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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... photo: Dana Rasmussen

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

This Month:

Welcome back to the Temenos... Temenos is an ancient Greek word. It refers to a sacred space that has no limits, where special rules apply and extraordinary events are free to occur.

It seems like it has been a long time since the last newsletter! I have been to Utah, with a wonderful clinic organized by Ellie Gallagher. In early October I went to Ontario with Fawn Anderson, then Wisconsion with Kris Fulwieler.

As always, check for instructional material, clinic schedule and news!

In my time at home I am wrapping up Volume 2 in the Results in Harmony Video Series! I also finally have created a design for some Dressage Naturally Tshirts and polos... Stay tuned!

Clinic schedule: CLICK HERE

This past week David Lichman visited the Temenos for a special day of play with me and my horses.

Read on for some student feedback and Q & A from the Natural Dressage Forum

Upcoming Clinics: November 14-16 Mineola, Texas contact: Melanie

November 22 Open Format Workshop (Full for participants), Auditors Welcome!

Temenos Fields, Ocala, FL contact: K2

Photo: Breanne Peters


Karen – This morning, I experienced a moment of insight so profound, it has caused a paradigm shift in my thinking about dressage. I’ve been playing with Dressage, Naturally for several months, and simultaneously working through the required reading list for the USDF L Program (the choice of action words is deliberate). One word I hear repeatedly when I audit or ride in clinics, from some very well-known trainers, is control. And yet, that word does not appear in the section of your book, ‘The Dream of Dressage’ at all! Being curious, I cross-referenced the German National Equestrian Federation ‘Advanced Techniques of Dressage’, and could not find a single application of the word control. Amazing! Sharon and Brio

Karen, I wanted to share with you how much you have helped my horse and I over the last year. I felt overwhelmed and stifled in the precise world of dressage. Would I ever get it? Then I met you at Adult Horse Camp last year. Your childhood story spoke to my heart, as I used to ride all over Miami on my pony without a saddle and dream of the perfect relationship of love and respect with horses. I have an amazing horse, but he is a mirror of my thoughts. As I get tense and lack confidence so does he. You (and Parelli Natural Horsemanship) gave me the permission I needed to relax, enjoy and LOVE my horse. You say some things in your book that really hit home in my first dressage lesson in about 8 months. You talk about your partnership in connection is like ballroom dancing with your horse. In this lesson my connection with my horse was just that. We were like two friends holding hands. But the connection went deeper into my seat and body. He was so in tune with my whole being and that gave me such confidence and joy. We accomplished many wonderful firsts in this lesson. It was amazing!

The other thing you talk about is how to combine Natural Horsemanship with dressage lessons. This has worked so successfully for us! We concentrated on Parelli for the most part over the last 8 months and then took our lesson. Fortunately, I found an instructor ( Jos Sevrein) that respected my natural attitude and the three of us have danced some wonderful dances. Brio is so much more relaxed and happy to work and try difficult moves. We have developed an fabulous collected trot and collected canter without tension. It is beautiful to be a part of. I think your Dressage Naturally is my miracle. To many more successes with Dressage Naturally!

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, the verb ‘control’ is defined as a: To exercise restraining or directing influence over; or b: To have power over I have an FEI schoolmaster who has been defined as ‘having a good work ethic’ and who ‘knows his job’. He can ‘perform’ the movements through clear communication and precise application of the aids. Riding him, I think about controlling the haunches, pushing him onto the bit, and feel much like a puppet masters pulling the strings of a marionette. One of the reasons I turned to your program is, in my heart, I felt something was missing. I also ride an Arabian gelding who went through several owners before I acquired him as a project. I can’t ‘make’ him do anything. He is opinionated, athletic, and has taught me as much about dressage as my schoolmaster without my even knowing it. Ours must be a dance between two willing partners, and when it comes together, it is brilliant! The difference, the key to unlock my consciousness, is the word ‘control’. Control is word that implies dominance. To achieve a perfect partnership, there must be mutual respect and understanding. There must exist a willingness that is lacking from a postion of submission. Through letting go of the mindset of control, I allow myself to access a level of freedom of expression not possible otherwise. It is at once so simple, and yet so powerful, it opens doors that until now have remained closed. I wanted to say thank you for helping me to this breakthrough moment, and inspiring me in my quest for knowledge and harmony. It truly is just the beginning! Karen Abbattista Sarasota, FL

