Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Schacht-ingly good time!

White Birch Farms on a lovely December afternoon.
This is why I live in SoCal, my friends.
Even with Hemie's worms and hind-leg issues, I was able to maintain a positive attitude this weekend, in no small part due to the wonderful Dr. Christian Schacht clinic I audited.  It was held at the beautiful White Birch Farms in Somis.

This is the second time I've attended one of his clinics (the last time being in January - recap here), and I've decided that I will do my best to ride in one of his clinics in 2014. I have gotten so much out of watching, I'm sure I could get even more from participating.

To get a rider's perspective, check out Karen of Not So Speedy Dressage's recap post.

I watched 7 lessons total, including rides by Karen and local dressage trainer Chemaine Hurtado (whom I lessoned with her back in March). I greatly enjoyed watching Dr. Schacht work with Chemaine on the upper level mare Amazingh Welcome (Maisy, and yes there is an "h" on the end of Amazingh), who are improving piaffe and passage. But of course I took away more practical advise and exercises for myself to use with Hemie from watching Chemaine on her three-year-olds, and from Karen on both Speedy and Sydney.

Here were my main takeaways:

From Karen on Speedy & Chemaine on the youngsters, Saturday:

Top quotes:
  • "Inside seat to outside rein."
  • "Don't end the trot - start the walk."
  • "Don't overdo it with the leg - we want them to be sensitive to the leg. Ask with leg and if they ignore, follow up with the whip."

Exercises & Position tips:
  • On a 20-meter circle, make it smaller by pushing them in with outside seat bone and outside leg. Use counter-bend if needed.
  • Always always keep contact with outside rein. Even if rein is long, keep contact.
  • Pick up canter by pushing inside hip bone forward, outside hip heavy, outside leg back.
  • Control the trot speed and rhythm by changing your posting only - make them more sensitive to seat and body, less with leg and hand.
  • Flex inside, then outside, alternating just a few strides apart, to encourage connection and suppleness.
  • To get better hind end engagement and to get the horse listening to body, do multiple down and up transitions, just a few strides apart. 

Happy Karen & Speedy

On Sunday I unabashedly had my phone out, typing notes during the clinic (rather than doing a quick jot-down afterwards in my car such as I did on Saturday). Other auditors soon followed suit, so hopefully it wasn't too much of a faux-pas. But that means I got more specific notes from each of the 3 dressage lessons, which were quite different from each other.

Speedy bending whole body, crossing hind legs.
Dr. Schacht looking on.
From Karen on Speedy, Sunday:

Top quotes:
  • "Flex and give, flex and give."
  • "Rise higher and quicker" to adjust tempo.
  • "Keep the forward thinking of a young horse."
  • "You turn with outside thigh and inside seat bone."

Exercises & Position tips:
  • Flex in and out on a circle, then shoulder-in, to get them connecting to the bit (rather than pulling with hands at beginning of the ride). 
  • When asking for flex, move inside leg back to get hind legs crossing.
  • 5 loops whole arena, to work on changing reins and bending.
  • To work on the outside aids: teardrops at M then 10m circles at R and P, then teardrop at F, repeat other direction. Next, shorten the exercise so that teardrops at P and R with 10m circles at B. You must use outside leg and upper body to avoid wide turns. 
  • To work on balance, 20m circle at E adding 10m circles at E and B.
  • To work on using seat and body aids, as well as horse's balance: cantering full court, at E half circle 10m, then walk at X, then change canter and do 10m half circle the other way.
I learned a dressage term: "volte" meaning the smallest circle you can do with balance. For lower level horses, that is expected to be 10m.

From Chemaine on Maisy, Sunday:

Christian having a quiet moment with Maisy.
Top quotes:
  • "If they go forward, push them more forward to make it your idea."
  • "Less, less" meaning make the movement more subtle.
  • "Don't pull, just push."

