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 26, 2019

Remember Anything is Possible

    There are so many examples of amazing triumphs over adversity. For me never forgetting that any thing is possible is an important part of my strategy. In life and in riding.
     Synergy is when the combination of the parts equal more than the actual sum of two parts. This is something that has always struck me in my training. People say you are only as good as your horse, and in so many ways, yes, this can be true. However, I have gotten 8's on lines of changes where the horse only has a 6 or 6.5 for a canter, I have gotten 10's on halts and halts and rein backs when the horse only had a 6 for gaits. I have gotten great scores on tests where the horses overall capabilities might have been doubted but when presented with confidence and not stressing over the short comings I was able to present an overall good impression. I have received many horses through the years that people had given up on, or labelled unsound or uncooperative. I had some of my biggest successes on these horses. Why? Because I believed in them and I believed in my creativity to make it happen. I love riding. I love training. I love the connection I build with my horses. Because of this I create an anything is possible attitude in my riding. I can go out everyday and work with a horse without pressure, purely for the joy of the moment, and create a partnership where the horse wants to do the job. When you have a willing partner success is inevitable. Sometimes it might take a while to create the willing partner, but athleticism without willingness will not create long term success.
      I was not always believing this way. I definitely had times in my life with impatience, failures and lack of belief. However, it is the toughest horses that taught me the most. I am curious and stubborn to a fault. When the owners have given me the time the resulting outcome has always been good. I have not always had the luxury of time, and in these cases the outcome was not always as successful as it could be. In the event I had the time I was able to achieve good results, and in these times I really started to notice that anything is possible. When I really looked back on my training and the progress of the horses I realized that my times of doubt were unwarranted. I realize it does take time to explain things thoroughly. Things you thought the horse understood yesterday may need to be reinforced today. I also realize that I had the answers, there were just times that I did not trust myself to honor it. I always found out if there was something bothering the horse, even when the vets doubted my concerns. I always found the answers I was searching for when I really stopped and asked the right questions.
       What are the main ingredients? Patience, the ability to listen and curiosity.
      When you do not relax into the training session and put yourself in the right space, training cannot happen. The second nervousness creeps in, all learning shuts down. We all know this in theory, but it can be difficult to maintain in times of pressure. Putting yourself in a space for teaching is very important, with each horse, before every session. Most especially before shows and when teaching new movements. If you cannot find it, go for a hack and enjoy the time you have with your horse, pushing forward when you are impatient sets you back, it does not move you forward.  Remember, anything is possible, so tomorrow is another day.
       The ability to listen. Not to what you think the horse is saying, but to what it is actually saying. This is a game changer. My horse does not like to do changes, could actually be my horse is nervous because she does not understand my aids for flying changes, she over reacts and then I do not react correctly to her mistakes. We can work with this, we can break things down and teach the horses to understand the prerequisites for making a flying change. In this way they might even start to like being praised for their positive effort and then begin to like flying changes! There is a lot more to this, we can go into in another post. Listen to your horses, do not put your voice in their head, really ask your horse what are you trying to tell me?
       Curiosity. I am naturally curious and question everything, some people might think to a fault. In training horses this curiosity helps me to be a better trainer. How can I do this better? Why does my horse react that way? How do other people deal with this problem? I invite you to ask big questions everyday and if you do not know the answer ask someone, (that has experience) how to do it.
        Anything is possible is a way of life. It is about taking what you have and doing more with it. It is not only about riding. It is about believing that all you need is inside you. Allowing yourself to dream big dreams and then not let anyone convince you that it cannot be done. It might be hard work, it might take longer than you wanted and there might certainly be bumps in the road, but if you can dream it, you can do it.
         Start today and ask yourself, if I had time, which you do whether you think so or not, what could my Anything be?

