Understanding the German Training System with Christoph Hess

Christoph Hess is the coaching and training co-ordinator German Equestrian Federation education unit in Warendorf. Christoph is also an international FEI judge. He is generous in sharing his time and knowledge and provided the following simple explanation of that crucial element of the German training scale – losgelassenheit.

‘Losgelassenheit’ means suppleness combined with looseness and the complete absence of any tension. It is the prerequisite for any advancement in training. Together with regularity, it is the primary goal of the initial, familiarising, phase.

Regularity in the gaits can only be correct when the movement goes through a swinging back. The horse’s muscles must work in an unconstrained, free and easy manner.

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Visible and internal signs of ‘Losgelassenheit’
– A contented expression (eyes and ears)
– An evenly swinging back
– A light champing of the bit with a closed mouth
– A tail carried and swinging like a pendulum with the movement
– A purring rhythmic ‘blowing’ which is a sign that the horse is mentally relaxed.

Why should a horse be supple?
1. For physical reasons
Suppleness is comparable to any athlete’s warm up. The purpose is to warm the muscles and increase the fluid supply to the joints so that the body can react elastically, rapidly and efficiently.

2. For psychological reasons
The horse should be contented and quiet, but not dull or tired. Over enthusiasm and a desire to go forward, are completely normal, but they can be tempered by an appropriate period of suppleness. At the end of the suppleness phase, the rider should be able to sit comfortably and initiate the driving aids.

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Suppleness exercises under Saddle
What matters is selecting the appropriate kind of exercise, the right sequence and duration according to the level of the horse and rider.
– Medium walk on a loose rein
– Medium walk on a loose rein with control over the poll
– Working trot with the horse working through his whole body
– Rising trot to relieve the back, make breathing easier and to supple the rider.
– Trot-walk transitions to refine the aids
– Working canter, already paying to straightness. (possibly in half seat)
– Increased work on curved lines
– Frequent changes of direction
– Frequent canter- trot transitions
– Serpentines – single loop on the long side / three loops, width of the arena
– Turns on the forehand for the co-ordination of the aids
– Leg yielding – away form the track and toward the track / away from the inside or outside leg along the wall / along the open side of the circle
– Lengthening the strides at the trot and canter – to develop or maintain the desire to go forward / to activate the haunches
– Frequent ‘chewing the reins out of the hands’ to encourage yielding at the poll and test ‘Losgelassenheit’

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Verification of ‘Losgelassenheit’
Giving the Reins
Chewing the reins out of the hands
A horse which is supple will be:
– quiet but not sluggish
– active but not hurried

As a rule, correct suppleness and the establishment of ‘Losgelassenheit’ will make the nervous horses quieter and the lazy horses more active.

This first appeared in the December 2004 article of THM.

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Eventing Safety with Andrew Hoy


THE BIG 4: Forward – Stop – Turn left – Turn right

I’ve had my worst experiences when the horse hasn’t taken notice of the four things which we have to teach them – go forward, stop, turn left, turn right. If I don’t have the control of one of these, cross country becomes a frightening experience. You have to have your horse listening to your aids. It’s the culmination of putting those four things together, that allows us to run and jump with our horses.

I really believe that horses are very generous and they are on our side. They can also become frightened, so it is important that we don’t ask them anything beyond their capabilities. You can keep them on your side by being quiet with them. They have to be believers in you, and understand what you are asking. I think that we as riders get too aggressive when something doesn’t happen the way we want. You have to remember that the experiences the horses have, especially if they are bad, aren’t forgotten easily. It takes a long time to work through those bad experiences. If you develop a particular bogey jump, where you or your horse has had a bad experience, you need to go right back to step one and start at the bottom and work up.

When you’re riding cross country, any problems that you have in the showjumping will become magnified because the difference between cross country and showjumping is the speed that we travel at, the surface that we run on and the fact the fences don’t come down. So we definitely need control.


Gear and rider safety

Rider safety is definitely a priority with me because I always like to be able to tell my own stories rather than have someone else tell them as I am being driven off in the ambulance. Rider safety comes about by clothing:

– Obviously a helmet

– I definitely wear gloves because my hands are my life support. The other day I had a girl in my lesson who ended up with blisters on her hands from trying to stop her horse. The pain of the blisters affected the control of the horse and allowed the horse to run three or four kilometres per hour faster than it should have. So always wear gloves because your reins are your life line. I wear cotton gloves, I’m not too keen on leather gloves because leather on leather, or leather on rubber, can get slippery if it gets wet.

Spurs and whips are important. You don’t necessarily have to use spurs just because you have them on. Always carry a whip. Again you don’t necessarily have to use the whip to assist your leg aid, but if you’ve got it, you can use it. It’s no good sitting in a bucket at the front of the horse float, you need it with you.

– The other thing I always use, especially as I’m based in England, is a body protector. Firstly because it’s compulsory at competitions or if I go and hire the facilities and school cross country somewhere. The requirement is for insurance purposes but I also think it is a good thing. But remember, just because you are wearing a body protector does not mean it is going to keep you alive. It is only going to help in as far as if you fall onto something sharp like the edge of a jump, it saves you in that area. It is not a body armour. It does not stop you from breaking bones. It doesn’t mean you can throw all the other things like control out the window.

GEAR – The Hit List

Reins: How many people check their reins before each event? Not very many! Reins are very important because it’s very frightening if you can’t stop. I know of a situation where the rein broke and the rider jumped off and needed a total knee reconstruction because of the way he landed. Reins are much cheaper than paying for a knee reconstruction.

The kind that I prefer are the type that loop through the bit because they have minimum stitching. If you can’t get this sort, use the buckle sort of reins, not the ones with the billet as these have been known to pop out.

You need to check the stitching on your girth and stirrup leathers regularly as well.

Cross Country Boots: If a horse goes down in front and the hind legs comes through, they can end up cutting the front leg’s tendon. A horse can actually cut through the boot unless it’s specially designed to protect the tendon. But it is better to have any kind of boot on than nothing. The wrap around style boots are good if your horse has tendon problems, but these are not something I would use all the time.

It’s very difficult to give a horse tendon support. Tendon support is part of your training program, not just something you can do on the day of the competition. Don’t get too wound up in someone saying you can really give a horse tendon support. It’s very difficult to find something to support a tendon or a ligament – but you can protect them. The major injury of tendons is a blow, heat and swelling comes to the area, we go and work the horse and that then weakens the tendon.

RIDER POSITION – keep yourself nice

Stirrup Length: You need to have good angle in your knee and also to be able to get yourself out of the saddle. You need to be able to ride shorter cross country than you do showjumping. Depending on what I’m riding, if it is a novice horse I would probably go up one hole from where I showjump. If I’m riding an advanced horse or a horse that pulls a lot, two to three holes. The shorter you ride the easier it is to control the horse that gets really strong. The closer you have your shoulder to your knee, the more leverage you can have against the horse, just with your body weight. If you ever get the opportunity to ride a racehorse, you need to have your stirrups short enough to get off the horse’s back. You just sit quietly off the horse’s back and let the horse gallop along underneath you. A horse’s back moves up and down when he gallops.

To give you another example, if I put your stirrups to dressage length and put you on a horse that was running off, you end up with just the strength of your arms trying to stop the horse. But if you ride short you can just sit against the horse with your body weight which is far more consistent than pulling. So if your horse gets a little strong, ride a little shorter. With a novice horse, I like to have plenty of leg support there, giving him confidence and keeping him going forward when he sees things he’s not quite sure of.


When you’re galloping cross country and the horse makes a little mistake, you need to be able to calm the whole thing down.

We want the horse to know, if he gets into difficulties, if he slips, he can just take time with things, so they learn to get themselves out of trouble. If a horse has slipped badly or hit a jump badly, just keep hold of the front end, keep hold of the reins, just sit quiet and try and support the horse. Let the horse find his feet, try and slow the whole thing down. Don’t pick up the reins, and grab his head and pull it up, and give him a kick to get him going. Let the horse take time to get through the difficulties. All you can do as a rider is sit still and give the horse support by keeping your leg just there, keeping your own balance, and keeping hold of the horse with the rein which gives support through the mouth.

I want my horses to be on my side, so I spend a lot of time reassuring them that I’m on their side, and trying to make things easier for them. When you come to a jump, the horse is the one who has to decide to leave the ground. I can try to get him there right, but if he says no, there’s nothing I can do. You can push and pull and shove, but you cannot make an animal do anything.

I remember I once saw some people trying to get a donkey into a stable. There were two pulling, two pushing and one on either side and they spent 15 minutes trying to force the donkey in. Another man came up and said, ‘I don’t think this is going to work,’ and took the donkey and lead him in a circle and into the stable. How many times when you went to Pony Club did you Mum, Dad, big brother and Auntie and Uncle all trying to get the pony on the float? It doesn’t matter how small the animal is, you can’t force it to do something, they have to want to do it. That’s why it’s so important that we don’t become too strong. Remember the basics: horse control, rider control, safe gear and an intelligent line of attack.



From the Archives: Reiner Klimke – the way forward for Dressage Judging

Roslyn Neave remembers: THM was privileged to interview Reiner Klimke on several occasions, this time at Frankfurt Show in 1998. The interviews were always arranged for us by Dr Klimke’s elder son, Rolf, and the Klimke family remain dear friends to this day. The German press were rather surprised at Dr Klimke taking time to talk to this outsider Aussie magazine and I had to explain that it was private interview in English before the press conference, and position my camera bag and a couple of chairs in strategic spots to keep them away…’things were different back then… but nothing much has changed in the judging debate…

DrKlimkeReiner Klimke has always been a leader, a winner, a champion, and now, having come to the end of his career as a competitive rider, he starts out on a whole new phase in the extraordinary life of this extraordinary man… at the most recent FEI Assembly, Dr Klimke was elected to the Dressage Committee. In this explosive interview with Chris Hector, Dr Klimke gave notice that he intends to make his presence felt. He is someone whose expertise in equestrian sport – as an Olympic level eventer, and a World Champion of Dressage – cannot be questioned, and now freed from any competitive involvements, Dr Klimke has the knowledge and the independence to become an even more important influence on the world stage…

There seems to be two different philosophies of eventing dressage – the obedient-at-all-costs school of thought and the judges who look for real movement and who take account of the quality of the movement…

“You will always have problems in a discipline where you just cannot measure, but judges must look to the rules. There is only one opinion that is right and this is the opinion described in the rules. We all have to follow the rules. The rules say exactly how you should judge, but you must know the rules, and know what the rules mean – and the rules mean classical riding.”

“Classical riding starts with correct movement, we want to build up the strength of the horse and build up the movements – make them more brilliant more expressive, more light, more supple, and if you do not understand this, then you do not follow the rules. When halt at A is asked, if the horse is not standing exactly at A, then this horse is worse than the horse that is standing exactly at A. That is the difference but you cannot make a philosophy of it.”

What if we get a beautiful trot across the diagonal, but the horse has one break of stride, and on the other hand we have a horse that makes no mistake but nothing expansive or big moving?

“Here the rules say the better moving horse earns more points. With the good moving horse, you start from ten and deduct, with the other horse, you start from six because of the quality of the movement – the horse with the limited movement cannot get better than the six. The horse with more potential, he is sitting on an eight and he makes a little mistake to go to seven. Still he is better than the other one but this is in the rules. I hate to think judges have different philosophies, we should speak with one voice, good is good, bad is bad.”

At every major 3DE in the world, judged by the elite group of the world’s eventing judges, we see dramatically different rankings…

“This is because the judges are wrong, not the rules. The judges are wrong. Every judge has to work on himself, so he exactly follows the rules. He has no right to say ‘but I have a different opinion’. If he wants to do that then he should not judge – because the ‘opinion’ is described in the rules. I am very strict on this matter because I am now a member of the dressage committee of the FEI.”

After Badminton 1996, where there was such a big difference in the scores between Mr Le Goff, Lord Carew and General Grignolo, a special committee of the FEI was supposed to resolve the problem yet the problem is still there…

“I have an invitation from the British to go there for two days to discuss with the judges, how we should judge the dressage. I am still on the international eventing judges list, I will go two days in the next two months, and have a meeting with the judges in England… to find a line. Then I will have different horses and I’ll tell the riders secretly what to do, and then ask the judges, ‘what do you give? And why?’”

But we have some very top international eventing judges who still can’t see a late flying change…

“The judges must be criticised and they must accept it. Because the judge has the same responsibility as the rider, and that responsibility is to learn, for your whole life. If a judge doesn’t want to do that we should dismiss him. They are not kings, they are responsible for the sport the same as everyone else is responsible. If the judge has a wrong opinion, and doesn’t want to change, then we should throw him out.”ReinerKlimkeWinzerin

Reiner cross country at the Rome Olympics with Winzerin

Who is going to have the power to do that? 

“The FEI.”

And you think the FEI will be strong enough to do that?

“I don’t know, but the FEI committee is there, with Hugh Thomas as the head. If he decided to use his power, then no-one would discuss it, because this is what the rule says, and if you don’t follow the rule – out.  Every year the judges should do at least one training course. Why? That they 100% follow the rules. Is dressage something else? No, it is part of it.”

Do you think it would help if the judges who were appointed for eventing dressage were dressage experts and not required to act as the control body for the whole event?

“No, no. I don’t think this is necessary. We have in the three-day eventing world, enough horse people who know how dressage should look. What we need is courses, so they meet and learn once or twice a year. At the beginning of the season, and the end of the season, the top judges, should meet each other but not just in theory – take some horses, and the best riders, or the worst riders, it does not matter, look for a real expert who knows the sport, then on the performances, train your eye. Then you get the right answer.”


In the world of dressage dressage at the moment, there is equally an atmosphere of angry controversy…

“Yes but to judge in ‘real’ dressage is more difficult because there is more jealousy. The eventing people are in my opinion, more friendly to each other – there is more friendship and they take it easier when they get a low mark. They say ‘okay tomorrow we have the cross country ‘ and then we will see. The dressage riders cannot give such an answer until the next event.”

“So it is more difficult to judge real dressage competitions, but it’s the same, the judges have a real responsibility to the sport – the responsibility is not that their own ideas become reality. Exactly what we have in our dressage rules, everything is described there, and if you want to change the rules, then the changes have to be recorded.”

