What’s an owl doing as the feature photo? Well, it was visiting Anja Beran’s – along with its handler Dr. Jasmin Balzereit . She also had several other birds and gave a presentation on similarities between her work with the birds and dressage work. What is needed in both is trust and appreciation, clarity and clear signals, perception and impact, integrity and authenticity, emotion and intuition.
I would add that that goes for training of all species! It was fascinating to see these birds up close. I really know nothing about falconry, so it was a nice addition to the week.
We also listened to a talk on horse breeds by Martin Haller. Now I had never heard of breeds such as Kladruby, Frederiksborger and Achal Tekke. Anja and Vera also presented some of these breeds – some ridden – some in hand. They described characteristics of each breed, and what may be necessary when training these horses. Photo by Maresa Mader.
Anja works to promote that every breed can benefit by the classical dressage exercises. And we saw horses of all shapes and sizes – all in beautiful condition at various stages of their training.
Visiting Anja’s lets me see what is possible. Just like us humans benefit from exercise – horses can do the same. And the specific movements allow the horse to build strength and balance.
The second day focused on riding aids and an analysis of the horse to improve its body through lateral flexion. Here are some points Anja mentioned. As far as the aids are concerned – the horse has to ‘understand’ the aids. And by ‘understand’ there has to be a teaching process. There has to be time to learn. Also the horse has to be willing – if a horse is not willing, there is something about the process that needs correction. And of course the horse has to be physically capable of performing the required task.
Anja went on to talk about how riding is the most difficult of all arts! The body, brain and temperament needs to be in good shape. She says when you are first sitting on the horse, be like a ‘guest’. Your hands do not pull back – there is only and up and down movement. And always stop using the aids once you have a response.
Anja uses the whip, not to beat, but as an instrument of support. I watched this carefully. I came to Anja’s the year before with an anti whip, bit and spurs mindset. To me they conjure up images of cowboys and traumatised horses. However, the previous year I was educated – particularly about bits. I saw how, used correctly, a bit could be preferable to a halter.
There is so much prejudice surrounding these things – and for good reason. We have all seen cruelty – and we automatically associate these things with cruelty. We make judgements based on this. We have good intentions – but often we need to look further. So I was looking further – with a mind as open as I could make it.
So – back to the whip – here it was being used in both ground work and riding. I looked for signs of tension in the horses. It was being used as a ‘pointer’ and I guess an indicator to move forward more – to lift a leg etc. At times it was waved gently above the rump to indicate a movement. Would I use it on my horses? Well – it depends. First my horses’ experience with the whip has been ‘poisoned’. A certain horse master taught me to use the whip with enthusiasm around me to create the air of dominance – so the horse knows you are the ‘leader’. I dutifully followed this many years ago – so I have created a bad association with the whip.
Could I use something like a pool noodle as a directional aid? Probably. Or could I use another object? Could I unpoison the whip association? It is what I did with the whip that has damaged the horses relationship to it – not the actual whip.
As I was watching Anja – I didn’t see any obvious signs of tension. I saw horses who were superbly calm. They didn’t have a bad association with the whip. I think ‘whip’ is an unfortunate word. Here is a photo of Anja’s main rider, Vera Munderloh, working with one of the horses – photo by Maresa Mader.
Okay – I’ve gone on for a while about the whip. My plan was to finish the talk on the aids in one post. But this is enough to read. I will continue with the aids – and more – in the next post!!
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