Herwig Radnetter, (Spanish Riding School) - TTT, Surrey

I went there with high expectations because I had heard that he was "different" and really stuck to classical principles and was very honest with the riders. After watching 3 riders and horses all with their heads fiddled into an over bent position I asked Herwig if he worked competition horses differently from the horses in the Vienna school. His answer was somewhat confusing. First he said "No" he worked them exactly the same which I found rather depressing. Then he said that competition riders had a much easier time because they had time to practice with their horses whereas in Vienna they do so many displays that they only have time to gymasticise their horse in between displays. "The only horses that get training are the difficult ones"! I would have loved to follow this up but with only 30 minutes allocated to each lesson, (cost £90 and sometimes the lessons were shared), it seemed inappropriate to take up too much time.

Like so many others Herwig said all the right things, (see below) but the words did not match what was actually happening in the arena. Most of the riders seemed more than capable with excellent riding positions and the horses were medium and above but "on the bit" tended to be behind the vertical with polls low in true competition style. Too often the riders seemed more concerned with getting the head down than with anything else and I wondered how such a group of talented well educated riders had such a big gap in their riding and how were they going to change if no one challenged them? Why was a rider allowed to saw his horse's head from side to side? Why was another rider allowed to bully her horse in such a negative manner?

The one real highlight was seeing Herwig ride a Lusitano which was having trouble with Piaffe. It did all the other tricks easily but when it was asked to do piaffe it swung its front legs sideways in a most unusual fashion and its hind legs just "hitched" a bit. Herwig simply sat on the horse and very calmly said "energy under my seat please, now!" and within a few minutes, the horse was doing some lovely steps. His hands were completely relaxed and quiet, his seat just planted on the horse and his whole attitude was exemplary. So why doesn't he try and teach that I ask? I guess because it is just too damned difficult.

At one point Herwig accused me of not watching but a lot of the time I preferred to keep my head down on my notepad and listen to his (excellent) words rather than look at what was happening in the arena, (but I don't think that excuse would have been accepted). Here are rather a lot of useful words and phrases that I jotted down:

  • Keep it playful, use short half halts, don't pull
  • Always ride forward - ask to go, but if they go faster, use a small circle to slow down and get more lift.
  • The horse will use his inside hind leg more if you use the bend through the corners and on 10m circles.
  • The more relaxed you are with power, the more jump you get. If you create tension, the horse just gets flat.
  • If the horse gets too deep, lower the hands.
  • You need to feel that your leg directly effects the horse's hind leg.
  • Even, quiet support - that is the best you can do for your horse.
  • There has to be a moment of silence (in canter) when all 4 legs are off the ground.
  • Be very straight (direct) with your horse. He won't respond better if you just put up with his loss of power.
  • If you lose power in the shoulder in, lessen the angle
  • In shoulder in the rider just brings the inside shoulder back a bit; that should be enough to weight the inside seat bone and leg.
  • There should be no time in the ride for the rider to just go la la la la la! (This is what I wrote so I guess he said it!)
  • Sit comfortably.
  • In piaffe sit completely still with a big smile on your face
  • You are responsible for the rhythm; the horse is responsible for the work
  • A loose contact hurts his gaits; a strong contact hurts your hands!
  • Have the softest contact you can imagine.
  • Half halt with "little stitches", not great big loops.
  • There is no tolerance for a horse "sucking back". Trot/canter, it's the same - GO!
  • Exhale for a downwards transition.
  • The horse must be comfortable so his breathing is regular and he can exhale.
  • Must be relaxed in the hind legs so they can bend.
  • Only do with your seat enough to stay with the horse
  • Slow means powerful
  • Holding your horse together with the hands is a fake.
  • Piaffe and passage - how good can I keep the diagonal steps?
  • 1/2 pass - use the outside rein as he steps his outside leg across.
  • Don't worry about the neck: there is nothing you want to fix in front

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