“For instance, now the piaffe may have the idea to go forward, before it had to be exactly on the spot The moment the rule is changed, then the judge is forced to look at the matter. The judges must train themselves very seriously, more than they did in the past, because our FEI ‘O’ judges, mostly think they know it now – but only for this moment life goes on. You always have to work in your life, every day you learn – I hope every day, I learn. It is this way of thinking that judges should see as their role.”

“I don’t like one judge talking about another judge, saying I thought he was wrong, that doesn’t help – they must talk to each other. I really watched Mr Lette at Atlanta – because I wrote a book about the event – and he did a really good job. Before the competition he talked about the responsibility, and warned the other judges not to just look through their national glasses, look to the rules, and after the tests, they discussed together, were we right were we wrong. If you judge 30 horses, there is always one that if you could do it again you would give a different mark that is human. But if you make a philosophy of your difference, that is not right.”AHLERICHpiaffe

Ahlerich and Dr Klimke in piaffe

How do you control the promotion of judges in the individual countries – in our country, we’ve seen judges go to a major competition, judge next to a senior international judge – be way off in their marks from that judge, and next month they are promoted by the national federation! Surely it should be established if a top international judge visits a country, and the local judge is way off in the scores, then they should be demoted not promoted…

“We are just at the beginning in this field, the FEI must do much more. The trouble is the FEI hasn’t any money to invest in this and they say, the sport goes on, we have other problems… but this is an area we have to work on. I will bring my whole influence on the FEI committee now, and push for change. We must always think, is this exactly what the rules say? If that is what the rules say, fine. Then 6 or 7 are close together, or 7 and 8 are close together. I look for a friendly point of view, which is allowed, and start with 7. My fellow judge starts with 6. If he holds his relation, and I hold my relation, we have the same winner, there is no problem.”

“When the top judges travel, then they must give them some more money so they can spend some extra days, and have a dressage clinic with the local judges. But I heard with the Samsung competition, that the national judges didn’t go to watch the competition because they were jealous that they didn’t get invited to judge. But the national judges of a country where such an event is held should be obliged to go to the event, and the event should be combined with a judges clinic.”

Is the problem in dressage right now, that never before have we had two horses so equal at the top?

“No no no – in the sixties, with Neckermann, Gunter, Schultheis, in one group there was not an outstanding horse, there we were all very close. At the first World Championships in 1966, they counted the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Special – Neckermann won by one point against Harry Boldt and by three points against me. So we added the scores of five judges in the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special, one between first and second and three points between first and third. Where was the difference?”

But it was not a nationalistic competition – the three of you were all German…

“Yes, there, but then came Chamartin from Switzerland. Look at Tokyo, one point between gold and silver. Chamartin won with Woerman, Harry with Remus was second, that was tight.”

But there wasn’t the sort of tension and bitterness that we now have between Anky and Isabell…

“More friendship, we were all friends. We always had some difficult people, and there will always be difficult people, that is part of horse sport in showjumping it is the same, but we shouldn’t care too much about this, we should look to the performance. But it is not true that we never had horses so close together, right now we have it, then we have had times when one horse was on top.”

Is there a problem at the top of the sport at the moment?

“It is not bad, in the past we had winners with only one point more than the second horse, with a smaller difference than we had at the European Championships at Verden where the difference was clear. There were two good performances, but you are forced as a judge to say – he is first and he is second. When they are close this is not a mistake of the judges, this is the performance of the riders. If it is a hundred metre run, and one has his nose in front – he is the winner and everybody talks about it!”EscadaIngridKlimkeTU

Nearly 20 years after this interview, Ingrid Klimke shows us classical correct movement making the horse, in this case her event mare Escada, more brilliant, more light, more supple…

But wasn’t there some disagreement about the amount a mistake in the flying changes could be penalised, with a different view being put forward by Mr Schutte and Mr Lette?

“This could be, but you must also know that Mr Pieters always has Anky in front therefore they shouldn’t complain. I like Mr Pieters, he is a top man. But if you look at the results in all three competitions, Mr Pieters had Anky in front – yet Bonfire had a bad freestyle because he did not want to walk in Atlanta. In all three competitions, Mr Pieters had Bonfire first and in Verden, in all three competitions, he had him first, they should not complain. Maybe in Verden, Mr Lette in one competition, was a little too severe, but even then it is not sure Anky would have won, because one thing is true, the best freestyle was Isabell because Anky was de-moralised and had lost the freestyle before it started. The way she entered the ring, she had lost already before she started because she felt bad; if you are a king you can’t do this. So I don’t criticise the decision from Verden.”

“What we must do is use the top judges in Europe and teach, teach, teach the judges. Call meetings, like the big seminar we had in Warendorf for the retirement of Uwe Mechlem, we had eighty judges discuss and look, and we saw always different opinions. And we lacked a little the strong hand to say ‘this is wrong’. This is how we develop, that the boss says this is right and this is wrong.”

Is this your new job on the FEI Committee?

“No. I tell them the problems, and I will insist that they solve the problems. I am only a little member of this committee but I know the sport and I have the right to talk, and now, officially. I can officially say to Mr Lette ‘this is my opinion, you are our boss’, I have no problems with him, and when we make him strong, he is strong. We must make the dressage committee strong. With authority, so that everybody says, ‘okay, they are the experts, when they say this is it, we must accept.’ And there it goes.”

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Klimke, Dr Reiner


Schooling Cross Country with Shane Rose


It is always a pleasure to do a story with Shane Rose for he is one of the most thoughtful rider/trainers I know, and he has the gift of being able to express himself so clearly… For this working session, he chose a really striking horse as his partner – the imported Hanoverian stallion, Contenda. The young stallion is in training as an eventer as part of his performance test requirements, with the intention that he goes on to the showjumping arena later. He has been ridden and competed for the past 18 months by Christopher Burton, but when Christopher set sail for the UK, the horse came to Shane. Our training session was the first time Shane had actually sat on the horse.

And like I said, Shane thinks carefully about every moment he spends with his horses:

“My basic theory with all young horses is that I want them to go forwards when I ask, and to stay straight over whatever it is I happen to point them at. Especially with the youngsters when I’m starting with them, I tend not to get too concerned about having the perfect distance, I like to just canter around and teach them to start looking for themselves. I don’t try and miss them on purpose, or give them bad distances, but if I see the distance isn’t perfect, I don’t panic over little stuff – it teaches them to start to focus for themselves. That way when you get on cross country, if something is not perfect, they are more able to help you out.”

Do you like to school them over show jumps before you take them out over cross country fences?

“Not necessarily, it depends a little on the horse. If I feel like I need to school them over show jumps first I will, but if I feel like going out in the cross country paddock first up, then I will too. Horses tend to naturally jump logs better than show jumps anyway. I’m not overly fussed either way – if they are some show jumps on the arena, I might pop over them, or take them in the cross country paddock.”

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I noticed that even when the horse stopped a couple of times, you didn’t get after him?

“No, the first time he stopped, he just got a little confused. The distance wasn’t perfect. The first time he jumped it, I don’t know what he did, he twinged a leg and carried it sore for a couple of strides, and I think he was just unsure why that happened, and that’s why he stopped. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and rode him better the next time. I made sure he got a good distance, to get him confident.”

“The second time, when he ran out on the taller narrow fence – I’m more concerned about that than the stop. When he stopped at the log, it was just a confusion thing, it wasn’t him being naughty. But with the run out, that was a conscious decision, he could jump the fence or take the run out option. So there I didn’t use the stick but I was very firm with my leg, I stopped him running forward and moved him away from my left leg, so that he was very aware that he is not allowed to run through my leg. It was a straightness issue that I was fixing.”

Contenda running out at the roll top 

“He’s very good at jumping, that’s not a problem, but for me, they should be unequivocally straight. If I canter to a fence, they have to learn to jump to the middle of it. If they jump the fence but they twist, or drift a little to one way, I treat that as seriously – or more so – as a run out, because the thought of them not jumping straight, is the first thought of having a run out. Even if I am on course, and I jump an apex, and the horse drifts to one side or the other, I will school it on course, to make sure that they know that they have to take off, go over the fence and land in a straight line. It becomes natural to them, and when we get to more difficult lines, they jump, land straight and canter away straight. It means that if you are dealing with angled rails, they have learnt from an early age to jump straight and go away straight.”

“Today was the first time I’ve jumped this horse. I’ve seen him jump a little, and he is a very fancy jumping horse. I haven’t really seen him cross country. So I started over a few simple logs, just to get a feel for his canter stride and how that all works. Personally, I probably want my horses to take me a little more to the fence than what he was doing at the start. Maybe that was being in a new environment with a different rider, but after the first two or three fences, I wanted him to take me more to the fence, so that I have the option to wait. If he is taking me, and I need to move up to an away distance, it is much better if the horse has got it in its mind that it is going forward.”

“We started over some smaller stuff. He was jumping the logs nicely. We’ve got a ditch that we’ve put some portables around to teach them about the coffin concept. We just jumped the ditch the first time as an open ditch to see what he thought about ditches. He did that really well so we turned back and jumped the ditch one stride to a small roll top. He didn’t quite know what to focus on, the ditch or the roll top. The first time he really hesitated at the ditch, almost trotted over it from a standstill. Again, I wasn’t overly worried about that, I encouraged him to keep going forward, but again he was unsure as to what he was supposed to do, so I just encouraged him.”


 Contenda frightened of the ditch…

“The next time he was much more confident and jumped it quite well. Once he’d jumped the ditch to the roll top, I turned it around, jumped the roll top back to the ditch. He knows that the ditch is there and he can jump it, and that’s not a problem. It is a little more difficult for them to jump something to a ditch, they don’t see the ditch until after they have jump the obstacle in front of it, so it is much more shock value – that’s why we go over the ditch first.”


Contenda confident over the ditch the next time 

“Once he understood that and was jumping it really well, we went on to some fences that are a little taller and narrower. So for the first time, I used the rails on the narrow fence just to keep him more centred. One jump had two rails and one had one rail – he jumped them really well both directions. After that we had a little break and I cantered around for a while, then put the two roll tops with the ditch in the middle together, and when he came to the first roll top with just the one wing, he ran out, and I was quite tough on him because he chose not to jump the fence and run to the side. That’s when I used the correction aid of making him stay straight, making him very aware that he couldn’t go out to the left, even though there was no wing on that side. He had to stay straight. We jumped the other one again just to make sure he stayed confident then came back again and put them together again. Once he understood that he had to jump it straight, he was very good and brave.”

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“For me, that was a perfect schooling experience for the young horse. He hasn’t seen a lot, and it is the first time I’ve ridden him. He would have learnt a lot about what I will accept, and what I won’t accept, and what I want him to do. He made a couple of mistakes, that’s great because I could then school them and help him get better, but he certainly finished the session a lot more confident and jumping fences that are at a more difficult level than what he is competing at.”

Are cross country horses born or made?

“I think you can make a cross country horse if you school them correctly. The one thing that is really difficult, is when they are worried about ditches. Having said, that a lot of ditchy horses are taught to be ditchy, but there are some that are just ditchy – I had a horse, Bobby Dazzler, who right from the first time he jumped a ditch was absolutely terrified of them.  They certainly get better if you school them properly…”

Nikki Richardson was one ditch away from an individual gold medal at Atlanta wasn’t she?

“Nikki Richardson was, and once a horse like Wishful Thinking has developed a real phobia, it is probably the most difficult thing to fix – because a big ditch is a big hole in the ground!”

“The other thing that is very difficult is horses that are very spooky. They will jump the biggest fence in the world, but as soon as they come up to something they are not sure about, that’s a problem. For instance, a log with a slide behind it – some horses will just find that the scariest thing in the world and stop at it, yet they will jump the biggest water complex in the country. It is just the way their mind works, but most horses, if they have the jumping ability, you can teach them to jump cross country.”


Contenda jumping strong and straight

“The best horses are the ones that enjoy it, horses that are brave. Taurus is a great cross country horse because he has always been very brave, but adjustable as well. The horses that are most difficult are the ones lacking confidence and bravery. Horses that are strong cross country are really difficult to make time with.”

You have to deal with that with APH Moritz…

“Absolutely, he is extremely strong. He is as brave as anything, but once he went two star, he was extremely difficult to control. Only in the last few months has he started to cotton on to the idea of listening to me. Certainly at Werribee this year, he was only six seconds over the optimum time, so he is getting closer.”

APH Moritz with Shane at Melbourne 3DE 

How have you got him responsive – lots of junk in his mouth?

“For him totally the opposite. I was riding him in American elevators and big strong bits, and basically he would just lean on them. He is not a bolter, he doesn’t want to get quicker, he just wasn’t responding when I wanted to slow down. What I’ve done is go back into a snaffle, but a very thin sweet iron snaffle. The concept I am going with is that I want not so much a leverage effect with the bit as a respect effect. Since I’ve gone into the thin sweet iron bit, I’ve been schooling him a lot more when I do my gallops – going forwards and back, and teaching him to slow down quicker. If he doesn’t listen to the bit, I can be quite sharp with it and move it in his mouth, and get him to offer quite a quick reaction.”

With the other horse, Taurus, there is quite a lot of Warmblood in his veins – he is by Aaries who is by Azarro (called Aachen in Australia) and out of a Falkland mare – is it hard to get a Warmblood to gallop cross country?

“No. Taurus is not a very fast horse, I don’t think he gets faster than a racehorse’s three quarter pace. Soigne Jackson who works for us, has got a nifty little Thoroughbred, Gold, and she’ll put twenty metres on Taurus in a hundred, when we gallop up the hill. Speed is not what he has got, but because he is brave and adjustable, I can gallop to a fence and not waste time. I can save a second or more on each fence and over a course, that is a minute. If you can adjust them so they are quicker to come back and quicker to go forward, they don’t actually have to be fast.”

“There are some horses that are just too heavy. Statford Novalis was a super super horse, but he had to go faster at fences because he couldn’t go faster on the flat, then they start to lose a bit of confidence. He was a big, heavy horse and when I would go that quick, he would end up in trouble. He did a tendon towards the end of his career just because he was going faster than he was capable of. There is a point where they are too heavy.”

