My Journey To Lightness with Philippe Karl Part II

Our training plan consisted of leadership exercises on the longe and in-hand (he described Caspar as being a dominant-type stallion); and flexions from the ground and while mounted to promote lateral and longitudinal flexibility, while keeping Caspar’s attention.

May 2011
Delta, BC, Canada

Dozens of equestrians converged upon the Adderson Family’s equestrian centre “For the Horse”, in the small town of Chase, BC to meet and learn from Philippe Karl during the first session of the École de Légèreté (School of Lightness) in North America. The evening before the session began, was a “Meet the Master” evening, at which M. Karl presented a lecture, and then answered questions from the audience and signed books.

The first instruction day, participants’ lessons were a full hour, during which M. Karl observed the students and their mounts, rode/worked in hand each horse, and diagnosed the pair’s strengths and weaknesses, setting the stage for the rest of the work during this session.

On the second and third days, 45-minute lessons were building upon the work of the first day, and included longeing techniques, work in hand and riding. The lessons on both days were followed by a two-hour lecture, during which M. Karl showed his extensive knowledge of theory, anatomy, bio-mechanics, ethology, and riding culture. (He also has some talent as an artist, and drew many illustrations and diagrams.)

The fourth day had been scheduled as jumping lessons in two groups, but M. Karl abandoned this plan, explaining that the horses and riders were insufficiently prepared. Instead, the students rode in three group lessons of three horse-rider pairs each, grouped according to the specific issues and exercises the riders were working on. These lessons were followed by another lecture, part of which was devoted to discussion of questions posed by the audience.
It was extremely interesting to see M. Karl’s method producing positive results on horses of many different types, with riders, nearly all professional, of different backgrounds. M. Karl proved himself to be an engaging, articulate speaker and never stopped teaching the rider or the audience. He was frank and direct in his correction and criticism, but he also liberally used humour, without humiliating anyone.

As for me and Caspar (Favory Fantasia III-1), M. Karl had us working on our basics. Although Caspar travelled in the trailer well enough, he is an inexperienced traveller, and the trip to a strange place, surrounded by strange horses, and being ridden in an indoor arena (with mirrors) proved to be very disturbing for him. Although he did nothing really bad, we were unable to show any of the work we have been doing at home. M. Karl pointed out that when a horse is in a stressful situation, one can see the true level of training achieved (the truth hurts!). He diagnosed Caspar’s major difficulties as a high set-on neck combined with a somewhat long back, and a lack of obedience. He speculated that Caspar might show talent for pesade.

So, our training plan consisted of leadership exercises on the longe and in-hand (he described Caspar as being a dominant-type stallion); and flexions from the ground and while mounted to promote lateral and longitudinal flexibility, while keeping Caspar’s attention. But the cornerstone exercise was the rein effect designed to provoke neck extension and lowering with an open poll, and to teach the horse to maintain a steady contact (M. Karl’s definition of “on the bit”: the horse constantly seeks to keep the reins stretched in a steady but light and lively contact, no matter the position of the rider’s hands); Caspar has a tendency to curl up behind the bit. We performed this exercise at halt, walk, trot, and canter. This was very challenging to achieve, as it demanded constant attention, balance and suppleness from me, but it was dramatically effective. Not only was it effective physically, in that it opposed all hollowing of the back, but mentally as well, as it provoked Caspar into assuming an attitude conducive to attention and obedience.
I was extremely gratified to leave this session with this technique, because I feel as though it is the piece of my training puzzle I had been seeking. It will be the key that will open all sorts of training doors for me. So, I have homework to practice before the July session: the leadership exercises on the longe and in hand; the flexions in-hand and under saddle; the neck-extension exercise at all three gaits, particularly during transitions; and shoulder-in at walk and trot in neck extension. I should keep the shoulder-in at a shallower angle and at rising trot to encourage him to stay round. (Interestingly, M. Karl was able to explain in logical detail the reasons for selecting a certain diagonal pair of legs on which to rise at the trot, and the effect it has on the horse’s balance- yet another simple yet powerful tool for training.)

M. Karl’s method is characterised by a demand that the rider/trainer be respectful of the horse’s essential nature and use non-violent training methods, eschewing all auxiliary reins and training gadgets. This requires a thinking trainer, which is able to educate his mind and hands, and influence his horse’s balance in order to teach it how to dance.

~Written By Sherry Leväaho

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