Notes on Training Issues by Doug Hamilton


    I have been taking riding clinics and riding lessons about Icelandic horses from trainers and instructors for years and I have many slips of notes as reminders about different points which were relevant to me at some different points.  Here is the transcription of some of those notes.


    These notes are on training points aside from the correct use of seat and hands for riding & collection that would also be taught in these clinics or in centered-riding types of lessons about simply how to ride.


          Instruction in training issues is starting to be relevant to my interests as my needs as a rider are changing in recent years.  For many of these notes to make sense, you probably should have been there to get the full meaning.  However, I do hope that some of these notes might come of use to some in de-mystifying some of what we see the in the great horsemanship in the breed. 


          Hence, these are notes on training issues, beyond how to simply ride a horse...


          Of the fault of a horse hanging or being stiff on the bit:  Drive and ride a collection with energy seeking a release from the horse from the bit to self-carriage.  While moving forward, firmly pull the frame of the horse or set the bit with a subsequent release as the horse accommodates or yields to the bit.  Do this two or three times in a row if needed to get the horse to give or yield to the bit.  This is a specific process of seat and hands to firmly get the horse’s attention.  It is not simply just popping the bit.  It is driving a firm collection to get the horse under you to set a form that the horse yields to in the hands. 

          They get the idea real quick as they are formed moving forward.  Be right there with a direct setting and then a release to the bit the moment the horse hangs on the bit afterwards.  The release is the reward.  Be sure to give the reward.  Having the horse yielding to self-carriage is what the horse comes to.  (Baldvin Ari Gudlaugsson)


          Hanging on the bit, if really bad or there is a willful unresponsive bad carriage:  Hook thumbs behind the saddle studs to enable the holding of a short rein.  Let the horse deal with the bit and yield to it while standing.  Then let the horse walk forward with the thumbs hooked & rein short.  The horse will deal with it by yielding or releasing its carriage to it.  Be there to reward with a release once the horse has released into self-carriage.  Repeat as necessary.  The horse will come to take on its own ease of releasing into self carriage of movement with just a collection of seat and hands as they get the lesson of the process(Gudney Tomasdottir).



          What of the fads in riding equipment?  What equipment do you have to ride well?  Bits, curbs, tack, and saddles?  “Just three things: a good close fitting saddle, a good rider’s seat to ride with, and a simple thin bit once you know how to ride with a bit.  That is it.  Beyond the essentials, equipment will not really solve the problems of the rider;... the tried and reliable equipment through time is what people always come back to as the fads come and go.”(Baddi)



          Of energy and lift in form or “Packing” the horse in movement:  To compact or bunch the horse as it moves from behind and forward...  Use packing for training purposes to add energy, step or lift once the horse is okay with the bit. Use this only after the horse is okay with the bit and carries itself (suppling process of achieving collection & yielding to the bit first)....  Collect horse with whip while  thumbs hooked behind the saddle stud with a direct rein.  Standing, hook thumbs on saddle & apply action of whip to shoulders. The moment when the horse backs, go forward at the walk or tolt.  This gets them way underneath themselves and then going forward with that form.

          Move hands apart so the horse can see them once you are moving out.  This opens the bit and helps the horse to settle to the contact of the rein and bit once the horse has release to the bit.(Gudney)


The Process of Suppling the movement in a horse (Hrodmar Bjarnason)

          In sequence, circle with a relaxed long rein. Circle with half-halt collections having the horse relaxed, bending on the circle and yielding successfully with the seat and hands through to the bit.  Look for release into the bit.  Then circle followed with a full halt having the horse easily yielding to the bit.  Repeat observing that the horse is bending and yielding to the collections on the circle.

          Also collect in place to achieve a yield by lifting your seat up out of the saddle, rolling forward on to your wrists, then sitting back deep down and collecting the horse back on itself in the process with seat and hands.  Have the horse yield/release to this. 

          Release, go forward.  Same circle then finish by asking the horse to back up.  Just a step. 

          Release go forward, circle then halt and while still bent on the circle with the last movement in the horse, ask for a turn on the forehand, one step to the outside and then stop. 

          Circle with half-halts, full halt, side pass, two steps.  Etc. Incremental and progressive.

