Chat Transcript: Jane Savoie

EquiSearch readers chat with top dressage coach Jane Savoie. Sponsored by Tropical Rider.
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EquiSearch readers chat with top dressage coach Jane Savoie. Sponsored by Tropical Rider.

EquiStaff -- Welcome to tonight's chat with Jane Savoie, sponsored by Tropical Rider. Jane Savoie is one of the most prominent professionals in dressage. Her impact has been in and out of the tack. She has ridden on the U.S. Equestrian Team and competed internationally in Canada, Holland, Belgium, France, Germany, and Spain. In addition, Jane has authored several books and videos, including That Winning Feeling, Cross-Training Your Horse and Riding in Your Mind's Eye.

JESUSRIDER -- Hi Jane!

jumpercash -- Welcome Jane!

mulridr3M -- Hello

EquiStaff -- Welcome and thank you for joining us tonight, Jane.

jaime -- Hi Jane

Josie -- May I begin with a question?

EquiStaff -- Certainly, Josie. Welcome, rzech. We're just getting started.

JaneSavoie -- Hello, everyone! Feel free to ask whatever you want.

Josie -- Jane, I am wondering about getting a horse on the bit. I often have seen trainers rather aggressively "loosen" a horse's mouth to teach them to accept and understand their hands. This involves a give and take that in only a few sessions has the horse using himself correctly. I know that this is better left to professionals, but is this a good way to go about it?

JaneSavoie -- Josie, it's never correct to ride a horse from front to back. You can put a horse "in position" on the bit by hand riding, but the horse is never truly connected from back to front.

Josie -- In most cases, the trainer has the horse forward.

JaneSavoie -- There is an aid to put the horse on the bit--just like there's an aid to ask the horse to canter or go sideways. This aid is called a half-halt. There are many versions of a half-halt. As a teaching label, the half-halt that puts the horse on the bit is the "connecting half-halt." Every half-halt combines all your aids--legs, seat, reins. It's the way you combine those aids that makes different versions of the half-halt create different movements in the horse. Most people are familiar with a collecting half-halt. That's a momentary closure of seat, leg and hand--that lasts one second. That half-halt collects the horse--sending the center of gravity to the hind legs. However, before you can collect the horse, you first need to connect him--put him on the bit. That half-halt is slightly different--it lasts about 3 seconds. During the 3 seconds, you close both legs as if you're asking for a lengthening of stride. Just as you feel the horse begin to surge into lengthening, close your outside hand in a fist for 3 seconds.

JaneSavoie -- That combination of aids--closing your legs and fist--is the heart of the collecting half-halt. However, if you keep your outside hand closed for 3 seconds, chances are your horse will bend his head to the outside--therefore he's not straight. To keep him straight during the aids, squeeze and release or vibrate the inside rein. You never vibrate or squeeze and release with both reins and never close both hands steadily in fists. The outside hand is in a fist--the inside hand gives and takes--like patting your head and rubbing your stomach.

JaneSavoie -- The most important thing is to feel the surge from the hind legs BEFORE you do anything with your hands. Teach your horse this connecting half-halt the way you would any new movement.

Josie -- Thanks! That explanation makes much more sense. At least now I understand the mechanics--the how's and why's of it!

JaneSavoie -- Josie, If you want more info and photographs about that--I have 2 tapes out that would help. The Half-Halt Demystified and my second cross training book--More Cross Training. The half-halt is explained in those much more in depth than I can in a chat.

JESUSRIDER -- Jane, I have trouble sometimes getting my lesson horse on the bit and working from her hindquarters. I can do this easily on my own horses; any exercises I can do to help her soften and work from her hindquarters?

