“If you want the horse to change what it’s doing, then you need to change what you’re doing.” I KNOW that! I just have to do it!

Zelador is extremely happy going to the right at all paces. Going to the left around the entire arena at the walk and the trot isn’t a challenge, but the canter is another story. He gets tense, rushes and comes WAY above the bit. Obviously, he’s worried. Christi McQuaker canters him on Wednesdays. With the show season in full swing, our weekly session occurs when she’s not on the circuit. This translates to: two weeks on and two weeks off.

Before our last “off” gap, she cantered by (to the left) and said, “When I flex him to the right, he relaxes.” (Ah, something was done differently by the rider and the horse changed, too.)

So, I had two weeks of “no Christi” to take this piece of information and see where it led Zelador and me. I immediately did what I’ve done since my discovery of Philippe Karl this past winter, I turned to his book, “Twisted Truths of Modern Dressage”. There it was in black and white, “Look for optimum conditions of locomotion and balance to enable the horse to perform correctly. When cantering freely, the horse bends the neck to the side opposite its canter lead on every stride: e.g.: when cantering to the left, it only bends its neck to the right, forming a series of ‘S’ shapes on every stride.

“This movement helps the horse move the left shoulder in front of the right one. It is therefore reasonable to think that… the helpful bend will naturally be a bend to the right.”

That explained Christi’s observation. While she was “off” showing horses I cantered Zelador to the left, remembering to let him bend to the right for a few strides, then travel with his neck straight, then bend again to the right. As each day passed I noticed less tension in the left canter and an improved cadence.

Meanwhile Zelador and I also religiously practiced the suppling exercises which are presented in Philippe Karl’s DVDs. These are: shoulder-in to the left on a small circle (we’re traveling to the left), haunches to the left on the same circle which spirals down to a pirouette. I then move to another small circle and do the counter-shoulder-in (the bend is still to the left and we’re now circling to the right). Finally we perform a renvers (haunches to the left with us circling to the right). Each of these exercises requires a change of my balance and Zelador’s balance. My weight is always in the direction of the movement.

When we first started these exercises at the walk, Zelador was brilliant to the right and a bit stiff to the left. To help him I only did a few steps to the left. As the days passed we improved and I added more steps to the left. On to the next challenge: performing these suppling exercises at the trot. Initially our work to the right was a disaster. I didn’t even ATTEMPT going to the left! But, things got better. We could trot slowly on a relatively small circle (not our usual route which went all the way around the arena). A few days before Christi was due to return I noticed that our trot work to the left was almost recognizable! An observer just might be able to figure out what I was trying to do!!!

This week after two “off” weeks Christi said Zelador was much more balanced in the corners and, when cantering to the left, if she didn’t ask him to flex to the left, he carried himself well. Flexing to the right still pleased him.

Now for the REALLY good part! I’m tickled pink with what my horses and I have learned from Philippe Karl’s book and his DVDs. Somewhere WAY in the back of my mind I dared to dream of someday meeting the man and watching him teach. BUT, I figured we’d have to win the lottery to finance a trip to his homeland, France. Dreams…

HOWEVER, (watch what you dream for!!!) on July 10, 11, 12 Philippe Karl will be in King Township, Ontario. (I live in King Township!!!) I’ve spread the word to everyone I can think of who is interested in improving.

And… here’s one more illustration of why I’m thrilled about this clinic. In “Twisted Truths of Modern Dressage” he says about his school, Legerete:

“This school has the founding principle of absolute respect of the horse. As a humorist once said: “It goes without saying, but it’s even better if we say it.’ It takes its inspiration from the masters who have contributed to this equestrian philosophy: Xenophon, Fiaschi, La Broue, Pluvinel, La Gueriniere,…

“Legerete is not a declaration of intent of a poetic or esoteric nature but a philosophy bringing together clear, effective and measurable equestrian concepts. It excludes any use of force or coercive artificial aids, but includes all types of horse and takes an interest in all equestrian disciplines.

“This school is based on in-depth knowledge of the horse and is ready to re-analyze and improve itself with all types of progress in this respect (anatomy, physiology, locomotion, balance, psychology, ethology).

“Lastly it has the aim of getting the best from the horse and fulfilling the rider through the constant search for efficiency via the minimum use of means.”

Thank you, Philippe Karl! Can’t WAIT for the clinic!!!