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Painting of Maestoso II Catrina ridden by Shana Ritter. Painting by Janey Belozer.

























Quotes of E.F. Seidler on "Training Difficult Horses"
With Commentary by Dr. Thomas Ritter
(previously published as an edition of Classical Quotes)


Here is the translation of the first chapter of E.F.Seidler's book on training difficult horses. It contains a number of very valuable tips for training horses as well as becoming a thinking rider.

E.F.Seidler, Die Dressur diffiziler Pferde, 1846.

Pp. 3-16:

The Training of Difficult Horses

I mentioned in the introduction to Part I that we have to view the horse as a living machine, and that the mechanism of this machine requires a correct posture in order to function according to our wishes.

Balance is the main pillar of the training of horses.

Difficult horses are those who make it difficult for the rider to achieve the necessary posture of the horse's body that is required for the correct balance, due to the incorrect conformation of individual body parts, whether their bones are too long or too short, or whether their muscles are too tight or too soft, and who require special attention with respect to the establishment of the balanced posture as well as the necessary adaptation of the aids. Under a practically experienced rider who takes their shortcomings and weaknesses into consideration, and who possesses the knowledge and skill to bring each body part into a posture that is appropriate for the overall conformation, and who furthermore adjusts his demands to the horse's strength, these horses become serviceable. Under a less experienced rider, however, who interferes thoughtlessly with the mechanism, they become nervous, anxious, stiff in their neck, hard in the hand, and finally vicious.

Training a horse with perfectly regular conformation already requires practical knowledge of horsemanship, in order to keep the rider's demands within the horse's natural performance limits. To train a difficult horse, very thorough practical, anatomical, and physiological knowledge is indispensable.

On a horse with regular conformation, the rider's increasing demands lead to a suppleness that spreads evenly through all limbs. If this suppling becomes difficult for the horse, and the rider lessens his demands, contentment spreads throughout the entire horse. A horse with regular conformation yields to the rider's fair demands without resistance, since the flexion of his limbs does not cause him any discomfort, and therefore does not give him any reason to resist. Nature has endowed this horse with a harmonious conformation, a regular mechanism, so that balance, bend, and self carriage come naturally for the horse and the rider's task often merely consists of acquainting the horse with and making him aware of his aids. This is the horse of whom we say in the equestrian terminology: "The stallion (a well conformed sire) has already trained him".

Things are different with a horse whose mechanism is not harmonious. Such a horse experiences the rider's aids not just as going unpleasantly against his natural shape, but very often as painful. That is why he seeks out various means of keeping these aids away from himself, or to evade them, or even to oppose them with force. With a poorly conformed horse the rider has to try to "flex stronger limbs with the help of weaker limbs, or to make limbs more supple that are connected more stiffly, without approaching weaker limbs too much. He furthermore has to find out which parts need to be worked in motion, which parts need to be worked at the halt, which parts have to be protected, and which parts can be exercised more".

It is always a mismatch of the horse's conformation and his muscling that makes a horse difficult. The rider who is training a difficult horse must therefore recognize precisely where, in which limb, the resistance originates; whether it is a connection between body parts that is too tight or too weak that causes it. He must think about how to make the horse serviceable with art conform work, in spite of his shortcomings. He has to try to make the work easier and possible for the horse through an appropriate frame. With horses of this type the rider cannot work the entire horse, as with well conformed ones. Instead, he will periodically have to pay more attention to the gymnasticization of poorly connected parts, in order to help them along with art, so that they catch up with the naturally better conformed ones as much as possible. It is therefore necessary for the training of a difficult horse that the rider is not only a fully trained practical horseman, but also a practical connoisseur, and a thinking rider who uses not just the reins and legs as the only aids, but his head as the main aid.

If some riders train well conformed horses (who always have a moderate temperament as well) with the usual succession of movements, they do not succeed equally with difficult horses, and some riders who consider themselves great masters of the art when they succeed in training these quiet horses to whom they limit themselves, have to realize that training difficult horses requires much more practical experience and diligent study of the horse's physical as well as mental attributes after all.

The art of training a well conformed horse is to the training of a difficult horse as ordinary riding, which you see so often in riders of older, trained school horses, is to riding young horses, who may be trained, but who are not finished yet. On such a finished arena horse who guesses the movement at the slightest hint of an aid, many people appear to be excellent riders. On a young horse, who may be trained, but who does not guess the movement right away, who still expects the appropriate posture and the necessary aids first, it often shows that they are not just much less accomplished, but even weak riders. Just as an old school horse enters all the movements willingly, a well conformed horse accepts the training willingly. And just as the posture and the aids must be applied with good timing and coordination before each gait on a young horse, a difficult horse requires an even more careful and tactful posture and aids.

