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group lessons and kids in dressage

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  • group lessons and kids in dressage

    Has anyone ever heard of or participated in group dressage lessons? As far as I can tell they are "not done," probably for good reasons, but I was just wondering.

    When I was a kid I always enjoyed flat work more than jumping (still don't really enjoy jumping -- not due to fear, I have never been the least bit scared of falling, but just because I never really liked it) but once I'd "graduated" from flat lessons to jumping I never really got to do flatwork again because the only way to do so was to take private lessons that, cost-wise, were totally out of the question. There was a brief interlude when I was about 11 that I got to take private dressage lessons, but that ended abruptly due to a tragedy in the family. I had to wait until graduate school to take dressage lessons again; I did hunter/jumper in the meantime because it was really the only accessible type of riding available (lots of lesson barns with lesson horses, group lessons that I could afford, IHSA, etc.). This may have been affected by the areas I grew up and went to school in (NoVA and the greater Philadelphia area including Bucks County).

    In general it seems to me that it can be very difficult to get started in dressage. In many areas it seems nearly impossible to take lessons unless you can afford privates and have your own horse. Dressage barns with lesson horses seem few and very far between. Most children who get into riding without having horsey parents or horses of their own, and who are always going to be lesson riders because their parents aren't going to buy them horses, get put onto the lesson track I was on -- start out doing basic stuff, then as soon as you are ready you go on to jumping classes and never really look back to flat work.

    I was just wondering if group lessons in dressage exist anywhere, or if there are lesson programs out there that get kids started in dressage without assuming that they will have horses of their own or get super serious about showing.
    Last edited by MelanieC; Nov. 4, 2010, 05:46 PM. Reason: more accurate title
    MelanieC * Canis soloensis

  • #2
    The riding school I started at had them. It was a huge place with somewhere around 40-50 school horses, and many instructors. Every Tuesday I had a semi-private lesson with an FEI dressage instructor. At the time, I had absolutely no idea that was unusual, or that my Monday private lesson with a western trainer, Saturday group lesson with a h/j trainer and Mom's Thursday lesson with a cowboy who used dressage as the basis for all his training were an unusual combination.

    My college also had group dressage lessons, which I took whenever they fit in my schedule.

    None of these were upper level work, of course, but they were a chance to take lessons at a lower price than private lessons and work on the basics of dressage, on a school horse. I think they fit perfectly within what you're suggesting of a good starting point. I think many of us in the local horse community were sad to see my old riding school go.
    Originally posted by Silverbridge
    If you get anything on your Facebook feed about who is going to the Olympics in 2012 or guessing the outcome of Bush v Gore please start threads about those, too.


    • #3
      My kids went to summer camp each year for about 7 years. There they were given group lessons in each of the disciplines taught which included dressage. Lesson horses were provided. I have taken group lessons one time in a clinic in order to help someone else who couldn't afford a private lesson. It is not something I would do again if I really wanted to get anything out of the lesson.
      Ranch of Last Resort


      • #4
        Right now I train at a local eventing barn. My trainer does do group dressage lessons and that is how I started in dressage. Typically theres only two maybe three of us in the lesson . Mostly we ride at roughly the same level (Training or First) It is alot of fun. I really like being able to watch the others ride, especially when we all run through the same test or are working on similar movements. I generally try to take private lessons too because I also like working one on one with my trainer, especially when I am on my young horse. I think it is a fun no pressure way to be introduced into the sport. Sometimes it helps to watch someone else ride through a movement to fully understand it. Its almost like a weekly mini clinic


        • Original Poster

          Yeah, I wonder about the social aspects too. Dressage can be a very solitary sport. That is part of the beauty of dressage, but I also miss group lessons in a way because I made friends there and we would critique each other. Of course, we had plenty of time to talk because you spend 85% of the hour standing around and waiting for your turn...

          It would be nice if dressage were more accessible. Breeders complain that there is no market for dressage ponies and that kids do dressage in Europe but aren't interested in it here, etc. I am guessing there would be more kids interested in dressage here in the US if it were easier to get involved. I don't have any statistics, but I would not be surprised if most kids or teenagers who either want to ride or maybe even who ride, period, don't have their own horses and won't until they are adults and can buy their own.
          MelanieC * Canis soloensis


          • #6
            My trainer offers group lessons for those who want them, for the reasons stated: cost, a lower-key introduction for newbies, a more relaxed and "social" option for those who want to just dabble.

