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Learning on a schoolmaster versus learning on a challenge-horse

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  • Learning on a schoolmaster versus learning on a challenge-horse

    Hey all,

    Just a bit of a discussion-topic I was thinking about earlier. Would you rather have someone (yourself, friend, student, etc.) learn on a schoolmaster or a horse that is genuinely challenging to ride but obviously still talented and capable of moving through the levels? Not "learning" as in: how to sit on a horse that can WTC, but the real nitty gritty of dressage.

    I ended up doing the latter as a kid/teenager. I got my horse as a green 4-year-old when I was 14 (wouldn't recommend this, worked for me but I'd always encourage kids to go for something older and more trained!). I had pro-trainer help move him up the levels but he was a very stubborn and challenging horse to ride and train and for that I believe he helped me learn the intricacies of dressage better than if I had initially purchased an older schoolmaster. I later on had the opportunity to ride greenies through FEI schoolmasters as a working student but I still valued my learning on my "challenge-horse" and consider it to be the best horse-related opportunity that I had access to since he required so much correct communication or else he'd shut down.


    Obviously having access to all types of horses along with a pro trainer is the best training that exists, but if you had to choose something as a first-horse, would you consider a tried and true schoolmaster over something you knew was going to be a huge challenge or vice versa? I think on paper the answer seems to point to schoolmaster, but my experience had me thinking about what kind of rider I would be if I had access to a different first horse.

    Just an interesting discussion point that I'm hoping this community can explore a bit
    Last edited by dressagefjord807; Jun. 20, 2019, 09:47 PM. Reason: Better worded my question

  • #2
    I think learning what “correct” feels like on a schoolmaster is better for most riders.
    Sheilah

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    • #3
      A good schoolmaster is not as easy to ride as some would think. You have to be correct in your aids or you will (at best) be ignored. I don't know of a better way to learn. You are lucky that your green horse was a gifted and willing dressage horse.
      "She is not fragile like a flower. She is fragile like a bomb."

      Comment


      • #4
        Probably the best path for a rider involves multiple schoolmasters. Riding school horses won't typically win any level dressage competition, but they're masters for teaching first time riders to canter. Having a horse that is properly trained who actually will respond correctly to seat and leg is pretty important for getting up to about 2nd level. Above there, you need a horse properly trained, sensitive, and athletic to develop collection to learn the work of 3rd and up.

        If you don't have a horse that will reward you for riding correctly, you'll never learn to do it. Whether that horse is green and you're carefully monitored by a gifted trainer or a been there done that horse matters a little less.

        An FEI horse is often a very challenging ride - you need a stable seat and clarity both to get the actual behavior you want and to even safely go around the ring. IE, sure, maybe he does tempe changes for anyone... but you might be out of luck if you just wanted to canter down the long side on a single lead...

        If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket

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        • #5
          Both?

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          • #6
            As a re-rider (30 years off) I was lucky to start back with an instructor who had access to private horses that were well trained. So I got to feel many correct movements as each horse had a specialty beyond WTC. Now on my own horse there are different things to learn. Not just how to give a correct aid but how to set up a relatively green horse for success. The best thing that I have had to learn is WHEN to raise expectations, to know that my horse is fit enough and understands the aids and NOW should respond in a certain way. Building blocks in place and all of sudden(not really) we have magic.

            But there is still so so much to still learn. Then there is learning on each new horse, as I have sat on enough to know that what works with one might not be the best for another. Then, of course, your personal goals might influence what would be ’best’.

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            • #7
              Absolutely a schoolmaster who will give the rider a correct “target” feeling. There are schoolmasters at both lower and upper levels...horses who are correct, and generous enough to respond when asked with correct aids.
              This DOES NOT make them easy to ride.
              After the rider feels the goal feeling, then branching out to greener horses is a must for developing further training skills, while maintaining their standards on trained horses.
              All trainers know that riding only green horses will devolve your standards.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by SillyHorse View Post
                A good schoolmaster is not as easy to ride as some would think. You have to be correct in your aids or you will (at best) be ignored. I don't know of a better way to learn. You are lucky that your green horse was a gifted and willing dressage horse.
                THIS! They aren't easy to ride but if you are correct, they are correct. This is really valuable when learning to ride a greenie - when you are correct, they aren't necessarily correct and you have to wait out their choices to responding to your aids and positively reinforce the correctness. On a green horse, this can't be done unless you are confident in your aids. Hence the joy of the picky schoolmaster,
                Proud member of the Colbert Dressage Nation

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Rerider54 View Post
                  Then, of course, your personal goals might influence what would be ’best’.
                  That seems like a pretty reasonable answer.

