The Association for the Promotion of the Art of Horsemanship in America (APAHA) is dedicated to supporting educational opportunities that advance horsemanship as an art form in America. By providing opportunities for young riders and trainers to learn on trained horses, APAHA is working to ensure that horsemanship as an art form is preserved for future generations. The article below helps to explain the mission of APAHA.
Global Co-op of Equestrians Launches New Educational Program
Washington, Conn. – A global co-op of equestrians, with its base in Connecticut, has joined forces to fill a vital gap in equestrian education – guiding current and future generations of riders onto the pathway that leads to lightness. The kick-off event for the new educational program, open to all with an interest in how to achieve the tact and finesse that leads to lightness in riding, is scheduled to be held August 30-31 at Windhorse International in Bethlehem, Connecticut. The event will feature demonstrations of the training techniques that lead to lightness and Dr. Jane Marie Manfredi, of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University, will present results from decades of research on equine biomechanics conducted by a team led Dr. Hilary Clayton.
The equestrian educational program is the brainchild of internationally-recognized classical trainer Bettina Drummond, who is based in Washington, Connecticut.
“This is Bettina’s doing because she has often said that it’s hard to help a young rider really gain understanding if they don’t have a good horse underneath them,” said Lee Lord, who, with his wife Anne, owns Second Act Farm in Roxbury, Connecticut where some of the school horses for the program are stabled. “I’m happy to provide use of our facility for this project. Bettina is always coming up with great concepts like this and I love having her around.”
Lightness is a goal of many riders, regardless of discipline. That so many riders are searching for lightness is evident in the growing number of articles and books aimed at helping them find their way toward this elusive concept. Lightness is hard to define and often misunderstood. It is not, as many riders believe, simply the absence of weight in the reins. True lightness can only be achieved when horse and rider are in a state of harmonious balance.
In reality, lightness is one of those concepts that can’t really be explained, it must be felt. However, it can only be felt on horses trained to achieve such balance and with the help of a teacher who can guide riders in how to achieve that balance. Those riders fortunate enough to feel lightness on a horse gain understanding that advances them beyond other riders. Once they feel balance and lightness on a trained horse, riders understand what they must seek to replicate in every ride that they have.
“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. “Bettina and Que Ba (a Lusitano stallion loaned to the educational program by his owner Adam Pollack of Loxahatchee, Florida) have also been exceptionally talented teachers in helping me treat the double bridle like a precision instrument. The timing of leg and seat and the exactitude of curb angles and feel cannot really be appreciated unless you have a partner who already knows how to dance in independent balance and rhythm.”
“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, a top U.S. dressage rider 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. Bettina has given me the opportunity to ride trained horses and that made me realize how much effect my body has on the horse. Learning about that has changed how I ride and train.”
This new equestrian educational program is described by its members as a co-op because it is supported by a collection of riders, trainers, breeders and stable owners who are donating their time, their training facilities or their horses. Some supporters donate feed or other supplies to cover care for the school horses. The co-op welcomes the support of anyone who wants to help the preserve the art of equitation by educating future generations of riders.
Sharon and John Campbell, owners of Just E-Nuf Acres in Palm City, Florida, are also members of the co-op who are not only providing use of their farm for winter educational programs in Florida but also providing 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. This project isn’t a business or competition. I’ve watched Bettina ride around our farm and I realized riding in lightness and balance is a true art form and the horse is the canvas. We can’t lose this art. We need to come together and support it to keep it alive.”
Drummond’s success in mastering the lessons from Oliveira was recognized when she was awarded her license as a trainer by the Nuno Oliveira School of Equitation at the young age of 19. She is still the only American licensed to teach worldwide as a representative of Oliveira’s school. In honor of that achievement, Oliveira gave her the gift of his bridle from the 18th century, which he had received from his teacher Joaquim Gonzales de Miranda – the last Royal Master of the Horse to the King of Portugal. Oliveira’s school was based in Portugal and it is tradition in Latin cultures for one generation to gift knowledge to the next to ensure that a craft, such as riding, will survive into the next generation. The co-op of equestrians involved in the program wants to uphold that tradition.
Drummond herself gives much credit for her success as a rider and trainer to the fact that Oliveira gave her opportunities to ride the horses he had trained. Her years of teaching riders made her acutely aware that without a similar opportunity many riders will never achieve their full potential as riders. What many young riders lack, Drummond said, is not talent but access to trained horses that can give them the knowledge and understanding that can only come from feel. While many riders talk about lightness being the ultimate goal of riding but don’t really know what it is because they have never actually felt it, Drummond said. “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.”
Drummond’s first experience with lightness herself was as an observer. When she first started training with Oliveira as a child, she did not taking her studies with the riding master very seriously. Then one day as she watched his early morning rider there was an instant when he and the horse hit that moment of perfect, united balance just as they were silhouetted by the rising sun. “My head snapped up and in that instant I felt what they had achieved and knew I wanted to achieve that in my riding,” Drummond said.
