Maribeth Dunlap Dressage

Articles & Events


Dressage (n.) The art of riding and training a horse in a manner that develops obedience, flexibility, and balance. A way of thinking. A way of living. A journey.

Coddiwomple (v.) To travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination.

Welcome to my blog - my dressage coddiwomple - a meandering life journey which has and continues to take me down interesting roads where I have discovered extraordinary trouvailles and whimsical crooked paths.

Although I do not consider myself a writer of any grand quality, I am a bit of a spontaneous gallivanter who enjoys sharing and writing about my experiences and observations.

As a student of the horse, aviation, and life, I also view writing as another way to learn and cement the ideas further into my understanding. Writing allows me to dig deeper into the subject material and gives me more reason to research and explore. I love learning new things and I enjoy sharing what I learn with others.

If you continue to explore my dressage coddiwomple, I hope you will find my writings interesting and of some value. Most importantly, I hope this blog inspires you to explore new places and perhaps embark on your own journey - your very own extraordinary coddiwomple.

Feel free to contact me to leave a comment!  I'd love to hear from you.


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Components of a Good Position

Posted on April 1, 2017 at 11:25 AM

Components of a Good Position

By Maribeth Dunlap

May 2006 (Revised April 2017)

The position of the rider is perhaps the most important thing when studying dressage. It is from a correct position that allows us to positively influence and affect our horse. It also allows us to be in balance within our own bodies so that the horse can move in better balance. When we’re in good balance then we can better stay out of our horse’s way and to allow him to do his job more effectively. When we’re in correct position then the horse can move more freely forward, more able to use his back and be free from constraints and tension. The correct position is always the safest position. You are in balance and if something should go wrong and your horse spooks or bucks, you will be in the best position to stay in the saddle and to positively affect your horse.

So what are the components of good rider position? It begins with the seat. The seat is more than just what we sit on. It is the part of our bodies from the thigh up to our mid- section, from our mid-section down through our thigh. This is, in dressage terms, what is called the seat. So imagine sitting on your horse. Can you feel your seat bones? It is amazing how many beginners to novice riders have never thought about them before. It is important to be aware of your seat bones. You should sit evenly on them. You should not have more contact with the saddle on one seat bone than the other. If you do, then you’re most likely sitting crooked.

As dressage riders, we’re always working to improve our position. It never really ends. We’re all born a little crooked, with a strong side and a weak side, just like our horses. Do you remember the movie, The Karate Kid? "Wax on. Wax off." Which hand do you write with? Can you muck a stall or sweep an aisle-way on both sides of your body? Try switching your hand positions on the manure fork or broom. Do you favor a particular side? This is a good exercise for balancing and evening out our bodies. Muck your stalls, sweep, groom, etc. from both sides of your body evenly. Use both of your hands evenly. Groom with the right hand, then switch to the left hand. It is difficult at first, but eventually you will strengthen your weak side, become more coordinated, be in better balance and feel better. And this type of work carries directly over to your riding. So as you’re mucking, tell yourself that you’re also working on your riding.

Rider crookedness can be a big obstacle in dressage. If you’re not sitting correctly or evenly, then how can you influence your horse correctly or evenly? A common crookedness issue is the collapsing of one side of the body. This is also sometimes referred to as twist. You can either have a right twist or a left twist. What happens is when a rider collapses on the right side as in a right twist, his right shoulder also drops and usually falls behind the left shoulder. The right elbow then falls behind the left, the left side, the shoulder and elbow, then compensate and push forward, and then the rider wonders why he can’t maintain the left bend in the horse’s body. The horse is forever bent to the right. In addition, the right knee and heel tend to come up and the rider ends up sitting more to the left side. He ends up with a right twist and wonders why the saddle is always slipping to the left side of the horse. So now imagine trying to ride straight down the centerline in this position. The rider will have to over compensate just to try to keep the horse straight on the centerline. Now imagine trying to ride circles or voltes of equal diameter say in a figure eight pattern. One volte will be smaller than the other. One volte will be easier to maintain a correct bend in the horse than the other. But neither will really be correct. Now imagine trying to ride right shoulder in and left shoulder in. Most likely it will be difficult to bring the horses shoulder off the rail in the right shoulder in as the rider’s weight keeps sliding off to the left. And in the left shoulder in most likely the rider will never be able to even get the correct bend so the movement will probably never happen. So when the rider is crooked and not sitting straight, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to ride the horse straight.

Another common issue is the wobbly mid-section. The rider is loose and not straight in his or her mid-section. Some riders have a ‘C’ shaped mid-section where the rider is hunched over with drooping shoulders. The rider’s eyes tend to drop down and everything else follows. There is an old saying that goes “where the rider looks, the horse will follow”. In these positions, wobbly and loose or ‘C’ shaped, it would be very difficult to collect the horse. Most likely the horse is on the forehand and the rider is in a very poor position to influence the horse in any way. The elbows also tend to get disconnected in this position and that leads to disconnecting the seat from the bit. The ‘C’ position also tends to prevent the rider from having flexible hips. The hips get locked and the rider wonders why he or she is bouncing and why it is difficult to keep the hands and legs quiet. The wobbly and loose mid-section may allow the rider to feel like he or she is not bouncing, but it is the mid- section that is doing the moving, not the hips. The rider is disconnecting him or herself from the horse and is a mere passenger with very little control and no means of positively affecting the horse.

There are many other forms of crookedness and riding faults. Crookedness is a habit; it is a muscle memory. What feels straight to the crooked rider is the crookedness. Riding evenly and in balance feels crooked to the normally crooked rider. The same is true in aviation. Pilots must rely on their instruments or the horizon to fly straight and level. If they trust their bodies and senses in bad weather and not their airplane's instruments then they put themselves at great risk. What feels up may be down, and what feels straight and level may actually be sideways. In riding, the best way to improve upon a crooked habit or issue is to have regular instruction or good eyes on the ground. A good instructor with a good eye for position is like the instruments in an airplane. It will take many repetitions and reminders to change your muscle memory. Mirrors can help but can’t really take the place of a good instructor or observer. I call it nagging – professional nagging, to be exact - and I tell my students not to worry, as I will nag them about it, a lot. When the nagging lessens then they know that they are finally getting it in their muscle memory.

So let’s get back to the components of the correct riding position and the seat. Working from the mid-section down, let’s talk about the core. The correct position takes awareness and a strengthening of the core. It is our abdominals and core that keep us in the correct riding position. Good riding position is not unlike good posture. We hold ourselves straight and erect with our abdominals and core muscles. We should sit in the saddle but not just on our seat bones. The thighs support the seat, supports the abdominals and core, and distributes and spreads the weight evenly through out the seat.

