Terry Ciotti Gallo clinic. Terry is the owner of Klassic Kur

My experience with the Terry Ciotti Gallo clinic hosted by the Midwest Dressage Association

I love Terry because she gets to the point quickly and efficiently. Her knowledge of music and cohesiveness is extremely vast. In one 45 minute session a rider can learn what music best suits your horse and your level.
Bold music for example is too harsh for a lower level horse that does not have the strength and suspension to keep up with the music.
I also learned that a rider should not just simply pick what music they like but rather what best suits and enhances the horse. We see riders picking all the wrong music because they are grabbing what they like rather than finding what enhances the performance of the test.

The best way to find the right music is to ride to the music that closely matches the BPM ( beats per minute ) of your horse. When you feel the gates improve as you ride with the music that’s your music to go with.
The walk does not need to match the BPM unless the horse has an exceptional or extravagant walk.

Terry is also quite creative at designing your choreography. She taught us you can build your choreography first or find your music first. Personally I like to build my choreography first and then put the music around that. What you do first is whatever you are personally comfortable with.

When you decide on your test make sure you know the rules. While Terry’s mission is to continue to educate judges keep in mind many judges are still not aware of the rules and how to properly judge a freestyle. This is why it’s so important for all judges or people studying to become a judge participate in these clinics. Rules for your level of Freestyle can be found on the USEF ( United States Equestrian Federation ) web site or you can down load their app on your phone, tablet, or iPad.

While some words in the song you choose have become popular in the past decade too many words can be extremely annoying and distracting. Choose wisely and be conservative if you want to add words into the freestyle.

Terry made a point to say to the riders please don’t confuse the judges. Judges have very long days. When horse after horse comes into a ring all day long judges get tired. Keep things simple and easy to follow. Use your ring space evenly.
Adding degrees of difficultly can make your score higher if you execute it properly. If you mess it up points are deducted. So make sure you can handle your choreography.

Transitions in your music are very important. While you can use one song throughout it must have multiple transitions and most songs don’t have enough.
Terry likes to see about 6 transitions in a test.
So your entrance to halt for example can be one transition if your music stops for your halt and/or salute. Another music transition would be from walk to trot as an example. For higher level test use transitions in your music to go from collected trot to extended trot or collected trot to half pass. The more transitions you can execute the higher the score and the easier to keep the attention of the judge.

This is my second year I worked with Terry as a rider. I feel that if you can’t afford to have someone like Terry make your freestyle this clinic is an absolute must to learn to do it yourself. Another option is to make your freestyle and have Terry put the finishing touches on it in the form of editing. Terry edited a freestyle for me this year. She shared with me that she loves to edit so this is another option.

Now lets say you can afford to have Terry make your entire freestyle, this clinic is still extremely educational and important for you. Learning more about anything you are doing makes you a better rider, a better judge, a better trainer. If you are an owner who sponsors a rider get involved and enjoy the journey with your rider. Add some ideas of your own to personalize the freestyle. Terry is very generous with her time and knowledge. She wants to really help the riders and judges.

Keep in mind that freestyles are becoming more and more mandatory for the CDI competitions so riders working their way up the levels need to be aware of this. Also if you aspire to make the team for your country you must have a freestyle.
I believe we need to see more young riders participating in this clinic. The earlier you can become confident with riding to music the more success you will have.

Thank you to the Midwest Dressage Association for providing this very educational weekend with Terry. I am going to do it again next year because one can only absorb so much in just a few days so taking this course over and over again is important to fully learn it.

If you are interested in participating in this clinic next year please contact the MDA and let us know. We will be working on securing a date for Terry to come back so anyone who wants to participate should contact Will Davis at 810-287-2011 so we can add you to the list.

Granaino V owned by Melony Lipar is for sale. He will be moving up to the Grand Prix and has made his debut this year into the CDI ring proving he is capable of handling the atmosphere with grace.  Contact Carole Grant for Sales information 561-301-6274

Terry helped me with Granaino’s freestyle this year and we had a blast with it.

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What to do when you hit a bump in your training or Maybe even a mountain!

tamerochuck Grant and Jet

Training horses and ponies is not easy.  That’s the first thing to remember.  Yes some horses are easier than others.  Yes some are more talented than others.  Some have easier characters than others too.  However when training horses believe me you will hit a resistance somewhere but the resistance won’t be the problem.  Let me say again, your horses resistance wont be the problem.  The horse only resist because they are tired, too weak, don’t understand the question, don’t know the answer and become frustrated or are just too tense to focus.  Mares can act strange when they are in season while some handle this time with no  trouble.

A horse may also resist due to a past experience that they can’t let go of mentally.  Some horses are more forgiving than others but horses in general are highly intelligent animals with an incredible memory bank.  They are capable of remembering all the good as well as all the bad.  How long your horse resists the work at hand and how big of a bump  depends on the following:

  1. how you react is the number cause of how big or small a resistance will become.
  2. how you diagnose the resistance will be important.  For example; ask some questions to yourself like
  • Is my horse too fresh?
  • Is my horse not understanding me?
  • Is my horse in pain somewhere?
  • how are my aids? Am being clear?
  • Is it the way I’m sitting or does my position need tweaking?
  • Is it the bit, the bridle, the saddle?
  • How are the horses teeth?

