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Beginner: What am I looking at?

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  • Beginner: What am I looking at?

    So in the middle of my mid-life crisis I had a “great” idea. I decided to buy a horse! And I did. Yes, I purchased an absolutely gorgeous, untrained Thoroughbred, (unless you count race training), and I had no clue where to even start, until I came across some training dvd’s. I decided to give them a try and even though I did make some progress, it landed me in the dirt more times than I care to discuss.

    I finally made the decision that Dressage was the discipline that I wanted to ride. My horse is currently in training and I have been taking lessons from a certified instructor for about 6 months.

    I love Dressage and my lessons have become my therapy. Everything seems to be coming together nicely, but I want to know more. I want to better understand what it is I am looking at when I watch a test at a show. I honestly don’t know how to describe a horse’s movements. My description of what I am viewing would be vague at best, so what can I do to help me better understand what is going on? I would love to be able to spot a horse dropping his shoulder and know what the rider did or didn’t do, to make the horse drop the shoulder. I can usually pick out when something isn’t quite right, but I can’t tell you what or why something wasn’t correct. And there are numerous times when I don’t spot a thing.

    I have searched the internet extensively and it’s just too much info. I end up getting overwhelmed and shutting down. Any advice on how I can learn this a little faster will be much appreciated. Not knowing what is really going on is driving me crazy!

  • #2
    It probably would be easier if you went to a show with an experienced friend or your trainer and asked them to tell you what they are seeing...


    • #3
      Faster ? In dressage? LOL

      enjoy the journey!

      Read articles and books. Watch clinics and online videos if you can but honestly some of it wont mean anything until you learn it undersaddle. As you go more and more will make sense or what your "idea" was before will change.

      It is living and breathing since it is "training" and will differ ALL of the time.

      The more you learn the more you find out you have to learn more LOL
      ~~Member of the TB's Rule Clique ~~


      • #4
        One easy thing . . .

        to watch is, since the tests are a pattern and you see the movements in both directions (left and right rein) try to see whether one direction looks easier for the horse and rider and then ask your trainer to explain what that means.
        Also, you can learn quite a bit watching the warm up ring. Every horse has their own tempo for each gait, watch if the tempo changes and how the rider handles it. So you'll start to notice rhythm, suppleness, relaxation and rider position. Also if you get a chance to scribe, or shadow a scribe (starting with a schooling show), you'll quickly pick up on the terminology and start to hear what the judge is looking for. Have fun, relax and you'll learn tons!


        • #5
          Start here


          With the USDF Guide.
          "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain" ~Friedrich Schiller


          • #6
            I have learned a lot by watching other people's lessons (always ask first, some riders don't want an audience in a lesson). I asked my instructor if I could tag along, and after the lesson I asked a lot of questions.

            I have audited as many clinics as possible, although the pickings are slim to nonexistent in my area. I go to as many shows as possible and watch not only the upper level rides, but the lower level riders, too.

            I have always read whatever I could get my hands on, but to be honest, reading didn't help me too much until I was able to learn enough for it to make sense. I am spatially challenged and written directional stuff just kills me.

            There are some Youtube videos of clinics and lessons on-line. Be careful that what you're watching is correct. Why waste your time being told that a chair seat is "correct"? Jane Savoie has some really good DVDs and (I believe) Youtube stuff.

            Enjoy your journey! Dressage is endlessly fascinating.


            • #7
              When I first switched to dressage I would watch almost anything working in a long-flapped, black saddle - even when it was bbaaaaddd. So I advise you don't do that!

              Study the training scale and look for riders that are riding back-to-front, not the other way around. If you pick up a tendency to be "handy" it takes years to shake it so don't watch riders that grab and pull.

              Beyond that just watch & absorb. And everyone is right, it takes years to fully understand what's going on with a well-ridden dressage horse. Just enjoy the process and when you hear or watch good training just try to remember it even if its a little beyond your ability at the time. Somewhere down the road you'll be riding along and something will suddenly feel right and you'll realize how long ago you learned it and it'll make you smile. Then you'll immediately want to feel it again.


              • #8
                You can also watch horsehero. Lots of fascinating movies from world class riders who actually explain what they are doing and why, with various horses.

                Other then that, SCRIBE. Its a wonderful learning experience to have the judges commenting on a certain horse, and you do learn a lot.


                • #9
                  I recently came across this series of dressage videos and thought this might be helpful to you (and me!). I am linking to S.1 which shows a couple different horses working from training/first level through to grand prix. You can search the youtube channel for the remainder:

                  This is a dressage symposium from the Eastern States Dressage and Combined Training Association. The symposium was held by Janet Foy and Steffen Peters. There are *many* videos and I thank everyone involved for publicly posting them for us to enjoy and learn from!

                  This is the description from youtube:

                  This is part of the Eastern States Dressage and Combined Training Association's 2007 Symposium for Judges, Trainers and Competitors. Bronze medalist Steffen Peters and FEI-I judge Janet Brown-Foy join forces provide guidance on the correct foundation through all levels of dressage. In the first of 9 videos in this series, they provide an Overview of the training scale and the basic gait requirements, with the help of horse and rider pairs: Wyoming and Annette Longo; Arjen fan Bosksicht and Mara Tolas; Onno and Lisa Tannehill; and Lucien and Barbara Wolfe. Posted with the gracious permission of the ESDCTA.


