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Hunter/Jumper Trainer to Dressage Trainer

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  • Hunter/Jumper Trainer to Dressage Trainer

    I have been in the Hunter/Jumper Industry for more than 3 decades. I have interest from several adult students that want to convert to Dressage and keep training with me. My question is for any Dressage Trainers that used to teach (or still do) Hunter/Jumpers: What are the biggest obstacles I will face as a starter-up Dressage Trainer in doing this? Any good advice or things to read that I absolutly must have? These 3 riders already can keep their horses on the aids most of the time, they can all perform leg yields, shoulder-in, turn on haunches/forehand, circles/sepentines, lengthenings/shortenings, half-halts...
    I have the dressage letters and I will get the tests and learn the rules.

    What else? What does the typical adult Dressage/training rider do in the course of a Dressage lesson? I myself have trained with some pretty well known Dressage Riders/Trainers back in college and have performed alot of the upper level movements on well trained horses. Who knows if this takes off I may be trading in my Dutch/cross Hunter for a Dressage Horse! I am assuming I will need to train/compete Dressage myself to be taken seriously by new clientelle.

  • #2

    My first and best and really kindest thought is: Get yourself some lessons with several top level dressage riders. If you ride with them simultaneously, you may end up confused. Start reading Dressage Today. I keep hearing quotes from what I'm teaching (OH! I'm sooo smart! )

    It's a whole new world!
    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.


    • #3
      biggest problem....getting your hunter riders to sit in their saddles and use a deep seat!!!!! I do both! I was taught to use a deep seat from the beginning and have had hunter a hunter trainer (I was doing an eval ride for a barn owner as a trainer) put me on a horse that bucked and told me I had no idea how to jump because I wasn't riding in a half seat! It baffles me that hunters do not see the value of a full deep seat!


      • #4
        Don't know if you train your hunters this way, but I've seen this at several h/j barns (BNT's and non-BNT's) : gimmicks. You know, draw reins, chambons, chain mouth pieces on the snaffles, etc.

        I've seen trainers use this stuff (on the flat and over fences), and then have their young/inexperienced riders use them too.

        Get rid of the gimmicks and have your riders learn how to get the job done in a plain snaffle.



        • #5
          Without knowing how you ride/teach/train it is so hard to say, so take this advice with that in mind. I started in the hunters and switched to dressage. What I have seen, every discipline is alike in that there is the good, the bad, and the ugly. Hunters is no exception. Some of the harsher training methods, bits, and gadgets seen in some hunter training regimens have no place in dressage. If you have spent time learning and then training in an atmosphere where these methods are used, you will find you have a lot to learn before you are able to earn respect as a trainer in the dressage community. Unfortunately, I think most of us think that whatever we are surrounded by is acceptable (or we wouldn't remain in that situation, right?) so probably the best way to learn if the methods you are familiar with really will transfer over to dressage or not is to start working with a really good dressage trainer.

          Go with an open mind, as a student, willing to listen and learn and do without questioning for a little while until you know enough to decide if the method will work for you or not. Probably, you will have to learn to sit differently, in a different type of saddle, with a different type of contact on the reins, using different muscles in your body to make your horse use different muscles in his body. It will feel all wrong! But some of it will be familiar. A trot is a trot, regardless of saddle, a happy horse is a happy horse, and tension is tension. But I think before you can really market yourself as a dressage trainer, you need some actual experience in dressage. And as I'm sure you know from your experience with riding/teaching already, riding a horse trained to do something takes much different skill than training a horse to do the same thing!

          With time, you will gain credentials like training horses to such and such level, or showing and getting whatever score at some level. In the meantime, I think as long as you are honest about what you can and cannot do (or are not qualified to do), people will respect that. I teach lower level riders right now. I am not qualified to teach upper level dressage riders as I am not one (I can sit on a horse trained to upper levels and perform movements, but that is not the same thing), and I am honest about that. People respect that. I have a lot to offer the students I work with, so it wouldn't make sense to try to wait until I "know it all" to begin teaching because that would never happen! But I won't take a student or a horse that I don't have anything to offer, and I work under the supervision of an FEI trainer, and I take lessons daily to continue to improve myself.

          What dressage riders do in a lesson is just like any other discipline... work on the skills they need for the level they are at. Adults and kids are the same. It depends what they are riding, how experienced they are, what their goals are, etc. A good reference for getting an idea the order different skills go in is to review the dressage tests. Master the easy ones before attempting the harder ones. Note the differences between the levels that go beyond the movements performed, like the level of collection required. A horse performing a flying lead change in a hunter or training level dressage frame is not a more advanced horse because it does a lead change. The quality of the change isn't the same as an upper level horse performing a flying change. You probably understand this concept from your previous dressage training, but showing your prospective clientelle that you know how to work with a horse and rider on a daily basis to build the skills and strength needed to progress correctly up the levels is what you will (likely) need the guidance of a very good dressage trainer for.

