Erik Herbermann - March 2011

One would think that after all these years that Erik would have very little left to tell me. WRONG! Even the most basic exercises or aids can be expanded on and one never stops learning. That is true for both pupil and teacher.

I was reminded of Erik's analogy of training a horse and building a house. When building, one needs to get all the plumbing and wiring correct behind the walls so when the job is completed, the correct light comes on when one flicks a switch and hot water comes out of the hot tap. If such details are neglected, one has to strip out the walls and re wire or re plumb - a lengthy business. So it is with a horse. If the basics of calm, forward and straight are lost, one has to go back and "do a bit of rewiring" and yet this is what a lot of us end up doing. If you have never built a house, it is difficult to understand exactly what one needs down the line. When we built the accommodation, I was asked where I would like the sockets to be placed. At the time I had no idea where I would have the fridge or the TV so I hadn't a clue. Once the rooms were completed, it was easy to see where I should have put the sockets, but by then it would have been too late. Fortunately I had someone who was far more experienced than me so we didn't have to pull the walls down and start again. In riding, if we are not experienced, we can't see the faults in the basics until it is too late so we have to spend many hours, sometimes years, going back to very simple work - the foundations of riding - to undo the incorrect work and replace it with good work.

Artista, who is now 6 is a good example of this, not that his previous work was bad, but, he was prone to do everything at speed with a choppy quick gait and a stiff back. I have persevered with encouraging slow rhythmic paces ever since I bought him, 18 months ago, and at last it is paying off and he is ready to do a bit more. It has been torture for both of us to go that slowly but as Erik said, when you have been doing 90 mph on the motorway, it feels like a snail's pace when you get into town and have to drive at just 30mph. Artista and I have flirted with a bit of lateral work, counter canter and half pirouettes occasionally but the bulk of the work has been masses of lunging and simple single track school figures. However, "now the correct wiring is in place" we can move on. Erik rode him on the second day and asked him to engage his brain as well as his back end. Erik's initial assessment was "He is quite self willed...". However, he revised his opinion on the next day and said "Actually he has taken to this work much better than I expected" and by the end of the clinic he said "That horse is an absolute SAINT" because of something I was doing which was not particularly helpful! Actually, I am more than happy with Artista's progress and the more I work him, the more I like him so it seems unlikely that he will be sold as was my original intention. He now has a decent trot and a swinging back and keeps surprising me by the speed with which he learns things. He also has a great jump which is somewhat surprising for a Luso. I have kept a video diary which I intend to put on my website "when I have time"...

Icaro went through his repertoire rather well on the third day so I switched to Pooh who I find much more challenging. Having not sat on him for some time I was delighted to feel how much he had improved over the last 6 months. I asked Erik to help me with some piaffe, knowing that Pooh had previously been introduced to piaffe before I acquired him and was in fact sold because he couldn't do it. When I first bought him any attempt to touch him with a whip when standing close to him used to send him into a complete panic! Over the years he has learnt to trust us and I had observed during lessons that he was now in a state where piaffe would not only be possible but actually helpful. However, one needs someone good on the ground AND someone who knows what they are doing on top! Erik is the only person I would trust to do this and by day 3 Pooh showed the beginnings of some nice steps. As is always the case, some basic faults came to the surface, namely crookedness and lack of true forwardness. He is still quite good at falling on one shoulder or another when asked for forward energy. He will be practicing converting lateral work into "straight forward to where his nose is pointing" over the next few months.

This year Bob Anderson took some photos during some of the lessons and these can be seen in the Gallery, Some of the photos have been put on the website with Erik's permission. Since the rollkur/Gerd Heuschmann fiasco, one is only too aware of the negative power of the press and the internet. Naturally any one of us can be embarrassed by a photograph taken at the wrong moment, (not just on a horse!). While it is interesting to discuss "what went wrong", all too often constructive criticism degenerates into personal attacks and "scoring points" at someone else's expense. These do nothing to enhance anyone's understanding of horsemanship and do our sport a real disservice. However, photographs are only 2 dimensional and do not tell the full story. The not so good ones, taken at the "wrong" time within the stride can highlight a flaw which is unremarkable when seen in motion. Photos taken at the recognized "right" time within the stride, can look deceptively good even though in "real time" the horse and rider may have a very poor way of going. C'est la vie...

Here are some other gems which Erik offered through the week.

On how you think:

  • Don't have unhelpful things in your mind
  • The quality of our aiding voice is essential - "let's do this together"
  • Train the way in which you think.
  • Be serene and be effective
  • Don't get stuck anywhere
  • The horse runs on the riders "thought fuel"; on the riders "joyfulness" and with a rider's body that is calm, sensitive and feeling.
  • "Factory blindness" - problems sneak in so gradually that you don't notice them until it is too late.
  • Animation has so much to do with the way you think
  • You must have a purposeful mind otherwise you leave your horse in a vacuum
  • Finish each exercise so you don't get distracted by other things and lose focus on the "now".

On aiding:

  • You can't hold things or make it happen. Juggle things up so the horse discovers it for herself and thinks it is her own idea.
  • 6 tools - 2 arms, 2 legs, 2 seat bones; 2 concepts - whoa and go.
  • Let your physical aids talk to his brain, not his body.
  • If you are not clear, but keep on asking, you end up brutalizing the horse because there is no release from the aids.
  • You must feel a difference when you aid.
  • Talent knows what to do. Tactfulness knows how to do it.
  • Don't aim your aids at the horse; aid with him, aim the aids at your purpose
  • Without forwardness, the bit seems to get in the way, no matter how gentle you are with the reins.

Some technicalities:

  • The horse can see very well without turning his head, so he doesn't have to look out at all.
  • Leg yield is HALT angle flow - if it feels like the horse is not yielding, likely the halt was missing.
  • Bend in and squash out on each change of direction - just one stride of leg yield.
  • Change the rein often so that the "goodness" of the easy side helps the "difficulty" on the less easy side.
  • If you feel like you can't steer, likely the balance has gone. There is either balance or no balance - there is nothing in between.
  • The school figure is essential for success - choose the size, the location, the shape and change deliberately. Do whatever you are doing relative to the school figure
  • If you need a crutch to get up a mountain, then use it but, don't make a temporary corrective measure into a method.
  • Make a clear channel for his energy
  • If there is no reaching (for the bit) there is no horsemanship
  • There are 2 deaths in the horse:
    • 1. lack of forwardness but still reaching (the patient is still breathing);
    • 2. lack of forwardness and no reaching (the patient has died)

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