Stéphanie Kniest

Jan 292014
 

Dressur Rollkur Barock One thing cannot be acceptable only because it is accepted by many Fritz Stahlecker, horse trainer and author of several books and articles  developed with his hand-saddle-hand method (in short: HSH method) a stress-free and non-violent training for horses. In his latest book ” Horses my students my teachers ” he critically analysis the developments of modern dressage. I would like to introduce you to this book, because it fits well with one of the main topics of this blog ( Controversial issues), I find the development in dressage similar frightening and ” diseased” as he does, and because I very much like the philosophical approach of his book. Have fun reading and let the critical thinking begin! Harsh judgements Right from the start, Fritz Stahlecker harshly criticizes today’s dressage scence. With sentences likeCover für Pferde - meine Schüler, meine Lehrer

The horse teaches us that only the things achieved without violence are valid results that deserve applause. The self-healing process of the sick scene is initiated by the FN and must be enforced against all protests

he points out directly the “sick points” of the riding world, or at least almost without exception that of the sports scene. In my opinion, Stahlecker criticizes this world from two sides: On the one side, he highlights the excessive work pressure, which is required of the horses, while on the other side, he criticizes our perception and evaluation of what we see. Let me expalin this in more depth. Performance over all In today’s world, power is placed above all. The grades achieved by a child in school ( the child’s performance), determine his fate. Is the grade point average good enough for the apprenticeship or maybe even university studies? In a system like that, good performance is rewarded. The better the child performs (evaluated with school grades ), the better his future prospects look. Discipline , drill and power become established as values already in early childhood. Later on at work, does not look much better. Commissions for good performance, overtime is normal, even from home one can (and should) work on. All of that is regarded as normal. Noone thinks about this twice. The same can be seen in the ( riding ) sport. Also here , its about perfomring to one’s best (or better): Always, faster, higher, farther, up to or even beyond one’s limits. This way of thinking also applies to horses:

Maximum performance in sports ( … ) going to one’s limits at any cost, even the humiliation of a creature [the horse] is de facto tolerated. ” ( Stahlecker , 2012 Franckh – Kosmos Verlag ) .

Dressur LeistungssportToday’s dressage is seen (and practiced) by most people only as a competitive sport and no longer perceived as what it used to be at the core: the Art of Riding (Reitkunst). The mere choice of words “ we work our horses ” that we use every day, should make us double-think. It’s no wonder that things such as doping scandals and controversial training methods occur in such a setting of hard work and performance. You only see what you want to see Stahlecker believes that we should see more than a sport’s perfromance and an exalted show in the dressage arenas. Instead, we should be seeing a harmonious partnership between horse and rider that show us the art of riding. Stahlecker is convinced that what we see on the show grounds today  has nothing to do with the art of riding. The prevailing performances of sport machines is made acceptable by different players. Firstly, there are the judges http://polpix.sueddeutsche.com/bild/1.1016377.1355769763/860x860/dressurpferd-totilas.jpgand other officials, who judge the riding. Than, there are also the spectators . Interestingly, these two parties often seem to work together. A good example of this good interaction is the stallion Totilas, who had not only huge success in sports, but  who was also highly coveted by spectators and the press. Mind you, all of this has happeened despite people knowing of the controversial training method of Rollkur that have been used (of course there is this counter-movements, but they are shockingly low ).

