Thursday, February 8, 2018

Dressage Naturally a Comprehensive (Mostly!) Blog Review 2018

I've blogged a lot about DRESSAGE NATURALLY but I realized I have never done a complete review.  I've been using DN in one form or another since  spring of 2016.  After I completed Tristan Tucker's TRT Method online to great effect, I was much more open to the idea of natural horsemanship and online learning in general, and I decided to give DN a shot.  There are several different levels of using the program, starting with the free articles, blogs, and video.  If those look interesting, then you can buy the Dressage Naturally book which includes a DVD for around $70.  When you buy the book/DVD you get offered a discounted membership to the video classroom, normally around $24 per month, which gives you access to hundreds of videos showing either Karen or her students applying the principles of DN, classroom theory, and different guest speakers or clinicians.  The last layer of possibility is the virtual arena which is a much more expensive set of structured online classes that lead the rider step by step through the training and riding process.

I am a cheapskate, so I started with the free stuff, moved on to the book/DVD, and then signed up for the discounted video classroom.  I have never utilized the virtual arena because of cost, but also because I came in as a fairly experienced rider and trainer and I found the book and video classroom provided me with plenty of information to work with.  I powered through the book and DVD and found a wealth of information, but really it has been the video classroom that has me hooked.  I pretty much watch at least one video a day and feel like I have learned SO much about biomechanics of the horse and rider, training theory, and true classical dressage.  For $24 a month.  There are three new videos each month and a library that goes back to September of 2010.  At three videos a month, there is a lot of content.  You can either search the video classroom by month/year, by topic, or by using the search cloud with headers like in hand training, connection, flexibility, collection, and etc..  So, say you are working on leg yields.  You hit the search cloud topic leg yield, find a variety of videos with different horses and riders, and can then use them to refine your riding and training. I LOVE the video classroom and find myself coming back to videos a few months after watching them the first time and seeing new concepts and material after my knowledge has expanded.

So that is the structure of the Dressage Naturally program, but what about the content?  Is it all bridleless horses climbing on tires, liberty work, and horses looking happy but with no relevance to competition dressage?  Actually, this program is the first time I have really understood horse biomechanics, how the rider's seat works, and the steps to really use gymnastics to improve a dressage horse.  It is a comprehensive dressage education.  Now, that said, there is a ton of content using natural horsemanship principles for ground work, bitless riding, freestyle work(loose rein-just off the rider's seat and body aids), establishment of connection with the bit and working gaits, and then the "real" dressage work begins.  The genius of the program is that the horse and rider are so used to using seat and body aids in the beginning training that all that yank and crank and heavy handed front to back riding are never an issue.  By building a foundation on natural horsemanship, ground training, and the beginning riding on a loose rein using the seat and/or bitless, the next steps of connection with the bridle, working gaits in the sweet spot, and the spiral of gymnastic success are much more likely to be harmonious.  The whole process is set up to be kind to the horse, biomechanically correct, and lead to a light, yet through the back, dressage horse.  Even if the horse is not bred for dressage.

Needless to say, I am in love with the DN program.  I mostly utilize the bitless and freestyle riding, working gaits in the sweet spot, and upward spiral of gymnastics portion of the videos and book.  I haven't delved into the in hand portion as much because I mostly stick with the TRT Method principles that really work for Jet.  Both programs are based on natural horsemanship principles though, so I find a lot of similarities in the in hand and liberty work. Even though I am still at First/Second Level after 18 months of utilizing DN, now my horse is poll high, through his back, and in self carriage.  We're doing the same work but instead of it being not quite right, it is harmonious, springy and light.  He is happy.  I am happy.  Our lateral work is easy, stretches are not behind the vertical(mostly!), and the power and energy are starting to be accessible without tension.  I don't know how far up the spiral of gymnastics I will get with Jet, but I really don't care.  The everyday work is so fun that we'll get where we get, and I am good with that.  I also feel like I have the tools to start again with a new horse, move much more quickly through the levels, and I won't be wandering in my training as much because I have a progressive system now.  Dressage Naturally has changed my riding life, my training methods, and my connection with my horse in so many positive ways.  I cannot recommend it highly enough!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Ansur Classic 2010 Treeless Dressage Saddle a Review