          If nothing else, dabbling in dressage for a while will likely give you some great ideas and new techniques for your hunters! I say give it a try
          Gallant Gesture "Liam" 1995 chestnut ottb gelding
          Mr. Painter "Remy" 2006 chestnut ottb gelding
          My Training Blog: www.dressagefundamentals.com


          • #6
            that was a very nice post GG!
            there is sadly nothing quick about dressage...there is a lot to read and learn on this board and I am sure there are quite a few ready to help...but if you want to go down this road..be ready to be patient and endlessly open to learning...because it's not an easy sport to learn or become competent in.

            Welcome and I hope you enjoy it!
            "the man mite be the head but the woman is the neck and the neck can turn the head any way she wants..." -smart greek woman


            • #7
              I don't think its fair to immediately assume that as a hunter rider the op uses harsh training methods or gadgets.
              To the op: I think that this could be really fun. I've been in the position of a student learning along with my instructor and have actually found it to be very successful. There is a lot more sharing of lightbulb moments which are really the things that keep me progressing.
              I think the best thing would be to start developing an eye, seat, and method for teaching these things. I personally learn the best from videos of clinics or going to clinics in real life (if you can ride in them great, but at least auditing is a great learning opportunity, especially to see how a successful dressage trainer teaches and possibly use some elements). I've heard that the jane savoie videos are excellent, and would personally recommend conrad schumacher videos. I believe sally swift is also worth looking into. She is very popular for her ability to explain how to find a more effective seat.
              Good luck and have fun!
              "It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems with just potatoes" ~ Douglas Adams


              • #8
                Having been someone who switched diciplines, I can say it is a different ball game.

                Take lessons yourself from a well qualified individual, it takes years..years..years...did I say years..to be able to effectively ride and teach dressage. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. It is not as simple as changing your shingle.

                You tube is a great resource to get to see some FEI level riders in action. There are books out there from the older greats, but with books you get the words but sometimes it is hard to visualize what is being said.

                I am going to take the liberty and say you can teach hunters and jumpers (because I don't know you), but when I pay a coach, she/he better know what she is doing. Every level builds on the previous one. When one aspect is incorrect, it magnifies as you go up the levels. Just one example, lead changes....very different from the hunter jumper world.

                Honestly the dressage community is trying to up the anti right know with riders, trainers, coaches, and judges. Not the time to wing it, it will look poorly on you as a coach. JMHO.


                • #9
                  No, I don't think you should take money for learning dressage while you teach people new to the sport. Even with beginners, they need instruction from an experienced dressage instructor. In fact, that's when they need the MOST experienced help!

                  You are coming into the sport during a time when people demand years of experience, certification and often, apprenticeship or at least a long association with one of the top names in the sport. It is extremely competitive and in this economic crisis, a lot of people with years of credentials are going hungry.

                  I don't think it's fair to students, and more importantly, I think you will cause a great deal of resentment among the dressage instructors AND students in the community, and it will make it far, far more difficult for you to gain respect in the community. In fact, it will have the opposite effect.

                  People will say, 'So, he thinks it's so easy, does he! Well! He's got another thing coming!' People who have spent years and years learning the sport may highly resent someone coming in with no experience, and instructors who have sweated thru certification resent someone trying to take money out of their wallet.

                  I'd recommend you send your dressage students to a dressage trainer/instructor, and go right along with them. Get instructor certification from the USDF, THEN teach dressage.


                  • #10
                    While taking lessons yourself I would also attend some basic dressage clinics with your adult students. I think that would be fun since you are all learning together! I can understand a student wanting to stay with their trainer that they trust.

                    I had it easy I was the hunter/jumper client and my trainer turned me into a dressage rider! I have not looked back since I say go for it and learn along with your few adult students.


                    • #11
                      I disagree with SLC. While certainly if your students become "serious" about dressage, you should have the professionalism to move them along to someone who can teach them better... If you are a competent hunter trainer (and I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt here, as you say your students can do shoulder-in, etc.), and they LIKE working with you, and want to dabble in dressage - I think there is nothing wrong with you working with them on dressage and taking them to some schooling level shows.

                      As others have said, I don't know the OP, and I'm a bit concerned since the OP doesn't even seem to know what one does in a dressage lesson, but I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt.

                      I have ridden with some hunter trainers, who are so good, that they could easily and correctly teach a horse and rider through 1st level. Most hunters do very little "collection" work in the dressage sense, so I think 2nd level becomes more problematic.

                      I guess my thoughts come mostly from my experience, that very few people (either riders from other disciplines or non-riders) want to plunk down the money to start their career with a USDF certified instructor. Moreover, very few of these instructors have school horses, and some charge exhorbitant boarding fees. I'm not criticizing, I'm just recognizing that most people who have gone through the USDF program are very serious competitors, and have serious students. And most of us didn't start off in this sport that way.

                      Is it less than ideal? Sure. In an ideal world, we'd all start off on schoolmasters getting lunged 6 days a week by a German bereiter. But this isn't an ideal world. Its the real world. many of us started by having our hunter trainers take us to a small dressage show. We got bitten by the bug, and eventually became serious enough about the sport to go make the sacrifices to do it more seriously.

                      Having said that, I know a lot of crappy hunter trainers out there. I also know a few who have good basics, and would be more than qualified enough to teach students Training/First level dressage.


                      • #12
                        With out seeing or knowing your riding /teaching style it is hard to say. I myself have been very fortunate to have been taught imho proper horsemanship from the start of my riding ...I did and still do the Hunters and EQ and have always done Dressage with the same horses for the lower level . I find at the lower levels the basics are the basics no matter what discipline so for me to teach either or ride /show either is not a hard switch at all. You mention doing the lateral work etc... but again how through and "correct"is it , w/o seeing I dont know. I would take the other posters advice and ride with a very good Dressage trainer on a consistent basis attend clinics read, you can join dressage training online watch videos etc...get some longe lessons.
                        I suspect as mentioned above your current students may need to learn to sit around the horse and not on top... so many longe lessons for them as well. I n my experience when I get hunt seat riders I often have to fix position and teach them to sit around their horse even for the jumping.
                        Sorry seem to be rambling here. Just some suggestions. Good luck


                        • #13
                          Introducing new people to dressage is wonderful

                          I think introducing students to dressage from any discipline is a wonderful idea. They know you aren't a "dressage" trainer and it sounds like they are ok with that. I would go check out a couple of schooling shows on your own first. Make sure you and they understand the geometry of the figures and where the movements should be taking place in the arena. Have fun! If they want to get really serious about dressage and move up the levels eventually they can find a dressage trainer.


                          • #14
                            After all Debbie McDonald did it.


                            • #15
                              Her book would be a good one to read as well.


                              • Original Poster

                                Taking on Dressage students

                                Thank you everyone for being so kind! I was a little worried about how this would be perceived, but I think most of you get what I am trying to do here.
                                Yes, I plan on training with a Dressage professional. Yes, I plan on getting my USDF instructor certification. All in due time.
                                My immediate area doesn't offer any BNDT which is one of the reasons I am considering this. There is a need in my area for a DT. The area is saturated with Hunter/Jumpers.
                                Great ideas everyone, just what I'm looking for....keep them coming!

                                JRG, love the You Tube advice and you couldn't be more right in learning and training incorrectly only magnifies problems as you go up the levels. That is the staple of my success as a Hunter/Jumper Equitation Trainer. My students learn how to ride correctly, effectively, and confidently. When they move up the levels it looks even more beautiful than their previous level. I understand the levels are key.
                                Also, I teach alot of Dressage (in close contact saddles which is very hard) to my Equitation students so I am very skilled with techniques and feel I have a good eye. I honestly haven't used draw reins (except on one pony) or gimmicks in 15 years. I have trained over 400 horses in my life. I feel I may be good as a Dressage Trainer. I definately would push students to other DT if I felt I couldn't offer them anything. But If I do this I want to do it first class. I want to know the best Dressage saddles to buy. We ride the Hunters in the best equipment I want to learn the ins and outs up front.
                                GG, elaborate if you can a bit more about lessons: What I am trying to understand is do most Novice Dressage riders in their lessons work on tests or does a lesson consist of breaking the tests down into parts and putting it together as a goal for a later date? I am looking for a protocol of some type as how to direct the lesson so it feels like a Dressage lesson. What does the student want to do? In my jumping lessons the goal is to learn how to ride a course smoothly and the students want to jump courses. Of course, they don't always ride courses but my point is that is what the student wants out of a jumping lesson. I hope this makes sense.
                                Thanks in advance.


                                • #17
                                  I would break each movement down and then put it together at a later date. Just the same way you would do it as a jumping course.


                                  • #18
                                    I would suggest that you have a FEI dressage trainer or FEI dressage judge watch you teach a few dressage lessons and train a few dressage horses, in order to give you feedback on your strengths and weaknesses.

