Interrupting Anxiety

Following on from the previous post which talks about our composure in helping horses through their anxiety, there are a number of actions we can take as well to interrupt anxiety and help our horses cope with scary situations.

These are based on some personal experiences getting my own horses through difficult situations – my list is not comprehensive by any means. The main point I would like to make is that there are two paths the horse can take in their thinking once they find themselves experiencing fear. Either towards self-soothing or not. The latter ends up in a bolt, spook, or some other highly adrenaline-bound behaviour. If the horse has learnt to self-soothe then they will be able to interrupt their own anxiety. We can give them a hand with this by introducing actions that will interrupt it and help them down the path to self-soothing.

Tip 1. Let the horse move their feet if they are mildly fearful. Move in a circle to stop any bolting.

Tip 2. Stop movement completely by disengaging the hind in a one rein stop. This is for extremely fearful situations that may turn dangerous if the horse is allowed to move.

Tip 3. If the horse is going into a scary or new environment then encourage the horse to put their head down. This is easier from the ground. The use of treats can also help the horse move their head down, and be a reward for calm behaviour. If possible, have a more experienced buddy horse there as a calming tool.

Tip 4. Use a wiggle of the reins or lead rope, or a voice interruption for a spook when the horse is not prone to bolting, and then go back immediately to what you were doing or something else easier (don’t stop and reward the spook). Spooking often happens due to overwhelming factors, which can include working hard or doing something difficult on top of some other stimulus. Therefore reducing the stimulus of something that you can control (the task the horse does) can help the horse to control themselves.

Tip 5. Have a well practiced routine that the horse knows and can execute well as a warm up in a difficult environment. This will give the horse confidence. E.g. walk in 10 meter circles, change the rein, stop, move backwards, and any other moves that the horse knows well to be done in the same order.

Those are some of my tips to help the horse in the moment. Of course, spending time with gradual introduction to stimulating environments can build the horses ‘immunity’ to getting overwhelmed. Good stimulus (like rubbing the mane in front of the wither – if they like that, accupressure near the poll and other relaxing points, or giving feed/treats) in conjunction with scary stimulus can diminish the response, which can be repeated at regular intervals to desensitise horses to environments and sounds. Horses bodies are large and unwieldy which leaves them feeling vulnerable to things going on around them. Therefore good coordination and body awareness (proprioception) can also aid the horse in their level of confidence. There are methods such as using TTouch wraps that can help horses feel more confident and aware of their bodies, stretching and mobilising bodywork, and Sure Foot® pads that help horses reset their nervous system. All of this helps with their coping mechanisms under stress.

Anxious Horses – Energy and the Horse

Performing at the Equidays Top Talent Night Show. This was a first for both of our horses Toby and Hugo. It was a great test of keeping our energy levels stable to reassure our horses within a big atmosphere.

There’s something about horses, a sixth sense that most humans are not attuned to noticing. Let’s call it the ‘energy sense’. I believe that this comes from the highly developed nervous system in the horse, a gift of evolution that has helped them survive. There is a hypothesis that horses synchronise their heartbeats in a herd and also that a horse-human synchronisation of heartbeats can occur. As yet, I’ve not read the science and research that backs up those claims, but it sounds quite plausible.

From my observations, synchronisation is a calming factor with horses. We don’t always know it, but it’s also the same for humans. Mirroring others is entwined in our human social bonding.

Whether we know it or not, human beings can also sense energetic changes. The problem with us is that we are very good at projecting what we think is happening on to external sources. If we feel anxious, we will somehow find something to blame and fail to acknowledge our anxiety. I do it – you probably do it – let’s be honest!

Horses have no need to pretend that they’re anything other than what they are.

Marcel Montañez

My recent issues with not being able to catch my mare, Lily, would be an example. I happen to know already that she reacts strongly to my energy. It’s likely that she reacts to the energy of the other horses too, but I have to acknowledge that I’ve been stressed lately, rather than blame it fully on introducing her into a herd with mares (see my previous post titled ‘Setbacks‘).

