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Somewhat self-taught Dressage rider

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  • Somewhat self-taught Dressage rider

    Hi everyone,

    I hope the New Year is starting off in whatever direction you wish! I have a question...I've been learning and teaching my horse dressage for almost two years now, but I can't afford a full-time trainer or lessons other than one here and there. Last fall, we attended a clinic with a great trainer and learned a lot. My question is, how do we continue to learn new things when we are BOTH new to dressage? I don't even know what to work on next and I think I need to know what to do before I can ask him to do something new. Are there any books, videos, websites, etc. that I could use as a gameplan/training advice?

    Right now we are working on maintaining contact (he was used for saddle seat before and was terrified of the bit because of what they used previously...read: ouchy!!! He's accepting the bit (a gentle KK Ultra) for the most part now, starting to round himself, and we've even started with a little bit of lateral movements such as leg yields/half-passes. Where do we go from here?? This is a horse that NEEDS to be challenged mentally and physically and tries really hard for me. I'd appreciate your help!
    A tough day of riding is always better than an awesome day at the office.

  • #2
    you might take a look at "Common Sense Dressage" by Sally O'Connor (published by Half Halt Press; ISBN 0-939481-21-9 . Of course, no book is a substitute for good one-on-one instruction, but there are some good books available to help you understand the theory.

    Rick in VA


    • #3
      I second the Common Sense Dressage book. Also I like Lendon Gray's book "Lessons with Lendon" (a large paperback with 25 step by step lessons). Good luck with your horse.


      • #4
        I hear you!

        I work 99% of the time on my own. I've been fairly sucessful, but can't quite make the leap to first level so I have enlisted some help from a local trainer. I'll be thrilled if I can get once a month lessons with her!

        One think I do a lot is videotape at the horseshows and then go back and watch the video and read the test. By stepping back and distancing myself from the ride and reading the comments I can start to devlop a better eye for what they are looking for. Usually then I can also remember the feel I had during that part of the test and it will assist me in being aware of when I'm corrked, or my horse is lazy behind, etc.

        The best trainer I ever had was an upper level eventer. So, look around for good people you can afford. Those of us at training/first level do not necessarily need to ride with the top of the top, we just need good instruction from someone who can communicate with us and has a good eye.
        Shoulders back, hands down, leg ON!



        • #5
          I have a regular trainer but I do the same thing with horseshows. I have someone videotape me and sit down with the judges comments and watch the video to help. Also I've post critiques of photos and video on here which has helped alot. There are many cothers that can give you good things to do and what to work on Most important make sure your riding him back to front and have forward motion. Get books and videos and sit down and learn. good luck
          Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole


          • #6
            Me too!

            I'm in the same boat. I was thinking of investing in Jane Savoie's Happy Horse DVD series. I really like her teaching method, and I think this would be step-by-step exactly what I need.


            • Original Poster

              Thanks, everyone, for your input. I've already read Lessons with Lendon and am reading it for the third time! I love the book and am trying to write down the lessons to work on to take into the arena with me. I also ordered the one mentioned above and I have one of Kyra Kirkland's book coming. We only really have one or two trainers near me that teach dressage...there's a lot of western and endurance riders around. Heck, there's only one horse show that includes dressage within an hour from me!

              Anyway, I have a lot of reading to do, but keep the ideas coming! I appreciate it!
              A tough day of riding is always better than an awesome day at the office.


              • #8
                I think following the dressage tests in order is a good way to figure out what comes next. They are designed to chart the logical progress of the horse's training. Leg yield before travers, travers before half-pass.... I have a bad habit of wanting to skip ahead. I try to work on all of the skills of a test at a given level before trying to tackle new movements.

                I'd also say it's easy to think you are practicing something right, when really you are teaching yourself and your horse something that you will have to unlearn later. You need feedback from some knowleable observer on some regular basis.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by sddlbrdgrl View Post
                  I'm in the same boat. I was thinking of investing in Jane Savoie's Happy Horse DVD series. I really like her teaching method, and I think this would be step-by-step exactly what I need.
                  If you want to see a bit more of her style before investing, join her dressagementor.com site. It's fabulous!


