The Art of Natural Dressage

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PostPosted: Sat May 02, 2015 9:20 pm 

Joined: Sat May 02, 2015 3:25 am
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Hello,

My wife and I have been riding on our own since 2008. We plunged into the world of horses by accident but quickly realized that the horse world is full of unscrupulous people who are after your money. Worse more, many people who have been around a horse all their lives have been doing this the wrong way. By this I mean horsemanship, riding etc.

We are self taught.

We are meticulous by nature and pay attention to things. I don't just jump on my horse and ride without thinking about my posture, my seat, where all my extremities are. After years of traditional Japanese martial arts, I have learned a thing or two about muscle/tendon/joint/skeletal connections. I do not pretend to understand it all or know it all but I am aware of it at least. Throw the horse into the mix and things get even more complicated.

Being meticulous, we are also obsessed with perfection.

Enter dressage. We discovered it some time ago. Problem is, we cannot figure out how to enter into its world. We distrust people (esp. "horse people") so whoever we find has to be good. However, the "good ones" do not seem to be interested in people like us - they think we should get to some level before we could be allowed to throw our money at them ;). We don't have exposure to multiple horses, only our own - that's a major problem we are aware of.

However, the conundrum is: a) how do you get PROPER exposure to multiple horses (who have been trained PROPERLY) and b) how do you get lessons from the PROPER people? We do not want to go to some "backyard looneytoon" or anyone who will teach us wrong so that a year later we need to unlearn everything we were taught.

We think we actually ride our horses better than many people we have seen that have ridden all their lives. You see someone with their feet in front or in the chair position, harsh hands, back slouched, so on and so on and you think to youself, "Gosh, I hope I don't look like that! If I did, I probably shouldn't be on a horse".

So.....

Help! How did you start? How do we start? We are in the Austin, TX area. We are about to put our house on the market. I work from home, we were going to buy a living quarters trailer and take our two horses "around the country" camping. However, we are secretly hoping Lady Luck introduces us to someone good who will be willing to take pity and teach.

Any advice appreciated.

Sincerely,
OD and DO


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PostPosted: Sat May 02, 2015 9:40 pm 
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Welcome! :)

We have a thread about different ways of starting to interact with your horse, maybe this helps a little.

In terms of learning in general, for me it helps a great deal not to focus on looking for the perfect teacher - and then of course never finding him, because I will always find something I don't like, and this can even taint my perception of the things that I actually do like. Instead, I am trying to become a better learner. Someone who focuses on what I can learn from other people, regardless of whether I like them as a whole. Someone who is curious. Someone who is asking questions and trying to really listen to the answers, even if my conclusion will be that this is not for me. Someone who is able to collect the experiences that I need.

I guess what I am trying to say is that for me the hard thing about learning is not finding the good instruction but putting myself into a mindset in which I can be an active learner. Once this has happend, the learning just happens - everywhere and every day. The world is so full of interesting things! :f:

Best wishes,
Romy


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PostPosted: Sat May 02, 2015 9:48 pm 

Joined: Sat May 02, 2015 3:25 am
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Romy wrote:
Welcome! :)

We have a thread about different ways of starting to interact with your horse, maybe this helps a little.

In terms of learning in general, for me it helps a great deal not to focus on looking for the perfect teacher - and then of course never finding him, because I will always find something I don't like, and this can even taint my perception of the things that I actually do like. Instead, I am trying to become a better learner. Someone who focuses on what I can learn from other people, regardless of whether I like them as a whole. Someone who is curious. Someone who is asking questions and trying to really listen to the answers, even if my conclusion will be that this is not for me. Someone who is able to collect the experiences that I need.

I guess what I am trying to say is that for me the hard thing about learning is not finding the good instruction but putting myself into a mindset in which I can be an active learner. Once this has happend, the learning just happens - everywhere and every day. The world is so full of interesting things! :f:

Best wishes,
Romy


Hello Romy,

Thanks :)

Trouble is, you need good instruction. We dabbled around with few people who charged pretty decent money and after a while we realized that a) they didn't really know that much and b) they were cruel to their horses. So, we moved on.

However, each experiment costs money (hard earned money - I am not a banker but a software developer and my wife is not a wall street broker but a veterinarian).

