A lexa Schulten-Baumer. Su Metodo.
We shall take care not to annoy the horse and spoil his friendly charm, for it is like the scent of a blossom: Once lost, it will never return. ~ Pluvihel
These words should be foremost in the mind of the dressage rider. For the overall development of a young horse, it is crucial that a trainer maintain in the horse the in-born spirit and expressiveness that misguided training can so easily destroy. She must also be able to improve the horse's willingness to work by building the cornerstones of training: relaxation and suppleness. Only when the horse responds properly to light aids has the ultimate goal been achieved.
Proper training can only take place when a rider works with her horse and they can form a partnership. For the rider this involves a high degree of training and concentration in order to achieve a constant awareness of the horse she is riding and the effect of the aids on the horse. This state of awareness must begin with an accurate assessment of the horse's potential and daily work which challenges the horse without exceeding this potential. Then, every aid that is given must be done so very carefully and specifically. Any positive reaction of the horse should be praised and rewarded immediately. Likewise, a negative reaction should more likely be assumed to be the result of confusion rather than disobedience and should not necessarily serve as cause for immediate punishment.
Any aspect of training that does not involve a straight and supple horse is completely useless. It is imperative to constantly stretch and ride every horse over his back, i.e., from back to front and back again, at every step of the training process. There has been a lot of confusion on the subject of stretching. Many people have interpreted stretching to mean pulling backwards on the reins and bringing the horse's head down toward his front legs. A horse ridden in this manner can only curl his neck and can never loosen his back. He will always stiffen and draw his back down and away from the rider's weight. The result is stiff and powerless haunches which can never develop carrying ability. In a properly stretching horse, the horse's head is carried low and the horse's back is raised to a position where the pushing aids can influence the horse to the utmost degree. The hands serve as a guiding aid and the seat and legs serve as the primary pushing aids.
In order to prevent the young horse from losing confidence, a rider must recognize precisely when and why to give each aid so that the horse cannot be confused by mixed signals. By the same token, older and more experienced horses will only be happy and confident when ridden in a clear and thoughtful fashion. Older horses must also be ridden over their backs at all times, during the warm up as well as during all exercises. It is important that exercises be used to enhance suppleness, rather than for their own sake. Correctly performed work must quickly be rewarded. School movements must be finished once they have been properly executed because excessive repetitions make the horse dull and bored, and thus interfere with the ultimate goal of ever-increasing lightness of the aids and harmony between horse and rider.
The Schulten-Baumer method is based upon a single principle: A horse can only develop as an athlete if he can become round and allow his back to accept the aids. My training system begins with teaching the horse to stretch and thus be able to be truly influenced by the rider's seat. Once the horse is stretching properly the rider must then become aware of the tremendous effect of the aids and how they influence the horse's way of going. The rider must learn to use this influence in a positive way to develop the horse's athleticism, work ethic, and way of going. I strive to teach riders to use their aids with great care and effectiveness in order to produce in the horse a true working partner.
To come down from our human pedestal and put ourselves in the horse's shoes may be difficult, but it will prove to be rewarding. One of the major problems throughout the entire training process is that riders are unaware of their own weak and strong points. By so doing they lose sight of their end of the partnership. When a horse is allowed to work with his rider in a partnership of mutual understanding, he will be able to do far better than the animal whose rider has only the perfection of exercises in mind. For this partnership to happen, the desire of a human being to understand the horse's mentality is a prerequisite.
A rider who can only see and think in a human way will continuously misdiagnose situations and frustrate his horse. The next time we find ourselves in a situation where we seem to be getting nowhere, we should try to remember this: Most disobediences are actually misunderstandings. They are directly related to a rider's incapacity to communicate fairly and consistently with her horse. Maybe we should bring the horse back to his stall and take an honest look at how we ourselves have been communicating. Have we been asking for too much, or asking in a way in which he cannot understand? Just how often are we truly functioning at our peak, yet every day we expect such a performance from our horse.
The various ways of making the horse understand what we are asking for should be discussed. Every horse is different. There is no such thing as a perfect horse. Every horse can only respond correctly when a rider asks correctly. Horses are not always going to be thrilled to have to learn new things. He might not even seem to respond initially to even a perfectly timed and applied aid. But a thinking rider will be patient. She will wait for the exact moment when the horse submits mentally and physically and respond in a rewarding manner immediately. That is where the rider has the chance to turn that submission into a desire on the part of the horse to work together. So begins the true partnership between horse and rider. If, on the other hand, the rider doesn't accurately read her horse and lets that moment of submission pass with no reward, she will never be able to form a harmonious partnership with the horse. Through constant repetition and drilling she may eventually be able to persuade or even force the horse to do certain things, from lateral work to Grand Prix exercises. She may think that she has won, when she has in fact lost her partner and her friend.