The thigh should be well turned in and the knee well pressed down and into the knee or thigh roll. You can imagine having pigeon-toed thighs or if you’re a snow skier, snowplowing or holding your wedge down a steep slope. Well turned in thighs results in the draped leg look with the well-turned in toes. It has to begin though with the thigh and not the toes or you may end up with some joint problems down the road. There should never be any daylight between your knee and the saddle. This often corresponds with turned out toes. So roll those thighs in and point those toes straight ahead.

The calves should hang straight down, falling and resting lightly at the sides of your horse. What you feel under your calf depends largely upon your conformation and the conformation of the horse that you’re riding. If you’re short legged and riding a large barreled horse, then much of your calf will be in contact with your horse. If, on the other hand, you are long legged and you’re riding a small horse with a small heart girth, then much of your calf will be off of your horse. You don’t want to hold yourself in the saddle with your calves, gripping with your lower legs, which tend to make your knees come out and away from the saddle. Gripping with your lower leg also tends to draw your heels up and in. This puts you in a poor position to affect your horse and will be most uncomfortable for you. It also tends to deaden your horse to the leg aids. Wonder why your horse doesn’t respond well to your forward driving or sideways requests? Perhaps you’ve dulled him by poor position. Some horses resent the constant pressure from the lower leg and they suck back and lose their willingness to go forward. Once you’ve adjusted your lower leg you might find also that you don’t have to work so hard and riding becomes easier, less tiring and more fun! This leg position also helps to open your hip ankle and allows you to be more supple and loose in your hips.

Your feet should neither be pushed out in front of you as in a chair seat nor pushed too far behind you putting you in a perched position. Your heels should lie directly under your hips with the stirrup leather falling perpendicular to the ground. Your heels should be well pressed down but without bracing in the stirrups. A lowered heel should come from the relaxation of the muscles and not forcing the heels down. Forcing the heels down often pushes the feet out in front resulting in an ineffective chair seat position. The toes should point straight ahead and sometimes it helps to think about pushing the heel out. The correct position is more of a stance as in the Martial Arts than a seated position. Your weight should be distributed evenly from your seat bones, down through draped legs, with the energy flowing down through your heel and connecting to the ground. Think about this the next time you’re in the saddle, if by magic, your horse would suddenly disappear out from under you, how will you land on the ground? Will you land on both feet in perfect balance? Will you land but suddenly fall forward on your nose? Or will you land but fall backwards on your bum? If you’ve answered that you’ll fall forward, then you are most likely sitting in a perched position. You most likely are sitting on the front part of your bum and your shoulders are tipped forward. You may even experience some discomfort or pain in the front part of your bum. Well, sit back. Open and press the chest outwards, pull the shoulders back and pick your chin up. If you’ve answered that you would fall backwards then you are most likely sitting in a chair seat. This means that you’ve lost the straight line from your ear, shoulder, hip and heel. Your stirrup leather is most likely not perpendicular to the ground and your feet are pushed out in front of your hips. You may be sitting too far back on your hip pockets and may even be leaning too far back with your shoulders. It you’ve answered that you’ll land on your feet in perfect balance, well, congratulations! You’re in a good basic position.

It is important to maintain the softness and flexibility of the joints. The hip, knee and ankle joints should not be stiff but act as shock absorbers. The stirrup placed in the correct position at the ball or slightly closer to the toes will help the ankle stay soft and flexible. If the stirrup is too far in the “home” position or under the arch, then the flexibility of the ankle joint is severely diminished.

Now let’s go back to the mid-section and work upwards. So remember that the thigh supports the core muscles and that the abdominals and core muscles help to hold us erect. The rider should sit straight in balance, neither tipping forward nor leaning backwards.  Sometimes it helps to think of sitting in a straight-backed chair. The wooden straight- backed chair without any cushions is, by the way, the best chair for our posture. So think about trading in those Lazy Boys for the Stickley models. It helps to think of stretching tall and growing long in the saddle. Imagine that someone is pulling a piece of your hair on the top of your head straight up. It can also help to imagine that you have weights tied to your boots that are hanging straight below your feet.

The elbows should fall and rest close to your hipbones. Use the hipbones as a reference point for the elbows. By keeping the elbows close to the hips, you are then able to connect your seat to the bridle. Rein aids and half halts are more effective and more invisible because the seat now supports them. When the rider straightens the elbows and allows them to be out in front of the hips, then the rider is disconnecting the seat from the bridle. The rein aids and half halts are not nearly as effective. The rider pulls on the horse’s mouth and the aids become crude and visible. From the elbows, the forearms and wrists should be relaxed and soft, and form a straight line from the bit to the elbow. The hands should be soft and closed, forming a soft fist. The thumb should be at the top or slightly at an angle pointing towards the other thumb. The hands should be at the same level and one should not be behind or below the other. There should be a bend in the thumb. If the thumb is flat and stiff, then that stiffness carries through to the wrist. I often use the analogy of holding baby birds or baby bunnies. You want to hold them firmly so as to not lose them, but softly so as to not crush them. So try riding and imagine holding your baby Blue Birds or birds or little furry creatures of your choice. Experiment and see how that affects your riding and feel.

The rider’s shoulders should be back and down and free from tension. Many riders hold stress and tension in the shoulders and tend to hold them up and brace within them. This tension then runs down the arms to the elbows and results in an undesired movement somewhere, perhaps the hips or the hands or even the head. So keep the shoulders relaxed and back and down. It helps also to think about spreading the shoulders wide apart without letting the shoulders tip in as if you are holding a large beach ball in front of you. This helps to open the chest cavity and lifts the chest, which is supported by the core and abdominals.

The chin should be up and eyes should be forward. If there is a reason to look down, don’t drop the chin but briefly drop your eyes. When we drop the chin, a chain of reactions tends to follow. The chin drops down, next the shoulders tend to follow and hunch over, the chest caves in and we lose the effectiveness of the core, the hips then stiffen, the hands drop down too low, the horse falls on the forehand and the quality of the gait diminishes. So, by all means, keep your chin up! The neck should be relaxed and pressed back into the shirt collar. The head should be quiet without any excess movement. A bobbing head is a result of stiffness somewhere in the body and is very distracting and unattractive.

The correct position is a powerful position and feels good because it is balanced. When the body is balanced then there is less stress and tension and the muscles can then begin to let go and relax. The correct riding position takes years to perfect. Just like dressage, it takes discipline and hard work. The appropriate muscles need time to stretch and to fall in place. It takes time and practice to find the relaxation within the position. It comes with perseverance, dedication and much practice. Over time with this correct repetition, it will fall into your muscle memory. I heard someone once say, “Never get caught sitting poorly on a horse”. To me this quote has many layers of meaning. The correct position is the best place to positively influence your horse, as it is also the safest position for the rider to be in when things don’t go quite as planned. I also like to remind my students that you never really know when your picture is being taken. Never compromise your position! And never allow a horse to compromise your position! Some horses like to do that. They’ll try to talk you out of your position, as that is where you have the most control. The correct position is a powerful and effective position with the greatest ability to influence your horse. It is a balanced, relaxed position in which the horse can mirror us in our balance and relaxation. So do practice, practice, practice. Get good instruction from one who also teaches good position. Take lunge lessons on a regular basis. Your hard work will reap great benefits and your horse will love you for it.