            I have participated in a couple with my old mare. For me, the format gave me lower-cost access to my trainer to nit-pick my position, application of aids, etc. But the group format meant I could give my old lady as many breaks as she needed and just skip any exercises she wasn't up to handling. Ditto for another horse in rehab from an injury.
            Equinox Equine Massage

            In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was in me invincible summer.
            -Albert Camus


            • #7
              Our two girls ride dressage at a great barn. They mostly take private lessons but their trainer will allow up to three of their friends to ride with them from time to time. Most of the kids that ride there do a mixture, some groups, some privates.
              She has a barn full of lesson horses that they can ride or they can bring their own horse with them. They also can use the lesson horses for shows as well.


              • #8
                We did this past year.
                Two older girls @ First level, both on my horses
                Goal Lendon's youth festival
                Rider #1-First Musical freestyle 75.812%, 92% Equitation, 67%Trail class, 12 First level Overall
                Rider #2-7th First level Musical 69.2%, 89% Equitation, 72% Trail, 7th Overall

                And not really being taught w/ older girls but rode "around" them;
                9 yr old-26 yr old pony
                Walk trot division 4th Overall

                It may be harder to do a group lesson in the upper levels, but these girls learned from each others strengths and weaknesses.
                And more important worked as a team and had a great time.


                • #9
                  I've "given up" dressage in favor of some of the western horsemanships, so the clinics I ride in are large groups riding for an extended period. The work is often low key, there are lots of breaks where riders listen to the clinician or watch him/her work their own horse. There is also lots of work as a group.

                  Another friend, a dressage rider, like some of the horsemanship, but hates the group format and the long sessions. But there are benefits to this format. The social aspects, sure, for the riders--but also for the horses. They get over issues with being in groups. They get over issues with working in a crowd (hello--warmup issues, anyone?). There are even some interesting exercises that have relevance for dressage--such as lining everyone up at one end of the arena and having a walking race to the other end--who's genuinely going forward at the walk? Or, lining up and having people go one at a time, at a walk, to the other end--without using their reins; who has their horse forward and straight? Riding serpentines around the arena--who can bend effectively without a death grip? Pairing up and riding mirror-image of each other--the western types use this to mimic cow work, but riding a pas de deux causes the rider to look up and ride without setting up every movement, if you are trying to follow a pattern that someone else is setting. The quality of your individual work plummets momentarily, but the weak spots become glaringly obvious. Meanwhile, the horse starts to see a purpose in it all.

                  I think there are lots of productive things that can be done in group lessons to the benefit of not only the riders, but the horses. It's not the high-intensity of working one-on-one, but then, we all know riders who get so steeped in that that they can't function in public, in a warmup, or without micro-managing. There's something to be said for having to look up and ride in heavy traffic that makes riding automatic and intuitive, something that solitary arena riders often lack and that derails them in a show situation.
                  "One person's cowboy is another person's blooming idiot" -- katarine

                  Spay and neuter. Please.


                  • #10
                    Yep, I used to do group lessons in dressage at UC Davis when I was on the team there. I liked them.

                    I believe they also do group lessons in Europe… hopefully somebody with experience there can chime in.


                    • #11
                      As stated both of my kids ride and took group lessons for a while. My son continued taking weekly lessons in a group format (with the same two who put on the summer camp) for quite some time and did so because he enjoyed the social aspect of it. He was 7 when he started and is 14 now. My daughter, however, enjoyed meeting and hanging out with others her own age but quickly determined that she preferred private lessons to group lessons and went that route. This was a decision she made at around 14 or so. Interestingly when my son hit 14, he too made the same decision. I think they are great for kids or really anyone in the beginning but as they (riders) select their discipline of choice and get more competitive/focused I think they, or at least my kids did, saw the value in having a format with fewer distractions. As for ongoing social interaction and getting horses use to behaving in groups, we cover that too with CTRs, CTCs and just getting together with friends and family and trail riding every week. Different strokes for different folks I suppose.
                      Ranch of Last Resort


                      • Original Poster

                        I do think there are benefits to private lessons and that as one gets more serious about dressage, private lessons make more sense. I just wish there was some common avenue other than private lessons for more young riders to continue in the sport. Many parents consider riding lessons to be frivolously expensive and wonder why their kids can't just join the soccer league, or just plain can't afford private lessons. And although it is easy to forget here, it is not normal for kids to have their own horses, or parents who have horses. I don't think that my experience was that unusual. To continue riding, I was basically forced to pursue another discipline. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with h/j, it's just not really what I wanted to do with horses.

