The Art of Natural Dressage

Hello from New Jersey!
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Author:  UsualDreamFarm [ Tue Mar 18, 2014 3:39 pm ]
Post subject:  Hello from New Jersey!

Hi All,
I'm in the process of moving from Maine to New Jersey and so excited to find this site. I rode for an FEI dressage trainer for years, was extremely good at it and hated every second of it. I could never pin down why until a few years ago when I watched an Australian trainer Guy Mclean at the equine affaire canter a horse backwards with just a strap around his neck. (I was totally hooked.) Its been a long, long road from the world of side reins and hock hobbles to cordeo work for me, but I am glad I've come this far. I have a solid foundation in dressage theory, but I'm never going back to the pitiless way it can be trained. I won't teach others to ride like that either.
I have two wonderful mares, both rescues, that I am currently bringing along. One is a Norwegian Fjord who was turned loose in a woodlot in northern Maine, (2000+ fenced acres... she hadn't seen people in a couple of years,) dropped a foal out there in the dead of winter and raised it up in subzero temperatures. This little mare is wild all over and really doesn't need people. I absolutely love that about her and I'm having a blast learning from her. She isn't 100% saddle started yet, but she will walk on a halter, walk on concrete, not panic at the sight of a car and actually go under a roof, (all foreign things for her... she actually would rather dig a hole in the snow like a sled dog and let herself be buried by blowing snow than go into a shed.) My fiancé will be using her as a trail horse, as she is completely unflappable on the trails. She honestly prefers trails to the arena and I think the two of them are a great match.
My other mare, an off the track pacer, came to me a hot mess from a livestock auction, (we all know where she was headed,) jacked up on steroids, pain-killers, Viagra and snake venom. She was a classic example of what folks up north refer to as a "dope and dump" or a horse that a trainer wants to go immediately to slaughter after racing so they won't be caught using banned substances. I nursed her through her withdrawal period in which she nearly killed me a few times during her 'roid rages, and promptly realized that the only place on her that hadn't been shocked, hit or hurt in some way was her neck... so we started right in with cordeo work. She loved it and that's how I've been steadily teaching her to walk, trot and when she feels particularly brave, try a little canter. This mare constantly humbles me with just how much she is willing to forgive and how hard she tries... sometimes I tear up a little talking about her to friends, (which makes me look totally sane :) ) After all she's been through, she lets me put a saddle on her, sit on her and graciously carries me around without any fuss, letting me steer her around by a silly little piece of string. I might show her in a hackamore at some point, (she flips over if you come near her with a bit... not a fight I need to have with her,) but even if we do nothing else, the fact that she is alive at all is incredible enough.
Anywho, enough of my sentimental nonsense. I like AND because it is the best of what dressage is supposed to be, minus the horrifying cruelty and that suits me just fine. I am by no means a master at this, and I am very excited to swap notes with fellow AND riders/trainers on this site. Thank God there are other people out there who are trying to figure out a better way to do this!

Author:  Romy [ Tue Mar 18, 2014 6:52 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Hello from New Jersey!

Welcome here! :)

Wow, sounds like you have gone through quite an extreme change. I sometimes wish I had, because I can imagine that this might make it much easier to understand more traditional horse people. I have never really been involved in the equestrian world, so sometimes I feel like this: :alien:, and would really love to be able to understand why people are doing this or that when interacting with horses - not just understand it rationally, but really feel how it feels to have these values and opinions. This must be a wonderful basis for a constructive communication, I guess. :)

Best wishes,

Author:  UsualDreamFarm [ Tue Mar 18, 2014 7:27 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Hello from New Jersey!

Thanks Romy! Mostly, when you are training and showing, you do whatever your trainer tells you to do because you want to win and figure they know more than you. You sort of put your head down and do it, because winning is the only goal you have. Connecting with a horse, riding in a cordeo, ect is just not even on your radar and just doesn't exist in your world. Your really just worried about having a high enough score, a low enough weight and a pretty enough face that your trainer will pick you to take to the big shows. I'm not proud of it, but it is very easy to get sucked into all that. Don't worry, you really, really haven't missed much. The show world is kind of crazy :) Thank you for replying!

Author:  Volker [ Fri Mar 21, 2014 1:22 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Hello from New Jersey!

Welcome! :f:

Great that you found a way of being with horses that better suits you. And thanks for your honest introduction.
It seems you took on a nice challenge with your mares. I'm still shocked again and again how cruel the business with horses is and how little it had evolved over the last decades.

I wonder, how much of your former training do you still find valuable? Do you feel like the basis of dressage is the same, just your way of applying it has changed. Or was it a more complete turn around for you?

Author:  Ulrike Kraft [ Sat Mar 22, 2014 12:35 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Hello from New Jersey!

Hi there,

your story is very interesting to me because I have only started to be in contact with people and horses from the show world in the last few years because of my new career as an equine dentist and in hoof rehabilitation. Prior to that I have only really done trail riding in relationships of equality with my horses. I'm shocked every time I come to places where horses know that they are being made to work in concentration camp like conditions and the torture they have to endure.

UsualDreamFarm wrote:
Connecting with a horse, riding in a cordeo, ect is just not even on your radar and just doesn't exist in your world.

I wonder how this could be changed? I've been wrecking my brains over and over again.