Components of a Good Position written by Maribeth May 2006. May 2006 – All Rights Reserved Used With Permission.

Longeing Tips

Posted on April 1, 2017 at 11:20 AM

Longeing Tips

By Maribeth Dunlap

May 2007 (Revised April 2017)

There are many benefits and reasons for longeing. Longeing is an art itself and it takes many years of good practice to become effective. Longeing is meant to prepare a horse mentally and physically for under-saddle work. With the use of proper and correctly adjusted equipment, longeing can strengthen and help condition muscle, it can teach the horse the commands, and help the horse to carry itself in balance. It is important to understand that longeing should never be used for the horse to blow off steam. He should never be allowed to run and behave badly at the end of the longe line as this is when injuries happen and bad behaviors are learned. Longeing should be viewed and understood as another training tool and should be done with the proper equipment and in the proper setting.

The equipment needed to longe effectively is: longe line, cavesson, surcingle, properly adjusted side-reins, longe whip, bridle with bit, saddle as part of the horse’s every day riding apparel, protective boots or wraps for the horse, gloves for the handlers and helmets are another safety option for the handlers. The proper setting is one that is calm and controlled. Either the use of the circular pen or an assistant is needed for the young, rehabilitating, or spoiled horse.

Longeing is part of the process for rehabilitating a horse. If a horse has suffered an injury and has required rest, longeing in a safe and systematic way can help to build strength and muscle. It is all done as above and in a calm and controlled setting. The horse should never be allowed to play and blow off steam and energy at the end of the longe line as, depending upon the nature of the original injury; the horse can potentially re-injure himself. Longeing is a part of the process. One should begin by exercising the horse in- hand with long walks and hand grazing. As the horse becomes stronger and more calm, then short longe sessions can begin at the walk, then later at the trot and eventually adding the canter work. Most likely longe work should start with only a couple minutes in each direction and slowly build from there. Veterinarian advice should always be acquired when putting a horse back into work after an injury or lay-up.

Longeing is a vital part of remaking the spoiled horse. Longeing can help to teach the horse to work with you and not against you, it can help to bring the horse onto your page and your way of thinking, and can help to establish your role as trainer and number-one in your herd-of-two. Longeing can help to introduce the horse to the controlled gaits on a circle, to your voice commands, body language and the whip as an aid. With properly adjusted side-reins, longeing can also help to correctly condition the horse’s muscles and teach him to carry himself in balance. When the horse learns to move in balance this affects his self-confidence. Longeing the spoiled horse is a smart, safe step to make before the under-saddle part of his training. Longeing in this circumstance might take place for the first couple weeks of the spoiled horse’s training before any under-saddle work would begin. Again, all work should be done lightly at first and build slowly as the horse’s strength, fitness, confidence, willingness and understanding increases.

There are many other aspects of longeing and this article should not be viewed as a complete guide. I advise you to read as much on the subject as possible but most importantly, take some lessons from a trainer who is accomplished in the art of longeing. These are very valuable lessons and should be highly regarded as such.

This article was written by Maribeth Dunlap May 2007 (Revised April 2007) – All Rights Reserved Used With Permission.


Posted on February 7, 2015 at 2:55 AM Comments comments (0)


By Maribeth Dunlap

February 6, 2015

I went skiing again the other day.

It was the first time since 2010 when I skied with my family. I skied alone this time. I was nervous and not sure I could do it. But I was determined. I dug out all my ancient gear and put together a ragged outfit. I looked like something that crawled out from the past; ragged and forlorn. But I went. When I arrived at the lodge, I decided to try the new skies so opted to rent. I struggled with putting on my boots as though I had forgotten. My hands shook as they struggled with the buckles. The attendant there helped me. I gathered up my rental skis and poles and walked out to the lift area. Old memories started to tap into my muscles like the gentle tapping on a door. I tapped the snow off my boots before slipping them into the bindings like I had done a thousand times before so very long ago. I briefly stood on my skis and felt the balance between them and struck off towards the lift, skating with ease, pushing from one ski to the other. I surprised myself with how comfortable I felt. I glided up to the red line where you are supposed to position yourself for the lift pick up. As the lift came around it clipped me slightly behind the knees and I clumsily sat down. Up and away the lift took me. I lowered the bar and rested my skis on the ski rests. Wow! I'm here. I'm doing this! I thought to myself. I looked below and observed the slopes. It was a cold blustery workday so the slopes were almost deserted. I'm alone again. I wish I were back in my big mountains. But I'm here, now.

As I got closer to the top, I took my skis off the ski rest and lifted the bar above my head. As I arrived at the top, I lifted my ski tips and felt them glide along the surface of the snow as I lifted my body from the lift and skied down the tiny off ramp. I skated along the flat area as I slid my wrists through the pole loops. The wind wickedly whipped the snow at the top of the mountain. It swirled around me and playfully pulled at me. Oh how I've been missing this! Why did I give this up for so long?

At the highest point I stopped to take in the beauty of the mountain and the valley below. It looked like a tiny Alpine village, so quaint and beautiful. I pulled my neck scarf up over my chin and repositioned my goggles. I put my wrists back through my pole loops and began my descent. I was a little stiff at first. My turns not so fluid. But I could still feel it in my muscles, the graceful style that I once had.

I had planned on first being conservative and skiing down one of the easy trails but I was feeling so good that I decided to drop down on one of the intermediate slopes. I left my skis take me as I glided and turned. With each turn, I began to loosen up. My turns became more fluid and my edges more clear. With each turn I skidded less and carved more. I like these new skis, I thought to myself. I need to update my equipment, yet another thought. Before I knew it, I had skied my last turn and was at the lift again. I eagerly glided to the red line and began again. Up and away I went again. Up and away back to my big mountains as I remembered my Colorado Rockies. What glorious memories I have from that time.

I reached the summit again and down I went this time without hesitation. I pressed my shins into the fronts of my boots and I skied more aggressively playing with large radius turns and beginning to play with shorter radius turns. It felt so good. I love these skis! They were very responsive and forgiving. I felt so good. Down I quickly went and reached the lift once more. So quickly. I need a four mile run. Where's Riva Ridge when I need her! LOL!

