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Alpha Natural Horsemanship

‘Ask with lightness, encourage without forcing, correct with softness’

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Aids & Cues What are they
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Buying a Horse Part 1
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Buying a Horse Mismatched
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EncouragingConfusedHorses
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Soft Inside Light Outside
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TRAINING Ask Properly
Training Logical Cycles
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Training Pyramid Natural
TRUST and TRAINING
Turning and Neck Reining
Use a Dummy do not be one
Winter Training Workouts

Natural Horsemanship Training Pyramid


Briefly, the training pyramid is intended as a written progression of steps to be taken in training the equine from Ground to Mounted Training.  It considers the horse's emotional state, physical development, its mental understanding of what is being asked of it.  It also considers how the human asks and the ease with which the horse potentially relates to the human.  It is used for any discipline or riding style.  When we first work with equine we use a triad of exercises and cues during foundation of ground training to establish; softness, lightness, following a feel and relaxation.  The "cues" are soft pressures that help a horse feel the shape we want it to take or the direction you want it to go or the amount of energy want to put into it. When s/he figures out the correct way to respond when s/he feels those pressures, the pressures go away. The key thing about these pressures cues is that you can modify them.  They help the horse relax, feel confident, safe and trust us.  Then we start creating corridors of pressures around him that help him feel and allow him to understand what it is we would like him to do. Once this happens with repetition and a triad of exercises that will be transferred to the saddle the horse’s rhythm improves.  Therefore, the pyramid can be applied to any horse whose work demands athletic skill.  This can be studied by horsewomen and men who wish to increase their level of understanding (at least intellectually) about the bodybuilding phases a horse must go through to perform increasingly difficult actions or movements.


Feel

When we begin any endeavor, there is a certain time it takes to learn the mechanics or the "how-to" of a thing. Working with horses is no different. How to be around them, care for them, handle them, train and ride them are all processes that require putting our desire to learn into physical effort. It is a vital part of the process and at the same time only one part of the process. Once we begin to be able to "do" some things, we are hopefully motivated to dig deeper and learn how to "feel."  In my own experience, developing feel comes from the mindset with which I approach my equine partner and allows me to prepare myself for the level of emotional, mental as well as physical responsibility that I agree to accept in the relationship.

 

Soft and Light

This is an interesting question that sometimes is confusing; depending on whom you talk to and usually you will get different interpretations.  Everything starts from softness; whatever we want to do with our horses, it starts with softness and only then will there be lightness.  When we and/or our horse is not soft on the inside it is not light on the outside because there will be resistance from o pressure causing; tension, bracing resulting in lack of confidence and fear. What I believe a soft feel is referring to is when the horseman draws on the lead rope or the reins and the horse responds without any resistance through the body down to the feet. At the same time the horse is relaxed; it should respond likewise to the riders’ legs, seat and body rhythm. Because we do not understand the process we humans usually will create undesirable behavior in our horses. So must start with a self evaluation confirming that we are not the cause.  Before we can control our horse, we need to be in control of ourselves!  Read more

 

Relaxation

 “Relaxation refers to the horse’s emotional, mental and physical state (calmness without anxiety or nervousness”, as well as his physical state (the absence of negative muscular tension. The emotional, mental and physical states go hand-in-hand. Usually we manage to gain some physical control of our horse.  That is until something causes his emotional level to rise.  The horse’s fear can so distract him that we lose the physical control we thought we had.  During training the horse learns to accept the influence of the handler, trainer, and rider without becoming tense. He moves with elasticity and a supple swinging back, allowing the rider to bend him laterally (side to side) as well as longitudinally (lengthen and shorten his frame).” 

 

Rhythm

“Rhythm is the term used for the characteristic sequence of footfalls and timing of a pure walk, pure trot and pure canter. The rhythm should be expressed with energy and in a suitable tempo with the horse remaining in balance appropriate to his training.”  In most training pyramids or scales rhythm is listed first. One argument for this is that rhythm must be established in order to have ultimate relaxation in movement.  While true in and of itself, rhythm is one piece of a very large pie and in some cases is only established after the horse has been started under saddle (according to traditional dressage methods) and then again only after the horse understands the forward aids to the degree that a consistent tempo (pace) can be sustained on a circle. This pyramid acknowledges how relaxation is established during the foundation of Ground Training then transferred into the saddle without using auxiliary equipment, such as side reins or draw reins.

