Friday, March 29, 2013

"Feature Friday-Mark Russell Natural Dressage"

Howdy Folks,

It was working with horses in various disciplines in his early years that convinced Mark that Classical Dressage benefits all horses. So routed did Mark become in his belief that suppleness and teamwork were the keys to a healthy happy horse that he sought out the old masters as his own trainers. Such masters as Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere, Francois Boucher, Gustav Steinbrecht, and General Decarpentry. 

Mark completed his transformation after traveling to Portugal in 1984 to study under world renowned Portugese classical horse trainer and rider Nuno Oliveira. Mark was forever changed and now travels extensively to share what he has learned from these masters for the betterment of horses and their people.

"In-Hand" work provides the foundation for learning under saddle
About 20 years ago Mark was introduced to "Natural Horsemanship" philosophies and quickly he realized those philosophies were very similar to Artistic Dressage, especially in that both are routed in the horse's needs being most important. Finding that inspiring, Mark began studying the teachings of the Dorrances, Ray Hunt, Pat Parelli, and others. He continues to study and practice in both worlds as each approach enhances the other.

Mark adds to those philosophies his studied knowledge of equine biomechanics, understanding, promoting and teaching that the physical well being of the horse is paramount. He believes that with attention to how the horse uses his body and by addressing each area where the horse may hold physical tension, the horse is able to find a comfort zone for learning balanced, healthy, movement.
Teaching the horse to be light to the aids supports a healthy flow of energy throughout the horse's body.
 Weaving these convictions together Mark practices and teaches Artistic Dressage. Mark explains, "Artistic Dressage is a method of suppling and gymnatizing exercises to balance the horse in lightness with a reliance on relaxation of the whole horse all of the time. Relaxation, a basic tenet of Artistic Dressage, is obtained through connectedness and trust as well as through teaching the horse to let go in his mind, and hence, his body."

Mark further explains, "Where Artistic Dressage differs from today’s more commonly seen competitive style of dressage is this emphasis on relaxation as a training tool. Rather than utilizing a driving seat and leg with reliance on the forces of the hand, Artistic Dressage prioritizes relaxation which in turn opens channels of energy which the rider can then direct. The resulting ride has a very different feel; fluid, free, and unobstructed by tension or physiological blocks." Mark passes on his depth of knowledge to all his students, allowing them to find the lightness and artistry they desire.

 In his book "Lessons In Lightness" available on his website Mark explains his, and the theories of the masters that, "When the rider enables the horse to use his energy efficiently, the horse will move freely forward. Once balanced in self-carriage, there will be no resistance in the rein. By using these methods the rider liberates the horse’s true movement without either driving force (the rider’s legs) or holding restraints (the rider’s hands)."
Working with our horses in a way that supports relaxation, balance and proper alignment feels good to the horse. 
Mark has a busy clinic schedule traveling to share his and the old masters knowledge of how achieving true relaxation helps both the horse and rider achieve true bliss. Please check out his website spread the word. And perhaps attend a clinic, your horse will thank you.

Thanks Mark for your devotion and teaching!

Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry

Thursday, March 28, 2013

"Brilliant Morning"

Howdy Folks,

Last night's moon and sky had been simply stunning. The full moon so bright I needed no lights as I set out to the barn to give Kessy her bedtime apple slice snack. She met me at the back porch with a nicker and head nod. We lingered a bit together there. I strained my ears hoping for the first Whippoorwill call of the Spring, but heard none. Even the Spring Peepers were silent, the chilly air I suppose had the tiny frogs snugly tucked in. The silence seemed to make that grand moon hanging in a sky of black velvet even more spectacular.

I looked in the Western sky this morning, on my way to Coffee with Kessy, for that big moon. Often in the morning's sparkling blue of the Western horizon I'll see a faded pattern of the previous night's moon. I was certain this morning I'd find that big  moon looking like a round dusty ornament just above the big oak's highest branches. But no, only a brilliant blue sky greeted us. No clouds, no stars, no faded moon. I admit I have no idea why some mornings the retiring moon, and occasionally stars too can still be found in the Western morning sky and other days not, but today I was hoping the big globe would be there.
I settled into my chair as Kessy tugged and munched her hay. We were greeted immediately with a distant train whistle. As if on cue a Cardinal landed on the oak just outside Kessy's barn on the branch I call, the stage. I've named it that because it's a long solitary branch that Spring songbirds often choose as their platform. Mr. Cardinal made full use of that stage and entertained Kessy, Saturday, Miss. Kitty, Tigger, the chickens and me with song after song. Behind him, out of sight,  Mr. Phoebe joined in for a few verses, when he wasn't helping Mrs. Phoebe build their nest on the rafter in the far end of the barn. Then the special treat of the morning came when Mr. Bluebird landed high above Mr. Cardinal and added his lovely trill to the brisk morning air. Another train whistle sounded in the distance.

What a delightfully brilliant morning! We hope yours is too.