It’s a frustrating revelation then that anxiety problems in the horse are mostly our problem. Good horse trainers can push horses into stress while teaching them but then bring it down again just as easily. It causes me to conclude that a method of training is not nearly as important as the human who is doing the training. If the horse senses anxiety then they will not be able to bring their stress down. This can even happen in R+ trained horses that may display emotional reactions which keep their anxiety active. I believe that there is a difference between being ‘nice’ and being ‘kind’. Have you ever tried to raise a child with a method that involves being ‘nice’ all the time to them? Hence, I rest my case!

Kindness on the other hand is clarity, boundaries, and mutual respect. Sometimes kindness involves being very firm. Kindness also involves listening. Kindness involves teaching another to function properly for their own sake (and not for our own egotistical agenda). Kindness involves building self-esteem rather than entitlement. Again, I have to look to parenting for a parallel – I have a teenager at home that thinks 24/7 use of a smart phone is her entitlement (everyone else is doing that!). But to be kind, I have to teach her how to function in the world that requires other activities, and that involves having to be the bad cop sometimes to break that addiction. The withdrawal period at first is really the hardest bump to get over, and then when the emotional reaction has subsided there will be a greater capacity to think more clearly.

At some level, in order to develop completely as a human being, you need to be aware that there’s no need to be anything other than what you are.

When you develop a certain level of comfort and confidence about who you are internally, then you’re free to be part of herds. You’re free to have relationships with people.

Marcel Montañez

If you want to reduce anxiety in your horse, then look to yourself and accept who you are and what you need to do to be kind (rather than nice) and then confidently apply your method of teaching which is clear and consistent, giving the horse enough time to understand. Anxiety is not created by pushing the horse, it is created by never allowing them to drop their level of stress while they are around us. Clarity and understanding gives the horse a stable emotional state. Pressure and release can be as effective as R+ . Our emotional state is the key, and the method is secondary.

Long Rein with Ramón Guerrero

Today I ventured back to my old neighbourhood near Old North Rd to have a lesson with Ramón Guerrero, a classical trainer and co-founder of the Royal School of Equestrian Art in southern Spain. I took Toby the Pony with me to learn how to do classical long rein properly (I have never had a lesson in this before).

So, we turn up with our long rein ‘gear’ which was a kiwi ingenuity do-dah of two sets of reins joined together to make a long rein…thankfully, Ramón was very understanding of my explanation that you cannot buy a classical long rein in New Zealand. ‘What do we have here?,’ he must have been thinking.

Toby waiting for his lesson with Ramón Guerrero.

Ramón, who is now 70 years old by the way (and looking in great health!) watched us at first to see what we knew. Well, let’s just say, that turned out to be very little when it comes to the long rein methods! First of all, I was standing on the wrong side of the horse. So, I was advised to switch to the outside and use the inside rein to turn Toby on a circle.

Toby was not going forward into the bit which meant that I had very little maneuverability of direction. So, he had to get a bit more forward and taking the contact. We did some exercises to help this, a sort of lunging with the horse between the long reins, so that the outside rein went around his hind. Then another version of the double lunging with the outside rein crossing over the wither, which is not as efficient for the flexion, but with the main aim of getting more forward movement.

Apparently, I am to be ‘the commander’, so I’ve been a little too relaxed about our training. Toby was told to get to work, which is exactly what I was expecting from Ramón. To my surprise though, the trot work is where he will build the strength for piaffe. I thought that the canter is harder work for the horse, but with Toby electing to canter over trot, it seems that this is the easier way for him to get out of using his back. We are going to do the exercises from now in trot.

Our beginners piaffe was called a ‘shuffle’ by Ramón. I had figured that I would get some good honest truth, and well, I could hardly be offended by that…we’ve never been taught anything about this! So, we are going back to the drawing board until he has more strength in his back to be able to lift up as a diagonal piaffe that can move forward, rather than shuffling on the spot.

To Toby’s credit, Ramón did see the potential and said that he looked like a mini-Lipizzaner. I know that Toby has the heart of a Lipizzaner even if he is a good old kiwi stationbred! He definitely thinks he’s special. Unfortunately, Toby didn’t know about all the hard work that Lipizzaner’s do to look so special. Well, he might have a clue now!

We did a kind of shoulder-in lunging technique that Toby needs to do until he can hold his back in place for the piaffe. Luckily, he’s a quick learner. Now, for the gruelling schedule of daily practice. Classical training is very demanding. Ramón told me that to get to Grand Prix in the long rein he schooled his horse every day for two years. Okay maybe five days a week for us…I’m not sure we are headed for Grand Prix!