                        Even when I was older, more determined, had my own car, and was willing to spend most of my very limited discretionary income on dressage lessons, it was very difficult to find anywhere to ride. No one had lesson horses, and many of the places I called were openly condescending when I explained that I did not have a horse of my own. I was very, very lucky to find the barn that I did end up training in dressage at but the process of finding it was extremely discouraging and if I hadn't loved dressage I would have given up and gone to one of those fun social h/j barns with schoolies.

                        I'm not saying that every kid MUST have access to dressage -- those are the breaks, recreational riding is always to a certain extent going to be restricted to children of relative privilege and life's not fair and all that. But, dressage is widely perceived as the most elitist of horse sports (which are also as a whole considered elitist), perhaps for good reason. I consider basic dressage principles to be the foundation of all good riding, so it's a shame that it isn't more accessible to more riders. It also seems that it would be beneficial to the discipline to grow its base (to use political terms) but maybe that is something that not every dressage rider would consider to be a positive thing.
                        MelanieC * Canis soloensis


                        • #13
                          It's hard to really tell from a post on the Internet but it would appear that you assume that most kids who ride come from a higher end background. I grew up on a farm. My family has been raising morgans since the 1700s. Our income came from the dairy aspect of things which I can promise you did not put us in with the blue bloods. We served the blue bloods. My children are lucky in the fact that they have horses because I do. I honestly don't know what we would do if I and their father weren't raised on farms and both had horses and had kids who wanted them. I can say that my kids do work off their lessons, their tack, their show clothes, etc. Yet I will admit to them being "luckier" than most.

                          The other interesting part to your perspective is that you are one of the first outside of my daughter that I've heard state that as a child they weren't interested in jumping. I spent years as a child and young adult in the hunter/jumper ranks. I adored jumping. As a kid I "did" dressage only 'cause I had to on occasion but would turn myself inside out for a group lesson even on someone else's horse to jump. I find even with my two kids that more kids prefer disciplines other than dressage. My son prefers competitive trail and gaming. He is more the dare devil I was. Most of my son's and daughter's friends who ride are into the rodeo and western sorts of stuff. If any of them wanted to ride dressage they could do so at our house but I find my kids going out and trying to adapt their horses to their friends' likes than the other way around. Dressage just isn't that attractive to kids and it's not just because there aren't lesson horses or affordable lessons available.
                          Ranch of Last Resort


                          • #14
                            I've done group lessons; they can be really fun or really scary. It relies upon having an instructor who can set up the group and group exercises in a safe manner.

                            We typically had 5-6 riders in the menage at a time and worked it like a drill team. As long as the riders were able to maintain a safe distance and control their horses, it was a blast. It helped motivate my lazy horse to keep up with others and I believe improved his desire to go forward.

                            On the other hand, I dropped out when my Mr. Steady Eddie was used to block an agressive horse with a less than competent rider from running over everyone else. The trainer thought it was great to have such a steady horse in the group, he didn't freak out when Ms. Crazy would lunge at him, I decided he didn't need to be punished for his good citizenship.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by esdressage View Post
                              Yep, I used to do group lessons in dressage at UC Davis when I was on the team there. I liked them.

                              I believe they also do group lessons in Europe… hopefully somebody with experience there can chime in.
                              They do do group lessons in Europe.

                              I took lessons in Germany in a group of four.
                              I looked into several barns, some of them had groups with as many as 10 or 11 riders. (!!)

                              I opted to pay 2 Euros extra to be in the group of 4 at the nicer facility. Grand total price: 20 Euros an hour.

                              And I learned A TON.
                              The Noodlehttp://tiny.cc/NGKmT&http://tiny.cc/gioSA
                              Boy Wonderhttp://tiny.cc/G9290
                              The Hana is nuts! NUTS!!http://tinyurl.com/SOCRAZY


                              • #16
                                My only experience with it is that my daughter hates group lessons. She wants her tail worked off and a lot of interaction so privates are better for her.
                                I will occasionally teach two people at the same time as long as they are long term students and we have a good shorthand in place so there are no long explanations.
                                "Kindness is free" ~ Eurofoal
                                The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances.


                                • Original Poster

                                  I do assume that most kids who ride competitively come from higher income backgrounds and that kids with families who have been into horses since the 1700s are relatively few and far between. That said, I acknowledge that my experience does not represent everyone else's. I do think I was a fairly typical suburban kid with a generally middle-class upbringing whose parents were never going to buy me a horse (I may as well have asked for a unicorn), and that I am now a fairly typical middle-aged woman (37) who finally got the horse I'd wanted my entire life.

