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  1. #1
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    Default Conversations with trainers and moving up levels - experiences?

    Only part you need to read to respond:
    I'm curious what kind of conversations are "normal" with dressage trainers at various levels. I feel that I have been extremely lucky because I have had fabulous trainers, including in my pre-dressage life in other disciplines. For those who have moved up levels, even if just from intro to first, what have your experiences been?

    My novel about my experience is below:
    I started off dressage with a lower level dressage/eventing trainer. I adore her! Horses whose riders work consistently and try to learn develop lovely toplines, thrust from behind, carrying behind when appropriate, etc. I think a lot of trainers lower level or upper level can't say the same.
    This trainer admitted to not being as good with rider position, and highly ecouraged us to go to clinics with trainers who were complementary to her training.

    I'm now riding with someone else because of problems I was having behavioral problems with my horse away from home which I knew required I learn more skills than she was able to help me with. Conveniently, the trainer who is helping me learn coping skills is also working FEI with a couple horses and has a greater understanding of details of using the seat and biomechanics issues. While I was riding my horse sufficiently to do first level work well at home, he is now helping me learn what I need to move up levels.

    Conversations have become "you need to do X with your seat to improve that downward" or "you need to do Y with your seat, which will become important when you try to ride piaffe and passage" or "do your simple changes while doing this with his body so you can do changes later." Plus the constant "make him move WHEN you ask, not later, or you'll make him dead to your leg and won't be able to get upper level transitions!" Yeah, hi, I have a hot horse and make him lazy. Oops....

    Because everything I do now is training me to ride upper levels, as well as getting my horse as straight and through and honest in contact as he needs to be, instead of "I really hope to reach FEI some day" it feels more like "when we get to FEI." I also get advice on what off-horse exercises and stretches to do based on my current most significant weaknesses, given things to work on next time I ride and he's not around, etc.

    While I know even more about the things I don't know or can't get right yet, I am absolutely loving the fact I get pushed to the edge of my stamina every ride, and that I can look back and see huge progress. Despite the rapidly increasing knowledge about how lousy I am in the big picture, I now feel certain upper levels are in my grasp. Is this a normal phase to go through, totally excited about what is many years in the future because everything I do now is framed in that sense?

    I do feel I wasn't ready for the new trainer until now - accidentally changing trainers happened at just the right time, and I'm so grateful to be where I am, thankful for my old trainer, and thankful for the new one, too.
    My horse is a dressage diva so I don't have to be.

    Quote Originally Posted by katarine
    If you have a fat gay horse that likes Parelli, you're really screwed


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  2. #2
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    I have a trainer like this too. We did intro last year and I'm shooting for Training this year. She pushes us which is great because the particular way she challenges me as a rider is both encouraging and confidence-building. My horse has the biggest heart and gives 110% (he's as green as I am at this dressage stuff so I <3 him even more for it) even if I'm not quite there in asking him to do so. On good days, we don't just settle for "training level" trot...she pushes us to try to achieve say, a "first level" trot. And then see if we can get even more!

    We were just working on canter departs during this past lesson and as we were working on cues, my trainer was explaining how what I was doing now with my hips and legs would translate into flying changes later on down the road.

    We also experiment a lot. Like, how collected can we get that trot before loosing the energy...we almost started getting half-steps for a few beats. How long can I let the reins out and still have him follow down into the contact.

    We get pushed to the brink at nearly every lesson, but I always hop down out of the saddle with a "high". The one yoga instructor I had called it "yoga brain" where you are sort of in a euphoric haze for a while. I get "dressage brain"! It's all just plain fun!
    The only thing the government needs to solve all of its problems is a Council of Common Sense.



