Training the bending of the hind legs

Last week I’ve been in training at Marion van de Klundert’s place and I’ve participated in the clinic by Bent Branderup. In this blog I will give a short summary about my findings. Make sure to also watch the video at the end!

I came to Marion with two goals: I wanted to get better in the one-handed riding and I was searching for help with training the bending of the hind legs of Vingino. He is pretty good in bringing his weight back, but he doesn’t quite understand that he is also able to “sit”. So the bending in his knees and hocks could be better.

During the first lesson we started with the transition from backwards to forward. This could be forward in walk, trot or canter. It is the intention to ask his inside hind leg forward, just before the horse wanted to step backwards with it. In other words: when the inside hind leg of the horse is the most forward under the stomach, you ask it to step forward instead of backwards. Now the horse has to lift up the leg and place it even more forward, resulting in more bending of the hind leg. For clear footage, watch the video at the end.

As we got further into the week, we started to think more forward on the place instead of backwards. Resulting in exercises like school-walk, school-trot and eventually piaffe. Vingino and I aren’t quite there yet, but just to get the feeling I was allowed to ride Marion’s horse which is able to do the piaffe. This was truly an amazing feeling! And incredibly informative! I found out that the piaffe feels much “slower” than I imagined. Now I know that in my training with Vingino I need to think even smaller and more collected to get to a piaffe.

Regarding the one-handed riding I’ve also improved a lot. I already knew how to hold four reins in one hand, the lessons where more about how to give aids with that hand. By rotating your wrist (looking at your watch or looking at your wrist) you can alternate between a left stelling and a right stelling. You steer your horse by steering his shoulders by moving your hand a little to the inside or the outside. Officially you should ride with the reins always in your left hand. For now I always ride with the reins in my outside hand. This helps me to automatically turn my outside shoulder a bit more, moreover this way I can practice to quickly alternate the reins between hands.

Apart from a lot of training, we also made sure we had some fun together. For example, Vingino and I went swimming together for the first time! He thought it to be a little bit scary, but with some encouragement of his friends he dared to go quite deep into the water.

During the weekend there was the clinic by Bent Branderup. Each year Vingino and I participate in his clinics. Again it was a lot of fun and very instructive. In the handwork Bent challenged me to walk backwards next to Vingino and hold the reins in one hand. I was not allowed to look at Vingino’s head, only at his hind legs. I had to trust that my hand was able to feel if his head was in the right position.

In the riding we continued with transitions between school-walk and school-trot, thereby alternating the weight between his inside and outside hind leg. In the end we were even able to do a little collection in canter! Whereas one year ago we had trouble getting a canter without him dropping his back! (see: Canter training with Vingino)

I’ve had a really amazing week. Do you have trouble with something? Are you stuck in an exercise? Go on a training week/weekend! It can really give you the puzzle piece you needed.

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Farewell Silla

There is a quote about PRE horses: “Horse of kings, thief of hearts”. Silla is absolutely a thief of hearts. When I met Silla for the first time, I immediately fell in love with her. I saw a beautiful horse with character.
It wouldn’t take long until I learned how much ‘character’ she actually had. I started training a full-grown horse, but in reality she was still a baby. This didn’t make it any easier to convince her that I was in charge now. She wasn’t used to having someone in a higher rank than her and telling her what to do. With a lot of training, repetition and patience she turned into a completely different horse. She was no longer the horse that runs around like crazy because everything is scary, but a horse that trusts his trainer eventhough it might be a bit scary. This is why last month Silla and I started saddle breaking her for the first time. It was awesome to be sitting on her for the first time in a year! To feel the power that was underneath me, ready to storm away, but decided to stay with me.

Now Silla hasn’t just stolen Hanneke’s and my heart, but last month she also stole the heart of Eef Nibbelink. That’s why she will be spending the rest of her training and life with Eef at ‘de Paardenmaat’. Ofcourse it’s difficult as a trainer to let go of a horse, especially when you have just accomplished something beautiful. However I also believe that it is a trait of a good trainer to see when it’s enough. To be happy with whatever you and your student have accomplished and give them the opportunity to learn from other teachers. Both human and horse profit by changing teachers every now and then. To see what else is out there in this big world. You can learn something from everybody.

