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Dressage, Naturally

with Karen Rohlf

Creating healthy biomechanics and stronger partnerships through combining natural horsemanship principles with the art of dressage... leading to Results in Harmony! photo: fotosiwek.com

never underestimate the potential for harmony & lightness to improve in ways you cannot yet imagine

My upcoming clinics are:

Welcome back to the Temenos...

Aug. 13-17 Avenches, Switzerland. Contact: Carmen Zulauf

Temenos is an ancient Greek word. It refers to a sacred space that has no limits, where special rules apply and extra-ordinary events are free to occur.

This month... I am full into my traveling clinic season... I just returned form two clinics in Washington State. It was great to see horses and riders from previous years and to meet some new students! Thank you to Jessica Crouch for organizing, and the Gallagher’s Freedom Farm for the clinic in Port Angeles, WA . Thanks to Terry Conkright for organizing and the Shannon’s for use of their farm for the clinic outside of Spokane, WA. It is not an easy job to organize people and to accommodate a clinic, so it is very much appreciated! I have a new DVD in the works, read more about that inside!

Aug 23-25 Wiltshire, UK. Contact Lyla Cansfield (photo I took in Venice)

In this edition you can read something from a student who gained insight about colt starting from the Dressage, Naturally methods, as well as some comments and questions from students. Also read some thoughts from me about ‘release.’ Check out a new ‘NEWS’ page on website: I just started it, but check here for interesting tid-bits; for example you can see a video of a film aired in Belgium featuring my Dressage, Naturally clinic, and see the cover of the Polish translation of the Book/DVD set!

If

you would like to submit a story or a question please email it to: karenrohlf@earthlink.net to submit it. If you didn’t receive this newsletter directly and you want to subscribe: go to my website and sign in as a guest. At the bottom of that form you can check a box that says ‘sign up for newsletter’ To unsubscribe: CLICK HERE

Dressage Naturally: CLICK HERE

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Strange Tai chi or.....? When I was in Poland in June, we all stayed together in a guest house. I was in my room one evening, quietly reading a book and resting from my day. I was concerned that I had exhausted my students. Soon I hear some laughter...then more laughter, then hysterical laughter and i thought: ‘I have to go take a look at what is going on!’. I came down to see the group looking at a computer screen where there were photos from the day and it seems the favorite thing to do was to flip back and forth between all the ones of me doing strange contortions in order to try to explain my point. I must admit, it was pretty funny!

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I would love to be able to tell you what on earth i was saying during the above photos, but I honestly can’t even imagine. What ever it was, it must have been VERY important at the time! Check out the website of Pawel, the photographer by visiting: www.fotosiwek.com (right: the group in Poland)

I wondered if maybe i do that more in a foreign country... but have since been gently told: “No, you are just as amusing to watch, here in the US.”

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Copyright 2008 Temenos Fields, Inc July


I have found much better results from guiding rather than directing a colt. In our dance, the colt is invited to join me in a neutral when I make a suggestion. Of course, since there’s no “make,” the colt always has that option to choose differently. My job then becomes staying out of the colt’s way until he discovers that the neutral I offer him is his best option (… a challenging task, to say the least on a colt that’s running away with himself). Once the colt reconnects with me, I stop actively riding. He can then follow my relaxation and melt down to a stop. The whole experience reinforces that neutral is his pathway to safety, and he becomes much more inclined to follow my suggestions later on.

Student, Jean Chaney writes about how Dressage, Naturally influenced her colt starting:

“Toddler Dressage … Naturally” Well that was dumb, Jean! You forgot that the little guy needs you, and you abandoned him. I stand up, and brush myself off as my 2 year old colt comes up for a hug. “What are you doing down there?” he says. I laugh. Although it takes me some effort to locate my shoe on the other side of the arena fence, I succeed, give him a rub, and climb back aboard. Come on, buddy, lets try it again. We walk out, and he’s with me totally. I bring my life up, and he matches my trot picture perfectly. A little more life and we ease into the colt’s second canter attempt. Sensing him tense, I pick up a soft feel on the reins … “I’m still here for you, little guy,” and give him a rub on the neck. He relaxes into my motion and continues a beautiful canter down the long side of the arena. I exhale, and we melt to a stop in a single stride. I jump off, and give my boy the “Superstar” treatment. “That was perfect!” It was our third ride, the first with a saddle. It was dressage. Not the getting tossed part, of course. But, it was holding hands with my best friend. It was two bodies in one motion and of one mind. It was unity in relaxation and energy. For each of those 15 seconds, it was dressage.

