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, October 8, 2019


          Through the years I have ridden with some awesome trainers. I have also taught many clinics, have students in training and have had the opportunity to teach many people all ages, levels and types of horses.
           The reason that I have studied and become an RMT Life Coach and a Mindfulness Coach is because I felt that the dressage training did not prepare me well enough for the  conversations and mindset aspects of dealing with people in a training and competition environment. I hope what follows will help people develop healthy relationships with their students and coaches, all in the interest of riding our horses better.
           The trainers I was most successful with had their way of dealing with me, and their other students, but was that approach working for me with my students. I felt that side of it was limited. So I went outside the horse world for guidance.
            I feel that my ability to communicate with my clients is so much better now than it used to be. I also feel better equipped to negotiate difficult conversations and build trust in the relationship so we can tackle the real goal, which is learning better how to connect and ride the horses. All this being said, the ultimate stumbling block, for me and my students, is healthy communication. For me, I grew up in a time where you did not ask questions. We rode and did and tried and cried, but we did not ask questions. There was a time when I was in a relationship with my trainer and we talked all the time about training, but never when I was riding, during that time it could get quite uncomfortable if I asked questions. At least we could talk about it when we weren't riding, so this was very helpful, and perhaps a bridge that helped me to where I needed to be.
              Since then I have developed the discipline to ride when I am supposed to ride and the determination to ask questions during the walk breaks and perhaps even before the lesson. I do not ride with many new people. I know myself well enough to know that if we cannot talk about the feeling then this is not the right instructor for me. I also know that I need to push myself sometimes and riding through something that does not "feel good" can be necessary. However, I will not accept that this lasts too long, and I never accept the idea that my horse is not trying. So again, the trainers I ride with need to believe the same basic principle that I do, and that is that my horse is always trying to do what I want, if we are muddled it is because he is confused and I need to explain it better.
             This is where it becomes very interesting. I believe that when two people disagree and cannot connect in a lesson, it is because there is a fundamental belief that is different. It took me a while to figure this out. I can tell you that I have stood in many rings and taught many lessons, and talked myself blue in the face, and ultimately what I was missing is that their fundamental belief was different than mine. What does this mean?  (There are many basic principles, but here I just mention a couple that could get in the way. ) This means one can believe that the horses come to the ring with the idea not to work and to do what ever they can do not to work vs me who believe that horses are generous creatures and are trying to figure out what we want. Imagine the lesson I teach coming from my point of view and the irritation of the student that has no interest to believe this. My whole strategy will have to change in order to make progress with this rider.
           Another example could be me coming to the lesson believing that the student can do what I am asking, and the student having an underlying lack of confidence or anxiety about the exercise we are talking about. With this block in place I can talk myself blue in the face but we really are not going to get the job done until we are able to come closer together on this subject.
          One more example might be the instructor coming with a preconceived notion that the student has no feeling or concept of what they are trying to do, and then this instructor comes from a place of belittling or criticism instead of thoughtful explanation and building trust. It is our obligation to hear our students when the conversation starts. I always tell my kids, unless you are the one with your butt in the saddle never ever judge. I truly believe this, and from this point of view I must stay open and listening when the conversation starts. I am also always willing to get on and feel something when I get stuck in a lesson. It might look like one thing and then you get on and it feels totally different. This is where healthy conversation must come in, and the horse must not be innocently in the middle of the struggle of two egos.
          When is a good time to ask questions? During a break. When do we take a break? Before the point of no return. When confusion starts, say that you need to take a walk break, do good transitions, stay connected with your horse and then start the conversation with respect and honest curiosity. This goes for both the instructor who may see things sliding down hill, or the student who may be confused or incapable of doing the desired exercise.
            I hope this helps students that are uncomfortable to ask questions, or feel like their instructor thinks "its my way or the highway.' Really it is not like this. Good riding requires that we get out of our heads. This is what an instructor that tries to push you through that bad moment is trying to do. I also hope it helps instructors to understand that not all questions are questioning your knowledge or capabilities, questions can simply be questions and we are curious to know your interpretation of the answer.
             I hope this is beneficial to you and the partnership you have with your horse!
               Be youthful in your approach
               Remember anything is possible
                Connection is the key



Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Training and Care

   Good Morning! We all know that the quality of the care we give our horses will directly impact their performance, and yet how many people really love the care as much as they love the riding?
    There is a feeling among trainers that as they become more advanced they should do less of the care part. This makes sense to people in other businesses where the more advanced you become in a field the less of the grunt work you  have to do. Yet, in many intriguing businesses it is the creative part of the scenario that makes it worthwhile, and in the end successful.
     In the last two interviews I did, both top trainers said that the time spent with their horses was what made the partnership successful. Both said that noticing how the horses are in the stable, hand grazing and even taking them to the paddock to get a feel for their everyday experience made a huge difference to their relationship. Yet, so many people that are riding horses do not enjoy this part.
      Training horses is so much more than just the riding part. Letting yourself into the life of your horse and really looking to see how happy he/she is in the daily routine? How relaxed in the stable? How joyful in the paddock? Is the feed and hay really enjoyed or is he/she eating it because there is no other choice? How about his/her neighbors? Do they enjoy each other? Is the turnout routine creating relaxation or stress?
         For me ulcers and other stomach ailments are signs of constant stress, not something that just randomly happens at a horse show. Finding a way of life, a daily routine and rhythm that suits your particular horse will create a much better attitude when riding. This will also help your horse to be more ready to accept the tack and be more willing to accept the aids. A horse living in constant stress will not be able to turn the obedience and submissive button on when presented with a rider and a ring.
         Horsemanship must be holistic, in my opinion. For me as a trainer I feel that it is my responsibility to constantly ask what can I do better? How can I make this horses life even more relaxed, even more healthy? As a trainer I need to take into account every aspect of the horses care, and try to look at the picture from his/her perspective. Another difficult thing is that often the thins unseen are the most important. Do you get rewarded for picking your horses feet out daily? No! But will you be punished when he thrush? Yes, lameness will ensue. Do you get rewarded for brushing under the saddle as much as how someone might notice a nice tail? No, but will you be punished when you do not brush well under the saddle? Yes! Bumps and saddle soreness will ensue.
         As a professional horse trainer this can sometimes be difficult because we also have the owners schedules and wishes to accommodate. It is important to know as an owner that sometimes your horse actually prefers to be turned out, stabled or ridden at a certain time, and this might not be what you think it should be.
           This has happened to me with my own horses in the past and it really made me crazy that they did not like something that I really thought they would! With Alexis I thought that part of her stress was being in a new place, all the new things to look at and unfamiliar territory. I spent hours and hours taking  her to the rings, taking her to the show grounds early and walking anytime this was allowed. It turned out by the end of the show she was worse than at the beginning, but still I persisted believing that I just didn't do it right. Later I found her to be amazing if I just took her off the trailer, showed her and took her home to sleep.  Of course this eliminated CDI's from her life, but when I realized this was what she liked, at least we were able to have a successful partnership in the ring.   Our training started to improve as my preparation for the shows was more set to what she needed and not what I thought she needed. I came to find out her hormones were causing great problems with her muscles and the stresses from the show were creating this circle of pain for her. It was not at all what I thought, but it took me a while before I really understood.
            More recently with Glorious we rented a stable with an in and out barn. I was so excited for him as I thought he could spend a lot more time out in the paddock and then go in and out of the stall as he wanted too. I imagined this to be great for his breathing and his brain. I was so excited for him to have the freedom that I thought he always wanted! He hated it. Everyday I would try again, and he wanted to come in in his normal routine and eat lunch inside with everyone else. My groom was telling me Nancy he does not like it! I was determined that he should and would, of course it did not work.
            The biggest lesson I have gotten from my horses is the ability to listen. I have to trust myself to do this and I have to remind myself when things are difficult, or feel difficult that I need to listen and turn off the "should".  I encourage all of you that ride, whether professionally or as amateurs, to listen to your horses. Try not to impose your ideas and egos on the backs of your horses. Remember they are in the present moment. They are not thinking about the horse show coming up, they do not plot how not to work for you in the night. This is the biggest gift they give to us, is to bring us back to the now.
         I hope this perspective will benefit you in your training today!
                Be youthful in your approach
                Remember anything is possible
                Connection is the key.