Are the two Warmbloods very different from your Beijing horse, the Thoroughbred, All Luck?

“Absolutely. I’ve got another Thoroughbred at the moment, Il Vici – beautiful horse. Taurus can make time on any cross country course in the world, hilly or flat, but the difference between him and All Luck is that at the Olympic Games, where the going was very heavy and the time was very difficult, he was able to go faster on the flat. He was also adjustable, and if you get the speed of the Thoroughbred, with adjustability, there is no way a Warmblood will go as fast as that… but there aren’t many Thoroughbreds like that.”

You think you’ll get that with Il Vici?

“He’s a lovely horse, he is also very adjustable, and he’s got a super jump. I can trust him to gallop and jump fences. I’m very hopeful that he is going to be very competitive at four star level.”

The young star – II Vici 

Thanks Shane, thanks for your time and thoughtful advice – and thanks to Contenda for being such a great photographic model…

Grace & Miguel – the dance goes on…

Pic1Story by Christopher Hector & Photos by Roslyn Neave

Grace Kay had meant to work with her emerging FEI horse Karingal Jamiroquai, but when she led him through the door of Miguel Tavora’s indoor, we all let out a little groan. The chestnut was lame. ‘He was fine when I put him out this morning,’ groaned Grace. But he was lame, just a little lame, but lame. By the time the vet arrived, he was lame lame, abcesses do that, so they don’t just miss the training session, but also the Sydney CDI, two days later. Horses do that.

Luckily Grace has two horses and Celerity Park Faberge was soon saddled up and the working session was underway. Grace has been training with Miguel for some time now, and has been working at Miguel and Di Tavora’s equestrian centre for the past two months.

Fab was at the SIEC showjumping last weekend, jumping in the 1.25 classes, and this is his first dressage session in a week, but he and Grace know the routine by now.

Those signature circles around the forehand, little tight circles, always with the outside shoulder moving forward, the horse is put into balance, into a degree of collection right from the start, and then the dance of the laterals begins, because in Miguel’s system, the balance and the collection comes from the movements, not from the rider hauling the horse’s nose to its chest while spurring at the same time…

Miguel’s voice is soft, re-assuring, “Circle, get the neck a bit more down but not longer…”


“Now he can come up a bit, perfect, and now down again on the circle. Figure eight, change rein, counter shoulder in, and circle…”


“On the circle lower the neck, up the neck, up and down with the poll. That’s brilliant, now keep him right down, more down, release his neck, then pick him up, collect and canter…”


“Good he is very engaged, you didn’t disengage him with the jumping. Now canter shoulder in on the long side…”


“Circle, a little haunches in, collect a little, then down again, then collect again, diagonal, flying change to the right… Canter shoulder-in on the wall, circle, a couple of strides, haunches in, collect and go. Collect and go…”


“Now to trot, collected, now rising, round and down”


more exercises below

It is a pattern that is repeated over and over, always using the lateral work as a tool for collection, always asking for the horse to be in balance and self-carriage. Grace is such a tactful rider, so attuned to Miguel’s system, that you are not aware of her at all, until Miguel pays her a compliment and the smile lights up her face. Consider the preparation for piaffe…


“Collect the trot, counter shoulder-in on the circle, shoulder fore down the wall – refresh, rising trot, collect, counter shoulder-in on the circle, half halt, half halt, half halt. Shoulder-in down the wall, walk keeping the shoulder-in, and trot straight.”


“Rein back. Now very straight down the wall, sitting half halt, lengthen, counter shoulder-in circle, get him higher. Shoulder-in down the wall, counter shoulder-in down the wall. Collect, up, collect and walk. Long reins, and have a break…”



“Back on the little circle, now down the wall, travers – very small angle – on the next wall, renvers – very small angle.”

more exercises follow

“Now on the 20 metre circle very very small travers, and very very small renvers. Now into medium trot rising. Collect again, renvers down the wall, very collected. PERFECT. Half pass left, renvers down the wall, travers 20 metre circle, Renvers down the wall, rising medium trot circle. Collect the trot in shoulder-in down the wall.”


“Haunches in on circle, very straight walk. Halt.”

Miguel taps gently. “Very small haunches in around me, now on the wall.”


“Now go trot medium trot… Enough, he has a big day coming up and we don’t want to make him tired.”

We talk to Grace and Miguel below

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Grace has recently come to spend three months working full time with Miguel:

“I’ve been here for two months, one more month to go.”

Miguel says you are doing six horses a day, and eight when he’s away…

“Yeah, it’s a lot to do (I wish you could hear Grace’s laugh as she says this) It’s been really good to have the different horses to work with, different problems with them, different ideas that come from each of them. I’ve definitely enjoyed it.”

“We’ve got Gerry, Fab, who you saw today, Sorrento, Maggie Hitchcock from up our way bought him from Andrew Buckley, he’s a five-year-old, Sir Donnerhall out of a Belissimo mare, he is going to be a real superstar. I’m riding Federa, one of Jo Keyte’s stallions, she has just had a hip operation so I’ve been riding him, he’s by Rubinstein. I was very lucky, she had the operation the same time as I came down here. He’s five years old and he’s really good, his canter is just phenomenal. I’ve had a really nice time on him. Then I’ve got the young mare that I am eventing, by Fab’s sire out of a Holsteiner mare, I think she could be a three-star eventer, but those fences are too big for me, so she is for sale. I’ve also been riding Miguel’s Weltmeyer, I took him down to Melbourne and he was a star. Fourth outing, and he didn’t look at anything in the indoor, or the outdoor arenas, he was reserve prelim and novice champion down there. He’s coming on very well, he is very correct, he’s 16.1 so he feels too little for me (the laughter is bubbling over again) but I think one of Miguel’s clients is going to buy him.”

Sorrento - Grace Kay 1-2

Simba (EBL Sorrento) is a 5yo by Sir Donnerhall out of Bella Carmina (Belissimo M) and owned by Maggie Hitchcock

You are addicted to giant horses…

“I know I don’t like it when my feet go past their tummies, they are just too small.”

What do you think you have learnt having this range of horses to work with…

“I think it has been really good because most of the time I can feel things that are wrong and I know what to do to fix them, but it is more of a reaction than something I have thought through. I need this time to understand what I was doing to fix what I was feeling. It is one thing to be able to get on and feel it, and do something to make it feel better, but it is another to understand the process of what you are doing and how that is affecting the horse’s body, and what the action I am taking to fix it, is actually going to achieve.”

“Working every day with Miguel, with him explaining, and showing me diagrams, where this is affecting this part of the body and how this follows on to here, and when you do this, this is actually what is happening. That has been really really good, I am getting a greater grasp of what is going on under me, I’m not just going off feel, and fixing things to make it feel better, I’m starting be able to think it through – okay, this is what is happening, this is what I feel I should do – is that going to really help it? Or is it going to be temporary?”

Has he got you reading all those old books of his?

“I can’t read French or Portuguese, but I do have a steadily growing collection of books, and I do like to read – plus I’ve got a few memberships on line. Mum keeps asking what these bills are for… I think that it is really good to read and then I can ask Miguel about the things I’ve read, and it’s incredible how deep his knowledge is. I don’t think I’ve ever come to him with something that he didn’t know about. I’d like to be like that one day. I am reading.”




What has your apprentice been like?

“Fantastic to have her working here with me. When I am away she rides eight horses and when I come back they are going better than when I went away.”

She says that she now thinks she has a better theoretical understanding instead of just riding by feel…

“She is learning why things happen. There are very talented riders, they have that gift of feeling and even if they don’t understand, they instinctively go there to solve the problem. Or they control the problem. But of course they stay all the time in doubt as to exactly what they did. If they understand more what causes the problem, then they can work directly on the cause. Working every day with six horses is fantastic because every horse is different, every horse needs to be understood, and we need to be able to explain why they react the way they do, once she understands the ‘why’ that is a tool she can use all her life. Then if you have a problem that is a bit similar, you can connect one problem with the other.”


Was your education more theoretical or practical?

“Very practical, but it depends on the person. I was always interested in the theory, trying to understand why the horse reacts like this, why some horses react differently to the same question, give completely different answers, that made me research – made me ask Nuno Oliveira, to ask some of the older students of Nuno Oliveira with more experience than me. I read many books perhaps because I was never a very talented rider, I was not so gifted, I needed to work hard to achieve what I did, and that makes me read more and think more. If we understand what we do, we enjoy it more.”

Reading has gone out of fashion, but if you had to recommend one book to Grace, which one?

“Actually she has already read Reiner Klimke’s book of the young horse, that is very important to understand because that is very much what we do here, that is how we train young horses. Of course she will read Steinbrecht – I think that is the most important. Steinbrecht was really the only one who was able to adapt le Guerinière to the sport horse, to make them more useful, not just going around on the carousels. He was able to make la Guerinière practical and effective with the modern horse.”

“When we see modern equestrian competition, of course we see good, and we see bad. Those things were all in la Guerinière, nothing is invented, no system, no technique. Some people come out with their new theories, but I guarantee I will find them all in my books, written two or three hundred years ago when the horse was a question of life or death, not just to go and compete at the weekend.”

When he is not lame, do you think Jamiroquai is going to make it to Grand Prix?

“For sure, he has a beautiful flying change every stride, piaffer, passage is there, and the work in the canter is going to be very spectacular, the trot is very good, he is going to be a very competitive, modern horse. He is a bit difficult, a bit hot, but he is catching up with his body and getting stronger every day.”

Tavora, Miguel


Miguel Tavora – Horseman, Thinker, Teacher…

1CarryStory by Chris Hector and photos by Roz Neave

Miguel Tavora is a rare combination. A teacher who is happy to get on the pupil’s horse and ride, and a rider who has a rich theoretical knowledge of the classics of equestrian art – aided in no small way by his ability to read the classics in English, French or Portuguese.MiguelBookCover

Recently Miguel has had a book published in his native Portugal,  Conceitos Equestres – Princípios e Técnicas. On a recent visit to his training centre in Kurmond, NSW, Miguel talked about the structure of his book:

“From the beginning I was following the training scale: the work on the lunge, the work on the ground, the breaking in, and what I call ‘the familiarization’ of the rider and the horse, and then to the scale, relaxation and rhythm, balance, impulsion, contact, straightness, lightness and collection. I talk about riding through the lateral work to collection, then the flying change, pirouettes, passage and piaffer.”

Is your version of the training scale, the same as the modern German training scale?

“The training scale is confusing if you look at it by itself. If you look at the diagrams, because of the name, Training Scale, we tend to think we start here, then go there, and then there, and that can lead to errors in training, because all of the elements are a part of collection, and collection, to some degree, even applies to a very young horse.”

“You can start straight away with the shoulder-in, that is not damaging the horse:  the horse can think a little shoulder-in. You can make a shoulder-in with collection, and shoulder-in without collection, so the horse can start to think about a little bit of collection.”

“The important thing is not to be confused by these principles. First we start by rhythm, and after that losgelassenheit, which is often a misunderstood term, it is not only looseness, but also some degree of suppleness. Then you can’t have rhythm without having some degree of relaxation. If the horse is not relaxed, if it is not to some degree balanced, of course a balance in keeping with the horse’s stage of training, more a horizontal balance than the vertical balance of collection, but if you have no balance, you cannot have rhythm. It makes no sense to me, to have rhythm on the first part, then we go to contact and acceptance of the bit – but I don’t think you can’t have anything without looseness.”

“When the horse starts to accept and understand your aids, and your aids flow through, then we have lightness. But of course for the aids to pass through, the horse has to be balanced, to be loose, it needs to go forward, it needs to go comfortably, and be confident in the work. Most important is that the horse is relaxed and forward because then the balance is there for sure. Then he has time to understand our aids and now our aids pass through and are accepted. Again even though you are looking for that from the beginning, it comes later on the training scale, when you are sure that when you make a half halt, and by that half halt you achieve the result that you want.”

more on the training scale follows

It is more a matter of emphasis isn’t it – not this followed by this by this, more this concern is predominant at this stage in the horse’s training, or at this stage in the working session…

“Exactly. But in the beginning you must have all these elements on your mind so that you know that they are connected, and that you can’t have one without the other. You can’t achieve some degree of looseness or of rhythm, without your aids triggering that, and that is already the horse understanding the aids.”

“Then we come to contact, the contact appears – and this for me is very important. It is very easy to get a contact, any jockey when he gallops, he pulls back and the horse pulls on the other side, and you have contact. That is a contact that you look for directly, that is wrong from my point of view.  Contact is something you have to feel happens, because the horse moves forward, because the horse is in balance, because the horse is comfortable, he establishes and accepts the contact with the reins and with the hand because there is no reason not to. That contact has to be firm, it needs to be soft, because if it is not soft, we don’t know if he is heavy or not, but has to be firm and has to be there all the time. What is important to understand is that you don’t look directly for the contact, you have to realize that the contact is the result of your riding position being correct, your horse moving on the correct balance with the correct impulsion, and then the contact happens.”

more on contact follows

“The horse doesn’t seek contact, the horse doesn’t seek anything. What is seeking? It is like the horse wants to go forward. No, the horse has to be ready to go forward. If the horse wants something, it is because his instinct has told him to do it, and if he does it when you don’t want it, that’s a problem. For example if he wants to extend the trot when you want to collect the trot, then you are in big trouble. If you want a degree of impulsion to make a canter pirouette, that is different from the horse wants to have an impulsion to extend the canter, then resistance appears. Not want, the horse has to be ready. The horse and rider are established, and the horse accepts the contact – firm but in a soft way. When I say soft, that is the opposite of heavy, light contact, so that the contact is not dead. I know that if I make a bend, he bends, if I make a transition, he accepts the transition, that is what I call soft. Straight away ready to obey. He doesn’t seek anything, he has to accept.”


Our model, once again, is Miguel’s incredibly talented pupil, Grace Kay riding Karingal Jamirqui, the horse she has taken all the way to FEI level…

It all starts before you get on the horse’s back, in lunging?