Back to the red line and this time I sat down with more grace as the lift came around. I think I became a bit of a curiosity to the lift attendant. We never spoke a word to each other but I think he knew I was some old relic that decided to dust itself off and present itself to the world once again. With just a little more spit shine and polish, I'll be good as new.

Up and away. Up and away again. Back to the summit. Back to those glorious feelings. There is a peaceful sense of oneness that overtakes me in these mountains. No words can really capture these feelings. Peaceful tranquility. Clarity. Freedom. Unity. Becoming whole. One with the natural elements. These are just phrases that I clumsily use to try to explain my feelings. They don't even come close to truly describing them. I thought about the last time I skied with my family. I remembered the older gentleman that I pointed out to my daughter and wondered if I might now resemble him. LOL!

Back at the summit, I choose one of the black slopes this time. I slip over the edge and find my rhythm. I play with my skis. I play with the surface of the slope. There is a small mogul field to the right of the slope. Can I do this? Am I ready for this? Should I? I do. I go for it. I see my line and I pick my way down conservatively from one bump to the next. I turn, I skid, I carve. Turn, skid, and carve. I repeat this pattern until I am at the bottom and back at the lift. Not too bad. A little rusty. But I'm happy!

Back at the red line and up, up and away I go. I'm feeling very pleased and happy with myself. I can ski! I remember! I exclaim and exult these thoughts inside myself! I love the simplicity of skiing. I love the silence of the mountains. I love feeling swallowed up in them. Like a mother's arms, they cradle me. I feel her breath on me. I feel her pulse and the rhythm of her heart. Glorious simplicity.

I feel my skies glide upon the snow again at the top off ramp. I gracefully ski down the tiny off ramp. I slide my wrists through the pole straps as I skate towards the edge, gracefully pushing from one ski to the other. Without hesitation I slip down over the edge. My body finds its rhythm. I hear my breath. I hear the whisper of my skies. The wind playfully teases me. I am back. I am back in my mountains. I am back in my soul. I am at peace. I found my joy and once again, my rhythm.

Work on the Longe - Developing the Seat

Posted on July 1, 2012 at 7:05 PM

Work on the longe - Developing the Seat

By Maribeth Dunlap

July 2012

"Longe lessons on a safe and experienced horse are a great means of improving your position, a fact I cannot stress enough, as this is the most beneficial way to develop and improve a more balanced and independent seat." Arthur Kottas-Heldenberg

Work on the longe is a time honored tool of classical dressage. Longe lessons provide the student rider an opportunity to develop a secure and balanced seat. With the help of a knowledgeable and experienced instructor and a safe, reliable, steady longe horse, the student rider can work to develop balance, coordination, and strength in the core which will then enable the student to be able to take the next step in being able to produce an effective seat and an independent aiding system.

The instructor uses a system of exercises for the student rider to perform at all three gaits of the horse. These exercises have a specific purpose to the needs of the rider and helps to address any weaknesses and areas that need to be corrected in the student's position. The knowledgeable and experienced instructor will know what is needed to achieve the desired result. These techniques allow the student to become a proficient and elegant rider.

The horse is well educated on the longe line and is able to maintain a steady and reliable rhythm in all three gaits. He listens well to the verbal cues and whip aids asked of by the instructor. A good longe horse is safe and gives the student an opportunity to relax, focus and concentrate on his body position and awareness without the necessity of having to try to influence the horse. The instructor takes care of this while also giving the student instructions pertaining to his position. A good longe horse is a valuable asset to any equestrian program.

The Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Austria, has a long history of developing riders with outstanding equitation and effective, elegant seats. Riders at the SRS spend years on the longe line before they are allowed to take up the reins of their Lipizzans. This tradition of developing excellent, top-notch riders still exists in this school of over 500 years of tradition. However, it is one of the most over-looked, yet most valuable of all methods, in developing the seat.


This article was written by Maribeth in July 2012 – All Rights Reserved - Used With Permission.

Suggested Reading List

Posted on September 1, 2011 at 9:45 AM

Suggested Reading List

Updated 2011

In Alphabetical Order:

ALBRECHT, KURT (1981; translation by Nicole Bartle 1993), Principles of Dressage, J.A.Allen, London.

BALLOU, JEC ARISTOTLE, (2005), 101 Dressage Exercises, Versa Press, USA.

BELASIK, PAUL (1990), Riding towards the light. An apprenticeship in the art of dressage riding, J.A.Allen, London.

BELASIK, PAUL (1994), Exploring Dressage Technique. Journeys into the Art of Classical Riding, J.A.Allen, London.

BELASIK, PAUL (1999), The Songs of Horses. Seven Stories for Riding Teachers and Students, J.A.Allen, London.

BELASIK, PAUL , (2002), Dressage For the 21st Century, Trafalgar Square Publishing, Vermont.

BELASIK, PAUL, (2009), A Search For Collection, J.A.Allen, London.

BERAN, ANJA, (2007), Classical Schooling with the Horse in Mind, Trafalgar Square Publishing, Vermont.

COLLINS, DAVID, (2006), Dressage Masters; Techniques and Philosophies of Four Legendary Trainers, The Lyons Press,

CT. CROSSLEY, ANTHONY, (1978), Training The Young Horse, Edbury Press, London.

DECARPENTRY, ALBERT (1998), Piaffer & Passage, Half Halt Press.

DECARPENTRY, ALBERT (1971), Academic Equitation, Half Halt Press.

DE KUNFFY, CHARLES (1984), Training Strategies for Dressage Riders, Howell Book House, New York.

DE KUNFFY, CHARLES (1992), The Athletic Development of the Dressage Horse. Manege Patterns, New York.

DE KUNFFY, CHARLES (1993), The Ethics and Passions of Dressage, Half Halt Press, Middletown, MD.

DE KUNFFY, CHARLES, (1984), Creative Horsemanship, Arco Publishing, NY, NY. FILLIS, JAMES (1902), Breaking and Riding.

GERMAN NATIONAL EQUESTRIAN FEDERATION, (1997), Principles of Riding, Kenilworth Press Ltd, Great Britain.

GUÉRINIÈRE, FRANÇOIS ROBICHON DE LA (1994), School of Horsemanship.

HARRIS, CHARLES, (2004), Workbooks from the Spanish School 1948-1951, J.A.Allen, London.

HARRIS, SUSAN E., (1993), Horse Gaits, Balance and Movement, Howell Book House, USA.

HARRIS, SUSAN E., USPC Manuals of Horsemanship, Howell Book House, USA.

-D Level (Basic), (1994).

-C Level (Intermediate), (1995).

-B, HA, A Level (Advanced), (1996).

HASSLER-SCOOP, JILL, (2002), Riding Experience and Beyond, Goals Unlimited Press, Montana.

