Icelandic Horse Connection

Liz Graves Clinic Report

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By Renee Martin

I'd like to share some of what was covered and taught at the Liz Graves Gaited Horse Clinic.

Terms and what they refer to:

Liz explained that all riding, training, and approaches to horse handling could be classified under one of two terms: Brida and Jineta (pronounced Hennetta). These are commonly referred to as "seats" or philosophies.

Brida is the seat or philosophy of war. It goes back to the days of jousting, when horses were vehicles to conquer from. The "feet on the dashboard" seat is Brida, because it allowed the rider to balance himself as he carried and used his heavy weapons. It is a philosophy of forcing and control. It is a philosophy of pain and/or discomfort to achieve control.

Then there is Jineta. This was the seat of the aristocracy which took into consideration the horse as another species to communicate with and teach. From the Jineta philosophy came the centered, balanced seat and the Spanish Riding school.

A third term, (which I did not write down the spelling for, so this is the phonetic version), is estradiota. This is a combination of the Brida and Jineta seats.

Limbering and Suppling were also two terms we learned. When I heard these two terms, they sounded like basically the same thing to me. But. . .. Limbering is Brida oriented. It's when the horse is forced into a position beyond his structure via mechanical means. There is often muscle damage occurring with limbering. An example of this would be the old Western practice of tying a horses head around to a stirrup to "teach him to bend". A more subtle form would be using the rein to bend the horses head around (kissing the stirrups), or doubling a horse to stop him.

Suppling is Jineta oriented. This is when the horse stretches his muscles within their limits because the he is doing it himself. In contrast to the above, an example of this would be getting the horse to stretch his head to the side by enticing him with a handful of grass.

While hard doubling to stop a horse would be Brida, the one rein stop would be more along the lines of Jinta as the horse basically stops himself. (I FINALLY learned how to do this at the clinic for the first time -- it works!)

In our gaited horses, an example of Jineta would be training the horse to have self-carriage in gait versus a horse being held in gait via the reins, bit, and other means (Brida).

The clinic I attended this past weekend was in two parts. The first two days were a "beginning" level clinic which I had taken before, and the second two days were an advanced clinic. I must say I don't think any of us were as advanced as we should have been. . . but at least we are trying to learn. I found it very advantageous to repeat the beginner clinic as many things really started to gell for me this time around.

Liz incorporates a lot of theory and anatomy into her curriculum. Her reason for doing this is she feels strongly that owners must understand how their individual horses are put together. This not only helps people determine what a prospect's their most natural soft gait is, but also to be aware of their horse's strengths and weaknesses and to stay within those parameters.

I scanned in one of the handouts that we received in and colored in a few points. I will relate what I have scribbled in my notes for each part. By no means is this comprehensive of all that was covered however -- I only wish I could write faster!

A) Dark Green line: This is the shoulder blade or scapula. The more angled the shoulder, the more reach the horse is going to have. The straighter or more upright this bone is, the more lift and fold (animation). A straight shoulder would be in the 55 to 65 degree range and an "angled" or slopey shoulder would be in the 48 to 50 degree range.

B) Pink line: The humerus. This bone should be at least 50% or more the length of the scapula. (Dotted pink line visual aid). The angle of the humerus from the elbow up also works in determining reach and animation. The flatter the angle, the more reach. The higher the angle, the more lift.

C) Blue dot and line. Blue line is the length of the femur. Darker blue dot is the hip socket. This I thought was VERY interesting:

Where the femur connects with the pelvis (hip joint) is a strong indication of trottiness versus lateralness. It's quite hard to feel but not impossible to find even on the chubby or well-muscled horse. In the racking family of gaits (of which tolt falls into), this connection (blue dot) will always be behind the middle point of the length of the pelvis, or more towards the horses tail. The further back, the stronger the lateral (pacy) tendency. The drawing is of a generic "trotty" horse. The range is not huge-- we're talking a half inch being significant. Trotting horses almost always have this joint located in the middle of the pelvis.

D) Lime green line: Length of Pelvis.

E) Brown line: Lumbar span or loins. The length of the loins is determined by finding two points: the LS joint (where the Lumbar spine meets the sacrum) at one end, and by finding the last rib and following it up to the spine at the other end. Between these two points is your Lumbar span.

To find the LS joint, pinch your horse above the point of the hip on either side of the spine. He will drop his back. Where the flex point is as he does this is the LS junction. IF he shows no reaction to the pinch, this is not good and you probably should have him checked out by a chiropracter.

Now, the shorter this span is, the more inclined or easier to trot the horse will be. Why? Because he will find it easier to round his back. The longer the Lumbar span (or loins), the easier the horse will find it to do a lateral gait such as a rack because it will be easier for him to ventroflex his back. Also, the closer the LS junction is to the point of the hip, the more trotty (diagonal) a horse will be, the farther back, the more pacy or lateral he will be inclined to be.

Now, you've probably heard as I have that many gaited horses have "short backs". The truth is, they usually have LONGER functional backs (see diagram) -- BUT, their loins may be longer (in the case of the laterally gaited horse) so that leaves a shorter area left over on which to set a saddle. Which brings me to:

F) Orange line represents the area where a saddle could go.

