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Rider and Older horse to start dressage without trainer?

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  • Rider and Older horse to start dressage without trainer?

    I'm a college student and recently moved my older gelding to be at school with me. I've been really interested in getting into dressage (have been in hunters/jumpers only) and wondering what I need to do to get started. The obvious answer would be to get a trainer, but the barn I'm at doesn't have a trainer, only boarding, and I can't get a trainer out to my barn right now. I may be in the position to trailer in to lessons in the next 6 months or so, but as of now no option for a trainer. Is there anything I can do to get started on dressage for a newbie horse/rider pair? I just have no idea on how to get started.

  • #2
    I don't know what to recommend to you for you and your horse. However, the best thing for your horse, and you, would be to take some lessons somewhere else - dressage lessons - for the next sixe months. You can bring what you learn home to your horse and to be frank, learning how YOU can ride correctly dressage on a schoolmaster would be just about the next best thing you could dream of for your new endeavor.

    Even if you could only afford it every other week, it would give you a good foundation to ride your horse with. Also, look for opportunities to do some barn work for reduced lessons. I'm not in your area so I can't recommend anyone, but I think this would be a win win option for you.

    edited to add: The place you find for the lesson just may be the trainer you will want to continue with with your horse. I did this very thing myself, and my new trainer began to come out to my barn and teach me and my horse there. I do barn work in exchange for lessons.
    My warmbloods have actually drunk mulled wine in the past. Not today though. A drunk warmblood is a surly warmblood. - WildandWickedWarmbloods

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    • #3
      Ooh boy. It's going to be very hard to start without a trainer, as dressage can really only be taught with instruction from the ground, commenting on position, attitude, etc. You can really only develop feel with an instructor's help (so you know what you're supposed to be feeling), but after you know what it is you can remember it again.

      Perhaps you can focus on simple transitions, curving lines, and precision. Riding bareback can help your position and is a nice change in scenery in time to time. The most important thing is to not get mad at your horse, as just because it seems like the movement you're asking for is obvious, doesn't mean it is to the horse.

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      • #4
        Yes, but even before movements her horse is going to need to learn how to move and carry himself differently - flexions, bend, straightness, using his back, keeping his back up, getting off the forehand, using the hind end, which includes lateral work etc. and I can't see her doing this without eyes on the ground. Its very hard to ride at first, and very hard to get the horse to respond correctly, also, and if she had some lessons on other horses she could learn herself what is correct and then get her horse engaged in a short time when she can get to a trainer. That's my take on it.
        My warmbloods have actually drunk mulled wine in the past. Not today though. A drunk warmblood is a surly warmblood. - WildandWickedWarmbloods

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        • #5
          I would suggest Lessons with Lendon as a first book. It's really approachable. I'd also recommend that you download the intro and training level tests- not so much to ride them as to read the directives and what is being judged.

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          • #6
            Back in the dark ages....things were very different

            I taught myself and my failed junior hunter very basic dressage from a book or two. We ended up quite competitive at novice and training level eventing usually scoring around 67% in dressage and often finishing on our dressage scores. So it can be done and he was as unlikely looking as could be imagined, barely 15 hands and red roan.

            The two books I found most helpful were "Make the Most of your Horse" by the late Jan Dickerson. She used to post here as VernaJan. When she died COTH posted an obit. I had no idea she had studied under Col. Ljunquist(sp?) The other book I used was an early one by Mary Wanless which FINALLY gave me the key to keeping my toes pointed FORWARD. Both are available used on Amazon.

            Now you have YOUTUBE!

            Jane Savoie has put some of the best videos on there and she has a great free newsletter and subscription website, Dressage Mentor. Her DVD's Half Halt Demystified are very helpful.

            The Janet Foy/Steffen Peters series from ESDCTA is also very good.

            There is also unfortunately a whole lot of crap on Youtube as well.

            For books: Lessons with Lendon mentioned above, Jane Savoie's Dressage 101, Janet Foy Dressage for the Not So Perfect Horse, Leslie Webb, Build a Better Athlete book and DVDs,and Betsy Steiner A Gymnastic Riding System Using Mind Body and Spirit

            ETA:I did not mean to neglect or disparage many more advanced books such as the Complete Training of Horse and Rider, Riding Logic, etc
            Last edited by carolprudm; Oct. 8, 2012, 01:04 PM.
            I wasn't always a Smurf
            Penmerryl Sophie RIDSH
            "I ain't as good as I once was but I'm as good once as I ever was"
            The ignore list is my friend. It takes 2 to argue.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Wizard of Oz's View Post
              I just have no idea on how to get started.
              Even if you can't afford lessons with a dressage coach, ask to audit lessons, training of (young) horses etc.

              Does your current barn have mirrors? or can you have someone video your rides?

              Once you establish a relationship with a local trainer you can likely ask for input with your own horse based upon video (there is also online instruction available based upon video but I suspect this is more effective once the foundation is there).

              In the meantime, work on fitness for yourself & your horse (how old is an "older" horse?) - H/J background - principles of flatwork are not that different.