Dearest Silla, Thank you for all your wisdom and teachings and putting your trust in me. I wish you all the best! I’m sure I’ll see you again some day.

~ Always look forward ~

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Training with the figure 8

I often hear people ask: “can we do something else than a circle for once?”. A lot of (academical) trainers love to work on the circle, but in the long run it can get quite boring for rider and horse. I would always recommend to diversify your training to keep you and your horse challenged. This is why I decided to make a short tutorial about training with the figure 8.

The concept is simple: you place two pawns with about six or seven meters in between. These pawns will be the center of the two circles of your figure 8. You can perform the figure 8 on the longe as well as while riding. Further explanation and suggestions will be in the video below.

Training with the figure 8 is much more intense and hard work than your normal circles and diagonals. The figure 8 is a lot smaller and thus forcing you both to keep concentrated and continuously keep turning your bodies. Training with the figure 8 will help you both get more supple and find balance. Furthermore it can help you optimize your change of bendings.

Another way to make use of your pawns on the figure 8, is to teach your horse exercises next to them. Overall animals learn exercises quicker if you teach them at a recognizable spot. The animal will associate the spot with the exercise and start thinking “oh I know what to do now!”. Once your horse understands the exercise next to the pawn, make sure to start trying the exercise away from the pawn. This way you will know if your horse has really understood your aids and the exercise and was not just performing a trick.

Make sure to watch the video for further explanation and additional exercises on training with the figure 8. If you have any questions on this subject or suggestions for a next video, I would love to hear them!

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Welcome to the herd

For some time now I have had a crush on one of the other mares from Hanneke Knibbe. When I started training Silla and Tulipa, she still had a foal to look after and wasn’t able to train. In the meantime her foal has left and Tulipa has maternity leave. That is why a few weeks back Hanneke asked me: “Could you saddle break her?” With pleasure! Therefore I would like to introduce you to my newest training horse Barca!

Barca is a seven year old PRE mare with quite a lot of Yeguada Militar and Escalera in her bloodline. For Spanish standards she is quite a big mare (1.65m).
Her mother line origins from Cadiz, where the mares live in freedom in a large mountainous area. Barca herself was sold via Madrid to Belgium, where she ended up in a meadow with a two-year-old stallion and two other mares. She received barely any food, was awfully skinny and had developed eye problems and worms. This is when some Dutch woman took her in as a rescue horse.
Hanneke bought Barca when she was two years old, whereby Barca appeared to be pregnant from the two-year-old stallion. She had only a few months left to grow stronger. With a lot of luck and perseverance from Barca, the birth was a success. It took her many years to get over this awful start of her life, but in the end she caught up on her physical development. Nevertheless she is still very sensitive on her feet and she has a weak back. Barca is a real survivor and down-to-earth. Sometimes she hides in her shell, making it look like she is calm/relaxed, but she is really not! Last year Barca started showing a whole new side of her: self-conscious, curious and eager to learn. We gave her time to recuperate and now she is ready to work.

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Back to basic

I’ve been training Silla now for more than half a year and a lot has happened. As most of you know, Silla is very sensitive to stress, but also rather dominant. In the beginning she wasn’t very social and respectful to me. When stressed, she would crawl up against me or sometimes even kick or bite. When this happens it will just become too dangerous to train. This is why I decided after two months of training to take a few steps back. It was important to me to first get a solid base. Together with the massages of Ramona Knuivers, this training could positivily change the vicious circle of Silla. In the beginning a solid base meant to me: standing still while brushing, giving hooves, moving backwards/aside if I say so, being able to touch her everywhere and all this preferably in relaxation. This took us about two months. First in the hallway of the stable, then outside, until we could do this inside the riding arena.


Thereafter we focused on walking together. Walking at a gentle pace, not passing me, and while relaxed. This also included standing still and backing-up. While standing still it is important to me that she shows relaxation: deeply exhaling, chewing, and lowering her head. This is why we never continue walking until she has found relaxation in standing. To help her find relaxation I often scratch her favourite spots from the massages. This way there is another connection between the massages, relaxation and training. All this has made it possible again to continue training in the riding arena. For example, we recently started training standing next to the stool. Silla is still often stressed during the training, but she is able to calm down a lot quicker than before. Earlier she would need 5 to 10 minutes to calm down. Now she is able to calm down and pay attention again within one minute. We now have a (thin) base to fall back on.