“Absolutely. The lunge is the way to introduce yourself to the horse, to establish the first communication of your aids. With the lunge and the whip, we make the horse go forward, you make the horse slow down, lengthen the stride, come to you, make a little bend. Then later on when you hop on the horse, he associates the feelings, when you break the horse the correct way, there is somebody on the ground, and the rider is on top of the horse. The trainer says, trot on, and shows the whip the way he did without the rider, and at the same time, the rider uses his legs to make the horse move forward, and the horse associates the whip that he knows, with the leg that he didn’t know, and there you are, the horse associates, and learns to respond to your legs.”

“If you want to make the circle smaller, you tell your helper on the horse, open your inside rein and make the circle smaller, and at the same time you shorten your lunge, and the horse associates the lunge, which he knew, with the rein opening. That is the language of your aids, that is fundamental to start everything. By the correctness of the lunging, and the side reins, we can start to establish contact, establish the rhythm, the relaxation, establish all the first phase of the scale on the lunge. You are able to work on suppleness, rhythm, contact because the horse accepts the contact with the very long side reins, he doesn’t get upset with the side reins because they are steady and not the rider jerking on top, because if the horse is not trained, he is a bit unbalanced and the rider can become a bit unbalanced too. On the lunge we have no problem with no rider on top and the horse can learn to accept the contact.”

“On the lunge we start with the cavesson only, and later you put on the bridle and the side reins.  On the lunge we can start to mobilise the croup a little around you, and then with the rider on the back of the horse, the rider uses the aids of the shoulder-in, and the trainer on the ground with the cavesson and the whip, makes him do what he had already done without the rider, then when the rider goes to ride the horse on his own, the horse can straight away do the beginning of a shoulder-in.”TRomeo4Lunging photo

“The lunge is the way to introduce yourself to the horse, to establish the first communication of your aids. With the lunge and the whip, we make the horse go forward, you make the horse slow down, lengthen the stride, come to you, make a little bend.”

“The first thing on the lunge is to have the horse balanced on the circle, not falling in, not falling out. At the beginning he can be excited, to avoid excitement, I hold the lunge rein while my helper holds the rein and walks with the horse a big circle, little by little the helper comes away from the horse and leaves it on its own, and the horse learns to go. When he goes on the circle, he starts to relax, then you start to move him forward and ask for some bend, and the horse by himself, starts relaxing and getting the rhythm. He starts to balance and get confident and gets the rhythm straight away, because nature makes the horse rhythmic – what we are trying to do is get the horse to work like he does when he is free.”

next Miguel talks about transitions

“So we start to work on a few transitions, developing going forward, making the circle smaller or bigger, achieving lateral suppleness. We start to get engagement, not collection of course, but engagement is one element of collection, and we can achieve that by making the circle smaller and bigger. The training scale is there from the beginning.”TurnGrace

Ok, we have trained the horse to work on the lunge, we’ve had the rider on the horse, still on the lunge, now the horse and rider are going free – what are the exercises that you want to start with…

“Just make him go forward, circles, go large, circle, go large. Use the circle to control because the horse remembers the lunge, ride a few diagonals. On the first rides we are just getting the horse confident and accepting the contact with long reins. Very simple exercises. And when you feel the horse is getting confident, then, helping on the ground, some shoulder-in at the walk at the end of the session. Be careful to put the horse away when you have achieved what you want…”

In the early stages do you want the rider in a light seat?

“Normal seat. It is a bit difficult to find ‘light seat’, I don’t like the term.  People say, it is a light seat because I come off the saddle, but unless you have a pair of wings, you never take the weight off the saddle because your weight is on the stirrups, the stirrups are connected to the saddle, the saddle is on the back of the horse, your weight is still on the back of the horse. But you can shift your weight a little forward in the saddle, and perhaps then you are not banging on the back of the horse. Rising trot is what I call light seat. Light seat means to me, don’t use too much your weight aids to make a circle or make a downward transition, because the horse doesn’t understand yet. Just connect with the movement with your weight and with your body, that connection is enough to later on make the horse accept the weight.”

Is it important to start with a rider who is secure and balanced?

“It is fundamental. At the very first stage, the rider has to do as little as possible – at the beginning when the trainer holds the lunge, the rider is almost a robot, just a weight to go with the movement, and disturb the horse as little as possible. The rider should be very connected with the movement, very confident and show that he is relaxed, because when you are relaxed, the horse feels that straight away. His instinct is to go with what the other animal does, so we need quite an advanced rider.”NewGrace

What are the first school figures that you use?

“Once the horse goes forward and on the circle and I am not needed on the ground, I start riding the horse. The only reason for the trainer to start on the ground is that he needs to control with the whip and the lunge, and that needs an experienced trainer who knows if the horse is not going forward because he is frightened or stiff, because then if you go to push, the horse goes to buck and jump out of the arena. You need a lot of experience to know how to work with the whip on the ground. Once the horse is accepting the weight and going forward, the trainer gets into the saddle.”

“When I start riding it is a lot of transitions in the rising trot, the basic gait is the trot. Just a bit of walk, not too long walks because the horse can become excited, or unconfident in the walk. Short lessons, rising trot, increasing the trot a bit, circles, serpentines, changing diagonals. When the horse starts to accept the contact and understand the legs to go forward, little by little start decreasing the circle, sitting the trot, rising trot, short periods of rising trot, sit again. To make the horse understand the sitting trot, and not to panic. Start to introduce the shoulder-in and later on, counter shoulder in and all the lateral exercises.”

At what stage do you introduce your little circle around the forehand?

“Very much at the beginning, after about one week. I can start it because I have done this work in hand on the ground. I put my leg on the girth, I bend the horse, turn around sideways…”

“At this stage, what is very important is to be able to read the horse. To understand that every horse is different, and some horses understand quicker than others – mental factors, physical conditions, problems of conformation. Temperament is associated with conformation, because if by conformation your horse is not comfortable, he will become tense. You have to assess straight away if the horse has conformation problems, because he will become tense, because it is not easy for him to do what you are asking. Sometimes they have perfect conformation and they still have tension issues. First of all you have to think that each horse is an individual. Just because your previous horse could start shoulder-in after ten lessons, this one can do the same – it might take much longer. What I can guarantee you, and it is the experience of many years, is that you gain a lot of time by waiting. I remember a horse that I trained a long time ago, and the canter was too difficult to control, so I spent months just in the trot, and then the first time I started riding him in canter, I could ask for the start of half passes and counter canter. But if I had started the canter earlier I would have been in trouble because the canter was so difficult to control. Of course I lunged him in the canter, but I could see if I tried to ride him it would be a fight in the canter, so I did all the work in the trot.”

“With Grace’s horse, at the beginning, we didn’t try to do much in the canter, just around and around, because in trot you can establish and create the control. After you have that control, you have a better chance to canter well.”

“Lateral work starts as an exercise of loosen up, circles, shoulder-in on the circle, becoming more engaged with the shoulder-in on a straight line, transition shoulder-in to walk, the start of collection. Transitions into medium trot, to improve impulsion because that creates the flexibility and the engagement behind to go forward. Flexibility creates impulsion, impulsion is nothing more than flexibility – the horse is willing, because he is able to do what you are asking because he is flexible. I can collect more because it is a lateral exercise, the half halt passes through the horse and the horse understands better that you want him to collect – he can collect without resistance. Again, with the lateral work you are moving to the stage on the scale which is collection.”Balance2

“With Grace’s horse, at the beginning, we didn’t try to do much in the canter, just around and around, because in trot you can establish and create the control. After you have that control, you have a better chance to canter well.”

The impulsion and the extended paces come from…

“The flexibility, the balance: with suppleness your horse becomes flexible. We have to distinguish between impulsion, and forward, they are connected, but not the same. The first time I ask the horse to go forward and to respond to my legs, and sometimes he needs to go a little faster, but he has to learn to go from the legs, and if he loses rhythm, bad luck, but he has to learn to go from the legs. With the development of flexibility and suppleness, that going forward becomes impulsion, because impulsion in equitation is a horse that is willing to move forward, in the correct balance and rhythm and the correct outline, this happens when the horse is flexible. Impulsion is nothing more than the ability of being supple and of being flexible. Flexibility to go forward, and to collect. There is as much impulsion to go from an extended trot to collected trot, perhaps more impulsion to come to the true collected trot without just slowing down the trot, perhaps more impulsion on the down transition than the up transition, because up transition is instinct for the horse to go, the down transition is not so instinctive, we have to create this more.”

“Flexibility is ease of movement, look at Valegro, how easy it is for him to move, he is floating, he is elastic. And because he is comfortable in these movements, he is relaxed mentally. If you are in school and it is exam time, and when you go to the exam there is an idiot of a teacher supervising, very rough and gruff, you start the exam already a bit timid. If you sit in the class and everything is relaxed, then everything from you have studied comes to your mind easier. If the horse is comfortable, it relaxes his brain, if he is not comfortable, he thinks, let me out of here. You see it with his tail.”

“Sometimes people say my horse tries hard – very nice, when they say that, I say your horse ‘looks’ like it tries hard, but it is only because he is very good, very well trained, and you are riding very well, and that might look like the horse is trying hard but he doesn’t have any reason to try hard – his instinct for self preservation makes him do what is comfortable, but he is not trying anything.”

What does the frame look like?

“From the balance horizontal with the transitions, I begin starting collection, that the horse goes more up in front, because he needs to flex more his hindquarter, so his neck comes up, and he lowers behind.”

“In the end, the horse is in what I call the vertical balance – he really lowers his hindquarter, comes really up in front, and really flexes behind, and he is collected.”

“It is very simple to train a horse. You make him active behind, from the activity behind you create flexibility on the poll, when the horse is flexed on the poll, you do nothing and the activity behind becomes engagement, and after you have engagement, you make a half halt and you have the horse collected and he is trained. Very simple! It is very important to understand is that collection is not a stage that your horse stays in – it is a stage where the horse can go in, and come out, because if he stays in, and won’t come out, it is not collection, it is squashed behind. What we see very often in Grand Prix is horses jammed in front, by being jammed in front the horse gets an engagement and the piaffer is absolutely horizontal. But the judges are looking for how many centimetres the horse comes off the ground with the hind legs, and if the horse leans on his forehand, he comes more off the ground. See, if I lean on my hands, it is easy for me to lift my feet – it is the same with the horse.

You see horses like Valegro they do it in the right way, and do it very well. It is not just Valegro, he is very good, fantastic, he is very well trained, but there are lots of horses that can be trained on the correct way. But it is much quicker to jam the horse in front, and the horse, because he is squashed behind, he comes up with his legs – but it is not what I like.”Squashed3Squashed2

“What we see very often in Grand Prix is horses jammed in front, by being jammed in front the horse gets an engagement and the piaffer is absolutely horizontal.”

What about the great Dutch discovery that if you pull the horse’s head down and in  and behind the vertical, his back would come up and he could move more…

“Like everything in life, it is partly true. No doubt, if you arch his neck down without jamming, I don’t see anything bad about that, and in the training, we make a lot of exercises that I call round and down. I put the horse behind the vertical and the horse arches his neck down, but he doesn’t shorten his neck, and this creates engagement. When you put your horse round and down, because he doesn’t want to fall on his nose, instinctively balances himself, and then you feel your contact is light, and his head is down, and his back is working well. In the beginning, and always after a very good collecting exercise, it is very good to have the horse round and down because when he comes up in the collection, he puts pressure on his loins, pressure on his back, to release that pressure, put him down and round.”

“That is nothing to do with jamming the head back, it’s a releasing and a stretching after the collection. You stretch the horse, but you don’t force the horse into an outline and stay on and on in that shape. Down and round is fundamental in training the horse, but it must be done in the correct way – when they are jammed, nothing, they don’t stretch, they are squashed. You could see that with one horse that was very fashionable, everything was jammed, squashed, very ugly, it is against nature. You don’t even need to know about horses, to know that when you look, you don’t like it.”

There are squashed horses but usually with riders who go behind the vertical and drive their horses forward…

“The weight is so much in their hands, that if they did not lean back they would be catapaulted off the horse.  Pull back, pull back, from the front end is just wrong. Okay there is some degree because we have to flex the poll to create engagement behind, but it is nothing to do with jamming the neck. Jamming is pulling back. Round and down, we invite the horse to go down. Nothing to do with the nose on the chest – when the horse’s nose is on its chest, the half halt does not go past the wither, it does not pass to the hindquarter, and that is what I want. It’s easy to create jerky movements from behind by kicking with the spur or hitting with the whip, but it is not the correct activity behind that we want.”Round

“You stretch the horse, but you don’t force the horse into an outline and stay on and on in that shape. Down and round is fundamental in training the horse, but it must be done in the correct way – when they are jammed, nothing, they don’t stretch, they are squashed.”

Why is it that 75% of dressage riders, ride with that ugly leaning back seat?

“75? Maybe 95? Because it is much quicker to get the result, the judges can’t see, they give good marks, and that’s it.”

Not because they cannot balance in the middle of the saddle and the movement?

“I don’t believe so, it is not very difficult to learn how to balance in the saddle. I was in the army and I trained a lot of men who had never seen a horse before, and very quickly they learnt to sit. I think it is just because pulling and jamming their horses, the horses do what they are obliged to do, and they get the results very quickly.”

But it does seem that for the rider to be able to sit in that nice position with his legs and arms relaxed, the horse has to be in balance, it is a circle between the rider and the horse and the horse and the rider…

“Of course, when you look at the statues of the kings and the generals, the horses are all collected, and then the rider goes very easily to the correct position – make a piaffer and you are very quickly sitting correctly. The horse invites you to go to the correct position. But you have to have the correct position even on the young horse because if you are not in a correct position, if your aids are not independent, then you go against the movement, you created more inbalance, then the horse is already feeling with the weight of the rider. The correct position is fundamental to a connection to the movement, to not disturb the horse, and to be able to use your aids at the correct moment, and in the correct way.”

Contact just comes?

“Contact is a result. Everything in training the horse is to achieve the correct combination of balance and impulsion. You can’t have balance without impulsion, or impulsion without balance. If you have correct balance and correct impulsion, you have the contact. It happens.”

“Self carriage is when the horse is so well trained and so comfortable, that the rider has to do as little as possible to keep that balance, and keep that impulsion… the horse carries himself without the constant help of the rider.”Valegro2

“Self carriage is when the horse is so well trained and so comfortable, that the rider has to do as little as possible to keep that balance, and keep that impulsion… the horse carries himself without the constant help of the rider.”