  3. #3
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    Yes, it is amazing once we learn enough it really opens the doors to everything we don't know.
    Even for me, having ridden FEI, having ridden in a CDI, having some 1st place ribbons hanging up and I still feel utterly lost some days in my day to day training. I joke with my one student, who is a very good friend of mine, that she's lucky I that guess right most of the time because I'm guinea pigging her :P But it is true - we never know everything and in riding and teaching, even the highest up FEI level riders and coaches are only ever making a best guess at how to tackle a problem or teach something new - and often, we do make mistakes.
    And that is why it's always important to have a coach that you work with regularly. Not necessarily every day because that can create it's own issues, but a few times a month or a week, to have someone to help you and say "this is right, this you need to do more of, this is wrong, this needs to change" is so beneficial. Even if it is just their best guess, chances are someone with an Olympics and 50 years of coaching under their belt is going to guess right a lot more than someone like me with only 15 years of riding.
    I struggle a lot with feeling like I know what I'm doing and now that I've taken others under my wing, it's even more scary! But that's also why I like to participate on forums and do critiques or suggest things, because others do as well, I can compare theories and exercise and if I'm way off base someone will call me out.

    And yes - it is wonderful on how we stumble upon the right coach at the right time! Good luck and yes - FEI is in your grasp!! Keep riding and most importantly always have your thinking cap on. Think outside the box and always develop things that you feel will help you and your riding


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  4. #4
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    Lucky you. I also have, by chance, lucked into just the right trainer at the right time. Earlier trainers were good, and what I needed at the moment - but now I am getting the same messages as you - do this in this correct manner new, so we don't have to fix things when we get to higher levels.
    It has required unlearning some effective, but basicly incorrect, habits.... and I am SO glad to be doing it.
    Every day, it seems a new insight, a new feeling of success.


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  5. #5
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    I too feel lucky with my newest trainer. I had to make a change due to drive times, and availability to come to my place since getting a more demanding job and becoming a parent. I was starting to feel like I might have to put my riding goals aside, when I found my trainer. It's funny how wrong you can be about someone too based on what hearsay is out there too. My new trainer is helping me really get to the upper level work with much thought to the happiness of my horses and me. I have been one to ride for the special feeling of softness, and it seemed like tension was getting in the way when I tried anything more difficult with my one upper level horse. I have learned it doesn't have to be that way, and am grateful to learn this way of riding and feel extremely fulfilled. We are hoping to do my first PSG this year, all on my little backyard horse that has done a bit of everything. It is amazing how fast my young horse is learning and thriving under the new system. My youngster can be difficult at times, and we are dealing with it in a clear, fair manner that this mare understands. Without Regumate and cowboy trainers. Just me riding in a way that is clear and consistent. Sounds like a no brainier, but I was getting much different advice from BNT that would come to the area. I love the journey I'm on now, and can't wait for my next rides!


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  6. #6
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    I actually really did not like my first lesson with my current trainer. We spent a lot of time doing theory and little tiny details about like, walking straight across the arena. None of the exercises hung together, it was like, "Do this for five minutes, stop and talk talk talk, do this other completely different thing for five minutes, stop and talk talk talk, walk across the arena twice, talkety talkety" I didn't get it at all. My friend (an experienced dressage rider who has been a working student with show barns) was videoing and was also like, "What in the....?"

    But seeing how we live in a dressage wasteland, this was the only remotely credible show in town. So after I was still up a creek with no clue on the issues I couldn't fix with my horse, I called her out again. We did some more random little exercises. This time it was head to the wall legyield. Well ok then.

    For the longest time I never understood the lesson during the lesson. I would just shut my mouth and follow along. Then I would try the same stuff on my own, since it's not like I had any better training ideas. And I discovered that doing lots of head-to-the-wall leg yields, with a touch of counterflexion, really improves one's ability to ride straight. She never really explained that, but the results in the horse made it clear later on. My riding journal ceased to be a constant refrain of "I just can't get him into the right rein the same as the left." I rarely understood how everything hung together in the big picture until after fiddling about on my own at home for a while.

