With a foreword by Walter Zettl and encounters with great riders and riding instructors like Egon von Neindorff, Susan Terrall, and seat guru Erik Herbermann (author of Dressage Formula), this book is not only Lynne Echols’ personal narrative, but also a window into the world of elite equitation.
Read on for excerpts from A Good Seat by Lynne Echols, available for order now…
From Chapter Five – Sunday, March 1st
There were more students than usual for today’s lessons, a total of eight, and then two more people showed up to ride independently at the same time (one was the new Bereiterin). A couple of the students requested the quieter horses since they are coming back after eine lange Pause. Nevertheless, Herr von Neindorff offered me Pamina and gave Meredith Galant. She doesn’t appear to have the problem with his saddle that I have, although why not is a mystery to me. Her hips are far narrower than mine. Maybe it is the angle of the rise, after all.
Anyway, the lesson was uneventful insofar as spooks and bucking are concerned, at least with Pamina. One young man appeared in the last few days; his last name, we learned, is Herr Ochs. We don’t know his first name yet. Meredith and I call him “Mercutio,” because he has a goatee and a ponytail, and cuts a lithe figure in riding breeches and boots. For some reason, this reminds us both of the Shakespearean character in “Romeo and Juliet.” He was riding a Thoroughbred-type brown horse who got quite upset from time to time, vigorously backfiring both hind feet skyward and jolting Mercutio out of the tack. I thought he was going to come off since he was clinging to the horse’s neck, but he managed to dodge that bullet.
His horse’s antics, however, provoked three others at the same end of the ring into similar behavior. I thanked my lucky stars that I was at the opposite end at the time. Pamina looked up, startled, and I quickly turned her into a tight volte and kept her there until the ruckus was over.
Another lesson was scheduled for 11 a.m., with three of the 10 a.m. riders continuing with different horses, so the 10 a.m. lesson ended promptly with Herr von Neindorff excusing those riders first so that they could hurry up and return with their second horses. Meredith and I, however, were booked for a lesson with Angie, which she said would begin once the big school was free again. I used the interval to clean Pamina’s bridle more thoroughly than usual, using one of the new sponges we had bought and the little Swiss Army knife I had remembered to stick in my pocket.
Angie had assigned me Thais and Meredith Odin for our lessons with her. We got them ready about 12:30. Thais was a bit on his toes, so Angie dealt with that by riding him for a while–and gosh, is she ever inspiring to watch because nothing moves—and then put me on the longe for about 20 minutes.
I mined another valuable nugget of information relating to the position and use of my lower leg. Frau Öhlert’s instruction had led me to believe that I need to have my leg clearly “on” the horse’s ribcage so that I can feel it sway back and forth as the horse walks. Angie, on the other hand, tells me that if I can feel the horse’s hair—admittedly a bit longer at this time of year than at other times—ruffling as the horse’s ribcage sways, that constitutes too much leg pressure.
So I lightened the pressure until I could just barely feel Thais’ barrel. That felt much more comfortable for me, and I discovered that when I apply an intentional calf aid from that position, I got a better result. Thais moved off more promptly. I guess this is another case of “Do more nothing!”
We rode rising trot, then sitting, until I “found the center” where I could just let my hips move with the horse but not grip at all with the leg. Angie told me to think about turning my toes in at each moment when the horse has a diagonal pair on the ground. I imagined pointing my toes more towards his shoulders as I turned my whole leg in from the hip. This can also be thought of as pushing the heels out or giving the aid with the shinbone. It is this action, Angie says, that makes for a truly quiet leg that does not wiggle or swing.
We spent a short amount of time with the stirrups, and then Angie told me to cross them and we continued without them. Keeping the toes up and in without stirrups was more taxing, but after a bit, I was able to free myself from the tension in the inner thigh and calf and found that my leg did drape itself more easily around Thais’ roundness. At the same time, I kept having to remind myself about stretching up and keeping the shoulders back and down. It’s almost as though my brain is located at waist level and can manage to control responses either up or down from there, but not both.
Towards the end of the period she was telling me, “Yes, good, that’s it,” with increasing frequency. Then she removed the longe line, shortened the side-reins a couple of holes, lengthened the stirrups one hole and gave them back to me, and sent me off around the track at the sitting trot.
Good grief! What happened to my legs? All of a sudden, with the stirrups, they felt like they were made of gelatin. Yet Angie, who had one eye on me and one on Meredith aboard Odin, said, “Yes, Lynne, like that!” so I kept on going.