I also learned that Ramón is very fascinated by snow and skiing…perhaps I could teach him something??

The making of an Expert

To learn it more deeply, teach it.

Daniel Coyle

Daniel Coyle’s book ‘The Talent Code’ is one of my favourite books. It is a goldmine of tips on developing skill. It debunks the myth that talent is born. Instead, demonstrating through examples of the author’s research, how talent is developed. Ten thousand hours of deep practice is the core premise of becoming an expert.

What is deep practice?

Deep practice involves struggle. It is a cycle of paying attention to errors and practicing again by making a correction in the quest for a better attempt.

The sweet spot: that productive, uncomfortable terrain located just beyond our current abilities, where our reach exceeds our grasp. Deep practice is not simply about struggling; it’s about seeking a particular struggle, which involves a cycle of distinct actions.

Daniel Coyle

The theory is pertinent to any skill being developed. We often classify our skill level based on years of experience. However, this is not a true measure of skill. The amount of time spent gaining experience is only worthwhile if the practice involves extending your capabilities by making mistakes and being particular about correcting errors.

I have posted previously with some thoughts on how we can be misled into discouragement. Expert information is powerful and let’s be honest, it’s something that some experts try to protect for their own security. We need to debunk some myths on that journey:

  • Years of ‘experience’ by itself does not make an expert. The willingness to struggle over and over learning from mistakes is the key to becoming an expert. Reaching the top level of talent takes about 10,000 hours of this process.
  • It is not a linear process. Change follows a very chaotic pattern which is mostly hidden from view in the recounting of how people reached success.

In Daniel Coyle’s book he has researched some of the talent ‘hotbeds’ where exceptional skill is mastered; the soccer schools of Brazil, the tennis academy in Moscow, the writing of the Bronte sisters. The author has found similarities in all of these skill incubators – Practice, Ignition, and Master Coaching.

Ignition is the energy, passion and commitment. It is the motivational fuel to make the struggle worthwhile. In my own experience of running a grassroots vaulting club, the ignition is absolutely critical. It is the first part of developing skill. For our club to begin, we looked to the top performers to provide our ignition. They were the inspiration where we could see the future possibilities. Our vaulting club was started in 2014, the year that the New Zealand vaulters competed in the World Equestrian Games in France.

The other part of the developing exceptional talent is the coaching. One important skill of the coach is that they are absolutely committed to the development of their students.

One does not become a master coach by accident.

Daniel Coyle

The skills of master coaches are not grandiose and a mere radiance of their presence. This is why a highly acclaimed expert is often not the most successful coach. Master coaches have the following similarities:

  • Listening far more than they talk.
  • Older and reserved.
  • Less inclined to give inspiring speeches and pep talks.
  • Spending the most time offering small and deliberate alterations to student practice.

Our Real Life Experience – the making of a vaulter

The journey of my daughter, Jasmyn, is a great example of some of the concepts in this post. Our vaulting journey began in 2014 when we attended Equidays and Jasmyn met the Kapiti Vaulting Club team that had represented New Zealand at the World Equestrian Games. In this video Jasmyn is trying vaulting for the first time as part of the youth camp at Equidays.

From then on Jasmyn was hooked, the ignition had been started! She had two collaborators to help her in this journey – me (Mum) providing the resources to allow her to practice, and her younger sister who was equally keen to do gymnastics on horseback.

Then came five years of practice. Jasmyn wasn’t afraid of making mistakes and trying again. In fact she had printed out a saying and posted it on her wall.

Don’t be afraid to fail

(jasmyn’s wall quote)

That quote served us a few times in our struggles and suffering of major setbacks. We tried to create a financially stable club – we failed at that, but continued using our own resources to keep vaulting and train others. We were privileged to be given a trained horse, but he had difficulties and we ended up having to retire him early. There were consequences for our lack of funding and after a few tries, we decided that it was not viable for us to run camps. But we took every opportunity that came our way, from performing at local events to attending the vaulting camps and club competitions at the Kapiti vaulting club and eventually joining them to perform at Equidays .