Without experience in seeing the big picture, without identifying and correctly evaluating the well conformed body parts as well as the poorly conformed body parts, without being able to distinguish true strength from nervousness-induced strength, without the correct assessment of the horse's temperament and character, the trainer is groping in the dark. Only too often we hear inexperienced riders consider a horse strong, because he produces flashy movements at the beginning of his training, as a result of unnatural, cramped muscle tension, although he appears quite weak after half an hour, when the cramped tension subsides. Often a horse is considered spirited, fiery and excitable, whereas in reality it is merely fearful excitement that is caused by his weakness in response to the rider's increased demands. Later on we frequently see this fearful excitement turn into laziness and general sluggishness after the fear has been eradicated. Not infrequently, a truly strong horse is considered sluggish and lazy, although he is merely holding his strength back, because moving his tight muscles and tendons is tiresome for him. However, with suitable and incrementally increasing training demands and muscle strengthening exercises, the work becomes easier for him, he enjoys moving and develops a pleasant, willing temperament. Then you hear from inexperienced riders the statement: "It is strange how horses change their temperament. The hot horse has become lazy, the lazy one so nice and lively." This change in temperament was simply the consequence of appropriate training. The rider relieved the weak body part of the weak horse by shifting the excessive burden through an appropriate frame toward the part that was able to carry it without negative effect. The horse therefore had no reason to get anxious and to try to free himself of the load that often caused the weak body part pain. Consequently, calmness ensued. The apparent sluggishness of the strong horse was caused by tight, unexercised muscles for which movement was difficult. His joints have become more flexible, and his muscles are working more playfully and more easily through appropriate exercise and suitable movements. The horse no longer experiences the same difficulties, he appears more active and goes forward more joyfully.

We often find horses, especially those who have a stiff throat latch area and a stiff back, who shy frequently under the rider, even though they are otherwise good natured. They never shy when they are being hand walked. During their first ride outside they press against the rider's hand, trying to avert his aids from their poll and their tight back. They go along in this tension, their attention completely focused on the bit, as if absorbed in thought. As soon as they see something out of the ordinary, they leap sideways. As their training progresses they become completely calm, when all the stiffness is removed. They often show this calmness earlier, when you ride them towards these unknown objects with long reins. These horses are not afraid of the objects themselves, but of the unpleasantly tight frame, and they are only waiting for an opportunity to work against it. Then again, we find horses, usually with a weak back, who go forward with tense back muscles, leaning onto the bit with a low head carriage for a long time, but without shying at all during their first rides outside. They are so preoccupied with their lower jaw's resistance against the bit, in order to prevent a higher elevation that would be unpleasant for their back, that they are oblivious to everything else. Once they enter the period in which they perfect their elevation and yield their back completely, going under the rider in relaxation, they suddenly start to notice all the objects that they had been ignoring so far, and they start shying. These horses need to be taught to trust these unknown objects.

We see therefore how many different causes there are for shying, how differently the horses manifest them, some sooner, some later in the training, and how differently the rider has to act, in order to proceed appropriately.

I have come to the conclusion that the so-called "ground shyness" - suddenly leaping sideways - is not caused by the conformation of the horse's eye, but by back tension and stiffness in the throat latch area. It is usually long and weak backed horses who are ground shy. In general, spooky horses tend to shy most often on the side with the greater stiffness in the throat latch area. On the other side they spook much more rarely, often not at all.

A doctor is only able to heal an illness if he knows its cause and its main root. The trainer will only be able to treat and train a difficult horse correctly, if he finds out the cause of his resistance. He therefore has to use his common sense, instead of hoping to achieve a good result by mechanical actions, by strict interference with the horse's mechanics, or by completely letting the horse fall apart.

When we allow a green, young horse, who has no pent up energy, to go quietly in the posture of his own choosing, he shows himself to us either in a posture that is caused by his mechanics, or in a posture that he learned in a previous training experience, sometimes more correct, sometimes more sloppy.

Therefore, a horse with truly harmonious conformation, whose body has been shaped negligently by living in a pasture or unnaturally by the previous trainer's ignorance appears to have poor conformation to a person without practical knowledge. On the other hand, a horse who has truly poor conformation by nature, but who has assumed a correct posture by being stalled early and by receiving an appropriate introduction to the initial training stages looks like he has better conformation than the first horse, although in reality the opposite is the case.