God Bless and Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

"More on Lessons From Dancing With The Stars"

Howdy Folks,

Yesterday's post about how I discovered Dancing With The Stars and how it hooked me, generated some really great comments, thoughts and fun on our blog and facebook. Thank you all! I wasn't really going to do a follow up. I mean after all how much can you say about a TV show? But while watching last night's show I had some thoughts.

 Not new thoughts, I've had them for a long time, but watching last night's show, and knowing I had a blog about it today, I watched as a reviewer might. In keeping with my opinion that DWTS is a great example about how great it feels to strive to be your best, and what a fun and exciting example of that pursuit, I'd like to share another thought.
Followers of the Coffee Clutch have often seen my suggestion of, "Celebrate the Positive and Ignore the Negative." I admit I mostly talk about that in connection to working with horses, but I pretty much live by that code. I think it strengthens a marriage, love, family and friendship bonds, a career, and certainly your relationship with your horse. It's how I write here on our blog, on my facebook page and my stories for Natural Horse and Trail Blazer magazines. How I try to see life.

If you watch DWTS you're familiar with the clips they show of rehearsals. They detail the struggles, the planning and behind the scenes silliness. The clips also reveal the stars' attitudes. Some are up and digging into the challenge with a positive attitude, no matter the struggle. They laugh at themselves, declare their commitment and focus on what they've accomplished. There are also clips of crying, complaining how difficult it is, how they may have made a mistake. Sometimes the star might blame the pro for making it too tough. I know it's TV and the producers feel the need for controversy and angst. But the clips are real. And often telling.

I can't help but notice the stars who laugh at themselves, have the most positive outlook, and rarely complain or argue, tend to achieve the highest scores. And win. Some folks might say it's easy to be positive when you're doing well. I suppose there's truth to that. But I also believe it's true that "Celebrating the Positive and Ignoring the Negative" helps to make it easier to do well. Which in turn feeds into the positive attitude. Which then takes that positive attitude and grows and grows.

You can watch the stars who complain and are negative and see the time they lose in rehearsal, and compare it to the stars who focus on the positive, their accomplishments and move quickly ahead to more difficult steps and choreography without losing time. The lesson is there for everyone to see. It works every time it's tried. Anywhere. Who would have thought there were lessons to be learned on DWTS … I did the first time I watched it. That's why I'm a fan.

Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"Dancing With The Stars-How I Became A Fan"

Howdy Folks,

It was a number of years back; I think Dancing With The Stars was only in its second season. I was doing Endurance and Competitive Trail Riding. Many times using it to help rehabilitate the Tennessee Walking Horses Diane Sept was helping to heal. Diane suggested the sport for I had not heard of it. And by golly I'm sure glad she did. I met so many wonderful horses and people who really knew how to ride and take care of horses. I learned so much in the few short years I participated from both the people and horses. I really enjoyed every minute of it, the camaraderie, the food, the horses, conditioning, training and the competition.
River and Dutch take a cooling off break during the NJ 60 mile CTR
I never did tremendously well. Oh sure we managed to snare a few ribbons. As one ride host announced at the awards supper as she handed me my ribbon, "Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then." The ribbons are in a bucket in the tack room now.

The evening gatherings around the trucks and trailers, horses in their little corrals next to us as we ate supper, chatted with friends are special memories. Especially the 2 day rides. Loved them. What a wonderful way for the former show horses to learn how much fun it was to just be a horse.

Well back to DWTS … One evening Ravishin' Robbie and I were camped next to our friend, Betty, who always did very well. Very well indeed. We were enjoying the campfire, watching the sun sink low while Betty, shared a few stories of past rides. At some point she asked if we ever watched DWTS. No we said, not sure if we'd ever heard of it, we replied. She assured us it's a wonderful show and she never misses it. Of course she explained her being a competitive ball room dancer might sway her judgment, but she encouraged us to have a look ... Ball room dancer, I thought, now I understand your grace in the saddle. And friends, Betty could sit a horse like few folks I'd ever seen. Light as a feather, she truly was part of her horse as they glided down the trail. As if they were dancing.
Robbie and I watched the show the very next week and have been DWTS fans ever since. What hooked me then and continues to today, is how everyone on that show strives to be the very best they can be, each and every week. Something so very grand about that.

The pros, tasked with not only teaching the stars, but also the choreography designed to showcase the stars' talents and yes, minimize their weaknesses. In just a few days, how incredible! The stars, how they work around schedules, pain and even injuries amazes me. The commitment to the challenge they display is so wonderfully instructive. Just do your best, don't quit and you'll go far. Reach for the stars, or mirror ball trophy. I'm not sure we hear that enough today. I must admit it's thrilling to see the professional sports players and Olympians attack it with their unique drive and zeal.

The band. Holy cow, how can they learn all those songs in a few days?! It's amazing each and every week. Such talent and the pursuit of excellence is just spectacular.

The judges. Sure they need to ham it up sometimes, but they give honest, helpful critiques and even those of us in the audience who can't manage to put our left foot in front of our right, unless we're riding our horse, can understand and learn from them.
 Tom Bergeron, what a host. Quick witted and able to keep things on track, add a little, or a lot of humor as the need might be to the moment.