Having started 30 or so colts, many under the tutelage of Larry Stewart (former 4-star Parelli Instructor and Senior Young Horse Trainer), I have found myself referring back to many of Karen Rohlf’s dressage teachings during a colt’s first ride or the initial foundation. The key components of a well balanced colt start (relaxation, ride with your body, and acknowledge the try) are virtual mantras. Teaching Relaxation One of the most valuable lessons a young horse can learn is to stop his feet when he gets nervous or scared. It transforms the instinctive flight reflex into a conditioned “check with my partner” reflex, and shows the colt that he has control of the frightening stimuli. Stop your feet and it goes away. But more than quit moving, it is the first step in teaching the colt to relax. It’s his first neutral. And, he experiences it in a way that leads him to safety. Soon, the colt will be drawn to this neutral as a place for comfort, play and food as well. Once he understands the concept, we can expand it to greater degrees of relaxation within motion. Make Sure it’s Your Body Riding Your Horse’s Body. Conceptually, riding the horse’s body with your body is relatively easy. Of course when you throw a young colt that thinks he’s going to die if he can’t get you off his back into the mix, it becomes a bit more challenging. Yet, I have found this opportunity to be one of the purest ways to ensure that it is only my body guiding the colt, and not my reins. Stopping or turning by even just a little pull on the reins, instills resistance and brace. Add even a tiny amount of resistance to a scared colt, and there’s a bunch of trouble around the corner.

Punctuate Everything with Ahh!! It is even more essential that young colts know when they did something right, than it is for mature saddle horses. Whether this confirmation comes with a rest, a touch, or a reassuring word, reinforcing his successes is critical in nurturing the colt’s willingness to try, even when things seem hard. Nurturing a colt’s self-esteem, as well as his confidence in me as his first human partner is the cornerstone of his attitude about relationships with people that will transcend his entire life. With my horsemanship, and going through the Parelli Levels program, I sloshed through many a quandary trying to figure what stage of the process I’m in … the beginning or the end. Sometime after I finished my Level 3, I discovered that it really didn’t matter. In terms of my horsemanship journey, the beginning is a distant memory, and there is no end. I have discovered through my studies with Karen, that the same is true of Colt Starting and Dressage Naturally. The distinctions between the two are a distant memory, and there is no end to their commonality: A Natural Colt Start is the foundation of Dressage; and Dressage Naturally is the foundation of a good Colt Start. Jean Chaney, (Parelli Level 3 Grad), Charlie, and “King B, the Magnificent”

jean.chaney@dhs.gov copyright 2008 temenos fields, inc july

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One of My Most Commonly Asked Questions: “I wrote to you in the past because i am a lover of classical dressage, ie; Spanish Riding School, Cadre Noir, etc. however, "natural horsemanship" tugs at the back of my mind. i asked a classical dressage instructor/trainer in europe, (Anja Beran), what she thought of this. she said it was fine, but will never allow you to get the exact precision that is so important to building a horse's physical gymnastic condition and the exact communication to the level it takes be able to ride the horse at the equivalent of grand prix level. what do you think about this? (i am genuinely torn between the two schools... i know the goal of both schools is to restore the freedom of every movement that a horse can naturally do at liberty so that the ability to do it with the weight, balance, and direction of a rider is restored). and, if you feel one CAN do that via natural horsemanship, why do practitioners of dressage via natural horsemanship never show that dressage can be done in an exact way and at a reasonably high level by entering dressage shows? not to "compete", but rather, to show what can be accomplished via natural horsemanship. i think this would be an incredibly effective demonstration, don't you? thanks in advance for your answers... i've been struggling with this issue for some time.” ~wendy Wendy, thanks for your question... it is a great one and is right at the front of many people’s minds. I think it all comes down to what is some one’s picture when they think of ‘natural horsemanship’ and ‘dressage’... what is their definition of each? Just going by the FEI’s description of the object of dressage: “The harmonious development of the horse into a happy athlete, resulting in a horse who is calm, loose, supple and flexible but also confident, attentive and keen, thus achieving perfect understanding with his rider.” It is pretty clear that this is the same thing that any natural horseman would want to achieve. Having immersed in both ‘camps’, one of my first big realizations was that many of the difficulties I see people having in their dressage training had nothing to do with dressage, it had to do with a lack of awareness about how to build confidence, motivation, trust and partnership with the horse. And many of the issues I saw natural horsemen having, had to do with a lack of awareness of biomechanics, balance and gymnastic development of the horse. We need to be there for the whole horse; body, mind and emotions. Dressage is a great resource for information on the biomechanical 4