“ The art of riding appears to require only exercise.However, exercise without true principles is nothing but routine, the fruits of which will be effort , unsafe execution and false jewels, with which you can impress only the half-connoisseur. ” Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere

The art of riding is based on aesthetics and this leads (inevitably) to respect for the natural characteristics of the horse. What we see today is a disregard of the natural characteristics and movements of the horse to an allmost unimaginable degree. Contemporary dressage is more a kind of show or staging. It pretends to show refined natural movements, but instead does the opposite. Let me give you an example to illustrate this: Imagine a paddock and two horses playing and running in it. To every movement they do, their silhouette changes. If the horse sprints fast across the paddock, its silhouette is not round (being collected) but rather long/stretched. Is the horse however aroused and pounces up and down the fence, the silhouette is rounder and shorter (collected frame) . These two “ frameworks ” are fundamentally different from each other and belong to the respective movement of the hors ein that moment. Without stretching, the horse cannot push forward with big movements that cover lots of ground. Likewise can a horse not piaffe if its silhouette is long and stretched. Thats simply impossible. Evo Baracallo Jungpferde toben Unfortunately, in the dressage ring we nearly almost exclusively see horses in extended gaits that dont have a strechted silhouette  in horses. The great movements (usually only with the forehand that go upwards instead of up-and forwards) without being strechted or coming forward, and the rear legs pushing from behind the horse with small steps, is not only unsightly, but also absolutely unnatural and forced. To every extended gait, an extension of frame is needed. Thus, what we see in those arenas are horses that are being asked to move in a certain posture that (in this combination) doesnt not exist in nature. We should seriously question what it is that we want for ourselves and for the horses : Show or actual riding art? Did it have to be like this? According to Fritz Stahlecker, the way the dressage scene has developed is not unreasonable in itself. The force of habit (written down in the rigid guidelines of the German military regulations – “Deutsche Herresvorschrift”) met up with today’s mentality of a meritocracy. It should come as no surprise that doping scandals and controversial training methods are incraesing. Kandare schmerzIn my opinion, the current consumerism in combination with capitalism and egoism of the present time (all these movements are interconnected and mutually dependent). The horse is still , especially in competitive sports, little more than a commodity (consumerism). With its help the rider builds up his prestige. Success in sports on the backs of horses, seperates you from the (common) crowd. It creates an identity. In addition to an identity and fame, there is also the issue of financial viability (the sooner, the faster, the better). What is left behind with this sort of thinking (the health of the horse) is of no interest or simply taken as accepted. What is missing is the humanity, the meaning and connection with nature, and the arts. We are ready to take pain in order to reach our goals. “ In competitive sports,” said Stahlecker, “ the man does uses [a form of] violence against himself. The transfer to the horse was a psychologically obvious step. Elite sport means sompetition, it means violence against oneself “. In the wild, a horse would never exhaust himself to such an extend that it might lead to permanent damage to its health (unless it is in an emergency situation – better a little bit crippeld than dead). However, we force the horse to do so. Violence and art, can never be reconciled with each other, because where the violence begins, the art ends. But why do we need art anyways? Why riding ART? The art and the horse should be united. Each in itself can play an important role in our society. The horse plays an important role in today’s world. We learn from him to empathize more with nature, and to re-discover it. The art takes us back to the aesthetics, an unison and in the end with its perfection, back to nature, as nature is the only thing that is (and creates) true perefection.

The knowledge of the true nature of the horse is the first foundation of the art of riding and each rider must make it his main subject. Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere

The symbiosis between art and the horse, dressage as a form of art (the art of riding) shows an artistic parallel to nature (specifically the “natural characteristics of the horse”). What we are already able to see in the field, will become refined with the aid of the instructor/rider with the goal of perfection. However, and this is very important, perfection cannot be enforced. It must come from the horse itself . Only a horse that wants to be beautiful itself, assumes an appropriate attitude. We can only help him (to want to) do this. Collection au natural And what is in this context almost most important for me: The art cannot agree with violence and coercion. A forced harmony between horse and rider does not exist. A few words about the rest of the book Finally, I would like to say briefly the book also explicitely focuses on the training of the horse and what sort of “wrong thinking” is pervailent with that nowadays. For example, he claims that the young horse should not be trained with a bridle in the first section of its training (resistance and violence are often the result of incorrect training), the curb reins should always be slack – to an extent (the weight of the reins (and therewith the pressure that it applies to the horse’s mouth is much higher than we think) and training with side reins and draw reins should be banned: ” the worst hand cannot induce so much pain in the horse’s mouth as an almost absolute captivation by means of fixed side or draw reins”. More information about Fritz Stahlecker and his method in this movie:

