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.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Just another day

Here we are in New Hampshire at Heidi and Dick Venuti's beautiful Kilgore Farm.
             The sun comes up early in New England in June, it is a fresh morning and the birds are super happy, everything is clean from the rain yesterday, and they are joyful in the sunshine. The hummingbirds are happy to visit the feeders and I love to hear them buzzing around outside my window.
               I still struggle with the internet, but today I am blessed with some phone service and a precarious hotspot signal from my phone. I make the riding list for today while I reflect on the training from yesterday.
                The horses were all patient and worked well even though there was torrential rain for most of the day. Today we will make a point to walk and work outside, as well as give them their normal happy time in the big paddocks we have here.
                Yesterday I had a very productive lesson with my new young training horse. He was not having an easy time in his transfer from the braking in stable to the hunter/jumper stable where he was to be trained, so he found himself in the school for delinquent warmbloods. Several months later we picked him up to have a summer of Carousel Coaching. He got off the truck from Florida shell shocked and distrustful. He is super smart and wants to please, but completely unsure of his body, his job and his handlers. The past month with him has been one of the most fun training experiences of my life so far. I am so grateful to Tristan Tucker who has taught me so much about reading horses and connecting the dots for them when they are fearful and reactive.
                 The month started with ground work only in the halter, work in the stall, work in the grooming area and work in the arena. This guy was known to be spooky and distracted, which led to fear and bad behavior. His work in the arena was amazing to watch and connecting with him as he became more relaxed and willing has been so much fun.
                Working this horse with touch and noise has been amazing as his whole body was in such tension, even in the stall. Watching the waves of understanding and relaxation go through him is so gratifying. I always say we need to video this horse so we can document the progress. This one I kick myself, I would love to watch this over and over again, especially on the days when I forget where he came from.
                The beginning of the week we started working on leg yield movements in hand, along the wall, away from the whip and toward the whip. One of my favorite Tristan exercises. He is so careful and nervous, watching him process the aids and think about how to move his gangly legs is so fun. As he becomes "like a cooked piece of spaghetti" as Tristan would say, it is clear that he is letting the aids through with understanding and confidence. Yesterday we were able to take it to the mounting block, where to spite a lot of tension he was able to understand and bring himself to the mounting block. We were able to repeat this several times and I was able to mount him in a relaxed and happy state at the mounting block bare back in the halter. As I took him back to his stall with his neck hanging in a relaxed way from his shoulders, his eyes soft and happy and his feet hitting the ground in a slow rhythm that reflected soft joints  I was so proud of him.
          I had an awesome day with my Glorious working on Piaffe and flying changes and Enzo getting stronger on his self carriage for the canter pirouettes. However, when I look back at yesterday with my new guy at the mounting block, that was the highlight.

                                Just another (amazing) day!

                                       Embrace the Journey,

A Dressage Students Handbook, Part 1

                 This blog is written by an avid student of horsemanship who has specialized in dressage. I have also become a trainer and teacher, but this is not about that. It is written to help you be the best student you can be and go forward with steady progress and understanding.
                I do not plan to teach you "how" to ride here, instead to master the art of learning. To help you understand some fundamentals that exist no matter what level you ride.
               I am so grateful for the experiences I have had thus far on my journey with horses. I am thankful for my students and the horses that have led me on this path of learning.
                Through this blog I hope to help others grasp the principles of learning early on their path (however, as with me, it is better late than never!), thus creating a more joyful journey. Dressage is not easy, but it is not as complicated as it may appear at times. I hope you are able to use this handbook to navigate the difficulties with confidence and relaxation.

                                                Be youthful in your approach
                                                Know anything is possible
                                                Connection is the key

                 Chapter One

                           The controls;

                                  The first and most important lesson to learn is that no matter what the level is, the basic controls hold true. Your steering, brakes and gas pedal are more important than where the neck is. Always remember this. Also, how the horse gets ready to process the aid is important to train correctly, as this will be very important during stressful situations.
                                  The left rein means turn left
                                   The right rein means turn right
                                   Two reins mean stop
                                   Two legs mean go
                                    The right leg means move left
                                    The left leg means move right
    Use the rein aids in a blocking, leading or suppling manner, do not pull back.

                                    No matter what level your horse is, these basics hold true. When riding at the upper levels with an educated horse aids maybe processed close together to create more difficult movements and half halts. However, even the educated horse must understand how to process these basic aids correctly, instantly and without resistance.
                                    You may be saying "But I thought we turn from the outside rein?". (Indirect rein.) I believe in "direct aids". I believe the horses want to participate. I start my training from a belief that horses want to please us. If that is where we start, from then on all aids need to come from this place. Positive aids that make sense and can be clearly given and then released because the horse gives the correct reaction.
                                     I do not want to get into training philosophy, however, just a small note; the outside rein only makes sense to the horse if he is supple and following the inside rein. Non of this includes pulling back. The rein aids are given in a leading or blocking manner, pulling back already creates confusion, so should be avoided. When the horse prepares for the aid with active resistance this must be worked through to create the correct response before moving on in the training.
                                      When a horse does not understand the basic aids it is time to step back and teach them. One can teach from the ground first and then from the saddle. As a beginner student of dressage this might be something you ask your instructor to help you with. It is important to note that when the basic aids get the wrong result, complicating the matter by trying to put aids together into half halts or complicated movements will only further confuse your horse. If you are a beginner student have your instructor teach you how to teach your horse. Be honest when things do not feel right. Sometimes this is hard to see from the ground, if you find yourself in a situation where the reins mean go and the legs mean stop, do not agree with your horse that this is how it is. Discuss this with your instructor and go back to the basics to correct the problem, then move on from that correct base again.
                  If this is helpful to you please send me an email and let me know how it improved your ride.

                                    Embrace the journey,
To be continued.