These are questions I ask  so I can make a plan.  Now having said all that I do not  pull my horses out of work unless they have an injury that requires rest.  If for example I feel a horse may have some small things physically going on I will discuss this with my vet.  I will see what I can do to make sure my horse is healthy and comfortable.  However I do not stop the training.  I may shorten sessions, work the horse in hand, long line, or send a horse out for some days of trails.  In other words I may lighten the load or change to an area of training the horse is more comfortable with.  I may take some pressure off  for a while.  I do believe a horses mind should be worked in some way in a consistent manor.

“Perfect practice makes perfect work”   This is an important saying to remember.  It has truth.  Small doses of good work will take you further than hours of bad work.  So with that in mind I will share some experiences and give some advice.

The reality is we are human and no matter how good we ride or train we will make a mistake somewhere.  I’ve come to realize I  have to put a lot of thought into my work and planning to avoid as many mistakes with my horses as possible.  I must also realize when things are headed down the wrong path. When I realize things are not going in the right direction I have to pause and give some thought as to why I’m hitting that bump in the road or why the horse is resisting or not understanding me.

I often think of my fathers wise words.  The horse can do all that we want.  We are the ones who can not communicate to the horse in a way he understands.  When  you realize you must work as hard at perfection as your horse that will be the first step in the right direction.  In other words when I have a resistance my first thought is how can I  explain this to my horse. How can I be more clear with my aids.  How can I teach him this exercise in a different way that his personality will better understand.  I also think of my position.  Good riders are always working on their position.  Once your position is secure it’s time for the art of timing.

Timing is critical to proper work.  Timing is very important to many sports.  Timing is not exclusive to riding.  Timing is important to a person racing on skis down a hill.  The skier knows exactly when to meet each pole and they know the speed they need to be at.  They must then adjust to get there at the right time and in the right way.  A swimmer must practice timing as the sound goes off to begin the race they must be ready to hit the water first.  A golfer must have timing to hit the ball at the right moment within their swing.  A baseball player must have incredible timing to hit the ball with his bat at the right moment.  He must have even better timing to hit the ball at the right moment in their swing to hit the ball as far as possible.  Timing, timing, timing.

Now does the horse need to learn timing too? YES

Do some horses naturally have better timing than others? YES ( like some people can dance and some just can’t hear or feel the beat)

Quick going horses often have the hardest time learning timing because at a young age their legs are going faster than their brain can organize.  In the end of course a quick hind leg is good for advanced work and makes the advanced movements easier.

All this is not something written in stone. I have had some horses that are very slow behind who can piaffe super good.  The point is all horses are different in their character, conformation, and work ethic.  A good work ethic will take a horse farther than talent alone.

Lets use an example of a spooky horse as one type of resistance.   I have had some spooky horses and  some that never spook, but I can tell you the spooky ones can be such good horses when they are trained and the rider does the right thing when they spook.  If I have a spooky horse I stay in a small area of the ring they are comfortable with until they are feeling warmed up and on my aids. Only when I feel I have a good connection on the outside rein do I head toward the spooky area.  On the way if I feel tension I make an 8-10 meter circle and then go straight. I might make several 8-10 meter circles down the long side until the horse is thinking about me and not that shadow in the corner. Why circles?  It’s a way for the horse to continue going forward as it’s hard for them to spin or run away or back up or get behind the leg in a 10 meter circle.  We need all horses to be steady and confirmed on the outside rein but we especially need this on a spooky type.

I want to know my horse would follow my outside rein right through the wall.  It’s a feeling you will have because your horse will not turn the corner until you tell him.  This is developed over years of training, it does not happen with any horse immediately.   One more note on the subject of a resistance like spooking.  Do not think going past the spooky object a million times will fix the problem.  Sure horses should be allowed to look and get comfortable with something they are spooking at but in the end they will find something else because they are a spooky type.  You need to really train them on the outside rein and do not dwell on the object but rather what you can do to help the horse focus on you, listen to you, and trust you.

What if you are having a resistance and you get really stuck in a rut?   Perhaps you thought you knew what to do but it didn’t work.  Perhaps you have a plan but it backfires.  It happens to a lot of good riders.  Now the question; what to do?   Get help from someone with experience and who you  think is a good match for your horse. 

Now lets talk about re-booting the situation.  Your horse is going great, you’re planning the show season, you’re excited about the future………………….and………then…….your horse no longer wants to back up or maybe your horse doesn’t want to trot around the ring!  I know you were doing leg yields, half passes, counter canter etc.   So what happened?? Why?  How the heck am I going to get out of this mess?  You know you have a good horse but you’re in a rut now.  You went from schooling first level to just trying to stay on a 20 meter circle. I’ve been there.  Yes I’ve had those easy horses that make you feel like a super star trainer, but the truth of your knowledge comes when you have a problem or a tricky horse to ride. It’s important to problem solve rather than fight.

A horse can not be punished or even think they are being punished if they don’t understand what they are suppose to do in the first place.  For example if my horse balks at the gate and wants to run out I can push them forward and ride them past the gate.  I could touch with the whip.  But remember what I said earlier you have a 1500 pound horse under you.  In no way can you “make” any horse do something he does not want to do.   The horse in the end should have respect for the rider without fear.  If the horse understands the aids from the riders legs a good forward ride and touch with the whip will do the trick.  However young horses may not be confirmed in their training enough to except those aids in a moment of resistance or tension.

