Dressage (a French term meaning "training") is a path and destination of competitive horse training, with competitions held at all levels from amateur to the Olympics. Its fundamental purpose is to develop, through standardized progressive training methods, a horse's natural athletic ability and willingness to perform, thereby maximizing its potential as a riding horse. At the peak of a dressage horse's gymnastic development, it can smoothly respond to a skilled rider's minimal aids by performing the requested movement while remaining relaxed and appearing effortless. Dressage is occasionally referred to as "Horse Ballet." Although the discipline has its roots in classical Greek horsemanship, mainly through the influence of Xenophon, dressage was first recognized as an important equestrian pursuit during the Renaissance in Western Europe. The great European riding masters of that period developed a sequential training system that has changed little since then and classical dressage is still considered the basis of trained modern dressage.

Early European aristocrats displayed their horses' training in equestrian pageants, but in modern dressage competition, successful training at the various levels is demonstrated through the performance of "tests," or prescribed series of movements within a standard arena. Judges evaluate each movement on the basis of an objective standard appropriate to the level of the test and assign each movement a score from zero to ten - zero being "not executed" and ten being "excellent." A score of nine (or "very good") is considered a particularly high mark, while a competitor achieving all sixes (or 60% overall) should be considering moving on to the next level.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


  Middle of September, honestly where does the time go? Last week we hosted the USDF Platinum Performance Junior Young Rider Clinic with George Williams.  This was just great! A super group of talented riders from Region 8 training with a fantastic teacher. What an awesome weekend. George was incredibly precise, patient and a wealth of knowledge. He was candid in his lunch lectures and amazingly energetic all the way to the last lessons. My favorite part of the clinic was walking in on the first lesson and hearing George ask "how many beats in the walk?" ....."and in what order do they go?". That was music to my ears! then thru the whole weekend basics, basics, basics. Yes we saw lots of movements, but never loosing site of the real picture. There was no finagling, just good preparation, balance and communication. I loved watching the lessons and wish I could be a Jr again and start with this kind of training from a young age. 
         So then I see a young professional on face book complaining............."I did a clinic to benefit young riders, but where were all of the young riders?" she griped. She went on to say that "maybe she has not been in the Olympics, but she still has some knowledge to share"......So this whole thing got me thinking. At our clinic with George Williams there was a definite lack of auditors. Sadly even the kids that rode (for the most part) did not take time to watch the other lessons. This is a great loss in my opinion. I watched as much as I could. I learned a lot. I love to learn. So maybe I know a lot of the material that George was talking about, but to have it confirmed, to hear it applied and sometimes delivered in a different way is wonderful. So why am I interested at 49 years old to watch and the kids are not. Why did the kids that applied to ride and did not get in to this clinic not come and watch? I wish I knew, and I wish I could help them to understand. Sometimes watching good riding is almost as good as doing it. It sinks in, it helps you understand you are not the only one with that problem, it also helps you to be prepared for when you do get a chance to ride with that Olympic trainer. Getting to understand how an instructor conducts his lessons is part of the process, getting in his flow prior to riding will help you to do your best and take a lesson, which is what this is all about right? Taking a lesson?
         But, that was a tangent, back to the young profi that wants kids to show up to her clinic. When I make a decision to ride in a clinic it is because I know the instructor and their background. Believe it or not there are systems in this sport. There is a way to train horses  In America we have a hard time understanding that there is in fact a system that can get us from training level to grand prix. Without changing the rules along the way. There is a basic system, that builds on itself from level to level, without diversion. So when someone asks me do I want to ride in a clinic, who is teaching the clinic is very important. It is not a show, it is a lesson. Do I want to learn what they have to teach? The way I learn this is research and going to watch the lessons.
         One thing that Olympic trainers have the confidence to do is to go back to basics. They will not stand in the ring when they teach a clinic and fluff up the footing and tell you about more angle when you horse is not on the bit. They will not discuss improving the quality without asking you about the feeling. They will not let it pass them by that you may need help with balance and understanding aids. However, an Olympic trainer can be from any training system. So we need to create more criteria. Where did they learn? Are they good teachers in addition to being good showman? Are they exhibiting good horsemanship?
         If my students ask me should I ride with this one? Should I ride with that one? I go watch first. Is that training style for me, and then for my students? Are they old enough and advanced enough to have a system? And to stick by that system even when the student is confused? This is the hard part. Dressage is hard. But, it must not be complicated! So does that instructor know the theory and technique  well enough to simplify it when things do not go easy? One thing I say to my students is....if I was teaching you in Spanish, and you did not understand Spanish would screaming the directions in Spanish help you to understand? No. So lets not do that to our horses. I am spoiled by Mr Schumacher and his fantastic ability to simplify and to come up with exercises that help the horses understand, without us having to scream.
            Again, back to our young profi's....I agree they have a lot to offer. However, just because we have shown at a high level, just because we can look good on a horse this does not make us a teacher or a trainer. We have a hard enough time getting people to come to clinics with top professionals that are responsible for training many grand prix horses and trainers; with a clear system. I am completely guilty of hanging my shingle out too soon, because that is what I needed to do and the way it is done here in the States. But, at the age of 30 I went back to school. Stopped teaching and became a student again. I encourage our young professionals to not only offer their services to others but please, continue building your base of knowledge. Continue to learn, keep in the system you believe in, but never stop continuing your education. Our doctors do it, our vets do this, any one in a professional field is asked to do this. Do not let yourself be led to believe that your students will think less of you if you take a lesson. We all need a person on the ground. We all need support, guidance and direction. I do not think you will find a person at the top in the world rankings that does not have a team to help them, and that includes a coach. And please do not be afraid to confirm the basics in all of the lessons that you teach. Encouraging people to ride without developing a good independent seat, clear understanding of the aids and good horsemanship is only prolonging the agony. We all need to fight for the integrity of our sport and the good riding techniques for our horses. Sometimes in a lesson less is more.
                      Happy Riding!

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