JaneSavoie -- Jesusrider, about your lesson horse question: Your lesson horse is probably stiffer than your own horses. If the horse is too stiff to accept this connecting half-halt, there's a preliminary exercise you can do called "suppling." It's described in depth in the first cross training book, chapter 11. . The second cross training book has lots of details about the half-halt. It's in one of the first chapters called "The professional's secret."

jumpercash -- Jane, I have a 13-year-old Quarter Horse who has a dreadful ewe neck. It is very hard to get him on the bit with a nice headset. Are draw reins a useful tool in this case?

JaneSavoie -- Jumpercash, once you have the half-halt I just described in your training, you'll find you won't need gadgets like draw reins. Basically, draw reins shape the front end of the horse--when what you really want to do is ride the whole horse from back to front.

jaime -- Dear Jane, my horse doesn't close his lips entirely when I ride dressage. How big of an issue is this? Should I solve this before progressing with Second Level?

jaime -- Jane, I also wanted to say that I learned a lot from a demonstration you did here in Minneapolis, at the Horse Expo this year. Thank you.

JaneSavoie -- Jaime--does your horse not close his lips? Or his mouth?

jaime -- His mouth is closed, but the lips are parted.

JaneSavoie -- Jaime, not a problem. There's no deduction for that. When the mouth is open, that shows non-acceptance. That's not OK, but the lips are fine.

jaime -- Thank you, someone once commented that he doesn't seem to chew the bit, that his jaw seems tense. I wondered if that was related to the lips.

JaneSavoie -- Jaime, it could be. I'd need to see the horse to tell for sure. It could be more of an issue if it is related to tenseness in the jaw.

Cowgirl -- Hi Jane. I'm just beginning dressage with my Thoroughbred gelding and I am having some problems with keeping my horse round and on the bit. Do you have any advice for me?

JaneSavoie -- Cowgirl, make sure to read the transcripts. I think what I answered for Jaime will help you, too.

JESUSRIDER -- Jane, are you doing any clinics next year in OK? Do you have a webpage with your clinic dates, etc. on it?

JaneSavoie -- Jesusrider, yes, it's www.janesavoie.com. I have a calendar there and it's constantly changing. I travel a lot.

EquiStaff -- Jane, we had an email from Liz, who couldn't make it tonight. She asks: "I've recently started working with a horse that is about 10 years old, and we think he has not been totally broken. He's very sensitive to the leg and hand, and understands longeing, but is nervous around people sometimes. He also understands neck-reining, which leads my trainer and me to think he has some background with Western riding. How would you start training him for dressage and/or possibly eventing?

JaneSavoie -- Liz, I'm assuming you mean the horse is nervous when he's being ridden, and calm during ground work. The best way to help a horse relax is to work the horse sub-power--with less power than you will eventually. That will take some of the tension from the horse. The next thing that will build confidence is to be clear and consistent with your aids. One aid means only one thing. When you want to do something else, you have a completely different aid--so the horse doesn't have to play multiple choice.

help -- Jane, I wanted to tell you I read Psycho-Cybernetics before reading your book. I was so psyched to find it in there. I also have your tape, too, which I just sent in the mail to another friend of mine.

JaneSavoie -- Help, thank you! I totally appreciate it!

jumpercash -- Thanks, Jane. I was also wondering if you can tell me a good way to teach a young horse lengthening and collecting?

JaneSavoie -- Jumpercash, lengthenings develop out of working gaits. Extensions develop out of collection. When there's enough energy and power in a working trot, you should be able to ask the horse to cover more ground with each stride simply by closing your calves. If you don't have enough power in the working trot, you can't create the lengthening out of thin air. If you have power in the trot and you ask the horse to lengthen his strides, and he loses his balance and breaks into a canter, or gets irregular in his rhythm, you need to--in the beginning--support the horse's balance a little more by taking more weight in your hands.

JESUSRIDER -- Jane, at what age would you recommend starting to ride young horses?

JaneSavoie -- Jesusrider, start them at 3. We usually start them in the fall, give them the winter off, then start them back up again when they're 3 ??.

JESUSRIDER -- Thanks! How should one go about teaching turns on the haunches, and are they important for somebody who is only wanting to go up to say, First Level?