Our little club that was operated from our home barn gained a presence in the online vaulting world with videos of our training sessions on Muriwai beach. This attracted some highly experienced European vaulters to stay with us while travelling in New Zealand, providing us with expert coaching. Our lovely 18.1hh horse, Tiny, gifted to us from the Kapiti Vaulting club, was certainly a catalyst on this vaulting adventure.

After sending Tiny on to live a more relaxed life with a new family, we only had our smaller Clydesdale crossbred horse, Hugo, to carry on our performances. As Hugo became slower with age we even had our little 13.2hh pony in some events. It was not ideal, but Jasmyn and our small group of vaulters continued despite the barriers, and driven by the inspiration of the Kapiti Vaulting club and the vaulters who had came to coach us. The calendar of the 2014 performance at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France was still hanging up in our hay barn beside the vaulting barrel and a wall mirror for perfecting those moves on the barrel. Our skills at performing to music were improving as we showed up at more events doing our own performances and watching other performers, learning from mistakes and also successes. We studied what others were doing, and also developed our own flavour and creative skills. The following video shows the girls practicing one of the performances, as they did judiciously for hours on the barrel in the barn. It was later performed on Tiny at his last vaulting event.

In 2017 we purchased a big warmblood called Chico to replace Tiny, but we were sadly misled in this purchase, costing us quite a bit of money for a horse that was not suitable for vaulting – in fact he was a rehabilitation case and we ended up exhausting our finances trying to help him. The vaulting club pretty much ground to a halt in that phase. We gave a big push to reinvigorate it by offering vaulting barrel lessons, but that didn’t take off. Another fail.

Jasmyn kept going though. While our vaulting club had come to a demise, she looked further afield, setting her sights on making the New Zealand team that was aiming to compete at the Vaulting World Championships for Juniors in 2019. At 14 years old she was invited to Kapiti, with a host family arranged, and she went to train with the club in their build up to the World Champs. She had some catching up to do, not having done canter vaulting in a while and having started vaulting a few years later than most of the team. The determination was there and she was selected to the New Zealand team, culminating in her international vaulting debut. Jasmyn went to compete in Europe in 2019, with only a few chances to practice before this competition on a completely unfamiliar horse (and she exercises her motto with perfection here, keeping going after a fail).

Jasmyn had been an integral part of the Waimauku Vaulting Club, teaching others at clinics and lessons over the years. We went on that journey with her, keeping the motivation around for her to reach upwards. Her vaulting continues now through the Kapiti Vaulting Club. There are still momentus barriers from our little island in the Pacific where there is no formal competition, and the recent world pandemic state has isolated us even further from aiming for another achievement. But maybe it’s a little ‘hotbed’ for vaulting here in New Zealand? The ingredients are here and the struggles and failures are certainly real. Perhaps that makes us all that more determined to get there in the end.

Even the most creative skills—especially the most creative skills—require long periods of clumsiness.

Daniel COYLE

Honing into your Intuition

One of the hardest things to overcome in training your horse, is feeling like you’ve got to be ‘up there’ with the rest of them. When you succumb to the pressure of taking shortcuts or forcing something to happen, it never seems to work out for the best in the long run.

I have a couple of ‘rules’ to try and stop myself from falling prey to this human tendency.

  1. If I cannot show up with the right mindset for my horse, then I need to take a day off riding and horse training. This includes being too tired, because that can be a minefield, one minute you have patience and the next minute a short fuse reduces you to the epitome of what you know is the wrong way to train your horse.
  2. Always falling back on my intuition. If it doesn’t feel right then stop doing it (no matter who is giving me instruction).

I recently broke both of these rules. There are many horse trainers who won’t tell you about their negative experiences. This does create a sense of awe for their competence from us mere mortals. BUT really, behind the scenes, there are many negative things going on. The key to a good horse trainer is that there is growth from those experiences.

Advice should always be put through our intuition filter. Firstly, we need to put the information into perspective – does it follow our principles and objectives in what we want to achieve. Secondly, we may not be at the stage where the suggestions will be useful. Thirdly, the negative experiences have probably been omitted to make it seem like the process was more simple than it actually was.