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



Friday, August 9, 2019

Be youthful in your approach

         Perhaps you have noticed that I now sign things:
 Be youthful in your approach,
          Remember anything is possible
                     Connection is the key.
                     Be Youthful in Your Approach

                              What does this mean to me? And why do I like to share it?
                                            The reason I have adopted this as an affirmation is because sometimes we need to be reminded that its okay not to be perfect, and we must just try again, or continue to try.
                                             I am  reminded of Tony Robbins (who I am sure is not the first person to say this) who asks "how many times will you allow your child to try to walk before you say that's it? Never mind, you cant walk lets just give it up." These young children just try, fall down, get up, fall down over and over again until they get it done. They do not think about doing it wrong, they do not worry about what someone thinks, they just keep trying a little bit everyday until it is accomplished.
                                          This is what I mean by be youthful in your approach. Stay on course, know the objective, do not get frustrated and think about all of the reasons you cannot do it, just calmly stay the course and believe in yourself.
                       How do we apply this to riding?
                           Do you run before you walk? No you walk first. So is it okay that we learn how to sit properly before we learn how to make a leg yield and counter canter? Yes! Is there something wrong with us because we need to actually learn how to sit? No! We are not born knowing how to sit. We may be born with certain feel, some more than others, but this feel can easily be distorted and taken away by horses that are not properly trained, instructors that push us too fast or feed us incorrect information, or simply by not nurturing the feel. You also can develop feel with time and proper training. Learning how to properly sit on a horse is not easy, takes time and will always be rewarded. Seat work should be part of everyone's training and I can guarantee you that all the top riders are spending time on their seat. So why do we think we are bad riders because we need to do this? Perspective. We are looking through the window not open to the world. One might think they do not have time for this, they are bored with it or even have accomplished the best seat they can get and that is it. No! We can always get better, what we focus on gets better, but on the flip side, if we don't focus on it slowly we will loose it. Don't look around at the other people getting away with not sitting properly, look at the people that can sit and how their horses benefit over the long term, how normal horses move up the levels, tense horses become relaxed and less talented movers become graceful and extravagant. The people taking the short cut may be at the top of the leader board for a minute, but the people not afraid of learning will always achieve more in the long run.
                          Do you do half pass with a stiff horse? No! You can create more suppleness with lateral work for sure, but there are prerequisites for half pass and if your horse is stiff perhaps we would do better to start with flexion and bending exercises, leg yield and shoulder fore. Be youthful in your approach, put first things first, lay the foundation for a supple, through and happy horse. The same way we would nurture our children to learn the alphabet before putting a book in front of them to read.
                         When you are youthful in your approach you avoid overwhelm.   Why do we feel like we are not in control when we are riding? Because we did not lay a proper foundation and the horse is misunderstanding the aids. How can I avoid this? Approach everyday like a new day. Start with a proper warm up, notice how your horse presents itself. Is he stiff or supple? Energetic or sluggish? Nervous or relaxed? If you try to ride the horse you had yesterday you may not have success. Be present, aware and open to how your horse is feeling and you will have a much better ride. Install the correct aids daily. Part of my warm up is reminding my horse what my aids mean. If I take it for granted that everything works I will find myself overwhelmed when I am preparing for a pirouette and I cannot engage the haunches. I need to create a horse that is sensitive to my aids before I start with my difficult movements. How to ride a pirouette becomes extremely overwhelming when I have been riding the horse by holding up the basic canter. Riding a leg yield is not easy when my horse runs through my rein instead of waiting on the half halt. Start where you are.
                         Last but not least relax and enjoy the process. When we are young we do not have the concept of deadlines. We try and try again without thinking there is a time limit. Give yourself this freedom, in your ride, everyday. If it takes 30 minutes to warm up today, take 30 minutes. Tomorrow will only be worse if you force your horse to work in an uncomfortable stressed state. A little bit of progress day to day beats the up and down 5 steps forward 10 steps back scenario. Take time, don't waste time, but take time. When you are riding be riding. Deal with other life issues when you get off. Make space for your riding. Make space for your learning. Realize that the horse show that is coming up will only be more of  a success if you make the connection and process a priority. Not just getting it done, but how you do it. If your horse is more willing, more alive and supple at the end of the ride then you now you are on the right track.