There is still a lot to improve about our base. I would really like to try some Natural Horsemanship exercises with Silla in freedom. However a tiny voice in my head warns me. Silla is still quite dominant and not as respectful and attentively as I would like her to be. It could be that training in freedom will raise more stress than she is able to handle at the moment. It could be that she would feel abandoned. The responsibility of holding her own might be too much for now. On the other hand we did already train some academical groundwork. Bending and forward-down on a cricle is something we started training, but didn’t work out because of too much stress and too little trust. This is why I will first resume training the academical groundwork. Tension that will arise during these exercises will hopefully go away quicker, due to the overlap with the previous walking trainingsessions. Besides helping her physically, these exercises will also strengthen the base and trust that has started to emerge. With time these will grow in such a way that Silla will be able to hold her own in freedom without panicking.

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Canter training with Vingino

Since early October Vingino and I resumed our canter training. For a long time we have put the subject aside. We did use the canter to make him more active in the exercises for collection, but it has been a long time since we paid attention to improving the canter itself.

Vingino finds it very difficult to canter over the back and to carry the canter with his hindquarter. If I allow Vingino to canter the way he likes to canter, you can see that he keeps his head high and makes a hollow back. In the canter it is the job of the hindquarter to lift the chest and the front legs. Instead of doing so, Vingino uses his head and neck to throw his shoulders up in the canter. He uses his front legs to create the lift in the canter jump instead of using his hind legs, resulting in a hollow back.

To improve his basic canter I use mainly two aids. The first aid is the whip aid on his hindquarter. By laying down the whip on his hindquarter I encourage Vingino to bend his hips and knees more and thus using his hindquarters to lift the front. No more short and pushing hind legs, but long and carrying steps. The second aid I call the forward-upward aid. I encourage Vingino to make bigger steps by thinking forward/medium canter. Of course he is not supposed to fall on his shoulders during the forward canter, the canter must feel forward and upward. That is why I try to think of cantering up a hill in the forest.

These two aids help Vingino getting a larger canter and they help him to get a better horizontal balance in the canter. In the video below you can see the effect of these aids in my canter training with Vingino. We still have a lot of work to do, but step by step we are getting closer to a carried canter with shoulder freedom.

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Silla gets a massage

Last week Ramona Knuivers from Equis Care came by to give Silla a massage. During my training I noticed that it is hard for Silla to relax. Not only mentally, but also physically. She takes hasty and short steps, finds it difficult to stretch her upperline and she responds quite violently if you try to correct her shoulders. Thus I decided to let someone else take a look at it.

Ramona is specialized in sport and relaxation massage, but looks beyond just the horse. Silla remains Silla: mentally stressed, impatient and not a fan of standing still for a long time. Ramona took this into account. With a few short breaks, some distraction and patience, Silla was able to enjoy her massage as optimal as possible without getting bored. At the same time, Silla reminded us that she is no ordinary horse. Places that are favorite to most horses meant nothing to her, but on the most unexpected parts of her body she really enjoyed her massage!

Silla massage Equis Care Silla massage Equis Care

During the massage it turned out that Silla had really tensed shoulders and hamstrings. She had also some tension in her jaw muscles en between the first and second vertebrae. Soon became apparent that one treatment would not be enough. Especially her shoulders and hamstrings were to tensed to stretch in the first time. During the second massage there was a noticeable progress in the space between her shoulders and the tension in her hamstrings. Still it was almost impossible for Silla to release her legs and stretch them.

Silla massage Equis Care Silla massage Equis Care

It is important for Silla that she learns that relaxation is nice. Currently she is stuck in a kind of vicious circle in which the nervousness of mind and the tension in her body feed eachother. If she learns to enjoy the relaxation she will be able to search for relaxation more herself, which will hopefully also calm her down mentally. That is why we decided to start a project with Silla: in the next six months after every three weeks of training she will get a massage, with the aim to calm her down mentally and learn her to relax and stretch her body.

