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In Search of Excellence in Horsemanship by Melodye Linn

Like many of you, my initial interest in dressage was intended to be casual and fun. However, as many of you also know, our discipline is one that compels some of us so totally that eventually we choose to dedicate our existences to our horses and our education as horse people

In my case, my "horsey addiction" finally delivered me to several years of apprenticeship in an FEI training barn. This type of educational arrangement is as old as the hills and the basic equation goes something like this.: your blood, sweat, and tears = a real opportunity to learn.

Nothing is given to you. You earn every ounce of knowledge you are clever enough to absorb. This exchange process is what separates the women from the girls. As challenging as this arrangement is, in my opinion, it's the ultimate way to challenge yourself to determine if you "have what it takes." I learned so much about the horses and myself that I feel obligated to share information.

  • The saying "be fit to ride, don't ride to be fit" is not just a good idea. The reality is that you cannot expect to be a top-notch rider unless you possess strength, stamina, and coordination.

  • Read voraciously! There are so many wonderful books that anyone who considers themselves "a rider" should read. 

  • Watch good riders. Video tapes are a great learning resource. 

  • Set goals and work towards them, Enlist your instructor to help you in this area.

  • Get videotaped regularly and keep a riding journal. Day to day progress sometimes is invisible, and good training doesn't happen overnight, but if you can document your work consistently, you can compare and contrast your progress from month to month.

  • Get good riding instruction. It's far easier to learn to ride correctly from the beginning than to have to re-learn. There are no shortcuts to becoming an effective rider and no substitutions for hours in the saddle. Development of good position and riding basics are integral to positive results in your horse, since only when we are in true harmony with our horse can we begin to positively influence (or train) the horse.

If you are a novice, and necessity dictates that you will only be able to have professional help once a week or less, do not buy a young or green horse. Learning good basics on a horse that knows its job is challenging enough. You cannot expect to teach the horse something you don't know.

  • Correct Position: chin up, focus up, shoulders pinched, chest open, pulled up from the waist, arms falling softly shoulder to elbow with elbow at waist, straight line from elbow to bit, tall back sitting at vertical, hip open, adductor against the saddle, soft and loose lower leg draping the horse's side.

  • Correct Basics: school the gaits - active, engaged, over the back, energy into the bit. Never compromise on connection. When all of this is right, you can ride movements easily. Without correct basics, the movements are nothing more than tricks.

  • Know the training style and incorporate it into your daily work: rhythm, suppleness, contact, impulsion, straightness and collection. Make it your top priority to obtain a clear idea of what each of these elements mean.

  • Be proactive managing your horse's care.: Don't just wait for something to go wrong. Get involved firsthand with the care of your horse, and be aware of every crevice on his/her body. Communicate with your vet and farrier and know that the equine athlete requires consistent care and appropriate maintenance. Don't over-ride your horse. Forty minutes of work, five days a week is adequate if the work is correct. 

Remember that your horse's physical and mental condition on any day are only a snapshot of his current nutrition, exercise and rest program!

-June 2002 Tip of the Month-
Always think about your reins and your shoulders controlling the horses' shoulders, just as your legs and seat control the horses' haunches and hind legs. Remember that in order for an aid to be effective it must be executed correctly and at the correct moment, with the appropriate intensity and duration. Never forget that it is the combined hand, seat, and leg aids that create a happy horse, and no aid ever stands alone!

-May 2002 Tip of the month - 
To achieve maximum results while you're riding your horse, first consider that who he is today is only a snapshot of his current nutrition, turnout, and physical condition. If you're not satisfied with his performance, ask yourself if you are enabling him to meet your goals. For example, if he is lazy, there may be any number of reasons such as too much turnout, too little nutrition, too much work, or inappropriate work. If he is fresh or naughty, you may ask yourself if he's getting enough turnout, appropriate work, or too much protein. 

Dressage work is essentially hard work for any horse. As their guardians, it is our job to assume responsibility for their care if we expect positive results. Keep a journal of your horse's complete program. Make an entry for every day, even if you don't ride. Entries can be brief, but be specific. Include information regarding changes in feed, turnout, weather, farrier, vet, and any other detail that involves your horse. I know that if you're faithful in your journaling, you will begin to understand patterns in your horse's behavior. Always remember that although they can't speak like you or me, they are constantly communicating with us, and we must listen....
                                                                                               -Melodye Linn








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