So we can make it about the resistance or make it about getting the horse to understand me, reconnect with me, and have respect without fear of the rider. This is what training is all about.  Teaching the horse to except your aids means you may need to start again from past training and “re-boot” your horses attitude.  In other words there’s no crime in going back to easier work for a while to let the horses mind relax.

Do not be discouraged but take small steps with help and many times you will come over the bump with a much better horse than you had  before.  You will also be a much better rider. Most important allow your horse to be your teacher and rise up to be a better rider through thick and thin.

Training is repetition.  By repeating the same exercises over and over for weeks, months, and years a horse becomes confirmed in his training.  Resistances can come from a rider doubting themselves or not being clear enough with their aids.  It can come from being too Greedy and pushing the horse too much in one day.  It can come because you have not asked enough and the horse is not connecting mentally with you.  It can come from tight muscles or a sore back.  It can come out of no where for no reason. It can come simply because being a competition horse is hard work!  It really does not matter how it came about one must make a plan, seek help, take a deep breath and move forward again slowly.  Less is more. Slow is faster.

You will know when you have found the right trainer for your horse because they will understand what needs to happen and set you up for a positive result.


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Suppleness with your young horse: Step # 1 The Elementary stage

I wanted to write about suppleness because achieving this it not an easy thing to do.

Of course some  horses will always come out with looser muscles than others, but one way or the other we need suppleness in order to have a happy healthy  horse who can also achieve self carriage.

More often than not while working on more suppleness with my young horses I must focus on myself.  As an advanced rider I can tell you not a day  goes by I don’t continue to try and improve  my position and balance on a horse.  My Dad always said the horse can do all the movements but  “we are the ones who can not communicate with the horse”  these words are humbling but true. It was early on in my life that I learned it’s never the horses fault. As riders and trainers we must always ask ourselves how we can better communicate what we want and learn from our mistakes.

So first off when working on suppleness with a young or inexperienced horse some things must already have been established.  The horse must already have a good concept and be able to execute rhythm and relaxation. They must have some beginning knowledge of the half halt. We teach horses the half halt through body language and transitions. Eventually we put the half halt into motion without the actual transition. Keep in mind transitions are always a necessary  part of your ride in order to perform good half halts in motion.  We here the words often put the horse on your back and seat. This is in the category of “body language”.

My young horses always learn the turn on forehand at a very young age.  This can be done correctly or incorrectly.  If  you’re not sure about how to teach this seek someone who is good at it for help. Turn on the forehand is a movement where the horses hind quarters move around the front legs. The front legs should move up and down in the same spot while the inside hind leg travels forward and sideways and comes around the front end.  A few common problems will be when doing this from your left leg often horses move their right shoulder too far to the right. This is fixed by simply making a half halt on the right rein and then teaching the horse to bring his left hind more forward and for a while not so sideways.  From the right leg a common problem is for the left hind to step backwards creating the horses to fall behind the leg. This is fixed by simply moving the right hind over and then teaching the horse to take a few steps forward with the left hind.

The young horse should have a good acceptance of the outside rein and know the square exercise which teaches the horse about the outside rein and leg. Their are many variations to the square from elementary execution to very  advanced which in the end becomes quarter pirouettes.

I mention a few things a horse should know before spending too much time on suppleness  because these are good brain and body exercises that give your horse a good base to return to as you go on with your training.  We all know rhythm and relaxation are the first things.   Then go on and teach your  square and turn on the forehand.  I start the turn on the forehand from the ground when they are two and three years old.  I work more on it from their backs when they are 4 and 5 years old.  Keep in mind I’m using the horses age when talking about young horses as a reference.  These methods will also be useful for any  green horse or rider at any age.

The square should be worked at times their whole life but it can be started at any age once rhythm and relaxation and basic  steering are established.

What is suppleness?

Suppleness is the ability to stretch in a balanced fashion both longitudinally and laterally.   If you have ever stretched and are not naturally supple you know how hard stretching can be.  If for example you tried to do the splits but had never done it before and someone forced you, ligaments would tear and you would resist as you would be in pain. Horses often feel the same way. Once my horse trusts me and excepts my aids I am then able to start asking them to stretch through bending exercises.  When they begin to stretch they  may hold their muscles tight at first.  Just like your muscles theirs must also get warm to release.  Short backed horses can not stretch as easily as a long backed horse. This is because their range of bending is much smaller.  However horses with short backs are easier to collect.  Therefore its important as a trainer to be sure and recognize your horses limitations and understand their confirmation.  Do not ask them to stretch more than they are comfortable with.  When my horses relax and really stretch properly you can feel them take a deep breath and the muscles release. It’s a great feeling and  produces very comfortable gaits that are soft and easy to sit.  We use the word gaits to describe how a horse moves. The dressage horse has three gaits. The walk a 4 beat gait, the trot a 2 beat gait, and the canter a 3 beat gait.

I’m going to give some basic exercises that teach stretching. These are just a few to work on with your horse.

A.  start on a 20 meter circle. From there begin to make your circle smaller with an inside opening rein, and soft outside leg wrapped around your horse. You need a soft guarding leg on the outside because as you ask your horse to bend more to the inside you must slightly release the pressure on the outside rein. When you get to an 8-10 meter circle, keep the bending and leg yield the horse back out to the 20 meter circle. Leg yield means we push the horse forward with two legs and sideways with the inside leg.  So the rider needs timing to know when to push with two legs forward and when to use more inside leg to go sideways. Make sure in this exercise you do not over bend the horses neck and they are straight at the withers.