HASSLER-SCOOP, JILL, In Search of Your Image.

KEISER-HASSLER, JILL, (1993), Beyond the Mirrors, Mountain Press Publishing Company, Montana.

HASSLER-SCOOP, JILL, (2002), Equestrian Education, Goals Unlimited Press, Montana.

HERBERMANN, ERIC F. (1989), Dressage Formula, J.A.Allen, London.

HILL, CHERRY, (1999), 101 Longeing & Long Lining Exercises, Howell Book House, NY.

HINRICHS, RICHARD, (2001), Schooling Horses In Hand, Trafalgar Square Publishing, VT.

HULL, MELODY & HEABERLIN, SANDRA, (1999), The American Lipizzan; A Pictorial History, LANA.

KARL, PHILIPPE, (1992), Long Reining; The Saumur Method, Trafalgar Square Publishing, VT.

KLIMKE, REINER, (1969), Cavalletti, J.A.Allen & Co., London.

KNOPFHART, ALFRED, (1996), Dressage: Guidebook for the Road to Success, Half Halt Press Inc., USA.

KYRA KYRKLUND & LEMKOW, Dressage with Kyra.

LJUNGQUIST, BENGT, (1976), Practical Dressage Manual, Half Halt Press Inc., MD.

LOCH, SYLVIA, (1990), Dressage; The Art of Classical Riding, Trafalgar Square Publishing, VT.

LORISTON-CLARKE, JENNIE, (1993), Lunging and Long-Reining, The Kenilworth Press LTD, Great Britain.

LORISTON-CLARKE, JENNIE, (1995), The Young Horse, Breaking and Training, Trafalgar Square Publishing, VT.

NELSON, HILDA (1992), François Baucher. The man and his method.

NELSON, HILDA (1997), Alexis François L'Hotte. The quest for lightness in equitation.

OLIVERA, NUNO (1965), Haute école. Forty-three photographs of horses taught and mounted by Nuno Olivera, J.A.Allen, London.

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Life Rhythms

Posted on December 21, 2010 at 2:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Life Rhythms

By Maribeth Dunlap

December 2010

My family and I went skiing the other day. I used to be an avid snow skier and worked for a short period of time many years ago as a ski instructor in Vail, Colorado. Much like riding is for me in my life today, I lived to ski when I was younger. But over the years, time and life went by and I found that I hadn't skied in a very long time. I was feeling rusty, out of condition, and maybe a little old. My husband is a strong intermediate level skier and my daughter I would categorize as a strong beginner. She needed help and guidance and I was grateful for this as it gave me a chance while helping her, to regain my ski-legs. We first worked together on the beginner slope and then quickly headed for trail. We stayed together, the three of us, as we skied offering my daughter instruction and words of wisdom and support. It was a delightful day, full of laughter, as we worked together, encouraging and supporting each other, in our individual pursuits of the perfect turn.

It is amazing how quickly time passes by. We get so busy in the ordinary rhythms of our lives that we forget about enjoying the simple things that once gave us so much joy. As the day wore on, I regained my confidence in my old abilities and found myself tapping into the old techniques of my ski past. It was a wonderful feeling like getting back on and riding a bike where you never really forget. My body's muscle memory was kicking back in and it was simply wonderful to realize that I hadn't entirely lost my ability to ski - something that I had once held so near and dear to me.

As we headed back up the chair lift for another run, I had another opportunity to teach my daughter. As we rode up the mountain I took notice to an older gentleman quietly skiing down the slope. He wore the clothes from an older generation; modest and subdued. I pointed him out to my daughter. His turns were smooth and quiet and his movement flowed with fluidity and ease. His skis whispered as he glided under our chair and out of sight. It was a wonderful example of the quiet form and technique of a past generation and I was grateful for his example and happy to be able to share that with my daughter. As we arrived at the top, my daughter, with that wonderful image in her head, struck off back down the mountain ahead of me. She moved with light and graceful movement as she began to feel the rhythm in her turns. It was a proud moment for me and my husband to watch our daughter grow from one stage and begin to tap into the next stage of learning. The look of joy on her face is one I will never forget. She understood the lesson I taught her - a lesson about skiing/a lesson about life.

After a few more runs, my daughter and husband decided to go into the lodge for a break. Her feet were being rubbed a bit by her boots and decided to have them readjusted. And the idea of a hot chocolate before a warm fire sounded good to my husband. I opted to stay out and do a few runs on my own. As I headed back up the lift, my thoughts returned to the days when I spent every day skiing the big mountains of the Colorado Rockies. I looked at the snow below me as it glistened in the sun like a billion tiny diamonds. As I approached the summit, I lifted the bar of the chair lift and slipped my wrists through the loops of my poles. Reaching the top, I lifted my body off the chair and slid down the tiny off ramp slope. I skated to the face, pushing from one ski to the other, until reaching the edge. Without pause or hesitation, I pushed my shins to the front of my boots and slipped quietly down onto the face of the mountain. Everything was still, everything was quiet, I was alone again in the big mountains. I felt my body sink and rise through the turns, weighting and unweighting my skis, shifting from one edge to the other, gliding with ease. My body flowed easily with fluid movements. The only sound was the soft whisper of my skies and my breath. It was magical and glorious as I once again found my rhythm.

The Rider's Position & Effective Use of the Seat

Posted on April 1, 2010 at 2:00 PM

The Rider's Position and Effective Use of the Seat

By Maribeth Dunlap

April 2010

Dressage is a French word that means "to train". Dressage is centuries old and dates back as far to the Greek Philosopher, Xenophon, who wrote the book, "The Art of Horsemanship". Dressage is considered classical because it has stood the test of time, it is enduring, and still relevant today. Much study, experimentation, and research has gone into the development of dressage and the training of the horse. Horses were a very important part of human existence in our recent past. They were the main mode of transportation, they enabled Cavalries and Militaries to move troops swiftly into battle, and they were a source of entertainment. A skilled horseman was highly respected and often served in Emperors, Kings and Queens Courts. Horses were very valuable and so was the training of them. Like cars of today, much research and development went into the training process of the horse so as to be able to mobilize large troops for battle, entertain Kings and Queens, and to keep horses sound and healthy longer so as to be useful for longer periods of time and as a result, the great riding masters of the past developed a sound system of training.

One example of a training system is the Training Scale. It consists of six training concepts: 1) rhythm, 2) suppleness, 3) connection, 4) impulsion, 5) straightness, and 6) collection. To learn more about the Training Scale, please see my article titled, "The Training Scale - Pyramid or Circle?"

I'm going to add another element to this particular training system - The Rider's Position and Effectiveness of the Seat. Every training system should be built upon this crucial concept, as it should be the base, the foundation, and the bedrock upon which every system should rest. This concept should be nearly mastered before dressage can begin, as it is impossible to achieve training progress without it.