          Do this type of collecting sequence with walk, alternating sides and then also with trot.  Do not overwork.  The progress of the work shows a horse bending, collecting and yielding to the seat, legs and hands nicely.  (Hrodmar Bjarnason)


          Suppling movement and self carriage while riding/conditioning: actively and methodically change, expand and contract the top line of the horse while methodically employing the various gaits alternately  Trot then tolt.  Tolt then trot.  Canter long then tolt.  Walk then tolt.  Alternate allowing the horse to reach long then collect up by contrast.  Lengthen the topline then reel it back with a methodical collection of seat and hands(Baddi).  This conditions a clarity of form in the horse and acheives a nice supple ground-covering collected movement. (Baddi)


More suppling:

          Also, Straight line, bent (Shoulder-in)  3 line, bent (not a side pass)  4 line bent(side pass), outside hand on the mane. (Hrodmar)


          Stepping directly off into tolt as the result of suppling, once the horse is comfortable with the rider’s collection of seat and hands also include a standing collection and stepping right off into tolt.  Set the form of tolt by squeezing/shaping a collection in place with the horse’s rearend engaged under, chest open, head yielding nicely to the bit.  Then step directly into tolt from standing.  (Hrodmar)


          In suppling to achieve self-carriage in the horse, always work with an active deep seat and with the bit attentively directly seeking a release in the horse and then rewarding for self-carriage when there is a release.  Always! Always! There is a big difference between being a passenger and a rider.  (Both Hrodmar and Baddi)


Always attend and never let a horse hang on the bit while you are riding it.


Training slow and medium tempo is where you get the form for fast tolt.


    These guys are always shaping, forming and training the clarity of how a horse goes even when they are pleasure riding.  Actually from what I have seen of them riding, it is all pleasure! -D.


          Groundwork:  Lead horse with the driving knuckle under the horse’s chin.  Lead from the shoulder not the head.  Whip for impulsion.  Reinforce with voice commands.  Make the horse move before you move.  Stop horse with command.  Do not just take the horse for a walk.  (Gudney)  Introduce turn on the forehand using knuckle reins in one hand & whip in the other.  Action of the whip on the rear inside hock.  One step and release.  Etc.  (Gudney)

          Introducing side-pass on the ground.  Knuckle reins in hand leading to the direction of the pass, whip in out-stretched hand to move the horse down the rail.  Lead with the knuckle rein hand and with the out-stretched hand urging them on 

to get the diagonal direction started.  (Gudney)


          Ground driving from the horse’s shoulder (Hrodmar)  Take reins with normal direct contact in each hand while standing next to the horse while standing at about the horse’s girth area.  Whip in the outside hand.  Use the whip as your outside leg and your hip as the inside leg.  Your inside calf or ankle can also be used directly on the side of the horse as needed.  Green horses or fresh horses think you are on them without your having to be.  With adult trained horses, you can tune up their collection and how they carry the bit from the ground and you can also watch them and assess them with the bit as they go along in hand.  Much of the suppling work can be done from the ground in hand in this fashion.  This is an incredibly useful training aid to master the use of.  Use it to break horses or use it to tune-up trained horses.  (This ground driving from the shoulder is also described in a 1861 cavalry drill manuel on training horses)


Aspects of how to ride/ cue gaits


          For Pace, easy gallop a few strides.  Half halt and let the horse take the bit forward.  As you first half halt, sit down and release the bit for the horse to take forward.  The horse will flatten its top line stretching and taking the bit forward.  Drive then with contact urging and yet allowing the horse to stretch into pace.(Baddi)

          Training for pig-pacers: train with a good flat out canter to help a pig-pacer change its form and convert to flying in both its attitude and form.  (Baddi)


Said another way.

To cue for Pace:  easy gallop, with easy following seat.  Horse’s Leading leg and rider’s leading hand (rein) on the same side, sit down on the off side.  (Leading hand, leading leg) Leading hand is to drop the leading shoulder of the horse in its stride.  The Off side seat of rider is to engage the offside of the horse.  Apply the leading hand and the off side seat at the same moment. (Gudney’s pace face!)

          Popping the rein like you see in the videos is mostly without purpose given what is really going on and may likely lead to stiff mouths/necks.



Gallop Leads on the straight:


          Technically, for left lead, bend right, kick with left leg.  (Momentarily bending the head away from lead to drop & extend lead shoulder while kicking(engaging) the offside to move the horse into what will be the lead shoulder.


          For Gallop leads on a curve or in an arena: trot then convert to canter with seat.




          These are notes I have made over the years.  In myself, some of these points have started to seep into my riding.  It will probably be the process of the rest of my life to really come into the presence of mind and of body together to command everything in the moment when it is needed!  Yet, it is just this process of always coming to our wits within horsemanship which really keeps us going as horsemen.  As one thing is incorporated into your horsemanship there is always something more to layer in again. 

          At different times, different things will click and only then will they make sense.  Reading through notes like these is not the same thing as learning it. I have heard these things at different times and yet they will not be useful until another time when they will really make sense.  So I keep thinking about this stuff and growing with it as the occasion admits.

Doug Hamilton