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.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Let's do it for the right reasons

             I read a great post on Face Book yesterday about why being in a hurry when training horses does not bring long term success. It is funny, because when I am coaching the kids we are often talking about what success means to them. I actually have never heard one of them say getting to a high level as fast as I can so I win more ribbons and have to retire early my horse due to injury. I also have never heard any of them say that they would like to be in a hurry, misunderstand their horse and react badly to a misunderstood aid or other mistake. In addition I have never had them answer that success is making things look good, when they are actually feeling really bad.
            And yet, this is where many people find themselves.
            Many people ask me, why do you want to work with kids? This generation is not the same, they have no work ethic, they don't want to care for the horses, you are wasting your time.
             Several years ago I felt the same. I was discouraged and shocked by the working students that were coming into my stable. I was also saddened by the kids that were wealthy enough to buy a nice horse and have good training and show. The interest in the actual horse seemed to be missing. But, I do not blame these kids. I started to look at what I could do better to help the horses. These kids are the future of our sport and if we do not help them, there will be no help for our horses.
             Society has changed so much with the internet and social media. Everyone says it, but how has it affected our sport?
             Kids are less able to speak directly, look you in the eye, say what they mean, know who they are and act accordingly. Hiding behind phones texting, emailing, face book whatever. Snap Chat the worst as the photo disappears, so maybe it did not even happen. Would we not have done the same? Maybe not now, but with impressionable young minds? We had it easy, outside, biking, riding and safe! It was normal and fun to get physically tired. Now kids must be pushed to do physical exercise. Even gym has been eliminated from many schools.
              Horses can help get the kids back on track, but only if the trainers take the time. Help them read body language, engage their feeling, learn to have confidence in themselves and teach them some basics! Unfortunately trainers make more money not teaching basics. They will have more success with ribbons if they ride the horses for the kids. They can charge more if they have grooms do the work. And to be totally honest teaching basics is hard work! It can also be frustrating to have to go back and teach again and again how to clean a stall, actually groom a horse and cool one out properly. Why did someone take the time to teach us? Or did someone teach us? For me it was a bit of both. Sometimes I was left on my own to make mistakes and figure it out. Sometimes I had people around that could point me in the right direction. The thing that kept me moving forward was the absolute understanding that the horses depend on me. They do not have water to drink, food to eat or a comfortable place to sleep without us. I took pride in learning how to take care of them the best I could. Now I have developed that further into working with each individual horse to figure out what makes him happy and willing.
               I was also the kid who messed stuff up and made mistakes. I was the kid who lacked confidence and made bad decisions because I did not understand my emotions and my lack of self esteem. I am grateful for the people that I encountered along the way that helped me. Without my desire to take care of horses though, I am truly not sure where I would be. Not just the desire to ride horses, but to take care of them.
               The most successful competitors in the world in all disciplines do not hand their horses off to grooms and not look back. Successful trainers are involved in every aspect of the horses care, not just the riding, but the feeding, turnout schedule, tack fit, everything.
                I urge everyone to take another look. Let's try not to blame the kids, but instead to be a good example to them as we exhibit good horsemanship. Have a system in place to teach all of the upcoming riders and trainers about horse care and the importance of daily tasks. Let's also keep putting it out on social media not just the perfect scenarios of seemingly easy success, but also some of the hard struggles that led to great success. We are loosing many good, talented riders because they think they are not good enough. They think that without immediate success and top ribbons that they will never be good enough. Many kids truly believe that without money they will not have a good enough horse and a competitive life.
              Yes, I did have some financial advantage through my life, my parents have been very generous to help me along the way. However! The most successful horses that I have shown have been difficult, inexpensive horses that other people have given up on. In these cases I had more confidence because there was nothing to lose, people had tried, failed and given up. With these horses I could take it slow, listen and create a learning environment for the horse without being in a hurry. Now I do this with every horse. But, I had to learn the lesson. Pressure from the outside creates mistakes on the inside. Don't let horse shows determine your training, let your training determine your showing. Be honest with your students and help them to get the basics down, everyday. Be honest with your trainer, when you do not understand something, ask. When you do not like how something feels, ask. When you train horses and students for the right reasons you will always find the right way.
             We need to teach our kids resilience, dedication, sportsmanship, patience, awareness just to name a few things. The riding is easy compared to this.

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


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