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


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

What does watching do for you?

    Some years ago I went to Germany with Oded Shimoni and his horses. Beside supporting Oded and taking care of his horses I was there to learn. The first year I did take one horse, but none of it was about me. I rode on lunch breaks and tried hard to stay out of everyone's way. I watched as much as I could. From the lessons Mr Schumacher taught the people training toward the WEG to the inexperienced riders, the lessons taught by his students and many lessons taught by Ellen Bontje to her upcoming Bereiters. I sat in the corner and watched. In the beginning I had a bit of an American attitude about it I am sure. However, I sitting there and watching and watching and watching, slowly things started to sink in.
      So many people go to clinics or even to train with a master and go do their lesson and go home. This is a wasted opportunity.
       Anytime you are availed the time to watch I strongly urge you to do so. This was a major contribution to my knowledge base and all I wish is that I had had even more opportunity to do so.
      Recently I was able to audit a clinic with a super trainer, competitor and judge. I had hoped to ride, but things did not work out as planned, so I went to watch anyway. Super day and very thankful to all involved in putting this together. I know how hard it is to manage educational events and I so appreciate anyone who is putting forth the effort to do so.
     The first thing that struck me is how few people were auditing. We have a major lack of educational opportunities right now in New England.   There are so many trainers and students that would have benefited from this clinic. Second, it was labelled as a symposium, so directed toward the auditors. As a rider you have an obligation to the auditors to create a good learning environment. And yet, most of the riders did not watch any of the lessons.
      Lesson number one about clinicians: they have priorities, exercises and a way of delivering instructions that if you know about them ahead of time your lesson will go much smoother, communication will be easier and YOU will get more out of your lesson. In addition to the fact that the auditors will get a lot more out of the experience. I felt at the end of the day that everyone in the audience could teach someone how to warm up and do warm up leg yields because it was repeated again and again in every lesson.
          What did I love about this clinic? The absolute attention to relaxation, warm up and correct throughness. There was no short cut and if it took the whole lesson well that was that. So nice to see. Everyone is in a hurry these days and many times we are trying to ride the horse we ended with yesterday and forgetting the warm up and exercises that got us there. It was refreshing to see the time taken to get the horses in the correct frame and carriage for the movements and each time going back to work finding that again before moving on. So important and good for the horses. And as much as I believe in this it is easy to get off track! So yes, I also needed a reminder.
             So why is it good for us to watch?
                   We are not the only ones having a problem, chances are someone else is struggling with the same thing you do. It is relaxing to know you are not the only one, and maybe you will find a new perspective how to fix it.
                    When we watch we imagine what it would feel like to be riding that trot, giving that aid, riding that transition. When you get on your body has a better idea of what to do, how to swing and how to find the flow and then apply the aids.
                    Watching will provide you with new tools. Perhaps a new exercise you have not thought of or something you have not done in a while. Also, a new perspective of how to read your horses reactions and reaction time.
                     There is an obligation for us to learn. We must not think this is all about us. We are the example to the younger generation coming up.  Horses are evolving, training is evolving, riding is evolving. However, the direction must be correct. It is easy to get off track and forget about priorities. When we allow our own ego to get in the way of the training things can go wrong. We can get in a hurry, blame the horses, circumstances and many other things. When we watch, we open ourselves to the possibility that we can improve, we can get better and when we get better the partnership strengthens and when this happens we get back on the path to correct positive training. This takes time, we must always remember this. Staying in your own bubble can stunt your growth.
                  All this being said we need to pick what we put into our minds carefully. Try to find long term successful trainers that are putting the horse first. Make it important to look for trainers that are patient, interested in long term goals and not afraid to take their time to actually teach you.
               I hope this helps you on your path!

             Be youthful in your approach
             Connection is the key
               Remember! Anything is possible