B.   flexion: flexion from the pole helps the horse release the muscles and ligaments surrounding the pole.  A horse must  learn flexion and then this  can be used to soften them in their pole area.  I explain two common exercises for this. The first one requires the rider to go onto the long  diagonal and keep the horse slightly flexed to the inside. The flexion will be in the direction of your turn. For example if you turn right onto the diagonal line of your ring lets say from the letter M you would maintain right flexion all the way to K.  At K you would then change your flexion to the left.  Coming onto the next diagonal FXH you would maintain flexion left all the way to the marker H.  At the letter H you would change the flexion back to the right.

C.  Once your horse is warmed up, quiet and relaxed, you may also teach the horse to halt quietly and flex left until they release and then flex right  until they release. Remember flexion from the pole is very small. Only look for your horses eye on the side you are flexing. Do not neck bend the horse.  Make sure your horses ears stay level.  When you look at your horses ears one should not be lower than the other.  If this occurs straighten your horse and look for both eyes for a while until the ears become level again.

D.  Leg Yield: The leg yield can be used to loosen the horses middle part of their body which is the rib cage and flank area.  It is also a good warm up exercise to loosen the horses hips and croup area behind the saddle. How you  begin to teach the leg yield and how the leg yield develops is very important.  It is the start of what will come next laterally.  After leg yield is the half pass, haunches in and haunches out.  In light of that one must be thinking of those movements for the future. Done properly the leg yield is useful for so many reasons but here I will give some variations of the leg yield. Again this movement can be done at the elementary stage and then advance to a more supplying leg yield, but we can’t use the leg yield to supple the horse until the horse and rider understand how it works and how to ride it.  

So lets begin to talk about leg yield using a few variations.

  1. simple version for your young horse: Start on the quarter line of the ring and leg yield to the wall. Because horses like to migrate to the railing by nature this is an easy way to give them the idea of moving forward and sideways.  The biggest mistake I see in leg yield work is the rider asking the horse to move too sideways and not enough forward and sideways. Take your time, even if you never make it to the wall before you run out of space make sure your horse knows to stay on all four legs. This at first is done by making a few steps sideways and then  taking both your legs and going straight toward the short side and then repeat a few steps sideways with a few steps swinging forward to the short side of the arena.
  2. After this has been accomplished with good understanding start to leg yield the horse away from the railing. So you will start on the wall and then move to the second track then the third track, and finally finishing on the quarter line. I talk about “tracks”  because the horse must always be on a line. You can’t just instantly push over to the quarter line. If you do this your horse will most likely resist as he will feel you are literally pushing him over like a bike falls over if the wheels stop turning.
  3. Head to the wall leg yield: This may be the most misunderstood exercise.  Head to the wall means you turn the horses shoulders to the wall and while they are facing the railing you ask the haunches to come in.  This moment can be done by just bringing the tail to the inside of the track and leaving the shoulders a bit  toward the track. You want to go toward the outside rein as if you were going to circle that direction. As if you would turn and magically go through the railing.  So if you are traveling to the left, you  would put the horse in direction right toward the railing. You would then step by step in rhythm and with timing bring the haunches to the inside while swinging forward toward the direction of bend.  What do I mean by timing?  This means you influence the outside hind leg to come toward the inside by using your outside leg in timing with the horses outside hind leg. In other words you can’t just keep pushing. My point I want to get across is when yielding the horse from your outside leg he must also have time to step up with his inside hind leg as well.  The outside hind leg and haunches can only move over when his outside hind leg is in the air and then he is easily able to move it over and step slightly to the inside.  For every step he moves away from your outside leg remember his next step must be to bring the inner hind forward toward the wall otherwise he will feel as if he could lose balance.  If as riders we are able to help the horse feel as if their lateral work and circles keeps them on all four legs (whole horse following the reins) you will get less resistance and more willingness from your horse.  Regardless of their talent all horses can learn these movements.  A more advanced leg yield can be done with variations all the way across the ring, however this should be used only for the more advanced horse. We will talk more about that later. 

This is such a broad and continuous part of our dressage riding that I will continue this writing in a series bringing you  from these elementary stages onward toward more advanced work for suppleness.  Look for the second part of this article to come next. Remember when your green horse does what you want the reward is to move on  to a different subject or put him away for the day.    












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Chuck Grant

chuck Grant and Jet

The International Series celebrates the Martial (or Military) Horse.

This is a photo of Charles “Chuck” Grant, the Father of American Dressage, with his Army horse Jet at the Chicago Armory in 1941, performing the kneel. Chuck led a distinguished military career that began in 1933 then went on to organize the first civilian dressage show to be held in the United States in 1948. He was further honored as the third person inducted in the Dressage Hall of Fame. It was the US Army that gave him the opportunity to learn about, train and ride horses. He took that knowledge and went on to become one of the greatest horsemen the world has known.



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About Visual Equestrian LLC and Tonya Grant

Visual Equestrian L.L.C is located in Hartland Township, Michigan.

We specialize in competitive Dressage for children and adults. We have a specific training program geared for each individual horse and rider combination.

Our goal is to have horses with good characters and a willingness to work and bring those horses and rider combinations to the highest level possible.

