Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Dressage is Like Dancing? -Published Article

Waltzing with WAZ (Walter A Zettl)
Your horse should see you as his partner, and respect you not fear you. Revered master Walter Zettl claims that 98% of error we, as riders, create, and that reaction is the horse’s language. Zettl says we must understand the horse, so he is relaxed, but powerful, in all movements. With Swchung means he can change at any moment, even to go backward. “It’s like dancing!” was a main message at the recent clinics at Troika Equestrian Centre in Breslau, events that inspired those who attended.

(photo caption: Troika Trakehner Stud Farm just outside of Kitchener hosted a series of clinics with Walter Zettl in November, February and March)

Hans Hollenbach, Head Trainer at Troika said the facility was proud to host the 3rd and last in the series of Zettl clinics. With Shadow Productions on hand providing lesson tapings, the clinician added "You will see, your horse will feel at home." At the first session, Kirow, a Troika stallion resident and a staff rider participated. Zettl remarked “At most places they overpower their horses, here a breeding stallion goes relaxed. What a fine horse, huh? And, hasn't Hans done a good job with this young lady?”

The order of go for this weekend was posted in the barn, and a brief horse and rider bio was provided between each of the lessons, to help spectators, media and auditors understand the overall program and individual progressions throughout the clinic.

Zettl taught “Dressage is the foundation of all training.” Imagine a supple and willing horse, doing shoulder in while being driven, by a woman using only one hand. He did teach carriage driving in a former time, and is well known for his approach in training, an attitude of complete sympathy for the horse, indeed devotion to equine happiness and well-being.

The chalk board sign at the door to the viewing area said, “Walk-Ins Welcome.” And over the P/A system Zettl could be heard from the arena “Vunderful. Excellent. See, when the horse trust our hand he will do anything for us. Look how nice he’s chewing. A sign he is trusting the hands. Yesterday he was in the rafters and running like a maniac. And today? I am very proud of you my dear.”

While Zettl’s best selling book “Dressage in Harmony” is critically acclaimed and very useful for theoretical reference, some find the book nearly “unreadable,” cover to cover. During the evening lecture however, Zettl brought the theory to life, with an engaging and inspiring presentation, replete with pictures, diagrams and a Q & A. Attendees paid rapt attention, seated in the Troika Country Club area that was at one time a full service restaurant. With a tack shop open in the barn, Troika, is mainly a breeding facility, and was at that moment on foal watch -- with expectations the huge bellied liver chestnut mare would deliver that very evening, as soon as the event hubbub died down. Meanwhile, showing pictures of a trusting mare/mother in a paddock with her foal resting in a nearby human's lap, Zettl suggested "Grand Prix starts here!”

(caption: Troika owner Mr. Koch with Herr Zettl as the series concluded)

“Up and let go” he would say, or “open up the door.” Zettl has made teaching his harmonic approach to horsemanship his life work, although nothing he teaches is revolutionary. He promotes classical training known to stretch back two and half thousand years to Xenophon. Using natural methods that prioritize harmony, trust and understanding yields athletic results. There are no short cuts, dressage is a matter of trust and we must appreciate the psychology of the horse to create horses that are willing, confident, happy partners who strive to delight us. A creative approach to facilitate and enhance something often lost in the pressure of competitive dressage, that is, the truly "intimate relationship" between a horse and rider.”

'A MATTER OF TRUST' DVD set was available for sale (and autograph) at the clinic. The series is recommended for its slow motion close-ups of a variety of riders and horses, to help the viewers grasp the concepts. Volume I covers the basics of equine behavior, the horse's mental and physical characteristics, training techniques and a lesson plan for the green horse. Also includes a close look at the rider, including the correct use of the aids. Volume II covers the beginnings of collection, including the correct frame, rhythm, tempo, and self-carriage required for true collection. Volume III presents the theory behind and practice of third and fourth level collection movements while Volume IV shares the classical approach to the highest level movements of dressage, including piaffe, passage, one and two tempi changes, as well as the lateral movements, and the timing of the aids There is also one DVD of extras that includes additional interviews with Walter, excerpts of his work top reining champions to demonstrate the universal application of classical dressage training. “In my next book,” Zettl said “over 300 expressions are explained”

Ten Tips from a Top Teacher:

#1) “Don’t interfere with the gaits by forcing the frame” Zettl takes offense at much of what is happening in dressage in our era, including the suggestion that the walk should be removed from Grand Prix tests. He also went off on a tangent about how FEI 4&5 year tests amounts to child abuse. "I compare a young horse with a young child: When we ask a child in kindergarten for stuff that is already on a third-grade level, he will be really upset and frightened because he can't do it.”

#2) “Sometimes training horses is like watching grass grow, but we must be patient.” And, whenever we find ourselves in difficulty, we must go back to the basics. Zettl also offered the suggestion that “when you feel you are not ready for the clinic, that is the time to come to the clinic, “I have 60 years of experience to help you.”

#3) “Do not adjust halt for first 6-12 mo under saddle,” in order that the horse learns to stand still, then square. During one horse and rider’s halt, he said nothing for a few full minutes, even though the horse’s front legs were not perfectly aligned. Eventually, he said “close your right fist,” and to our amazement the horse squared his stance.

#4) He also suggested posting in your arena circle land and turn off points, markers 3 ft from each letter. “Who believes they could make the same circle shape twice?” When no one put up their hand, he smiled. “Oh, the Easter eggs we will see tomorrow…"

#5) When a rider put their heels down, the horse should stop. even from extended canter. Zettl taught us, adding that it is important to offer the right aids in the right moment. And to remember that in two steps the situation changes, which is what makes riding interesting if difficult. He made this point often, saying things during the lessons like “Soften immediately. So he knows he is right. DO NOT MISS THIS MOMENT.”

#6) Smiling is really important because when you smile you relax. When you smile, your horse smiles!

#7) Some of the younger horses at the clinic were nervous, so Walter explained that a horse will spook to put his good eye on the outside, and that the rider should bend him away. Never kick or spank him for spooking, and furthermore, don't ride him up to something that scares him!

#8) “Tell your students, if you see something tell me” Walter said, making the distinction between the challenges faced by a professional vs. amateur rider. Adding, to the delight of the horse’s owner “There is no question about the fact that she’s a good rider.”

(photo caption: Walter Zettl with Liz Lewis who rode in the clinic, with her mount Beaudelaire and his owner/Irish Creek Stable student Erin McLaughlin)

Sidebar: “Such brilliance and insight from Walter Zettl has reinforced many of the tools that my coach, Liz Lewis, had already taught me. His careful and precise instruction also helped me realize the power of patience when riding (especially with my green horse!)"

#9) "Don't make your horse a dressage machine." Hunt them in the fall.. Jump them. Ours at home even go out in a carriage. And side saddle. Every week jump while free lunging. Take them outside, but don’t go out alone.

#10) “Be always playful,” Zettl has been working with the Parelli's in Texas, who refer to their schooling sessions as playing with their horses. Clearly, Zettl enjoyed working with them, “They share the same philosophy, ideals and love toward the horse as I do. It’s a wonderful feeling to have a group of people unite and share a common belief system, one of love, respect and admiration of the horse.”


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