By Lynndee Kemmet
Co-Op of Equestrians Launches New Educational Program to Teach Lightness Through Feel
Inaugural Event August 30-31
Washington, Conn. – A new program focused on educating riders through “feel” is being launched during an inaugural demonstration scheduled for August 30-31 at Windhorse International in Bethlehem, Connecticut. The inaugural event, open to all with an interest in how to achieve the tact and finesse that leads to lightness in riding, will feature demonstrations of the training techniques – particularly use of the double bridle and the seat – that lead to lightness. Dr. Jane Marie Manfredi, of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University, will also be on hand to present results from decades of research on equine biomechanics that she conducted along with other members of a research team led Dr. Hilary Clayton.
While many riders seek lightness in their riding few really know what it is because they have never actually felt it, said Bettina Drummond, of Washington, Connecticut and who is leading the August demonstration. “Lightness permeates the way you feel through the horse and the way you feel about the horse. It is physiological and emotional.”
Lightness is also invisible, which is why it is so challenging to teach it to riders without giving them the opportunity to feel it on a horse that is highly balanced and well trained. “Lightness is that moment when you and the horse meet in this invisible space in the air and in that moment the two of you are completely connected and can move in any direction in an instant. It is a moment of infinite possibilities. The aids and the effort are invisible and the idea of horse being split from the rider is no longer there. There is a commonality of purposefulness with no particular direction. It is like a moment of great relations. You have no explaining to do with another. It is simply a moment of understanding. With horse it is a moment at which all things are possible. You can stay there or turn in another direction while sustaining it,” Drummond said. “In the moment that you achieve that, you are seamless with your horse. It’s a moment of sheer joy for horse and rider that hangs in the air and even observers on the ground can feel it. They can’t see it or explain it but they can feel it. That is what makes riding in lightness an art. It makes observers feel something.”
The new educational program is the brainchild of Drummond but it is supported by a collection of equestrians scattered across the U.S. and Europe who are donating school horses, feed and supplies for the horses, as well as facilities to host events. Their goal is to fill a vital gap in equestrian education – showing riders, especially those of the younger generation, the pathway to lightness. Among the supporters are Sharon and John Campbell, owners of Just Enough Acres in Florida, who are not only providing use of their farm for winter educational programs in Florida but have also provided use of horses they have bred.
“Bettina trained with the late riding master Nuno Oliveira, whom I met through Bettina’s mother (the late Phyllis Field). For these people the focus is on balance and partnership with the horse. In other words, it’s about feel,” said Sharon Campbell. “But you can’t buy feel. You have to work at understanding it. This project that Bettina has helped launch aims to uphold a truth and beauty in riding that all of us know will disappear if we don’t work to protect it and pass it to the next generation.”
Although the official program launch is at the August event, many riders have already benefited from the program this past year and say it has been invaluable in advancing their education. “Without a horse who knows that balance and will take it when asked, I would never have been able to feel that except in fleeting seconds that would not have been replicable, and I certainly would not have been able to translate it on to other, younger horses,” said Allison Kavey, a New York-based dressage rider and trainer who was given opportunities to learn on Que Ba, a Lusitano stallion loaned to the educational program by his owner Adam Pollack of Loxahatchee, Florida.
“People are really missing so much in their riding. By having the opportunity to sit on schooled horses that can create this feeling, it has helped me understand what Bettina has been trying to teach me,” said Lisa Hyslop, an FEI-level dressage competitor and national-level dressage judge based in Florida. “The horses that Bettina has made available to us for our riding education are razor edge in their responses and that helps teach finesse. Having access to schooled horses to ride certainly clarifies things. These horses let you feel if you are right or wrong.”
Kayla Huskey, a rider and trainer based in Indiana agreed. “I ride a lot of horses but riding horses that are educated to the extent of lightness is so valuable,” she said. “You can ride a million horses in a day and never get that feeling of the subtle use of aids and the feeling of balance.”
Drummond, who was awarded her license as a trainer by the Nuno Oliveira School of Equitation at the young age of 19 and is the only American licensed to teach worldwide as a representative of Oliveira’s school, says riding Oliveira’s trained horses was key to her own success as a rider and trainer. She says what many young American riders lack today is not talent but access to trained horses that can give them the knowledge and understanding that can only come from feel. Riders who never have the opportunity to feel real lightness, fail to understand for what they are striving, Drummond said.
“Since horses move through air what you really want is to learn to move through air with the horse. It’s about preparing and letting it happen,” she said. “Many of the good cowboy trainers also know this. They refer to it as ‘setting them up and then turning them loose.’ In exchange, the horse will take you there. The horse lets you feel what he feels as he moves through air. You can’t own the flow, you must ride within it. It’s about going with the energy.”
A true partnership with a horse is the moment that the horse recognizes that you are willing to go with him into his world but the horse also recognizes that he must stay with you and not leave you behind. “The horse must explore how far he can go and yet not go without you. This is where use of the seat as an aid comes into play. Your use of the seat tells the horse how far you are comfortable,” Drummond said.
Throughout the history of equitation, effective use of the seat has been the ultimate goal of riding. For centuries, books on riding have focused on three key aids used by riders to communicate with the horse under saddle – hands, legs and seat. Of these, understanding the use of the seat has been the most challenging for riders. However, it is also the most critical of the aids because without effective use of the seat riders often resort to the hands and pull on the mouths of horses in an effort to control them. Only when riders can master correct use of the seat can they let go with their hands and achieve real balance and with it the lightness all riders pursue.
Drummond says that what made it possible for her to master such an elusive aid as the seat in a relatively short period of time was opportunity to “feel” how use of the seat could affect the horse. “You can read about use of the seat all you want but nothing compares to feeling how your seat can impact the horses underneath you,” she said.
Providing the opportunity to feel so that riders can work to replicate that feeling as they train other horses is exactly what the new educational program hopes to achieve as a way to develop the next generation of riders and trainers. The supporters of this new rider educational program are hoping it will attract a growing number of riders and trainers who are seeking to feel what has been missing in their riding and training. The hope is that those who benefit from the program will then apply their new understanding in their training of horses and teaching of other riders. Drummond views the program as something organic that will spread with each generation and in time greatly improve the education of American riders.
The demonstrations and educational program scheduled for August 30-31 is the first step in making the public aware of the goals of the program and of what it can do to help riders advance. Drummond said the inaugural educational event has a focus on the double bridle because it is so misunderstood by riders. The double bridle is not about containing the energy from the back of the horse but about finessing understanding between horse and rider. “The double bridle is not about the horse sucking back. It’s about creating honesty between horse and rider,” Drummond said.
At the bottom of it all, achieving lightness requires complete trust between horse and rider. Most horses will start off trusting the riders. It is the duty of the rider not to betray that trust. “Horses are brave, even weaker ones will try anything and they get excited when they come to understand something. But riders can destroy that trust,” Drummond said. “I like the way the cowboys put it when they ask, are you a rider who can bring the life out in a horse?”
As riders learn to bring out the life in horses, they will also bring out the life in themselves. Only in this way will the art of riding survive into the next generation and beyond. The riders participating in the August demonstration are all ones who have benefitted from the new educational program and they are donating their time for the demonstration. Proceeds from the demonstration will be used to help support the program’s school horses. For more information about the August 30-31 event contact Windhorse International at http://windhorseinternational.com. To learn about the program’s educational opportunities contact Bettina Drummond at firstname.lastname@example.org.