Our approach is easy to understand; it breaks everything down into little lessons which build upon each other in a systematic, cohesive system. You can start with our system or you can integrate it into what you have already learned.
Our approach is based on science and nature, so it will only be incompatible with approaches which do not honor biomechanics or the horse’s spirit.
You can apply what you learn here to whatever it is you do with your horse, even if it is not even dressage. We have students across all riding disciplines who are able to successfully apply our methods and approach to bring out the best in their horse in the easiest, most compassionate way possible.
Our approach is kind and compassionate. Our approach teaches you to see problems from the horse’s point of view, and it teaches you how to resolve any problem in the kindest, most horse-friendly way.
Our approach respects YOU as the one in charge of your learning and your horse’s training. You are the one in control.
This is a method which teaches you to understand the causes for the things that happen and how to distinguish the symptoms from the source of the symptoms.
This is a method which teaches you the connections between the horse's mind, the way his body works, and the way he interacts with you. You learn to understand these connections, how they work, why they work, and what to do about them.
We can foster our creativity in our riding in a way that satisfies the technical aspects (such as which problems cause which symptoms, what body parts of the horse to address, what tools can specifically be utilized to address these, and how to proceed in the overall strategy of our riding).
We also can learn to cultivate our curiosity so that we learn the right questions to ask. As Albert Einstein said, “The quality of your answers is in direct proportion to the quality of your questions.” This is very applicable to riding.
Through this process we can learn to cultivate intuition and feel. Not everyone is born with "feel" or knows how to access their intuition as riders, but these skills can absolutely be learned. With the right tools and strategies.
By learning to ride with curiosity, mindfulness, and intuition, you can ride "in the flow". Learning how to diagnose issues, learning how to problem-solve, learning how to tune in, and learning how to thoughtfully ride every moment IN the moment. This is artistic riding.
It is about purposefully and mindfully being fully in the moment. It is present, alive, and dynamic.
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Sometimes we don’t realize how much we have already learned and how much we have improved. Our quality standards and our awareness have grown faster than our skills, and so we feel like we are riding worse than ever, although in reality we are riding better than we used to be, just not as well as we would like.
This week I want to share a few thoughts on something that most dressage riders are familiar with and that many of us embrace: perfectionism. It’s something that is taught to students from the very beginning, and it’s something that is demonstrated by teachers and role models. Many dressage riders even pride themselves on their perfectionism.
But perfectionism is a double edged sword. It can lead some to excellence, while it causes a great deal of pain and frustration to others.
In riding we often spend a large amount of focus on establishing and polishing the suppleness of the horse's body. We even often refer to the necessity for suppleness of the rider's body.
What is often, however, not mentioned or considered is that we also need to develop suppleness in the horse’s MIND, in his way of thinking. How flexible and resilient he is. How he adjusts to new circumstances or new exercises or new ways of doing the work.
And this also applies to the rider. As riders, we need to develop our own suppleness of thinking so that we also can become more flexible in our thinking, creative in our work, adjustable to circumstances, and resilient to circumstances.
So what does this look like?
Traditional riding instruction was often very rigid and inflexible. Disharmony or disagreements with the horse were usually framed as discipline and respect issues. That’s why you were told to prevail and insist that the horse carry out your orders at all costs - which can very quickly lead to fighting with the horse. The possibility that the horse was unable to comply due to a misunderstanding, a lack of balance, a lack of body awareness, a lack of suppleness, a lack of strength, or due to pain was rarely considered.
Anna writes that when she chooses an exercise to ride she sometimes gets stuck on one detail and continues with the exercise for too long. She loses track of her original plan and of the big picture. When she gives up her expectations and goals for the exercise or the ride, things start to improve. She also says that when she tries something for the first time on the spur of the moment she often succeeds, but when she tries it again it she can’t recreate it. This used to happen to me as well in the past. Everyone who is very passionate about their riding and who defines themselves through their riding is at risk of seeing every mistake as an “existential threat”. As a result, you get tense, you try harder, you use more strength (perhaps involuntarily because you feel pressured to get it “right”). This makes the horse tense. Instead of getting better, things get worse.
Everybody who studies anything seriously is familiar with frustration. Especially when you are an artist or an athlete, and especially when you are a rider. This frustration can have several sources. It can be due to impatience because we are not progressing as quickly as we would like or as we had hoped. A very common cause for frustration is when we compare ourself to others, whether they are our peers or our role models, or some arbitrary standard of excellence. I used to think: “What is WRONG with me? Why can’t I ride like so-and-so?” I would for instance expect myself to be able to ride as well as my teachers, although they had many more years of experience than I - not to mention the talent issue.
This is a subject that is interesting for students and teachers of dressage as well. We all want to learn to ride. That makes us curious. Curiosity leads to questions like: “How does this work?”, “How do I need to sit?”, “How do I ride a shoulder-in?”, “How do I teach a piaffe?”, etc. In pursuit of these questions, we take lessons, read books, and watch videos in the hopes of finding answers. Over the last 30 years the amount of equestrian literature has vastly proliferated, so that you can find many different publications to choose from on most topics. So far, so good. The danger is that there is a long tradition in the history of dressage to believe that there is only one true and correct way of riding and training. Everyone believes that THEIR way is the one and only RIGHT way, and that everyone else is, therefore, wrong.
Once you see that the rules you had learned don't always seem to apply, and that there are often alternative routes that lead to much better results you start questioning everything you ever learned and you start testing the rules by experimenting with alternatives.
Then you realise that the old absolute rules you learned are in reality only rules of thumb that work in a certain percentage of cases, but not always. I tell my students in lessons that the horses don't read our books. So they don't know that they are supposed to react a certain way, according to our theories.
One of the keys to success is to learn how to set clear goals, and then to set up a plan to achieve them. For me, personally, the process involves considering the logistics so that I can determine where I am overestimating my time and energy available (because I tend to dream big, but that dreaming process is important, too) but also so I can make some decisions about how to prioritize my time and energy so that I CAN achieve those goals. Without clearly thinking these things through, it is all too easy to get distracted by all of the things that happen in life. There is SO much to be distracted about! And whereas we cannot - nor should we - put the rest of our lives on hold in order to move forward in our riding - if we have clearly laid out our goals, prioritized which things need to make way in order for us to achieve these goals, and then revisit these goals regularly (I review and visualize my goals DAILY - that is a topic for a whole ‘nother newsletter!), then we stack the odds in our favor that we will at least get closer to our goals, if not achieve or surpass them altogether.
In my clinics and in our online courses the participants and myself make observations on a regular basis that are both interesting and significant. One such observation is that my exercises make not only the horse more supple and relaxed, but also the rider.