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  1. #1
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    Default My Thoughts on the 2006 GDF

    Hi,
    I just got home from the Global Dressage Forum. I know there will be a lot of discussion about this, but I thought I'd react to it while it was all fresh in my mind.

    It was an intense two days filled with inspiration and crushing dissapointment in some of those who claim to be critical thinkers in the dressage media.

    It started with a fantastic demonstration by Hubertus Schmidt on the stunning horse Fuerst Fabio (Fidermark x Worldchamp). It is always awe inspiring to watch this man work, and although the conclusion was reached by many that he "makes it look too easy" I think there was a lot to be gained from listening and watching. He started with a nice light warm up stressing that because his horse was a bit fresh and very sensitive his aim was to relax him and make sure that he was able to get him to stretch down to the bit in a way that showed he was ready to move on into a collected frame. He stressed that it was mostly important to show the horse could stretch down low and did not feel in any way that doing this would make it harder to bring them back up. To the contrary he said it was necessary that the horse remains connected to the rider, and that stretching and relaxing in the movement made it far easier to then bring them up because they were then ready to be asked to move forwards without running. He did say that if the horse was a heavier slower type that they could of course simply be asked more quickly to go forwards, but that one had to be careful with a sensitive hot horse that could have a tendency to run if pushed too hard too quickly. He said a hot horse will never get tired enough to slow down. They will be exhausted but continue running flatly out of pure adrenaline, and this accomplishes nothing.

    The GDF will be sending us extensive notes on all of this so I won't repeat it all here, but suffice it to say this demonstration was very well applauded by everyone there.

    The next demonstration was by the sport psychologist "Dr. Rico Schuijers", and this was also very interesting. He gave an excellent lecture discussing the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems within the body, and showed how stress can elevate the heart rate, breathing, and disrupt the digestive system. This of course leading to a loss of concentration and disruption of being able to perform in an ideal state. He talked about breathing exercises and the redirection of what the rider is focusing on to bring them into a better state of mind.

    My favorite part of his lecture was his "Circles of Attention". The first circle really being where one should be for optimal performance and then goes outward from there.
    1. Me and My Task
    2. Direct Distractions (weather, etc.)
    3. Is-Should Be Comparison (when the rider is having a discussion with themselves during the ride about how that move was compared to how it should be)
    4. Win/Lose (when the rider is too focused on winning or losing, especially in the middle of the ride)
    5. Consequenses of Win/Lose (when the rider goes even further into thinking about how losing will mean this or that, i.e. not qualifying for something, etc.)
    6. What am I doing here???

    He said when you hit number six a lot of the time the reaction is to then give up and say "oh I'll just ride!" and then the person does sooo much better. He said the main thing one needs to do is develop the mental skills and ability to focus on the process letting the body take over and work.

    He also discussed coaching and the best ways to motivate riders as well. His website is http://www.ricoschuijers.net and I think he mentioned trying to get it translated into English. Hopefully he will soon.

    The evening demonstration was a little off the beaten path. It was Monty Roberts doing his thing. I respect Monty immensely and I thought it was interesting to have an outsider like this there to offer some different points of view. I will say that I thought he did a little too much self promoting which wasn't necessary, but his lecture and demonstration were quite good. He showed some horrible videos of the "traditional" methods of breaking horses and warned the audience of using words like traditional and classical. He made it clear that although no one works out of a vacuum and the past should be studied and respected it should never simply be frozen and preserved in a static state. He also bantered a little back and forth with Anky about whether or not she could have prepared Salinero better for the medal ceremony in Aachen where he ran away with her. She wasn't too happy about that, but both Beatrice and she agreed they would look at his methods.

    Oh, and one other thing he threw out there was that if he were in charge of dressage he would throw the piaffe out. I never heard him really explain that however. Certainly raised some eyebrows.

    The next morning we started off with Dr. Andrew McLean which was a good segway from Monty's lecture. It of course took that discussion into a more scientific place. He gave an excellent lecture on behavioural conditioning and "applied ethology". He outlined Cognition (Mental Ability), Ethology (Natural Behaviours), and Psychology (Learned Behaviours). He stressed how important it is that we realize the horse simply does not think and exist like we do. They are always living in the here and now and are not capable of abstract reasoning as we are. They also have photographic memory which they do not "corrupt" and alter as we do over time. He said a horse which learned a relatively complicated process of switching and pulling levers to get at some food was able to immediately repeat the routine after 4 years. This is something to keep in mind when you are about to lose your tempers, and add pain to an already confusing or scary situation for a horse. That memory will not be forgotten the next time the situation arises.

