In this subsection I would like to talk about the center of my profession/passion as a horse trainer: HOW and WHY do I train horses? In what do I believe in? With what do I agree or disagree in the sports world of this discipline?

The beautiful sport of Dressage is the longest way one can choose in the Equestrian World. Dressage indeed can be an addiction and it is more the feeling that you get out of it than anything else. For people who do not have the passion it can be as boring as watching grass grow. Sometimes  the progress in our daily work feels exactly THAT slow. But for all of us who once felt this incredible moment of being completely ONE with your horse, the moment of perfect mutual (!) understanding and harmony - these people know what we are talking about and will agree that one wants to have this feeling back - no matter how long it takes. People who ride dressage are fascinated by watching it, because they know what it takes and how it feels. Dressage is art. Dressage is a dance. People who are non-dressage-riders seldom understand the hard work and great FEEL that is required to bring the beauty out of the horse. Almost everybody is impressed by a half-pass or one-tempi-changes, but a correct halt or a relaxed even, elastic walk does not thrill a lot of people that are not infected with the virus of dressage.
Furtheron I believe Dressage is not only suitable for warmbloods. It is beneficial for any breed and for any discipline one might ride. Warmbloods are bred for this sport and because of that often succeed due to their confirmation and movement. But there are so many non-warmblood breeds who go up the levels successfully including breeds such as Haflingers, Welch Cobs, Arabians, Connemaras etc. No matter what breed your horse is - Dressage is good for him/her.

More important than moving up the levels as fast as possible or high scores is the harmony and partnership with your horse. The journey. Obviously a harmonic ride earns higher scores, but the point is: we want a confident horse with charisma who's training brought out the maximum beauty that he carries within him. A horse that WANTS to perform, WANTS to be our partner, SEEKS to understand us with curiosity and trust.
To get there a horse might stay longer at a given level, but is happy and has learned to love his job. We have to listen to our animal and understand his grace and generosity. The horse is our partner, not our slave. Where the knowledge of a trainer ends, violence begins. Aggressive and forceful riding clearly shows the helplessness and insecurity of a person.

Respect. Trust. Integrity. Basics.....Foundation.....Basics.....Foundation. It is worth it to take the long road. If the horse is healthy and the training is consistent and correct - you basically can not avoid a horse that climbs up the levels happily and willingly! A correctly trained horse is not magic. So how come there are so many people stuck in training and first level? Because one or the other is missing - consistency or correctness. In addition, the first 12 to 18 months of a horse's training are crucially important and requires more discipline, patience and skill than any of the following years and movements after that! TAKE YOUR TIME and it will pay off in the future development of the horse. The mind of the horse is much more difficult to train and to keep clear than it is to teach the movements to the horse. When you lose the horse's mind it is like breaking a horse's leg. You might get it back with long recovery - but it will never be the same.  Unfortunately we have two problems standing in the way: The ego and money. A lot of trainers do not have the luxury to take it slow, whether they have owners to push them or think they feel a strong pressure to stay competitive in selling or showing horses. Often trainers brag about bringing a horse up one or even two levels in only a few months, and unfortunately they get admiration from people that say 'WOW - what a trainer - he/she is fast' confirming this kind of behaviour. Instead they deserve a skeptic look and a turned back. Fast training in dressage is not a smart thing to do. A horse that is trained fast in the beginning often loses his carrier before he has reached his full potential, mostly due to mental, sometimes due to physical overloads.

I believe that beneficial instruction does not have to include yelling at people or belittling their abilities. The concept of encouragement and explanation works better for me. Since riding Dressage is all about the feel for the horse (and every horse is different - and one horse can be different from day to day) I strongly do not believe in the "don't question authority" attitude. I like to guide and help my students on the way to become partners and friends with their horses, yet be the leader in the dance. Eventually the rider needs to achieve this goal with her/his horse, not the instructor. Instructors should be aware of their role to be respectful, patient and compassionate. We should never forget where we came from. There was a time when we all did our first rising trot and we all did not look graceful for quite awhile...

A correctly ridden Grand Prix test is wonderful. It is what we strive to get to with our horses and it is a thrilling harvest after many years of daily hard work. But: it is not all about GP. It is about the journey and the relationship between you and your horse - and nobody can do this for you. Even with the Grand Prix horse, the vast majority of one's daily training are the Basics and Foundation. If you neglect the foundation work you will never even get there, nor stay there. I saw talented riders give up because this goal of riding GP seems out of reach and discourages people when they only focus on this one goal. I want to encourage people to accept that riding Dressage means to stay on a never ending journey as a lifelong student - enjoy this adventure! Nobody will ever reach the end of the path of dressage. Not when you have won the World Cup and not when you are riding in your backyard.

The German rule book opens with a list of ethic guidelines for how to treat your horse, fellow competitors and how to be a good horse(wo)man. Good idea ...... but unfortunately over there in Germany as well as here in USA this common sense of how to treat your companions is too often not the reality. Actions are determined (again) by ego and money. Not that I believe High Mountain Dressage will change the world of our sport, but I want to do what is within my reach to make the dressage world a tiny bit better.

Classic Dressage and Modern/English/Competitive Dressage are two different branches of Dressage. The classic riders/trainers emphasize even more on lightness and true collection, self carriage and do not perform extended gaits. The modern or english Dressage unfortunately often teaches a more 'influenced' tension in the topline of the horse with stronger driving and restraining aids. I believe that combining these two paths and adding the classical methods as much as possible into the english Dressage training is leading to a happier horse.

Photo by Bob Larson

© High Mountain Dressage 2017
High Mountain Dressage