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.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Horses treat depression, they don't cause it!

This has been bubbling up for a while. The recent discussions on face book have made it even more clear to me that our sport is missing something fundamental to its survival.
I have ridden horses, literally since before I could walk. Horses have taught me more about myself, people and life then I could ever ask for from another human. The honesty of a horse is tangible. Their utter dependence on us creates a vulnerability that it is hard to fathom. Early on I knew I wanted a life with horses. There have been times in the past where I lost motivation or became depressed, due to personal relationship problem or influence, and it was my horses that were there to pull me out of bed. There has only been one short time in my life when I doubted my dedication to continue as a trainer, and that was because of personal family tragedy. In a short time, it was once again my horses, or specifically my horse Glorious, that made me join life again and move on with new energy and determination.

I am sad to hear of all the depression, anxiety and pain people are perceiving from horse sports, and Dressage specifically. I have never gone to the Olympics. I have great respect for all of those who have accomplished this amazing feat, and the same with any of our top International Competitions. I also have a great deal of respect for the kids going after young rider championships, adult amateurs looking forward toward Regional's and all other accolades we offer in our sport.  I have won awards at every National level. I have competed on teams and I have had the amazing experience of showing in Europe. But I don’t remember the ribbons, I don’t care about the awards. What I do remember is the journey. I remember the partnerships that I have had with very special horses, what each individual taught me and how I can now apply it to new bigger challenges, in life and training.
I know for a fact that many of the people that stay at a high level of competition year after year find the journey is the most important part, the challenge, the partnership, the feeling in the ring like you are part of a team. This, for me, is success with horses. It is not possible to have lifelong success and fulfillment with horses if you do not partner with them. It is not going to bring you the right relationships, confidence and belief in yourself if you go out day after day forcing something or pretending to be someone you are not.

Along my journey I have found myself in situations where I did not ride well under pressure, I was stressed and rode in a way that was not kind to my partner. I needed to learn how to control my emotions and dig deep to find out who I was, and then I practiced being this person, even under pressure. I am not perfect at this, yet, but it is something that has made me a better person and a much better rider. Does pressure need to be competitive? No, it can be from an owner, from a nervous or even explosive horse, it can come from many situations, including money. We must recognize it and work through why we feel pressure. I ask my kids in the webinars “what values resonate with you? Who do you want to be? Who does your horse need you to be?” I have asked myself this all along in my life. Some of my hardest times have been when I was trying to be someone on the outside that I was not on the inside.

What does this mean? I came to a point in my life where I felt that I did not fit in to this sport. I thought I was not going to make money or  have success because I am unwilling to make horses into something they are not meant to be. I stopped selling horses because the clients made me sad how they treated my horses, I started thinking I was not good enough. One day I woke up and started looking actively for people who believed like I do. I stopped feeling alone and instead I built a network of people that I can call on when I lose my way, when I feel alone or if I don’t have the right answers. I keep these people close, even if in distance they are miles away. I encourage you to build a network of your own.

I also found that I love kids! I love teaching kids and I love watching horses and how they behave with kids. Everyone told me that "kids today are not the same as we were, you are wasting your time, why do you bother with that?" they would ask me. What if it is not the kids? What if it is us. What if we are the tainted ones and we don’t like seeing the joy in the kids like we once had. I love horses and everything they have done for me. I love how they kept bringing me back to myself when I got off track, I love that they never judge me and they always try. Most especially sometimes I need to learn how to ask the right questions and in the right way. Kids deserve this also. They deserve to learn as we did while we were growing up. We must not put our pressures on them. These kids that love horses have the right to make partnerships, even with the horses or ponies that will not win championships. They have the right to make mistakes, fall off and figure out how not to do that next time. That is how we learned. If we want them to work hard and be “like us” then we need to let them have the fire that horses put in our bellies and it does not always come from winning. Sometimes it just comes from cantering in the woods with a partner that you know you are safe with.

I read something about Steffen Peters and his depression about not feeling he is good enough for the horse he has now. One of the ways he is solving it is to wake up in the morning and remind himself of his wins with other horses. I want to say to everyone; the partnership you have now is the one you must honor. Your horse needs you to notice him, who he is and who you are together. That is the beauty of these guys. We must not look at the faults, we must grow the strengths. Each horse is different and to not be present with them where they are now is to fail in the relationship.

I work hard, and I love what I do. I feel lucky to be able to get up and spend my day with these amazing animals. I am grateful to my family and to my clients who support me and support the special gifts that I bring to this barn and to the sport. Please, don’t discourage kids from riding, but, don’t make them ride for the wrong reasons. Horses are not made for us to make money from, they are not to make us famous and they are not here to build ego. Horses are here to teach us about our inner strength, who we are on the inside and what we can achieve when we get out of our comfort zone. Know who you are on the inside and grow this through your experiences riding, showing and training. When you get up every day and train your horses with love and compassion, when you honor your students, their goals (not yours) and impart your knowledge to them thoughtfully and find your own special contribution to this sport, horses will come to you. Some of the horses that come will be better than others in the show ring, but they will all teach you something important.

              There is a lot more to come on this subject! I think it is so important! Let’s start a new conversation. Please don’t discourage you people from riding. Let’s be an example of what good partnerships are about. Horses solve depression, they do not create it! We must invite them into our lives the right way.

Please comment, email me or call me with your thoughts.

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