Josie -- Does that age thing (3 to 3-1/2) apply to Thoroughbreds and warmbloods equally? I've noticed that warmbloods seem to mature much slower--at least they seem to mentally.

JaneSavoie -- Josie, I still start different breeds at the same age, but because they mature more slowly than a Thoroughbred, I allow them to strengthen over a longer period of time. The training goes more slowly because they need the time to develop.

Cowgirl -- I have my first show in a couple of weeks. Do you have any tips to help make my first dressage show a great experience?

JaneSavoie -- Cowgirl, preparation. Do some dress rehearsals at home. Braid your horse. Wear your show clothes. Have a pretend judge sitting in the booth. Your dress rehearsal at home will allow you to be more relaxed when you get to the show. Also, set achievable goals for yourself. Maybe your goal will be your horse will pay attention to you throughout the ride. Even if you make some minor mistakes, if your horse stays attentive, you'll have a successful outing. The score and the placing in the class are beside the point.

help -- Studying the horse game mentally has really, really improved me. I recently met with Dr. Janette Edgette, who writes for Practical Horseman, which was extremely personalized and helpful. Any other suggestions on books to read or tips on improving mentally??

Josie -- Help, I've heard great things about Dr. Edgette. I have a talented friend who is definitely benefiting from her attention to psychological aspects of riding.

help -- I have a great friend who referred me to her.

jumpercash -- Jane, thank you very much. Hopefully I'll be able to use some of this in my training. Goodbye!

EquiStaff -- Jane, any suggestions for mental improvement for competition?

JaneSavoie -- Help, I'd suggest looking outside the horse books because there are so few of them. For a lot of riders, fear is a big issue. Susan Jeffers' Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway is a great start. There are tons of great books--check out the psychology section of a bookstore and find some topics that seem appropriate. Janet is a good friend of mine, by the way. Check out her book.

EquiStaff -- Thank you for joining us, jumpercash. Check the website soon for the transcript of the remainder of the chat.

Josie -- Mentally, I know I struggle more with fear of failure than fear of riding perils!

help -- Jane, of course all the hard work, timing, commitment, talent, horses, etc. have brought you to your success. Any small details or knowledge that you really think helped pave the way?

MARTLOCK -- Jane, what is your preferred method for schooling for a flying lead change?

JaneSavoie -- Martlock, the first exercise I try for a flying lead change is to practice a 10-meter figure 8 with a simple change of lead in between the 2 circles. You would canter a 10-meter circle to the left, walk 3 strides, then canter to the right. Do this several times.

JaneSavoie -- When your horse anticipates the lead change, ask for the flying change instead of the simple change. That's the first exercise to try. There are other methods in my second cross training book.

help -- I originally went to Dr. Edgette for fear of the pony club A test.

JaneSavoie -- Help, understanding that mental training was more important that physical training helped me most. My training is 90 percent mental, 10 percent physical. Most people do it the other way around.

JESUSRIDER -- Jane, at what age should showing be introduced?

JaneSavoie -- Jesusrider, you can take a 4-year-old to his first show to get him exposed to atmosphere.

JaneSavoie -- Check out some schooling dressage shows--or some local shows. The point is to expose the horse and give him a good experience.

help -- Do you train your horses mentally as well? If you know what I mean.

Cowgirl -- I keep my horse at home and was wondering what would be a good way to create a mock dressage arena. I have a lot of room so size isn't a problem

JaneSavoie -- Cowgirl, if you have some poles, you can mark off a perimeter of 20 x 60 meters and space the poles (you don't need a totally enclosed space). What I used to do was get small plastic waste baskets, fill them with sand, and use electrician's tape to put letters on them.

Cowgirl -- Thanks, Jane, that's a good idea.

