Da Capo – Lunging Part II

We have just completed a second week of work at the lunge.   Overall he has made very good progress in a short time, indicating a good trainability.  It is important to remember that he has spent most of his life in pasture and was only “broken in” to saddle.  He willingly accepted this “event” in his life but overall has had no real working connection with human beings.  Therefore, he has needed to learn to relate to and trust us, and then accept to learn and work calmly.

As a result of our efforts for the past couple of weeks, we have been rewarded with an increase of his awareness of his handler, and he is less focused on his surroundings.  He stands more quietly for grooming and tacking up, and finally “looks us in the eye”.  For me, that is very important and is the foundation for developing a good working relationship.

Before I describe the events of the past week’s work, I would like to explain how we are now attaching our support reins, and why.  As you can see from the pictures, we are using leftsidehookupa modified version of a “de gogue”.  Normally this is a device with a line running through a ring on a strap attached to the girth, which runs then through rings attached to a strap over the pole, then goes through the bit rings and back to the ring attached to the girth.  However, this arrangement does not provide support to the horse, helping him balance according to his “laterality”.  Therefore, rather than taking the reins back towards the girth attachment (between the legs) we go from the bit back to the rings on the surcingle.  Since this horse is right handed, we attach DSC01862the left line low, and the right line high. (Clearly demonstrated in photos.)   If I were riding, I would also support him with my right hand a little higher than my left.   It is very important to note, we do not want to restrict him or place his nose behind the vertical.  To the contrary, we want him to use the support to feel confident to stretch out and down, freeing his shoulders and back, and allowing the hind legs to push through.   He has responded beautifully to this work both in free lunging and on line.  He is trotting more calmly with a very good working rhythm and canters with increased balance and regularity.

Finally, as he has progressed so well in the flat lunging, we added a small cavaletti at the trot.  After his first inclination to tackle it as a jump, he began to trot to it calmly.  After a couple of days he was trotting and cantering over it with confidence.

This work has also made


changes in his conformation, most notably his neck looks longer and not so thick, and his back is rounder and stronger.  We are very happy with his progress in all aspects, and look forward to the developments of this next week.


Interview with German Master Rider/Trainer, Ralf Hannover

Ralf on WebbieSitting down at dinner with Ralf Hannöver is the best way (if not only way) to interrupt his hectic schedule of training, teaching, showing, trying prospective young horses, and like all successful business people today, getting him away from his cell phone.  But, over a good meal and a nice glass of wine, we were finally able to talk about his life with horses.

As a young boy, as with so many young professional riders in Germany, he grew up on a breeding farm where he, along with his brothers and sisters rode ponies and horses for as long as they can remember.  His father was his mentor, developing his riding and showing skills for many years.  Ralf was a successful young competitor and eventually became German Junior Jumping Champion.  As he continued to ride, train and compete, Ralf made the decision to pursue horses professionally and began his training as a Bereiter.  Originally scheduled to train under Holger Schmezer, due to a previous commitment on the part of Herr Schmezer, Ralf was trained instead by Herbert Rehbein.  He was eventually to spend 6 1/2 years working under Rehbein’s guidance.  I asked Ralf what is was like to have worked with one of the greats in the dressage world.  He responded by saying “it was one of the best times of my life.  Herr Rehbein never held back on what he knew” and gave him countless opportunities to sit on many excellent fully trained horses.  It was through these experiences he was able to feel the correctly trained movements, the use of the aids and the horses responses.  He felt privileged to have had those years and realizes it was an opportunity limited to a few.  He stressed that Herr  Rehbein’s style of teaching was not to stand and instruct your every move, but rather to supervise your work, making corrections as needed and to allow you to experience the training of horses through the levels to Grand Prix.  Quoting from the biography of Herbert Rehbein by Karin Drewes “Ralf Hannöver was the overall best student trainer for Rehbein” (Translation from German).  Having had the opportunity to work with Ralf myself, I can see that he has applied a similar technique to his own students.