    So I guess my trainer is not the biggest explainer with words. Or she explains why, but I just need to be hit over the head with a 2x4, which is entirely possible. The exercises she chooses do the work. The little details she picks out swiftly work improvement in the horse. So now the horse who was initially tasked with, "Take a walk from E to B and try to go STRAIGHT this time" we are developing pirouettes while also paying meticulous attention to the basics. To some extent I honestly do not know how it actually happened but the horse tells the story.

    Who needs lots of words when you can just float around on your horse's new trot?



  7. #7
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    When the student is ready, the teacher appears
    See those flying monkeys? They work for me.


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  8. #8
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    I have been riding for 15 years and I will say it has taken every bit of those 15 years for things to finally "click" for me. I take weekly lessons on my 7 year old Arabian and he and I are both moving up the levels together....not always advisable, but this horse has been a dream come true in terms of an Ammie doing the "training". We moved up to second level and I credit my coach of the last year for not only inspiring me to work harder, but filling in all the holes that were hindering our progress. She has incredibly high standards, trains with Olympic level riders and does not blow smoke. In my first lessons with her there was no talk of moving up the levels. On the contrary, we were demoted back to the basics of forward and impulsion. In all honesty I was really discouraged by her assessment of me and my horse, especially since we had a successful year of showing at first level. I even questioned whether leaving my fun "backyard" coach for an FEI level coach was a wise move. Instead of feeling depressed, I think I was in a place in my riding where I could absorb her instruction and work on the things that I was doing to hinder my horses desire to go forward. I wish I could pinpoint the exact moment, but somehow it all clicked. Having an Arab her expectations may be lower for me, but lately there has been talk of third level and comments such as "I'm impressed". I guess for me exceeding someone's expectations has been a great motivator.



  9. #9
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    Fortunately, my trainer and I are both "thinkers" so it's a great match. It took me close to 10 years to find this match. Now add in a horse that is also a "thinker" and it is no wonder people are amused by our lessons..

    Trainer: "do such and such"
    Me: "I have a question"
    Trainer: "we'll talk in a minute"
    Horse: "can't you two get on the same page, here I'll help"
    Me: "Arggh! what is he doing?"
    Trainer: "Geez, will you two stop thinking so much"

    Then we stop and talk for a couple of minutes and get back on track.

    We talk a lot about what I need to work on to move up the levels. We are religious about showing only below where we are schooling at home, which BTW makes everything so much more fun at shows. We are both crazy detailed oriented, not just jumping from movement to movement but actually preparing for each movement in between them (well, that's the goal at least). I actually understand how the movements in test PREPARE the horse for the next movement. I've learned so much, but especially that I have a lot more to learn.



  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by meupatdoes View Post
    ...
    Who needs lots of words when you can just float around on your horse's new trot?
    I do so that I can recreate it when I ride on my own.

    Too many times, people just do what the trainer tells them without understanding either the reason for doing something (what's the problem you're trying to solve or the situation you're trying to create) or more importantly IMO, why it "works". What happens when the trainer isn't there?


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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by atlatl View Post
    I do so that I can recreate it when I ride on my own.

    Too many times, people just do what the trainer tells them without understanding either the reason for doing something (what's the problem you're trying to solve or the situation you're trying to create) or more importantly IMO, why it "works". What happens when the trainer isn't there?
    Which is true.

    On the other hand, sometimes you have to follow what the trainer says on faith and trust that the results in the horse will show you why.

    As you go up the levels, riding becomes increasingly counterintuitive. Use the right rein to turn left. Less hand but collect more. Send his neck where you want it from leg, not hand. And so on.

    So sometimes, you can't demand an explanation up front. You just have to do it even if you don't believe it yet and see for yourself.


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  12. #12
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    I never found any riding at any level counter intuitive. I have had trainers who made me wonder where we were going. And for some of them it's no wonder, I wondered.

    I was fortunate to start my dressage journey with input from some of the best out there. Now some of them are far more gray than when I started.

    Some people seem to "put it all together" quickly, others like me took a little longer. I think that tends to make me a better more patient teacher, and helped me fill my tool box.
    Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.