There are three phases that the rider's position seems to go through as progress is made: 1. hindrance/burden phase (negative influence), 2. passenger phase (no influence), 3. effective phase (positive influence).

When a rider has not yet mastered her own balance on the horse, she often relies on the use of the wrong muscle groups to stay on the horse. These riders are usually hunched forward, grip with their lower legs (calves) with their knees away from the horse, thighs rotated out with toes sticking out to the sides. In addition, they tend to balance also off their hands and the mouth of the poor horse. If the horse is of the kind sort, he will suffer usually by adopting a head high, dropped back, and unengaged hindquarters. The horse is trying to maintain some degree of his own balance while carrying an unbalanced rider and may tend to fall on the forehand and become quick. These riders tend to become frustrated with their horse, not understanding why they rush about and don't listen to their rude and crude aids. When the rider hangs on the mouth of the horse and grips with the lower leg, the horse becomes dull to the aids and can no longer distinguish between what is an aid and what is hanging and gripping. The rider must shout his aids at the horse using cruder and louder aids and this becomes a downward spiral. If the horse is not of the kind sort, he may resort to becoming ill-tempered and misbehave when in reality, it is really not the fault of the horse, but that of the rider who so crudely rides the horse.

When someone contacts me about buying a horse, I usually ask them certain questions so as to get an idea of what kind of horse that might best suit them and help them achieve their goals. If a person contacts me who has no riding experience or very little riding experience, I always recommend to them to take at least a year's worth of regular riding instruction from an instructor who understands the seat and to take lessons on appropriate school horses who will give them opportunities to work on acquiring an effective seat. Lessons on the longe line are very helpful in establishing a balanced position. This will help to prevent the first phase - hindrance/burden phase of riding. Under the tutelage of a good instructor, the rider can avoid making common position errors and reduce the formation of bad riding habits. The rider will quickly learn to maintain his own balance without gripping, tight muscles, and without balancing on the poor horse's mouth and/or banging on the back of the poor animal. Much time can be saved and much frustration (on the rider's and horse's part) can be avoided if good quality riding instruction is sought out first before buying a horse.

In the second phase - passenger phase - the rider has learned to maintain her own balance on the horse. She is comfortable and able to move different parts of her body without gripping or losing her balance. She is more confident as a rider and the horse is a little happier with his rider, however, she has not yet learned to positively influence her horse. The technical aspects of the seat have yet to be learned. One can often observe riders in this phase as, although they present a nice picture on the horse, they have not yet learned to rebalance the horse using effective half halts, they have yet to master simple figures and movements while keeping the horse balanced with correct bend, and they often struggle with tempo and rhythm which may cause the horse to appear irregular in his gaits. These riders often ride by the "seat of their pants" and with a "hope and a prayer" of getting the job done. Riders in this phase over fences may have trouble with finding the correct distance to a fence, maybe jumping too long or chipping into a fence. They wonder why then can't get a lead change and their horses are often counter bent around a course of fences. Dressage riders in this phase struggle with keeping their horses on the aids, in front of their leg and on the bit. They don't understand the idea of connection and struggle with keeping a correct bend and riding simple arena patterns.

In the third phase, the rider is now learning to have an effective seat and able to positively influence the horse. Achieving this phase is impossible without first mastering the second phase of achieving a balanced seat. An effective dressage seat is very similar to a Martial Arts/Karate stance as it is one of balance, power, and great strength. The dressage seat encompasses the area from right below the ribcage down through the thighs. For more information about the dressage seat, please refer to my article, 'Components of a Good Position'.

The following is an excellent exercise for an instructor to help illustrate an effective seat and for a rider to feel the tiny nuances of the seat: with the rider off the horse and standing in front of the instructor, place a longe line or rope of some sort about the riders hips. The instructor holds the line and asks the rider to simulate the riding position. Once the rider is in position, the instructor pulls with a steady, gentle pressure. If the rider is in balance over both feet, the rider then should be able to meet the pressure from the line with equal resistance. The rider should be standing in balance over both feet with equal weight distributed down through both thighs. She should not lean back as in a water skiing position, but should merely meet the pressure by engaging the muscles in her seat (from the base of the ribcage down through the thighs). The instructor can check to see if she is leaning back by quickly releasing the backwards tension of the line. If the rider falls backwards, then that is a sign that she is leaning backwards to meet the resistance instead of using the engagement of the core muscles. Once the rider is capable of correctly meeting the resistance of the line, ask her to straighten her arms out. She will, of course, fall forward. Have her regain her correct posture, then ask her to gentle roll her shoulders forward. Once again, she will tip forward. This exercise is excellent in teaching the rider the tiny nuances associated with the correct riding posture. She will quickly become aware that the tiny details are very important in achieving an effective seat. An effective seat is one that is strong and consistent. The parts of our body stay where they belong as we have mastered control of our own balance and our own body. When we are connected within our bodies, our upper body remains strong as we use our core strength. This allows us to keep our arms where they should be and our rein length then stays the same maintaining a consistent contact with our horse's mouth. Our legs stay put and we are able to use them when needed and desired to make a positive change or influence our horses.

An effective seat allows the rider to use the subtlest of aids. When the rider is in the correct position, the aids become lighter and more invisible. For example, a breath inhaled can become a half halt and rebalance the horse. A breath exhaled can be very effective in a lengthening. It can become this subtle. The horse can feel the lightest touch on his hair like a fly on his skin, so our aids can become very light and subtle. This is when it appears like we're dancing, as our aids are invisible to the on-looker. Our effective seats allow us to become connected to our horses and there is harmony in the aids and movements. When you are connected to your horse, then you can feel the slightest change in his balance and then using a tiny subtle aid, help to rebalance him. The training scale should begin with the rider's position always. Without this, then everything else becomes difficult, if not impossible.


Posted on January 1, 2010 at 11:45 AM

Dressage Terminology

Compiled By Maribeth Dunlap

January 2010

Above The Bit – When the horse avoids contact by putting its muzzle forwards and upwards. The back is usually dropped and there is loss of engagement of the hindquarters.

Activity – Refers to the activity, energy, vigor and liveliness of the hind legs.

Against The Bit – When the horse avoids a soft contact by becoming stiff and unyielding in the neck, poll and jaw. The horse’s outline may appear correct but there is usually a lack of throughness and engagement.

Anlehnung (Contact) - A German term used to describe the soft, steady connection between the rider's hand and the horse's mouth. A correct, steady contact allows the horse to find its balance under the rider and find a rhythm in each gait. Contact must never be obtained by pulling back with the reins. It must result from the correct development of the pushing powers of the horse. The discreetly driving aids of the rider cause the horse to step into the hands with confidence as the skilled rider receives that energy and directs it.