A great deal of our business is sales. We work with professionals all over the globe to make the right match of  horse and rider.  We have a great track record of selling good horses and encourage anyone who needs or wants to sell their horse or pony  to contact me at 248-219-0410 or email me for more information at evekko10@gmail.com

We have special pricing for sale horses.  All sale horses are managed and ridden by Tonya Grant.

Enjoy some history on our family  business:

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Important tips on training young horses



1.  Don’t fret over mistakes, know how to help the horse understand what you want or seek help from a qualified professional.

2. Training horses isn’t all smooth sailing, trust your trainer and stay with the program long enough to see the results.

3. Do your research on getting a trainer that will fit your needs.  Look at show records, history and watch how the trainer works.  Ask if you can sit in on some training rides or lessons to see if that person is a good fit for you and your horse.  Recognize sitting in on a training session is a privilege and be appreciative to get a behind the scenes look into a barn before making your decision.

4. Young horses need black and white consistency.  Horses on average are 1200-1800 lbs. of will  power and strength. Give great thought to everything you do and be sure to realize on a daily basis that consistency comes with mileage.  Good  training creates maturity from your horse over time.  Don’t expect a 4-year-old to be the same everyday and don’t bore them with the same work  everyday.  Keep it fun so they enjoy learning.

5. Expect resistances as training progresses.  There will be resistances!  What’s important is you think your way through the resistance so the horse learns and realizes when he’s done it right.  REWARD AND STOP ASKING THE QUESTION WHEN THEY DO AS YOU WANT.

6. If you have an idea for the day on how to ride your horse, or if you have a specific goal in mind that is good. However it’s critical to good training that you are willing to change the plan. Not necessarily the “subject” but change the way you explain to a horse how you want them to go.  This is a simple way to make everyday a successful day.

A few examples of this:

If I want to work on counter canter but my horse is struggling one direction I might decide to exercise the canter more in true lead or I may work on counter canter position in trot.  Often horses have no trouble obeying for counter canter but they can often struggle with keeping their body straight and understanding how to allow you to control their shoulders and hips. It can be helpful for both horse and rider to ride counter canter position in trot.

Another example:

If I’m riding a young horse and they feel too fresh to learn. In other words I can’t get their mind to come to me and listen.  At that time I may decide to dismount and work the horse from the ground a bit more and get back on or I may decide to relax the horse and try again later in the day or the next day.  Always remember a nervous or tense horse can not learn, and a horse that is too fresh can not learn.  Lunging and ground work can help with this.  Experience lets us know if the horse is just being rude and bossy or really isn’t understanding our questions.  Sometimes it can even be a combination.  All this decision making takes experience and a good eye on the ground. Centerline

7.  Young horses have ups and downs so realize it all takes time.  The building blocks of the basics are critical.  Some basics that can’t be skipped are stopping and going.  Simple halts to walk or trot.  Turn on the forehand is difficult for people to learn but young horses must know this as it’s the basis for everything.  Ground work and manors.  Jogging  properly and basics from the ground for piaffe.

8.  Excepting and trusting the whip and side reins.  The whip is not to punish but is a necessary tool to help teach the horse forwardness and timing.  The whip can also be used to help move different parts of the horses body from their hind legs to their shoulders.  Be sure your young horse is exposed to the whip to know it will never punish or hurt them.  Second teach them to move away from the whip both through using it for turn on the forehand from the ground and also use it to teach them to jog forward along side of you.

I hope these small tips help you.

Remember ask often expect little or nothing and reward generously. 



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Riding forward with proper balance

evekko show ring

I’ve been working on riding more forward into a receiving hand with my young horses. Riding forward with receiving hands, never pulling and yet making many half halts along the way.
Bending the horse from back to front into a  receiving hand, means the energy created in your horse is received in the soft hand and from there roundness and self carriage is created.

Self carriage simply means the horse is not blocked in any way to use his whole body properly as he performs the movements required.  He is able to use his whole  body and carry the rider,  lifting his back and coming through his whole body. 

Oh how easy it sounds and yet it’s not easy at all.  At the end of the day it boils down to the rider having knowledge of the rules so as not to  let the horse dictate how we do things.  Beyond that it requires good balance and an independent seat and hand from the rider. So we ALL must continue daily too work on our position and balance. Yoga and Palates certainly help if you don’t have a lot of horses to ride every day. 

I’ve always  said when the horse is well behaved, trained, soft and supple it’s easy to ride well,  however as riders and trainers we are required to ride well even when things are going wrong and with young horses things happen quite quickly.

While competing in the Grand Prix  with the Dutch stallion Kevekko and the PRE Stallion Tamaro, I had to learn to be quick in order to get the movements done correctly.  In the  Grand Prix movements are coming up so quickly that the horse must really be in front of the leg and attentive at all times.

 In front of the leg is an advanced term for forward.  It means the horse isn’t running.  He’s waiting for my  leg and jumping up in front of my leg aids.  When the horse is in front of the leg it should feel as though all the energy is in front of his withers.  Usually when a horse is truly in front of the leg it’s easy to keep our reins short, sit quietly and the feeling is of controlled  power.

Young horses have taught me a different quickness. With young horses it’s about being mentally quick to respond correctly when they make a mistake or are not sure what to do.