The meaning of the aids.
The application of an aid must be a means of aiding the horse in understanding what the rider wants to do. The better the rider has been trained to give these aids in a way that horses can understand, the less chance of conflict arising between horse and rider. Aids can only make sense to the horse when the rider understands that each aid does not merely stand by itself, but influences the horse's entire being. Nor do they limit themselves to a single body part. When they are properly coordinated, it is possible to achieve complete control over the horse with light aids.
Aids can be separated into two different categories, direct and indirect. The seat, rein and leg aids are physical or direct aids because they involve a direct contact between the horse and rider. The mechanical aids that do not involve this direct contact are what we call indirect aids (i.e. spurs and whip). The more that a rider has to rely on these aids, the less real progress she will make. This is because only a meaningful coordination of the direct aids used at exactly the right time can properly evoke the desired response from the horse.
Although individual horses vary in their degree of innate sensitivity to physical stimuli, it is possible to train a less sensitive horse to be extremely responsive to the effect of the aids. Begin every training session with soft aids and gradually increase the pressure of the aids as needed throughout the session. As the horse warms up and submission is attained, then return to increasingly soft aids, ending every horse's session with only light aids.
Irrespective of where we place the horse on the intelligence scale, one thing is certain: Horses do not have the ability to think logically. They think by means of association. They are herd animals and need to feel present in their lives a very definite order of rank. Certain animals are in charge and certain animals are subordinate. This is a normal situation to a horse. It gives him the security of knowing where he belongs. When people are working with horses, there should never be any doubt in the horse's mind that the human being is the one which is in charge. When he has this in his mind, he is in his optimal working climate.
It is important to bear in mind that for it to be fully and properly attained, submission can never be achieved with the use of power. With this in mind, the rider must understand and utilize psychological aids to the greatest degree possible to influence the horse. In the daily work with horses, there are innumerable moments when the psychological signals from a human being can determine whether a training session ends up being a positive one or a negative one.
The opposite of the psychological balance achieved as the result of the horse's trust in the rider's authority is a state of nervous excitement. Sometimes nervous excitement can merely mean overstimulation. It can be caused by the rider simply asking too much of the horse, frightening the horse with excessive punishment, or from unfamiliar or frightening environmental circumstances such as horse shows. When any of these is the case, it is crucial that the rider take the pressure off of the horse until the horse can settle down mentally. Here it is very important that the rider stay in the leading role and exude a quiet calmness that the horse can lean on.
A certain amount of nervous excitement can, in the hands of the experienced rider or trainer, be a positive tool that may stimulate the horse to higher levels of achievement. However, this all depends on the rider's ability to sense exactly how much excitement she can bring into play without losing the horse's psychological balance and thus keep it a positive experience.
The degree of control we have over the horse from the saddle depends on the rider's command of the seat aids. The seat is a physical or direct aid because it involves a direct contact between horse and rider. A shortcoming in the training of many riders is the relatively superficial treatment of the influence of the rider's weight in the saddle. The correct seat is based on the principle that a rider must at all times have her center of gravity over that of the horse's, regardless of the gait in which the horse is traveling, the type of movement which the rider is asking the horse to perform or the type of seat (i.e. rising or sitting, light or deep). The security and certitude of the correct seat come from an independent balance, which a rider gets when he is able to keep the three points of her seat in the saddle continuously. This should be seen as one of the rider's most important goals.
Once the seat and the rider's weight are able to be used as an aid, they must then be used with proper timing to have the full effect on the horse. It is very important that the rider be continuously aware of the relationship between the behavior of the horse and the influence of her seat because when a rider can apply her seat aids and use her weight to aid the horse, it is possible to achieve real harmony with the horse. Practice shows us time and again that most horses will deal with the disturbances of the unbalanced rider goodheartedly if it doesn't interfere too harshly with the horse's ability to move. However, he will be truly thankful and rewarding to the rider who, by trying to melt herself into her horse, allows him to move naturally and freely.
After the initial familiarization with the reins, a rider should be taught to start using them as aids. The reins are primarily used in the process of gymnastisizing or bending the horse laterally as well as vertically. To be able to do this, a coordination of all physical aids is necessary. The ability to flex and bend correctly is one of the hallmarks of a truly supple ("durchlassiges") horse. This flexion has to go from the poll over the neck, back and rib area to the dock in the same degree of bend. Even in the case of experienced Grand Prix horses, this gymnasticizing process is a continuous part of the daily work.
