A couple of years ago I started assembling some thoughts for a blog, but, oops, it became DRESSAGE Unscrambled. Other than The Godfather, Part II, I can’t name very many sequels that measured up to the original. So, now it’s back to Plan A. I ended D.U. for the same reason that you stop eating potato chips—at the time I was full and, presumably, so were you. But like an old dictator haranguing the crowd, I’ve got my second wind now. You probably join me in observing that many, many riders get in their own way—by over-analysis, by under-analysis, or sometimes because they just ought to be in analysis. Dressage is full of Truths. You are bombarded by them in books and articles, during lessons and lectures and even over a glass of chardonnay at your dressage club meeting. Unfortunately, those truths are not all equally applicable across the board in all circumstances. Some obfuscate; others downright confuse. Navigating the whole shell shocking world of dressage is as fraught with pitfalls and booby traps as the task of Buying Your First Horse is to an unwary and unaccompanied novice. I certainly don’t claim to have a monopoly on dressage wisdom, but the same rules that apply to the human condition are equally valid as applied to our sport—exercise some common sense and avoid the mistakes that everyone before you has made. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t take it all so seriously. It won’t make you ride any better. As before, the tales which follow are not arranged chronologically but in studied disorder. Some are meant to illuminate. Others to distract. Some just can’t stand to hide in the dark any longer. Light and Truth R Us. And, oh, by the way, feedback is GOOD! I’m afraid that within me there’s an element of Alexander Haig after the Reagan shooting or Riff in Rocky Horror–“I’VE GOT TO KEEP CONTROL!” Consequently, this isn’t an open contribution blog. Tell me what you think. If it fits in, I’ll post it. If not, at least I’ll have learned something. CLICK to comment on anything below.
My regular students usually have come to understand the flow of our training process. That’s not always the case when someone presents themselves at a clinic. Most times they are thinking “This is costing me a bundle. I better get a lot out of it!” From the clinician’s viewpoint, some problems are easy to unravel– more understandable aids or a better exercise to employ. Sometimes it’s as simple as the rider misperceiving what their work actually looks like.
Perhaps the hardest ones to convince are the riders who say, “So what do I do next?” when the correct answer is to just keep doing exactly what they are. There are times when horses are not ready to progress. Then your job is to confirm what you’ve already got. Sometimes mere repetitions will build the confidence that a horse needs to face the next challenge. In a timid, defensive horse that challenge might be as simple as learning to trust a passive contact before he’s asked to accept a more sophisticated outline. Just having a chance to digest the information that has already been presented (This can apply to the rider too) is sometimes the right path to pursue even if it’s not very exciting.
Then there’s the “Make It or Fake It” conundrum, not an unusual issue with riders who have been taught to appreciate appearance over substance. Samples: “What’s the big deal about the inside leg? He moves over fine if I just use an indirect rein.” Or “He backs up better if I swing my lower legs back and pull. Riding him forward into a non-allowing hand is much too complicated.” The hard to fathom answer (where light only dawns once perspective is achieved) is that many times the aids or the exercises are done not only to achieve a short term reaction but to develop the conceptual building blocks which allow follow-on themes to work.
And finally in the Things We Think but Are Not Always Free to Point Out Department: If a rider doesn’t think going back to basics really helps solve a problem, it’s quite likely they never understood the basics in the first place. True enough but a good line to use if you never want to be invited back.
Does this sound like you? A woman came to my clinic with a fancy but difficult horse whom she had recently acquired. The horse was a schoolmaster and knew lots of tricks, but he had been ridden the last few years only in a double bridle. His poll was very high, his topline very short with the underneck muscles bulging. He wanted to run against the hand and be very heavy in the reins.
We spent the first several days making him be slow, asking him to accept the half halts, add him to “wait for the leg.” What took place was a wondrous transformation as he relaxed, lowered, and began to seek the bit without bracing on it.
All the auditors were impressed with the difference. I was quite thrilled. Both days had been videoed by a friend, and at that second evening’s potluck we sat down to watch them.
The first words out of his rider’s mouth: “Oh, look how round my shoulders are!” Okay, they were a little round, but I had to laugh. Isn’t it so typical that we all, being our greatest critics, would focus in on a minor detail and blow right by the radical and beneficial changes which had been made?
I hardly know anyone who looks at their own riding and is pleased with themselves. And I think it’s laudatory to always wish to improve, but it’s also fine to keep your perspective and give yourself credit for those sorts of accomplishments—even if they are not complete. They are the moments we strive for. Enjoy them!
The texts of past blogs which used to appear here have their own page. Access them with a simple click below