[iframe_loader src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/6k20iTSbCOE” height=”315″ width=”420″ click_words=”Watch on YouTube” click_url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6k20iTSbCOE”]

 

This article was published on the author’s blog on 8 January 2014.  The original article can be found here

Jun 072013
 

O-Master in proper collectionProper collection is the most efficient way for a horse to carry itself (and also to move). A horse can only collect itself. We cannot force a horse into collection.

Only after I have started my internship at Taonara (Belgium), have I learned what proper collection really means and how it woks scientifically. I also learned the concept of contra collection (by the courtesy of Josepha Guillaum – see article Collection (1)) and finally understood why I always felt like I could not collect the school horses (nor any other horse I ever rode), until now.

I feel that it is time to share my new insights with my readers.

In order to fully understand what I mean with the concept of collection, it is important that you read both parts of the article collection. And please, feel free to comment. I am curious in what you have to say on this topic!

Let me start this article in the same was as I have started the former article Collection (1): Concept and Contra Concept, by trying to define collection.

Definitions of collection:

Wikipedia defines collection as “when a horse carries more weight on his hind legs than on his front legs”. As I have Weight-bearingalready explained in the former article, this understanding of collection is simply wrong. The horse carries around 55% of his weight on the forehand (neck and head), and approximately 45% by the hindquarters. But, these numbers of weight-bearing change constantly, depending on what the horse is doing. When it rests, with the head lowered towards the ground, and one hind leg cocked up, there is more weight on the forehand. However, when it flees there is more weight shifted towards the hind-end (100% weight bearing on the hind legs is achieved when the horse rears). In the picture on the right side, you can actually really see how much weight is one the horse’s forehand (nicely underlined/brought out by the “rider” leaning forwards as well).

Another definition I found was stated in the article Definition Collect, Collection by K. Blocksdorf. This definition states that collection is

When a horse can carry more of its weight on its hindquarters than on the forelegs when ridden or driven. His back will be raised as he engages his stomach muscles. He will be flexing at the poll and will carry himself lightly. This makes the impulsion that comes from the hindquarters much greater (…). The horse can be more easily maneuvered and can carry a rider with greater ease. The horse will reach further underneath its body with its hind legs making stops and turns much more precise.

Overall, I must say that I like this definition a lot, except for the beginning, since it reminds me of the Wikipedia definition. To me, it has many of the most important elements mentioned in collection. Just compare the bullet points below on collection with this definition, and you will find that there actually are a lot of overlaps.

Why do we want collection?

Proper collection is necessary for the horse to carry itself as well as the rider in the most efficient way. Horses are not made for carrying around riders on their back. They must be trained to do so, in order to not break down or get injuries from that. A rider doesn’t only put some extra weight on the horse, but also ads pressure. The horse tries to avoid this pressure by hollowing its back and tense the back muscles (very bad for the horse! And again contra collection!). Another thing that happens when a rider goes on the horse, is that the horse’s balance is disturbed; for a flight animal this can have sever (fatal) consequences. So, before we can even think of collection, we must first teach the horse to stay relaxed, and then to raise his back, and only then can we really start working on proper collection.

Branderup on a properly collected horse

Furthermore, collection is necessary to get the horse to use its body properly, especially when we ask the horse to do something unnatural, i.e. carrying around a rider on his back. Often, the horse hallows its back and tends to fall on his forehand. From this, many injuries can result, especially relating to the back, the head and neck, as ell as the forehand.

Unfortunately, horses are most often not trained in a proper manner and will carry the rider wrong and are usually even taught to perform in contra collection (and even Rollkur). Have you never wondered why there are so many crippled horses coming out of the professional riding disciplines?