They get all their  knowledge from the rider/trainer.  They only know what we can teach them.  For dressage they must learn the aids, except the aids, and execute the movements.  Once young horses learn rhythm and relaxation and  trust the rider the next faze is teaching timing.  Timing is so important and it’s what gives the horse the ability to do advanced movements from the third level and beyond.

Going  around the ring in a nice frame will get you through Second level with a good well  balanced mover, however timing for the horse and rider is required to go  beyond second level.  It’s critical for the lead changes, and difficult transitions like piaffe to passage.

Don’t worry about making things  perfect just trust the exercises and do them frequently and remember in the beginning with a young horse it’s only the rough draft, reward your horse for his effort as this will give him the “heart” to try again.  


Timing is taught by doing many small transitions.  These transitions are extremely helpful in putting a horse on the bit if you only believe in them.  In other words sometimes if my horse is a bit difficult in the neck just moving forward and then making a half halt to shift the weight to the hind quarters for only one stride and then going forward again teaches the horse the timing of the half halt.   More often than not this works at getting them easier in the neck.  Remember it’s the forward and the giving the horse likes.

They will be more willing to carry weight behind if they learn that there is always a release and forward  after each half halt.  The result is self carriage.

So the half halt should go this way in trot.  Lengthen the stride a bit and then bring the horse back using outside rein then inside rein then back to outside rein.  Take a breath, make them loose in the neck and then go forward again. Repeat until you feel the horse relax and start doing this almost on his own from your body language rather than your hands.  Your hands should remain with a soft contact on the mouth.  Before every half halt grow tall close your thighs slightly letting the horse know a change is  coming.  Pretty soon he does the half halt just from your weight and change in body language and then he is able to stay soft in the hand as there is no pulling going on.

Another exercise is to go forward and come back for only one step. Discipline your self whether you like it or not to just do one step and then go forward again. Horses absolutely love this exercise!

Teaching the horse to be adjustable and in self carriage in canter goes like this in the beginning stages.   Move your horse forward from your outside leg only even if he’s a bit in head to the wall position, then bring him back to working canter with inside rein only, then go forward again  from the outside leg and back on inside rein.  This teaches them timing as well as the difference between their right and left side. When you bring the horse back on inside rein in the beginning follow that rein a bit, lets say onto the second or third  track or even a turn in the direction of the inside rein is helpful.  In all work from beginning to end the horse must follow the reins.  He must understand about the left and right side of his body.  This is necessary to do half passes, lead changes, pirouettes and proper halts to just name a few examples.

Once you feel the horse responding to this and not breaking from canter to trot remember the greatest reward is to stop  asking the question and move on to another subject or quite for the day. 

Eventually all transitions are done in the shoulder fore position but teach the forward and back the way I described and  remember when you bring the horse back on inside rein you are creating a moment of shoulder fore. Eventually the principle in lengthening and shortening  doesn’t change but the horse easily stays in shoulder fore naturally. 


see more at www.visualequestrian.com


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It’s a long way to Rome…..

I’ve been bringing along about 5 young horses for several years with the goal to bring them to the FEI division.  therefore I obviously talk a lot about training.  The FEI division stands for Federal Equestrian International.  It governs the highest level of dressage.

In order to qualify for team events in dressage one must compete in CDI competitions. The rules under the  CDI classes are much  stricter than national classes and one must compete in these qualifiers to get on a US team for dressage.  When you enter a CDI competition horses must pass a vet check before being allowed to compete and all medication is prohibited.  For this level one needs a real athlete who is well trained,  healthy and sound.

CDI stands for Concours Dressage International, a dressage competition recognized by the FEI.  As CDI-W, there is World Cup qualifying or World Cup classes at the show, as CDIO there are Olympic qualifying or Olympic classes at the show.

Training horses as my father and mother would say is very hard.  My father said maybe when you have reached 50 years old and have studied training your whole life you might have the credentials to really talk about training.  My mom said  it takes 3 life times to learn to ride dressage. There is no doubt that riding well is one thing but riding well and having the skills, experience, patience, and perseverance to “train” is very different.   Training  horses for the FEI divisions means they are progressing right along in their minds and bodies.  During this training time it’s hard to also be competitive in the lower levels.  I love the lower levels to test your basics and to give your horse an easy and relaxed experience in the show ring. Once they are steady in the shows and quiet about going in the ring all efforts should then be put into doing the right thing every day to create your FEI horse.  Since at best this takes years be careful not to get stuck perfecting the basics.  If your horse learns canter walk for the first time but comes above the bit, reward generously.  Come back to it another time so they learn to do this while on the bit and over the back.  Never expect a horse to do something exactly right when they are learning something new.  If they give you a hint of the right answer reward and then explain again.

My father use to say put the rough draft on your horse and then go back and perfect it. In this way of thinking with a capable horse you will make it to the FEI divisions with success.

So is training horses a sport or an art?  I’m very competitive. I love to compete and I love to win. I also love the horse and their well-being comes before my own desires.  For me the competition is most  certainly a sport.  An Olympic sport that rivals such difficult sports as gymnastics, golf, and even at times requires the bravery of downhill skiers racing at high speeds not knowing if they will win or crash.

Yes competing is a sport and one I love, but make no mistake training is an art!