One thing I forgot to mark on the diagram but Liz talked about was where the neck ties in with the shoulder. (It would be right by the "s" in shoulder). This too, has a strong influence on how easy your horse will find gait and what type. The horse with the higher neck set will find it easier to ventroflex his back and therefore, perform something in the racking family of gaits.

However, when looking at a horse with good potential for running walk, you also want a higher neck set, especially if accompanied by a nice length of neck and a rather large head at the other end. The head will act as a "pendulum" giving you a good head shaking walk. That's the reason so many of the older foundation TWH's had rather large heads. (I thought that was an interesting tidbit.)

It boggles my mind to try to think of what the sum of all these anatomical factors create gait-wise when combined. I asked Liz which had the stronger influence on gaiting aptitude -- the front or the back of a horse's conformation. She said that she personally looks to the rear first in assessing gait because "that's where the engine is" but certainly one has to consider the front end of the chassis as well.

For the first two days, I took my Rocky Gelding. I wanted to know if what he was doing for a soft gait was what he should be doing according to his structure -- plus I wanted to know what it was and if it would be possible to get a running walk out of him instead.

Liz watched us and said he had the classic Rocky gait, which is a saddle rack. No, he wasn't built for a running walk. Shoot. She also said I should have his thyroid checked given the hard, cresty development of his neck which I have been wondering/worried about. So, we will get that checked out. He is between 18 and 23, and with his founder history, it's entirely possible he is pre-cushings or insulin resistant or has the beginnings of a thyroid condition.

I was so proud of him. He was a perfect gentleman in the Coverall arena the clinic was held in and was very good about being tied to the trailer for 5 hours between the morning session and the afternoon one. But then again, with Rocky, having a haybag infront of him means life is good and he's pretty content. : )

I was pleased that Liz felt Rocky was very content and happy with his current bit, a double-jointed snaffle with a copper roller/cricket in the center. We've tried several and this seemed to be the one he preferred to me. It's nice to get a second opinion from someone watching on the ground though.

Of course, my saddle isn't wide enough for Rocky (who is built very much like Soley). So. . .another saddle for Ebay. As part of this clinic, I learned to do the one rein stop -- cool!

For the advanced clinic, I took Soley the first day, and Eitill the second. (The clinic was held only 11 miles from my house, so I trailered over each day.) I had to ride in a plain suede bareback pad given that the pommel piece of my beloved Natural Ride really isn't wide enough for Soley -- something I've always known but figured it was better than an entire saddle tree that wasn't wide enough and bridged to boot.

Anyway, I wanted Liz to tell me if Soley and I were doing a collected trot and walk correctly. Again -- I thought I was getting this at home, but there is nothing like someone on the ground to confirm. I was able to get Soley to do both a collected walk and trot, Liz marking for me when each occurred so I could register the feel from the saddle.

Liz commented that Soley has a lot of natural self-carriage for collected trot. Yeahhh!!! I've always said she did everything and I just had to sit there. : )

I was happy that Soley was trotting in the thicker arena footing because ever since I had her adjusted by the chiropractor this Spring, she has been very energetic and "tolty". I guess she feels a lot better, poor girl. Liz also helped me sort out some lateral work. I had been working on getting sidepasses from Soley -- or so I thought. Well, come to find out, I was getting HALF passes, not true side passes.

Again, it is sooo helpful to have someone on the ground to tell one these things! Liz gave me a protocol to build on the half passes into side passes. For one thing, she suggested I go back to facing a barrier instead of working in the center of the arena and to use my weight more effectively to get Soley to step under it. I have a good start to my goal I guess. Liz then rode Soley in tolt on a loose rein. Darnit -- I want that missing roll of film!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The second day, I took Eitill. I wanted Liz to specifically help me with getting canter in an arena setting with him. Well, come to find out, I had been doing things completely opposite to what Liz advocates. I had been asking for canter on the long sides of the arena, coming down to a trot or tolt (or yuck -- sometimes a pace) on the corners and short sides and then re-asking for canter again coming out of the turn towards the other long side.

Instead, Liz had me try asking for canter on a 40 meter circle. She said asking a laterally gaited horse for canter while bending around a circle rather than a straight-away was going to make them much less apt to break into pace and get rushy which was exactly what I had been experiencing with Eitill. Also, she said teaching canter on the straightaway also usually gives you a gallop which you have to work down into a canter.

Starting out in a circle gives you canter to begin with which the horse becomes balanced in as time progresses. As with everything we teach, she said to be happy with a few steps at first. I must admit, I found this rather difficult and for some reason, my outside arm kept straying out to the side and wouldn't stay centered over the withers. (Why is it doing that?! Stupid arm! ) I need a round pen so I don't have to steer so much I think. : ) I did get a few strides of canter though. Eitill was trying so hard to figure out what I was asking for.

Liz then got on Eitill and gave it a shot. She was much more poised and didn't have to think so hard to do this as I did. : ) She was able to get quite a few strides of nice easy canter from Eitill. She advised me that in his case, I needed to let him have his head -- that he needed less inside rein support to pick up the gait than what is typical. Okay. I still hope to have a new round pen soon to help us over the summer with this. I'm pretty jazzed to work on this with him.

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