So, all things considered, proper collection helps the horse to carry itself and us properly, insures safty of horse and rider, improves any type/discipline of riding, and is a necessity for maintining a healthy horse.

this YouTube video shows a nice way of a high form of collection with the rider

What is proper collection?

Proper collection can be observed most often when the horse runs around freely in the field. Collection occurs (in the wild) when the horse feels in danger, intimidates rivals, fight, flight, imponieren (marries or opponents), and when playing around.

Proper collection has to do with energy, the ego and balance of a horse.

  • In collection, the energy of the horse is collected. When you look at a horse in proper collection (especially the Spanish breeds), than you can really see the energy contained in a horse. In Spanish bull fights for example one can see a lot of truly collected horses full of nearly overflowing energy! One of the most important (pre)conditions for collection related to energy, is impulsion, which can basically be described as energy coming from the hindquarters (moving the horse forward). Impulsion leads to the engagement of the hindquarters. The hind legs are brought deeper underneath the body and for the rider it feels like riding “uphill” instead of “down-hill”.
  • It is important to notice that a horse can only collect itself. We cannot force a horse to collect itself. We can only aid, but we cannot enforce. In order for a horse to want to collect itself, it must feel good about itself – the ego must be pushed (by us) and we will get a horse that wants to present itself to us. In my internship, I have firstly been really introduced to horses that truely feel good about themselves and that love to collect! It is amazing. So, in order to be able to achieve collection, the horse needs strength, flexibility, balance and proprioception, and not to forget, self-confidence and the desire to do so. So it’s not all about pumping muscles, it’s also about the nervous system, comfort and motivation.
  • Collection also has a lot to do with balance. In order for a horse to be collected, it must foremost be balanced – with or without a rider. For a horse it is of necessity to be balanced at all times, otheriwse a predator might have an easy dinner, for the horse cannot run away properly.

In this YouTube video, all of the aspects mentioned above, and the bulletin points underneath can be observed!

Bulletin Points

I have also tried to note down some of the most important things happening in collection:

  • Higher erection of the neck

  • Vertebral column arches upward

  • Collection au natural

    Flexion at the poll

  • Vertical head position

  • Withers come upwards

  • Free and light shoulders

  • Usage of “stomach muscles”/abs

  • Ribcage is lifted up

  • Usage of upper line neck and back muscle (nuchal ligament is contracted)

  • Longissimus dorsi can move freely

  • Get the back up

  • Collection au natural

    The pelvis tilts

  • Engagement of the hindquarters

  • Setting the hind legs under – Stepping in under the body

  • Shorter, higher strides

  • Lowering of the hind leg joints

  • Freely moving tail

  • “Shorter body”

It is important to note that all of these things are interconnected and interrelated. This is due to the horse (bio)mechanics.

More detailed explanations

In this section, I will briefly elaborate on some of the bulletin points mentioned above and try to make the connections between them clear.

  • The joints – hip, knee, hock and pastern – are always bent to a degree, which leads to shock-absorbing movements. This bend affects the forehand as well, since, due to the bending of the joints in the hindquarters, the croup is slightly lowered, which in turns arches the spine slightly upward and thus raises the forehand. This increased flexion of the joints during the weight bearing phase, is a prerequisite for impulsion. (See above – energy/impulsion). The forehand of a horse should not be forgotten though, since it is pushed up by the muscles of the shoulder the chest and also somewhat the neck muscles.
  • A horse uses his abs to support the arch of the back and the croup.
  • The base of the neck is lifted and the upperline muscles are contracted. The nose drops towards the vertical
  • The tail of the horse should be slightly arched (neither tucked in, nor overtly sticking out) in a horizontal line and then fall down freely, moving gently from side to side.

Levade, the highest form of collection

Levade, with rider

Conclusion

I would like to end my article with a quote by the old (horse) master Xenophon:

If one induces the horse to assume that carriage which it would adopt of its own accord when displaying its beauty, then, one directs the horse to appear joyous and magnificent, proud and remarkable for having been ridden.

