Our Horses, Our Teachers
A short essay on my journey of learning from horses.
I am privileged to have had three FEI horses in my barn in recent years who have and continue to elevate my riding, training, and understanding of the art of dressage. In 2018 I earned my USDF Gold Medal on Topper. When Topper came into my life he had already been introduced to all the Grand Prix work. I still had to do the work of getting him on my aids, putting the test together, and attaining a show-ready level of fitness and quality of work. After all, movement after movement as required in a test is a whole other level of difficulty than schooling movements individually. Still, already having been introduced to all the elements of the GP was a major boon in my favor since I had never ridden at GP myself.
A year later in 2019, Ameera had advanced to the point of schooling all the GP movements. Ameera was the perfect next step in learning after Topper for me because she allowed me to make mistakes without causing backslides in the training. I attribute her forgiving nature to the level of trust between us (we’ve been together since I started her under saddle as a 3yo!) and her generally quiet mind. As an example, for a while I struggled with keeping my seat deeply glued to the saddle in the one- time changes. I fought the tendency to over-aid with my leg instead of using my leg secondary to my seat as it should be. The result was my seat coming out of the saddle and Ameera, as any well trained dressage horse, would not do one-times if she didn’t feel the aid from my seat. For ride after ride, Ameera allowed me to fumble through crappy lines of missed one-time changes, finding my seat. Once I did, she didn’t miss a beat and each week the number of one time’s we could successfully complete steadily climbed.
Now in 2020, another year later, Izzy is schooling all of the Grand Prix. Izzy is more mentally active than Ameera and lacks the confidence to be ok with me experimenting. When I prepare properly with well-established thoroughness in the warm up, she’ll confirm the correctness of my riding. If I make the mistake of beginning movements when she is not properly balanced or straight, she does not waste time letting me know! The margin of error is much smaller with this mare. I learn so much every single ride from her because I am ready for this challenge. I have Topper and Ameera to thank for that.
Every horse has something to teach us and at the same time, the amount and kind of pressure they can handle is different. If you are struggling to overcome an old habit and your horse is quite unforgiving of your mistake, it may benefit you to find another horse to get on a time or two to help you find the feel you need. Perhaps your friend would be willing to lunge you on her horse. Or maybe the trainer at your barn has a schoolmaster you can take a couple of lessons on. If splurging for a couple of schoolmaster lessons will springboard your work with your horse to the next level, I should say it is worth the expense!
And if you think you can’t relate to this story because you only dream of schooling one-time changes, focus your next ride on the importance of keeping a deep, relaxed seat while transitioning into the canter and you will be working on the exact skill you need for the one-time changes. One thing you realize as the work progresses and you move up the levels: it is all varying degrees of the same important basics.