods of time, so my opinion is perhaps between the 2 trainers.
Anyway it is your horse and you know the horse better than either trainer, so understanding where you are heading is the key. If #1 is the main person you train with open a dialogue with him/her stating you understand that the bending is important to get the suppleness but when you are riding you feel the horse loosing relaxation if you ask for bending more than the horse is physically able.
So the bending is important BUT you need to "break it up" with other work such that the horse is becoming more supple (flexible) while not loosing the relaxation.
My mare is a great "faker". I've had trainers/clinicians tel me to do X and even though I was doing it I couldn't quite make it to where they wanted. Why? Because it felt entirely different than it looked. Several time I asked trainer to get on horse and feel for themselves, and that was when they discovered I totally had another issue blocking our forward progress.
So can you ask Trainer #1 to hop on horse when you reach an impasse? Then hopefully he/she will recognize you need an alternative approach.
Thank you for all the suggestions! Lots to think about!
I think I'm going to go with my gut and go with 3/4/5 (though keep an eye on what trainer 1 is saying/teaching and see if bits and pieces can be applied). 1 really wants too much too soon, and my guy is not a spring chicken. He has minor soundness issues already (on a joint supplement, and has a breathing impairment that flares up big time if he gets himself cranked together in the bridle too much). And if I break him, the next ten years or so will not be fun because he's a real BOOB when he doesn't have a job to do... ;-) So... we will just go with the thought that "slow and steady wins the race". Horsey has nothing to prove. I don't have a huge burning desire to take the dressage shows by storm (though I do hope to get him out at some point this season) My priority is just getting this guy working correctly and comfortably and extend his career.
Today I had a real lightbulb moment.
It was too hot and humid to work my gelding but... he had yesterday off and tends to get reallllly pissy if not worked for too long.
So I saddled up and we walked and walked and I just kind of "played with the buttons" a bit to see what would happen when I did ______
And had an ephiphany. I was being coached to press my inside seatbone down and a little toward the outside when asking for bend. Regarding my leg as a pivot point kind of.
And... if you think about it, if you have a horse with a weak back who has a hard time getting underneath themselves.... NOT what you want to be doing! If I was walking aroudn on all fours and somebody pressed on one side of my back, the last thing I would do is take a big step underneath myself toward that pressure.
Instead, I actually started getting a little bit of softening in the direction of travel by listening to what his back legs were doing, and as that inside leg started to come up, I tucked my inside seat bone underneath me a little and lightened it up and pressed just a little toward the outside rein, and simultaneously applied my leg aid in a little bit of an "upward" sort of way.
This made a nice little pocket for him to step into, and the leg aid says "nice big step and a little bit over".
he couldn't hold it for more than a stride or two at a time, but it was the response that I wanted- his hind end stepping over deeper to better follow the track of his hind end.
... I was being coached to press my inside seatbone down and a little toward the outside when asking for bend. Regarding my leg as a pivot point kind of.
And... if you think about it, if you have a horse with a weak back who has a hard time getting underneath themselves.... NOT what you want to be doing! If I was walking aroudn on all fours and somebody pressed on one side of my back, the last thing I would do is take a big step underneath myself toward that pressure...
To experiment, through feel, with your horse, is how you're going to learn from the REAL teacher: the horse. Good on ya!