Finally, one of the nicest videos on collection I have seen so far:

References:

http://horsemanpro.com/articles/collection.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collection_(horse)

http://www.equusite.com/articles/riding/ridingCollection.shtml (read this article for a bio-mechanic explanation!)

http://www.equusite.com/articles/riding/ridingCollection.shtml

http://www.josepha.info/ (article contra collection)

http://www.pferdemeldungen.de/2011/10/hin-und-weg-von-der-losgelassenheit_1853.html

http://todayshorse.com/what-is-collection/

http://horses.about.com/od/glossaryofhorsetermsc/g/collection.htm

Pictures:

Youtube.com

http://www.youtube.com/user/TaonaraTV#p/u/3/IbHXw7Sj8K4 (Taonara – O-Master)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDJPDfwidVc&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMB0QTDbNjU&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAWjTnFqVvA&feature=related

 

Originally published on Stéphanie Kniest’s blog Homo Equus: http://lilith16.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/collection-2-proper-collection/

Jun 072013
 

I believe that one of the most important things to pay attention to when training horses is proper collection.  This concept is probably the most misunderstood concept among a large number of (professional) riders. When I turn on the TV and watch a dressage show, or go into a barn and watch people riding, what I encounter most often is a wrong form of collection  and/or not even an attempt to collect the horse at all. Thus, in either case no collection whatsoever.

 

Definitions of collection

The first thing one usually does when trying to find out about a certain subject is googeling it and usually ending up at Wikipedia. Wikipedia claims that collection is “ when a horse carries more weight on his hind legs than on his front legs” (Wikipedia.com). This statement, even though it is heard most commonly when we talk about collection, is not correct! The horse cannot carry more weight on the forehand than on the hind legs, because in the front of a horse are the neck and the head located. I think that this mistaken statement has arisen due to the fact that it might look like the horse carries less weight on the forehand. This happens because the front legs of the horse are raised, while the pelvis of the horse tilts down (see section proper collection for a more detailed explanation). Another definition works out better: “Collection is the bringing together of both ends of the horse for the purpose of lifting and lightening the forehand”(TodayHorse.com). In this definition, one of the main goals of proper collection, the lightening of the forehand, is brought forward, without implying anything about physical weight being carried on the forehand.

Contra-Collection

Before I will explain what proper collection is (in my next post – the article got really long all of the sudden when I was writing it, so I had to divide it in two posts), I will first introduce the opposite: contra collection. This term has been introduced by a dear friend of mine Josepha Guillaume. Much of my understanding of contra collection (and collection in general) is actually derived from her cliniques and her horses (all of them teaching me a lot). By understanding what contra-collection is (and how it comes about), I feel that one can more easily understand and even better value true collection. To make the connection more clear in the text, the contra-collection aspects are written in bold letters, while the opposite aspects of proper collcetion are written in italics.

Our fault

In my opinion, contra collection has to do with how a horse is being ridden. I believe that it is only because of us that a horse will ever walk in contra collection.Young, untrained horses for example mainly walk in their natural, horizontal balanceContra collection happens when the horse is ridden from “front to back” instead of from “back to front”, or in other words, when the horse pulls himself forward with the forehand (rather than pushing himself with the hindquarters).

Our fault of emplyoing aids

Often some form of “aids”, such as draw reins, running martingales, or tiedowns are applied to force the horse’s neck down. The problem is that all of these so called “aids” strengthen those very muscles that raise the horse’s head and drop the base of his neck. Thus, the horse ends up being even more high-headed and more restive with tighter back and loins muscles, than before.

What exactly happens when we tie a horse down?