This is why one often hears the statement: "The one horse hasn't turned out to be as good I had hoped by the looks of him," and: "The other horse has turned out much better than I would have thought."

The truly practically experienced horse connoisseur will find out the regularity or irregularity, regardless of how the horse presents himself, and he will know how to deal with it. The rider who lacks this knowledge should refrain from training difficult horses for the time being, because his actions will only have a negative impact with respect to the training progress as well as to the horse's legs. He resembles a surgeon who wants to operate without knowing the location of the muscles or blood vessels, who either hesitates and does not heal the wound out of self doubt, or who cuts willy-nilly and causes a peril that often cannot be overcome even by the best surgeon.

Acquiring truly valid, practical knowledge of horsemanship is not so easy. Some people think they are great connoisseurs after having heard several lectures by experienced veterinarians, and having read their textbooks. In spite of this, there will be many cases that show him his lack of knowledge in this art, in which you can never attain perfection.

Evaluating a horse correctly is the most important thing in training. It is the key for entering into the art of training horses. This is why you can never pay enough attention, you can never do enough research, because you not only have to judge the proper relationship of the limbs and the length of the bones correctly, but mainly the strength of the muscles that move the limbs. One has to be able to distinguish true strength from strength that is caused by the excitement of exuberance or other circumstances. This can only be acquired in practice. Theory must precede by way of an introduction, but practice has to lead toward perfection. Practical horsemanship alone, however, does not teach us this knowledge either, but it is a combination of practical riding and observation of various horses that are worked by others, because here we see the effect and success of appropriate or inappropriate postures and aids. The rider who climbs on his horse, works him, dismounts and leaves the arena without observing other horses that are being trained by other riders will never learn to judge and train a horse correctly.

Practical knowledge of horsemanship is acquired by closely studying many horses, especially flawed workhorses, trying to find the root cause and location of each irregular movement, and by visiting the race tracks and training tracks, the sales barns, horse markets, and diverse riding institutions where you can often see beautiful, flawless horses side by side with less beautiful, and even worn out horses. Those who have permission should also visit the military arenas and schools, because there you find horses of all ages, from four year old remounts to very old horses. You see young, strong horses as well as young weaklings, strong middle aged ones as well as horses who are flabby at this age, with beginning or fully developed blemishes, old horses who are very strong in spite of their frequently old age and outperform quite a few younger ones. These old horses should be watched especially carefully. They either have very harmonious conformation, or thoughtful training has given them an appropriate posture for their conformation so that the work did not harm them. In either case, they are of interest for the thinking rider.

It is not just pleasant, but necessary, that the budding horse connoisseur is supported in his observations by an experienced practitioner - whether he is a veterinarian, riding teacher, or cavalry officer - who points out the horse's flaws and strong points, based on his practical experiences, and corrects his judgments. Observing military cavalry troops has the advantage that the horses are not for sale, so that you can openly discuss their strengths and weaknesses, and the large number and diversity of horses and riders as well as their different training provide rich observation material. A major factor in the correct education is that the experienced horse connoisseur voices his opinions impartially to the student, and neither holds them back nor lies about them for political reasons, such as selling the flashy step of a weak horse who is moving with tense muscles as strength and shoulder freedom, selling the weakness of the haunches as flexibility, etc., which misguides the future horse connoisseur. One should therefore not ask the mentor for instruction using his own horses or the horses of his friends as examples. Horse ownership and horse sales hold such an attraction that the friend will not give his best friend an honest answer. He will mostly only say the best things about his horses. If someone who knows little about horses wants to buy a horse from a friend who knows more, and if this horse has any flaws, the friend will say as an honest man: "This is not the right horse for you," but he will not reveal the true reason.

In evaluating horses who are intended for riding the opinion of a practically experienced rider and horse connoisseur is usually more reliable than that of a practical veterinarian who is not a rider, for the following reason: Many riders study equine anatomy in addition to equestrian art. They observe the relationship of the limbs to each other closely as a result of practical training, and they recognize with greater precision from experience the conformation features that are more suitable for riding as well as those that are less suitable. By contrast, there are only few veterinarians who are advanced enough as riders to pay the necessary attention to subtle deviations from the regular conformation, which present many obstacles to the training although they appear to be only of minor consequence.

Therefore, the simultaneous evaluations by a practical rider and a veterinarian of a horse that is intended for riding do not always agree. The rider judges the harmony of the conformation in addition to the localized quality of the limbs, whereas the veterinarian judges the localized quality of the limbs more. We often see that a horse that comes highly recommended by a veterinarian presents many training difficulties, whereas a horse that the veterinarian judged as inferior becomes very obedient. This could not be any other way, unless the veterinarian is also a practical rider.