Exercises & Position tips:

  • Trotting a 20m circle, change to off diagonal and leg yield in. Then back to a  normal circle with shoulder in. This will get them on the bit (rather than using hands) at the beginning of a ride.
  • Trotting, shoulder in down the long side, then back it off a bit so that it's a less dramatic movement. Tests effectiveness of aids to control degree of shoulder in. Same exercise with haunches in.
  • When they spook, put hands down and forward. Move forward out of the spook into work.
  • Trotting, do shoulder in short side of arena, then med trot long sides. Then add 20m circle to short sides. Adjustability, effectiveness of aids, and getting them back on their haunches.
  • Haunches in on circle, using legs only (no hands).
  • Cantering 20m circle, do walk-to-canter transitions about 5 strides each without using hands. Think about shoulder in at down transitions to keep outside rein.

From Karen on Speedy, Sunday:

Top quotes:

  • "He is the friendliest horse int he world."
  • "Whistle a song. Relax. Pet him."
  • "The only way to the outside rein is inside flex and inside leg." 
  • "Its just a misunderstanding. This horse was not trained in our language. He is not mean."
  • "Pet him to the rhythm of the trot."
  • "The hard thing is that you have to forget all the things that came before."

Exercises & Position tips:

  • Apply and hold knee pressure when the horse is tense, then open when they relax. Works on TBs but not warmbloods. Generally too subtle for observers to notice, which is important in dressage. 
  • When you have a tense horse, start with long reins on neck. Don't pull back, don't lean forward.
  • If he stops because he's nervous in the surroundings, just wait for him, but don't let him back. Give him time to get bored.
  • Don't talk - they'll hear the nervousness in your voice.
  • Don't try for connection at first. Trot, rising slow, with hands down. Let the horse decide where to go, then take him back to a walk using seat only.
  • Slowly shorten the reins, hands low and wide, asking for more trot with "higher and faster" posting.
  • Add inside leg to start connection to outside rein.
  • When horses are naughty or spooky due to nervousness, don't be mean - just take each new moment as a new beginning.
  • Canter with only inside leg, press outside rein to wither.
  • Flex left and right to play with poll.
  • Do not pull as you down transition from canter to trot.
  • If he halts and goes backwards, try to stop with squeeze then big kick. If that doesn't work, rein back a lot. Make it your idea. When he want's to quit, ask for a few more steps. Then do forward walk to forward trot.
  • When you get a moment of relaxation from the horse, smile and enjoy your ride. 

Sydney being a little tense, with Dr. Schacht whispering into the microphone.

Sydney relaxing into beautiful trot work.

This final lesson was the most meaningful to me. Sydney started off quite tense, then worked out of it, then got tense again, then improved again.  I felt so much empathy for Karen - after all, we have the same issue of our amazing-at-home-OTTBs going nutso when away from home (only sometimes! which is somehow worse!).

Karen is an amazing rider with excellent feel (and an absolute KILLER lower leg!), but like me she had a hard time relaxing her whole body when Sydney was so tense. I could also tell she was having a mentally hard time being patient with his antics, which I completely relate to - when your horse is exhibiting unwanted behaviour, you feel compelled to do something about it. But Dr. Schacht reminded us that waiting IS doing something. And that we need to pick only one battle at a time. For example, he told Karen to let Sydney stay down in the corner and let him decide where to walk or trot to, as direction/location was not the battle to pick at that moment.

Overall the clinic was very informative. Dr. Schacht has a wonderful way with the horses and riders. He has a great sense of humor ("I always have the last word with my wife: 'yes hunnie'.") and a quiet calming voice.  The components of the clinic that resonated most with me is to use less hand, use more seat and body and to ride your nervous horse as if he wasn't a nervous horse (easier said than done!).


  1. OH MY FREAKING GOD!!!!!! Best recap ever, Sarah!!!!! I am printing this to read over and over! you did a much better write up than I did/plan to do. Later this week my post is going to be, See Sarah's Post.

    And thanks for the atta girls. :0)

  2. Great notes, thank you so much for sharing! I definitely need to keep some of these in mind!

  3. It is cool that you got to watch the clinic and learn from it. I enjoyed reading your notes.