I’m finding that even though I believe in my own horse training abilities, and I have the desire to keep learning and growing, I can get side-tracked by self-doubt at times. Staying the course of this journey with my horse is a test of my discipline to not let an overly anxious ego get in the way. Yes, I want to prove that I can do it. And No, I don’t like showing mistakes or negative experiences. However, it is the way that we learn. It comes with the journey. We are where we are right now for a reason. A person who is on the road to self-mastery will appreciate the downs as well as the ups.

Take it one step at a time, and look for those small improvements. Those are the celebrations. And when things turn out in way that wasn’t planned or expected, there will be a silver lining in there somewhere. We just have to look.

Things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.

John Wooden – Hall of Fame American Baseball Coach


Change is not linear progression. It looks like this (yes I drew that myself!).

Acknowledging this messy and chaotic way of development is hard for us when we are wired for perfection. This can make us give up! Others tend not to divulge this process as they work their way through something, because it can be interpreted as failure. People might try to step in and help us when they see this happening…not always actually helping, but sometimes even hindering us. So, don’t be afraid of mistakes and setbacks. They are a normal part of growth, a frustrating part, but nonetheless necessary.

People take the longest possible paths, digress to numerous dead ends, and make all kinds of mistakes. Then historians come along and write summaries of this messy, nonlinear process and make it appear like a simple, straight line.

Dean Kamen

Here’s where I confess my setbacks. Well, I’m running through a succession of them at the moment. From going back to a basic paddock for training (having had to say goodbye to my sweat and tears hand-built sand arena at the farm I have just sold), to a number of unexpected training setbacks with the horses. It has been a lump of them at once and that has dashed my confidence a bit. However, I have pulled some strength out by remembering what has been achieved already. I can look back and be proud of those things which refill my cup as I go into tackling the difficulties I am facing.

This is our new place. A block of grazing land. My former barn and mud-free covered pens has been replaced by a couple of shipping containers with some tape for a makeshift pen on the grass. The electric fencing is a bit light in power and the horses have been breaking through frequently (daily for Gino the chestnut) into the lush grass. Sugary grass = wild ponies.

We’ve been taking it slow in the training department. I like to give the horses time to adjust to new surroundings. It’s been a big shift for all of us, and a break was quite welcome on my part too. But now, weeks in, I’m getting back to some sort of routine. Lily, the black mare, has had to cope with another 5 mares taking the attention of her boys in the next door paddock. She’s been policing the interactions, but Gino is quite smitten with some over the fence smooching. I don’t know if this is the reason that Lily has been a bit shifty and moody. I’ve had a hard time catching her lately. This seemed to intensify after I took her out on the weekend in the horse float (trailer for those outside NZ). She is not keen to get in the float, and it took me a while to cajole her into it on our way there. The methods for asking her to keep going forward (as advised by an experienced trainer) would not necessarily be too harsh when used with most horses, but she is a very sensitive horse. After this incident, I have spent days training her again to be caught with the halter. She had decided to show me in a big way that some trust was damaged. I could approach without the halter and feed and pick her hooves out, but as soon as I came up with a halter she bolted around the paddock, determined to outrun me despite the sweat it was causing her (unusual for Lily as she conserves her energy quite wisely). It just goes to show the level that she is able to communicate with me. It was all about the halter.

I’ve also come to realise that I know my own horses very well, and sometimes I downplay my own intuition when I’m taking advice from someone who seems to have a better skills. Unfortunately my penchant to defer to others does cost me time lost if the method is not suitable for my horse and I now have to undo more issues. Eventually things will get back to normal with patience. We’ve had hurdles before that have been overcome but it has to be in the time frame of the horse. Often we don’t know the agenda behind other people’s actions. You can only take a situation for how it affects your horse and what you are prepared to deal with as consequences.

My main goal is to enjoy my time with the horses. They are an expensive and time consuming hobby. There is no point in being on someone else’s timeline or agenda. This is my hobby, my money spent, my recreational activity. It needs to fit my agenda only, which is to develop a confident horse and a trusting partnership, taking the time it takes on my availability. I’m okay dealing with setbacks – they are not failures of my horsemanship. It’s part of the process.

