Dressage Horse Training: Are gymnastics for the horse or rider? Alfredo Hernandez Clinic

Hi everyone,

I have been riding very regularly since my arrival home.  I spent Jan/Feb in DC for the Air Force and then spent almost 16 days in Shanghai, China.  So, with my late start I’ve been bringing Ava and Donzer back to work at a pace that keeps them engaged and ready to work.  It’s always amazing how quickly horses do build fitness and I’ve been adding an extra circle or canter each day.  I have been doing a lot of work at the walk focusing on what I am actually feeling.  I have a connection with my sits bones and at the walk it is easier to feel when I am pulled off center.  Added to this feel, I am becoming more aware when the horses are “behind my leg”.  By this I would describe the feel as if I needed to learn forward just a bit to get some forward momentum going.  I think horses are genius at teaching riders to do this.  Donzer is always trying to get me to lighten my seat just a little bit so he can do what he likes with his hind end.  On that note I wanted to share a great nugget I learned auditing an Alfredo Hernandez clinic recently.

In Hand Training

Alfredo Hernandez is a great horseman known as a Piaffe/passage specialist.  As a lifelong learner, I’m always interested to watch and learn something new.  I would say that watching Alfredo work with some horses learning Piaffe, it reminded me of some of the great natural horsemanship I’ve learned–just highly specialized for Piaffe.  Alfredo was able to read the horses quite well and each horse finished with a soft eye and some licking and chewing.  I am looking forward to working with Alfredo with Donzer on Piaffe because in hand Donzer gets stuck at three tries and then gets so far underneath himself that Donzer cannot move.  I did get a better effort and some success with Donzer but it was funny because although I gave Donzer sugar, it was obvious Donzer was not sure what he did that elicited the reward.  So Donzer was not sure but still happy for the treat and ready to go again.  I am eager to see how Alfredo shows Donzer what it is we are looking for with the hind end and body.

For the Rider

Alfredo Hernandez  introduced what he calls the “Pasta” exercise.  You begin on the long side in a half pass to centerline that becomes haunches out.  You keep the haunches out around the short side, turn down centerline and immediately half pass back to the long side.  I recommend you try a few times at the walk to lay down the pattern first and then add trot and canter.  This is an amazing gymnastic for the horse and Ava is still struggling to hold the haunches out through the turn on the short side at canter.  But, each day Ava is getting better and finding her balance.  The real beauty of this exercise is what it is doing for me.  The first time I did the exercise with Ava I was so focused on Ava that my shoulders were against the bend, I was up in a half seat “helping” and definitely had haunches leading.  I had to go back to the walk and enlist my ground person to focus on me.  I am still finding the breakpoint between enough bend and haunches leading and my ground person is essential.  I am almost always now turning my shoulders with Ava’s shoulders for the half pass without having to think about it.  The hardest thing to do is to keep my butt in the saddle and allow Ava to struggle.  When I try to help the struggle is bigger.  As I am focusing on keeping my center of gravity aligned with Ava and simply allowing Ava to struggle with the bend, where to put her feet, etc, Ava is getting better.  The rider in the clinic made the exercise look far easier than the exercise is to actually ride.  What I like is I am finding more moments to lightly lift my legs away from the saddle and really keep my sits bones in balance with the change from half pass to haunches out back to half pass.

If you use this exercise as a work in progress–the journey not the destination–then it is an amazing teacher of balance, center of gravity, how to apply aids, body alignment and rhythm.  I remembered reading in one of Charles de Kunffy’s books about working a young horse slightly under tempo to allow the young horse to develop carrying power in balance with the natural tendency to pull themselves along with the front end.  Allowing Ava to struggle and keeping her under tempo I am now after a few sessions being able to add more impulsion without losing the quality of the pattern.  I’m not sure if this is Ava’s limitation or my own as a rider but in the end I guess it doesn’t really matter.

Good Riding,

Tara 🙂

Author, Out of the Saddle: 9 Steps to Improve Your Horse Back Riding

Out of the Saddle

Out of the Saddle


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