                  • #10
                    Suggest you stop the lateral work until the contact is established, steady, consistent and frank, which you can both feel and see, with the horse having a steady head carriage, and the rein consistently 'taken up' with no slack, without changes in the rein tension or the horse's head going up, down, in, out, changing position other than when you ask the horse to stretch or to come up.

                    But it is more difficult even than that. The contact must also be supple and through, with the neck muscles always loose and supple even though the contact and connection is steady, and the rider able to use the reins to bend the horse and turn him without the contact being dropped, and the biggest test of the contact, to halt and continue on without the slightest change in the amount of contact or position of the horse's head.

                    THis is where it really gets much more difficult.

                    Simple work on large circles and straight lines, in a very forward gait (forward doesn't equal fast; most people do need an instructor guiding them to develop forward rather than fast, though for many amateurs it is plainly and clearly just a matter of giving the horse much, much more freedom and energy in his gaits, and it may FEEL 'fast' to the rider), helps to bring the contact.

                    It is no solution to simply ride the horse with a very low head carriage and long neck all through the ride, especially if the reins are very loose or long and there is no contact with the reins.

                    The order of training is establish a connection and acceptance of the bit first, in what is the equivalent of intro and training level, and then go to the lateral work, which is first level and second level.

                    Contact is formed with a contact shy horse by teaching him to stretch, but stretch to a contact, with a connection, and that takes a lot of leg and a very clever, suppling use of the rein without overbending or de-emphasizing the leg aids.

                    Stretching without a contact has no worth, but may form a very initial, brief period of showing the horse how to loosen up. If it goes on for more than a few weeks it is a problem and it is becoming just another position in which the horse does not take a contact.

                    The correct stretch is really very difficult. Almost anyone can teach a trick for the horse to plunge his head and neck down on some cue - real stretching is much harder.

                    The contact is maintained, all the way down, with no change in the amount of feel one has in the reins from start to finish and back to the normal position. The horse simply elongates his neck, maintaining the connection, and the contact never changes, like an accordion, and the reins never go slack at all.

                    Most people drop the contact, and teach the horse a trick, rather than correct work. This has no value in training.

                    It is very true that establishing the contact is really the main work of the rider at this phase and nothing else really can happen and be correct without that first being established. And it is really the work of the rider to decontract the horse - many say the horse 'offers' a contact, but it isn't true. The 'offered' contact is not through or consistent unless the horse is actually 'losing his balance downward' to a very low, long position and that is not balanced. The only way to get the correct contact is to consistently and deliberately create the situation in which the horse can make the connection. The rider has to actively do this, the horse is just waiting for that.

                    He will always continue with his old habits, even after years of retraining he will revert to his old habit, unless the rider gives him a 'forward ride to the quiet steady hand'.

                    There really isn't any other way.

                    Lessons really are indispensable. Videos are fun, but no substitute for lessons. I do not really believe one can gain so much from videos alone. For me they are just one important part of the whole.
                    Last edited by slc2; Jan. 9, 2009, 07:24 AM.


                    • #11
                      I'm very firmly in the camp that knows that you can't learn to ride from books and videos and by teaching yourself.

                      You might get so far, but no further.

                      I also know that you can't teach and bring on a young horse if you don't know what you're doing yourself either. Or at least you can only do so much.

                      I'd suggest you save money for a while and tell everyone you know that you don't want birthday and christmas presents etc you want money instead and so you can invest in some lessons.


                      • #12
                        Videos are a great idea but only if you know what to look for. If you are not really familiar with the concepts it's easy to believe that you're doing them correctly.

                        If you can't afford lessons right now (and right now I can't either!), do you have the opportunity to occasionally audit? If there's a clinic in the area you might be able to catch a well known trainer but otherwise, just spending several hours watching your trainer teach other riders could really help.

                        I know I've had a few "light bulb" moments watching my trainer teach other students and seeing how she corrects the way the ride. When I see someone making the same mistake, it's a real education.

                        Good luck!
                        Equine Ink - My soapbox for equestrian writings & reviews.
                        EquestrianHow2 - Operating instructions for your horse.