To cut to the chase - we have tons of DVDs, books etc. we have gone through. We ride our own horses. But, there is nobody to check on us and say "this is how it should look/feel" or "this is how it shouldn't look/feel". This is the same as practicing a martial art at home from a book or DVD - you will never (I guarantee you this) be any good without standing in front of someone who can size you up with a good eye and correct all the issues you are having (most often you are not even aware of having issues - that;s the catch without a good instructor). Being a great learner is great but having a great instructor and being a great learner is much, much better :)

Thanks!


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PostPosted: Sat May 02, 2015 9:54 pm 
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Well, I guess I am a bit biased, because I have never had any horse-related instruction (well, a few months of riding lessons when I was 11, but this was about the opposite of what I am doing now). But I know that there are many people in the horse world who consider instruction to be very important. :smile: I hope you will find what you are looking for!


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PostPosted: Sat May 02, 2015 10:51 pm 

Joined: Sat May 02, 2015 3:25 am
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Romy wrote:
Well, I guess I am a bit biased, because I have never had any horse-related instruction (well, a few months of riding lessons when I was 11, but this was about the opposite of what I am doing now). But I know that there are many people in the horse world who consider instruction to be very important. :smile: I hope you will find what you are looking for!


Fair enough. How do you know you are doing something right when riding your horse? Your timing, balance, posture, feel of the horse, how the horse looks (is he on his hinds, properly rounded, in the correct frame etc. - how do you decide it is all happening all at once, esp. with nobody with a good eye watching you.


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PostPosted: Sun May 03, 2015 7:05 am 
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Very simple - I don't. Not on such a technical level. But this does not mean that I am not perceiving the state of my horse, it just means that I am not perceiving it from the perspective an instructor would have.

Imagine a child is learning to speak a language, simply by living among people who speak that language. How does the child know that he is producing correct syntax? How does he know that he is using the vocabulary in an appropritate way? I guess most children don't. They could not spell out what they are doing, because they are not learning in any methodological way. They just observe others talking, and they receive feedback from these other people. This is a very different way of learning than what many people do when learning a second language in a rule-based way, learning lists of vocabulary and doing grammar exercises.

For me this is similar with my horses. I perceive what they are doing, I ask them to do certain things, I receive feedback, and I use this feedback to change our interaction. When riding (although for us this is the least important joint activity, but I did ride regularly until about 8 years ago), I perceive the motion of my horse while we are riding through the forest. I try to direct a request at him (e.g. will you stop if I breathe out?) and if he is doing that immediately, I know he is attending to me - if not, we have to do something about that. I ask for more difficult things (e.g. starting to trot or canter from standstill, doing little turns and slaloms around trees, sideways movements) and if he is able to do that, this tells me that he is fairly subtle. A stiff and tense horse simply is not able to do these things, at least not when you are riding with no tack. And if he cannot do these things yet, we have to work on that... and so on.

That is, instead of starting from the question "What should the horse look like?" I am starting from questions like "What do we want to do together and what is missing for us to be able to do that?" or "How is my horse reacting to me?" or most importantly "How does he seem to feel about the things we are doing?" In that way, we might not get a horse who is moving according to some externally set standards (or perhaps we do - I just don't know) but we are getting a horse, and most importantly a communication, that meets our own joint standards - that satisfies the needs we actually have.


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PostPosted: Mon May 04, 2015 2:35 pm 
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Welcome OD and DO! :f:

Your story sounds interesting - and very familiar ;). I'm an avid autodidact, I easily mistrust the so called authorities i nthe horse training business and I love to be meticulous when it comes to the movement of the horse and dressage stuff.

I found a pretty good trainer some while ago by pure chance and I take lessons from him every month or so. But I don't follow his teachings ;). I mean, I don't do things completely his way, but I let myself be inspired by things he says, or the way he moves.
For me, this is very important. I love to be inspired by other people - here in this forum, on YouTube, in real life, or from books. But up until now, I have never found someone, who I would agree with completely and that's ok. There's only one correct way for me to interact with horses and that is my own. The one I craft from my own experiences and observations and from influences by other people.

I can totally relate to you wanting to have a corrective authority, that can show you what's right and what's wrong. But if I think about it - the only authority that really counts in that regard is my own horse. Not some trainer, not some other horse. They are good for inspiration and a fresh look at things, but in the end, whatever I do with my horse has to feel good in the mutual interaction process. That's what finally guides my steps.
Of course there can be some detours along the way, but by constantly assessing myself, studying the natural movement of the horse and so on, I think that I can make my interaction with my horse everything that is possible for the two of us.