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              • #8
                I'm with Ambitious Kate on this one. If you are very serious about getting this ball rolling, spend the time taking lessons on a schoolmaster dressage horse and shopping for trainers. Compelling reasons to do this, other than "it will help you learn faster":

                1. It might take you six months to find someone who seems to be speaking English when they instruct you. Not only are some dressage trainers total quacks, but some are good trainers who just don't have communication styles that will mesh with your brain or personality. If you start riding with a trainer on your own horse and with no experience in dressage, it can be tough to suss out whether you are fumbling/learning/experimenting or whether the trainer is talking nonsense that you can't understand. I've found that in H/J land, someone who sounds like they're talking nonsense is usually just a rotten trainer. In dressage land, it can sound like Greek and still be good advice. Even worse, the advice can make perfect sense in your head and you might still struggle to execute it! Finding a trainer who can explain something in a way that you can understand, and be patient while you try to get it, AND have the eagle-eyes to spot you doing it right for even a split second and say "That's it!" so that you start to get the feel, it can take awhile.

                2. It is SO helpful to get the feel of a made horse in a riding lesson, then take that feel back to your own horse. You need to be able to recognize those flashes of correctness/brilliance from your horse, and if you're stabbing in the dark about what the feels like, it's going to be very hard. Seriously, a few lessons on a schoolmaster can save you thousands of bucks compared to chasing an unknown feel.

                3. As n any discipline, you can learn a lot about the trainer by watching how they ride their own horses and how their clients ride their horses. That's a tough thing for trailer-in clients to see very often, so making a pilgrimage to trainers' farms would be a wise use of your time.

                Reading books and watching DVDs is fine too, but realize that it'll be limited in its application. If you have the money to spend, spend it on lessons first and foremost.

                In terms of "stuff you can do now that will benefit your dressage education later," hang up the dressage arena letters and practice riding accurately between and among them. Know where they are so that when your eventual new trainer says something like "at E, circle right" or "go across the diagonal, K to M" you don't have to devote tons of mental space to remembering where that stuff is. Learn how to navigate your horse down center lines, quarter lines, diagonal lines, and serpentines. Start reading some Intro/Training Level dressage tests and walk the whole pattern of the tests so you can start to get a feel for the geometry. Many noobs to dressage get scored down in the ring for not being accurate about where they make transitions or making circles too small. This is avoidable with practice.

                I would advise you not to buy any new gear--saddles, bits, bridles/nosebands, show clothes, etc.--until you've got a trainer to weigh in on that. Otherwise you could end up spending money that you don't really have to spare on gear that you don't need. You'll also find that at the schooling and intro levels, a lot of the gear you used for H/J will be perfectly appropriate to get started.
                Last edited by jn4jenny; Oct. 8, 2012, 02:19 PM.
                Head Geek at The Saddle Geek Blog http://www.thesaddlegeek.com/

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                • #9
                  While reading is good,and I consider Jane Savoie's video's and writings among the most user friendly for the green, and not so green learner, getting instruction is just about the only way.

                  Taking lessons on a schooled horse is the fastest way. Position is critical, and our bodies lie to us daily about where and how effective our position is. So please, save yourself some frustration, and find a good instructor.
                  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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                  • #10
                    A great book to get you and your horse started is "Lessons with Lendon". As a dressage newbie I found that book very helpful for developing the basics of rhythm, contact, bend, suppleness, etc. she breaks it into pieces that are easy to understand.

                    The other thing to do would be to look for a coach who has a school horse or two for you to take lessons on. You can take lessons with your coach, and then apply the principles that you learned when you're back home, working with your horse. I trailer in for lessons with my coach, but in the winter when the roads are icy, I leave my horse at home and ride a school horse. I consider those lessons just as worthwhile as when I take lessons with my own horse. It's amazing how a different horse can give you new perspective on a concept or movement.

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                    • #11
                      Everyone here has posted great suggestions already, especially those about investing in instruction even if it means getting started on a horse other than your own. And jn4jenny's advice about finding the right trainer.

                      I'd add that auditing whatever clinics are happening locally is great for general inspiration, becoming aware of the principles at the heart of dressage, and picking up bits of instruction that may be helpful to you. Especially if you happen to come across a lower level ammie riding in a clinic with a good trainer.

                      When my horse was off for months due to injury I kept myself on track by taking lessons on a humble little borrowed horse with a good trainer, and I read a lot -- several of the same books that carolprudm recommends. The internet is also great (and free!) if you have in mind a few trainers that break things down in beginner-friendly ways. For example, Mary Wanless has articles on her website that are pretty accessible and are focused on how the rider's position can be used to make the most of the horse they happen to be on.

                      But nothing compares to firsthand experience of what it feels like when the horse is straight, moving into the bit, bringing its back up, and many other more subtle "aha" moments that happen as you learn in this discipline. If you feel those on any horse it will make it easier to recognize progress with your own horse.

                      Good luck!

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