What are the exercises you use to achieve collection?

“All lateral work. You can make a shoulder-in on the rising trot forward, that is a good suppling exercise, from that rising trot forward, you sit and collect the trot, and you have a good exercise to collect the trot, to start the collection. Transitions. Travers, renvers, half pass, the advantage of the lateral work is, you collect the horse by the half halt. When your horse is on the lateral movement, he is more supple, he is looser, he is already very well balanced, and so you can dramatically improve the collection. Travers / renvers / passage / travers / renvers / piaffe. By going from one side to the other you mobilize the horse, engage, engage, engage, lower the croup, and there is the collection.”

“When you start the lateral work with diagonal aids – which means the horse is looking in the direction of the movement, which means the half pass, the travers and the renvers – the horse immediately, when he bends and moves in the direction of the bend, he engages more the inside hind leg, and he has to engage even more the outside hind leg to cross over. If you go on the shoulder-in, you are only engaging the inside hind leg, so you don’t get the degree of engagement that comes with travers, renvers.”

“Another thing that is very important because it causes a lot of confusion, and that is, one of the elements of collection is engagement. When the horse does piaffer, he is much more engaged than when he makes extended trot, isn’t he? But the horse engages much more the hind legs in extended trot, than in piaffer – so the engagement is not only a characteristic of the collection. The way the horse uses that engagement is what establishes the degree of collection. If he engages and pushes, like in the piaffe, the weight only upwards, then forward is much more the collection. When you make an extended trot, the length of the stride is the same as the length of stride in the piaffer, but in the piaffe the trajectory is up not forward. Engagement of the piaffer, the horse flexes more all the joints of the hindquarter, than he flexes in the extended trot, but in the extended trot he flexes too, but not so much up and down. Up and down establishes what is collected, and what is not. You can make a shoulder-in in working trot and the horse covers more ground, but when you make the shoulder-in in collected trot, the stride comes up and you develop more the collection. The degree of elevation that the engagement creates, is what tells you the degree of collection the horse has achieved.”ValegroExt

“When you make an extended trot, the length of the stride is the same as the length of stride in the piaffer, but in the piaffe the trajectory is up not forward. Engagement of the piaffer, the horse flexes more all the joints of the hindquarter, than he flexes in the extended trot, but in the extended trot he flexes too, but not so much up and down.”

Does that require more balance?

“It is a different balance. The vertical balance where the horse has more weight behind, more free in front, and he goes more up and down on the spot, and covers less ground. It’s two things, the engagement of the hind legs and the engagement of the hindquarter. The hindquarter is also engaged and goes down – engaged NOT squashed. Squashed is when the horse only flexes the joints behind, the hocks and the fetlocks, and the croup really doesn’t lower.”

“The maximum of collection is the levade when the horse only pushes upwards, and the piaffer is the preparation. But nowadays, because the horses are bred to do it, they can make a piaffe leaning on the forehand. Remember Nicole Uphoff and Rembrandt, the horse leans on the forehand with the croup up and up – but the judge just looks at the hooves with an imaginary tape, ten centimetres, score – 8, seven centimetres – 7, six centimetres – 6. But that is what happens, the judge doesn’t know what piaffe is, and just looks how high the hooves come up, and the riders have to do that to get the marks. If the horse leans a bit forward, it comes more off the ground – and thus the horse can do piaffer without being collected, almost without being collected. You see many horses now, the croup is coming up, instead of flexing down and up they go up and down, it could be the same thing but it is not. Go up because you went down, not down because you went up! That’s the difference.”Levade

“The maximum of collection is the levade when the horse only pushes upwards, and the piaffer is the preparation. But nowadays, because the horses are bred to do it, they can make a piaffe leaning on the forehand.”

When I listen to you, it all sounds so simple and so easy, but how do I reconcile this with the fact that so much of the dressage I see is so ugly and unpleasant – and then I see Grace do it, and suddenly it does look easy and beautiful… what is happening?

“It happens because of the lack of correct training, correct preparation. Nowadays horses are much more made by the breeders, they are the ones who should have the gold medal because the horse comes already with such talent and ability, that the riders ask and they do – but they ask the wrong way, or sometimes in the right way, but they don’t have the preparation for the right way. Even if they start doing it the right way, sooner or later they find an easier way.”

“The idea of the preparation is to make it easier for the horse to do the work – by the gymnastics, the correct progression. Training should be progressive, logical and gradual and consistent. If the horse is prepared, then it is comfortable and becomes better and better and better. Valegro for instance, I am sure when he started, he was not as expressive as he is now, but with the training, the gymnastic, the correct sequence of exercises, he got stronger and that natural ability could explode in the right way and the expression is there.”

“Another big mistake, is because the judges always mark highly expression, they ask for the expression without the preparation. They forget the training scale, the regularity of the steps – if the horse becomes irregular because he is not strong on both sides, he becomes uncomfortable and it shows. Like you said, it needs to look easy…”

But Grace’s horse is not an incredibly naturally talented horse…

“Not at all, he is a very big horse and not very strong, all the strength he has now was created step-by-step. He grew up very quickly, a lot of mass but no muscles. The expressive trot he has now, if he had not been prepared, he would be exploding and running away. He does not cope so well with pressure – remember the first flying change she did, Grace got bucked off.”

Yet now he looks so calm…

“Because he is confident. No doubt his spook is very genetic, he is always seeing great big lions and his instinct is to flee, now he is comfortable and instead of seeing seven lions, he sees one lion, very small, and he doesn’t spook.”

And the rider is exceptional – world class exceptional…

“Absolutely. She has everything that a trainer / coach wants, and allows the coach to take risks, to ask in the correct way, but sometimes to take a risk when we are sure the horse is correctly prepared because I know she never over-does it, she knows where to stop.”Nice

That was interesting today in the shoulder-in, travers, when he was getting a little wide behind and you were asking Grace to ride shallow shoulder-ins and travers…

“To be sure that the inside hind leg of the horse is always close to the outside leg, and not too far out or in, and not taking the weight of his body, because he tries to do that all the time – she needs to ride very well to control that, it is because she is riding well, not because the horse is offering it. She has such focus and attention and that is what she has been born with…”

Breed a dressage star – what’s available in Australia? Go to www.ihb.com.au and be surprised – how about Foundation? or Fürstenball. Winners themselves, and  producers of winners in Europe


Back in Australia, what happens in the next chapter for Grace?

“That’s what I am figuring out at the moment. I’m always going to do the dressage and I enjoy the jumping, and now I’ve got a young mare that I have been eventing and been having some lessons on her, and she is doing really well, and they think she could go really far. They also think I should event my chestnut, Fabergé. I’ve had one start on him, baby stuff, but he won by like 19 penalties. He’s very good. Soundness worries me. Jumps that are solid, worry me… I don’t know really what happens next…”

You had the trip to Europe…

“It was fantastic, honestly I am so grateful to have been able to go over there. Just seeing the competition, the horses, the riders, it’s absolutely brilliant, and it is so big. You can’t comprehend how big the whole industry is until you go over there. It makes me want to go back, that’s for sure. I want to go and train and learn more, I learnt a lot riding last time, and I want to do it again.”

When does Karingal Jamirqui get a Grand Prix start?

“When our piaffe is there. When our ones are there.”

I thought the ones I saw were pretty good…

“They are fantastic. I’ve got a line a few times at home where he is relaxed. I was really pleased today, normally I can’t get them in the arena here – he’s a bit more awake, which is good for everything else because it makes him really attentive and sharp, but for the ones he get too excited. I was so happy with how he worked today, the ones just came. I’m finding it more and more, in different places, different arenas, he is starting to really listen and wait and FOCUS, which has always been our biggest problem, so I think definitely by the end of the year we should have our first Grand Prix start.”

Tavora, Miguel


The Integration of the Baucher system in the classical school of de la Guérinière by Miguel Tavora

François Robichon de la Guérinière (c.1688-1751) 

The School of Versailles was the one that contributed most to the development of Equitation. It was founded by Louis XIV. La Guérinière was a student of Vendeuil who belonged to the school of Versailles, la Guérinière despite what many people believe, never occupied any position at that school, but he was Master of the Stables of Louis XIV in Paris from 1730 until his death in 1751. It was la Guérinière who wrote the book Ecole de Cavalerie, which was the first text demonstrating a method of Equitation that is progressive, logical and rational.  All modern schools proclaim themselves as followers of la Guérinière’s Ecole de Cavalerie.

François Baucher (1796-1873)

Baucher lived in the 19th century and published the book Method of Equitation where he explained new techniques and ways of training the horse that were more suitable for the type of horse used in his time; the horse was a Thoroughbred type and very different from the horses of Guérinière’s era.

It is my intention to make, in an abbreviated manner, a study of the two most important visions in the history of Equitation: la Guérinière and Baucher. However, I will refer to la Guérinière school as ‘a method’ and  to the Baucher school as ‘a system’. This differentiation is necessary because I think what Baucher created is more of a system than in reality a method. Therefore, firstly I am going to describe and analyse the foundations, principles and techniques of these two visions of Equitation. Secondly, to explain how, it is possible – even desirable – to follow the Classical methods best explained by la Guérinière, (often also called Old School) and at the same time utilise some of the techniques developed by Baucher – and point out that many of the top competition riders today, are using (even if unconsciously) this combination of Guérinière and Baucher.

While all and sundry pay homage – rightly –  to Guérinière, Baucher has been the subject of a concerted campaign of vilification (the ‘grave digger of classical riding’, according to the Prussian riding master, Louis Seeger) and even today, his followers are viewed with suspicion, yet I hope to demonstrate that the techniques developed by Baucher to deal with the hotter, lighter horse, saved the teachings of the Old School from irrelevance.

l want to emphasise that D. Diogo de Bragagnca described, analysed and synthesised this matter in a masterly way in his book L’Equitation de Tradition Franςaise.

I will start to analyse la Guérinière who was truly the first and only one who developed a method which is simultaneously gymnastic, progressive, gradual and above all, logical and rational. With the exception of the pillars, which are only used in some schools where the Iberian horse is used, it is this method that all schools which call themselves Classical, follow or at least pretend or think that they follow, nowadays. I say that because some schools diverged scandalously from the Principles and/or techniques extolled by this method.

“The object of the Equitation of the Old School was to enable the horses to take a balance which allowed them to perform in a calm way all of the so-called Aires above the Ground”.

D. Diogo de Branganca: L’Equitation de Tradition Française

To be able to get a degree of Rassembler (Collection) which will allow this work Above the Ground referred to by Diogo de Braganca, the horse is trained through  gymnastic work based on the so-called general actions. What this means is that the rider works the horse as a whole, acting simultaneously and making him use all of his body.

“The main exercises utilised by the Old School were not with the objective of working just one part of the horse e.g. the jaw, the croup, it’s a question of making the horse move in one direction and in a determined position given by the aids.”

D. Diogo de Braganςa: L’Equitation de Tradition Franςaise

De la Guérinière quoted de la Brue (a student of the Italian riding master, Pignatelli) as saying:

“One cannot better define a well trained horse than one which is elastic and flexible (supple), obedient and precise (correct); because if a horse does not have his body totally free and elastic he cannot obey with ease and grace… ” la Brue.

According to la Guérinière, in the beginning of the schooling one obtains the elasticity by the trot which is the more natural gait, and by the work on the lunge. In order to obtain the best results from the point of view of the development of the flexibility and elasticity, when on the lunge we make use of a smooth shoulder in. After one teaches the horse to obey the hand and the legs by making the horse associate the action of the rider’s hand with the lunge that the trainer holds and the legs with the action of the whip, gradually, the horse learns to respond to the aids. One makes use of halts, half halts and rein-backs to put the horse on his haunches, “to make him pleasant and light to hands” (Ecole de Cavalerie) and as preparation for collection.  It is advised to use the half halts because they are softer.

The lesson of shoulder in follows:

“This lesson produces such good results that I consider it as the first and last of all lessons that we can give to a horse in order to obtain a total suppleness and a perfect freedom in the actions of all the body of the horse.” la Guérinière.

After comes the description of all the work in two tracks, the pillars and all other  gymnastic exercises to intensify and develop the capacity of the horse to obtain a high degree of collection (rassembler) and of course, the Aires Above the ground.

New types of Horses

– New Challenges

“Every time that a new type of horse characterised by its conformation and temperament – a new breed- starts to be used or a new way of utilising the horse, a new system of Equitation appears.” D. Diogo de Bragança

The method of Baucher appears with Thoroughbreds and other horses of hot blood like the pure -bred Arab, which were breeds of horses that performed a different work from the work of the Old School. In the nineteenth century the Aires Above the Ground were not the principal objective of Equitation, so the degree of collection (rassembler) needed was not so high. Also the lengthening of the gaits started to be considered desirable, in order that “the schooling of the horse” could be considered complete.

In the beginning of this article I stated that I prefer to call the Equitation developed by Baucher ‘system’ instead of ‘method’, because I think if you follow to the letter the method of Equitation as it was written by Baucher, you will end up with a horse with many problems as will be revealed  later.

The system of Baucher distinguishes itself from that of la Guérinière by being based on the principle: “substitute the instinctive forces of the horse by the ones that are transmitted by the rider”. The wording of this principle provoked great controversy and criticism because one cannot transmit forces to a horse. Baucher in a later edition of his method explained what in reality happens is that the rider is able to direct and utilise those forces. In order to substitute we have first to destroy or control them. The word ‘destroy’ again triggered controversy and then Baucher started using other expressions as: “control, direct, harmonise etc.”

However all schools and methods of Equitation seek to control the muscular power of the horse, but obtain this by an indirect way, by the way of progressive gymnastic exercises, but Baucher does it sometimes directly with a technique which is very different to the Old School. The principle technique utilised to obtain this objective is the “combined effect” (l’effet d’ensemble) – a powerful technique which is very difficult to apply without very careful preparation. The combined effect consists of the simultaneous use of the impulsive aids and of the aids of retention provoking an opposition between them that will totally eliminate the horse’s initiative. Depending on the way we employ it, the combined effect will either immobilise the horse or it will make the horse keep the impulsion and balance needed.

