Training from the Heart with Frederick Pignon and Magali Delgado


Dr. Donna with Frederick Pignon

Last month many of you know I was lucky enough to participate in a five day clinic with the founders of Cavalia, an amazing presentation of how horses and humans can dance, celebrate and perform tricks and acrobatics together. Frederick and Magali toured for seven years with Cavalia and now their focus has turned to their new show  During my five days with them, I had lessons on riding with Magali and liberty and tricks with Frederick. They don’t like the term “trainer” because it implies applying force and human agenda onto the horse. Essentially it’s holistic horse training or should I say holistic horse chanelling.

If you remember seeing Cavalia, you might remember the natural way horses performed tricks. There was little or no resistance, no tails swishing or ears pinned back. This is due to the soft, heart-felt touch the couple use throughout their training. Touch is a big part of their approach. Frederick is a big fan of Lance Right’s energy work called Fred spent a month with Lance as well as with Linda Tellington Jones Sometimes Fred’s approach is a little more forceful than I liked but he always brought the horse back for soft and quiet energy work as a reward. Instead of food, touch was the reward and the knowledge that Fred would keep the horse safe, looking out for his or her well being along the way. His movements are slow and his message is clear and crisp. He uses whips as directional tools and a round pen to create and keep interest, but not to race the horse around endlessly in circles.IMG_5328

The purist way of doing liberty horse training is not the same as Frederick’s style which is often more trick focused  although there are obviously some similarities. Who moves whom and who keeps the horse safe are common to both the Robin Gates (pure liberty approach and Frederick’s approach. However, Fred uses no food resources while liberty horse training is all about who controls them. This is why Robin’s favorite place to train is a big field with the grass being the main resource. (To see more about my amazing clinic with Robin in 2010 go back in my old blogs) Frederick uses the round pen initially (especially perhaps with horses he does not know) and then eventually his liberty work is legendary as you can read in  their revolutionary book Gallop to Freedom.

Here are some take aways from the heart-centered Frederick Pignon clinic: Every movement a horse makes means something. Learn to read every movement of his ears, every change of his eye, look for signs of doubt or misunderstanding. Doubt is the enemy of horse training. As you enter the space with your horse, learn to look for signs of resistance. The minute you see them, step back ask nothing or go back to something you know. Average training time is only 5 or 10 minutes a day! It can take a horse a full day to think about and process yesterday’s lesson slowly building upon each day until you can do the Spanish walk together for example! My favorite quote: “He does not love you. He loves your pocket.” I am also guilty of over using food as reward.

IMG_1512And what about Magali Delgado? She is everything Frederick is and more! Her methods match her partner perfectly. She taught me to use my seat, use almost no lower leg (there goes all my other dressage background!) and keep the mid back of the horse engaged, moving, springy and comfortable to make riding a resistant free and fun thing for both the horse and the rider! If she asks something of the horse and he does not understand, she turns it into a joke or a game and finds something he wants to do instead. This idea of holding loosely onto your training goals can help most horse people  I know. The minute we lose our patience is the minute we have lost that fun, engaged heart-connection that left all of us breathless. That is the true dance of horsemanship!

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