Dressage N.Z Seminar with Mr Michael Putz

Vanessa shares with us what she learnt with her time with Michael Putz

Phew! Thank goodness I wasn’t a guinea pig on this seminar,” was my first thought on Saturday morning as the riders presented themselves under the scrutiny of this eagle-eyed trainer. If your hand moved point five of a centimeter, he saw it. Not to mention the accidental one too many nudges of the leg or the slight lowering of the left hand! Well they say that eventers are brave, but to put your self in front of this classical perfectionist (and one hundred odd equine enthusiasts) was a feat challenging enough for only the bravest of the brave! That was, indeed, our excellent group of guinea pig riders. Of course, Mr. Putz did say (in one of his softer moments) that any mistakes that had been demonstrated throughout the clinic had of course been performed on request, solely for the benefit of training the observers. Regardless, they were dedicated and undaunted performers for a brilliant ringmaster.

Now for those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Putz’s training method, he adheres strictly to the training system that is outlined in the Official Institution Handbooks of the German National Equestrian Federation. The set includes “The Principles of Riding”, “Advanced Techniques of Dressage”, “Horse Management”, “Driving”, “Lunging” and “Working the Horse in Hand”.

I should explain that I am neither particularly literate nor the world’s best dressage rider, but I am a very enthusiastic equine lover. After suffering severe cramp in my right hand from scribbling copious pages of notes, it seemed only fair to share the secrets(obtained from this highly successful seminar) of a true stickler to a system that really works.

On our arrival at the seminar we were all given a photocopy outlining the basics of the training covering relaxation, rhythm, regularity, suppleness, contact, impulsion, swing, straightening, and, last but not least, collection. It was explained continuously throughout the course that each step must not be compromised in order to achieve the next. For Example, if your horse were not straight, you could not get collection. Similarly, you could not collect if you had no impulsion. And throughout the seminar straightness and impulsion were continually stressed.

The riders began by warming the horses up, getting the horses active but round and soft over the back in a stretch. The riders’ hands were always made to be forward with an elastic contact following the bit. Mr. Putz emphasized that the stretching was only successful if you still had an elastic contact with the bit, and the horse’s nose must not go below the point of shoulder or behind the vertical. Even in the walk the horse had to be over the back and active, and the riders all spent time in the walk improving the activity and contact. I was interested to hear Mr. Putz comment on the need to train the walk, as we do the other gaits. It reminded me, of being told the same thing while being a guinea pig for Mary Siefred. Interesting!!

In the warm up phase Mr. Putz, studied the riders’ positions and application of the aids, fanatic that the hands stayed forward and even {as it was noted that the majority of riders carried their left hand lower than the right} and that the hands never acted in a backwards motion. The hands had to follow the contact. If the horses head went up the hand followed. Similarly, if the horses’ heads went down the hands also followed. This demonstrated the principle that you must ride your horse towards the bit. Aids that act in a backwards motion or action are always incorrect!

The seat had to be in the center with the riders’ weight directed over their feet, absorbing the movement of the horse through the pelvis. Mr. Putz was very quick to emphasize the importance of sitting in a more forward position. He explained the principle of weight aids, that if you sit forward the horse will follow your weight forward, thus needing less leg. Conversely, if you sit collapsed or behind the movement, you actually drill into the horse’s back and leave the horse no option but to hold and block (immobilize) their backs in a defensive motion.

If you want to collect the horse (achieve more engagement) you should ride the horse forward towards your hand, and should lighten your seat (as if growing taller) to allow the horses back to round underneath you. In principle it sounds almost easy, but when various riders were asked to perform the trot –to-halt transitions it was obvious how much we tend, without realizing it, to lean our weight back in the halt transition. Even the slightest inclination to lean back in the transition was quickly corrected, with Mr. Putz stressing the importance of riding the hind legs forward into the transition. This led to the realization of the connection between your seat, legs and hands. If your seat is behind the movement (back) your hands are also back, therefore acting in a backwards motion.

