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German Renowned Trainer Hubertus Zedtwitz Lectures on Training Tightness into Active Relaxation for Dressage Horses

"The Fillis style (explained in the video) of hold on a double bridle is a very clever thing to do with tight horses because you can have them really nicely steady in your hand and get them up in the neck"…Hubertus Graf Zedtwitz
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This is a very important video for all dressage riders working with horses at any level. Hubertus Graf Zedtwitz gives an excellent lecture on tightness in this classic training session presented on  Hubertus is riding Pinta, a 9 year old Sachen mare, owned by Karina Seitz.  This mare came to him last summer and was very tight in her back and mostly in the neck.  Correcting this problem has been the focus of his day to day training  with the mare and in this video he demonstrates for us his plan of action as to how to turn this tightness into active relaxation. His theory is as follows…horses that are tight, do it to avoid working the hind legs and also to avoid carrying themselves.  He corrects the problem by activating the hind end through positive forward riding.  Hubertus explains that it is very important to keep a steady connection with these type of horses, "keeping the hand on" in a passive way (not pulling back) while influencing the horse forward from behind.

     He begins with a slow, relaxed rising trot at a slow tempo with a light seat (to allow the horse's back to come up) and doesn't mind thatinta  is a little tight in the beginning.  He does not worry about expression at this point, only relaxation.  He then incorporates many walk/trot transitions but doen in a way as to not create tightness.  He calls it a "game" and atcually uses this theory in the warm up with all his horses.  Keeping a steady contact, he often encourages the mare to stretch down and out with her neck avoiding all tension and stress.
     Hubertus then moves on to circles in the trot and demonstrates how he always keeps tight horses straighter on a circle, turning with the outside rein to avoid crookedness. "If you use too much bend and flexion to the inside," he explains, "then you loose the horse's outside hind leg to the outside and making the mare behind the leg and therefore, even tighter."  He applies the same principles in the canter circles, turning off the outside aids, which free up the inside shoulder and inside hind leg.  The horse must learn to come rounder on the outside rein.
     Now that the warm up is over, Hubertus takes a few minutes in the halt to show a very useful training aid he uses with tight horses when riding in a double bridle.  It is called the "Fillis" hold, named after an English dressage master. This way of holding the reins allows for a very nice, steady connection with the snaffle.  
     It may feel strange at first, but allows for great balance in the horse and is very practical.  The snaffle rein runs over the fore finger and into the rider's fist and the curb rein runs up under the little finger, into the fist.  It allows the rider to only flex their wrist to increase and decrease their curb or snaffle pressure.
     Using Fillis, he begins some lateral work in the trot to help engage the hind end.  This mare is very sensitive, always trying to get the rider to take their aids off by overreacting.  This is not allowed.  For example, when he touches her with the whip, she picks her croup up instead of sitting and engaging.  So he touches her again lightly and repeats until  he gets the correct reaction.  He takes this to walk/trot transitions in the "shoulder in" and "haunches in" constantly activating the hind leg. He remains very patient so she does not get tense or frightened. Hubertus is very consistent and persistent with these exercises and aids and the result is truly impressive.  
     He is careful all the while to keep her head above the vertical and her neck supple, always pushing into the contact.  He takes this into the half pass and eventually the trot extensions.  The horse by this time has completely changed her shape.  She is elastic, soft, engaged, uphill and fluid.  Hubertus is happy with this and rewards her with a break.
     He then focuses on engaging the outside hind leg in the canter which can also be a tendency of the horse. He puts the mare on a circle in the canter, with little flexion.  Then leg yields, staying on the circle (haunches towards the inside) so she must bend her outside hind leg under and forward.  When the mare does this successfully, he makes frequent transitions to the walk as a reward.  He repeats the exercise on both reins.
     Hubertus demonstrates the importance of an active outside hind leg in the extended canter on a straight line as well.  It helps to keep the jump and quality of canter.
Hubertus completes this training session on Pinta by summarizing that by choosing to focus on the activity and engagement of the hind end, the horse pushes itself correctly into the bridle, fixing its own tension and suppleness issues.
     Folks, you just have to see this video, it might be one of the most educational and informative training sessions you have ever witnessed.  All our horses are tight to start with, and very few of us know how to approach this issue, well her is your chance to at least understand what it is about and how to approach it. Honours Lendon Gray…. Watch Her Training Videos … A Dressage Legend in Her Own Time.

We begin the 2018 in Honour of Lendon Gray.
Article Courtesy from Our Partner

Lendon Gray doesn't subscribe to the modern, "feel-good", philosophy that all participants should walk away from competition with a trophy. In fact, she strongly believes that learning to handle "failure" is an important step for riders, one that is ideally taken early in their careers. For participants in Gray's popular riding programs, winning is not the emphasis, but when it does happen, it's a rarity. The two-time Olympian says, "With our Youth Dressage Festival the divisions are quite large with 20-25 people, and most don't get a ribbon, but if they do get a ribbon, boy does it mean something."
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The New England native says the inspiration for her programs arose twenty one years ago when she observed a lack of education addressing the complete development of horsemen and women. Gray explains, "I grew up as a Pony Clubber and Pony Club was my life throughout my young years." Through the organization Gray believed she acquired an excellent foundation in horsemanship that carried on into her competitive dressage career. "Pony Club is so strong specifically in stable management and overall horse mastership." However, when Gray moved to the wealthy neighborhood of Bedford, New York, she found the equestrian environment to be quite different than the one she herself had been raised in.