    He then discussed the Psychology in more detail. He classified this into 4 sections:
    1. Habituation: Desensitizing to stimuli
    2. Operant Conditioning: Trial and Error, Reward and Punishment
    3. Classical Conditioning: Associations (i.e. Pavlov's dog)
    4. Shaping: Progressive Building

    He went into more detail about Operant conditioning and noted what he felt were correct negative reinforcements. He feels that pressure and the release of it is a good negative reinforcement when done in a measured way with an emphasis on correct timing of the pressure and release of it. As an example of incorrect negative reinforcement he noted that beating a horse with a whip to get them into a trailer will have a totally opposite effect of what the person wanted because the horse will then most likely focus on the whipping, kick out at it, rebel even more, and forever associate pain with the trailer.

    He went from there into discussing the notion of "Learned Helplessness". He mentioned the videos that Monty had shown the evening before of brutally roping and beating a horse into full surrender. He said that the stress levels in a horse in a case where they are forced to feel totally helpless will cause the Cortisol and Prolactin levels to increase so much that they will induce brain atrophy. This will also cause symptoms of chronic stress including permanent stomach and digestive damage that can of course be fatal.

    After the lecture he gave a great demonstration working with a naughty young stallion that simply did not want to do anything but pull the girl who was leading him around back into the barn. Within 10 minutes or so Dr. Mclean had that stallion standing stark still as he walked in front of him and from side to side. It would take a little more work before he totally stopped leaning on the bit in hand, but he lightened up considerably. One of the things that both Monty and he used was backing up. They would lead a bit forwards and then immediately make the horse move backwards a few steps. Dr. Mclean noted that this will imbed the idea of stopping into the neuro muscular mechanics. Since this stallion was very dull already to the bit he used the tapping of a dressage whip on the front legs to accomplish the task.

    One question I sent up to Dr. Mclean had to do with the handling or not of foals. I've read that scientists have found human children do an extensive amount of learning between the ages of 0 and 5 years old. This is acutally considered the best time to teach children languages so that the neurons in the brain form around the new language (we all know how danged hard it is to learn a language when you are older!). At any rate I asked if this was also true in horses. His answer was yes. They have found that a great deal of learning is also going on and that a large segment of the learning shuts down at the ages of 3 and 4 years old. He only quickly answered, but added that the foal will be out there learning whether it's turned out in the field or not, but that once it's learned life patterns only formed around being semi wild with little or no human interaction it's difficult to fill in the gaps. Obviously no one is advocating riding or forced exercise, but I think more ground work and behavioral work could be done with foals and young horses. I'd like to see this discussed more in the future.

    I've got to take a coffee break now, but I'll get to the juicy stuff in a little while.
    Last edited by Eurobreederstour; Nov. 1, 2006 at 03:53 PM.



  2. #2
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    Ok, back to it.
    I decided that I want to write a little more about Hubertus Schmidt's session. The gelding he's riding is young and has been competing this season under Herr Schmidt in PSG. So one of the things he did with him was work a little on the pirouettes. He said that horses tend to place themselves into a traver going into the pirouette in order to help balance themselves. It is not incorrect, but if the horse exaggerates this out of anticipation which very often happens then they can actually loose their balance. He said he tries to think of a little shoulder fore coming out of the corner in order to control the straightness and balance. He then demonstrated the beginning of their passage and piaffe work noting again how young the horse was, and that it was very important to not ask too much especially with regard to the horse stepping under his body. He said his back just isn't ready for that and he felt it was important to ask for more activity through tapping with the whip rather than using the leg which would encourage the stepping under too much.

    These were light quick taps and he did say that if the horse didn't respond that a slightly stronger stroke with the whip was ok to reinforce the aid, but that if you do that you must let the horse jump forwards and not demand they continue piaffing during the correction. Once they've reacted to the stronger whip then you can quietly ask them again to come back to the piaffe.

    During some of this work we could hear the horse grinding his teeth. It wasn't strong and was very intermittent. It was asked whether or not the judges would take note of this and score it down if this occured in a test. O judge, Steven Clark, took the question and I think answered it very well. He said that he felt this was simply a young horse that was starting work that was difficult for it at the moment, and that as he strengthened this would no longer be an issue. He said that in a test he would give the horse the same consideration if no other outward signs of tension and stress were there. He said it doesn't take tail swishing nor teeth grinding to signal when a horse is stiff, resistant, and tense. If as in this horse's case there were no other signs of tension or stress he would not score it down. However, if it were stronger than this and were accompanied by the other signs he would score it down.