The question is: what is it that you specifically want to achieve, that you couldn't achieve without a trainer?

_________________
Volker

The horse owes us nothing.


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PostPosted: Tue May 05, 2015 5:22 pm 

Joined: Sat May 02, 2015 3:25 am
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Volker wrote:
Welcome OD and DO! :f:

Your story sounds interesting - and very familiar ;). I'm an avid autodidact, I easily mistrust the so called authorities i nthe horse training business and I love to be meticulous when it comes to the movement of the horse and dressage stuff.

I found a pretty good trainer some while ago by pure chance and I take lessons from him every month or so. But I don't follow his teachings ;). I mean, I don't do things completely his way, but I let myself be inspired by things he says, or the way he moves.
For me, this is very important. I love to be inspired by other people - here in this forum, on YouTube, in real life, or from books. But up until now, I have never found someone, who I would agree with completely and that's ok. There's only one correct way for me to interact with horses and that is my own. The one I craft from my own experiences and observations and from influences by other people.

I can totally relate to you wanting to have a corrective authority, that can show you what's right and what's wrong. But if I think about it - the only authority that really counts in that regard is my own horse. Not some trainer, not some other horse. They are good for inspiration and a fresh look at things, but in the end, whatever I do with my horse has to feel good in the mutual interaction process. That's what finally guides my steps.
Of course there can be some detours along the way, but by constantly assessing myself, studying the natural movement of the horse and so on, I think that I can make my interaction with my horse everything that is possible for the two of us.

The question is: what is it that you specifically want to achieve, that you couldn't achieve without a trainer?


Well - for starters - I don't what what a proper "turn on the hinds" should feel or look like. How do I know my horse is in the "correct frame"? How do I know if my horse is on his "hinds" or how to get them to "collect".

Bear in mind that you can do something all your life and it can be wrong. My horse is very easy going and does not complain much. That doesn't mean I am riding him "properly".

Paradoxically, one can avoid other's teachings or corrections because that person could have been doing things wrong all their life - and one can end up doing things wrong themselves, all in the effort to avoid doing things wrong.

I think if a person is put on multiple horses at different levels of training - from green to "schoolmaster" and the person is allowed to experience the difference - that person will know what it feels like to achieve things correctly or incorrectly on a horse. A green horse may be clumsy on the turn on the hinds, an experienced horse will be perfect and rider will feel both and learn to differentiate between them. On the other hand, I can sit on my horse until "Kingdom come" and turn and turn and turn. If I have no "reference point" - how do I know my horse is doing it well. I cannot see the hinds - are they static? I don't know. I can tape myself with the camera but that will only point out the hooves and the overall frame. Teaching things to a horse is more about feeling things in your seat, your hands - it is the pairing of the "I feel this" with "You are doing it right" that creates the connection between a person learning how to teach something the next time around to a different horse. The "You are doing it right" part comes from an experienced human teacher.

I am not sure if I am conveying clearly what I mean :)


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PostPosted: Wed May 06, 2015 5:34 pm 
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To start off with: I'm not a pro, I don't have a lifetime experience with many horses and I don't claim to know what's right for horses. I claim to know what looks and feels right for me - and that's what I do with our horses. In the end, that's the only reference I can go by.

maketo wrote:
Bear in mind that you can do something all your life and it can be wrong. My horse is very easy going and does not complain much. That doesn't mean I am riding him "properly".
How can you ever identify "proper" riding? (Is there a "proper" way to ride at all?) How would you know that those texts from the 18th century contain the truth about riding? How would you know I'm not making things up when I told you how to turn on the hindquarters? How would you know that you have finally found the right teacher?
Wouldn't you have to rely on your gut feeling at one point? As much as I love to read the facts and figures about horse training, I think even more important than any formal training is to re-train my instincts and how to "talk" to a horse.
Talking to a horse as I understand it, doesn't require any special training, but rather - like Romy said - an open, listening, unprejudiced mind like a child learning to talk. The outcome of that process will be a very personal kind of language that contains some general words that can be understood by other horses or humans, but most of it is a secret, intimate language for just me and my horse.

