Before Christmas I had my first training day with Marius Schneider, a licensed Bent Branderup Trainer in the Academic Art of Riding. My short summary: just WOW.
So far I’ve been studying the Academic Art of Riding from books and online video courses, but of course there is only so much one can learn from books. Eventually, I needed a teacher to check on me. Since I have no such teacher to my disposition in Warsaw, I decided to book a training day with Marius Schneider whose stable is close to where my parents live and where I would spend the holidays. I booked two sessions with a school horse (one groundwork and one riding).
Located in a beautiful rural area, Marius’ stable is build in an old castle by the name of Burg Kakesberg. The noble surroundings perfectly fit the art of riding and I was very happy about his solidly build, cosy riding arena on this stormy and rainy day. My four-legged teacher was 19-year old Czardas. The fact that he looked very fit for his age is the best advertising for the academic art of riding, I think.
This training day differed from ordinary riding lessons in so many ways. First of all, Czardas wasn’t the usual type of school horse. He reacted on the finest aids, and I really mean fine. The idea of an aid was enough for him. I had never met such a well educated school horse before. He also reacted only on the right sort of aid. Whenever I made a mistake he simply ignored me. His big wise eyes looked at me as if he wanted to say “Don’t worry honey, you’ll get better in time, they all do.” Czardas was very polite, patient, and during the time we worked together we became a good team. I was almost a bit sad that I had to bring him back to the paddock after we were done.
Marius isn’t your typical kind of riding teacher either. He spoke calmly, conveyed his vast knowledge in easy to understand and logically structured portions, and was just as patient as the horse. His teaching style was a mixture of asking questions and giving explanations, of showing me how it’s done correctly himself and then letting me have a go. It was very important to him that I have a complete understanding of the aids and body positions and are clear about the biomechanic movements of the horse. He used the first person plural a lot, like “here we didn’t pay attention and he fell on the inner shoulder too much, let’s see if we can do it better next time”, which I found a bit awkward in the beginning but then thought it was a nice change from the usual “heels down, more outer reign” -kind of commands.
The groundwork session started with some basic horsemanship. Equipped with a lunge, a short whip, and a cavesson, we quickly went through the first exercises (in the academic art of riding there is no place for side reigns and attaching the lunge to a bit). Every horse that is started in the academic art of riding is started like a young horse, i.e. from the very beginning, so it was important to Marius that these initial training steps were understood well and performed accurately.
First of all we practiced stretching forward-down and bending in halt. When the horse is standing on all four legs, he has the best balance, of course, so it’s useful to start explaining things without moving. That way one can be sure that the horse understands the aids. When the horse is relaxed while standing and understood everything, it’s time for more action. I lead Czardas in a circle, me in a position in front of his head, trying to keep him bended (walking backwards). The next step was leading the horse from a distance, from a position about one meter from his shoulder, which is a pre-exercise for lunging. I was supposed too keep Czardas going around the arena in a nice forward walk close to the wall and without taking short cuts, with a very gentle but constant contact on the lunge (lunge line only between two fingers). I had to watch his body, correct him if necessary, and watch out that I make nicely regular strides as well. Not as easy as it sounds! The horse has to learn to listen to you and completely follow your body, so we practiced stopping and making little regular circles (the key word is regular…). Marius showed me how I can correct horses that are more difficult to lead and stop, and I also practiced that. This wasn’t news to me, but Marius found some smaller things that I had done wrong and that had complicated training Nazir unnecessarily. When all was going smoothly, I had to practice how to send Czardas around me on a nice regular circle and how to make the circle smaller and bigger only with my body language and tiny whip aids. The half hour was over much too quickly. During this short time I had learned to communicate much better with a horse from the ground, and I can imagine how fine the communication between a horse and a human can get with this kind of training! (Have a look at the link below to see Marius and his horse Aramis and you’ll know what I mean.)