  13. #13
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    OP, I'd give my right a$$ cheek for a trainer who told me at all times *why* I had to do something simple in a correct way because it related to bigger, better, future things.

    That not only teaches the current thing, and how to get it, but also helps the student start to build that big FEI scaffold in her mind that everything else hangs off of.

    When I teach, I do stuff that seems fussy to my students who know less. I make a point of explaining when they'll need that piece of brokeness from the horse, or feel in their body. I think it helps them hold on and have faith while I'm asking them to do something well and they are currently doing badly.... when they don't see why the difference matters.
    The armchair saddler
    Politically Pro-Cat


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  14. #14
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    I think we'd rather have the $$, than the rest of the offering with them.
    Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.



  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by meupatdoes View Post
    Which is true.

    On the other hand, sometimes you have to follow what the trainer says on faith and trust that the results in the horse will show you why.

    As you go up the levels, riding becomes increasingly counterintuitive. Use the right rein to turn left. Less hand but collect more. Send his neck where you want it from leg, not hand. And so on.

    So sometimes, you can't demand an explanation up front. You just have to do it even if you don't believe it yet and see for yourself.
    I guess counterintuitive is in the eye of the beholder. I find it completely intuitive to use the right rein to turn left because I understand that I want to turn his shoulders/body and not just his neck. Also, riding back to front is a fundamental principle.

    There's a difference between demanding an explanation and seeking to understand. Some people want to really learn the detailed intricacies of riding; others want to cruise around; others are somewhere inbetween. Whatever floats your boat.

    Some instructors are better at articulating the details/underlying principles and appreciate students who want to learn at that level. Others like students that will just do what they are told and interpret questions as questioning the instructor personnally. Ask me how I know this.

    Even with an explanation, which I may not understand (it's not about belief), I'll give things a try because that's what I'm paying the trainer for. If I want to spend money for instruction or advice that I'm going to ignore, I owe my mom a bundle.



  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by atlatl View Post
    I guess counterintuitive is in the eye of the beholder. I find it completely intuitive to use the right rein to turn left because I understand that I want to turn his shoulders/body and not just his neck. Also, riding back to front is a fundamental principle.
    If this were really that intuitive, people could teach it to themselves.

    One minute you say you need the instructor to explain why to you so that you an recreate it on your own, then you say you find it "completely intuitive."

    If it is only intuitive after it has been explained, it isn't intuitive.



  17. #17
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    I am kind of surprised at the people who say they don't find riding counter intuitive.

    Just last night in a lesson I was explaining haunches in to a student. "Think of it as essentially a circle. Your weight is on the inside of the bend, pressing your inside hip down and toward his outside ear. Ride a 8m circle and when his front feet hit the wall send the circle-shape up the longside without letting his hind end touch. Keep your weight on that seat bone as if you could turn onto another 8m circle anytime. You will want to lean back on your outside pocket, everyone does."

    30 seconds later she said, "You're right, I DO instinctively want to lean back on the outside." Unless explanation counters intuition, riders will instinctively do it wrong.


    Have none of you ever crossed a hand over the withers to bend in while stepping OUT in the turn? Intuitively, people want to send their hand over where they want the horse to go. An experienced instructor can pre-explain: "I can tell you already when you first start with 'nose in, shoulder out' you will be crossing that inside hand over. Watch out for that and when you feel it happening open your inside hand and remember to get the outward steps from your leg." Unless explanation counters intuition, I will lay money on the fence post that that hand will go over the withers.


    The first time a rider starts to get into trouble on a horse, they curl forward towards the fetal position. The instructor has to counter this natural instinct with an instruction to "Sit up!" 99% of falls, even with experienced riders, happen over the shoulder, not over the tail.

    Show anyone who has never experienced dressage theory a picture of a horse going round and tell them simply, "Do this," without further explanation.
    Instinctively they will start messing around with the reins. Unless someone explains to them how to do it another way.


    Intuition is when you sit down at a piano and teach yourself to play with no help.