Vicious circle Silla wrong Vicious circle Silla right


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Clinic Bent Branderup September 2016

Last weekend Vingino and I participated again in the Bent Branderup clinic. The past few weeks we have been busy improving the schoolhalt and the bending of his hindlegs. Coincidental the first saturday in September is also Truckersday in our region. This day truck drivers take mentally disabled people for a ride in one big parade. During our first lesson there was a lot of honking from the passing trucks, thus Vingino lost his concentration a lot during the exercises. Nevertheless, many horse trainers would have been jealous of how calm he remained during all this. This was a very important reminder for me to see how far we have already come. The lesson maybe didn’t go as planned, but you have to work with what you’ve got. Is he falling over his outside shoulder? Then we’ll just walk on the outside! Are his hindquarters coming to much in? Then we’ll just walk more in the back! Two-handed, one-handed, inside, outside, forward, backwards, everything is possible and we should be proud of that!

“You have a warhorse! He is responding to the sound of the horns!” -Bent Branderup

Handwerk Vingino Handwerk Vingino Handwerk Vingino Handwerk Vingino

In the second lesson we proceeded with training the schoolwalk and the bending of his hindlegs while riding. First collect him as much as you can from your seat, then use your legs and hands to help him. After all, it is tempting to use your hands and legs immediatly! Next we played with collection and extension in multiple exercises: travers, shoulder-in, renvers and pirouette. Vingino got more and more shoulderfreedom and in the last pirouette it felt like we could turn on a dime!

Rijden Vingino Rijden Vingino Rijden Vingino Rijden Vingino

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Welcoming training horses

Since late June I have two training horses from Hanneke Knibbe under my care. Both horses provide several new insights and learning moments. I would like to share some of these with you in next news updates. Let’s start with introducing you to the two horses:

Tulipa met veulenTulipa is a Lusitano mare with a special bloodline. Her grandfather is Novilheiro: the legendary jumping horse belonging to John Whitaker. Her father is a famous bullfighters stallion. Tulipa herself was born on the banks of the Tagus and was brought to the Netherlands at a young age. In the end Hanneke bought her from someone who couldn’t keep Tulipa any longer due to personal circumstances. Tulipa took a big hit from this transfer. She needed some time to come back out of her shell. She shows a lot of classic Veiga blood and can be tempered, stubborn and impatient. However she is also eager to learn, fanatic and a lot of fun. She has had two foals at Hanneke’s place and is now carring another foal of Trovador. Previously she has been trained according to the English dressage methods, but due to Hanneke’s current situation she is untrained and stiff with a lack of muscles.

(in full Hermosilla VII) is a PRE mare. She was also born wild, but then in Ibiza. When she was 5 years old she was brought to a wholesale in the Netherlands. This transition did not go well: she had completely lost it, was very confused and couldn’t get used to standing in a stable. She was not approachable and showed behavioral problems. In the end she was sold to someone who trained her under the saddle. Sadly it all had to be done very quick, because she was meant to be sold again. And so, against the advice of others, Hanneke decided to buy her. The rehabilitation has taken a long time, but with a lot of patience and going outside with other horses, she is doing fine now. She is a sweet, but sensitive mare that is doing fine now, but little needs to happen to get her stressed out again. She responses to very small signals and mirrors you a lot. She also has not been trained for a long time and has, in contrast to Tulipa, almost no experience with the saddle.

I have been training these horses for almost two months now and we take things really slow. I took the time to get to know and trust eachother. In the beginning seperating them from the group and taking them to the riding arena was already a big problem. Everything was scary and they kept neighing to eachother. In the meantime this is going a lot better. From day one Tulipa was interested in playing/working with me. Soon she started to trust me and because she already understands the aids, we were able to start training groundwork and handwork. However when she doesn’t understand what I mean she gets insecure, nervous and tempered. Luckily she is able to let the stress go again as soon as we take a break or go back to the easier exercises.

Tulipa Tulipa

In the beginning Silla was not interested in me at all. She would ignored me when I would walk into her stable. She would inflate some kind of bubble around her and would just keep staring out the window. That is why her training started in her stable. Waiting until she would look at me and rewarding her when she showed some interest has made her realize that it is actually kinda interesting if I walk into her stable. After all, showing interest in the trainer and her brushes might yield a reward! She is also starting to be more and more at ease in the riding arena. Eventhough she still regularly gets scared, it becomes more easy for her to let it go and be relaxt again. Now I can slowly start teaching the aids and prepare her for some handwork.

Silla Silla

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