I am an artist of training horses which means I learn every day. I work hard mentally to make sure my horses learn and are generously rewarded.  An artist never stops perfecting their work. We all know of the riders who have made it to the top on one horse and then we never see them again. One horse can make your career and put you on the map. Horses can make the rider/trainer, but real trainers learn many ways to teach the same thing. The reason you must learn to ride many different types and personalities is because good horses (the best horses) come in all different shapes and sizes.  They all have different  personalities, different physical strengths and weaknesses.  Some great horses have  bad feet that must be cared for with supplements and most important a good black smith.  Some great horses hold tension in their muscles and must be massaged or treated for this not only in good riding but in good medical care.

Some  horses  can be stall  possessive, crabby, nippy, or have difficulty standing still and being patient. Others seem easy as pie and never seem to complain. Non of this is an indication of how they will behave in the ring.  The best horse I ever had would show such a mean face when you went in his stall but he was really sweet and I won a lot on him.  If you turned your back on him in the stall he would bite you but let me tell you when I went through the in-gate he was a force to be reckoned with and won time and time again.
I can manage all kind of characters in the barn, what I’m looking for and nurturing is a horse that has a work ethic.  With a work ethic a horse can go far beyond their God-given talent.



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Is your horse telling you something?

Learning to listen to a horse is one of the most difficult things to do.  They  tell us much in the course of a day and yet without words we are left to speculate.

My father always said to me don’t treat a horse like a person as they do not think like us.  I believe this is true.  Horses react but they don’t pre meditate those actions.  They simply show their grouchy face when they don’t like the girth tightened.  They perk their ears and look at you when you have a treat, but it’ the treat they’re after.  They nicker when hungry or their stable buddy is leaving.  They don’t care who feeds them as long as someone feeds them in their normal routine.

But what if what they are trying to tell you is more subtle, more complicated?  This is where it gets tricky.   This is where you need to  own a horse for many  years to really get to know them.

The first person to see the horses in the morning for breakfast gets the first hello.  Has the horse drank water over night? Is he or she happy to be eating breakfast?  Does their manure look normal?  Are they acting energetic, which is common the first day of a show.   This is the first and most important part of the day.
Next comes putting on the halter for turn out, work or going to the hot walker.  Here we learn a lot.  I especially find the mares to really let me know how they are doing.  Some days they can’t wait to see me, other days they don’t want anything to do with me.  I never take this personally and neither should you. On the days they don’t want to come to me or seems a bit cranky, those are the days I must listen closely.  Those are the days I have to decide do they just need encouragement which is always the rider/handlers job.  Or maybe they don’t feel well. Perhaps they have some pain.  This is one reason I love to lunge the horses or work in hand before I ride.  This warm up without the rider lets us know, how their muscles are feeling, how their soundness looks, are they quiet or fresh?  I see a lot on the lunge line and can often better  plan my routine.

What I  know is that our desires and needs must never come before the horses.  If you want to work on counter canter but you feel the canter walk transitions are not as good as they should be  then you might need to change  plans.  Spend some time organizing the canter walk transitions even if it means no counter canter that day.

I recently swam with the dolphins at the Dolphin research center in Key West.  This particular day the dolphins had much larger crowds to please than normal due to the holidays.  The trainers need the money from the people to pay for the research center so they book the dolphins to their highest capacity with good reason.  However the trainers make it very clear to their patrons that they will not compromise the dolphins well being under any circumstance.  When the dolphins didn’t want to do something the trainers had a method of no reaction to the wrong behavior and positive reward for the good behavior.  This training is one all animals can flourish on.   Positive reinforcement.

I’m a trainer that likes to send horses to the ring each and every day, but I’ve learned when to back off, when to realize the horse might be sore and seek  treatment and when the horse just needs a change in routine.  No horse can do the same old routine day in and day out.  It must be fun and like any athlete the horses will have sore spots that should be treated. We go to the chiropractor, the massuse, we take care of ourselves with vitamins and our horses deserve all that too. However be knowledble about it.  If you feel something isn’t right with your horse it may be they are just having an off day or it may be he or she is trying to tell you something.

I learn so much from my horses in the stable.   This is a place where riders must take some time.  If I have a groom these are some questions I may ask before heading to the ring.  How was she in the paddock? How was she in the hot walker?  Any grouchy behavior when putting the girth on?  Did she eat her lunch?   It helps me know what to expect both mentally and physically.  If they can’t talk we need to learn to read body language.  The only way to read it is to first pay attention to it.

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Creating a well balance 2 year old who is ready to be backed when they are 3

The making of an FEI horse starts when they are weaned from their mother.

When my horses are two years old everything I do or my staff does is geared toward making them the best horses they can be for the future.

At two years old they are continuing to learn from the other horses in their heard.  They are being brought to the stable 3-5 days a week for work in hand.

Our goal is to have them comfortable with the saddle and bridle by the end of October .  At the end of the 2-year-old year your horse should be comfortable in the cross ties and being groomed.  They should be able to hand walk and jog in hand with good manors and stand quietly and obediently for their feet to be picked.  I teach my horses to have their feet picked with the softest of aids and like everything else I have a method for this.  (See tips at the end of the article)

Since we live in Michigan and the weather gets very cold in December,  I turn out the two coming three-year old horses from December to April 1st.

In April the 3 year olds are started back in hand for one or two months and then we back them.  I make sure that the horse is trained to walk trot and canter by voice command on the lunge line with side reins prior to any rider actually mounting the horse.

While we are gentle and kind; manors at this age are of utmost importance.

Good manors are established in my program by positive reinforcement especially at the fragile age of 2 and 3.