    So back to the second day;
    After Dr. Mclean's session Mariette Withages hosted the review of WEG scoring. I was dissapointed in this session. It was too short, and I believe Mrs. Withages tried a little too hard to make it about scoring the audience on their judging skills rather than simply have a good review and explanation of the scores that were actually given at the WEG. They played the Grand Prix Special rides of Bernadette Pujals on Vincent, Isabell Werth on Satchmo, and Andreas Helgestrand on Matine. They gave the audience score sheets which we were to fill out. I didn't because I didn't have a scribe and I simply wanted to watch the rides (I'm also not a judge). They then starting going over certain moves playing all three rides at the same time which was difficult to focus on. Suffice it to say the only thing that I was given an explanation for was why Bernadette did not score higher than she did. Vincent was not good in the contact with the bit and was more resistant in the mouth than I had realized from a distance. They said generally they were very impressed with her ride and she did get the highest scores for the one tempis. For the most part I think they justified the scores they gave for the little we were able to review.

    The only controversial moment in this session was when Astrid Appels of Euro Dressage attacked the judges for giving Debbie MacDonald a score of 70% when she felt the horse was clearly "lame" and should have been rung out of the arena. Steven Clark once again responded, and said that was a "totally unfair" statement. He did agree that she showed uneveness in the extended trots, but that during the rest of the test there were no signs whatsoever of unlevelness and her movements were exceptionally good. He said they did score the extended trots down considerably because of the uneveness, but with no other signs during the test of lameness he felt they did the right thing.

    The last two sessions were given by Sjef Janssen, Dr. Rene' van Weeren, and Anky van Grunsven. First Sjef and Dr. Weeren gave a lecture on the research findings of the work that was done over the past year studying the effects of hyperflexion of the neck on the overall movement and biomechanics of the horse. From what I have gathered this was essentially a repeat of the lecture given in Laussane at the FEI workshop which included Professor Frank Odberg, Professor Leo Jeffcott, Mariette Withages, Sjef Janssen, Professor Eric van Breda, Dr. Gerd Heuschmann, Dr. Andrew McLean, Professor Hilary Clayton, Dr. Andrew Higgins, Dr. Emile Welling, and of course Dr. Weeren. You can read more about this at: http://www.eurodressage.com/news/dre...-workshop.html

    The basic findings and conclusions thus far from this workshop and the research is that when performed by professionals with the correct timing skills the hyperflexion of the neck is not abusive nor structurally damaging to the horse. They in fact showed evidence that it does assist in the gymnasticising of the back. The low and deep positioning of the neck has a flexing influence on the thoracic back and an extending influence on the lumbar region of the back. It also increases the total range of motion of the back far more than any other position, and increases the range of motion of the front and back legs.

    This was a necessary lecture, but unfortunately, Dr. Weeren and Sjef were lecturing as if they were talking to scientists and I think they lost quite a few people in the process.

    After that Sjef gave another short lecture which is still a little confusing to me. I think he was trying to build upon what Dr. Schuijers had said the day before, but Sjef was not there on the first day and there was far too much of a disconnect between the two. He went through a strange comparison of Anky and Isabell from a sports psychology and coaching point of view. He was in no way derogatory to Isabell, but I think was trying to point out how one needs to tailor the coaching style to the personality of the rider. Not really sure.

    At any rate, they finally started with the demonstration of Anky riding. She rode Painted Black who had been off for a week and was a little strong. Certainly a very very impressive young stallion. They did the warm up in a rising trot emphasizing "speed control" quite a bit. It played on what Dr. McLean had been doing in hand with the young stallion earlier in the day and it was interesting to see the connection with this as well as what Hubertus Schmidt had also underlined with his horse.

    I would say Anky works a little more with transitioning the speed and length of stride in the gait than Hubertus does, but they both use this idea. At this stage Anky's horse was in a long, open and relaxed frame. Sjef had emphasized earlier that the work with the hyperflexion must be progressive to start with, and that when it is done it should be for short periods of time followed immediately by a break. Once they felt the horse was warmed up Anky did start to ride the horse quite deep. At times it was what I would almost call chest biting, and she did keep him there for longer than I've seen her do in the past at warm up's for big shows, but it never went on for more than 5 minutes at a time before she allowed the horse to stretch down more or take a walk break opening the horse's neck entirely. Then she would pick it back up and do some work in the schooling pirouettes and at the end some work in the passage and piaffe. She was able to place the horse wherever she chose. She brought the horse up rather easily into a higher frame several times and it was not short in the neck, nor did the horse ever look stressed or unhappy. He certainly was NOT stiff or tense.

