There is no question that dressage horse riding is a challenge. And you certainly can’t spell Dressage without ego. Oh, yes you can. As a matter of fact, ego has no place in Dressage, literally. Ryan Holiday, a modern writer on Stoicism, observes in his book, Ego Is the Enemy….
“Not to assume it’s impossible because you find it hard. But to recognize if it’s humanly possible, you can do it too.”
Marcus Aurelius’ – Meditations
I’ve spent my “down” time (non-horse show season) when the days are shorter, and the Midwest slowly becomes uninhabitable, studying the Stoic philosophers. The three major ancient Stoics are: Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca.
Always Learning New Things: 7 Important Life Lessons
I’ve discovered deep in my heart, that I am
not a very good blogger. My entire life I’ve wanted to keep a diary or memoirs,
an insightful journal filled with wit. The problem is that I am rather boring
and lack the Sedaris kind of wit, so even though I wanted to keep a detailed
file of my experiences at Sport Horse Nationals, I found myself walking the
dogs, working the horses, enjoying the experience. Every day I stepped out of
our barn, looked at the grounds and thought, “Another beautiful day in Crete.”
And it was. And I was happy to be there. And I was grateful. So, I guess I had
a successful show.
I can’t help it. I have always been competitive. My entire family and extended family are big board game players. Some of my earliest memories are of playing board games with my brothers. Since my brothers are all older and, in their minds, smarter than I am, they usually won (by cheating or by skill, though most often by cheating). An insane desire to win grew in my little heart.
As I grew, it grew.
Naturally, as a masochistic over achiever, I was drawn to Dressage.
If you have horses and show them, in whatever discipline, you know how much money you spend following your dreams. If you’re smart, you don’t add up exactly how much you spend each year. The truth is just too painful. If you don’t own a horse and show it, try guessing how much showing a horse costs.
Not long ago I told the story of my mare Petie, who has been my almost constant companion throughout my journey as a dressage competitor and trainer. In the first part, I wrote about Petie’s graceful and gentle nature which made her nervous and easily spooked.
In this post I’ll tell you about three important clinicians who were able to see the cause of her troubles (Spoiler alert! It wasn’t anything wrong with Petie), and more importantly saw more potential in her than, at the time, I ever could.
Through the years, I’ve had potential clients come into my
barn and they have war stories. How the last barn manager/trainer/instructor did
them wrong. Usually I consider this a warning sign. First, the person may have
a chip on their shoulder. Second, she may honestly have a difficult horse that
each new trainer or barn was expected to magically fix. Third, she may be the
owner-expert who has never been in the trenches, trying to do their best dealing
with clients, long difficult days, and the unpredictability of horses. Horses
get sick or injured and sometimes, God forbid, even die, no matter how well
they were managed. Most of the horse professionals I know really try to do a
You know the feeling. You’ve knocked out what you believe is a good, solid test. You head to pick up your score sheet. When you get it, you melt into a puddle of unhappiness, try to interpret the comments and scores, and scratch your head (or pound it into a wall) because you just don’t understand what happened. Many exhibitors do not know how to interpret a test sheet and use it as constructive criticism. Many are not aware of the all important Purpose of the Level.
Several years ago, one of my favorite people in the world,
presented me with a Christmas gift. It seemed like a simple token to the rest
of the world, but to me, this one present meant more than any other. It was a
coffee mug that read, “Fear the little bay horse”.
Looking back on my life with horses, I have a soft spot in my heart for “That horse”. I was 16 years old and he was the horse that gave me confidence, not just in the show ring, but also in my own abilities. He was not my horse, but a horse someone let me lease. My well-meaning father had bought a horse that we could afford but didn’t have quite enough training for my inexperience. The leased horse let me feel what was right. He responded and acted as a partner. I never doubted him to carry me around the show ring while I got experience. I owe that horse everything. I was able to take those skills on to my horse, and then, develop more skills. Each horse was a professor in my continuing education, even today. But it all started with “That Horse”.
About 20 years ago, I couldn’t find a good farrier. My trusted farrier’s back had finally given out and he was done. Farriers don’t grow on trees, and GOOD farriers are a rare bird. During a visit to ISU vet school, I asked their residential farrier if he knew someone that I might call to do my regular work. He said, “Well, I have a guy that you can call. He’s very good. He’s a Certified Journeyman Farrier, but he’s kind of prickly. He doesn’t get along with everyone. You might not like his personality.” I looked him square in the eye and said, “Listen. I don’t need a great guy. I need a great farrier.” He gave me the man’s number and he has been my farrier for almost 20 years.
Most of us have that person in our life that is perfectly pleasant in many respects, but just can’t seem to quit when enough is enough. They will support you, but then continually offer unsolicited opinions on what you need to do. And just won’t stop, ever.
Horses are team players. They can’t help it – evolution demands it. Before we domesticated the horse, millions of years of evolution had shaped them into a herd animal that must play well in the group in order to live long enough to pass on its genes. A horse’s ranking in the herd hierarchy does not necessarily matter, but acceptance by the group is paramount. A lone horse is a dead horse.
As an owner or rider it is important to understand a horse’s innate imperative to “go along with the herd” and make sure that we are send clear and consistent messages during training.
I am giving a lesson. We are working on the flying changes of lead. We are building toward the changes that the horse already knows, but as we progress in the lesson, the horse not only acts like he has no idea what his rider wants, but he is starting to act irritated. I hop on to evaluate what the problem may be. Is the horse being naughty; is his back sore? What is going on? I start the canter work, balance the horse and perform the changes without much problem. We trade places and the student asks: Continue reading Focus on the Basics
I became aware of the existence of the Dressage Rider Pyramid during the L program, and I must admit that after I gave it a cursory glance, I thought, “this is stupid.”
However, while doing some research for another article, I once again stumbled across the Rider Pyramid, and upon reevaluation, I realize that I was wrong. Terribly wrong. This pyramid for riders makes sense. Because the focus is on the essential basics, it maps out the path to a successful relationship with your horse, giving you a roadmap to becoming a better rider.
Why go to a horse show? Why don’t you just light $2,500 on fire and then have someone push you in dirt?
Yep. That pretty much sums it up. But showing your horse is also gives purpose to the many hours and days you spend training and grooming, which can motivate you to do your best even on those days when you just don’t feel like doing it. Shows are also a great opportunity to meet other owners, to socialize and to share knowledge.
Below are some of my experiences with horse sows, the good and the bad, and the reasons why I continue to attend them.