The combined effect must first be taught to the horse and we begin by halting him by closing our fingers on the reins, and at the same time, we establish contact with our legs on the sides of the horse and, combining these actions, that means increasing or decreasing one or the other we try to get the immobilisation, but without ever releasing our legs or opening our fingers. Immediately when we get the immobilisation we open our fingers and we make the horse to go forward. Only after he has gone forward we must reward generously. With some horses we need a helper on the ground that holds the lunge attached to the cavesson, to make very clear to the horse that he must remain immobile. So therefore we understand that the combined effect is not to obtain collection (Rassembler) as many people incorrectly think.

“From what was said one understands that without the general suppleness be confirmed, the combined effect can only be an approximation of the true and final one.” Methode D’Equitation – François Baucher page 97/12th edition.

In order to obtain that general suppleness one uses the so-called ‘partial actions’. One makes the jaw of the horse flexible by an action of the snaffle or the double bridle made on the ground or on his back to make him relax the jaw; one makes flexible the poll and/or neck with an action of our hands, to obtain a vertical  flexion or a lateral bending or flexion; one makes the hind legs flexible by making the horse yield to the leg, and the back by the rein back. It is important to make the horse flexible at the halt and in movement (ridden or from the ground), by isolation and trying not to allow the other parts of the horse to participate in these actions. For example when yielding to the leg, we want the horse to mobilise his hind quarters without the forehand taking part in this mobilisation. With the lateral flexions of the neck, we want the other parts of the horse to remain immobile.

With these two examples I think I have explained what the meaning of what “partial actions” are. However, the rein back is also a general action. Only when this happens (partial flexibility) we can teach the horse to understand and to respond to the combined effect.

Lightness is sought from the beginning of the schooling, by the relaxation of the jaw obtained by the flexions on the ground. To Baucher all resistance started with contractions of the jaw, and he goes further saying that if we make the horse relax his jaw, we will obtain the relaxation of all the horse’s body, as well as balance and lightness – as if contractions of the jaw were cause and not effect. I don’t think so, as contractions of the jaw are the result of the loss of balance and therefore of the general stiffness of the horse. They are effect and not cause. It is however this principle that better characterises the Baucherist system.

In the Old School (16-18th Century) lightness was sought and obtained as a result of the general suppleness and balance of the horse. This doesn’t mean that Baucher technique ‘flexions of the jaw’ are not important. In some cases I think they are fundamental, especially with horses already schooled that are very heavy in the contact and have the habit of having the jaw always contracted. I experienced this greatly when I had to re-educate horses trained to race.

When any resistance appears that we are not able to resolve straight away with regular aids, we proceed to another Baucherist tactic, the so-called technique of ‘the breaking up of strength and movement’.  This technique consists of halting, re-establishing the balance and relaxation of the muscles that provoked that resistance until we re-establish the calmness and harmony. For example, and for better understanding of the breaking up of strength and movement, when after extending the trot one makes a transition to the collected trot but the horse loses his balance and goes on the forehand, we halt to recover his balance and when this happens we will take the collected trot. Or as Michel Henriquet explains in his book  Henriquet en Dressage when making a half pass, halt, keeping the horse’s bend, which allows us to correct difficulties in the first half pass, and to correct the position of the hindquarters or the bend.

Not working in resistance is another Baucherist concept. One makes use of the combined effect in order to resolve it. In his so called Second Manner it is advised that in case of a resistance of force (muscular contractions) to use vibrations of the hands that is a very smooth and light shaking of the reins by the fingers. In case of resistance of weight (loss of balance) it is advised to use the half halts but only with hands.

The Descent de Main (descent of hand) which is a voluntary breaking of the contact, is used to check to see if the horse is in self carriage, to encourage him to do so and not always depend on the aids to maintain his balance. De la Guérinière also used this technique and Baucher described the same as he did.

Baucher goes further advising also the descent of leg (breaking the contact of the legs with the horse or stopping the action of the leg) with the same objective.

Descent de Main is when the rider advances and lowers his hands to break the contact in a horse relatively advanced in his schooling. This horse must maintain his balance and impulsion on his own, proving that he is balanced.

Uberstreichen is a German word that defines a technique with the same objective – it  consists of advancing the hands along the crest of the horse’s neck, also to break the contact, to test and encourage him not to depend on the aids of the rider – keeping the balance on his own. This technique should be used in the beginning of the horse’s schooling and in the beginning of each section of training, but in a horse that already knows the aids and that is confident using the balance corresponding to his degree of training.

One other fundamental technique of Baucher’s system is to stop all actions from the rider when the movement demanded is obtained. If this is practised by the rider right from  the beginning of the schooling, it produces a very fine horse from the point of view of obedience to the aids, and from the beginning to move himself in self carriage, as advised in the rules of the FEI (…..the horse gives the impression of doing of his own accord what is required of him Article 401). However this is very rarely followed by the riders that are frightened of losing the control (because of bad training) and because the judges don’t understand or don’t consider the importance of the afore mentioned article.

Unfortunately because Baucher pretended to re-invent the Equitation he didn’t even mention shoulder in. It is here that he failed drastically, because the lateral work that he utilised was more of the type of leg yielding which means without bend. His horses and horses trained following to the letter his system showed lack of lateral suppleness. This was the most frequent criticism made of horses trained in this way.

The combined effect incorrectly done can make the horse lose impulsion, but if combined with frequent and energetic transitions forward by the use of the legs alone (legs without hands) this danger ceases to exist.

The breaking up of strength and movement in exaggeration can also make the horse lose his impulsion.

Generally we know that all techniques when badly employed, are damaging to all training, but this is no reason not to use them. We need to use these techniques in the correct way.

In the so-called Second Manner, Baucher introduced new techniques (the objectives and principles remained the same) like hands without legs and legs without hands which I have seen being interpreted in different ways. To me, the more logical and more in accord with what Baucher wrote, is of making use of them in isolation in elementary equitation, in the beginning of the training. Only when the horses understand them (hands and legs) by being obedient to them without hesitation we will be able to combine both.

D.Diogo de Bragança  in his book already mentioned states that the technique hands without legs and legs without hands in advanced equitation  is too theoretical, however perhaps we should consider the interpretation given by General Decarpentry,  which is to not increase the action of one at the same time we increase the action of the other.

As we have noted before we owe Baucher for the introduction of new techniques which allow us to reach a high degree of collection (Rassembler) in Thoroughbred types, Arabs and  horses of hot blood, of lighter conformation than those of the Old School.

It was Baucher who invented or at least showed in public and wrote about for the first time flying changes every stride, if I am not mistaken.

Baucher contributed a great deal to the development of the equitation in spite of often being attacked by people who never studied him or practiced his system. If he had accepted everything good that was used before him, especially la Guérinière, he would have been one the great geniuses of the equestrian world.

I have only spoken about what we can and should combine of these two visions (Baucher and la Guérinière) to practise an equitation that is logical rational and really effective, as Mestre Nuno Oliviere knew and practised in a masterly way.

In Summation

In the first place we have to admit that it is not possible to school a horse without the shoulder in. La Guérinière stated that this one should be the first and last lesson to give to a horse, Nuno Oliviera said that it was the aspirin of the equitation. We start with the shoulder in from the beginning and once the horse knows how to execute it, we make the descent of hand on the side of the bending (inside) to make the horse take the habit of keeping the shoulder-in in self carriage and without the constant use of our aids being necessary. One even ceases all of the aids, but we keep them ready to be back in action in case of a loss of balance or impulsion. One uses these principles and techniques in all movements and exercises that we require of the horse.

When we find a resistance that we cannot solve immediately, halt, break up the strength and movement, recover the balance, re- establish the calm and harmony and start again whatever we were doing. Teach the flexions of the jaw and of the neck and use them whenever necessary. Teach the horse to yield to the isolated leg as explained before.

Teach the combined effect and combine this exercise with energetic forward transitions. Keep the horse always ready to respond to the forward aids, always in front of the legs. Teach the horse to relax the jaw first at the halt, and after in movement. Use the combined effect, vibrations and half halt whenever loss of balance or when contractions appear.

I think I have explained how we can and should combine the methods of la Guérinière and the system of Baucher. We should never forget the teaching and principles of la Guérinière. It was he who exposed a true method which is simultaneously progressive, gradual and, above all, logical and rational, having in view the horse as an athlete and because of this the horse always feels comfortable in all work that is required of him.

Nuno Oliviera proved and demonstrated in a genial manner how to do it. All of his true students do the same. Some lean more to La Guérinière, others more to Baucher but all combine both. To me it’s proven that the combination of the techniques of Baucher and the method of La Guérinière is the only way to teach a horse correctly, effectively and honestly. Only by this way we can show the respect and love we feel for this wonderful creature.  All of the good competitive riders make varying use of these techniques and methods. Frequently, one sees in warm up arenas riders halting, relaxing the jaw, flexing the neck or the hindquarters (breaking in the force and the movement) to solve resistances etc.

Modern instructors frequently speak and write about ‘hands without legs and legs without hands’ as if it was a new technique developed by them.

I first wrote this text with the intention to publish as an article in a magazine, when writing my book I thought that would be very suitable as a chapter in it, because this matter is very connected with the principles and techniques exposed in the book.

When I finalized this article I realized that it had wider relevance than what I set out to explain. This matter is very much the concern of contemporary dressage. If one reads some modern books, they explain some of the techniques of Baucher quite to the letter. For instance Kyra Kyrklund wrote – I do not use my legs when I want to slow down or stop (hands without legs – Baucher).

Quoting again Kyra Kyrklund: “It is essential to teach the horse to react quickly to the aids, and that he continues to obey a specific aid, even if the influence ceases, until a new aid is given.” One other fundamental technique of Baucher’s system is to stop all actions from the rider when the movement demanded is obtained, this, “since the beginning of the schooling achieves a very fine horse from the point of view of obedience to the aids”.

Decarpentry wrote that practically everyone practices Baucher without knowing.

Reading Steinbrecht who attacks Baucher, in almost all his chapters he explains some techniques exactly the same way Baucher did.

I could give many more examples, but that would make this article boring and repetitive, I think that everybody will arrive to the same conclusion as I did; that modern classical Equitation is nothing more than the combination of the method of la Guérinière with some of the techniques of Baucher. The Rollkur, so discussed nowadays, is nothing more than the Ramener Outre of Baucher, which I guess reminds us that not all of Baucher’s techniques are worthy of emulation, and it certainly does remind us that these techniques are only valuable in developing the mental and physical development of the horse, if they are to follow the progressive and rational method of de la Guérinière.

Grace and Miguel: Equitation Ballet

1MiguelGraceStory by Chris Hector &  Photos by Roz Neave

It’s like watching an equine pas des deux, the trainer, Miguel Tavora, and his 18 year old student, Grace Kay, and her lanky chestnut gelding, Karingal Jamirquai. But this dance is more in the mind of the participants. The Portuguese riding master has a minutely organized sequence of movements scheduled, and the young rider seems to be reading his mind, often, before Miguel gets a chance to suggest a correction, Grace has taken the matter in hand and anticipated the Master’s instructions.

“Grace is like a sponge, she absorbs, she takes in everything you tell her. She enjoys learning, she is prepared to do the work, she goes away, and when she comes back, she has been working on that sequence of exercises, trying to understand what I have told her. It is always very rewarding to teach someone like that – she is not like the ones who go away and when they come back they have forgotten everything.”


Sometimes in the lesson she was anticipating what you were going to ask her…

“That is because she knew already the sequence, I like it when they do that, because it proves that they understand what you are doing. When the trot was becoming faster and out of balance, she felt that before I told her, and did the right thing. That is my best reward because it shows she understood what I told her before.”

That preparation that you do, it seems that the horse never has the chance to become heavy in the hand…

“That is what we try to do, choose the correct gymnastics, the correct exercises, that makes a horse stay all the time balanced, all the time the rider is able to control the impulsion to make this balance, that’s what I try to do all the time.”

So many riders seem to think, oh the horse will be heavy when I start working him, but as I establish the exercises, I will be able to make the horse lighter…

“That is wrong, if they are not light, they are not balanced, and if they are not balanced then everything you do is wrong. If they are putting weight in your hand, they are out of balance and everything you do is wrong. Why not begin in the correct way? Maybe you don’t get the big trot straight away, okay he has a small trot, but it is balanced, and in five or ten minutes you have the big trot, but a big trot that is useful and correct.”

That little circle of yours, that is the first step in balancing the horse…

“That comes from Nuno Oliveira, I don’t want to know how many years ago, but many many years ago – from him I learnt that every time, you put the horse on your aids, make your horse round, without having to push him against a brick wall. You are just bending him, but by that lateral work you make him soft, he starts bending and stretching. Stretching – suppleness. He becomes engaged, he becomes balanced, and we can start to work, and if we lose it – like today when Grace’s horse was losing it a bit on the canter and trying to become heavy, too strong,  I break it up, make a little small circle, establish, re-set and go again. The horse is always under control, the rider is always controlling the horse and making him do the correct gymnastic, in order to make him develop the physical ability to do what is required. It is just like the Rule Book says.”


Still not every lesson goes to plan, and Gerry who after all is by the Jazz son, Jive Magic, has a bit of a spook at the strip of light on the floor. But this is no reason to get crude or heavy…

Grace simply, quietly, keeps taking him to the scary place in the school but never punishing him for his fear:

“When they make a mistake, they are not doing it because they are naughty, when Gerry was spooking, he was just having a ‘Gerry’ moment, he was scared, a bit confused – he’s a bit special. I don’t punish them, giving them a pull or a kick is not going to help them at all. Just take it easy and go round again! Go around until he understands that those ‘light lions’ aren’t going to eat him.”

But, says Miguel, approach in such a way that the horse is not looking directly at what frightens him:

“The light was coming in between the kick board and the sand, and he was looking at that… and with the camera there he was already a bit scared. What is important to me is if the horse is frightened of something, don’t let him look face on at what is frightening him – bend him to the other side. He will still see what he is frightened of, because his eyes are on the side of his face, but he is not focused on that. You have taken away that focus, and you can push him laterally past whatever frightens him. If you point him directly at it, then your horse sees a lion, just disguise, point him to the other side, and approach calmly in a shoulder in, make a couple of circles… if you are doing something difficult, don’t do it there because your horse is not comfortable. Go to another place, and when you have your horse on the aids to you, take him to where he is frightened. Never point him straight at what frightens him.”