After a short break in which I watched some lessons, it was time to climb in the saddle myself. Well, no saddle, just a pad. All of Marius’ horses know how to park next to the mounting block. All you need to do is climb on the block and point the whip towards the outer hint leg of the horse, and he does the parking all by himself. So cool.
Repeating the succession of exercises we did on the ground, the first exercise in the saddle was to bend the horse in standing. A little more weight on the inside seat bone (lower the inside hip), wiggle with the tip of the inner foot, and help the horse with a slight half halt on the inner reign. We practiced on both sides and then switching from side to side. The goal here is to minimize the aids so that the educated horse bends on a signal from the hip.
After that Marius took me on the lunge so I could fully concentrate on my seat, I really liked that. I had to close my eyes and describe the exact movement of my hip. Just because of having to describe it, my hip got more relaxed immediately and I was able to follow the horse’s movement much better. He spotted that I’m a little bit more stiff going to the left then going to the right. “We don’t want to disturb the horse in his natural gait”, said Marius, that why we should sit as relaxed as possible, no pushing the horse forward with the hip. Every time my inner hip bone was about to start a backward-downward movement, I was supposed to say “now”. This is the exact moment in which the inner hint leg of the horse can be animated to step forward more energetically, because it is about to leave the ground. That’s the moment in which to give a slight leg aid. I had to practice to give the led aid very gently and only with the inside of my calf muscle, and not to become stiff in the hip at the same time. For a more energetic walk, I was supposed to feel the natural swinging of the horse’s rib cage, from side to side, and just accelerate this swinging a little bit by following it more with my hip. Eventually it should be enough to make your own hip movement a little bit bigger to influence the horse’s gaits. All this time the legs hang on the horses sides very loosely, no squeezing.
The hands should follow the natural nodding movement of the horse. Both hand and hip movement have to be done independently of each other, so I practiced not to get stiff in the hip when focusing on my hands and vice versa. Once my seat and hands relaxed, Czardas got into a lovely energetic walk and exhaled audibly through the nostrils. Sitting on a horse had never felt so effortless.
Subsequently, I had to make the circle smaller just by using the outer reign to the outside of the horse’s neck, and make the circle bigger again by placing the inner reign on the inner neck. I turned shoulders in the direction the horse had to walk, placing the inner shoulder slightly to the back to make a smaller circle and turning it out again for making a bigger circle. No shortening of the reign, no signal in the horse’s mouth at all, and no leg aids. Keeping the hands soft and the hip movement subtle. Next I had to practise changing directions using only the neck reign aids and the turning of the shoulders.
As a last exercise I had to add the bending. In order to do that, I just had to give little signals with the inner reign (completely let go of the outer reign!) and a slight nudge with the inner calf muscle. We repeated the previous elements, make the circle smaller, bigger, change direction, all with keeping the bending. Marius was satisfied when Czardas was completely light on the inner reign, and then, unfortunately, time was already up.
I learned that I have to be even softer with my aids and also a lot clearer (e.g. no outer reign when I give a signal on the inner reign). The seat aids should always come first, then the legs aids, then the reign. I have a tendency to use hands and legs at the same time. The aim is to reduce aids so that the horse can be ridden only with the seat. First you try to reduce the intensity of, e.g., the reign aid and then you drop the aid entirely. Only then riding can be really soft and effortless. Moreover, the academic art of riding is build up so logically, for both horse and rider, that both can learn without misunderstandings and have a sense of accomplishment. I was really impressed with the quiet work atmosphere of the other horses and riders that I watched.
I’m sure that it wasn’t the last time I took lessons with Marius, I had such a great time, learned so much, and would have loved to return next day for more. Now I’m eager to go back to Warsaw and head to the stable to try out everything on Nazir. I can’t tell you how happy I am to have found this way of riding! A big thanks to Marius and the wonderful Czardas.
I didn’t take any pictures, but here are two links so you can see Marius at work:
I’ll keep you posted 😉