                                    I would recommend participating in the USDF Instructor Workshops - Riding and Teaching.

                                    I also think that competing in dressage is necessary, to get you exposed to the requirements of the discipline and prove that you can do it in a recognized way.

                                    To be blunt...
                                    Keep in mind that the dressage community does not look kindly on someone almost new to the discipline "hanging their shingle". As a dressage trainer myself, I rode for years before becoming a working students. Only then was I allowed to teach "beginner" dressage riders under the strict supervision of my trainer. Mostly every other dressage trainer has put the same/more years into preparing to become a trainer, so many may feel like someone with almost no training/showing experience has not earned it.


                                    • #19
                                      While my primary discipline is H/J, dressage is such an elemental and necessary part of my teaching that it is really not a separate issue for me. Through many, many years, my philosophy of riding has evolved to the point that 'correct riding is correct riding' regardless of discipline.

                                      Correct riding is riding that allows the horse full and free expression within the limits of the job at hand. It means a rider who maximizes her contact with the horse through a deep, flexible and subtle seat, who can fine tune the aids to such an extent that there exists a constant, full body, soft conversation with the horse.

                                      It means careful and systematic development of the physical and emotional horse and rider.

                                      So, teach your students to seek the feel of a horse on the aids, use lunging, help them find their seats - not necessarily in that order! Make sure you have experienced the feel yourself. Take all the time necessary for horse, student and yourself alike.

                                      Perhaps what this ramble boils down to is that working with someone who understands the concept of 'correct riding' will really help you and your students. You don't need to compete necessarily, but be aware of the bad dressage riding that is out there, look always for the best you can find and pass this good on to your students.

                                      Dressage is not about control, but about allowing - there are excellent trainers out there who understand this.

                                      Finally, exploring concepts together with your students can be incredibly rewarding. You observe, they respond, you ask, they answer, you teach, they learn - they teach, you learn!

                                      Have fun! It will take you places you never imagined!
                                      Form follows function, or does function follow form?




                                      • #20
                                        Just like if you had a more novice rider that wanted to do the hunters, first she would have to learn to walk/trot/canter. Then you'd set up a small cross rail, then you'd make it bigger, then make an easy line, then... etc. Same with dressage. Many (lucky) students start on a lunge line to learn to sit correctly, walk/trot/canter. Once that balance and strength is acquired, they start to learn about more aids and about riding on the bit and other ideas that it takes just to go around the arena. I guess it depends where your students are at, and what they are riding. If you students are skilled with some dressage basics, but the horses are really typey hunters or are greener ottbs or a young wb or whatever, the lessons will have to include time where you coach the student through training the horse. If you have a dressage school master, the student just has to learn to push the buttons and otherwise stay out of the horse's way! Most fall somewhere in between.

                                        If you use the tests, look at the intro tests for example. The movements required for that tests are the ability to ride the walk and trot (posting), transitions between the two, long and low stretchy walk, and 20m circles at the trot. Instead of practicing the test until the horse has it memorized (bad idea! the horse will anticipate the next movement and ignore the rider!), take each movement separately. You may spend a whole lesson (or weeks of lessons) on only one part, or you may pick two or three parts to switch between. For example, maybe start (after a warmup) working on a 20m circle at the trot in one end of the arena. Then take it to the middle of the arena (where there aren't walls on 3 sides to help), and make sure it stays round. Then while you work on that you could also mix in work on the walk/trot transitions. Then take a break and as the student lengthens the reins, try to get the horse to follow the contact down and out. If you do this until all the individual movements of the test are easy, then try putting together parts of the test. The movements are harder when you try to do them one after another seamlessly, and without the chance to say "Oh, that was a bad transition, let me try it again". Especially as the tests get harder. A good exercise for yourself may be to try riding some of the tests and just see how quickly they flow.

                                        If you want, in my sig is my blog. I posted a week or so ago some videos from my lesson with my FEI trainer. The post is titled "Videos from my lesson". I am riding my ottb in the lesson, he is working at about first level right now. He raced a long time (until he was 8!) so the canter is our hardest gait, so that is what we are working on in most of that lesson. The trainer is teaching me and her daughter to train our horses. You will hear lots of dressage words (halt halt, collect, etc) and see how sort of tedious the day to day work is to build up the horses to perform it effortlessly.
                                        Gallant Gesture "Liam" 1995 chestnut ottb gelding
                                        Mr. Painter "Remy" 2006 chestnut ottb gelding
                                        My Training Blog: www.dressagefundamentals.com