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 20, 2018

Be Youthful in Your Approach

            Upon returning from a show this weekend I had a lot to think about. Not only from the show, but also from an amazing coaching call we had earlier in the week.
This blog entry is dedicated to Olivia Suker, with Love

Lately I have been signing out:
                   Be Youthful in Your Approach
                   Know Anything is Possible
                   Connection is the Key

                 I love these three points, and interestingly, the more I think about them, and live with them in the forefront of my mind and decision making, the more value they bring.
                 I have to say it is funny how that happens.

                So let's start with;
                                                     Be Youthful in Your Approach

               Many years ago I had the occasion to be invited to watch Hubertus Schmidt in one of his first private clinics in the US. He was riding several super horses that had been trained by him in Germany and then purchased by this nice lady that allowed me, and my partner at the time, to come watch. It was a fabulous experience to say the least. My fist impression of Hubertus was how playful he was in his riding. How he approached every exercise in a relaxed and non egotistical manner really struck a cord with me. His posture seemed to blend with the horses natural movement rather than manipulate it, his joy was effervescent. When money and horses are combined there can become a pressure that infects the basic beauty and joy that the horses bring us. Yet, here I was watching a man with tremendous pressure to succeed still riding in a joyful and loving way. This experience really touched me. I have been in many training stables where the pressure and money seemed to over ride the true spirit of why we do this in the first place. It gave me great hope that I too could be successful and still compassionate and loving at the same time.
              Through the years I have had my ups and downs. Truthfully the downs have always correlated with unhealthy pressure I put on myself and that I forgot this fundamental principle.
               What does it mean to be Youthful in Your Approach?
                      To me it has grown to mean:
                                       Always open yourself to learning, approach every situation as a student
                                       Ask questions, stay present, no judgement
                                       Keep your body open and relaxed; practice, breath, try again, be like a child
                                       Remember that we are all unique in our own being, savor that, do not compare yourself to other people. Get to know yourself as a child would, independent of other people and their ideas of you.
                                       Learning comes from putting yourself in difficult situations that force you to grow; never back down from the pressure, open yourself to learning the lesson and stepping up to the plate.

                    I hope this helps bring a new positive perspective to your riding, and to the relationship you have with your horses.

                  Be Youthful in Your Approach
                  Know Anything is Possible
                  Connection is the Key

              To be continued :)



A Dressage Student's Handbook; The Canter

   The Canter

                The canter has three beats, which I find confuses many people to start. First of all it is important to understand that the canter originates from the hind leg, when done correctly with proper energy.
                The outside hind leg steps first
                Followed by the inside hind leg and outside front leg together
                The last step is the inside front leg
     Because we learn in our beginning riding lessons to look at the lead instead of feel the lead many people are then confused to learn that it starts behind. As early in your training as possible try to feel the hind leg strike off and challenge yourself to know the lead without looking down. Without proper energy it is possible for the diagonal pair to get slightly separated where the outside front leg will actually hit the ground very slightly before the hind leg. This is incorrect four beats. This can often be seen by accident in a pirouette for example. It can also be seen in some techniques of riding where the movement is disturbed by the reins and the horse is unable to jump through with the hind leg correctly. Be careful to keep your horse supple and not to think of the reins as balance. In addition, follow, very slightly, the natural nod of the head and neck with your wrists, so that the half halt happens at the proper part of the canter. Half halting on the front leg can distort the jump of the canter and put the horse in a defensive posture.
                In all of your work you will learn to have your inside leg very slightly in front of the outside leg. In the canter the inside leg is in charge of engagement, the outside leg is in charge of the energy. Being very careful to keep your good positioning early in your riding makes good preparation for flying changes and for pirouettes. It is always important to build a good foundation, so that as the work becomes more difficult you are able to rely on your good posture and proper aids.

                     Please email questions to

To be continued :)

Be Youthful in Your Approach
Know Anything is Possible
Connection is the Key


Friday, August 3, 2018

Stress and misunderstanding

         On facebook the other day I came across a post from someone who had made a short clip of a stressed out horse warming up in Aachen. The girl was clearly not in complete control, the horse not happy and although in my eyes she was trying to keep her cool she was also making the horse super round and trying to gain control with some abrupt transitions. There were many negative comments about this type of riding. I do not get involved in these posts on facebook, personally I think we have to be positive and, I cannot judge from a short video clip what is going on. It made me sad. I put myself in her place, making it all the way to a competition such as Aachen and my horse not being able to handle the atmosphere. I have never been competing in Aachen, but I have been to shows that seemed like Aachen to me! and when my horse was overwhelmed it was a very difficult and disappointing situation.
          It really makes me happy and appreciative that somehow I have found a different path of training. I do not look at this lady in a bad way or as if she is at fault, in the moment. Controlling 1500 pounds of frightened equine in a situation where you are supposed to be able to perform ballet movements does not seem like a comfortable situation for me. We build up the training systematically and clearly the horse was strong enough to perform movements of his level. The break down shows up when we forget to install the necessary relaxation and attention to each horses natural reaction to stress. Many people use the nervous energy of the horse to create impulsion and more extravagant movements. I have even had trainers tell me that the horse needs to be a bit scared of me (I do not say this in a bad way, only that it is a training tactic). The thing that I have always wished for is a system of truth, that when I apply an aid I notice does it get the desired result and will more of that aid get more of that result? To me that is the meaning of throughness. There should not be a.) the defensive reaction followed by manipulation and then the right reaction or b.) the point of no return where a little bit too much of an aid gets a completely undesirable reaction.
              This takes time and thorough truthful training. It also needs to be tested! Where we then take the horse into situations of stress, read the results and continue the training based on the feedback.
             I am in no way saying this is easy! I am only grateful that I feel that I start to find the path. In this way I am able to also help others find a healthy and connected partnership with their horses. A million thank you's to Tristan Tucker and his amazing generosity to share his journey with me.
            The other day I was teaching at a nearby farm. One of the younger trainers was having a difficult time with one of the horses. It was difficult for me to watch and not be able to help. I do not judge the situation, I have been there and I know all to well how it feels to have the pressure of the owner and not have the session go as planned. I thought back to when I was at Mr Schumachers farm in Germany. Everyone, even the sweet hobby riders would offer assistance from the sidelines. In the beginning as an American with an American attitude I was shocked that they would think of helping these other profi riders, and me. Later I came to appreciate their dedication, love for the sport and horses and the energy that they put into making our rides better! I so wish we could adopt this, non judgmental, generous attitude here. They were not going to tell me how to fix it, only that the hindleg was back in a halt or the horse was not straight, these kind of helpful tips. Learning to be open to this feedback was an awesome lesson for me. I also remember riding one day while Ellen Bontje was riding, (something that I tried to avoid! Because I was quite insecure). I was not getting through to my horse what I wanted and I am sure it was obvious I was struggling. Finally Ellen stopped riding and asked me "what! are you trying to do?" I meekly told her whatever it was that was going wrong, she jumped in, helped me out and then went about her merry way to finish her ride. While mine became much improved. These experiences are what made being in Germany special for me. The training, not the egos being the most important aspect of the day.
                  When I watch these young trainers I wish for an atmosphere of learning. The greatest men (and woman) in the world say that to keep a learning attitude is what keeps them successful. To ask questions is not showing that you are less, it shows that you are open and wish to improve. Of course who you ask is important, but even someone who is not a profi might have a different and helpful perspective.
                Be youthful in your approach
                Remember anything is possible
                Connection is the key

                Ride well :)