Losgelassenheit and Natural Horsemanship

Breakthrough day for June!  This formerly stiff-as-a-board but quick-as-a-whip little mare learned to release to the pressure of the bit.  We’re not talking turn or tuck her head.  We are talking release negative tension throughout her entire body. This elementary lesson is June’s first step towards losgelassenheit.

…Before you say “gesundheit” let’s pull our dictionary!

The United States Dressage Federation (USDF) translates the German term “losgelassenheit” as: “Looselettingness” or “letlooseness,” shortened to “Looseness….”

The USDF further elaborates:  “The supple, elastic, unblocked, connected state of the horse’s musculature that permits an unrestricted flow of energy from back to front and front to back, which allows the aids/influences to freely go through to all parts of the horse (e.g., the rein aids go through and reach and influence the hind legs.”

For purposes of the Training Pyramid, the USDF uses the translation “Relaxation” … and the FEI uses the translation “Suppleness.”

Why pull out complicated foreign terms when we’re tallking about training a pleasure horse who will most likely never see be seen halting at X in a dressage arena?

Regardless of the owner’s goals a horse is a horse is a horse. “Dressage,” literally, is the French word for “training.” Classical dressage is the oldest, most pervasive, and most effective system of developing a horse into an athlete for war, for sport, for exhibition and for enjoyment.

Any effective training system, including what we’ve come to know as natural horsemanship, has its parallels in classical dressage. Every athletic effort between horse and human requires “the supple, elastic, unblocked, connected state of the horse’s musculature that permits an unrestricted flow of energy from back to front and front to back, which allows the aids/influences to freely go through to all parts of the horse (e.g., the rein aids go through and reach and influence the hind legs.”  A fixed frame or headset results in athletic–and emotional–restrictions.

Horses can achieve their athletic best only when their physical framework is supple enough to transmit energy efficiently to the rider’s chosen task, regardless of what style of saddle they wear.  Unfortunately, this can be taken to the extreme. EVERY discipline has their offenders who persist even through threatened action at a regulatory level.

Detractors of natural horsemanship often point accusingly–and sadly, accurately– to well-intentioned novices who overuse flexions and one-rein stops to the point of abuse.  The result are horses whose necks are disconnected from their bodies. Their backs can can be rigid, their hindquarters trailing, but their heads and necks flop back and forth like some macabre bobble-head toys.  Such horses are difficult to ride and fall far short of their athletic potential.  They may even end up injured, or worse.

June “knew her flexions” when she first came. She was quick to snap that neck around.  But she bent through muscular effort, not release.  She stiffened to the bit and locked her back, even as she curved her neck. The intended antidote was instead the pathology.

For June, it all changed in that lightbulb moment.  The bit used to mean tense yourself and twist.  Now it means release your body and mind to what comes next.

NOW we can begin an athetic adventure!

Horse Training Tale of Threes

Today’s horse training success story came in a trilogy.  No small wonder, God kinda favors threes 🙂

Got the kind of call midday every trainer dreams of: “you probably don’t remember me but…”  “Of COURSE I remember you, you’re Cassidy’s dad!”  Cassidy was our first student when we incorporated KinderRide into our lesson program:  offering horseback riding instruction to the 2-4 year olds as a preamble to our “big kid’s” program.  Cassidy progressed on through the Big Kid program until we sold the farm and went our disparate ways.  Cassidy’s dad tracked us down via Google.  Turned out Cassidy had just won the National Junior Morgan Dressage Championship.  And it turns out that my mom, who was Cassidy’s first leadline instructor, was visitiing and out on the tractor at that very moment.  Congratulations Cassidy!  All the best of luck at World’s this fall!

Part two:  a typo in the Valley Trader had us calling on a 4 month old colt.  Turns out he is the son of a mare I fell in love with while training many years ago on a Friesian farm in VA. I’m still under the spell of that electric shock.  More to follow….

Last and most….  They say to find the answer you need to ask a question three times.  Long after Mom and I should have gone to sleep I was pestering her with questions.  We were talking about the Thoroughbred Rescue Foundation, a charity near and dear to both of our hearts. We’ve both volunteered time and skills.  Mom was multi day a week regular for several years.

It came out that several years ago she had fallen in love with Lake, whom everyone claimed was incorrigable, yet he pressed his face deep against her belly for comfort in the face of vets and chiropracters and Things That Go Bump In The Night. Shortly after that, he had been returned to the prison sytem, because no-one wanted to adopt him.  “Mom,”  I told her, “if you love him, find him! We’ll bring him home”

She went to sleep, I hopped in the shower.  A while later she showed up with the look of a kid at Christmas.  “Did you mean it? I’m gonna look for him, I’m gonna find him!”

And when you do, he’s gonna have a happily ever after home in Almost Heaven….

Gift From A Horse

Like any young horse in training, Wally the Warmblood has his good days. He has his not-so-good days and he has those frustrating, tear-out-your-hair days when he seems to forget how to put one foot in front of the other, much less do so with suppleness, impulsion and cheerful submission.

Today was like no other. It had been a knock-down drag-out day full of time-consuming roadblocks and way too many balls in the air. And that was just in the office! Wally was the last horse of the evening after working through a particularly tough trailer loading session with a two year-old.

Wally was matter-of-fact from the get-go. Quiet brilliance. Stood like a rock while I mounted. Warm-up. Focus. Turn on the forehand– rhythmic and accurate. Turn on the haunches–ditto. Up into a round, light trot, every step a lesson in newly-developed power controlled not by the rider’s seat or legs or bit but by the horse’s own understanding and desire. Canter balanced, regular, even on that troublesome lead. All the movements and principles we’ve been developing coming together in a moment almost outside time.

Nothing left but to ride out to join the sunset in the spring blooming woods with deep gratitude for the gifts our horses give us.