Sharon Nehrings Panama City, FL “The Happy Horsewoman” 2

Copyright 2008 Temenos Fields, Inc May

Reviews... “Hello Karen Cindy D. from Brenham, Texas here. I just watched your new dvd Riding in Connection with the Reins. WOW! Congratulations on hitting the mark! It is hands down the BEST instruction and support I have even seen on this subject. I have quite a library including work from Walter Zettl and other Masters, but I have never seen these concepts shared so clearly and effectively. I have needed this support and appreciate all your efforts to share and how much heart you put into it. Please continue!” Cindy “BUY KAREN'S BOOK! I have a very emotional horse, and she has helped me tremendously. Turning him on and off like a faucet (turn and face, disengage, bring him in to pet him and let him dwell) was NOT working. With Karen's help, I was able to get him to relax while IN the movement. I have been reading and rereading her book (I read several pages over again every night before I go to bed). One thing I didn't remember after reading the book for the first time was her comments about the "let loose" posture (where they relax and stretch through their topline). She said the horse comes to value this just as much as dwell time or a cookie because it is a place he can go to release mental, emotional, and physical tension. My horse LOVES the let Copyright 2008 Temenos Fields, Inbc October

loose posture. My horse has become extremely sensitive to my body energy. The moment I release the energy from my body, he does a downward transition and melts into the next gait. It has gotten so good that most of the time, all I have to do is "think" about slowing down and he does it. Pretty soon, if you switch back and forth between adding more energy and then relaxing, you end up with getting both at the same time.”

Excerpt from a book review in HorseLife Magazine (The official magazine of Equine Canada): “...Without a doubt, Dressage Naturally.. Results in Harmony by Karen Rohlf is a must have for anyone wanting to achieve great results without compromising the dignity of their horses and integrity of classical dressage.”

“Thanks, Karen... Incredible DVD. I really enjoyed watching how your ride progressed. Your commentary helped a lot as well. Its nice to know why you did what you did - often its easier to feel what’s going on before the audience can see a change. Can’t wait for more! :) Thanks again! Carrie “ I thought the [Results in Harmony] DVD was really good just the right length.... It is definitely a DVD I will watch more than once... I was also impressed with the minimal packaging and use of recycled materials for the DVD case... the price is right, too.. great value for the money... I would love to see one on lateral work.” ~member of the Natural Dressage Forum

Good News... The second DVD in the Results in Harmony DVD Series is in the final editing process! This next one is called Developing Mobility and shows Ovation and I doing my favorite exercises to progress from basic yields (forehand/hindquarter yields) to being able to do lateral work (without getting all tangled up in yourselves!) This topic is my second most common request when I teach my clinics. It features intermediary movements that are easier to be successful doing and can right away cause an improvement in your horse’s gymnastic abilities. I am really excited about this one... Stay tuned, I am looking for a mid-November release! (Fingers crossed regarding post-production smooth sailing!)

Also watch for some Dressage Naturally T-shirts coming soon! ~Karen 3


Hi Karen, This month we would like to ask you about the line between a true stretch through and simply a 'head down' "neck stretch". On the forum, we have been discussing the may factors involved in a stretch coming through the horse's whole body, coming from back to front, and what has to happen in order for the horse to round his back through a stretch, engaging his hind legs, etc. What exactly are the components that make a stretch different from a 'head down'? What role does the base of the neck play in this? Thanks, The Members of the Natural Dressage Forum Hi Again... Another great question! I think riding would be so much easier if horses didn’t have necks! They are so beautiful and obvious, but often a distraction from the real issue, which is what is going on in their bodies. But the neck also gives us a lot of information about their body which we might otherwise miss. There can be a BIG difference between a horse moving with a low head, and a beneficial stretch of his whole body (including his neck). The more I learn, the less I worry about putting the neck in particular places and the more I just use it as a gauge of the whole horse. But, paradoxically, placing the neck in a particular place can have a huge effect on the whole body. We are seeking to have a horse that feels relaxed, balanced and supple enough to be able to stretch his entire spine, and we don’t want to make a horse put his head low if his body doesn’t feel balanced or loose enough to do it. They will be even less balanced that way. I have met plenty of horses who are flexible enough to go low with their heads, even at a canter, but it doesn’t feel good (stumbling, pulling, heavy or just disconnected). In these cases I just say: “Thanks for showing me you can do that, now let’s get our longitudinal balance better in our body before we continue with that!” Remember there is also an emotional component to this posture and for a valuable stretch the horse needs to be emo4



