Erik Herbermann - March 2015

After Erik's clinics I like to ask the observers and riders who I usually teach, what they learned from the clinic and I always get a variety of answers. Those who actually ride on the clinic generally are at an advantage as the comments are directed at their own personal riding issues but it is amazing how much one misses. Erik insists on having the lessons recorded for one's own personal use and these are invaluable. Quite often I only pick up on some things when I listen to the audio or watch the video recordings of the lesson. It is always easier to see things from the "peanut gallery" but even then, sometimes the obvious is overlooked.

This year the theme seemed to be "rein contact", especially the outside rein. Don't hang, don't hold; aid - light; "haaaave" the outside rein. How many times have I heard that and why is it so hard to do? Even Erik said that he hasn't found the right word to describe contact. The difficulty of focussing the attention on the contact is that one can become fixated on the hands only whereas the contact truly comes from the back and seat via the hands to the horse's mouth. The hands are only 10% but they are a very important 10%. The slightest incorrect attitude in the hands can ruin good work so it is worth getting them in the right place with the right qualities. "Both reins even, keep the neck the same" is one of Erik's old sayings and it took me a long time to understand what he meant. Both reins even means even length, not necessarily even weight. Keep the neck the same means keep the horse's whole spine the same whether you have a bend, a flexion - "look this way"- or are as straight as a plank. "Keep the shoulders between your knees" is also a useful thought.

The horse will change his neck bend for several reasons

  1. the rider pulls on one rein and/or gives up the other
  2. the rider allows the horse to pull one rein forward and/or drop one rein
  3. the rider pulls sideways across the neck or away from the neck
  4. the rider fails to keep an accurate school figure (and/or resorts to one of the above)
  5. the horse falls in or out with his shoulders
  6. the horse falls in or out with his quarters
  7. the horse draws back from the contact and is no longer reaching forward into both reins
  8. any or all of the above at the same time!

Sadly, it is always the riders responsibility - don't blame the horse simply because you haven't the skill to help the horse enough" - and hardly surprising that at times it seems an impossible task. The more perfect one tries to be the more "picky the horse (and Erik) becomes about things not being quite right. The horse escapes, evades, drops the contact, snakes its neck, snatches, throws its head and the rider is made to look as though he or she has hands like a butcher! Hardly surprising that riders disguise problems in the contact by taking a good fistful and making sure that the horse doesn't dare move its head at all! Of course Erik sees through this ploy but a lot of people don't and a seemingly perfect outline can fool them into believing that the horse is working correctly through its body. Not necessarily true!

A good contact can only be achieved when the horse's energy flows unrestricted through its body and it is truly balanced laterally as well as from front to back. This is one of the goals of riding but it is no coincidence that in the scales of training, contact comes after rhythm and relaxation and before straightness, (not forgetting the 3 cardinal rules of generally calm, forward and straight). A good contact requires the horse to participate and complete the circuit. It is still the riders responsibility to "inspire" the horse to do this and this requires patience and tact and a lot of good practice.

Impulsion/energy comes after contact and straightness yet being able to channel and direct energy is part of the whole issue of guiding and bending without losing alignment. Without energy, the horse is empty so while it is useful for the rider to learn guiding and bending at a slow pace, it only becomes a living thing when there is energy through the horse. In fact when one can direct energy without impeding the flow, both horse and rider are liberated and energy flows more freely. The rider asks, and the horse willingly participates - unreservedly. Holding, hanging, pushing disappear like early morning mist.

Outside Rein
Erik has said to many riders direct the outside rein to your navel and have the rein "strung" around the outside of the horse's neck. However, I have noticed that this seems impossible to do when the horse is falling in as the hands tend to go towards the outside of the turn/circle. Conversely when the horse is falling out, the hands tends to go toward the inside of the turn/circle. While this may help you to keep to your school figure/line in an emergency taking the rein across the neck is a poor substitute for riding with "the full orchestra" of the aids so that the horse's neck and shoulders stay between the river banks of the riders seat, legs, knees and hands/arms. In addition, it can be difficult to discern the difference between turning left or right. For example, on the right rein, the horse falls in so the rider is more likely to pull the outside rein away from the neck but may congratulate themselves because the outside rein is definitely NOT going to cross over the neck. On the left rein the horse falls out so the rider is more likely to pull on the inside rein but can congratulate themselves on keeping the outside rein against the neck. Riding with the reins in one hand is a good antidote to these one sided rein aids. For me, when I run into these difficulties I try to remember to aim the inside seat bone to the outside rein which gives me the rein-to-the-navel effect.

And I still like Filippa's "aim the outside rein aid to the horse's outside hock" as for me it involves the outside of my body and the whole horse, not just the neck.

Work on the buckle
I use this phrase deliberately as opposed to "walk" on the buckle as so many riders think of walk on the buckle as a holiday period. Yes, it can give the horse and a break from more intense or energetic work but it is still work and the rider should still maintain all the attitudes as if the reins were taken up. The horse should still be balanced and guidable and the rider must have a clear purpose. If the rider wants to have a real break and just amble aimlessly around the arena it is better to get off! All lessons with Erik (or me) start with some walk on a free rein but riders still miss the importance of this. Yes it allows the horse time to stretch and warm up but if you have been with Erik for a number of years you will realise that it is so much more than that. When Erik rides a horse, he usually starts on the buckle but he will be already asking questions of the horse so that by the time he takes up the reins he has already made many small adjustments and established correct responses to his aids. Those in the peanut gallery frequently miss the subtleties of this important part of his ride and only get interested when he does something a bit more exciting! David is a master of work on the buckle a he has spent many hours and many thousands of euros on acquiring the skill on a number of excitable horses!

More words of wisdom
Spooking - don't react: it is your problem not the horse's
Psychological elements are as important as technical ones
You can be technically perfect but without being spiritually in touch with your horse, it is useless.
Horses and humans are equal in that sense.
If you feel you need to use the inside rein use the inside leg instead.
The inside leg must "know" the outside rein. Direct the outside hand towards your navel.
Halt must mean halt! Otherwise it is just a bunch of hanging and holding and neither the horse nor the rider can be free.
If you have to keep saying "slow down" or "don't run", the horse is running on nerves and this is not forwardness in the real sense and is not useful
The horse must become lazy before you can add useful energy
Leg yield - get those halts in! then once you have your angle, move the whole horse as a unit.
Keep the horse's shoulders within the stream of energy in any lateral work.
Shoulder in - don't think sideways. It is not a shoving-the-quarters-over
Half pass - you need the outside of the horse's body from hind legs all the way through to the bit.
Keep adjusting and trusting; then just ride
Think of your purpose and feel the result in your horse.
Bend should not cause the horse to fall apart in his energies.
The good rider "inspires" the lethargic horse to go forwards and calms the tense /nervous horse
The seat and body via the reins halts the horse
Heavy pointy elbows as if they are a great big sack hanging from the ceiling, especially when the horse seems like it is all over the place!
A young horse will not understand the outside rein until it has good forwardness
Guiding a horse - use short trajectories, either "tiny circle here" if the horse cuts out or "circle increase" if he cuts in Make any correction 1/4 of a circles ahead of where you need it. Think ahead; act ahead

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