But I'm babbling about communication and you asked questions about riding. The problem about riding is that there is no "proper" (in the sense of horse-friendly or healthy) way of doing it in my opinion. In terms of horse training I regard the horses' natural movements as the "proper" movementss. Riding is not natural and therefore everything I do on horseback can at best be a compromise between my fun and the horses' health.

What I did to get an insight into how collection feels like, or the correct frame, is that I watched my horse and others in free movement. Preferably at play, or in flight, or even at rest. I take videos and watch them in slow motion or even frame by frame. There's my paragon of movement I strive to achieve. If I can even keep that frame while I'm on top of the horse, then maybe I can even find a really healthy riding style...
Of course, horses can move pretty sloppy in the pasture too, but there are hints of perfection in every move.

To get a feeling for what I can do to elicit a collected movement for example, I try to give my horse as much freedom as possible - preferably the horse is completely free, in the pasture, among his friends. I work on the ground so I can see the whole horse. When I found a body language cue that gets me collection from the ground, I can try to transfer that cue to the saddle and see how it feels. When I film myself, I can also check if what it feels like and what it looks like is congruent.
Of course that is a very rough procedure and especially when it comes to riding things get so complex, but still I think this is usually a better reference point for me than most of the teachings I hear from professional trainers. But then again, that is only a gut feeling... :green:

_________________
Volker

The horse owes us nothing.


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PostPosted: Fri May 15, 2015 5:41 pm 
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Hi! Just thought I'd put a word in as well; I'm also primarily self taught, and after years of experience, still feel very much I have a great deal to learn! When it comes to finding an instructor, there are good ones out there, and they aren't all about money. I appreciate what you're saying about wrong instructors costing hard earned money, so be sure to get references and get out there in the horse world. I moved to the UK a few years ago from Canada, and since getting my horse here I have found myself more and more involved in the horse world as I know longer do things with just friends, but mostly on my own. From there I have found decent riding companions, a good livery, and a good instructor. I have a lovely lady who helps me out with my girl! There are a lot of instructors out there who aren't in it for the money, but in it for helping both horse and rider. Get out to events and speak to people; go to local dressage events and meet people; get recommendations and watch how they ride to decide if that suits your style as well.

I would also suggest getting in touch with barefoot trimmers; I don't know if you use a farrier or a trimmer, but from personal experience (I am currently training to be a barefoot trimmer but have a lot of contact with farriers) I know barefoot trimmers are generally in it for the horse not the money (although we need to make a living as well so do need to charge a living wage!). From there, I have met quite a few very lovely people, and have found some good instructors that way. The more you connect to people the more you are likely to find like minded people who will help you out! Check out as many forums as you can as well; find people who are like minded and get references from there. And keep looking even if you find a group you like.

Also remember there is no such thing as 'perfect' when it comes to horses; striving for perfection is always admirable but don't worry if you don't achieve it. Be sure to keep an eye out for signs of pain and discomfort over a perfect outline (ie head bobbing, fighting being saddled, girthiness, etc). Comfort is far more important in the long run.

You may want to try out some clicker training forums (sorry I don't really know what the good American ones are) to try to see if you can find a good trainer; clicker trainers tend to again be quite interested in gentle and kind training for horses (hence why they are doing it), and be sure to get references; any decent trainer who is only charging a living wage will be more than happy to talk to you first, and make sure you suit each other; perhaps ask to observe a lesson if possible? Be very certain to get references at the very least. I will say when you are looking at what an instructor is charging remember it costs a lot to be a horse trainer; they need to consider travel time in their charges so what might seem quite high to you is likely only just above minimum wage when you factor in travel time, cost of running their vehicle, cost of insurance (do make sure they are insured!), training time, etc. Not saying some don't over charge, but most trainers don't make a great deal of profit.

Endurance racing and Competitive Trail Riding is another area you may find some like minded people; it's a sport where abuse of the horse is very limited as you cannot cover those kind of distances without a partner under you. You need to pass regular vet checks to compete, and any signs of problems and the horse is pulled from the race (many endurance clubs the motto is 'to finish is to win'). Comfort of the horse is crucial to complete a 100 mile race, and the horse welfare is first in most riders mind. Many endurance riders also do dressage training to improve their partnership, seat, and the horse's balance, so may be able to recommend some good trainers. It's certainly my favourite equestrian sport, and one I'm very much looking forward to getting back into next year (I'm currently pregnant so have had to put training for it on hold this year).

Otherwise best of luck in your search!


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