tionally calm (trusting). If it feels like the horse is pulling his head down in order to ‘take over’ that is not a valuable stretch. Also on this note if you simply ask the horse to put his head down but he doesn’t feel trusting or safe, it will not feel good... I used to teach horses to stretch by talking directly to their heads/necks but I rarely do anymore. It started to feel like they were ‘ducking’. I don’t want the horse to stretch unless he feels safe, calm, balanced, energized and loose. The exception is when I have a horse with a lot of ‘history’ and perhaps he doesn’t know that he is allowed to make such a bold a move as lowering his head... even if he feels like it... but in this case it is very gentle and just to show him the possibility and that he will be safe to do this.

confidence to bring their backs up, which in turn will help us sit deeper.. believe it or not!!

Hope this helps!! ~K1

When a horse stretches because he is let loose, balanced, energized and calm then the whole body releases, including his back, under where you sit... this is when you will see the base of the neck change, as it is really a change in the whole body. When a horse stretches like this it looks less like a neck going down, and more like a back raising up.... and that is the gold! When it happens like this you can see the stretch even without the head lowering, and in fact we want to keep that quality even during collection. That is really when we need the horse to have this ability. So we want to use a stretch to: • show the horse he can find freedom inside his own body • to supple and loosen the top line • to help show them how they can carry our weight in a more healthy way • to dissolve tension • to check/challenge/develop their balance When a horse is stretching their back up, they will feel more comfortable to sit, because the feeling of being glued to their backs is partially due to us sitting deep and close, and partially due to their backs coming up to meet us. That is why it is so important to prove to our horses that we have athletic seats that can rise to the occasion... literally! It is our ability to lighten our seat that can give the horse

Photos: Terri Miller Copyright 2008 Temenos Fields, Inc October













Special Guest at Temenos Fields: David Lichman! After taking a well deserved sabbatical from teaching, 5-star Licensed Parelli Professional, David Lichman paid a visit to temenos Fields! I invited him to come and help me with 3 of my horses and we thought it would be fun to invite students to come and audit. we had about 30 auditors and a beautiful sunny day. David was my very first introduction to Parelli and it has been fun to keep connected and continue to share knowledge with him. He has an interesting combination of experience and information about competing, Parelli, circus as well as training methods for other species. I always find him able to see just the right piece that is missing and to give me a fresh perspective on what I am doing. In dressage there is a necessity for the horse to really be focusing on the human, in a dancing kind of way... and I have lots of tools for that. I was looking to get some new ideas about how to have the horses focusing on targets, obstacles and to have jobs to do without me. Ovation (the paint here on the left) is a highly social, curious, confident calm, and low energy horse, who gets very proud when he figures something out and so using targets (especially ones he can put in his mouth) he becomes very motivated! With Monty, we also played with targets and I have to say, Monty has always thought that touching things with his nose, or pushing a ball around was sort of... ‘beneath him’ or something. You can just see all the enthusiasm drain out of him. He likes putting his feet on things, but it is difficult to encourage him to go do things... he would rather just stick on me. David gave us some great strategies... none of which really worked that day (what with Monty being embarrassed to do such silly things in public..) but i have to say, that today when playing with him I saw a glimmer in his eye as he trotted over to go stand on his ‘mark’! Atomic, (pictured here on the left) and I had been having some leadership issues... such as he doesn’t always see me as one! He is very dominant and fiery and has no problem defending himself if he feels the need to. My goal was to find ways to get extra leadership points while giving him plenty of opportunity to find calmness and comfort. Our problem at its worst was showing up as him stopping and biting my legs when riding, and it seemed to be connected to me asking him for.... anything he didn’t want me to ask him at any particular time! Definitely a global issue rather than a confusion or lack of willingness to to any one particular thing. David had us playing on line looking for being really soft and open to my suggestions... not just moving the feet, but taking on a posture of ‘Yes M’am’ during back up and sideways. It went really well and when I rode him he was so soft and open it was wonderful! Since then I have had some of the best rides on him...he did his first real relaxing and blowing at the canter with me and my working student!

