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Melodye and David have
always made it their top priority to obtain the best possible education
available. Several years of apprenticeship in an FEI training
facility working for a German trained "beireiter" helped
fine-tune their understanding of the training scale and the significance
of correct schooling of the gaits for horse and rider.
apprenticeship, David and Melodye shared the responsibility every day of
riding a wide variety of different breeds in every stage of training
from green to Grand Prix. Melodye began her intensive dressage training
in 1985 when she retired from a career as a professional ballet dancer.
She has competed through Prix S. George and schooled all Grand Prix
movements. Melodye brings the discipline, knowledge of physiology
and the aesthetic eye of a classically trained dancer to this dressage
arena to help you improve your horse through a well-balanced seat.
David spent his childhood
playing on ponies bareback. Later, he galloped thoroughbreds at
the racetrack and was given a horse that he re-trained to event.
Eventing led to his discovery of dressage. David is a natural in
the saddle, brimming with confidence, an important attitude that he
imparts to the horses he trains.
Melodye and David's vast
experience plus knowledge of the German training system combine to
consistently produce positive results for horses and rider. In
conclusion, David and Melodye always consider the horse's physical and
mental state first and foremost in training. While they are
results oriented trainers/teachers, they are unyielding to pressure or
push any horse beyond their current fitness level.
"We shall take care not to annoy the horse and spoil his
friendly charm, for it is like the scent of a blossom: Once lost it will
never return." (Pluvinel)
These words should be foremost in the mind of the Dressage rider. For
the overall development of a young horse, it is crucial that a trainer
not inflict the mental and physical damage that misguided training can
so easily create. Then she must be able to improve the horse’s
willingness to work while building the cornerstones of training:
relaxation and suppleness. Only when these can be achieved with light
aids, has the ultimate goal been achieved.
Proper training can only take place when a rider works with her horse
and they can form a partnership. For the rider, this involves a high
degree of training and concentration in order to achieve a constant
state of awareness of the horse she is riding, and the effect of the
aids on the horse. This state of awareness must begin with an accurate
assessment of the horse’s potential. Then, every aid that is given
must be done so very carefully and specifically. Any positive reaction
of the horse should be praised and rewarded immediately. Likewise, a
negative reaction should more likely be assumed to be the result of
confusion rather than disobedience, and should not serve as cause for
Any aspect of training that does not involve a straight and supple horse
is completely useless. It is imperative to constantly stretch and ride
every horse over his back, i.e. from back to front and back again, at
every step of the training process. There has been a lot of confusion on
the subject of stretching. Many people have interpreted stretching to
mean pulling backwards on the reins and bringing the horse’s head down
toward the front legs. A horse ridden in this manner can only curl in
his neck and can never loosen his back. He will always stiffen and draw
his back down and away from the rider’s weight. The result is stiff
and powerless haunches, which can never develop carrying ability. In a
properly stretching horse, the horse’s head is carried low and the
horse’s back is raised to a position where the pushing aids can
influence the horse to the utmost degree. The hands serve as a guiding
aid and the seat serves as the primary aid.
In order to prevent the young horse from losing his confidence, a rider
must recognize precisely when and why to give each aid so that the horse
will never be confused by mixed signals. By the same token, older and
more experienced horses will only be happy and confident when ridden in
a clear and thoughtful fashion. Older horses must be ridden over their
backs at all times, during the warm up, as well as during all exercises.
It is also important that exercises be used to enhance suppleness,
rather than for their own sake. Correctly performed work must quickly be
rewarded. School movements must be finished once they have been properly
executed because excessive repetitions make the horse dull and bored,
and thus interfere with the ultimate goal of ever-increasing lightness
of the aids and harmony between horse and rider.
The methods we use are based upon a single principle: A horse can only
develop as an athlete if he can become round and allow his back to
accept the pushing aids of the seat. Our training system begins with
teaching the horse to stretch and thus be able to be truly influenced by
the rider’s seat. Once the horse is stretching properly, the rider
must then become aware of the tremendous influence in a positive way to
develop the horse’s athleticism, work ethic, and way of going. We
strive to teach riders to use their aids with great care and
effectiveness in order to produce a true equine partner.
To come down from our human pedestal and put ourselves in the horse’s
shoes may be difficult, but it will prove to be rewarding. One of the
major problems throughout the entire training process of the horse is
that riders are unaware of their own weak and strong points. By
neglecting to do so, they lose sight of their end of the partnership.
