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.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Tristan Tucker Clinic

Last weekend we were very fortunate to host a clinic with Tristan Tucker. For anyone who has not seen Tristan's work you can find him at and you can find his alter ego Brett Kidding on youtube.
        I am grateful to be able to get a date in his busy calendar. Tristan is inspiring on many levels. His ability to communicate with the horses in a positive and productive way is always amazing to watch. I also feel that with every student he finds a way to encourage them to be the best they can be without ever being negative. I personally learn as much from how he delivers the information as what information is being delivered.
        This past weekend we had a wonderful group of diverse horse enthusiasts. High level horses that needed to find a way to deal with the stress of the environment and lower level horses that are trying to find their balance and learn to accept the aids better. It is my dream to be able to bring this information out to more and more people so that they are able to get the maximum enjoyment out of their horse experiences while their horses are understood better and able to benefit from this education.
                The way that Tristan is able to read each horse is extraordinary, and although he understands the reason for the mistakes the horse makes he does not justify the need for it to continue. He is able to help the horses to find better answers to hard life questions and he is awesome helping his students to get through the fog of doubt and indecision and get on the right track quickly and with confidence.  I am also positive that when people go home from this weekend of learning they have many more valuable tools in their tool box to use in all of the challenging situations that arise when we are training and showing horses.
          With the speed of technology these days we are informed of news so quickly and from all corners of the earth. It is heart wrenching to hear of all the tragic accidents and injuries. So many times these things can be prevented by being better prepared and with more education. I for one am very motivated to help anyone who comes into my path to better understand how to communicate better with their horses and I know this will push the enjoyment level up for many horseman, dressage riders and kids. This year for the second time I was able to participate in the Pony Club Festival at the Kentucky Horse Park as an instructor. It was awesome to catch up with some colleagues I have not seen in a while. It was also super exciting to work with these talented and enthusiastic kids. My ability to help these kids has multiplied ten fold because of the work I have done with Tristan, it adds a whole new dimension to the training system that I already have in place and it is so much fun to always be progressing and exploring the limits.
       All the best for you and for your horses!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

To Catherine Haddad Staller and everyone that took offense

 It came to my attention that Catherine's blog from the chronicle several years back made another journey around face book the last couple of days. I had spoken briefly with Catherine about it when it first came out, and I am still interested in her point of view.
 I for one appreciate what she is saying. The part that people are taking offense to is only 5% of the point! I did not spend as much time in Germany as Catherine did, however, I do feel her frustration. I personally have spent a lot of time and money trying to learn how to ride dressage. I do host clinics with top trainers. I do this so that I can continue my education.Thankfully due to my time in Europe I understand that there is a system to training and I pick trainers that are consistent with each other and my core beliefs.  Did you notice the part where she said "the trainers need to work together"? When we have these clinics and invite other trainers from the area to join we are improving our sport. I am not saying our students should not participate, I do not think she is saying this either, what she is saying is that TRAINERS should participate! I went to Europe to learn, definitely when someone that is such a top trainer is nearby I can travel an hour or two to watch or take a lesson. As trainers we need to continue our education. We need to keep developing our eye, our feel and technique. Training horses is a journey, not a destination. In every sport, in everything! we are always learning, growing, evolving. We must stay close to the masters of the sport so that we grow in the right direction. Our students should benefit from our knowledge and should trust us to put them in positive, constructive learning situations.
  People blame the judges for some of the things that are going wrong. I do not think this is entirely the problem. Just because you ride a test and the feeling was bad but the score was good does not mean you need to continue to train that way!! The problem is that because trainers do not continue their education they let the horse shows train them.  In America the fundamentals are lost! Seat work, balance, suppleness all get diluted into a show frame, scores and horses that are far from relaxed and through.
    So when you go back now and read Catherine's blog again, read it believing that this lady dedicates a lot of her personal time volunteering for our sport. In addition to making money teaching clinics she gives her time for free to help move the sport in the right direction. As a clinician myself I am happy to train anyone who steps into my arena. I am also very happy to work with the resident trainer to create better teaching skills to move his/her students in the right direction. I know that Catherine feels the same way. What I also believe is that there are too many trainers out there unable and unwilling to teach proper basics. This is not healthy for our sport. It now becomes second and third generation misunderstanding. Where trainers are trained by people that did not ride their horses, did not teach them feel and did not teach them the fundamentals. Now these people are training a whole new generation, no idea of seat mechanics, balance and principals.. And to top it off they can afford to go to a show, but they cannot afford to go take a lesson. So they are getting trained at the shows by the judges.
         Let's look at what she is saying. Why is the clinic filled with your students, not other trainers....... this is a good question. Try not to take personally that she does not want to teach your students, that is not the point. Her time will be better spent training people that train people, right? Then she would be touching even more riders. She asks us to work together to build up the quality of our riding, should we be annoyed? Or should we join her and say yes please!!
          As someone who hosts clinics I hope to provide clinicians with riders and horses that will provide them inspiration and be able to understand the basics well enough that they can work on other things beside the basics. We all need to be reminded of the fundamentals, but when we go to a clinic with Catherine or Rein or Mr. Schumacher or who ever, we should be able to sit independently from our reins, swing with the natural movement of the horse and understand the basic principals of riding. If a rider is unable to do this his/her trainer should help develop these skills. The TRAINERS need to work together to uphold these basic skills. When we work together to host clinics, provide education and push the level of riding up we will all be better off. My students come and watch my clinics. They are happy to get the knowledge that I glean from my continuing education. When I host clinics it is not easy to get the trainers to join in. In order for us to afford these clinics we need people to join in. However, I can tell you that I have paid plenty out of my pocket to make sure I got my lessons. I challenge you to find any type of business that you are not required to go to continuing education. I also would tell you that it is not free. This is continuing education, it is our responsibility to our students and our horses. I have also benefited by my students paying for me to ride their horses in some clinics. I am very appreciative of every learning experience I am able to have. I would never truly fund a clinic by putting students of mine that are unable to do basics into a situation where they would be totally over their head, this would not be fair to anyone.
         When these top professionals step out and address these undesirable subjects I think it is up to us to look at what they are saying with interest. Let's not take it as a personal affront, but instead a challenge to be better and do better. This kind of post does not gain Catherine ( or me for that matter) popularity. That is not what she is looking for, she is looking for progress, interaction and team work to make our sport better. I say "Thank you Catherine" , I will work to be a better clinician and student and I challenge all of you that complained about her point of view to try and look at it from another perspective.