Appui - A French term used to describe the feeling of the contact or connection experienced by the rider through the rein as the horse accepts the bit. This acceptance may vary from light to heavy. A constant, light appui has been the preference favored by horsemen of all times and nationalities.

Arret - arête - A French term which means halt. Balance – This refers to the lateral and longitudinal distribution of weight of the horse upon is front and hind legs.

Bascule -

1. the round arc a horse's body creates as it jumps over a fence. The back comes up and the neck stretches forward, down and over the obstacle.

2. when one end of a device is counterbalanced by the other. The use of the neck seeking forward and over a fence counter balanced the other end as in the walk and canter, the use of the neck balances the other end in order to move correctly and in balance.

Beat – A footfall within a gait of the horse that strikes the ground that

1) can determine the regularity of the gait, i.e. walk =4 beats, trot = 2 beats, canter = 3 beats,

2) can refer to the musicality and the matching of the beat (footfalls) to the timing of a piece of music.

Behind The Bit, Behind The aids, Behind the Leg – When the horse retracts or backs away/behind the contact by putting its muzzle behind the vertical. The back is usually dropped and there is loss of engagement of the hindquarters while the horse does not truly accept contact with the bit.

Bend – This refers to the lateral bend (left & right) of the horse through his entire body, from the poll to the tail.

Cadence —The hind legs must "swing through" and engage well underneath the horse. The moment of suspension is more clearly defined and there is a marked accent of the beat due to increased elasticity and expression of the gait.

Clarity – Marked, clear distinction between the footfalls of a particular gait.

Collection (Versammlung) - When a horse is working in collection the quarters take more of the load. The haunches (hip and stifle joints) are flexing more and the hind legs step more under the horse's center of balance. This lightens the forehand and allows greater freedom of movement. The strides become shorter without losing energy and activity. The horse looks and feels more "uphill." In the trot as well as in the canter, the impulsion needs to be fully maintained, rendering these gaits more expressive and cadenced. The horse's anatomy is such that it carries most of his own weight on the forehand. This situation is adversely effected by the rider's position directly behind the shoulders. Therefore, it is also in the interest of soundness and safety of the footfalls if the hindquarters are induced to carry more of the weight. Consequently, it is advantageous for every horse to go in a certain measure of collection.

Confidence – This refers to the horses boldness and self-assurance with which he performs, how he reacts to training, and to the trust in the partnership with his rider.

Connection – This refers to the quality of contact and to the ease in which the horse performs in harmony with the rider. A good connection is one that is not stiff or constrained, the horse yields to the aids of the rider and there is harmony between horse and rider.

Contact (Anlehnung) - A soft, steady connection between the rider's hand and the horse's mouth. A correct, steady contact allows the horse to find its balance under the rider and find a rhythm in each gait. Contact must never be obtained by pulling back with the reins. It must result from the correct development of the pushing powers of the horse. The discreetly driving aids of the rider cause the horse to step into the hands with confidence as the skilled rider receives that energy and directs it.

Correctness – Refers to the many different training aspects of the horse, how the exercises are performed, and used to describe their results.

Crookedness – This refers to misalignment in the horse’s body from poll to tail.

Demi-Arret - (half halt) French term meaning to lighten a horse or to lift up the head with a vibrating, lifting hand, quickly dropping and returning to a soft and neutral contact. This is done without pulling upwards or backwards. It is a slight wrist action in small upward vibrations usually almost invisible to the on-looker.

Descente de main et des jambes - French phrase to mean the yielding of the hand and the legs, while the horse remains in the same flexion, cadence and rhythm in the movement being executed.

Durchlaessigkeit - A German term used to describe the supple, elastic, unblocked, connected state of the horse's musculature that permits an unrestricted flow of energy from back to front and front to back, which allows the aids/influences to freely go through to all parts of the horse (e.g., the rein aids go through and reach and influence the hind legs). Synonymous with the word Throughness or throughlettingness.

Ecuyer - A 17th/18th century French term used to denote a recognized Master of equitation. This term is still used at Saumur today.

Elasticity – Refers to the balance and suppleness of the horse’s muscles and to the springiness of its footfalls.

Elevation —Relative elevation is relative to the horse's ability to collect at any particular stage of his training according to his conformation. Refers to the raising of the head, neck and withers due to the lowering and engagement of the hind legs.

Engagement – Increased flexion of the joints of the hind legs while distributing more weight on the hindquarters thus lightening the front end.

Evasion – Avoiding an exercise without active disobedience.

Flexion – Refers to the lateral and longitudinal articulation of the joint at the poll of the horse. One can have flexion without bend, but there is no bend without flexion.

Frame – This refers to the longer and shorter outline, which results from extension or collection.

Gait – This refers to the three paces of the horse, i.e. walk, trot, and canter.

Geraderichten (Straightness) - A German term to describe in a straight horse the pushing powers work directly towards the horse's center of balance. The forehand is in line with its hindquarters allowing the horse's longitudinal axis to follow the straight or curved line of the track. The rider's restraining aids will then pass through the horse correctly, via the horse's mouth, the poll, the neck, and the back through to the quarters and influence both hind legs equally.

Half Halt - Prepares and alerts the horse for a change, re-balances, lightens the forehand, engages the hindquarters.

Impulsion (Schwung) - The energy created by the hind legs transmitted into the gaits and into every aspect of the forward movement. Impulsion is the result of the correct influence of the rider, utilizing the natural gaits of the horse and combining them with relaxation, and the development of the horse's pushing power and throughness.

Inside – This refers to

1) the side of the horse that is toward the center of the ring or circle.

2) the hollow side of the horse that is bent or flexed independent of the ring or circle of the horse.

Irregular – This refers to an impure, uneven gait of the horse.

Lateral – Side to side, as in flexion, bend, suppleness and aids.

Losgelassenheit (Relaxation) - A German term used to describe when the horse is willing to stretch his neck forward and down in all three gaits (allowing the horse to chew the reins out of the rider's hands). A relaxed horse moves with a swinging back and in a natural, regular rhythm without hurrying. The horse accepts the driving aids and allows a supple rider to sit comfortably.

Manege - A French term used to denote an arena, ring or area where horses are schooled or dressed.

Marching – This refers to the purposeful and marked accentuation of the steps of the walk.

On The Aids – This refers to the horse that is responsive and light to the aids.

On The Bit – This refers to the horse that accepts and yields to the contact with the bit.

Outline – This refers to the posture and profile of the horse.

Outside – This refers to

1) the side of the horse that is toward the outside of the ring or circle.

2) the concave side of the horse that is bent or flexed independent of the ring or circle of the horse.