                                  I agree that there are lots of reasons why kids don't do dressage -- mostly I would guess because it can be a total snooze to watch (even for me sometimes) and isn't thought of as "daring." On the other hand, I would not be surprised if there are a lot of young riders who don't like or are afraid to jump, or maybe have a temperament more like mine. I am an industrious student, project-oriented, and pursued a PhD in an esoteric scientific field (evolutionary biology and paleoanthropology), and the discipline of dressage just seems to suit my nature better.

                                  How do they get kids into dressage in Europe? Who's riding all these dressage ponies they have over there?
                                  MelanieC * Canis soloensis


                                  • #18
                                    I really tried to learn dressage in the US without owning a horse but it was tough, and the main reason was that very few places had lesson horses.

                                    The lesson I took on Tasker's Double Bounce literally changed my riding and neatly divided it into Before Bounce/After Bounce.

                                    Because *I* found it so difficult to find lessons on good horses, I offer up my horses for my trainers to use in lessons (or for people to take to my/approved trainer for lessons) or to teach lessons on myself. Only one horse I have ever owned has been on the "NO ONE ELSE RIDES" list and that is because his trainer-given nickname is "8 Seconds" for a good reason. Everyone else I would happily lend out.

                                    I am trying to arrange with my GMO for a "scholarship" where I teach a free lesson per week for a given period of time on my own personal competition horse.

                                    I remain willing to teach lessons on the horse, have offered him up numerous times on COTH (no one ever actually comes, even after they have just posted they are looking for a schoolmaster ), and would willingly lease him out for people to take to shows to earn scores toward their bronze (or higher, if he develops to that point as I am still actively campaigning him).

                                    I find that very, very few owners in dressage are willing to share their horses, which is less true of the hunter/jumper divisions in my personal experience.

                                    I have found it surprisingly difficult to find "takers," though.

                                    He's still here in Conroe TX if anyone wants to come ride him...
                                    The Noodlehttp://tiny.cc/NGKmT&http://tiny.cc/gioSA
                                    Boy Wonderhttp://tiny.cc/G9290
                                    The Hana is nuts! NUTS!!http://tinyurl.com/SOCRAZY


                                    • #19
                                      How about an eventing barn? I'm at one and, once you're past the beginner stage, group dressage lessons are given to adults and barn kids. I do one or two group lessons and one private lesson a week (my young horse is in training). During the show season, the barn kids will take turns practicing their tests in the lessons. Clinicians are also invited in and lesson takers without their own horse are able to participate.


                                      • #20
                                        I do assume that most kids who ride competitively come from higher income backgrounds and that kids with families who have been into horses since the 1700s are relatively few and far between.

                                        Despite the dig, I will concede that in dressage and hunter/jumper as well as a few breed oriented circuits the kids tend to come from more well to do backgrounds; however, though farming families are dying out quickly it was more the norm in my day and still not completely unheard of especially in our area. Of course I'm at least 10 years older than you; so I'm sure that has something to do with the differences in our perspectives. I know of several kids, though not dressage riders, who come from more modest backgrounds and find a way to ride. I also know of at least 2 kids who came from similar backgrounds and do ride dressage (and there are more though you can even consider them kids anymore). They found a way into some local barns, cleaned stalls, groomed, etc in exchange for lessons. One is now a YR and the other is a budding young professional. There are more kids like you were in terms of wants and desires and the time it took to finally realize the dream (such is life) but not every young backside on a horse (whether theirs or someone else's) is accompanied with a silver spoon in their mouth either. Some still find a way. Others too aren't really willing to go out their and find it or work for it.

                                        I guess I see it as more of an issue that the real appeal for kids is in other disciplines that make riding fun and inviting. While I do see the lack of lesson horses a big impediment to getting kids involved in dressage, I'm really not sure we in this country could emulate what has been seen as success in the pony dressage market in Europe: (a) one has to make the ponies and that isn't just breeding but training too; (b) you still have to find kids who don't mind working hard to achieve what they want; and (c) even parents are less willing to have their kids involved in something that doesn't provide instant gratification. If Mom or Dad didn't grow up always wanting to ride the Black Stallion then it's less likely they'll be willing to haul Suzie or Sam from lesson to lesson without some pot of gold promised at the end of the rainbow or NFL contract or tennis promos etc.
                                        Ranch of Last Resort