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Thursday, 4 June 2015

Lesson Recap!

I found an ad for lessons on a local classified site a few months ago.  The instructor had recently been accepted into Philippe Karl’s Ecole de Légèreté (School of Lightness).  My mentor when I was a teenager always spoke highly of Phillipe Karl and encouraged me to follow his training system.   He rode Apollo once and it was nothing short of amazing.  I wish cellphone cameras were a thing back then! 

I am wearing a shirt here...


I was hoping to watch this instructor, SD, give a lesson but we never seemed to find a time that worked.  So bright and early last Friday morning I decided to go for it and took a lesson. 

I can’t remember the last time I was so nervous about something.  I was more relaxed at my wedding (although I’d had a few mimosas before my walk down the aisle).   I’ve had some really negative/crazy experiences with instructors in the past.  I’m not usually willing to take a lesson from someone I’ve never seen teach before.  So.... I was borderline hyperventilating as I walked Apollo in from the field.  



She arrived as I was lunging Apollo (just in a halter).  I don’t love lunging but it’s become my 3 minute pre-flight check for lameness/cheekyness.  We introduced ourselves and I tried to briefly tell her our story (but I totally rambled on out of nervousness).  Then she asked me to ride around at the walk and trot and do some circles.  Off we went.  His walk was lovely and he didn’t seem to be feeding off my nerves.  His trot was so-so.  I was super tense and he started doing his bouncy horse thing that is a pre-crowhop warning.   I tried to relax and breathe.  He was still bouncing so I pony club kicked him (not very ecole de legerete of me) and then his brain returned.  

She walked us through a few exercises and gave me some tips.  Her methods are quite different from any other instructor I’ve ridden with.  Apollo seemed to respond well.  My brain had a hard time.  She recommended I cue for halt by first asking with my seat and then if he didn’t stop to slowly raise my hands up.  She also wanted me to open up my inside rein way more than I’m used to.  

These were a few more of her thoughts/tips:

1)      She likes Apollo and likes how softly I ride (save the pony club kick, I’m sure)
2)      She recommended I circle him when he crowhops rather than getting into a fight with him
3)      She thinks he is too fat (true)
4)      She wants him to wear shoes as she thinks it will help his movement at the trot (his mom is too poor, sorry…and this was the only thing I thought was really strange)
5)      She recommended that when I first hop on I walk him for 5 minutes on a long rein
6)      She gave me some in-hand exercises to work on for his flexibility (they are mostly neck flexions)



Overall it was a positive experience.   I liked her and I would definitely take a lesson again.  She offered to help me work with my young horses too. 





I do have some reservations.  I want to do some showing in the future.  I worry that more non-traditional methods will make that more challenging.  Satin isn’t everything but I don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb.  I also have to think about re-sale with my young horses.  If they are trained with these more “classical” methods I worry that it could make them less appealing.  I feel a bit guilty asking Apollo to learn things that are somewhat contradictive to his previously training.  None of these things are major concerns but they are at the back of my mind.



I’m open to opinions if anyone would like to share their thoughts! 

16 comments:

  1. I don't think it sounds like you need to worry, I've heard all the points you mention from other coaches too, and all of them at once from my favorite cowboy clinician :)The good trainers always try to get the biggest result from the littlest/softest ask possible regardless of school of thought or discipline. As long as it works for you and apollo (who, by the way, is looking stunning!)

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    1. Thank you so much for your thoughts! :) I've just committed to a lesson plan for the new instructor and I'm pretty excited!

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  2. the bio-mechanics trainer i work with is definitely not very traditional, and my other trainers kind of roll their eyes at me when i talk about the lessons.... but the thing is they *work* and my horse is a better horse for it. anything that helps the horse become more balanced and responsive is ultimately a good thing for the horse. i'd only worry if you see the horse going in the opposite direction

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    1. That's very practical advice, as long as my horses are happy and improving that's the main thing I"m going to focus on. :)

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  3. My 2 cents are that you won't be affecting his resale value at all. Just because lightness is the goal, does not mean that the occassional sharp correction is not required (aka pony club kick). My experience with more classical instructors is that the goal is to ride as light as possible but you make your point and move on. For example, if you want the horse to trot off a light aid you ask lightly. If no response use a stronger aid. Repeat unti your horse figures out that the lighter aid is way better.

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    1. I'm really curious to try this new training and see how it works for me and my herd. It will be hard on my brain but worth it I think :)

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  4. Unconventional training won't matter in the show ring so long as the final goal is the same. If your trainer is teaching you to put your horse's head in the air and hollow, that's wrong. If she's teaching you to get the horse on the bit, light on the aids, and using his back, it doesn't matter how you get there. If you had a good lesson, keep going.

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    1. Definitely! I am going to keep going with more lessons for sure, the more I think about it the more I think this program is a good fit.

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  5. Sounds like your lesson went very well. I always try to ride in a less is more way. And I always walk around in both directions for quite a while to warm them up and reinforce seat and rein cues before asking for trot or canter.