    It was noted that she came out of the saddle a few times during the session when having the horse in a deep frame, but I think Anky answered that well be noting that she is getting pretty far along in her pregnancy and when the horse is strong she doesn't have the stomach muscles at the moment to sit as correctly as she should.

    There was a representative from Sankt George magazine that was invited by the Forum to be a member of the review panel for these demonstrations given by Anky and Sjef. I'm sure most of you realize the history between them so it was not so surprising when the comment came that the author from St. George felt Anky was holding the horse by force with the hands in this deep position. Anky disputed that noting that she is a very light woman, she can't deal with a horse that is heavy in the hand, and that she simply didn't have the strength to physically force and hold the horse in that position. It was totally against what she wants to achieve for a light, easy horse to ride. Dr. Hilary Clayton was also on this panel and she said it was physically impossible for any human to force a horse into this postion either from the ground or from the back with just a bridle and reins. It was definitely her conclusion that Anky was not doing this because she could not even if she wanted to.

    The author from St. George then made some sort of nasty remark, but to be honest I missed it. The audience booed and hissed at her, and David Hunt let her have it, but I don't know what she said. Probably didn't miss much.

    Another audience member asked if it was possible to do a scientific study on the stress levels of the horse when it's placed in this position. Dr. McLean spoke up and said it was certainly possible because one could measure the cortisol and prolactin levels as well as place monitors on the horse to measure the heart rate. He said he would be happy to help structure a study that did just that.

    Kyra Kyrkland was another member of the panel. Her response was that she sees how successful Anky has been with this method, and that she doesn't generally have a problem with it. However, she does not use it because she doesn't understand it. She repeated the fact that she didn't understand it once more, but I was left wondering what exactly it was she didn't understand about it. I would have liked to have let that conversation continue a little more. Kyra also asked if this method would be applicable and useful for a normal rider with a normal horse or if it was really more for an elite rider with an elite horse. Good question and probably a good future debate, but it didn't really get a good answer here.

    At this point with all of the extensive research that has been done, the promises of more studies to be done, and a brave attempt by Anky and Sjef to put themselves and their methods out there once again for review and debate one would think we had reached a respectful level of critical thought and discussion. But think again. The microphone was then handed to Brigit Popp who noted that Sjef had said earlier in his lecture that the hyperflexion of the neck was not his system, but rather a tool within his system that he uses progressively. She then asked him "do you also consider learned helplessness to be one of your tools?".

    Of course Sjef and Anky refused to even respond to this ignorant and vindictive statement, but Richard handed the microphone to Dr. McLean who had used the term in his lectures and his response was that this in no way shape or form was "learned helplessness". The horse was clearly happy to do his work and showed no signs of negative stress, let alone having been beaten down into a state of total surrender.

    It left me very sad that someone who claims to be a professional in this business would lower themselves to such a level. Jennie Loriston-Clark defended Anky and Painted Black wonderfully and I was happy that we could leave things on a more positive note, but I won't soon forget it. I don't believe that there is a place for witch burning in a critical debate that we can all learn a great deal from.

    At any rate, other than that last unfortunate incident I think it was a great forum and the discussions will continue.



  3. #3
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    Thanks for the long & detailed report!
    "You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed." - The Little Prince



  4. #4
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    Agreed- - very thought-provoking information.
    Thanks for sharing!!



  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eurobreederstour View Post
    The evening demonstration was a little off the beaten path. It was Monty Roberts doing his thing. I respect Monty immensely and I thought it was interesting to have an outsider like this there to offer some different points of view. I will say that I thought he did a little too much self promoting which wasn't necessary, but his lecture and demonstration were quite good. He showed some horrible videos of the "traditional" methods of breaking horses and warned the audience of using words like traditional and classical. He made it clear that although no one works out of a vacuum and the past should be studied and respected it should never simply be frozen and preserved in a static state. He also bantered a little back and forth with Anky about whether or not she could have prepared Salinero better for the medal ceremony in Aachen where he ran away with her. She wasn't too happy about that, but both Beatrice and she agreed they would look at his methods.

    Oh, and one other thing he threw out there was that if he were in charge of dressage he would throw the piaffe out. I never heard him really explain that however. Certainly raised some eyebrows.
    I have to say this totally blows my mind this guy went to the GDF.

