Pressing Onward

gustafson_-_jack_and_the_beanstalk-726768A 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.

                                        Not what we ordered

(posted 9-12-19)

This is an old story, but some things never change. Back in the mid-80s, I was on the staff of the National Instructors Seminar.The brainchild of Vi Hopkins, for a number of years it was held at her farm in Michigan. Colonel Aage Sommer (the Danish Olympic judge) and Major Anders Lindgren were the principal instructors. I had first gone as a student in 1981 and was gradually incorporated into their teaching program. I believe it was 1987 when Colonel Sommer retired. That same year Major Lindgren was unable to attend for health reasons. This all came to pass just a few months before the seminar (which was to last more than a week). Lowell Boomer, the USDF Executive Director, looked at me and more or less said, “You think of something!”

And so it came to pass on fairly short notice we were rescued by Karin Schlueter, a member of the gold medal winning German team at the ‘76 Olympics and Gunnar Ostergaard, who offered to pitch in for several days. He had to leave before the seminar’s end to make a weekend commitment. As he went to the house to change for the airport, a lesson was in progress with a second level horse, schooling third. The “participating instructor” conducting the lesson was working on flying changes, but the demo horse was consistently being late behind. None of the suggested exercises were helping, so Karin took over. He didn’t improve, so she climbed on to fix him. After a bunch of trials, still no joy. At this point Gunnar emerged to say good bye, dressed in his traveling clothes and carrying his suitcase. Despite his attire, in frustration Karin persuaded him to get on the horse and solve the problem. Gunnar tried increasingly radical, indelicate solutions, but the horse persisted in changing dirty.

There’s no big revelation here. Sometimes progress is simply meant to happen on a schedule not to your liking. It didn’t mean he would never learn— just not then. But if you are at home schooling one day and you can’t get what you want, remember this example of two international trainers of consequence who on a given day suffered that same fate. To quote a Mexican waiter, “Some days, Senor, ze bool he wins!”


(posted 9-4-19)

This is a matter of your personal preference. There is no right or wrong to it, but here is my opinion: The topic is how instructors project themselves to their students during lessons. On the one hand you can say how they come across is simply an extension of their own personalities, but teaching— like being a public speaker, a news anchor, or a TV weatherman—is a learned skill. As a teacher you have choices, and if you are self-aware, you can hone your communication skills be whatever you think works the best.

Two extremes aggravate me when I hear of them or watched in person. An instructor is presumably a professional. Patience and understanding by definition are part of the job. Some of the things which I have heard an instructor do or say in a lesson are too offensive, unkind, or inappropriate to go unchallenged. If an instructor feels that he or she is above working with a novice student, then they should decline the job, not complain and not be mean. Years later someone whom I taught in the past has recited what I had said to them back when. In our profession we must be mindful of the impact our words have and how long their effect can linger!

My other gripe is almost a polar opposite. It is instructors who are not honest with their pupils. Let’s be clear—it’s all right to have a sliding scale. “Relative good” or improvement should be rewarded even if the result is not anywhere near “absolute good” yet. But c’mon, people, an endless stream of “be-YOOT-ifuls!” and “su-PERS” delivered with false enthusiasm shouldn’t fool anyone.

As I said, this is just an opinion. If you are charmed by either of these modes, more power to you. If you teach, however, it’s worth listening to yourself occasionally to see if you fall where you mean to along this continuum.


The texts of past blogs which used to appear here have their own page. Access them with a simple click below