When a horse is allowed to work with his rider in a partnership of
mutual understanding, he will be able to do far better than the animal
whose rider has only the perfection of exercises in mind. For this
partnership to happen, the desire of a human being to understand the
horse’s mentality is a prerequisite.
A rider who can only see and think in a human way will continuously
misdiagnose situations and frustrate his horse. The next time we find
ourselves in a situation where we seem to be getting nowhere, we should
try to remember this: MOST DISOBEDIENCES ARE ACTUALLY MISUNDERSTANDINGS.
THEY ARE DIRECTLY RELATED TO A RIDER’S INCAPACITY TO COMMUNICATE
FAIRLY AND CONSISTENTLY WITH HER HORSE. Maybe we should bring the horse
back to his stall and take an honest look at how we ourselves have been
communicating. Have we been asking for too much, or asking in a way in
which he cannot understand? Just how often are we truly functioning at
our peak, yet every day we expect such a performance from our horse.
The various ways of making the horse understand what we are asking for
should be discussed. Every horse is different. There is no such thing as
a perfect horse. Every horse can only respond correctly when a rider
asks correctly. Horses are not always going to be thrilled to have to
learn new things. He might not even seem to respond initially to even a
perfectly timed and applied aid, but a thinking rider will be patient.
She will wait for the exact moment when the horse submits mentally and
physically and respond in a rewarding manner immediately. That is where
the rider has the chance to turn that submission into a desire on the
part of the horse to work together. So begins the true partnership
between horse and rider.
If, on the other hand, the rider doesn’t accurately read her horse and
lets that moment of submission pass with no reward, she will never be
able to form a harmonious partnership with the horse. Through constant
repetition and drilling she may eventually be able to persuade or even
force the horse to do certain things, from lateral work to Grand Prix
exercises. She may think that she has won, when she has, in fact, lost
her partner and her friend.
THE MEANING OF THE AIDS
The application of an aid must be a means of “aiding” the horse in
understanding what the rider wants to do. The better the rider has been
trained to give these aids in a way that horses can understand, the less
chance of conflict arises between he and the rider.. Aids can only make
sense to the horse when the rider understands that each aid does not
merely stand by itself, but influences the horse’s entire being. They
neither limit themselves to a single body part nor do they stand by
Aids can be separated into two different categories, direct and
indirect. The seat, rein and leg aids are physical, or direct aids,
because they involve a direct contact between horse and rider. The
mechanical aids that do not involve this direct contact are what we call
indirect aids (i.e. spurs and whip). The more that a rider has to rely
on these aids the less real progress he will make. This is because only
a meaningful coordination of the direct aids used at exactly the right
time can properly evoke the desired response from the horse.
Irrespective of where one places a horse on the intelligence scale, one
thing is certain: Horses do not have the ability to think logically like
humans. They think by means of association. They are herd animals, and
need to feel present in their lives a very definite order of rank.
Certain animals are in charge and certain animals are subordinate. When
people are working with horses there should never be any doubt in the
horse’s mind that the human being is the one which is in charge. This
is a situation that is normal to a horse. It gives him the security of
knowing where he belongs. When he has this, he is in his optimal working
climate. It is important to bear in mind that for it to be fully and
properly attained, submission can never be achieved with the use of
power. With this in mind, the rider must strive to use psychological
rather than physical aids to the greatest degree possible to influence
In the daily work with horses, there are innumerable moments when the
psychological signals from a human being can determine whether a
training session ends up being a positive one or a negative one. The
opposite of the psychological balance achieved as the result of the
horse’s trust in the rider’s authority, is a state of over-stimulation.
Sometimes nervous excitement can merely mean over-stimulation is caused
by the rider’s asking too much of the horse. When that is the case, it
is crucial that the rider take the pressure off until the horse can
settle down mentally. Here, it is very important that the rider stay in
the leading role and exude a quiet calmness that the horse can “lean
A certain amount of nervous excitement can, in the hands of the
experienced rider or trainer, be a positive tool that may stimulate the
horse to higher levels of achievement. However, this all depends on the
rider’s ability to sense exactly how much excitement she can bring
into play without losing the horse’s psychological balance and thus
keep it a positive experience.
