Dr. Gerd Heuschmann illustrates a point as Sean Leckie and La Gracia warm up. Photo by Amy

Dr. Gerd Heuschmann illustrates a point as Sean Leckie and La Gracia warm up. Photo by Amy

Normally I do a post for each day of the program, but I’m going to change things up a bit this time. This post will concentrate on the mounted segment of Day One, where the participants, guided by Dr. Gerd Heuschmann and George Morris, put the concepts they’d learned into practice.

After Heuschmann’s talk we all trundled down the hill to the indoor where Heuschmann worked with the riders to demonstrate the points he made during his lecture.  Listening to him was like listening to Morris, just with German accent.  If you’ve ever watched a Morris clinic, you’ve heard him say “inside leg to outside hand” at least 1000 times.  His German counterpart’s phrase is “More inside leg!” Morris often tells students “Don’t lower your hands!” and  “Push the horse [ with the legs] up to the bit” to activate the hindquarters.

Heuschmann says to raise the hands,  that lowering the hands and pulling the horse into a frame stiffens the back and leaves the hind legs trailing behind “in the barn.” He encouraged the riders to invite the horse to come into the contact by “hugging” them with the leg and coaxing them forward with the seat.  He said that rein use should be at a minimum. If anything, he remarked, the use of slight upwards movements of the inside rein in taking and giving motion should be used to entice the horse to relax and chew the bit.

Both advocate a patient approach and taking time to gymnasticize and supple the horse with carefully thought out exercises.  Heuschmann also advises the riders to approach training a horse in a confident, positive, friendly and sympathetic manner. Instead of climbing on and pulling the horse into a frame and squeezing the bejebus out of him with your legs, he says, your actions should say to the horse, “Here is my soft hand, take it.  Here are my legs and seat inviting you forward into my hands.”

Dr. Gerd Heuschmann working with Lisa Goldman and Aslan. Photo by Amy

Dr. Gerd Heuschmann working with Lisa Goldman and Aslan. Photo by Amy

As the riders warmed up Heuschamnn had them  begin with transitions in the walk and trot, both between and within the gaits, while giving the reins almost to the buckle and then taking them back softly.  Once they’d worked a while in trot, he asked them to” pick up a canter they liked” and do canter-walk and canter-trot transitions, which he said are the best exercises for opening up a horse’s back.

The purpose, he told the group, was to change the horse’s frame, to open and condense it in order to invite the horse to come through the back and bring the hind end under.  Of course this didn’t come immediately, and when the horses resisted Heuschmann told the riders to “Wait for your horse. Take your time.”  He told them if they found resistance to come to a slower pace, as speed can add difficulty. “If you want to get the mouth, you have to slow down. If it doesn’t come in canter, try it in trot.” He encouraged them to work calmly and play with the horse, to encourage the horse to relax by closing their eyes and relaxing while giving the reins. (A couple of the riders with hotter horses gave Heuschmann an incredulous look when he said this, clearly feeling that if they complied they’d find themselves three towns over before gaining control again.)

Katie Cox's Twilight would prefer not to yield his back, thank you very much. photo by Amy

Katie Cox’s Twilight would prefer not to yield his back, thank you very much. photo by Amy

Katie’s horse was tense and resistant, so Morris hopped on to work his magic.  The horse was what Heuschmann calls a Leg Mover, a horse that moves with its head up, his back hollow and braced, and his hind legs trailing out behind him.  The big grey was clearly put out and for several minutes went around with his head up like a giraffe, flicking his front legs out in front of him. Morris kept his hands up and above the withers and his legs wrapped around the horse, patiently, inexorably riding transition after transition, as well as lateral work and bending exercises.  The grey was hell- bent and determined not to give in, but Morris worked patiently, saying a hot horse like him that was most likely roughed up at some point in his training needed time and tact. After about 30 minutes of intense “discussion” the horse began to give his back and accept the aids.  We all watched with amazement at Morris’ skill and stamina, as he was barely winded after his efforts.  Heuschmann laughed and  observed, “Now I know why you are so skinny and in good shape!”

The session came to a close with Morris asking the group what they learned from the session and a brief question and answer session where riders and auditors could get clarification on some of the concepts they’d been exposed to.

The United States Equestrian Team Foundation is the non-profit organization that supports the competition, training, coaching, travel and educational needs of America’s elite and developing international, high-performance horses and athletes in partnership with the United States Equestrian Federation. You can learn more about them by visiting www.uset.org. If you’d like to support the US teams as they strive for excellence, you can do so here.


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