Overcoming Disruption

One of the most difficult things to navigate in life, I have found, are disruptive people. They use all manner of tactics to implement their disruption. There are those who become involved in building something together, allowing you to depend on them and then withdraw, often without explanation and if one is given it is to assign blame on your part. Then there are others who will belittle and criticise your efforts to develop and grow, either covertly or sometimes even overtly. And then the ultimate disrupters are those who create obstacles and barriers to slow down your progress or even halt it. The latter would be referred to without question as bullying, but belittling also has an element of bullying and so does the use of withdrawl in terms of creating an uneven power balance and the effect of disrupting progress.

My cheeky pony, Toby, came up to me yesterday and bit me on the bum playfully (he didn’t leave a mark). It had been raining and the three horses were excitable and wanting to run around. I chased him away. He went straight over to my mare, Lily, and bit her on the bum. She was not impressed either, although slightly more receptive than I was, offering a bite back to his neck and a stamp of her foot. If only it was that easy to overcome disruptive people!

The key to managing disruptive people is to remove the effects of their tactics. A strong sense of self is required to move ahead without taking personal objection to these tactics. It is common for these tactics to work because of our social structure and high dependence on others for validation. It can literally break us down when we don’t have enough sources of validation. Disruptive people themselves are often seeking validation but they do not use a healthy means of attaining it through merit and mutual support. Instead they want to shortcut the process, usually because of some form of entitlement, and gain validation through means of power over others. Gaining power over others in an unhealthy way is by diminishing others to gain status, rather than earning status by gaining respect.

Typical traits of people who are disruptive include:

  • lack of empathy
  • excessive needs for admiration and being treated as special
  • difficulty with attachment and dependency
  • seeing their needs as priority and failing to acknowledge others needs
  • fixed mindsets and envy

The most effective way of removing the effects of their tactics is to remove the disruptive person themselves from your sphere of orbit. Often times disruptive people will play on the use of pity to enable them to repeat their process again and again. They will also use tactics such as gaslighting, a technique that denies and twists the perspective in order to cause you to doubt yourself. For example, giving a cruel message and then saying it was a joke. Another example is blatantly denying something happened. Blameshifting is another tactic that disruptive people use in order to avoid responsibility and accountability for their actions. They will often have a severe reaction to your reaction to their initial behaviour. For example, a disruptive person may fail to show up for something important, and then instead of apologising they get annoyed or withdraw when you bring up your disappointment, as well as include reasons for their behaviour that were because of you. “You didn’t tell me….” etc.

In circumstances when you have to deal with disruptive people, it can only be said that you need to get VERY THICK SKIN. Disruptive people try hard to disrupt and it can feel like an onslaught and a never ending battle. Often these people will be very conscious about hiding their disruptive behaviour and their external image will be well crafted to look saintly. Some ways to address it can be to give them minor or few responsibilities so that they do not have the ability to disrupt important things. You can also accept their need for superficial recognition by providing flattery and compliments in higher quantities (as cheesy as that sounds). Ask for their opinions (where you may be able to follow their guidance) and be sparing about offering your opinions to them. From their perspective, their opinion is the only one that matters, so don’t get caught in a trap of giving out information that will be later used against you. The most important factor is not to give up on your goals. Look for ways around the disruptive person to reach your objectives. Eventually, they will tire of disrupting and move onto an easier target.

See the light at the end of the tunnel and keep moving towards it!

Virtual Working Equitation Competition 5

Online Competition

March – mid June 2021

Pas de Deux Ease of Handling

for the lower levels

Lead-line or In-hand class (walk/trot),Preparatory (walk/trot) and Preliminary (walk/trot/canter between obstacles)

All you need to enter is:

  • A camera with tripod or friend to film you
  • A dressage size area (40mx20m) with access to items for creating simple obstacles (no construction required), e.g. barrels/buckets/cones/tyres and jump poles, or similar items
  • Internet connection to upload videos to YouTube

Entries for a Pas de Deux (pairs) competition , the fifth virtual competition, have now opened. Follow the facebook page for updates .

Open to competitors worldwide. See you there!

Entries are closing on June 14th 2021 11:59pm NZT. You will be added to the mailing list for notification of competitions.

Virtual Working Equitation Competition 4

Online Team Competition

January 2021

2 phases
Dressage and Ease of Handling

for the lower levels

Lead-line or In-hand class (walk/trot),Preparatory (walk/trot) and Preliminary (walk/trot/canter between obstacles) and Novice level with walk and canter in obstacles and canter between obstacles.