Thais was exceptionally soft in the mouth, and, with the aid of the side-reins, carried his own head most of the time. From time to time he got heavy on one rein or the other, so I followed Herr von Neindorff’s oft-repeated mantra, “Treiben, aufnehmen, leichter werden” by closing my calf softly on the same side to generate more energy, receiving it into my closed fist, and then relaxing my fist….
Bereiterin — Bereiter is a generalist job title and the “entry-level” certification for all professional horsemen/women in Germany. The -in suffix denotes a female.
Eine lange Pause — a long break
Treiben, aufnehmen, leichter werden — Drive, receive, become lighter (again)
From Chapter 12, The Eleventh Week – Sunday, April 14
A good lesson this morning with my Privatpferd Odin.
“Und wir? Wie immer?” asked Herr von Neindorff. He told me knew that Odin had no shoes in the front but said he could be used anyway, as the footing is soft. One of the staff came in to let me know she had removed the right front shoe so Odin would at least be even in front.
I attached the Ausbinder so that Odin could put his nose about 10 degrees forward of the vertical. That way I would know, if and when he finally tucked his nose in, it would be as a result of my effective riding and not the constraint of the side-reins. The first part of the ride really stank. Odin was stiff and unyielding even with the use of the techniques I learned Saturday under Angie’s tutelage. In the lösende Arbeit, he took little, tiny steps. Was it the fact that he was suddenly barefoot? He took quite a while to either loosen up or get used to the fact that he was now shoeless in front. By the time Herr von Neindorff directed us to come back to walk and begin the kleine Arbeit, we still hadn’t achieved that nice forward movement that I had Saturday.
I was singularly unsuccessful at getting Odin to yield in the jaw during any part of this phase of the session. I tried everything: circle decrease, voltes, reinbacks, turns on the hindquarters, shoulder-fore. He was still against me. Eventually der Chef gave us permission to go into Gangart beliebig with the theme of better connecting the hind leg to the hand.
Well, shoot. I hadn’t gotten that far yet! I used the time to send Odin forward again, just letting him trot on energetically. I employed Saturday’s technique to balance him through the corners and keep him from getting quick on the long sides, and after about 10 more minutes of this, he finally stepped into my hand. Then I felt even more success at keeping him balanced than on Saturday, so that he stayed in my hand through several circuits of the arena. Occasionally, for one step or at the most two steps, he came above the bit but I was able to rebalance the energy much more quickly.
I noticed that Meredith and I were the only ones still trotting (she was on Monteaura today) as the hour drew to a close. Everyone else was walking, but Herr von Neindorff hadn’t said to come to walk yet so I kept going. Odin was really clocking along now, and I looked and saw that the side-reins had slack in them, but he was even into both reins and not even grinding his teeth! Hallelujah!
Then Herr von Neindorff talked for a while. When I realized he was not giving a Kommando, I halfway turned out so that I could concentrate on what Odin was telling me, but a few words registered anyway and I realized that he was complimenting the whole class. Our horses were all durchlässig and showing a good, regular tempo, he said, which was evidence that we had all learned much from them today and that our Reiterei, that is to say, our Verständnis of what the horses need at any given moment has improved, and we were able to give them what they need through the orchestra of the aids. He said he was ganz zufrieden with the class today.
Wow! He must have had a pleasant weekend. I don’t think I’ve heard him do a group compliment like that before.
We were then told to allow the horses vorwärts/abwärts at the trot, and we changed rein and did this in both directions. Then it was Zügel lang und loben! followed by taking up the reins again for the line-up on the center line (with a nice, square, halt please!), then Zűgel aus der Hand kauen lassen und einrücken….
“Und wir? Wie immer?”— And we? Like always? (This phrase is used by waiters to ask if someone wants their usual order.)
Ausbinder — Side-reins
Lösende Arbeit — Literally, “loosening work;” the first part of the warm-up, designed to increase blood flow to the large muscle groups.
Kleine Arbeit — Literally, “little work;” painstaking, detailed work. In riding, exercises designed to connect the horse’s hind legs to the rider’s hands through the application of rein, leg and weight aids.
Gangart beliebig — Choose your own gait and route in group riding
Kommando — Verbal command given by the instructor to the student
Durchlässig — Relaxation combined with a soft, swinging back, regular rhythm, and acceptance of the bit.
Reiterei — Encompasses the whole of one’s riding skill, style, knowledge and abilities with regard to riding
Verständnis — Understanding, comprehension
Ganz zufrieden — Fully satisfied
Zugel aus der Hand kauen lassen und einrücken — To let the horse chew the reins out of the hand (as the rein lengthens, the horse’s jaw mobilizes), and dismount