                  Schoolmasters can give you an exemplar correct feeling to train your proprioception. They can help you relatively quickly move from achieving the gross mechanics of a movement to fine-tuning your feel and timing and really dialing in your riding. They can teach you the importance of rider fitness, too! Who better to teach a rider than a well trained horse? But schoolmasters aren't plentiful, especially at the levels where learning to feel correct movement becomes so important, and a huge number of dressage riders are lucky to have somewhat infrequent opportunities to ride schoolmasters, if at all.

                  Challenging horses can teach you to break down a problem and think about multiple ways to approach it. They can teach you how to address or compensate for weaknesses. They can teach you patience on a whole 'nother scale. They can teach you how to teach (Rerider54 makes a great point about learning when to raise expectations). The sense of accomplishment you can get from turning an unlikely specimen with little training into a serviceable dressage horse at a respectable level is pretty fantastic. But progress tends to be less linear, finding exceptional instruction becomes truly imperative, and there are sneaky costs to the challenge horse (time = money, emotional impact of setbacks and roadblocks).

                  As for the OP's question, I think in an ideal world we'd all have opportunities to ride schoolmasters early and often and nobody's first horse would be a real greenie. Beyond that, I think Rerider54 nails it (at least as far as ammies are concerned). If to you achievement means consistent progress or moving up the levels or meeting successive goals maybe starting with schoolmasters is an ideal option. If your sense of achievement is focused more on problem solving and creative processes and overcoming obstacles, then maybe you'll be happy with a challenge horse.

                  My first horse was certainly a challenge, and never ended up being much of a dressage horse (rank off track horse + novice rider + lousy instruction is not a recipe for success ... go figure). But I don't think I'd trade that experience for earlier access to schoolmasters. It may not have contributed all that much to my development as a dressage rider, but it shaped me as a person in a number of ways that I wouldn't want to undo. And it may not have given me the specific tools that got me a lot farther with my current (also challenging, but in different ways) horse, but it prepared me to acquire those tools the hard way. Given that I'm unlikely to ever own horses with more prior training or physical talent in the future than what I have now, there may be even more value for me in the kinds of lessons my challenging horses have taught me than in the kinds of lessons I could have learned by owning or leasing a schoolmaster early on. If I had the resources to pursue all my ambitions, then the relative value of schoolmaster input might be a whole lot higher!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I'm one who would say both. Not all of us have access to schoolmasters and make do with what we have. Honestly I'm not sure I would trade that for anything. However I've also been blessed with a few opportunities to ride schoolmasters who gave me a wealth of information (the horses). It's kind of like the chicken or the egg sort of thing. Did I appreciate it more, the schoolmaster experience, because I worked so hard on greenies being a greenie myself? Not sure but I know I feel lucky just being able to ride and experience all that I have. Either way, it's the journey and you make it all that it can be. Happy trails everyone!
                    Ranch of Last Resort

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                    • #11
                      It depends if you want to learn to ride or learn to train. Both types of horses have lots to teach you - the right choice is whichever one makes you look forward to riding them every day

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                      • #12
                        I learned from every horse. The 'freaks' taught me to stay in the saddle whatever's happening.

                        And on our journey we all need horses that are willing to forgive mistakes.

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                        • #13
                          My schoolmaster taught me a lot...trained does not mean easy to ride in dressage!! I then bought a baby...broke and trained him with the help of an FEI trainer. I really enjoyed both processes.
                          Humans dont mind duress, in fact they thrive on it. What they mind is not feeling necessary. Sebastian Junger

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            So in a perfect world I would like each rider to have one of each. Schoolmaster and greenie. Assuming the rider has a grasp of the basics of walk trot and canter and a good balance. If that isn’t an option schoolmaster first.