I don't know much about dressage other than what I learned here and I'm looking forward to get into natural dressage with my young horse. My teacher's wife is a dressage rider and judge and she gave her young horse away to be broken in and now she teaches him dressage while riding. I would never dream of doing it her way. I'm not in a hurry and my main aim is for my horse to have fun and become strong and proud. But sometimes I think how nice it would be if I was able to show her that total beginners like my horse and I can get somewhere by having fun, but I don't want to make it a race in who can train their horse better but I do think it could make an impact on her thinking. Apart from not wanting to put the pressure on my horse and myself I'm wishing for a big change in the world of "traditional showies".

Thanks for sharing your story,


Author:  UsualDreamFarm [ Sat Mar 22, 2014 3:26 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Hello from New Jersey!

Volkur- Its funny, all these years I thought I was doing correct dressage. I've come to find out that, aside from the general ideas of the movements, everything I learned was pretty much garbage. Collection especially, as you really can't get true collection mechanically... it has to come from the horse and it starts haunches first... the head is the last thing to come into collection. In show dressage, most trainers haul the horse's nose down, run them forward and call it a day. I'm actually having a lot of fun learning what dressage is supposed to be so, to answer your question, about the only bit of my original training that stuck is 20 meter circles and some French words for some movements I saw done incorrectly. (Not much.)

Ulrike- Good on you for the work you do! My fiancé is a farrier and has a similar view... I bet you both would have a lot to talk about. (He rehabs a lot of seriously damaged hooves, mostly from too much work, shoes when they don't need them and living in damp stalls.) As for the show way of thinking... I think it's mostly that people don't know any better and follow after some pretty ruthless trainers who are completely uninspired and don't care. I bet that if more people out there saw what we can do, without pain, most folks would pick this way for their horse. The big problem is that the entire natural movement is somewhat laughed at by most "professional" riders... they don't see it as credible because there is no judging system with trials/shows ect. The trainer I used to work for actually referred to anything remotely natural as "dirty hippy riding." I think its mostly about education of the public... to be honest. The average horse person generally has grown up riding half dead school horses who do not show any kind of behavior at all... let alone normal horse behavior. When these folks start working with physically and mentally well horses, there is a tremendous amount of fear and a lack of understanding on the riders part. The more horse behavior folks see early on, the more they learn to understand and, in my opinion, the less fear/ desire to turn to force.

Author:  Romy [ Sat Mar 22, 2014 4:11 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Hello from New Jersey!

I can only speak for the dressage people that I know, but for them I can say with certainty that they are not bad and careless. In part they have different goals than I have, and in part they have a different perception and understanding of horse behaviour. Whenever someone got interested in my ways of interacting with horses and we got into a conversation, this did not happen because I am great and they are stupid, but as a result of openness for each other. Actually, that's the very thing this forum is about: Exchanging ideas, learning about other people's ways, but most of all doing our very own version of living with horses - and that without judging others, so that everyone who is interested will feel welcome to join the conversation. :)

Author:  Ali [ Sat Mar 22, 2014 8:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Hello from New Jersey!

Very true Romy :yes: I am thinking of ways to direct people show people AND here in the UK . I am sure that if people new more about a '' different'' ( kinder) They would very quickly want to know more about it . I cant believe they purposely intend to subjugate the horse, they have just been told that Is the '' only '' way, by '' experienced'' horse people . Who themselves were once told that ,showing the horse who's boss , was the only way..... and so on and so forth .
just some musings .sorry for cluttering up your introduction :blush:
Cheers :f:

Author:  Ulrike Kraft [ Sun Mar 23, 2014 4:09 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Hello from New Jersey!

Thanks for your reply, UsualDreamFarm!
UsualDreamFarm wrote:
I bet that if more people out there saw what we can do, without pain, most folks would pick this way for their horse.

The only idea I had was to lead by example and that's the whole main reason why I am getting into dressage. I would never think of competing but I would love to be able to take little videos of my horses to impress people like my teacher and his wife. I could never say anything to them because they have so much more experience than I, but hopefully more and more "traditional" people can see what's possible, without pain, so that the pain-free way can become a tradition.

Author:  Volker [ Mon Mar 24, 2014 8:20 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Hello from New Jersey!

For me, the horse and interacting with a horse, represents a certain thing. Something that I always wanted to feel and express. Something that's rooted very deeply in my personality. I cannot really put my finger on it, or name it, but I'm sure it's there for some quite intricate psychological and emotional reason.
I believe that that is also the fact for other people, but the psychological role that interaction plays for them, might be totally different.
In my experience I found a saying that has proved true most of the time: "Show me how you interact with people, and I show you how you interact with horses." That also goes vice versa.

I'm afraid, like you can't lecture someone to be more self-reflective, you can't lecture to be more gentle to a horse. Of course people can change, but it's not something to be done by missionising...

Regarding dressage as a professional sport, my personal opinion is that it no rule for animal welfare whatsoever will remedy the situation for the horses. It's a business, therefore not about horses as individuals at all. There's money earned at the expense of the horses - if it's done with saddles, bits and spurs or bareback with cordeo only, doesn't matter at all...

Author:  Ali [ Mon Mar 24, 2014 9:32 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Hello from New Jersey!

I was discussing this with my mum last night . We can to the same conclusion as Volker . It is a personal '' thing '' that you have to discover and develop . Telling people about your path and how you got where you are , giving them encouragement , is very helpful . But ultimately it is what the horse says . Every person is different and every horse is different and we all have our own ways of interacting and communicating . That is why I love AND , it is open and positive :sun:

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