    Quote Originally Posted by Eurobreederstour View Post
    The only controversial moment in this session was when Astrid Appels of Euro Dressage attacked the judges for giving Debbie MacDonald a score of 70% when she felt the horse was clearly "lame" and should have been rung out of the arena. Steven Clark once again responded, and said that was a "totally unfair" statement. He did agree that she showed uneveness in the extended trots, but that during the rest of the test there were no signs whatsoever of unlevelness and her movements were exceptionally good. He said they did score the extended trots down considerably because of the uneveness, but with no other signs during the test of lameness he felt they did the right thing.
    I think this is not that surpising because Debbie McDonald mentioned something about people that she was expecting to be decent to her on DressageDaily during the WEG were not. Maybe this is who she was referring too.



  6. #6
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    Great report and thanks for taking the time to type it for us.
    "You gave your life to become the person you are right now. Was it worth it?" Richard Bach



  7. #7
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    My earlier post seems to have got lost in cyber space:

    Thanks for the report EBT.
    First reactions are that i need to read it again and ask more questions! In the meantime;
    Great that we have lots of (British) people with the cajones to tell it like it is and not be bullied by a hysterical minority.
    A few members of the equestrian press come across as ignorant vindictive and utterly devoid of any professional integrity.



  8. #8
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    Very interesting.

    Thank you so much for your interesting and comprehensive report. I don't understand why Monty Roberts was there but am happy to hear that Andrew Maclean was part of it. I have been reading his stuff for years.

    I'm also glad to hear that the witch hunters were not allowed to have a bloodbath.



  9. #9
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    Thanks EBT...what a wonderful report. The insights and perspectives will resonate for me a long time.



  10. #10
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    Thumbs up

    Very interesting reading. Thank you for giving the time, and having the patience to post it.



  11. #11
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    One tiny correction on an otherwise excellent report!
    Fuerst Fabio belongs to Cesar Parra (and sponsors). FF has been in the USA all season showing. I saw him at the Paxton CDI and he was at Devon also. Competing at 3rd and 4th level. He is USDF top 20 ranked at 3rd level this year. THe horse is only 6 years old if memory serves me.



  12. #12
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    Furst Fabio is seven years old and is trained by Hubertus Schmidt, as are most of Cesar Parra's horses.



  13. #13
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    true - he is 7. But FF spent all of 2006 up until after Devon in the USA. He had a bit of a bad go at Devon this year.

    HS hasn't been "training" him this year. He was at HS' place before coming this winter to Florida but not since. He is also a stressy kind of horse - a bit high strung. He is always walked for about an hour each morning at the shows before showing in the afternoon. What a talent though! Incredible moving horse and gorgeous to boot! HS has been known to say that FF is one of the most naturally talented horses he has had in his barn.



  14. #14
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    Another thank you for your time involved in sharing this important and thought provoking information!



  15. #15
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    Wink

    AWESOME report- EBT- thank you for putting in the time to type all these words-- and let's burn that german witch...how disgusting of her- but I think as my mom always used to say: what goes around comes around- she has just disqualified herself to the degree- where she will no longer be invited...Hopefully ( I am talking about Birgit Popp...)

    and yes - I am German.



  16. #16
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    Thankyou for your insight..very interesting and worthwhile reading for all.



  17. #17
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    He is always walked for about an hour each morning at the shows before showing in the afternoon.
    That's standard practice amongst all professionals, it's nice thing to do, we do it with every horse.



  18. #18
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    Ammies too. It doesn't take any particular skill to hand-walk a horse!
    "You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed." - The Little Prince



  19. #19
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    Very, very well written and interesting report, Eurobreederstour! Thank you so much for taking the time to write this.

    As a matter of fact, I think it's much better reporting than we ever see from Birgit Poop (oops - it's Popp) ! :-)
    Siegi Belz
    www.stalleuropa.com
    2007 KWPN-NA Breeder of the Year
    Dutch Warmbloods Made in the U. S. A.



  20. #20
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    It doesn't take any particular skill to hand-walk a horse!
    Actually it does. Read above. However that does not mean an amateur wouldn't have/couldn't learn those skills.

    My point was that if you compete in the afternoon you don't leave the horse in the box all day long and if you compete in the morning you walk them later. It's not a reflection on the training or the horses temperament it's just what we do.

    edited to add: there's a great report of the Brits not standing for any ****! on eurosewerage.
    Last edited by fiona; Nov. 2, 2006 at 01:04 PM.



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