I grew up riding saddle-less everywhere on my first pony with a bareback pad for "fancy", so I have always been intrigued by treeless saddles.  According to those who ride treeless and prefer a closer contact with more feel of the horse's back, treeless is the only way to go.  They also rave about the lack of a need to saddle fit and adjust the saddle to a changing back since there is no tree to fit around.  Opponents of treeless cite a pretty famous study by Dr. Hilary Clayton about the pressure points under the rider being more pronounced with a treeless saddle than a treed saddle.  Opinions and first person accounts vary wildly on the interwebs.  Go figure.  I've been using the Dressage Naturally program for a while and Karen Rohlf herself uses a treeless saddle mostly.  She is not against treed saddles at all but prefers the closer contact and feel of the horse's back with a treeless and of course the lack of the necessity of constant saddle fitting for changing backs.  If you have a video classroom membership on Dressage Naturally there is a great video on saddles that covers the advantages of both treed and treeless saddles, how to check fit, and how to pad treeless for different types of backs.  Karen herself mostly rides treeless but thinks whatever is comfortable and works for your horse is great, kind of like her take on bits vs. bitless.  

Karen uses an Ansur Dressage Classic that is a high end treeless saddle.  Think $3000+ new.  Gulp.  Anyway, looking around on the internet used Ansur's are out there but you have to buy a 2008 or newer to get the new trauma system touted above.  It is fairly hard to find a newer than 2008 used and they tend to hold their value pretty well.  Since Jet goes pretty well in his Marcus Krehan monoflap and seems to have no saddle fitting issues the Ansur Classic was just something I've kept an eye out for at a good price.  I figured the only way I would know if I liked treeless was to try it for myself and the only way I would ever buy a Classic was if a screaming deal came up.  Which it did the end of January.

The saddle arrived in 9/10 condition for less than 1/3 new retail price.  Go eBay.  It was heavier than I expected with much more padding and structure and quite frankly is a nice piece of craftsmanship.  The Ansur Classic is basically a leather bareback pad but much more substantial and shaped like a standard dressage saddle with no gullet.  Because of watching the DN video I was comfortable on padding the saddle with an ECP half pad with a gullet to give myself a little bit of a twist(Jet has a broad back...) and also to give Jet a bit of spine relief just in case he was weirded out by no gullet and no tree.  I thought Jet might have some kind of reaction since he is pretty sensitive, so I tightened my chin strap, put my phone in my pocket, and rode inside for the first ride.

And from the first couple of steps we both loved the Ansur.  For me it was like riding on a cloud(no tree!) and my leg fell perfectly against Jet's side.  Posting felt so easy and in balance and the sitting trot and canter were just a bit more connected with no rebound off of the tree because there isn't one.  Everything just felt easier.  The things I noticed immediately about Jet were that he was much easier to get straight to the left, his lateral work both ways was effortless, and he felt a bit more through his back with no extra effort on my part.  I just did my third ride in the saddle yesterday and all of the above is still true.  No back soreness on his part(or mine!) effortlessly straighter, more through the back, and with better lateral work.  I love the contact with Jet's back and that feel that is closer to no saddle but with just enough padding and stirrups to make thing a bit easier and more comfortable than actual bareback.  So far we both  really like the saddle and the amount of feel for seat and weight aids is totally enhanced.  I think this could be really helpful as we finally get more polished at 1st and 2nd Level.  That said, I think I will do an update in a couple of months to note pro's and cons in training and if Jet has any back soreness.  What are your thoughts or experiences with treed vs. treeless?  I would love to know.