                        • #13
                          When I've been sans lessons, I've often buddied up with a friend to videotape our rides. I'd tape hers and she'd tape mine. We both had similar goals (this is when I was barrel racing) and taping and then going over the tapes together helped us spot and correct issues that we couldn't pick up while concentrating on riding.

                          Even though I'm a firm believer in lessons, I'm also a firm believer in improving however and whenever you can, and sometimes you do just have to make do and do the best you can. I can say, though, that lessons are invaluable. I've ridden for 40 years (I'm 42), and even though I grew up in a horsey family, I didn't have the typical lesson/showing background (we worked cows as 5 year olds because we had to, and the only requirement was to keep the horse between you and the ground and get the cows into the pen!). I'm now taking dressage lessons, and finding the holes in my riding, and they're HUGE. It would be discouraging if I weren't so interested in the process.


                          • #14
                            If I could only buy books or videos from one trainer, it would be Walter Zettl. His book Dressage In Harmony is full of wonderful exercises (complete with illustrations). His video/DVD series A Matter of Trust is wonderful too! Vol. 1 would be a good start for you. Here is the description:

                            A Matter of Trust Vol. I
                            Volume I covers the basic guidelines for equine behavior, movement, gaits, physical and mental characteristics of the horse as well as the training plan for the first year. The first half looks at the horse, the rider, timing of the aids, movement and correct use of seat and aids. The second half gives a detailed lesson plan for establishing a solid foundation.
                            230 minutes DVD

                            Here is his website: http://www.walterzettl.net/

                            Check his clinic schedule. If you can audit him (or ride), it is worth every penny!!


                            • #15
                              It is indeed possible to progress by yourself. I haven't had a lesson in 2-3 years, and I have managed to move up from 1st to 3rd and 4th level work on my own. BUT, since you don't have someone there to critique you, you have to be your own toughest critic. Every day when I get on I question the most basic things. Only when I am completely satisfied with the answers do I start asking tougher questions. Learn what correct work looks like; watch videos of riders at your level who are doing well. (It helps if the horses are similar to yours- my TB will never move like a WB.) Video yourself at least once a week, those are your lessons. Get your horse to look like that. It is a very rewarding experience, to say the least. Good luck!


                              • #16
                                Kyra Kyrklund

                                I read a book called Dressage with Kyra. It's by Kyra Kyrklund, and I loved it! It really explains movements very thoroughly!


                                • #17
                                  What dressage master said that either the horse or the rider should know what they are doing?

                                  I am cautious of people that tell me they taught both themselves and their horses how to move from basic to more advanced dressage levels on their own, because most people have problems when 1 (or even both members) of the combo knows what they are doing!

                                  For those out there that have done this, can you send actual numbers (how many lessons/training rides you take, on average) with actual results (show scores, etc). I would love to hear a success story, but have not heard one yet that doesn't end with someone saying something along the lines of taht they are confirmed at Fourth Level with average scores in the mid-50s.


                                  • #18
                                    You can't go wrong with anything by Jane Savoie. Riding in the mind's eye and the half halt series are awesome.
                                    Boyle Heights Kid 1998 16.1h OTTB Dark Bay Gelding
                                    Tinner's Way x Sculpture by Hail to Reason
                                    "Once you go off track, you never go back!"


                                    • #19
                                      I agree with School master. If you and the horse both don't know then the quickest way to learn is for you to learn from a school master, or for you both to have an instructor.

                                      Yes you can read books, watch videos, ask questions on Forums, but everything comes down to timing and the hundreds of second to ask for things or correct things and this is best done in person.

                                      Over here in Queensland we have ponyclubs which Queensland alone let adult riders join and Queensland and other States have adult rider clubs so you can join and have lessons and it is a lessor cost on your own horse.

                                      Riding schools have school horses that you can learn what to do.

                                      The next best thing is to have mirrors where you ride. This is immediate and you can see both you and the horse. Next best thing is the video camera, which is not immediate.
                                      It is better to ride 5 minutes a day than it is to ride 35 minutes on a Sunday.


                                      • #20
                                        Ghost thread!