Motivation of Dressage Horses: Richard Hinrichs

I just watched this DVD. I really enjoyed it! I didn’t learn anything earth-shatteringly new because I’m already on the positive-reinforcement-works bandwagon. However, it was a delight and inspiration to see and hear of someone who trains horses to an advanced level insist that gentle positive methods are best. So, on that alone I can recommend it.

The video isn’t really a how-to program. Instead, a variety of topics on how to inspire horses in the most effective manner are discussed and illustrated with him as well as his pupils working a wide variety of horses in hand and under saddle. The video consists of the following sections:

  • Motivating Factors for the Horse
  • Working with Novices
  • Work in Hand
  • Work with an Advanced Horse
  • Praise
  • Variety in the Daily Routine

I’m not going to try to describe every section. I’ll just share some of the points I jotted down. I’ll start with his final point of the video, that the film should be used to inspire creative thinking. I like that! He says this as a Friesian stallion is ridden bridleless on screen. 🙂 He is a decidedly open minded man which I so appreciate.

One thing that is evident throughout is that he’s not opposed to hand-feeding treats including from the saddle. Although the specific option of using food as a reward is only mentioned once, he quite obviously uses food as a reward. He also uses ‘brav’ or ‘good’ as a verbal marker.

He states that a trusting relationship begins in the stall. I noticed that he entered the stall quietly and waited for the horse to acknowledge him and says hello with a treat (and some scritches) when the horse comes over. And so it begins.

He mentions frequently the importance of a “positive working atmosphere” for both horses and riders. Keeping it achievable and calm is crucial for learning.

“Prompt praise escalates the learning process.”

Having a plan is crucial. “A clear mental picture is particularly important when things get difficult. The trainer must not lose sight of the mental picture which is the exact image of what he wants to obtain and is more important than riding technique.”

He believes that clear instruction, kindness, and consistency on the part of the trainer will deliver the highest level of cooperation. This point is made as an Arab mare is worked at liberty in the piaffe and Spanish walk. He then goes on to show a variety of animals doing their own versions of Spanish walk including dogs, goats, and cats. It’s a hoot. I love this guy’s humor. I found myself really wishing I could meet him.

Relaxation is a crucial element to success. He advocates training the horse to lower his head and stretch forward out and down. He prefer this over just riding the horse till he is tired for multiple reasons. But he believes by training the horse to seek that relaxed position he not only develops more relaxation but the rider can then use the trained response as a means to calming the horse when needed. He likes to put the ‘head down’ behavior on the cue of a touch to the wither area which is a natural place to put the hands anyway. He also will teach the horse a verbal cue as well, such as “nose down”. [I like to use the verbal cue of “relax”.]

He talks about being in a good mood a lot. He says, “Anyone in a good mood and creative can transfer this good humor to their horse.”

He is clearly not a breed or saddle elitist. The horses shown in the video represent a variety of breeds. In the Praise section he highlights a rider on a smaller pony type breed with the horse wearing what looks to be an Australian Stock saddle. The horse is shown learning tempi changes and the rider after a successful attempt the rider rewards with a verbal marker and the horse stops and wickers as he waits for the treat he knows is coming. Later the horse is shown in piaffe while the announcer says, “Anyone mocking this successful communication between rider and horse as ‘poodle’ dressage might well ask themselves if they too could work in such a low wear and tear fashion and present a horse which truly positively reflects its rider.”

When working with the advanced horse, meaning a trained horse, the motivational emphasis is on ensuring that the horse trusts that the work will not be over taxing so he uses stretching and breaks frequently, he also uses transitions to capture the horse’s attention and bending to help maintain calm and develop collection.

Regarding the work with the advanced horse he says, “Anyone failing to convey clear instruction [to the horse] and constantly criticizes it and penalizes it should not be surprised if the very shortest of time the horse gains the upper hand forcing the rider into a reactive situation.” Another good reason to keep work sessions short and emphasizing positive reinforcement to ensure that the horse wants to respond to the lightest of aids.

I would love to have a link here to my Amazon store to buy this DVD. Unfortunately Amazon apparently doesn’t carry it. I rented it from Giddyupflix. However you come by it, I would call it worthwhile.

Here is a video clip from YouTube which does not come close to doing the whole thing justice. Plus it is in German. The video I watched is overdubbed in English.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SeKME38B0v0

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for posting this review, Sharon. It’s so good to find tools like this to keep one inspired!