After receiving his Berieter Diploma, Ralf worked under Herr Rehbein for three years, as is normal in the German system, before beginning his work towards his Meister Prufung (Master’s License).  I asked what this entailed and he explained the test is in 4 parts:

  1. Riding and Teaching (Practical)
  2. Theory (Advanced)
  3. Economics (Business Aspects)
  4. Pedagogy (Rules, Relationships, etc)

He attended the classes, did all his preparation and his final exam in Warendorf and Münster.

After 6 1/2 years at Grönwohldhof with Herbert and Karin Rehbein, Ralf took the job as dressage trainer at Vorwerk, where he remained for another 4 1/2 years.  There he trained, among many others, Rubenstein and Rohdiamant.  Reflecting back  on that period, he told me that Rubenstein was possibly his favorite horse to train.  He remembers him as being a kind, trusting and intelligent stallion, exceptionally willing and extremely trainable.

Young StallionAfter a number of years training for others, Ralf decided to go into business for himself and today operates his own training and sales business in Gehrde, Germany.  There he has numerous horses in training from amazing 3-year old youngsters  to fully trained Grand Prix horses.  He has a variety of international students as well as German riders.  He currently conducts clinics throughout Germany, as well as regular trips to Switzerland, Sweden and the United States.

Finally, I asked Ralf about the difference between the horses of the years past, and the modern breeding of today.  I wanted the opinion of someone who has sat on so many horses, from every pedigree imaginable and who could provide a truly educated and experienced response.  He responded “of course the quality has improved.  In former years the horses were not so willing and often required the skills of the professional rider to put them to work.  Today, the horses are more elastic, more athletic, with a better attitude, more willing to work”.  When I asked what characteristic was most important to him as a trainer, he responded without hesitation “the horse must be rideable”.    From my experience with Ralf, if the horse is rideable, he can take care of the rest.

For anyone interested, Ralf has both young and trained horses of outstanding quality for RalfClinicsale at his facility in Gehrde.  He is also available for clinics worldwide.  If you would like to contact Ralf, sent me a message for information.

Da Capo – Lunge work

After giving Da Capo (Capi) a week or so to settle  in, we began his work on the lunge.  It was  immediately obvious that (1) he was aware of his surroundings and not totally concentrated, (2) when wanting to escape something strange he escaped left, (3) going right he cut the circle smaller or wanted to change back to the left, and (4) that he has a very sensitive mouth.  It was also apparent that he had not yet learned to stretch down.  So while he accpets to be lunged and ridden (thankfully), the real training has to start from scratch.   Out approach for his first work is outlined below.

For the first couple of days, we decided to make his support connected to his halter rings rather than the bit (our lunging caveson is no longer with us).  So, we fitted the bridle, minus the reins, and placed the halter over the bridle.  We used elastic support lines and connected them from the surcingle to the halter as follows:

  • left support (he is right handed) placed lower on the surcingle ring than the right, at a length that gave support without restricting;
  • right contact in the form of a wedge, that is to say a line runs through a lower surcingle ring, to and through the side ring on the halter and back to the surcingle, connecting to a higher ring.   Please note that the photos below indicate what we are looking for in the stretching, not the support described above.   Since this post is more for sharing our  observations and work  than “teaching” something I opted to show the results.
Learning to stretch

Learning to stretch

At this point, we free lunged him until he was calm but forward at the trot.   After a couple of days, we also asked for small amounts of canter.   The purpose and goal of this work is to ask him to find his balance, with the help of the support reins, by learning to stretch down and seek the contact.


He seems to be very trainable and by the end of the week he was stretching down for short periods and was much calmer.  Also, this gives us a little preview of what his gaits may be when he has more training and confidence in his balance.  he also began to relax is jaw and swallow, producing a small amount of  “lipstick”.

Overall, in just this short period,  we also see some body changes.  Having been “taking it easy” in life, he had no real muscle development, was a little dropped in front of his withers, had no extension of the neck and was not using his back.  After this type of work, he has already lifted himself a little, smoothing out his topline.  In a word, he looks “taller” and has become smoother in his conformation.

Next, we will begin to work with contact to the bit.  We are optimistic it will go well.