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    1. The lesson gave me a lot to think about for sure, I'm excited to learn more :)

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  6. Okay, so, I'm coming forward to confess; I'm a Phillipe Karl convert. . . And I was a hard sell, I was working and boarding at a PK barn for nearly a year before I jumped on the bandwagon. I got a lot of opportunities to observe horses in training, and see how they progressed in one month, three months, six months. I also got to see troubled and problem horses come into the barn and turn themselves around.

    So re: your concerns; and this is just my own personal experience and humble opinion,

    #1) Showing - is probably the biggest factor to consider. There are not many PKs competing out there, so you might feel a little isolated. Because PK focuses on the willingness and ability of the horse to perform the movement, rather than the ability of the rider to create the movement, your errors and mistakes will be unlike everyone else. Many people will be judgmental about this, and are more than willing to tell you you just need to "correct" your horse more, use "stronger" aides, or that all your problems could be solved with a harder bit. On the other hand, you will avoid a large number of errors that are commonplace in the show ring, especially those caused by tension, harshness, heaviness or unwillingness on the part of the horse. I think that PK greatly improves the quality of any horses movement. Not all judges will agree - everyone has seen that horse that is over-flexed, or heaven forbid, hollow, but always seems to be in the ribbons. More importantly, I have seen that PK trained horses can be every bit as competitive, and I think that this is something that everyone should see.

    2) Starting a young horse - Resale value - Is not something I would be concerned about. I've seen many, many riders ride a PK trained horse for the first time, and there are never any "communication errors". Rather, usually the rider has to lighten their aides, and raves about how responsive and willing the horse is after they dismount. I might worry a little bit about a PK horse who ended up in a tough training barn - I think they 'd sour quickly, but . . . many horses who end up in that environment sour. I've heard people complain because the pace of PK training seems slow, but in my opinion, the PROGRESSION of the horse is just as fast, because the horse is less likely to have avoidance/evasion issues to work through.

    3) Retraining - guilty asking Apollo to learn things that are somewhat contradictive to his previously training. I totally hear you. I had the opportunity to see several people start PK with their horses, so I knew that it could be done. Sometimes it was easy, and sometimes it was not so much. My horse was one of the not so much, she's excitable, reactive, dominate and opinionated - in short, she's a tough nut. Mostly I had "managed" her, not so much "worked with her". It became quite clear that we were not going to progress on my weekly lesson budget. I couldn't work on PK by myself, my instinct was to fall back to the old way,, I carried a lot of tension by force of habit, and she was quite annoyed by the lack of clear signal from me. I usually was regressing, not progressing by the time the next lesson rolled around. After I finished daydreaming about having enough money to have someone who actually knew this PK stuff ride her, I decided she needed a vacation. I took a few months to learn the basics of PK myself on a school horse (and undo a few of my questionable habits). Recently, we have started riding together again, and she is a different horse, because I'm a different rider. She is soft under saddle, more responsive, and I believe much happier. So although we had our moments, I think we're both glad we decided to take this path.

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    1. Thank you so much for your insight and experience - this is super valuable to me! I worked for years at a more traditional dressage barn and it didn't really appeal to me the way that this type of training does. It's great for me to hear what the journey was like for you :)

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  7. No offense, but why do you think adding shoes is strange?

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    1. No offense taken! I've never heard of shoes being added to improve the qualtiy of movement. I've owned horses that were shod and unshod/barefoot over the years but this was a new concept to me.

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    2. Funny enough, opinions on shoeing is just as diverse as among PK enthusiasts as it is everywhere else. My instructor believes in shoes for the majority; especially on horses who are in heavy work, doing high level movements, or who's natural conformation perhaps doesn't lend themselves to naturally light and easy gaits. She is also insistent on shoeing horses that have poor hoof structure - the classic TB for example. She points out that just the weight of the horse equals a lot of pounds per square inch on a small surface area, without even adding the force of a trot or canter. In her opinion, we've also made horses too big; the modern horse is a human creation - there's a reason you rarely see even 15 hand mustangs. However, she is also religious about pads to reduce impact between the shoe and the foot, and allow more flexion of the hoof, as well as having shoes reset every 4-6 weeks. She does feel that providing protection for their feet, allows the horse to be more expressive with their gaits, as well as helping promote soundness and longevity.

      The PK clinician who flys in, however, is a natural barefoot enthusiast, and despises shoes. She says that shoes reduce the blood flow to the hoof way too much, they don't allow the hoof to naturally flex with the horses movement, and even pads don't provide the natural level of shock absorption found in a healthy hoof. She is a firm believer that unless a horse medically needs shoes, they should go without. She has her Natural Trimmer out monthly for her own horses, and does her own light maintenance weekly. I should also note that her horses are turned out on natural pasture as close to twenty-four seven as she can manage it, and her pastures are huge - tens of acres, not acres.

      So, like most things horse related, I guess it comes down to what you feel works best for you and your horse.

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  8. I recently put back shoes on my horse and it definitely helped give him support in his weak hind end and track up better, so there's probably something to it. Also, I'm classical at heart-correct is correct, the easy way has become the popular way but I don't always think it's right or effective... Ugh I sound like George Morris! But sometimes you just have to take what is useful to you from trainers and discard what is not. Apollo is so gorgeous!

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