We set the horse up for success and make sure only a qualified handler is working with these horses.  How do we do this?  Some examples would be when starting the horse in the cross ties begin by always having two people.  One person holds the horse in the cross tie area while another person grooms her.  When that is possible we put one side of  the cross tie on the horse while again someone stands with a lead rope to hold manually the other side.  We allow the horse to move around and feel the pressure of the cross tie but the handler is there to comfort the horse.

Remember when we start this simple work the horse has already been handled for almost a year and established trust with a human. In other words by age 2 our horses have been hand walked and lightly groomed by humans so they have a basic trust and liking to humans already.

Once the horse is comfortable with the tie on one side we switch it to the other side.  We put the horse in the cross ties for two to three weeks before taking off the lead rope. At this point I find they are easy and comfortable with cross ties and one person can now do this alone.  The reason to go slow with this is because once they learn to break the cross ties it’s a habit they return to each time they are frightened.

One very important note is that you don’t want your horse to learn to break the cross ties as they will forever have that in their knowledge and flee the cross ties whenever they are the slightest bit scared.

To prevent this make sure you have a wall or bar behind your cross ties to discourage the horse from backing up and hitting the cross ties which will surely scare them.  Also remove the horse immediately if he or she becomes frightened for any reason.  We want the horse to be very solid in the cross ties before handling anything scary.

I’m a fan of grooming stalls as they are safer for horses and people rather than open isle way cross ties.

The work in hand starts with the stall cleaner and goes all the way to the top (head) trainer of each horse.  Nothing you do with a young horse is insignificant. They have a blank canvas to work with and we can put on that canvas both good and bad.  Remember nothing is removable from a horses mind as they have incredible memories.  We have to be careful in the early years to ensure they only learn good things.

I believe strongly in positive reinforcement and for this reason I believe it takes timing, patience, and a thought out plan for young horses to succeed.  When I use the word timing I mean experience from the handler,  rider and trainer to know exactly when and how to teach the horse.

In closing I will give some tips and examples of ways to train your 2-year-old horse or pony.   These tips and training examples will help prepare your 2-year-old for the journey of having to carry a rider at the age of three.

1. Get your horse comfortable being led from both sides. Not always leading from the left but sometimes lead your youngster from the right. This prepares them for later work in hand for piaffe and passage.

2. When teaching your young horse to have their feet picked, ask softly and if they don’t do it move them a bit or lightly tap the leg with a whip.  Often they just don’t know what to do. By moving the horse he associates your hand with moving that leg and picks it up easily.  For some horses this comes easier than others but the important thing is to stick to one method.  A common mistake I see is people doing is holding the back legs too high.  This is not comfortable for your horse so allow them to keep their back feet low to the ground.  This is helpful when they are three and get tired behind easily. After work I teach them they can even rest a hind leg while I pick their back feet.

3. When starting the saddle work, ( putting the saddle on) start with just the saddle pad. Only when your horse is comfortable with that should you attempt the saddle. Make sure you have a person holding the horse.  After the horse has had the saddle taken on and off several times and they are calm I put the girth on very loose. I take a few weeks to do this before making the girth tight enough to loose lunge them in the ring with the saddle.  Remember how the horse feels about having the girth tightened will last a life time.  Take  your time on this subject, never making the girth too tight in the barn.

4. Getting your horse familiar with the whip is important. I want my horses to understand the whip and not be afraid of it but also to have a respect for it.  So I begin to teach the horse about the whip by using it in various ways when I’m loose lunging.  One will often hear me give a horse the verbal command to trot and then make contact with the lunge whip lightly on their hind legs or rump area.  I want the horses to feel the whip, otherwise they can’t understand it or respect it.  My mom calls the whip our 6th. Finger.  It’ an extension  of our body and another important aid we use.

5.  Be sure whenever you turn out your youngster you turn them around and ask them to wait patiently while you take their halter off.   A horse should never run away before the lead rope and/or halter is removed.

6. When feeding young pasture horses do not except them bullying  you or threatening you when you walk in with the grain.  Often I’m feeding multiple horses at one time and this can be a dangerous situation for the care taker.   So in the beginning I will often keep a whip in one hand to teach them to wait and keep space between me and them until I have backed away from the grain bins.  Horses bite and kick as a form of communication with each other but they must learn we are not another horse and they must never come into “our” space unless we invite them there.

7. Give  time and love to your horse, but do not treat them as a pet. Never take for Granted they are 1000 to 2000 pounds and it only takes a split second for them to make a mistake and kick, bite, or step on you.  In keeping with positive reinforcement set your horse up for success by leading them correctly ( shoulder to shoulder).   I prefer a chain over the nose to keep from fighting and have more control early on.  Don’t play with them in a way that encourages  biting.  An example would be hand feeding treats to a baby. I prefer to feed all treats in their feed bin until they are older and not so oral as all babies are.  That is why if your not careful you can create a beggar and biter by hand treats.  Once horses are older say 5 years old this oral stage usually goes away.  However if you have an oral type of horse that loves to put everything in their mouth then continue placing any treats in their feed bin.  My only exception to this rule is I do use sugar in the arena when the bridle is on as a direct reward for something well done upon my request.

Always keep a well thought out plan for your daily work with your young horse.  Enjoy the long journey of making a well trained horse as it takes many years to complete the basic training process.





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