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and gymnastic development of the horse. Dressage masters are genius in this. Natural horsemanship is a great resource for information on the mental, emotional and general partnership development of the horse. Master Natural horsemen are genius in this. I think the two camps look very different to each other because there is a historical, cultural difference.. There is a difference in basic priorities of most of the people doing each. And this is fine! But it doesn’t mean that doing natural horsemanship can’t lead to precise classical dressage. On the same note it doesn’t mean that doing dressage can’t lead to an amazing partnership with and emotionally stable horse (Many natural horsemen believe it can’t, based on what they see of most competitive dressage). So here I sit in the middle, thinking: “hey guys, why don’t we just learn from each other and take all the good stuff?!” I guess one way to describe it is that “natural horsemanship is the context within which I do everything with my horse...dressage is my focus of what i want to do with that partnership”... meaning that the partnership with my horse, based on psychology and understanding of their language and nature is top priority. Now, this doesn’t mean that if someone calls themselves a dressage rider they don’t also hold these qualities as priorities. Much of what Pat Parelli teaches (his is the only natural horsemanship training that i have direct experience with), is based on what he has observed works in great horsemen from every ‘discipline’. I don’t see ‘Parelli’ as a discipline, i see it as a school that teaches information that I find extremely valuable for my horsemanship. Add into that information I have gained through dressage training and... voila! I tell people in my clinics that I used to say: “my horse and I use dressage to learn the techniques necessary to communicate about harmony and when it works we will be happy.” Now, I say: “my horse and I are happy together, and so we are harmonious and can communicate about the techniques necessary for dressage.” When I look at everything in this context, it means that when things go wrong and I need to trace back to the basics, I start at partnership and build up. I don’t need to wait for the perfect half halt in order to finally feel with my horse. But if my horse is with me mentally and emotionally, that half halt will sure be easier. Maybe this is why a lot of ‘classical’ dressage riders (as opposed to competitive) don’t care about competition... they are already happy and have the horse as the judge. At least that is what it is like for me. I loved competing, but one day I realized that I didn’t need that any-

more... it is a lifestyle, attitude change more than a philosophical opposition to it. I think competition is a great challenge, but it is certainly NOT the only way to judge excellent horsemanship, as many of the greatest competitors are far from being the greatest horsemen, and vice versa. Unfortunately humans love competitions, and we think: “if they don’t compete it is because they aren’t good” (I used to think that!). It doesn’t mean someone who doesn’t compete doesn’t have those standards of excellence as the goal. And I am not interested in a crusade to prove I can win more if I do natural horsemanship... that sort of attitude doesn’t fit with me anymore, although I do hope the types of results i get are noticed. When I took a lesson with Grand Prix trainer, Cathy Morelli, she was delighted, exclaiming: “It’s so wonderful, your horse just tries everything you ask!” This is my goal. Body, Mind and Emotions are all equal doorways to the horse, and there are very different methods for each. Methods that will change your horse’s emotions do not always look like the best thing for his body in the moment, the same way some techniques for the horse’s body are a challenge to his emotions in that moment. Hopefully we train in a way that we get the balance just right, using all our resources and bodies of knowledge. My dream is that every rider learns, as his basics, to walk, trot, canter, groom, feed, be, etc with his horse in a way that is healthy and balanced in body, mind and emotions and this would be a picture that any horseman of any discipline would agree as being quality. From there this person and horse should be able to go on to do ANYthing they are capable of. ~Karen Photos: Coco copyright 2008 temenos fields, inc july


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Student Feedback: Karen, I just had to share some success with you.  I had four clean flying changes today with Mr. Gabriel.

I've been plucking away at all my pieces. Getting my simple changes better and better, closer and closer. I am checking that I am in my canter sweet spot by verifying I can move the shoulders, move the haunches, canter-walk transitions, canter-reinback, and importantly collected canter-medium canter. Then the last few rides started asking for "a new canter lead while cantering". I've discovered consistent success when I ask for the change after doing about a 1/4 of schooling canter pirouette.

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For example, after months and months and months of work, I was finally able to get my horse to straddle and/or sidepass over a pole on the ground. But I noticed that even though I was accomplishing the task, he was doing it with tension in his mind and body. You could see his muscles tense up, and when he would get towards the end of the pole after sidepassing, he would rush off.

So instead of settling for an active release, I go for complete relaxation. The new game is, put your foot on something and see if we can leave it there until you are completely relaxed. The hardest thing at first was to get him to keep his feet placed Don't know what I'll have tomorrow but am enjoying my success today!!!\ where I had asked him to put them (he   wanted to be in and out in a hurry). So Thanks Karen!!!! Reading and studying when sidepassing over a pole, I may ask your book, DVD, attending your clinics, for only one or two steps, and then melt and trying to keep you attitude regarding the horse for front in my mind has brought to a relaxed stop. I exhale, rub him and great light to this subject that Gabriel and have been talking about for quite a while. let my life down. It make take me five minutes or more to sidepass over a pole,   but now I am doing it with quality. He is   Thanks again. I hope you and your learning that being straddled over a pole horses are doing well!!! (or leaving his foot on something, etc.), is   a very happy, zen-like place to be and he Laurie Diaby seems much happier.

