3. More Inspiration from Anja Beran

There is a story in Anja Beran’s book ‘Classical Dressage with Anja Beran‘ which is so inspirational – and important for others to read.  Turn to page 15 and read the story about Gawain – a Freisian stallion.

He came to Anja after many examinations and opinions of what the problem was.  At this point the vets had recommended having the horse put down.  He had a crooked pelvis and could only drag his offside hind leg.  Anja started with lateral movement – just 10 minutes at a time with many breaks.  After a few weeks of the stepping over exercises he showed improvement – and three months later the pelvis was straight.  However it required more time and exercise to keep it in that condition.

Over the year the offside hind leg was increasingly activated and he was able to walk and trot under saddle.  Over the next five years he added more and more to his repertoire and his owner was able to take him out riding on trails.  The classical dressage work had saved his life.

Here is a quote from Anja:

“For me this story had the quality of a miracle and it motivated me to continue, particularly with horses that were considered to be virtually hopeless cases.  As this experience is no kind of unique exception, I have become fully aware of the amazing successes which classical dressage can achieve.”   –   Anja Beran

This is just one story of many…. but it gives you an idea of Anja’s work.  She gets the ‘broken horses’ and then gently works with them to achieve amazing results.

We saw a whole range of horses – four year olds to horses well into their twenties….  we saw many different breeds – as well as  Lipizzaners, Lusitanos, and warmbloods, we saw Arabs, Haflingers and a Tinker/Gypsy Cob.

What I was realising was that any breed of  horse at any age can benefit so much from these movements – it is gymnastics for the horse.

I must mention Anja’s main rider – Vera Munderloh –  we were enthralled watching both Anja and Vera ride these horses – each movement displayed such care and balance.  Nothing was rushed – both horse and rider were in harmony.

Here I was sitting in such a beautiful arena, sipping tea, while watching horse and rider go through the most perfect movements – while in the background there was such gentle, calming music playing….  what could be more perfect.  I had never experienced anything like this – the quality of riding and movement was beyond anything I had ever seen.

I realised there would be no going back…. meaning I would need to examine everything I was doing with the horses.  I knew I was on the right track with clicker training – now… how do I incorporate what I am seeing into the training – where do I start???

I could see why Michaela was so enthusiastic about Anja’s work – it all made sense – and tied in beautifully to Alex’s work.  If you go back to my first post on this journey – Horse Adventures in Europe  you will see where Michaela describes how Anja’s work is the ‘what’ and Alex’s work is the ‘how’.

Anja is not a positive reinforcement trainer as such.  I would say the majority of her training is negative reinforcement with some treats at the end – or with some treats when the horse learns a new movement.

This again was a great eye opener and Alex, Michaela, Rebekka and myself spent time in discussion over the ‘negative reinforcement spectrum’.  What I was seeing was beautiful training – a very skilled trainer using a gentle approach – but still we would class it as ‘negative reinforcement’  Was it bad??  No.   It was excellent!  It was gentle and clear! Could it be approached in a clearer way – I think so….

This is where I think Alexandra Kurland and Michaela Hempen have the ability to develop Anja’s work, using Alex’s previous lessons, into a more ‘user friendly’ package – both for the horse and the human!!!

This is something I would love to see – and I’m sending out the hint to both Alex and Michaela!!!mob19

How could I do more groundwork to assist my horses?  How could I break down the moves into something smaller to start?  Where do I start with my four horses?

Okay – I’ve run away with my thoughts!!!

So during this time I was becoming aware that my view of negative reinforcement trainers had become very dismissive.  I had closed my mind to all the wonderful trainers like Anja.  I had thought I could only examine clicker training!  I’m so glad that Michaela had an open mind to explore classical dressage and combine it with the clicker.

I had also noticed that Anja and Vera used ‘spurs’ – SPURS!!!!  Aren’t they nasty things that cowboys wear?  The spurs can be seen here.  These spurs are quite blunt – and they are used in such a subtle way – I imagine they would in fact be gentler on the horse – a gentle ‘poke’ rather than a rounded heel being squeezed harder and harder.

So I was getting an education in areas I had never really thought about.  Once again I was thinking that equipment like bits and spurs had perhaps been treated badly.  It really is how the rider uses them.

Over the first three days we had learnt how careful they are with the young horses which come for training – everything is done in small steps.  Eventually when they are ready to take a rider – the weight of the rider is not over 50kg…. 50KG!!!  I haven’t been that weight since 1977!!!  Still, it shows that the care taken can produce athletic, balanced horses – free of soreness.

One young horse had kissing spine – but because of the exercises it was moving free of pain.  In my notes I wrote in capital letters – DO EVERYTHING WITHOUT TENSION.  Yes – true for both humans and horses but often we don’t even realise we are tense!  I have also written down Anja’s comment regarding the horses’ back “There is no difference with a long or short back – it’s about the way it is used.”

We learnt about lateral movements to correct crookedness in the horse – watched piaffes, passage and spanish walk – and then we watched Vera give a demonstration of Working Equitation.  Wow!  Make sure you visit this page to see the stunning photos!  I had never seen ‘barrel racing’ like this!  These horses were so balanced, so strong!  There didn’t seem to be any strain on these large horses moving around barrels!


After Day 3 we had a rest day – and we needed it!  But it wasn’t really a rest day!  Michaela had a surprise for us – and an outing!!!



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