Erik Herbermann - August 2010

The usual "gang" came to ride with the addition of Tess, my working pupil, as a last minute substitute. There was a true "Erik" moment in her lesson when an observer who was watching for the first time asked "Wouldn't it be easier if she did some circles rather than just walk on straight lines?" Quick as a flash Erik replied "Oh, I don't want to make it easy; how am I going to earn my money if I make it easy?" Poor woman was completely stunned! And I guess that sums up Erik. He looks for your Achilles heel and goes for the jugular if I can mix those metaphors. Most of us ride pretty well on the first day and he can see how we have improved since the last clinic. But after a couple of days, he gets down to basics and forces us to face the things we can't do and does his best to help us get rid of these obstacles to our success. This is why it is so tough and, to quote Erik "People stay away in droves"! He also said "I am not here to see how perfect you are; I'm here to give you some breadth and depth". Once again I took pages of notes and here are a few of them.

  • What are you thinking? Be absolutely clear about what your intentions are.
  • Keep it simple
  • 90% of riding is keeping out of the horse's way; 10% is actively doing something
  • Stay forward (in rising trot); being too upright kills his back
  • Get away from fixed ideas - it is a living thing
  • Don't be overly critical of yourself or your horse
  • Go to that which works
  • Impossible to do anything useful when we have no confidence or get frustrated - every aid "smells".
  • Consider what you want and do it well
  • If you don't know what a half halt feels like, you have no hope of giving a good half halt - just say "halt here - I've changed my mind"
  • Your mind must exaggerate what you want, otherwise you are just mumbling
  • Horse must learn that responding feels good
  • The horse should object and be disobedient to a rotten dictator. He should rebel.
  • Don't be reactive
  • Assert your leadership, not your dictatorship
  • The blaring radio of hanging on - give after every aid
  • He can't hear the aid through the constant hanging on of the rein
  • Horses are mind readers and they are heart readers
  • The horse can move his body much better than we can move it
  • Take joy in small things
  • Accurate riding of school figures is the most useful learning exercise, it is self correcting
  • It is fatal to think of having the head in a nice place by thinking "back" The horse must be reaching with the mane towards the poll
  • The power of ignoring is one of the greatest aces up the rider's sleeve
  • How can the horse contribute if you continually over rule him
  • It is not the big things that make the difference but all the small details

What do we mean by "Forward"

Erik said that the two hardest things to explain in riding was the half halt and forwardness. It is far more subtle than it first appears and is much misunderstood, hence the vast number of riders who pound around the arena thinking they are going forward. Going faster is not forward. Crawling around the arena at a snails pace doing lots of sideways stuff is not necessarily any better. A little speed and judicious use of lateral work can help the forwardness but only if you have a really good understanding of what it is you are trying to achieve. It is far easier to explain "lack of forwardness".

For example, if you lose the half pass right and the horse tends to fall through the right shoulder and lose the bend with the quarters trailing, using more outside leg and inside rein is not the answer, neither is going faster! Rather, it can usually be attributed to the horse not being forward from the right leg. Half pass a few steps, then forward in a shoulder fore on a straight line often shows up this big gap, especially in canter.

Another exercise is to ask for quarters leading slightly in the half pass right, then circle left in the same position so the rider appreciates the necessity of riding forward from the right leg, then back into half pass right. Conversely on the left rein where the bend is too much, with, possibly the quarters leading, one should encourage shoulders leading: half pass left, then single track circle left, again, stressing the importance of "forward" from the inside leg. Of course, if the horse is truly forward evenly from both legs, reaching into both reins, most of these problems do not exist which just goes to show the importance of basic qualities of calm, forward, straight! And one wonders why Erik places so much emphasis on good straight single track work!

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