Hi Karen, Enjoyed your podcast on collection. Hope there will be more podcasts.:-) Jeri did get emotional at the show, however, not like he used to.:-) Thanks for your insights so that I am able to better understand harmony. See you in a week. Can't wait. Diane (photo at right) -->

“Karen Rohlf has revolutionized the way I try to play with and ride my horse. After playing with her relaxation and energy ideas, I have a whole new approach with my horse.

copyright2008, temenos fields, inc july

Karen said something at her recent clinic that really hit home with me. She said don't necessarily punctuate the end of every sentence with a disengage (an

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active release). Your horse shouldn't necessarily have to do something active to get the release. Go TO your horse, rub them, tell them how wonderful they are, and soon they will learn to be relaxed in the movement. I highly recommend Karen's book. Even if you never plan on doing one ounce of dressage, the principals in her book can apply to anything you end up doing with your horse. “

~ Shelley McGhie Awesome newsletter!! Karen's response to the Engagement question was so well written and descriptive. More often than not, I feel like I am riding as I read her work. I also LOVED the flying/riding analogy. It is so easy to get caught up in the day to day tasks and lose sight of things we can only realize by being Present. Experiencing my horses' energy inspires me in every aspect of my life. Thank you, Karen, for being so enlightening!! I am looking forward to the clinic in November and I know [my horse] will be thrilled that I am continuing to learn ;) ~Erica McCrary

It’s always great to hear from students... with questions and successes! Keep writing me! (Karenrohlf@dressagenatural ly.net). Visit my website at: dressagenaturally.net to get your copy of the Dressage, Naturally Instructional Book/DVD or other items! And stay tuned, as there will soon be a new instructional DVD available! ~K1

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Acora imparo... “I do not want the peace that passeth understanding. I want the understanding which bringeth peace.”

~Helen Keller

may have trouble with the coordination of putting the pieces together on, lets say the Friday or Saturday before I leave... there may be a couple days of that... if they are uncoordinated i have to give them enough time to practice gaining the coordination. Then on Monday I can back off a bit, revisit any missing pieces and my dream for the Tuesday would be to have a strong focus to have a very short sweet time with my horse where I set up an opportunity for my horse to really offer the new movement confidently. It’s not necessarily about sustaining it, just show me you can understand it and are willing. Of course there are many mini-releases along the way.. Think of how many ways we can release and cause our horses to understand ‘wow, that was it!”: ... a breathe, a rub, a ‘Thank you’... a really excellent active neutral while in motion (where the rider becomes weightless to the horse)... a softening of the eyes, a turn away, a sit on the fence for a while, an easier day after a difficult one.

Michelangelo was quoted as saying: “Ancora imparo!” after completing the Sistine Chapel... It means: “I am still learning!”

“It is the release that teaches.” This was one of the first mantra’s I learned in the Parelli program: ‘Pressure motivates, but it is the release that teaches.’ The meaning and application of this can be very powerful. I am still learning about how I am constantly effecting my horses; as they are always aware of the pressures and releases of pressures that I am doing, even the ones I am not aware of. I tell my students all the time that if they are getting stuck, one thing they can look at is making the pressure more motivating and the release more released. After a few years now of extensive traveling during part of the year, I made an observation that there were many times where the more time I spent away from my horses, the better

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they were! Now that is a humbling observation! But it makes perfect sense... it is a very released release! In playing with our horses and developing them, it really is our hope to be able to do just the bare minimum necessary to explain our idea to them, and then really 90% of the focus is to do our best to stay out of the way and allow it to happen...whether we are on the ground or riding. Now blessed with the gift and power of this awareness I can be conscious of how I play with my horses when I know I have a trip coming up. If I know I am leaving on Wednesday, for example, I don’t want to open up a can of worms on Tuesday, where I don’t have an opportunity to follow up and leave my horse confident and proud! But if there is something maybe a little difficult I have been wanting to improve, I will start building towards it, preparing the pieces to the new standard. I make the day where the horse

Sometimes, as much as I may hate to admit it, the best release can be to get on a plane, fly across an ocean and not come back for 10 days!

~Karen

When we are patient & confident, our horses can be keen & proud.

copyright 2008 temenos fields, inc july


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Who knows where you are going? “If you begin with love that cannot be resisted, and allow yourself the space for dedication... then follow that trail fearlessly... and be open... always trusting your instincts, (those messages that come from deep inside....The ones that cannot be touched by judgement)...You will reach the ultimate destination.... The real you that has been shining from the beginning.�

photo: Coco

copyright2008 temenos fields, inc july

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Jul '08 Newsletter  

Creating healthy biomechanics and stronger partnerships through combining natural horsemanship principles with the art of dressage: Dressag...

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