Feb 29, 2016

It's Only An Aid If It Aids

When something isn't working out quite like it should, I'll often hear from a student, "I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing.  I have this rein here like I should and this leg there..." Riders can make dressage an all too intellectual endeavour. My most accomplished students have been young people who likely never read two sentences on any theory or about any master. You know why? They are in the present feeling. Like any discipline, a well educated mind and body are the ideal combination, but what you know in your head isn't worth anything if you're not aware of what is actually happening. So how do you apply what you're learning? Experiment. As my dad says, the so-called aid is only an aid if it is aiding you.

Lateral movements can often be a paralyzing zone for riders. One direction comes with ease, but the exact same aids going in the other direction result in no lateral movement at all. There are a number of reasons why this is happening, but the simplest is often the basic fact that what one does easily to the right is not as easily done to the left or vice versa. Try writing with your opposite hand. You likely don't even hold the pen the same way. When it comes to your horse, he has his own asymmetry to deal with and then there you are plopped on his back with yours. When approaching a lateral movement to the "hard" side, take it down to its simplest form and then move up.

For example, your half pass left is non-existent compared to the right. First, take a leg-yielding left along the wall or fence. You'll have the support of the architecture and an easier lateral movement. Slowly begin to change the bend in order for your leg-yield to begin to transform into a travers. Then take your travers into a large circle. If that goes well, transition from the travers in the circle into a half pass on a diagonal line. Take breaks intermittently when you've arrived on a good note to avoid hammering out the exercise. Be patient. It's easier said than done - I know.

The last ingredient is having some guts. Ask for what you want with a sense of conviction with a good dose of kindness. Try something you don't think you can accomplish. Any personal trainer I've ever known never got the results out of their clients by letting them workout however they choose ;)

Jul 15, 2015


This Saturday's performance is sold out! It is sure to be as great of a hit as last Friday's sold out show. Thank you to everyone for coming out and enjoying the evening with us. 

If you missed seeing our summer gala, be sure to check in late summer as we may plan a fall gala. If we do, get your tickets early!

The stables will be open to the public this Saturday and Sunday between 10:00am and 1:00pm as part of the Hills of Headwaters Stable Tour.

Thank you to Equine Canada for involving us in Horse Experience 2015. See the link below to catch a glimpse.

Frank Grelo Horse Experience 2015

Jul 3, 2015

Let The Games Begin!

We hope you can join us for one of our upcoming summer galas over the next two weeks! Featuring performances by Frank Grelo on beautiful Lusitano stallions accompanied by his students. Experience the art of classical dressage from its beginnings in military cavalry, work in-hand and on the long reins, to the Pas de Deux, musical quadrille, and a mock bullfight.

We are a part of Canada Equine's Horse Experience 2015 and the Headwaters Stable Tour. Visit our stables July 11/12 and 18/19 between 10:00am-1:00pm to see the morning exercises and regular life at Grelo Farms.

Frank Grelo on YouTube

See you soon!

Mar 25, 2015

Mini-Clinic with Frank Grelo - Saturday, April 11, 2015

Join us for a small clinic from 2:00-6:00pm. To book your ride or ticket, contact Tanja at academicequitation@outlook.com or 226.791.2284 (cell).

Jan 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

It's a new year, the Pan Am Games are coming to our town and it's a good time for aspirations. Here's a video to kick-start some enthusiasm!

Dec 30, 2014

On Point

A horse that is on point is prepared to do anything at anytime. This means that from a walk I can ask for a halt, ask for a canter, or ask for a turn on the haunches and I would be able to achieve either of these with precision and ease. The question is, how?

This is the whole study of equitation, but here are some exercises to change up your usual routine.

Play with your halts
Throw in a halt at any and every point in your regular workout. It can be a hard thing to remember if you don't practice them regularly. Put your cell phone in your pocket and set an alarm for every five minutes. Halt from the walk, trot, and canter both on straight and lateral lines. I guarantee you'll have discoveries about your transitions.

Play with the flexion on your laterals
We all have a tendency to sit in a comfort zone with our laterals when it comes to the degree of difficulty with the angle. Perhaps you have a regular habit of doing the half-pass from the letter F to X or only doing the leg-yield along the wall with the horse's head facing the wall. Change up your angles, whether it's increasing the angle in your usual lateral movements or changing them completely. Try your half-pass left from F to V and then turn it into a renvers along the wall followed by a leg-yielding right to the centre line or take a modest shoulder-in into a leg-yield by bringing in both shoulders. One of my favourites is to take two similar lateral movements with opposite bends and transition back and forth between them, such as a shoulder-in right along the wall and morph it into a renvers. With the shoulder in and body flexed slightly right I slowly change the bend left maintaining the haunches on the wall. I halt every now and then through the lateral and even make transitions. For example, in the shoulder-in I will trot, change bend for renvers and counter canter, change bend through the counter canter and transition to trot returning to my shoulder-in.

Go big
I find a lot of people get addicted to collected movement and forget to lengthen and extend. There is no collection without extension, no extension without collection. Sure, we can think of horses that do one better than the other, but you want to work both to get a supple and strong horse. Massage every stride to have a variety of paces within each gate. You want to prevent rushing (fast moving feet in short strides) and encourage calm ground coverage where all legs are expressing themselves in long strides. The walk and canter are where many go wrong. If you have no idea where to start, let your horse loose in the arena or get on a longe line to see what the default paces are at each gait. Take a longe whip and gently push your horse on and remark the differences. I'm a fan of what my dad would call a good "gallop-ad" at the end of a canter workout. Feel the wind in your hair and get a little uncomfortable. 


Dec 2, 2013

Filling your toolkit

When we first begin to ride, our toolkit (both literally and figuratively) is rather small. You may have two to three brushes and a hoofpick in your caddy. You may only know how to do 20m circles and diagonal lines at the walk and trot. You get my drift. The more experienced we become, the more stuff we accumulate and the more we know. Like many things in life, becoming a better rider calls for simplification and efficiency. When something you are attempting in your session with your horse is not working, modify it. Just like when you are working out, if an exercise becomes too difficult, lower the impact. There is no sense in forcing yourself to do it over and over again if it's not going right, causing pain, and deflating your morale. 

Often when an exercise is too difficult for a horse it can be pared down to these few possibilities: lack of impulsion, stiffness, or being out of balance (ie. heavy on the forehand or a large discrepancy of ease between left and right). When confronted with difficulty, you'll need to choose an appropriate tool from your toolkit prioritizing calm, forward and straight.

For example, an issue that popped up yesterday was a rider could not turn her horse to the right. When she would try, the horse would grab the bit and rush forward. She was stuck in the "I can't turn" rather than looking into her toolkit to ask "What else can I use to turn?" My thought process:  the horse is moving fine aside from when it's time to turn and then he loses his calm. Priority - keep calm and forward then worry about proper flexion. We have been working on counter-bending as a suppling tool. Since the horse had no problem turning left I told her to counter-bend him (to the left) and to circle to the right. The horse left the wall and did a volte to the right. Then I instructed her to stay in the circle and gradually ask the horse to bend to the right. His reaction was to slow down, but eventually they both succeeded in moving forward in the correct bend. The horse's main message here? In this case the horse was being more bossy than he was trying to communicate a stiffness on the left side of his body as I had seen the rider warming up with relative ease. The key was to use another tactic to arrive at the same intention.

Look to what you already know how to do with what you have. Challenging your creativity will develop new tools. Break down your problem like a math equation and solve the simplest things first:  calm, forward, then straight.