Well friends, DWTS in my humble opinion is one of the few shows today where striving to be the very best you can is the focus, and the message they send each week is, reach for your goals. You can do it! I can't help but feel we could use a little more that today. And that's why I'm hooked on DWTS. Thanks Betty.

Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry

Monday, March 25, 2013

"Your Horse Can Happily Stand Still"

Howdy Folks,

Traveling to do clinics at therapeutic riding centers, and rescues, it is pretty common to see horses who have a hard time standing still and comfortable. It's also pretty common to notice that after a few "release and relax" exercises most of the horses have begun to stand quietly, and to hear folks comment, "Wow he never stands this way for me." I have a number of clinics coming up in the next 3 months and was just thinking about this "horse fidgeting" and thought it might be a good subject for our Coffee Clutch.

When I'm demonstrating "Therapy For Therapy Horses," I think it's important to do the exercises with the horse not tied. They need to be able to move freely which they can't really do while tied. Of course we're in a ring, corral or arena doing the clinics so they really can't run away, but with other horses in the ring with them and other people too, many horses step around, hold their heads high and worry. Showing the horses they can stand still during the clinics does work, but if you work on it at home, alone, devoted to just your horse it works much better. So how about a few little exercises and tips to help with that? And friends, this will transfer into the saddle.
Kessy and Dutch demonstrating the "Rock Back"
Horses can stand much more quietly if they are comfortable. One thing you can do to help is always ask your horse to "Rock Back" off their forehand. Just gently touch her chest and encourage her to rock back. That is to shift her weight back. Another is to do the "Mane Wiggle." Firmly grasp her mane and wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, starting gently and increasing until you see her entire neck jiggling. She'll lower her head and relax.... You can see more about the "Rock Back" on my Blog Post here --

And the "Mane Wiggle" video on my blog post here---

Teaching your horse to stand "Ground Tied" is not hard to do, and is very beneficial and relaxing for the horse. Start in an enclosed area by walking with your horse. I like to start on the off, or right side for this because horses are most often led on the left. Walk slow and easy a few moments doing large sweeping figure eights. Begin mixing in a few stops, including the rock back (not a step back). Be sure to turn toward her when you ask for the "Whoa" and say it. Be sure she is standing comfortably when she stops. Wait each time for her to process the stop, stand still, and wait. Then say, "Stand." It's just the word I like to use. When you walk on turn forward and say, "Walk on" then start off gently.

When she's mastered a smooth, soft, Whoa and Stand, add the next move. While facing her drop your lead rope, make sure she sees you drop it, say "Stand" again. I also like to hold my hand up in a stop fashion, and make solid eye contact in the learning phase. Now take one step back, continue to face her and wait about half a minute while you stand relaxed and soft. This is NOT a test to see if she moves. Rather it is a teaching, learning moment. Hopefully she will not move and you can step to her, pick up the lead, tell her what a good girl she is, like you mean it. Then turn, ask her to, "Walk On," and go back to the walking and gentle comfortable stops. Remember to hold your hand close to the halter as you walk, you want crystal clear connection. Do this several times each time keeping the "Stand" time about the same short time, building confidence.

A BIG key to remember is, should she move, even one foot, gently put her back EXACTLY where she was. You are helping her to understand, "Stand means right here" not "It sort of means about here." ... Consistency builds confidence. So she must be shown to stay exactly where you've told her to "Stand."

When she has become comfortable with this add the next layer. This time when you ask her to "Stand" step back and walk to her hip, pause and go back to her halter, pause, then pick up the lead, make sure she sees you pick it up, say "Walk On" and go for a little walk again. Remember the figure eights.

Now switch sides and begin all over. Be careful to do everything, slowly and methodically from the very first step of just walking and stopping in the figure eights.

When she's mastered both sides to the point of your walking to her hip and back it's time for the next layer. After you've asked her to "Stand," pause, then walk to her hip, and continue walking, to complete a circle around her, back to your starting place. Pick up your lead rope, congratulate her, pause, then walk on. Remember to tell her, "Walk On." Do this until she has it perfect, then switch sides. And that's it.

This whole exercise will take about half an hour to an hour. Of course over time she'll gain more and more confidence and you can try moving out of sight for a few seconds while she's ground tied, and then add more and more layers. Remember if she moves to ALWAYS put her back EXACTLY where she is asked to stand ... never scold, always praise ... One more tip, do not do this on grass until she has really learned to ground tie. It's not fair to tempt her.
Here Kessy stands happily "Ground Tied" and enjoys a "Vertebrata Wiggle"
Well there you have it. If you teach your horse this nifty little deal you can have a relaxed time at clinics, even if there you do hold the lead rope for safety, but your horse will not fidget. She will stand relaxed, comfortable and confident. Tacking, grooming, trimming feet, everything will be soft, comfortable, safe and fun when your horse has the confidence to stand ground tied. She will thank you for teaching her.

Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry