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!