Josie -- Jane, do you enjoy activities other than riding/horses? Do you feel as though these aspects of your life help or hinder your riding/training? In light of the discussion on mental health, I am curious about it in general! My fear of riding is that it can be so consuming.

jaime -- I am off to ride my horse. Thank you Jane, for your time and thoughtful responses, you inspire me.

MARTLOCK -- Thanks! That is the exercise I usually try first. I have a lesson horse that is resisting and anticipating by running off when cued for the lead change. I'll definitely be hinting to get your books for Christmas!

EquiStaff -- Thank you for joining us, jaime. Remember to visit http://www.equisearch.com for the transcript.

jaime -- Thank you, Equisearch, great website! I will visit more often!

MARTLOCK -- I've tried several methods, but I would like to read about your suggestions, too.

JaneSavoie -- Help, absolutely! The horses' mental state and confidence is just as important as what I do with their bodies physically.

jaime -- Thank you, Tropical Rider, I have your breeches on right now, they are the best!

JaneSavoie -- I always try to make each horse feel like he's a champion and he can do anything.

EquiStaff -- Jane, would you comment on Josie's question regarding your other activities?

JaneSavoie -- I love to travel, go to new restaurants. I really strive to have balance in my life. It only helps my riding.

JaneSavoie -- Josie, that's an excellent point. Balance is a huge priority in riding. Balance is equally important in your life. Your riding is simply a microcosm of your life. I have a husband, an active social life, I fish.

Josie -- You give me hope! You feel as though it is possible to achieve a high level of riding while having a life!

Cowgirl -- Thank you, Jane! Thank you Equisearch, I love your website.

Cowgirl -- Bye

JaneSavoie -- Help, are you asking if I do mental rehearsal while I go to sleep?

help -- I kind of meant more like do you train your horses again before or while you go to sleep?

help -- I believe you do probably do mental rehearsals-

JaneSavoie -- I do rehearse mentally--particularly before competition. I start 3 weeks before competition and practice in my mind's eye before I go to sleep.

JaneSavoie -- We have time for one more question tonight. . .

JESUSRIDER -- And what levels are reasonable for each age? I mean, obviously a just-turned 3-year-old shouldn't being going Fourth Level, and a 10-year-old should have moved beyond Intro, but what is average?

Josie -- I'm curious also - I always struggle with where I should be with my horse.

help -- But do you train your horses in your mind. Say if you have a week off from riding or something? Sorry, it is a confusing question. . .

JaneSavoie -- Help, I always ride in my mind because I understand that practice doesn't make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. The only place you can practice perfectly is in your mind.

JaneSavoie -- Josie and Jesusrider, horses develop according to their personal time tables. On an average, I'd say one to two levels per year. I cover Level One training in the horse's first year. Then, I usually train two levels per horse's training year. However, there are mental and physical blocks that change the time table.

JESUSRIDER -- Thanks!

EquiStaff -- Thank you for joining us tonight. The transcript of tonight's chat will be available on EquiSearch. For more information on the topics we discussed tonight as well as much more of Jane's expertise, check out her books. audio tapes and videos. Her books include That Winning Feeling and Cross-Train Your Horse are available from The Equine Collection.

MARTLOCK -- Thank you for your time, tonight, Jane!

JESUSRIDER -- Equisearch, thank you so much for this chat, and Jane, thanks so much for your awesome books. Cross Train Your Horse Book One turned my dead leg into a very responsive horse!

JaneSavoie -- Jesusrider, you're totally welcome! My pleasure.

help -- Thank you and goodnight.

JESUSRIDER -- God Bless, and thanks again for your time.

EquiStaff -- Thank you, Jane and thanks to Tropical Rider for sponsoring this chat For more on Tropical Rider's breeches, go to www.tropicalrider.com. We will all benefit from Jane's unique insight into horsemanship. Good luck to all and good night.

JaneSavoie -- Thank you all for visiting tonight. Keep in mind, whether it's for training or competition, it's all for fun. Keep it in perspective. You're also welcome to visit my web site at janesavoie.com. Goodnight!