And the horse gradually relaxes again, and the work is that distinctive choreography that marks Miguel’s work, using lots of lateral work to balance the horse, and counter-act his tendency to leave his hind legs behind.

The Master explains: “Each exercise is a step, a preparation, for the next exercise. We start by making the horse loose, and relaxed, then supple, and after suppleness, straight and forward – it’s the training scale. It is logical, the horse has to be relaxed, the horse has to be balanced, and we have an exercise to make him relaxed, an exercise to make him balanced, an exercise to make him supple and then an exercise to develop the impulsion and straightness. We should plan our lessons like this. We should not start collecting when the horse is not supple, don’t try to develop impulsion if the horse is not balanced. Don’t start trying to balance a horse that is not relaxed… It is logical, just following the rational scale of training.”

“The secret is to know what kind of work each horse needs to achieve the training aims, that is what is more difficult, and we are all the time looking, thinking, researching, remembering the horses you trained in the past, the horses that you rode, that gave you the experience – and then you pass on that experience when you teach. Perhaps today I asked too much in the piaffer because the horse was going so well, so I know I made that mistake and the next time I work with this horse, I will back off a bit. That is not avoiding the problem, it is thinking, is the  horse is ready, physically and mentally, to accept what you are asking in that movement.”

Okay, you say you made that mistake, but the horse wasn’t frightened or upset…

“Not at all, there was one moment when he showed a bit more tension, and immediately I saw that tension, I backed off straight away. You can’t go on because he is not going to understand anything, from then on. I start asking less, more often, perhaps, but each time he gets a bit more confident, a bit more, a bit more. That is good.”

I thought I had all your exercises in my head, but today you were doing a new one, renvers down the long side into a medium trot diagonal…

“You haven’t see them all. Every horse that comes, you have to adapt different exercises that this particular horse’s needs. With that horse, with the renvers I make him flex his hind legs, flex his hocks. With this sort of horse sometimes they have the tendency to disengage when they lengthen the stride. In this exercise, with the renvers we flex the spring and then in medium trot he stretches the spring in the correct balance. Collection to extend, collection was invented not to stay collected, but to go from the collection to another movement – to extend, to gallop, whatever.”


You always start a new exercise on the left side?

“The left side is the easiest side for 99% of horses because like we are, they are stronger on the right side than they are on the left, so it is easier for them to stretch the right side. In the beginning when they are not fully trained, for the great majority of movements, it is easier on the left because they can stretch the right side. If I start on the easier side, the horse is straight away more sympathetic with my work, he is more comfortable, and then when we go to the more difficult side because he is feeling more comfortable, it is not so hard and there is less chance of him resisting. Even later on, in some movements, there is nothing wrong with going back to the left side.”

“There are some horses that are different, that are easier on the right side, like we have left and right handed people. There are all sorts of explanations. Maybe it is because they are lead from the left so it is easier for them to stretch on the right side, some say it is the way they lay in the mare’s body – one instructor he came to Australia and said, all horses are bent naturally to the left, except in Australia, they are to the right because it is on the other side of the world. I think we have no way to explain, they are like us, left or right.”

And do you think this talented young rider has the talent to go all the way?



After the lesson, it was time to find out a little more about Grace Kay, whose grace in the saddle has been remarked upon by Greg Best at the Young Jumping Horse classes at DJWTS, and more recently, Christoph Hess in his Sydney clinic.

“I’ve ridden since I was about three. I’ve been on horses, running around bareback. I started dressage when I was about five, I had riding lessons with Kim Peterson CHECK for a long time. About a year and a half ago, I started jumping with Fab (Farberge). I did little baby jumps when I was a lot younger, but I started really jumping with Fab and eventing a bit with a little Thoroughbred mare I have at home, and I started coming to Miguel.”

Most people it is the other way round, they start out jumping and eventing and then move to dressage…

“Fab is really talented at jumping and all the dressage work he’s done since he was broken in helps – he didn’t do any jumping until he was about five – and he has just picked it up really easily… the striding  and everything like that. He’s been really super.”

Who has helped you with your jumping?

“Gail Hunter from the Hunter Valley, she has been really great – starting some of the young ones I’ve got as well. She’s takes them really easy, she never pushes them. It’s not about seeing if they can jump as high as they can, it’s getting their confidence and building them up to it. I really like that.”

How long have you been working with Miguel?

“About a year and a half. It’s been really good, such a confidence booster to have someone there who has seen everything, nothing the horses do ever surprises him and there are always exercises you can do to help a particular problem.”


You seem to have that whole Miguel Tavora system inside you… you automatically walk through those little collecting circles before you ask for anything, change through half circles…

“It’s because Miguel explains what it is for, and why we do it. It’s not Miguel so much telling me, do it now; if I feel something is starting to happen, the horse is getting a bit flat for instance, then because Miguel has explained it to me, I know what to do. On the right rein Gerry tends to get flatter, and then he tends to compensate for increasing the tempo – then what I have to do are half halts, and back to the walk, I understand why we do it, so if it feels wrong, I know this is the way we fix that.”

And it is a pleasure, and an honour, to watch this young rider.

Grace Kay is what real equitation is all about…

This article first appeared in the September 2013 issue of THM.

Tavora, Miguel


Passionate in Thailand

It was an amazing mix: Portuguese horsemanship, Opera, Modern and Traditional Thai Dance, in the perfect setting of the gardens of Horseshoe Point in Thailand. Sit back and enjoy…

Let’s face it, when it comes to circus and spectacles, I’m hooked. I love horses as entertainment, all the way from the grand spectacles of Versailles to the little troupes of five or six artistes with their couple of horses that travel the backblocks of Europe (or for that matter, Australia) – as long as the work is honest, I’ll be having a wonderful time. And I’ve seen a fair proportion of the world’s best in action: Knie, Vienna, Bartabas, the Royal Schools of Jerez and Lisbon, Alexis Grüss…

But nothing – absolutely nothing – prepared me for the wonders of Passionata – Thai style, at the Horseshoe Resort, south of Bangkok. I knew that there was a Thai family who had studied the Portuguese Art of Riding, and that they put on a display of Baroque riding in their School which is attached to a resort based around the theme of the Lusitano Horse. I was looking forward to seeing them in action, but what I got, was to sit in on a World Premiere of one of the World’s great equestrian shows: Passionata, Thai style.

For this very special occasion the performance was put together by Ana Luisa Valença (better known as ‘Bi’) and her bullfighter husband, Mario Miguel da Silva, two Portuguese riders fresh from starring at the 2007 World Cup Final in Las Vegas. The Valença family, headed by Luis Valença have supplied acts for the European touring equestrian spectacular, Apassionata, since it started in 2002. For this very special show in Thailand, they added to their Portuguese skills, Asian  elements, with the added bonus of having the use of ten horses owned by the Indonesian, General Prabowo Subianto. His horses are temporarily based at Horseshoe Point while on their way to their eventual home in Indonesia which is yet to be completed. For the show, they were joined by Bi’s sister, Sophie, and five students from their family’s equestrian centre, the Centro Equestre da Leziria Grande in Portugal.




The association between the Valença family and the Thai resort goes back 25 years, to the days when the twin founders of Horseshoe Point,  Chaikiri and Chainarin Srifuengfung were riding with the man the Portuguese call The Master – Mehtre Nuno Oliveira. Luis Valença had studied with Nuno, and at the time his eleven-year-old daughter was the lead rider in Oliveira’s school. The brothers got to know the Valença family, and when Nuno died, they turned to them for help in buying and training horses.

In November 2000, Luis Valença was appointed technical director at the newly opened Horseshoe Point, and since then his daughter and son-in-law have been regular visitors. Indeed some of the horses the Valenças have sold to Chaikiri and Chainarin first appeared with the family in Europe in the Apassionata shows.

The first thing Bi and her troupe did when they set about making  Passionata – Thai style – was to take the show out of the very wonderful riding hall, and set it in the Three Kingdoms Park, just a couple of hundred metres away.

Here was a physical setting like no other in the world. Here was a space to work some serious magic, and the lighting and sound crew that put together the show, are simply geniuses.

The great shows in Europe are the product of months of work, preparing the horses, perfecting the routines – what I saw was a dress rehearsal put on by a group of riders and backstage staff, that had less than a week to get their act together!

The dress rehearsal was a very special occasion, staged just five days after the 80th birthday of Thailand’s revered and loved Monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The performance not only honoured the King, but it was a birthday celebration for the guest of honour, Thailand’s Royal Princess Bajrakittiyabha. It didn’t help first night nerves when the Princess was delayed a couple of hours and the riders and crew had to bide their time, chew their nails and nervously quaff their Singha beers.

When the show started it was spectacular, but conventional enough. Chaikiri and Chainarin Srifuengfung, the twin founders of Horseshoe Point, are fit looking riders in their middle years – beautifully turned out in Baroque costume, they performed a stately pas des deux on a pair of ever so sweetly rideable grey Lusitanos, bred on the property. I don’t know about the riders, but the stallions were certainly a bit nervous to be out of their customary riding hall, but they were brave and kind. The brothers Srifuengfung, in a voice over, welcomed us all, paid tribute to the guest of honour, and celebrated the reign and life of the King – then everything started to explode into a riot of colour, of sound, of amazing choreography and sensational horsework.



There’s some great action on the screen of Lusitano horses before we cut to one of the stars, the Singaporean musician, Samuel Wong Shengmiao playing the Pipa, a sort of a Chinese lute but much more complicated, he is joined by another local, Sirilak Songklib – she has danced all over the world and is currently the Director and Choreographer at Thailand’s New Dance Theatre. She spins, she leaps and spins and spins and spins and spins, she is joined by three grey Lusitanos, they run free, tentatively join her, and run wild again – the music is sensational.

The stage is black, a pair of horses, lit from nose to tail by a strip of lights, their feet are lighted too: all else is black. I’ve seen Joao Oliveira (with Bi) do this act at the 2005 World Cup Final in Vegas – but this is just as good, this is horse work of the highest order. One times changes, pirouettes, piaffe and passage.

A dancer – Imma Martinez – enters and lights a fire, two riders enter with long torches, the torches are­ ablaze, the riders joined in a fiery pas des deux. I’ve never seen horses working with fire like this. The horses leave and are replaced by two local fire dancers, twirling sticks lighted at each end, they end the act – literally – breathing fire.


The next act they call: The Memoir of Childhood. A young woman sits in the middle of a set of streamers, dreaming of riding a horse, her horse. She is joined by six riders, three male, three female. Four of them take the four long ribbons, circling the girl, pirouetting through their streamers. Enter one rider who made her dream come true, silver medallist at the Kuala Lumpur Asian Games, Khun Chanya Srifuengfung – daughter of Chaikiri – riding her grey Lusitano, Hexagono, side-saddle. She truly is the Princess of the Carousel. And she has been joined by the Portuguese opera singer, Filipa Lopes.

The voice is so startlingly perfect that at first I think she must be miming, but no, it’s real, achingly real. She sings with the Portuguese National Opera. The Aria is from La Wally. The grey performs a magnificent levade right on the high note… this is not finding equestrian art in the circus, but finding the circus in equestrian art!


Enter Bi, the theme is Pegasus, she is riding with no hands, the horse work elegantly subtle, Filipa is on stilts now, that voice still achingly beautiful, the great aria, Regnava nel silenzio from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammemour… in the end, Ana Luisa halts, and closes her giant wings over the horse’s head. He stands like a rock.

Now for some of the most sensational work of the show: the bullfight scene. The ‘bull’ is Thai contemporary choreographer and  dancer, Puttillak Songklib, and a very athletic and fearsome Torro he is, but it doesn’t worry Mario Miguel’s brave bay, Margaço. It’s a great way of showing off the skills of the bullfighter, without offending the delicate sensibilities of the audience.



miguellevadezwaterdancerTime for some more wonderful opera, Una voice poco fa from  Rossini’s Barber of Seville – the voice is still perfect, and the horse work, super. This time we add the courbette  to some super piaffe, Spanish walk, and levade.The local pair return, the Pipa player Samuel Wong Shengmiao and the contemporary dancer, Sirilak Songklib who is really making things tough for herself – dancing on STILTS. Suddenly the water in front of the Pagoda lights up, and the Alter Real, Laçarote is working his way up and down the strip of water, the dancer throwing herself into the water, a swirling wraith, the Pipa is frantic, the dancer swings up behind the rider, and they dash off. The dancer had never even touched a horse when she arrived a few days ago!

A carousel, another elegant and artistic quadrille. Four lady riders, so beautifully attired, the horse work perfectly matching the music, once again we marvel at the grace and the extraordinary temperament of these Iberic horses…

And really no show from the Iberian Peninsula would be complete without its Carmen and this Carmen – played by Imma Martinez – is wickedly seductive, or is that seductively wicked? Certainly poor old Don José – alias Mario Miguel – is thoroughly hooked and he keeps pirouetting on Luxo, under the dancer’s long Spanish scarf. This Bi and Mario tell me later, was one of the toughest things to get right, at first the stallion was just freaked out by the scarf. So they fed him in it, groomed him with it, and finally it all comes right on the night – and he handled his next act, which looks much much scarier, with relative ease, up a ramp and onto a somewhat grander than usual, Grand Piano. Piaffing, Carmen singing, kicking her long skirt around her in that distinctive way of the Flamenco dancer, clapping, wild syncopated Spanish clapping, horse and woman dancing – Mario drops the reins, and steps into the arms of Imma. The horse stands, wondering what the fuss is about as the audience roars its approval.