                            I will preface this by saying I’ve never been able to have a schoolmaster myself... I’ve always done it the really hard way (like my first horse my parents bought me at 14yrs old was a 5yr old stallion right off the track... when I tell people I get mistakes, I really speak from experience... we made them all)

                            So the reason I would push schoolmaster first is that Experienced horses help you ride better; you can really learn to be correct. Young or green horses actually do the opposite, then enhance bad habits. I personally start with the most broke horses every day on down to the greenest horses last. This really helps me keep my own riding more mistake free, and helps the young horses progress faster.

                            All that said schoolmasters are thin on the ground and extremely expensive either to purchase or maintain. All of my clients have ended up with green horses between 4-6 yrs old and put them in training. So the horse is ridden by me two or three days per week and the client lessons two to three days per week. I have been able to train the horse and the rider sort of at the same time; rider slightly behind where the horse is.

                            Now that I have several of my client horses at FEI I am able to occasionally use their horse for a client with a young horse to get to sit on some advanced movement and borrow the green horse for the more experienced rider to have a occasional lesson back on the green horse(learning how to break down and teach the horse with their knowledge), this helps everyone.

                            I am extremely blessed to have great clients who remember how hard this is and are willing to share.

                            I just got my first FEI horse back home and I am really surprised how much I’m enjoying sharing him with others. I wish trainers in this country really shared their upper level horses more... well trained horses won’t break or be ruined by a beginner.
                            Last edited by Guyot; Jun. 21, 2019, 08:05 AM.
                            http://www.windsweptfarmllc.com

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              So in a perfect world I would like each rider to have one of each. Schoolmaster and greenie. Assuming the rider has a grasp of the basics of walk trot and canter and a good balance. If that isn’t an option schoolmaster first.

                              I will preface this by saying I’ve never been able to have a schoolmaster myself... I’ve always done it the really hard way (like my first horse my parents bought me at 14yrs old was a 5yr old stallion right off the track... when I tell people I get mistakes, I really speak from experience... we made them all)

                              So the reason I would push schoolmaster first is that Experienced horses help you ride better; you can really learn to be correct. Young or green horses actually do the opposite, they enhance bad habits. I personally start with the most broke horses every day on down to the greenest horses last. This really helps me keep my own riding more mistake free, and helps the young horses progress faster.

                              All that said schoolmasters are thin on the ground and extremely expensive either to purchase or maintain. All of my clients have ended up with green horses between 4-6 yrs old and put them in training. So the horse is ridden by me two or three days per week and the client lessons two to three days per week. I have been able to train the horse and the rider sort of at the same time; rider slightly behind where the horse is.

                              Now that I have several of my client horses at FEI I am able to occasionally use their horse for a client with a young horse to get to sit on some advanced movement and borrow the green horse for the more experienced rider to have a occasional lesson back on the green horse(learning how to break down and teach the horse with their knowledge), this helps everyone.

                              I am extremely blessed to have great clients who remember how hard this is and are willing to share.

                              I just got my first FEI horse back home and I am really surprised how much I’m enjoying sharing him with others. I wish trainers in this country really shared their upper level horses more... well trained horses won’t break or be ruined by a beginner.
                              http://www.windsweptfarmllc.com

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                I got the best of both worlds in my late teens/early twenties: I rode a schoolmaster (retired from PSG) in my IDA program, while bringing along my own TBs for eventing.

                                I have to say, riding the school-master was not easy. Maybe other schoolmasters were different, but I rode him exclusively because he was difficult to ride (and that was, to my knowledge, part of the reason he was retired).

                                I had barely swung my leg over the saddle before he was piaffing (not very well, either)... and I couldn't get him to stop........ My resume prior to riding him was bringing OTTBs up to Training level eventing, that was it.. so not much dressage knowledge past first level!

                                He was also a huge mover.. especially compared to my daisy cutter moving TB. It was like riding a roller coaster for the first few weeks. People often correlate schoolmaster into pushbutton and I have not had that be the case..

                                However.. if your goal is to compete, or you want to ride competitively, and if you want to get that knowledge of what is correct, your best bet is a schoolmaster -- though many I have ridden have been painfully dead in the mouth, but they do teach you so much about proper timing and the correct feel of most ridden movements that you would never get to feel in your own project (such as a half-pass, pirouette, extensions, etc) until they were higher trained.