Now I know that you’re thinking that this desired position is only for the talented, but Mr. Putz gave all of us hope with the realization that we’re all built differently, but with correct repetition and desire to achieve, we can all improve and become effective. As stated by Jon Ackland in his book “Personal Best”, “ Repetition is the mother of skill, and skill creates the master.” Unfortunately for our equine friends the secret was out, as Mr. Putz worked the horses with unrelenting activity.

“Make your horse work,” said the ringmaster, “he has 23 hours to rest.” So, it was here that the transitions were made active, walk to trot, trot to walk, or trot to canter, canter to trot. The first stride of the new gait had to be of the same activity and quality as the following strides. Sounds easy! Not under the scrutiny of our eagle-eyed trainer. “You have to ride your first canter stride as if your horse is jumping a fence” And for the downward transitions: “Don’t just sit there and hope – ride the hind legs in the transition.”

Now I am afraid for our riders the perfectionist was just starting to scratch the surface, for any movement or exercise performed had to be ridden precisely and correctly. While going straight down the long side the horses had to be ridden perfectly straight. Straightness should always be achieved by aligning the forehand with the hindquarters, not the hindquarters with the forehand. The riders inside leg was to stay at the girth, the weight on the inside seat bone, with the outside leg slightly behind the girth to control the hindquarters.

Every movement was prepared and ridden with detailed attention to the application of half halts. Shoulder fore, riding in position and shoulder in, were all ridden in from the track or down the centerline. This was the true test of whether the exercise was executed correctly. A common fault within the ‘shoulder-in’ was the riders’ using the inside reign too strongly, which blocked the action of the inside hind leg and prevented the horse from moving forward and sideways. The other common fault was the riders’ angle being too great, with no bend (like a straight leg yield). This was corrected by the riders’ increasing the bend, and riding the hind legs straight, while the outside leg prevented the hindquarters escaping. As per Mr. Putz’ most repeated phase throughout the course, “Ride your horse forward and position it straight.”

The riders were encouraged not to ride their horses to the extent that they became tired and fell onto the forehand. Therefore, horses were given periods of walk to refresh, but while in the walk phase riders were encouraged to follow the horses’ contact with an elastic hand and maintain activity. As for the improvement of the more advanced horses, this became apparent in the quality of the collected canter through to the straight expressive changes that followed. The riders were instructed to ride actively forward and straight, encouraging the hind legs to come under the body. “Collection has nothing to do with a slow tempo.” The flying changes were ridden from collected canter to medium to collected, then forward into the change. And here we got to see some huge improvement to the changes.

Overall, the improvement in the different combinations throughout the grades was impressive and rewarding to watch. I would personally like to thank Dressage New Zealand and those who organized this seminar for giving all that attended the opportunity to participate and improve their knowledge of dressage. Also, to the riders, I thank you and congratulate you on your performances. The only complaint I have is with the caterers who dished up such an incredible feast on the Sunday that I still felt the after-effects while working my horses on Monday. In regard to Mr. Putz, I apologize if I have incorrectly reiterated any of your principles.

Furthermore, I promise to correctly apply all my aids as much as humanly possible. I have been told that it takes the brain one hundred thousand times of repetition to correct an already formed bad habit and turn it into a natural response. If this is true it may take some time to perfect my performance. However, I hope that you may give me a little leeway. Rest assured that I would do my utmost to follow your techniques. I will ride my horses to the best of my ability adhering to a proven system that will only enhance our performance and understanding of each other.

I leave you all with this final footnote. Riders are often heard to say, “If only I could get it!” However, the development of a horse is a progression. It never stops. Understanding this can prevent a lot of frustration. Remember, do not keep waiting to arrive – first you have got to enjoy the trip!


Want to read more of Vanessa’s articles? Check these out

Canter Walk Transitions

Improving your centre lines and halts

Aslo take a look at her online program where she shares all her tips ‘Master Your Dressage Movements’

More articles

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