Horses make the best teachers.

Not every horse is for every rider, but a rider can learn something from every horse.

Some horses are so easy, that they make moving up the levels a snap and you wonder how anyone could ever call dressage difficult. Others are so tricky that you have to push and prod them along, all the while wondering if you should have your head examined for believing that it is even possible.

My last horse was the latter version. Unbelievably talented, but came with a low tolerance for sloppy riders. No floppy legs, with accidental bumps of the leg or spur, no bouncing hands, no loose seat. He didn’t do anything naughty if you were a bit sloppy– he just stopped working.

I once let a friend get on him to get a feel for some of the lateral work. She wasn’t used to staying as still and independent in the saddle as he liked. In less than 10 minutes, his energetic working trot dropped to a prizewinning western jog. That was the way he was.

He was my toughest ride because it took so much concentration and core strength to remain quiet and stable in the saddle, but when I was correct in my seat and aids, the feeling he gave was like no other.

The thing about dressage, is that is actually quite logical and progressive. It is not magic, nor is it hocus pocus. The training scale is a good rubric on training a horse, while the content and directives on a dressage test suggest which exercises might be useful in communicating the rubric to the horse.

For instance, first establish forward (horse moving in front of the rider’s leg) then suppleness (bend) then connection (stretching into the rider’s hand). It builds on itself. The dressage tests suggests that straight lines and a few transitions may be useful for developing the forward, while circles, serpentines and turns help create bend, and if both are in place, connection should be present.

While we understand that first A then B then C in any and every situation, some horses don’t necessarily put two and two together, or they do so in surprising ways. It becomes our job, then, to keep A before B before C. Where things become interesting is that the rider’s seat, position and aids under gird the entire pyramid. Just as we are teaching the horses about the pyramid, the horses are teaching us about how to ask appropriately and be independent in our aids. Moreover, they are also teaching us dozens of different ways to explain A-B-C to them. An exercise that one horse finds enlightening won’t necessarily be as helpful with a different horse.

As for my horse, I learned more from him than he ever learned from me. In areas where I previously knew 1 or 2 exercises, I now know an additional 7 or 8 more.

In what areas are you challenged to teach A-B-Cs of the training scale to your horse? What concepts do you have to have multiple tools for?

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