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POINT OF VIEW


exercise at a time). The improvement of the seven es- sential qualities keeps the effort required to an accept- able level of emotional comfort and physical soundness. With this approach to behavior modification (using small biomechanical improvements as the tools of prog- ress), the rider’s “bank account” with his horse renews it- self constantly and the spirit of the horse remains intact.


Soundness and Willingness Soundness is also a natural consequence of the seven essential qualities mentioned above because they re- sult in increased physical harmony (another word for what the classical school calls “collection” or the abil- ity to move in any direction, at any gait anytime). Bal- ance (front to back) and symmetry (left to right) are just other words for “even weight distribution,” hence they prevent overload for one leg or the other and create a better guarantee of lasting soundness. Roundness is a way to help the back—the strongest part of the horse’s structure—do its job and to avoid undue stress on the lower joints, which are more fragile. Willingness has an impact on soundness because horses rarely hurt them- selves when they are not forced. Finally, relaxation is probably the top element of soundness, because it helps relieve mechanical stress all the way around (ten- sion applied to the joints) and increases breathing vol- ume, so more oxygen reaches the muscles and fewer stress injuries occur. Competitive performance combines biomechanical


and behavioral demands. Equestrian sports create a big imposition on both willingness and soundness, so ad- equate preparation and judicious choice of classes is so important. John Whittaker, a world-class show-jumper from


England, is an expert at this game. He used to tell me: “Horses have a limited number of jumps in them for their lifetime, so better use them in the ring to win classes.” Many years ago, John won the Hickstead Der- by, one of the world’s most coveted trophies, with a horse who was 23 at the time and sound. He had simi- lar success with many champions (including the great Milton) and when he sent my stallion Novilheiro back to be retired at stud, the horse was as sound and eager to jump at 16 as he was when he started. Today, as I am working one of my horses on the lunge line off a simple stable halter, I am watching how much purer his gaits have become through train- ing. I am filled with a quiet satisfaction as I observe the smoothness of his movement, which makes his top line undulate “like a little boat anchored near the shore, al- ternately raising and lowering with the gentle rhythm


62 May/June 2018


of the waves,” as the late Gen- eral L’Hotte described the feeling of im- pulsion in the rider’s seat. Sure, after ten years of strug- gles and a bad fall as a two- year-old, many chiropractic sessions and a visit from the (right) dentist, my horse knows how to walk, trot and canter in cadence, does shoulder-in and half passes, knows passage, piaffe, tempi and Spanish walk, jumps a fence, lies down, sits up and behaves like a gentleman at the moment of equine passion we call “controlled breeding in-hand.” Yet making him perform the fancy work is not quite as satisfying as seeing him move around me with the gait of a nearly perfect horse, in spite of a few inborn defects and life’s unavoidable injuries. He is, according to L’Hotte, “the horse enjoying his movement” and “moving as of his own volition with all the brilliance he is capable of.” It has been more than 50 years since I started my pursuit of the essence of horsemanship, struggling to define the relationship I dreamed to live with my horses. At this stage of learning, after years of working on refin- ing my riding, I have had to learn how to include behav- ior modification in all my work by observing horses’ nat- ural habits and using operant conditioning (on myself too) to facilitate learning. I have studied biomechanics with chiropractors, dentists, neurologists and veterinar- ians and dedicated ten years to saddle design. As a re- sult, and maybe just for a day, my beautiful stallion trots and canters around me, freely and willingly, modifying his balance to my voice’s requests. He is looking like the million-dollar horse we all have dreamed of owning, making all the hard work worthwhile. Today, I am feeling just a little closer to my perfect


Approaching the correct circle with the proper bend in the middle of the back, demonstrated by the direction of the horse's toes following the line of the circle.


circle.


JP Giacomini has trained close to 20 Grand Prix horses and worked on thousands of remedial horses of various breeds. He studied under Nuno Oliveira and later at the National Portuguese Stud of Alter Real. He has produced international winners in all three disciplines and invented a unique training method called “Endotapping.” JP breeds and trains Iberian Sport Horses his wife Shelley at Baroque Farms USA in Harrods- burg, Kentucky. He can be reached at jpgiacomini@gmail.com.


Kim Taylor


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