All you need to enter is:

  • A camera with tripod or friend to film you
  • A dressage size area with access to items for creating simple obstacles (no construction required), e.g. barrels/buckets/cones/tyres and jump poles, or similar items
  • Internet connection to upload videos to YouTube

Entries for a team competition , the fourth virtual competition, have now opened. Follow the facebook page for updates .

The competition is running under the New Zealand format with experienced judges using WEDU (Working Equitation Down Under) rules from Australia. Open to competitors worldwide. See you there!

Register your interest and see course walk videos for competition 4 (without any obligation to enter). Entries are closing on January 11th 2021 11:59pm NZT. You will be added to the mailing list for notification of competitions.

Impulsion Revisited

My horse, Lily, and I have been investigating the concept of impulsion. This word is part of the “Training Scale” and seems to have different meanings to different people. It is possibly one of the most disputed terms alongside “On the Bit”.

So, beginning on this journey, I have taken a deep dive into the interpretation. I am not wrapped up in FEI Dressage and therefore what is judged in that discipline does not have any particular allure to me. My focus is on training a working and pleasure horse that is nice to ride and uses their body musculature and movement in a way that is beneficial. In Working Equitation impulsion is also judged. My confusion in the term really came from the departure between the FEI Dressage concept of suspension as the interpretation of impulsion and the more literal concept in Working Equitation dressage somewhat more aligned to thrust. In the latter dressage definition it is described as the “desire to move forward, elasticity of steps, suppleness of back, engagement of hindquarters.”

Previously, I have used the word “spring” to describe impulsion. This may be one interpretation under the suspension concept but I’m now revisiting the use of that word as perhaps being too narrow. Literally in English, an impulse is a thrust, a push; a sudden force that impels, an induced motion. It implies that the stored energy (which is also gathered in suspension) is used to provide the thrust of the motion.

Now the big question. Can you have impulsion in walk?

Nuno Oliviera says that impulsion is necessary at all gaits. The German Training Scale implies that it is only present at the suspensory gaits, trot and canter.

“If your horse goes from walk to trot without changing the head and neck position, the walk had good impulsion.”

Nuno Oliviera

Looking from a perspective that is not a judging concept, it would seem that walk can have impulsion. We want the thrust to be carrying rather than just pushing, and therefore in an upwards forward direction. Walk steps can store energy and have a variable thrust power.

Is “power” a good idea to carry around in regards to impulsion?

The limited exposure that I have had to a feel of “impulsion” or my idea of “power” is recognisable in the walk. It also then seems to translate into the upper gaits. To me, at walk it feels more bouncy. That does give an idea of springs and suspension, but more like the suspension on a vehicle that is dissipating the energy rather than taking off into flight. On a horse that energy seems to be moved into the back and wither area. Classical concepts suggest that the energy goes through the riders body as well as into the neck of the horse to provide lift. The energy travels through the riders hands to the reins and bit/jaw of the horse and then back in a circuit to be released in the next step.

I am noticing some change in this area in Lily, by experimenting with this concept of impulsion. As Nuno Oliviera described, the transition from walk to trot is getting smoother, and she is placing her hind feet down a little longer to initiate the thrust. The change in her wither and neck position is visibly moving toward carriage therefore she has less tendency to lift herself by leveraging her neck and shoulders, instead letting the hind quarters provide the power.

I must admit that working on impulsion has been the most frustrating concept for me so far. At one point, I felt like I was ruining the relationship with my horse because I didn’t know what I was looking for. I had to drop it from my agenda for a few weeks, rethinking a strategy for approaching it. When I came back to it again, I put some goals into my riding, to initiate a lighter feeling with my seat. I also found information from the Ritter Dressage online sessions to be useful for techniques in keeping the horses feet on the ground longer in order to generate more uphill thrust.

Here are some of the latest clips of where we are currently in this journey with working equitation obstacles. We are still needing more flow in our trot transition (this may not be the best example that I have taken) but the walk steps have become a little more bouncy and upright as opposed to shuffling her feet. It looks a bit less obvious here than it feels riding her. Lily is starting to “get it” and that is a great feeling.