The degree of control we have over the horse from the saddle depends on
the rider’s command of the seat aids. The seat aids are physical or
direct aids because they involve a direct contact between the horse and
rider. A shortcoming in the training of many riders is the relatively
superficial treatment of the influence of weight in the saddle. The
correct seat is based on the principle that a rider must at all times
have her center of gravity over that of the horses’. Regardless of the
gait in which the horse is traveling, the type of movement which the
rider is asking the horse to perform, or the type of seat (i.e. rising
or sitting, light or deep). The security and certitude of the correct
seat come from an independent balance, which a rider gets when he is
able to keep the three points of her seat in the saddle continuously.
This should be seen as one of the rider’s most important goals.
Once the seat and the rider’s weight can be used as an aid, they must
then be used with proper timing to have the full effect on the horse.
When a rider can apply her seat aids and use her weight to “aid” the
horse, it is possible to achieve real harmony. Practice shows us time
and again that most horses will deal with the disturbances of the
unbalanced rider goodheartedly if it doesn’t interfere too harshly
with the horse’s ability to move. However, he will be truly thankful
and rewarding to the rider who, by trying to “melt” herself to her
horse, allows him to move naturally and freely.
Flexion – Balance – Influence of the reins
After the initial familiarization with the reins, a rider should be
taught to start using them as aids. Reins are primarily used in the
process of gymnasticizing or bending the horse laterally as well as
vertically. To be able to do this, a coordination of all physical aids
is necessary. The ability to flex and bend correctly is one of the
hallmarks of a truly supple or durchlassiges horse. This flexion has to
go to the same degree from the poll over the neck, back, and rib area,
backwards to the dock. Even in the case of experienced Grand Prix
horses, this gymnasticizing process is a continuous part of the daily
work. The hallmark of finely tuned cooperation between the mouth of the
horse and the hand of the rider is that the pressure of the ring finger
on the rein be all that is required to make the horse aware of the
Although use of the rein aids in turns or on bent lines (for example,
while riding through corners) to many riders seems to be an easy concept
relative to the other aids, practice shows a very different picture. The
timing of the rein aids must be as precise as the seat and leg aids, and
the degree of this precision determines whether the horse will have a
good or bad mouth. This has an extraordinary impact on whether the horse
will end up overall a finely tuned, sensitive, and expressive animal or
a dull, sour and perhaps even recalcitrant school horse. Making the
horse aware of the rider’s wishes through the reins has to happen at
the moment where it still gives the horse time to shift his weight and
find his balance. The most important job of the reins is to make the
horse attentive to the riders’ wishes and then as support during their
The reins must be used both together and separately. The outside rein
fulfills a very important function, it controls the amount of bend.
Therefore, it fulfills a governing function. It prevents the horse from
only bending in the neck and falling out over the outside shoulder. The
inside rein initiates the bend. The degree and amount of bend has to be
adjusted to the situation and to each individual horse. In short one
could say that the inside rein gives the command at a particular moment,
and the outside rein governs and controls the amount of bend.
A further role of the outside rein is it’s collecting function. For
example, at the strike off, or in the maintaining of the canter, the
collecting function of the outside rein makes the horse become
temporarily more “pushed together”, which makes it a key component
of any higher dressage exercises. For example, the pirouette, when a
horse is properly elasticized by the rein aids he becomes capable of
bending in the rib area, and by doing so he can move his center of
gravity over his inside pair of legs to an increasing degree. This leads
us back to straightening the horse, since only a horse that is straight
is able to collect to the highest degree. In short, one could say that
all higher exercises are initiated with the outside rein.
A “breathing hand” must hold both reins. A breathing hand gives
direction by opening and closing depending on the needs of the
situation, and it never blocks or interferes with the natural movement
of the head and neck. By the same token, softness can be just as
detrimental as inappropriate forcefulness if it is allowed at the wrong
instant. Therefore, in the giving of the rein aids, the ability of the
rider to know precisely when to give them is crucial to the success or
failure in training the horse.
Dressage is a French word
that refers to the training of horses. The object of Dressage is the
harmonious development of the body, mind, and the ability of the horse,
making him calm, supple, well balanced and in harmony with the rider.
Dressage can be a means to
an end, a way of developing any horse to make a comfortable, attentive,
athletic mount ready to compete in almost any discipline...or dressage
can be a passion. In either case, the daily routine of working with your
horse, along with developing a deeper relationship and watching him
increase in strength will find a place deep in your heart. The horse's
increase in suppleness, confidence and it's evolving beauty each day is
an activity that gives your life meaning and brings joy.