    If it is only 'intuitive" after somebody else has explained it to you and countered your natural instinct which you share with 99% of their other students and which they recognize themselves as having been tempted to do before someone else corrected them, that is not intuition.

    It means that instruction is correcting the natural instinct.
    That is the definition of "counter intuitive."



  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by atlatl View Post
    I do so that I can recreate it when I ride on my own.

    Too many times, people just do what the trainer tells them without understanding either the reason for doing something (what's the problem you're trying to solve or the situation you're trying to create) or more importantly IMO, why it "works". What happens when the trainer isn't there?
    Quote Originally Posted by meupatdoes View Post
    On the other hand, sometimes you have to follow what the trainer says on faith and trust that the results in the horse will show you why.
    I try to simply follow instruction and feel what happens in the moment. Then during breaks we discuss the change and what the purpose was if I didn't get it on my own. Sometimes I'll say "You had me do X and I felt Y, but I don't understand why that happened - what did it fix?" Because I have many and varied flaws, things which would be incorrect on a perfect rider are the change which I need. "Feel as if someone is pulling on your ponytail and lean back" actually got me sitting up straight when I reviewed video, but it FELT like I was leaning back at the time. "Hunch and make yourself short in the saddle" just got me out of an overarched eq type position so I could get my hips under me, while still actually leaving me with good posture. I do it as I'm told, and if I have questions ask later. "Don't steer around the corner, just push forward!" is because I'm leaning too much - and manage the turn without thinking about it, just get a more forward and balanced turn and learn the feel of riding a corner properly because of it.
    My horse is a dressage diva so I don't have to be.

    Quote Originally Posted by katarine
    If you have a fat gay horse that likes Parelli, you're really screwed



  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by meupatdoes View Post
    If this were really that intuitive, people could teach it to themselves.

    One minute you say you need the instructor to explain why to you so that you an recreate it on your own, then you say you find it "completely intuitive."

    If it is only intuitive after it has been explained, it isn't intuitive.
    Actually what I said is that I found the examples you cited as intuitive. Again, intuitive is in the eyes of the beholder. What anyone finds as intuitive is based on some foundational concepts/understandings. YMMV. I am compelled to point out that there are "naturals" at many things.



  20. #20
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    I ride 4th level.

    The best way I learn is just by doing. I had an instructor for a while who went into all sorts of detail about every godd*mn thing and half way through her explanations my brain had already walked out of the arena. That is just not how I absorb information about riding. I watch my trainers ride, sometimes imitating my faults, letting me see how they affect my horse, and then showing me what I'm actually supposed to do so I can see the results of that. I watch them skip around the arena pretending to be a horse and showing me how this pretend horse is being affected by aids. And then I just ride. I seem to intuitively know how things are supposed to feel but often I do not intuitively know how to get there, so I experiment until I can make it happen, even if sometimes it is very very hard and I cannot arrange my body the way I want. We separate test movements and using those movements to affect the horse in particular ways, and I think understanding how the horse's body is working is the best thing for me - feeling how the movements transform the horse rather than thinking "this is exactly how you do a half-pass". The answer to 'why' comes from the horse, rarely from the trainer. And that is not processed very much in words, but in physical experience.

    So in general we do not talk a lot aside from them telling me what to do and me seeing how it works by doing it. There are thinking riders and there are feeling riders and we all seem to be feeling riders. If you want theory and long conversations they are not for you. But for my riding and learning style they are great. They do not micromanage, they let me make mistakes and figure things out and feel things.

    But there is one thing we have had to talk about a lot. On other horses I have ridden I have been able to do flying changes with no problem. I never even had anyone tell me how to do them because to them it looked like someone else had obviously taught me. But with my horse I could not get them at all and I had no idea why because I'd always had them. It was like taking 100 steps back to somewhere I had never even been before. It was so frustrating!! So suddenly I had to think about the mechanics and what was different about this horse and I watched while my trainer rode a lot and a lot of skipping around with detailed instructions and I actually drew pictures to figure it out.



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