                  • #10
                    If you have local schooling shows, volunteer to scribe. You can learn a lot by listening to a judge all day. Sometimes you can ask questions during a break- depends on the judge.
                    Rule 1- Keep the horse between you and the ground.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Riding is fundamental View Post
                      If you have local schooling shows, volunteer to scribe. You can learn a lot by listening to a judge all day. Sometimes you can ask questions during a break- depends on the judge.
                      Not to be difficult, but I found scribing for rated shows much easier to start out. Higher level, more experienced, judges are easier to scribe for -- their methodologies are established which means they are usually more clear, consistent in comments/scores, less confusing, and can adjust to scribes better without compromising the value of comments and competitors are generally more seasoned so everything goes more according to plan.

                      If you like looking at lessons, I have heard many good things about dressagetrainingonline.com. It's a subscription service, but videos are well-done.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by RaizenCane View Post
                        a certified instructor for about 6 months.
                        Certified by which organization?

                        FWIW, on a young TB, the dirt may become your friend ... I've been riding for lots of years and met the ground just last weekend!


                        • #13
                          In addition to some of the suggestions already made, auditing clinics is very helpful, Jane Savoie's videos are step by step and very good. Watching lessons is useful, and most useful of all, if available, is riding a school master, in addition to your horse.
                          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.


                          • #14
                            When I was starting out in Dressage ( from hunters) I spent as much time as I could watching my trainer teach others.

                            I saw her vocabulary translated to the horses in front of me. I could then see those horses in my minds eye when I worked with my trainer and heard those same words applied to me.
                            -- * > hoopoe
                            Procrastinate NOW
                            Introverted Since 1957


                            • Original Poster

                              Originally posted by AllWeatherGal View Post
                              Certified by which organization?

                              FWIW, on a young TB, the dirt may become your friend ... I've been riding for lots of years and met the ground just last weekend!
                              At one point in time, I thought me and the dirt were gonna be BFF's, but I realized the relationship was just too painful for me! I'm sure we will meet up again tho.

                              My instructor is nationally certified Dressage level III through the American Riding Instructions Association.

                              I’ve read through all the suggestions and wanted to let everyone know I very much appreciate the feedback. I realize learning is a process and it’s going to take a long time, but knowing where to find the best info is a great start!

                              I found out over the weekend that there are a few clinics being offered this winter. I missed a Bo Jenna clinic earlier this month, but heard it was wonderful! There will probably be another one in the spring. Jen Baumert is having a clinic this weekend and Nancy Walker (UK) is sometime next month, I think.

                              Has anybody been to any of these clinics?


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by SCMSL View Post
                                You can also watch horsehero. Lots of fascinating movies from world class riders who actually explain what they are doing and why, with various horses.
                                Thanks for posting this. I didn't want to be productive at work today anyway. :grin:
                                One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. - Virginia Woolf


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by hoopoe View Post
                                  When I was starting out in Dressage ( from hunters) I spent as much time as I could watching my trainer teach others.

                                  I saw her vocabulary translated to the horses in front of me. I could then see those horses in my minds eye when I worked with my trainer and heard those same words applied to me.

                                  I started by watching my instructor teach ... BEFORE she was my instructor and before I knew anything dressage or that it would be the discipline I wanted to ride. I just wanted to learn HOW to ride. Period.

                                  I still do watch her and others give lessons as much as I can because I learn so much.

                                  OP, that was eight years ago. I'm still a cellar dweller in terms of dressage, so don't get frustrated if the light bulb(s) don't go on as quickly as you think they should. As someone else said, enjoy the journey.
                                  "... if you think i'm MAD, today, of all days,
                                  the best day in ten years,
                                  you are SORELY MISTAKEN, MY LITTLE ANCHOVY."


                                  • #18
                                    I think you're asking the right questions but honestly most of the knowledge you're talking about just takes time and experience. Obviously the more you seek out this knowledge, the faster you'll understand and retain it.

                                    You get this knowledge by watching other people ride. I always think it's fun to go to a show with my trainer, even when neither of us is showing, just to watch the tests and hear tidbits she has to say about them.

                                    You watch videos of riders who are considered classically correct and get an idea of what correct looks like. I watch a lot of the videos posted here and will avoid reading any responses until after watching it for myself. Then I read what others have said to see what I picked up on and what I missed. And of course there is usually disagreement but which side you agree with may not be clear at first.

                                    You also learn what the wrong way is by getting to see the end result of poor training. I'm currently leasing a horse that was ridden more from the hand until my current trainer go on him. I get to see the habits that developed in the horse from previous training. He will revert back to those habits because he's not afraid to lean on your hands if given the opportunity.


                                    • #19
                                      Spend as much time as you can watching and listening to riders and trainers. Go to a show and stay by the WARM UP ring, and watch and listen. Stay at your trainer’s barn all day, and watch all of the lessons. As others have said, audit clinics.

                                      Watching lessons is a great way to learn. You can see what the instructor requests, what the rider executes, and how the horse responds.

                                      Now, as a busy adult I thank my lucky stars that I was able to spend my youth as a “barn rat” watching lessons all day, spending all day at shows watching and learning (and riding and getting my own instruction of course!).
                                      APPSOLUTE CHOCKLATE - Photo by Kathy Colman


                                      • #20

                                        It takes years and years to develop eyes, and even after years of studying and reading, there are still tons of stuff that I can't see while others can spot at the first glance. That is when a great trainer is so valuable. I also find it immensely valuable taping my lessons and reviewing them to better understand what my instructors are seeing and saying.

                                        Internet is good resource to pick up pieces of information, and that also means, sometimes quite useless for people who need a firmer "big picture" understanding. I suggest you pick out a couple of good books geared toward beginners, and start there.

                                        Be patient. From your post, it sounds like you are a proactive thinker type so I'm sure you will get a hang of it fairly quickly.