The hallmark of finely tuned cooperation between the mouth of the horse and the hand of the rider is that the pressure of the ring finger on the rein be all that is required to make the horse aware of the rider's wishes.
Although use of the rein aids in turns or on bent lines (for example, while riding through corners and circles) to many riders seems to be an easy concept relative to the other aids, practice shows a very different picture. The timing of the rein aids must be as precise as the seat and leg aids, and the degree of this precision determines not only whether the horse will have a soft or hard mouth. This has an impact on the horse's entire body and determines whether the horse will end up a finely tuned, sensitive and expressive animal or a dull school horse. Rein pressure must be precisely timed to be in the instant when the horse can shift his weight and find his balance, otherwise the horse will merely stiffen in response to the rein pressure.
The reins must be used both together and separately. The outside rein fulfills a very important function: it controls the amount of bend. Therefore, it has a governing function. It prevents the horse from merely bending his neck in response to the pressure of the inside rein and leg, thus falling out over the outside shoulder. The inside rein initiates the bend. The degree and amount of bend has to be continuously adjusted to every situation and to each individual horse. In short, the inside gives the command to bend and the outside rein governs and controls the amount of bend.
A further role of the outside rein is the collection function, for example at the strike off and in maintaining of the canter. The collection function of the outside rein makes the horse become more compressed in his entire body, and this is a key component of any higher dressage exercises. When the horse is properly elasticized by the rein aids, he becomes capable of bending in the rib area and by doing so can move his center of gravity over his inside pair of legs to an increasing degree. This leads us back to straightening the horse, since only a horse that is straight is able to collect to the highest degree. In short, one could say that all higher exercises are initiated with the outside rein.
Both hands must be held by a breathing hand. A breathing hand is never held completely still, and gives direction by opening and closing depending on the needs of the situation. It is important that the hand never block or interfere with the natural movement of the head and neck. By the same token, softness can be as detrimental as inappropriate forcefulness if it is allowed at the wrong instant. Therefore, in giving the rein aids, the ability of the rider to know precisely when to give them is crucial to the success or failure of training the horse.
The Leg Aids
The legs are the primary driving and straightening aid. The pushing influence of the legs, isolated in the calves, are used most effectively nearby the girth. The rider must learn to feel and push the horse with the calves, likewise young horses must be taught to listen to the pushing influence of the calves. Only a horse which responds properly to the forward driving influence of the calves can come over his back. Remember always that the forward pushing aid must always exceed the halting aid of the reins and seat in order for the horse to be truly over the back.
The forward pushing influence of the leg is crucial in straightening the horse and maintenance of the horse's rhythm as the horse learns collection. As the seat gives the half halt, the pushing influence of the leg at the same moment brings the hind legs under the horse. The legs are also important in the timing and execution of exercises such as shoulder-in, travers, and flying changes. The inside leg drives forward while the outside leg quietly fulfills a governing role.
Indirect Aids - the whip and spur
The whip and spur are mechanical aids which do not involve direct contact between horse and rider. These are very important training tools, but with these tools one thing must always be in the rider's mind: The more a rider leans on these aids, the less true progress she is making as a trainer.
The whip is first used with young horses to teach the horse to listen to the pushing influence of the calves. Every young horse will respond to the tap of the whip on the shoulder or behind the saddle by moving forward. In early training, the horse must learn not to fear the whip, but to respect the whip. The rider can use the whip to help teach the young horse to listen to the calves as the forward pushing aid. As the training of the horse progresses, the whip can be used during half halts to bring the hind legs under the horse and thus to enhance collection.
The third function of the whip is as a means to punish the horse in the case of disobedience. This must be done very carefully, however, and care must be taken not to frighten the horse. Two frequently asked questions concerning the whip are: on which side should the whip be carried, and; should the rider change the whip from one hand to the other when the horse changes rein. The answer to the first question is that the whip should be carried on the side of the horse where he has the most problem using the hind leg. The whip should not be switched from one hand to the other and the rider should never think in terms or two directions in riding. The straight horse has no sides, he is only straight and forward.
It is important to discuss the role of spurs in training. In the first months of training, spurs should not be used on young horses. During this time, it is crucial that the horse learn to respond to the forward pushing influence of the calves. Later, one should wear short spurs on the young horse to begin to supple the horse and help him learn to chew the bit. In the older horse, spurs are helpful to punctuate and clarify commands such as flying changes. However, care must be taken that the spurs not be relied on as pushing aids.