  • By pulling the horse’s head down, we distort the balance system of the horse (which, just like in humans, is located between the ears). The horse actually feels like it will fall over; in order to prevent this from happening, it tries to pull its head up again (the lower neck muscle is contracted(rather than the topline neck muscle). This also leads to a contracted back muscle (raher than a relaxed back muscle), which disturbs the horse’smovement and leads to unrhtymic gaits (rather than a rhtymic gait). Furthermore, it starts to fall on his forehand in order to not fall on his nose (muscles are contracted) (rather than a light forehand).
  • By employing a strong hand or aids, the horse is forced into specific frame, which will produce, among other things, a shortened and stiff stride(rather than bent properly the joints of his legs), in which the horse’sshoulders aren’t raised.Furthermore, the hind legs will come out behind the horse and the front legs will be set more underneath the horse (rather than having the hind legs deeper underneath the body). Also, the back of the horse drops down (rather than being raised upward).
  • Also, the horse will probably flex his neck at the centerline (rather than at the poll), which leads the horizontal/straight line to rotate downward in the front (rather than rotate upward). The horse will carry the weight on the forehand with the longissimus dorsi, the shoulders, the lower neck muscles and the front legs. A horse that has been rideen in such manner has a very specific composition: the lower neck buldges outward, there is an unnatural bend on the topline of the neck(extreme S shape), the shoulders are heavily developed while there islittle muscle on the hind legs nor on the topline of the neck, the withers are tugged in and the longissuímus dorsi is so tense that the horse cannot maintain proper rhytem in the gaits.

For a better understanding

I was reading through my article and I feel that it might be helpful to introduce a movie that explains the horse’s anatomy. So, here we go:

Movie 1

Movie 2 (is a video of images on the horse’s anatomy – like you would find in a book)

If you know any other helpful movies, please feel free to comment and introduce those =)

It is always useful when exploring the concept of collection to deepen one’s knoweldge in the horse anatomy. Just buy a book on horse anatomy (for example Gerd Heuschmann – If horses could speak)

Examples

I would like to briefly introduce two examples. in the first example I will explain what happens when the horse’s neck is forced down, while the second example very briefly explains what happens if the horse’s neck is forced too much upward.

If the horizontal line falls to the front (the bit is underneath the hip line) and the horse is asked (usually with spurs) to engage his hind legs by placing them well underneath the body, than the horse’s back will be pressured upward, leaving the hind legs lightened (total opposite of the proper collection). This will also result in the horse’s energy to be waste by him trying the reach the ground and lose balance.

Another example, opposite of lowering the head, is erecting the head. In this case, the horse doesn’t adequately bend his joints in the hind legs and the back becomes pressured downwards.

In neither one example can proper collection be achieved.

Effects of contra collection

–> All in all, what happens is thus the exact opposite of collection, hence the name: contra-collection.

Horses that have been ridden in contra collection for a long time have all the opposite muscles of proper collection well developed and trained. Thus, it is a long way to restore and built up the riight muscles for proper collection (but usually possible)

Also, this form of contra collection will, in the end, lead to pain and injuries of the horse (especially the neck and the forehands, as well as the back). Examples are sore stifles, sore back, kissing spine syndrome, lameness, and all sorts of front end problems.

Click here to check out some really good pictures that help you understand the problematical parts.

_

…to be continued…

References:

http://horsemanpro.com/articles/collection.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collection_(horse)

http://www.equusite.com/articles/riding/ridingCollection.shtml (read this article for a bio-mechanic explanation!)

http://www.equusite.com/articles/riding/ridingCollection.shtml

http://www.josepha.info/ (article contra collection)

http://www.pferdemeldungen.de/2011/10/hin-und-weg-von-der-losgelassenheit_1853.html

http://todayshorse.com/what-is-collection/

Bilder:

YouTube.com

(1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47SHPAe0s0k

(2) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fITBkQOFuBo&feature=related

 

Originally published on Stéphanie Kniest’s blog Homo Equus: http://lilith16.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/collection-1-concept-and-contra-concept/