Huskey had a similar experience the first time she had an opportunity to ride the school horses in the new program launched by Drummond. “I’ve ridden with many instructors but something always felt like it was missing. When I got on the school horses with Bettina, I felt what I was missing. I then knew how it was supposed to feel and I suddenly understood the goal of riding. Now I strive to get a tiny feeling of it in my riding every day. Once you have that feeling in your head and body it makes a huge difference in your riding. Even if you aren’t right in your body you have this understanding in your head of what you want to feel. Everyone noticed when I came home how much it changed things. I can’t even find words to express how valuable that experience was for me.”
Riders who never have the opportunity to feel real lightness, fail to understand for what they are striving. The result is that they rely on brute strength and party tricks in an effort to force horses to look the way they think lightness should look. “Since horses move through air what you really want is to learn to move through air with the horse,” Drummond said. “It’s about preparing and letting it happen. 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.
Oliveira is considered by many to have been one of the great riding masters in the 20th century partly because he had tremendous talent in the use of his seat in combination with the other aids. Drummond said it took her years of study with Oliveira to understand much of what he tried to teach her about the rider’s seat. “One time when I was riding with Mr. Oliveira he could see that I had finally understood something about the use of the seat and he made a comment about it,” Drummond said. “I told him that I couldn’t believe it had taken me 15 years to figure it out and he said, ‘Bettina, it took me 25 years to understand the seat.’ It really takes years of study to understand and learn how to use your seat in riding.”
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. “I started my study of riding on trained horses and that gave me the chance from the start to feel perfectly balanced horses. Even if I didn’t yet know how to create that balance in the horse, I knew what it felt like and I knew what the ideal end result was in the training,” Drummond said. As she advanced in her riding, Oliveira taught her to train and ride the highest movements in classical dressage – the airs above the ground. “That really taught me about holding my balance throughout the motion of the horse and it taught me that in riding, the seat is the key. You must develop control of the seat before you can advance and really ride.”
In order to understand use of the seat, Drummond says that one must also understand use of the back. One of Oliveira’s great gifts as a rider was that he had tremendous control of his back. “I remember once that I was working on the piaffe going backwards and Mr. Oliveira told me that I must use my back. I said that I was and he replied, ‘Well, then you must use your back better.’ That lesson in the backwards piaffe made me realize the important connection of back and seat.”
Access to Drummond’s trained horses is what Hyslop said has also improved her understanding of the seat as an aid. “Riding these horses taught me that it’s not just about back strength but also about the timing of your aids so that you aren’t launched off the horse’s back. If that happens, then your seat is no longer effective and when that happens, then you rely on your hands, which is wrong. When you sit on these horses provided by Bettina, you discover things, such as where you are not releasing when you should and where you are lifting when you should be descending. When I come back to Florida after riding those horses in Connecticut, I practice this every single day on four or five horses trying to replicate that feel. You can’t get this sort of riding experience from anybody else.”
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. “I have always heard about the importance of schoolmasters for teaching upper level movements and feel, but I have never had the chance to ride one until Bettina loaned me use of the Que Ba,” Kavey said. “This opportunity has allowed me to appreciate more fully the vast swathes of education I missed in training my own FEI-level horses. Between Bettina’s diligence and Que Ba’s patience with my mistakes, I have improved my seat and feel for all of the upper-level movements. There is nothing quite like riding your first piaffe-passage-piaffe transition on a horse who knows his business. I could not be more grateful for this opportunity. Simply having a horse like Ba to care for is an honor, but the opportunity to train with Bettina on him is an incredible thing. Most mornings, I still wake up not believing he’ll be in the barn.”
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. The concept of the program is that those riders and trainers who benefit from access to the schooled horses must then be willing to donate time to educating others. Hence, the riders participating in the August event are volunteering their time.
Drummond said the inaugural educational event has a focus on the double bridle because it is so misunderstood by riders. Huskey can attest to that saying that her experience as a competitor in the sport of dressage is that the “typical competition mindset is to drive the horse into the hand and then using the double bridle to restrict the front end. But this never felt right to me. Bettina showed me a different way.” That other way is to use the double bridle not to contain the energy from the back of the horse but use the control of the double bridle to finesse 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.
She said the double bridle must work in harmony with the other aids and it is an aid that really should not be used until riders fully understand their horses and can communicate with them through the other aids. “Horses will tell you when it is a moment that all things are possible or if you have reached a point where it is too much for them. You must be able to hear the horse and if it is too much a good trainer then asks, ‘so how can I help you get passed this?’ You don’t force the horse, which riders often do with strength and their techniques, such as incorrect use of the double bridle. So it is important for riders to learn these things, like use of the double bridle, with horses that can help them feel when things are possible and when things are not,” 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?”
Supporters of this new educational program say their goal is to help more riders learn how to bring out the life in a horse and in doing so, to bring out the life in themselves. Only in this way will the art of riding survive into the next generation and beyond. The opportunities of the program are open to any rider with a sincere desire and dedication to learn and those interested should contact Drummond at [email protected].