 

Freedom of Movement

We often see horses working with constraints and unnatural attitudes that are imposed by their handlers, trainers and/or riders. This causes stiffness and effort, both physical and psychological, in horses, something that causes physical problems and defensive reactions with the passing of time. First, horses must be physically able to perform the task required of them. Then, they must have well developed muscles thanks to good daily exercises. At the same time, we must be able to work with the right actions, coordinated and well-proportioned, free from all constraints, particularly of the hands on the lead or reins that need to maintain soft contact, leaving the horse in its natural position.  If we want horses to meet our demands and become our allies, our friends, and trust us, we have to respect their movement, be in harmony with it, support it and use our actions with consciousness and cognition.  This should make us think when we impose force on our horses, or when we ask them to do something that neither we nor they are able to do. The goal that needs to be achieved is to accommodate the horse in its movements while minimizing our own.  This freedom of movement of the horse can be achieved only when humans and horses reach the perfect harmony that comes from communication. When is this harmony reached?  When the human use the aids with lightness and sensitivity, in order to send the right requests to which the horse can respond with calm, serenity, and fluidity of movement. If, in fact, the horse opposes our actions, stiffens its body, mouth or neck and/or increases its movements with energy as a reaction to our hand and opposes and resists against the action of any other aid, it means that we are doing something wrong and we have to correct ourselves. The harmony and the ease of movement are interrupted.

 

Flexion

A horse that has been encouraged or taught to use proper flexion will be softer and more responsive on the ground and in the saddle.  The horse will carry a rider’s weight much better and can carry its own body weight much more effectively, without twisting its limbs into painful positions. It will be able to bend its limbs effortlessly and use its hind legs for power and forward motion rather than its forehand.  A horse that uses good flexion shows that its human partner is aware of how it moves and has put the time and effort into helping it be healthier and more agile. And who among us doesn’t want that?  Read More

 

Connection:

When the horse is accepting the rider’s hands, seat, and legs, it is said that he is offering good contact. Many people mistake contact for the horse being on the bit. That is not necessarily true and encourages riding with the hands alone. A horse moving under a rider is in contact with his seat, legs, and hands. Good contact is when the horse accepts and responds to seat and leg aids while maintaining a round outline with a mouth that is relaxed and accepting the bit. You can point out good contact when the horse’s back is raised, his quarters engaged, his poll the highest point, his jaw relaxed, and his nose a hint in front of the vertical (which is also a sign of good riding and training). Impulsion: Free-flowing energy initiated by the rider, causing the horse’s back to swing, his quarters to engage, and his forelegs to articulate is impulsion. Good impulsion is mirrored through a horse that appears to have an innate desire to go forward with active, lively steps. How far the horse steps underneath his barrel and how much he engages his hocks are both measures of impulsion. Basic training regulates the horse’s engine so that impulsion becomes second nature to the horse and the rider does not have to push all the time.

 

Straightness:

Horses are naturally crooked, so straightening them is the job of the rider/trainer. For example, many horses canter with their quarters slightly in. Crookedness is caused by uneven lateral suppleness, i.e. one side stiffer than the other, and a weaker hind leg. Good training focuses on developing both sides and hind legs of the horse equally, which eventually leads to absolute straightness. A horse is truly straight when the hind footsteps in the line of the front foot (or sometimes a little deeper to the inside in the event of collection).

 

Impulsion:

Free-flowing energy initiated by the rider, causing the horse’s back to swing, his quarters to engage, and his forelegs to articulate is impulsion. Good impulsion is mirrored through a horse that appears to have an innate desire to go forward with active, lively steps. How far the horse steps underneath his barrel and how much he engages his hocks are both measures of impulsion. Basic training regulates the horse’s engine so that impulsion becomes second nature to the horse and the rider does not have to push all the time.

 

Collection:

The pinnacle of the Training Pyramid, collection is the ultimate goal for the dressage horse. When all the previous elements are present, collection just happens! Collection involves the lowering of the croup, lightness of the forehand, and shorter and higher steps. Collection is possible in the walk, trot and canter, and is achieved by collecting exercises and refined by little half-halts. A rider on a horse doing a great collected canter feels as though s/he can let go and the horse would still maintain perfect rhythm and self-carriage without any interference from the rider.