Horse knowledge would expand considerably if veterinary students received high quality, practical lessons in horse training, and equestrian art will always improve the more the rider studies equine anatomy.

In order to acquire a standard for judging the horse's greater or lesser conformational suitability for riding, the future horse connoisseur has to look closely above all at those horses who present themselves under the rider in all gaits in a decent posture and in a regular, calm movement. This posture, movement, and calmness are usually based on a harmonious conformation. (Anxiety is always provoked by disharmony in the conformation or by counterproductive aids by the rider).

In these horses one should observe closely the head, especially the throat latch, the poll, the neck; then the legs that move the animal machine, viz. the scapula, its position, its length, the upper arm and forearm of the front leg, the cannon bone, etc.; then the back, its length, its depth, etc., the hip bone, its direction and length, the femur, the gaskin, the cannon bone, etc. (Later more about the relationship of these parts to each other). One has to commit these things to memory and compare them to the movement and posture of other horses. Then one has to try to identify their differences in terms of their conformation and gaits, and observe whether horses with the same conformation show the same movement and behavior. If there are differences, one has to find their cause. One furthermore has to observe those postures that induce anxiety in horses with good conformation, as well as those postures in which poorly conformed horses move calmly and with regularity. This way the student of horsemanship will form a plan over time, according to which he is able to treat horses with different conformation differently, according to their conformation.

Every horse has one particular head and neck position that is comfortable for his conformation type, and in which he is content and trots calmly. It has to be the main rule for the horse's training to find this particular posture first with every horse, regardless of how low the head position may be initially, and to begin the training from this starting point. The posture is gradually improved and confirmed. If increasing the demands leads to undue nervousness the horse is allowed to return to his content posture, and from there the demands are renewed again. This way we get a little closer to perfection every day, and we always keep our horse content.

As a training tool for practical horsemanship and horse training, a thoughtful sales business tops the list. A cavalry officer who has the means and the opportunity to change his trained horses, after having used them for a while, should do that, even if he does so at first without benefiting very much from it. The benefit will come later, on the one hand from obtaining higher prices for trained horses than what he spent on green horses, and on the other hand from enlarging his knowledge of horsemanship and training. Both are inevitable. For if buying and selling horses is not to backfire, it is necessary before the purchase to check very carefully the horse's conformation, his strength, his temperament, his flaws and strong points. One starts to think: How can a weak limb be protected? How can an anxious temperament be calmed? How does the horse need to be treated in order to have him calm and trained as soon as possible? How much work does the horse need in order to stay healthy and in good weight? Which frame, which posture is the most beautiful for the horse and at the same time the most comfortable one for his conformation and temperament? Which movement is the most powerful, the most beautiful one, that needs to be shown off for his benefit? Which movement is the most unpleasant, the weakest, least attractive one, that one must show the least to a potential buyer? (E.g. the conformation and movement of a strong horse can be emphasized considerably with a few strides of lateral movements. On weak horses, however, the lateral movements will only underscore their fragility). These considerations will produce horse knowledge as well as a thoughtful training, and income from horse sales. The horse lover and amateur rider will strive to gather his own experiences, because every thoughtless action is paid out of his own wallet.

The riding teacher and experienced horse connoisseur can instruct the younger student only in the cases in front of them, but he can never train him completely, because it is impossible to cover every single case. Each horse is different from the next one in terms of his qualities. After having received instruction, the riding amateur and horse lover must continue his education by his own observations. The horse himself becomes the teacher for the attentive rider, in training as well as in horsemanship.

It would not be difficult to perfect one's horsemanship, if one merely had to deal with the mechanics of the skeleton. However, it is not just the harmony, the proper length of the bones vis--vis each other, but the muscle strength (the muscles' tone and ability to stretch) requires special consideration. We often find irregular movements in a horse with harmonious conformation, because the muscles of individual limbs are weak. In other horses, whose conformation shows some irregularities, that would lead us to predict irregular movements, we find regular movements due to his muscle strength.

It is only by practical exercise that one can learn to recognize and evaluate these things correctly. Bone length and their relationships to each other can be explained with drawings, but muscle strength is something that needs to be experienced firsthand, not just seen, but felt by the rider.

The horse's stamina is based mainly on his muscle strength, but his dexterity, the smoothness of his gaits, his posture in tight turns, are based more on the harmonious design of his conformation. If the muscle strength is the same in a horse with good conformation and one with poor conformation, the one with good conformation will always possess greater stamina, since it requires much less strength to move a balanced object than an imbalanced one.





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