The night ends with a tribute to the King of Thailand, but it has been more than that. A tribute to the Lusitano breed, a tribute to the Valença family, and a tribute to the passion, the dream of the brothers, Chaikiri and Chainarin Srifuengfung. We salute you all and thank you for sharing your dream with us…

George Morris – Timeless Truths – Part One

GeorgeMorrisBackground 2Story by Christopher Hector and Photos by Roz Neave

If the role of the trainer is to re-state simple truths over and over again, there is no trainer in the universe who can do the job anywhere near as well as George Morris. The most amazing thing is that even if you are a serial GM clinic attendee, I’ve been addicted since 1988, each time those timeless truths come packaged in a whole new set of startling sentences, each time with insights that are as fresh as tomorrow’s dawn…

So it was yet again at the 2011 Clinics at SIEC. At the age of 72, George shows no signs of losing the cutting edge of his wit, or the acuteness of his ability to read horse and rider.GeorgeIntro

At last, it would seem that Australian riders are appreciating the unique opportunity that time with George represents, and clinic organizer, Vicki Roycroft was delighted with the flood of applications for this year’s event, although the world wide wacko weather almost put an end to the whole thing when blizzards closed the Atlanta airport.

“I managed to get to Los Angeles and when I arrived there, I found they had erased my seat. I gave the young lady behind the counter first my decrepit old look, then my Hitlerian look, it’s like training a horse, repeat, repeat, repeat, and I finally was upgraded and made it here…”

What a nice line-up of horses greeted the master in the first group: Hilary Scott and Pro Ratina (an imported mare bred top and bottom to Pilot), Jamie Kermond and BWP Lincoln (by the great Indoctro), Jamie Grant and Vedette (another imported mare, this time by Cassini I out of a grand-daughter of Lucky Boy), Vicki Roycroft and Kartoon (by another great, Quidam de Revel), Danielle Butcher and the amazing Anglo Arab, Twins Quantum and Amanda Madigan and an exciting daughter of Vivant, Vigo.

In case you missed any of the countless stories I have written on George and his teaching, he is a stickler for detail and hates lazy or slack behaviour. “It’s a problem, jumping riders take short cuts, they can’t be bothered adjusting their stirrup leathers. Most of them end up riding in a chair seat, and what causes a chair seat? Short stirrups. In my system we have three, four, five lengths, and now I want your leathers at least two holes longer in a riding length. We have a riding seat, a jumping seat, a dressage seat and a racing seat, and you have to acquire all four.”

And of course, even in walk, there has to be total concentration: “I know you are only walking, but don’t tap with your legs. One blow with both spurs if necessary, but don’t tap, tap, tap, and raise your hands. I don’t want low, fixed, dead hands – don’t drop your hands. Your arm must be flexible with a supple elbow oscillating at the walk with the horse’s mouth. The contact must be even on both sides, invite the horse to stretch to your hands, and if the horse raises its head, lift your hands and softly push the horse to the bit.”

GeorgeMorrisJammedHands-Mar11Don’t drop your hands…GeorgeMorrisCarryHands-Mar11

Supple elbow…

It was into trot and right from the first step, George wanted the riders to establish a rhythm. Trot eight to ten strides, transition to walk, three or four strides then back to trot, working all the time on making the horse light to the aids. George was concentrating on contact: “Close your hand, don’t drop your hands. There should be a straight line to the horse’s mouth, and none of this left / right pulling – I HATE THAT!”GeogeMorrisEvenContact-Mar11

The contact must be even on both sides

If this feels like the most basic of dressage lessons, you are right, but consider this – this is an elite group of Australian riders who need basic dressage lessons. Is that scary?

But it is a very good basic dressage lesson, and if half a dozen of our top riders can benefit from it, I suspect we all can. And I suspect that lots of it has to do with being ‘meticulous’, one of George’s favourite words:

“Ride deep into the corners, be meticulous about your dressage. Now come out in shoulder in, and remember that you fix the haunches and displace the shoulder. Think first about riding the hind legs, you are too busy riding the horse’s neck.”


Danielle and Twins Quantum… shoulder in

Time to canter: “For the canter we want the horse on the outside rein, with the outside leg slightly back and we prompt with the inside leg. There is a slight flexion to the inside, and the inside leg gives the impulsion.”GeorgeMorrisAmandaCanter-Mar11

Amanda and Vigo

Cut to canter / walk / canter transitions – lots of them. Eight to ten strides canter, two or three strides walk, canter, walk, canter, walk, then a half turn in canter to proceed in counter canter. But still the riders had to work on contact:

“Take for two/three give, give, don’t hold. Take and give, that will give you self-carriage. These are exercises to collect, collection not by draw reins, but by correct riding.”

And it is not all contact: “Everything is legs, legs, legs, everything is bringing the horse to the head, not bringing the head to the body. You are all obsessed with seat, I’m obsessed with leg.”

The spectators are speculating – which one will he pick to ride? It’s Jamie Kermond’s Lincoln, a horse that has shown a tendency to go above the bit and that is just why George has selected him…

“Don’t pull the head down, drive the head down. Low open stiff hands affects your position, you need steady but supple contact…”

As always George is a horse appreciator (Riders, even spectators can sometimes feel the rough edge of his tongue, but I have never ever seen him put down a horse) and he likes the Indoctro gelding: “This is a lovely horse. Oh what a horse.”GeorgeLincoln-Mar11

Oh what a horse… BSW Lincoln!

George is just sitting there, letting the horse find its own balance, riding tiny canter voltes: “I don’t push the horse, I don’t work – the horse works. The first thing is to get the horse in front of my legs. Watch my hands, it’s not this zig zag garbage, that’s cheap. I hate this current riding style, bringing the head to the body. Classical riding is to bring the body to the head. This is a leg based system with motion of the horse. This is a system to teach the horse to carry himself.”

Sure enough, the horse is longer, stretching to the bit and looks so much more settled when George is finished with him, and Jamie is counselled to change his ways: “Don’t set your hands on the wither, the hand belongs to the mouth, not the wither, don’t fix your hands so stiff, copy what I did. Self-carriage is the Holy Grail of riding, it is not so popular today, with all this helping, helping, helping.”

Over a jump, George is no fan of the famed American crest release: “Amanda, not that crest release, hold your hands alongside the neck.”GeorgeMorrisamandaRelease-Mar11

When you halt, you halt in precisely the right place: “Stop at a specific place, come to the second corner then halt. This is specific riding.”

Specific riding but the horse is allowed the freedom to make mistakes… when a horse bungles its way over a jump, George is happy:

“Let the horse learn not to twist and hang, don’t help the horse. Let the horse be awkward and teach himself not to be awkward.”

And don’t get the impression that George spends all his time abusing his students, he is equally quick to praise, so when Hilary Scott finishes her line with a lovely corner into a square halt, of her own initiative, “Hilary that is dressage…. Beautiful, she is a great student.”GeorgeMorrisHilaryCanter-Mar11

Hilary and Pro Ratina

“What we are doing is a combination of French and German dressage and Italian jumping and some people might think the light racing seat is old fashioned and out-of-date, but look at Eric Lamaze, look at Rodrigo Pessoa, and to ride like they do requires very good dressage, legs and stirrups not just seat.”GeorgeMorrisRebezoRodrigoPessoaLR

Rodrigo and Rebozo at Kentucky

As George points out on numerous occasions, the halt is the beginning and the end of the Grand Prix dressage test, and every halt should be a dressage exercise. “The horse stops in front of you, you should feel like he’s walking (into the halt).”

The position of the rider’s foot is critical at all times – the rider can be battling through the toughest of GM’s tough lines and he doesn’t care that you made it to the other side leaving all the rails in the cups, “Adjust your stirrup, drop your heel, this position displaces your weight to your feet.”

And if you think all this is very complicated and hard to understand, you are wrong, as he tells Amanda Madigan: “Come on Amanda, don’t be so complicated. You make riding complicated my dear.”

Even when he likes what he sees, he wants more. Jamie Kermond turns super tight on the top of a Liverpool to make the seven stride distance George wants and is rewarded with a ‘perfect’, followed by “but repeat it, so I know it wasn’t luck. You really have to be on the ball on the top of that Liverpool to get the seven – it is not as easy as it looks, you have to have conviction. It is not just the jumping – the riding is critical. The trick is to not rush the Liverpool.”

Each and every item of tack is critically evaluated, with the emphasis on the critical: “I don’t like these white ‘happy mouth’ bits. If I see a ‘happy mouth’ bit, I can guarantee the horse has an unhappy mouth.”

Every jumping exercise is related to a dressage exercise, thus George had the riders jumping a line of three jumps, but the second he dropped his hand, they were to stop – right in front of the last jump. It was an exercise to shorten the horse – to illustrate the range of responses associated with the half halt: first half halt, halt, then rein back.Georgeexcercise1 copy


“This is an exercise to teach the horse to shorten by full halts. When you halt, stretch your spine, make sure your weight is in your heel and with the contact in both hands, elevate the poll. When you stop, don’t grab with your legs, your leg should be just in contact, if you grab then you are using conflicting aids.”

It was about halting, it was also about travelling fast: “This sport is half way to racing, especially today, in the jump off is always boils down to racing and that means you have to get off the horse’s back and adopt the principles of Caprilli, much of the time.”

The second group of riders was also an interesting lot. Hilary Scott and Danni Butcher must have been vying for the ‘Chris Chugg – who can ride in the most sessions’ award, since they both went out one door and came right back in again, this time Hilary was riding Oaks Miss Scarlett (another imported mare, by Papillon Rouge), while Danielle was riding the Thoroughbred ex-eventer, Twins Zenith, Stuart Tinney was riding Kinnordy Rubino, Emma Smith on the ginormous Ego Casablanca (by Camelot Ego Z out of an Aachen mare), Ian Hamilton was mounted on Corriegador (an interestingly bred gelding, a three quarter brother to Conquistador, out of the same mare and by a Clinton/Darco stallion) while Emma Scott is riding her up-and-coming and very talented young eventer, Jenbern Monyana.

As might be expected, the riders get a solid workout on the flat before they are let anywhere near a jump. Contact is once again a major issue, Corriegador is coming above the bit, but George does not want Ian to over-react. “Resist in exactly the same proportion as he resists.”

In the flat work, George expects riders to know the correct terminology for manege riding, and woe betide the rider who confuses a half turn with a reverse half turn – and it is not pedantry since they will be using the reverse half turn as an integral part of the next exercise. Over two fences, reverse half turn back over the fences again. It is an exercise in loosening up and getting with the flow of the jumping: “Ride it loose, don’t stop and start. Keep the pace, keep the position, don’t sit down.”34


Then things start to get more interesting, over a triple bar (with the top two rails at the same height) cut between two on the jumps of the treble and over the water jump and then round over a wall.

“We’ll start with you Stuart, when you see a stride, soften and drop your hands.”

It is the other eventer, Emma Scott, who wins the most effusive praise, “you are an excellent pupil, not quite in the ‘pet’ category yet, but close. Repeat the exercise and progressively make it faster, tighten the line. On that tight turn from the water to the wall, don’t chase it, just think it. Horses are built by these exercises, not by course jumping.”

And as Emma rides the line, George bellows: “STOP.” The angle of her stirrup iron is not perfect. “Now do it faster, faster. Yeah, there we go, don’t protect this horse to death. Despite you, he was better.”


If Emma’s stirrup angle fails to pass muster, Danni has total melt down since she is once again using the red ‘Disco’ irons that incurred the master’s displeasure last year. “You need heavier irons. Proper stainless steel traditional stirrups – if you lose one of those, it is easy to get it back. Plus they look beautiful.”

Now there was another gymnastic – a line of three oxers:37

“Horses have to be taught to be clever. After the quick stuff, now we have the triple of oxers to help shape them. Don’t help the horse with your body, help with your voice, and keep the horse straight to get the bascule. This exercise gets their shape back.”

Veteran GM watchers know that while it is okay – indeed desirable – to deliberately stop in front of a fence, circling is a real no no. “Don’t circle in front of a fence, don’t complicate it, it is called horse jumping, let the horse go to the jump.”

Still George was worried about the quality of the contact: “When the horse resists, don’t take your hands back behind your hip, shorten the rein and fix the hand. NEVER side to side NEVER. The first step to submission is a properly shortened rein. The next step is to fix the hand, and the third and most difficult is to wait for the horse. It might be 30 seconds, it might be three minutes, it might be eight minutes. How old are you Emma? Twenty-two. You are much too young to understand, it is impossible at twenty-two to wait.”BigOxersStuart

“Who is your teacher?”

“I’ve been working with Stuart.”

“When the great Dr Neckermann came to the Los Angeles Olympics, we had a great jumping team, and he said to me, ‘George, don’t think I’m rude, but I think your students ride better than you.’ You are good because you are aggressive and smart – smart and aggressive can conquer the world, aggressive and stupid can do nothing good. Stuart, it is great that even though you are a great rider, you come to this clinic, you are putting yourself subject to abuse, you are an inspiration to the other riders…”

(There was, I understand, a degree of cluck clucking in the web world at George’s alleged rudeness to his students, with a few of the smaller minds vowing that they would never subject themselves to such treatment – they have no need to worry, George would not even acknowledge their existence, he only gets tough on students he respects…)

In part two, George Morris is back with more jumping magic – don’t miss it…

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INSIGHT: Jamie Kermond

I’d heard about his coaching and you can see his methods and his theories, I knew he knew all about horses and how they should be ridden, what I didn’t know was how much he likes to get inside the riders’ minds and work them out from the inside, out. He treats different riders in different ways and really tries to get you out of your comfort zone, to push you, to see what you’ve got, and what you can take.”

It looked as if you don’t do a lot of sitting trot at home?

“You can tell? (Jamie is laughing) It’s something I have to work on… and stop eating so many pies!” (George was also somewhat rude about Jamie’s shape)

What are the main things you’ll take back into your own training at home?

“I think before I started riding the horses I am riding now, I did have good soft hands, but with some of the horses I’ve ridden lately, I think I’ve got quite stiff and rigid with my arms. That’s one thing I’ve really got to work on. Then there’s all the basics, the flat work at the start of the training session. He talked a lot about how the horse’s neck should be, and that is something I’ll take home…”

He certainly changed your horse’s frame over the couple of days…

“Yeah, it was good to see him ride the horse and see the horse accept what he was doing, pretty much straight away. It was very nice of George to say that he thought it was a super horse, that made me feel good about what I’ve done so far, but there’s still lots of improvement to come. You do a lesson like this, and it goes for two hours, and you get off your horse and you just wait to come back the next day and go again…”

This article first appeared in the March 2011 issue of THM.