There were "kids who were being taught to ride this horse, in this particular test, and it came to the foremost strongly at the North American Championships" Gray remembers. Looking back as a young trainer she admits, "I was as guilty as anybody". Gray experienced firsthand the state of the competitive culture where frequently "people who were desperate to make the Championships would find a trained horse, and you as a trainer were pressured to get that team together so they could get them to qualifiers." Before long Gray realized that all too often blue ribbons were coming at the cost of the young rider's education – one that was left with gaping holes in the foundation.

From that experience Gray developed the concept for the Youth Dressage Festival where equality is paramount and hard work is rewarded. "The idea was to make a competition where it wasn't just the dressage, where let's face it helps to have a nice quality well trained horse, but also a group equitation class where the rider's position and use of aids is important and the horse is less important, and then a written test on assigned reading where of course the horse doesn't matter at all."

With all of her programs Gray says the goal is to "really try to fill in the blanks" in an effort to "develop well rounded equestrians". She explains, "If something is needed we try to do it. And we work completely on the help of volunteers, and they are an amazing group of people that help with our programs."

Gray admits though that pressure from competitive parents isn't the only obstacle to shaping proficient horsemen and women, one of the greatest limitations is often time. "You know the student comes in, rides, takes a lesson, and leaves. We can only do so much in a period of time,  but if nothing else we can hopefully be good role models."

In addition to being a mindful mentor, Gray helps to shape participants of the Dressage Youth Festival  by having a clear set of expectations for behavior and responsibility that extends both on and off the horse. She says, "For example every rider has to volunteer – I get that if you have to volunteer it's not really volunteering – but everyone is expected to give at least an hour to help with the show. That could be anything from running tests to checking porta-potties or being a judge's assistant." In addition, Gray asks riders to show appreciation for their opportunities. "Everyone writes thank you notes in all of our programs. Anyone that donates their time is given a hand written thank you note from the participants. For many of these children I have to teach them to how to write thank you notes – which is kind of scary!"

Gray's list of expectations doesn't end with good manners and thank you cards. Instead, she works to impart in children and young riders how to reach their riding goals by being  good students and continually striving to give their best performance. "I'll tell you this – the only requirement that comes with being part of Dressage4Kids team program is a real desire to learn and be the best you can be. If you just want to trail ride and have fun, great, I'm all for it, but that's not what I do. Anyone that works with me I expect a high level of focus and discipline. I think in some cases what I've been able to show some kids is that maybe they don't want it quite as much as they think they want it. No one has ever challenged them."

Fortunately, in Gray's experience the majority of her young students are able to rise to her challenges, but she is quick to reveal that she's "definitely a demanding instructor." Attentive listening and extreme focus are two things that Gray refuses to compromise on. "I tell the kids at the beginning of a clinic there are things that you work on and things that you do. You WORK ON – sitting the trot, developing a good shoulder in, and better timing of the aids. You DO keep your head up. Now if I tell you to get your chin up, and again 15 seconds later, and then another two and a half seconds later I have to say it again then you aren't demonstrating that you have enough dedication to be a terrific rider. Bringing your head up is something you do, it's not something you learn to do."

Adopting a disciplined, studious, mindset is clearly essential in Gray's opinion for aspiring youngsters who would like to reach the top ranks of dressage. However, one might argue that the same practices that she puts forth for children and young riders, could be applicable to riders of all ages. The clinician says, "The kids in the clinics get goal sheets where they have to fill out long term goals for themselves and their horse. And one question on that sheet, my favorite question, is – what have you been working on all year that you should have fixed by now? And why haven't you fixed it? Sometimes it just makes you stop and think."

Gray recalls asking herself that same question as an adult and employing fierce diligence to overcome what was likely one of her greatest riding challenges. "I'm by nature splay footed and I rode until my mid twenties with my toes sticking out until I said 'I've got to fix this'. It took me six months of winter (the winter in Maine!) to completely change the way I held my leg. I worked on it on the ground, I worked on it when I went to bed at night, I was a professional then so I worked on it with every horse I rode, and it took me all winter. I took care of it, because if you want to be the best that you can be then you have to be willing to put in."

Even for riders that do take the initiative to "put in", Gray says that progress comes in waves. "Picking yourself up and starting over" is the name of the game in dressage. "In any situation there's a curve of success and you always have your plateaus where you're not getting better per se, but you're confirming what you do, and you're building a very solid base."

The Olympian believes the same resilience is a necessary quality for the most ambitious competitors. "There's a lot of losing on the way to winning and I think the ones who do too much winning early are at a disadvantage because you are going to fall flat on your face at some point. Losing, if you want to call it that, is a huge opportunity for learning. Winning is great, but what are you really learning from winning?

Most importantly, Gray reminds riders to not lose sight of the intrinsic benefits of riding. A foundation in horsemanship she believes serves equestrians both in their riding and in their everyday lives. Many equestrians that grew up riding can attribute skills like worth ethic and resilience not to formal education, but to ornery ponies and backyard horses. Gray promises, "We have a sport that has so many ups and downs and an animal that will help develop us as human beings if you pay attention to it."

Article Courtesy by our Partner


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