                                I think riding the green horses may not always help you. it's really a talent to ride green horses extremely accurately, while teaching them new things. I have seen many riders, good riders, fall victim to that; or they learn some defensive habits working with difficult and/or green horses.

                                I think training a greenbean is more rewarding in the long run... but it will take you years to get where you are with the schoolmaster, and not everyone has that kind of time.

                                FYI riding the schoolmaster really gave me a huge appreciation of how much core you need to really ride these movements.. They sure make it look easy, but it is not! I never got better than three accurate flying changes in a row (tempis).. and this was a horse who loved doing tempis. It did give me the tools I needed to be better with my greenies in terms of accuracy and timing, though.

                                AETERNUM VALE, INVICTUS - 7/10/2012

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  I think both! I've ridden a lot of green horses and luckily a few school masters as a working student.

                                  I'd say that some things were easier on the Schoolmasters and some things more difficult. The Schoolmasters (and maybe I shouldn't call them that... depends on the definition. They were still competing and I only was able to ride being a working student) were generally a lot hotter than the greenies.

                                  I'll share this link, as Schoolmasters vs average horses is talked about in this interview. Hopefully this is okay to share here. It's long but some very interesting viewpoints.

                                  http://dressagetalk.libsyn.com/dress...​​​​

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    Riding a "schoolmaster" is exactly the same as riding a problem horse if your own riding is not up to scratch. A higher level dressage schoolmaster is not a push button horse for a beginner rider. They are alert to weight changes, they want precision in transitions, they don't like being bumped in the face, and they may gave gaits that throw you around the tack.

                                    Of course you can have a "Level One schoolmaster" or a "Grand Prix Schoolmaster." The schoolmaster term is pretty loose and basically refers to a horse with solid competition training that is stepping down into being ridden by riders on their way up.

                                    On the other hand, training a green horse to do dressage when you have no experience of what it feels like and what the progression is, means you will spend much more time and make many mistakes that need to be fixed. If you are doing this on a modestly talented horse, that you also enjoy jumping or trail riding or whatever on, its part of the journey. But if you buy a green quality dressage prospect (big gaits, big impulsion, tall horse) when you have no experience in dressage, you can get in a lot of trouble if it's too much horse for you. I see ammies and indeed lower level pros messing up big horses because they don't feel safe riding forward with impulsion. Horse goes on the forehand, gets hind end problems, sucks back, starts to get explosive, breaks down, etc.

                                    So the ideal education would involve both. Now we don't all have the ideal education. And after the fact, we find that we learned alot that we would never give up, from having a young green horse as a teen. I certainly did. But in retrospect a few lessons and access to riding trained horses would have been *so helpful* to me at age 16, when I was trying to figure out what the Indirect Rein of Opposition meant in a paperback cavalry manual reprint from the tack store.

                                    I spent the past decade messing about with a modestly talented and opinionated horse that started green and now just has holes in her training . Over the past 8 months I've been able to ride a schoolmaster horse, and the revelation is that everything I learned on my own horse applies, and I can do everything on this one too. I think even 5 years ago I would not have been able to.

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      I guess I still don’t know what a school master is?

                                      My 6 year journey since the ‘big one’

                                      Little QH taught me to trust again, and to enjoy the ride. Also taught me that he had no inclination to dance in a Dressage arena...safe, solid, salt of the earth...that’s it.

                                      Red headed mare, unpredictable, drive me to tears often, could perform OK, if held together and directed, she was new to Dressage, a lovely ride, but hard for us to learn together.

                                      Current guy, established at 2nd level, as safe as they come, was ridden by an 8 year old last year. If you do nothing but point him in the right direction he will tootle around quite happily. You start to try and package him up, and he will evade, if you get all your aids lined up he dances, you smile, you think you can rule the world. You get them wrong, he hangs on you, roots, possibly runs, does not cope with confusion.

                                      "He's not even a good pathological liar." Mara

                                      "You're just a very desperate troll, and not even a good one. You're like middle-school troll at best. Like a goblin, not even a troll." et_fig

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        A good schoolmaster gives you what you asked for whether you knew you asked for it or not.

                                        In that way, I consider it the ideal to start out on a schoolmaster. A green rider attempting to ride with proper contact will have a harder time with a green horse, than he would if riding an educated horse under close supervision. The same goes for any work beyond basic walk, trot and canter.
                                        Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

                                        Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.

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