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, 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 :)

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