Photos: Dana Rasmussen copyright 2008 Temenos Fields, Inc October

We finished the day my playing with all three horses together... definitely a test of my coordination! The auditors and I had a real treat that day and we all hope that David will come back again for more. Even little Atomic was left begging for more! 5

I’ve done more than a few things in my life that have broken my own rules, or things (big and small) that I swore I would never do. For example, I don’t really prefer purebred dogs (there are plenty of mutts that are beautiful and healthier out there), I always thought a dog wasn’t a ‘real dog’ unless it weighed at least 60 pounds, and of all the silly little breeds, the chihuahua is certainly the most nasty and useless of them all. I don’t believe in buying a dog (so many free ones who need a home) and I certainly don’t believe in supporting the puppy mill industry by buying a dog from a questionable pet store. So you can see it was the universe’s big practical joke on me that I should end up buying a pure-bred chihuahua from a pet store...and anyone who has seen me with him knows that I am now so ‘all about Carlos’. And now I can’t imagine him not being part of my world.

Little Miss

“...It’s something unpredictable, but in the end its right. I hope you have the time of your life.”


Greenday The universe must have decided it needed another good chuckle , because I recently demonstrated another round of going against practical logic. Now, if I wanted a cat, there are plenty of them in Florida that could use a home. And I didn’t really want a cat... I have 3 on my property that I got at the local shelter. It makes absolutely no sense to pluck a skinny stray kitty from a field in Wisconsin, and schlepp it across the country on a plane. But the clinic host, Kris Fulwiler offered a cat carrier I could borrow and somehow, without most of my brain having a say in what was going on, I found myself with a cat stowed under the seat in front of me. So what is the point of the story? Well, if I had listened to my own logic, I would not have Carlos, the chihuahua, and if I listened to my own logic I would not have this adorable cat who has the perfect cat-anality and acts like she has been in my house for years. Some of the best things in my life have arrived in a circumstances or packages that I least expected. I just am using Carlos and Little Miss as examples because they are cute and photogenic... Thankfully so many wonderful things have come to fruition in spite of my ideas, judgments and complaints. And in these cases there was just a feeling that it is less about a choice, and more that it has already happened, so I just better get used to it. Less like ‘what should I do?’ and more like: ‘uh oh, here we go!’ There is a time for technique, there is a time for logic, there is a time for following rules. But there is also a time for opening, trusting and just letting go to what is already been given to you. As the Borg on Star Trek say: ‘Resistance is futile”. There is something your horse is telling you... there is something you know you need to do. I wonder what would happen if you listened to it? If you allowed your instincts to guide you? If you took the idea your horse offered you? If you made the change you know you need to make? What if you forgot about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and turned off your ‘logic’ when you had insight that was more compelling? I think my brain serves me very well... but not always. Often my brain and my heart agree... but if they don’t, I must admit I am a happier girl if I let my heart win. Or maybe it’s my gut. At the end of the day, if my heart and my guts are happy I am happy... even if my brain is still complaining.

So I give my brain plenty of jobs to do... balance the checkbook, Think of ways to organize information... try to remember why on earth I just walked into a particular room. Those are handy things for a brain to think about. But the brain is a tricky character... it will tell you things like: ‘The last thing you need to do is take some flea-ridden cat on a plane’, or ‘what kind of dog is a chihuahua to have around horses’ or ‘why leave New York when you have a barn full of clients’ or ‘dressage riders don’t do natural horsemanship stuff, you’ll lose all your business’. Some of the most celebrated people or artists in the world did not feel limited in their choices, but because of what they created, outlines were written to describe their accomplishments... then we think we must follow the outlines...but there is quality that is lost. Carlos


Maybe there are more amazing possibilities around us than we know, but our brains are keeping them from us, or us from them. My brain can complain all it wants, but right now it is hard for me to care as I watch my stray cat snuggle my puppy mill chihuahua as we all fall asleep to the sound of purring. (ps: Thanks, Kris!) ~Karen

Copyright 2008 Temenos Fields, Inc October

Oct '08 Newsletter  

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

Oct '08 Newsletter  

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