Over bent – This refers to the lateral bend in the horse’s neck, mainly occurring at the base of the neck causing a lack of uniformity in the bend of the whole horse from tail to poll.

Over flexed – This refers to the longitudinal flexion of the horse at the poll resulting in being behind the vertical.

Poll – The occipital crest or the highest point of the horse’s skull.


1) The lateral flexion at the poll; position right or position left.

2) The rider’s position.

Purity – The correctness of the order and timing of the footfalls of a horse’s gait.

Resistance – This refers to the physical opposition by the horse against the rider.

Rhythm (Takt) - The regularity and the purity of the steps or strides in each gait, covering equal distance and of equal duration. The metronomic "beat" of the horse's footfalls. It should not vary.

Rhythm and Regularity —Rhythm and regularity have to be maintained on straight lines, in all bending and/or lateral work, and during transitions. If an exercise or a movement is not regular it cannot be rated good. A training exercise is non-productive if it causes irregularity.

Relaxation (Losgelassenheit) - Relaxation has been achieved when the horse is willing to stretch his neck forward and down in all three gaits (allowing the horse to chew the reins out of the rider's hands). A relaxed horse moves with a swinging back and in a natural, regular rhythm without hurrying. The horse accepts the driving aids and allows a supple rider to sit comfortably.

Roundness – This refers to the longitudinal roundness of the horse’s top line giving the impression of the horse being round like a ball with the energy flowing from the hind legs up over the back to the neck and poll and the recycling itself back again.

Schwung (Impulsion) - A German term used to describe the power of the hindquarters that carries the horse forward and its transmission over the back.

Scope – This refers to the reach and roundness of a movement.

Self-Carriage – This refers to when the horse carries itself in balance and harmony with the rider without taking or needing any support from the rider’s hand.

Straightness (Geraderichten) - In a straight horse the pushing powers work directly towards the horse's center of balance. The forehand is in line with its hindquarters allowing the horse's longitudinal axis to follow the straight or curved line of the track. The rider's restraining aids will then pass through the horse correctly, via the horse's mouth, the poll, the neck, and the back through to the quarters and influence both hind legs equally.

Submission -The horse's willingness to conform to directions from the rider.

Suppleness - The horse's body is free of tension. He looks dimensional with clear muscular definition.

Takt (Rhythm) - A German term used to describe the rhythm and tempo of the gaits of the horse.

Tempo - The rate of repetition of the rhythm. Ideally, it appears easy and without tension.

Terra Terra - An air which was considered the basis for the airs above the ground, but which is no longer recognized in dressage today. The movement is a very cadenced, elevated canter in two-time.

Throughness—The supple, elastic, unblocked, connected state of the horse's musculature that permits an unrestricted flow of energy from back to front and front to back, which allows the aids/influences to freely go through to all parts of the horse (e.g., the rein aids go through and reach and influence the hind legs). Synonymous with the German term "Durchlaessigkeit," or "throughlettingness."

Tilting – This refers to an evasion when the horse tilts or cocks his head in which one ear is lower than the other.

Top Line – This refers to the longitudinal outline of the horse, from his poll, over his back, and ending at his tail.

Uberstreichen - A German term to describe the brief release of the contact, wherein the rider in one clear motion extends the hand(s) forward along the crest of the horse’s neck, and then rides for several strides without contact. Its purpose is to demonstrate that even with loose rein(s), the horse maintains its carriage, balance, pace, and tempo.

Versammlung (Collection) - A German term used to describe when a horse is working in collection the quarters take more of the load. The haunches (hip and stifle joints) are flexing more and the hind legs step more under the horse's center of balance. This lightens the forehand and allows greater freedom of movement. The strides become shorter without losing energy and activity. The horse looks and feels more "uphill." In the trot as well as in the canter, the impulsion needs to be fully maintained, rendering these gaits more expressive and cadenced.

Christmas Eve Dressage Poem

Posted on October 30, 2009 at 10:35 AM

Christmas Eve Dressage Poem


OCT 30, 2009

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the farm,

Only one horse was stirring, the brown one in the barn,

The only one to hang a stocking from his feed dish that night,

Hoping that Santa would come, and fill it just right.

The other horses were settled quietly in their stalls,

While their dreams were of horse treats, candy canes and riding halls,

And the cat in the hay barn and the dog on his mat,

Had just snuggled in for a long winter's nap.

When out in the dressage ring there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the arena I flew like a flash,

Pulling on my boots and jacket in my mad dash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,

Gave the luster of mid-day to the dressage letters below.

When what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But eight little elves riding eight tiny reindeer.

A small round man, dressed in red and white, looked just like Santa,

And called out to the reindeer, as an instructor might.

His shiny black boots reached up to his knees,

His pants looked like breeches and even had a full leather seat!

"Now Dasher, now Dancer, now Prancer and Vixen, come Comet and Cupid,

more forward Donner and Blitzen,

Keep the voltes round, elves ride those reindeer through,"

It was Christmas Eve reindeer dressage,

Under the moonlight in the snow so blue.

And then, in a twinkling I heard my horse come out,

He gave me a look as if to say, "What's this all about?"

As I stood in the doorway and watched, my mouth agape,

Santa jumped on the horse and entered the gate.

He and the elves worked in teams,

four pairs of reindeer, evenly matched, working under the moonbeams.

Santa had paired with Rudolph, who was now leading the group,

He took them through maneuvers, making large loops.

Santa's eyes twinkled, his breath came out fast,

As he rode round the arena he started teaching my horse half-pass!

His droll little mouth suddenly called out instructions,

"Half-halt, stay together, don't forget to push them."

He kept a pipe clenched tight in his teeth,

And as he rode the smoke circled his head like a wreath.

Although he was broad of face and had a round little belly,

He rode like Reiner Klimke, gloved hands quiet and steady.

Despite his chubby, plump body, the jolly old elf,

Sat the trot well, letting the horse move all by himself.

And I gasped as I watched while he continued to school,

First piaffe, then passage, one-tempis, way too cool.

Then Santa stopped riding, suddenly moving to his sleigh,

The brown went to the barn, and the reindeer began to play.

The elves disappeared, the ride was now done,

The reindeer took off pulling the sleigh, still full of run.

I ran to the barn, saw my horse was all wet,

This was no dream; he really was in a sweat.

The note on the saddle pad explained it all, "You wished for an FEI horse, now he's all trained, have a ball,

Merry Christmas, peace be with you, and ride with good cheer,

Give the brown extra carrots, and have him ready next year!"

Perfect Practice

Posted on March 17, 2009 at 12:15 PM

Perfect Practice

By Maribeth Dunlap

March 2009

I often give my students homework, usually something that we’ve been working on together, and something that they need to practice. I usually say something to them like, “remember, just don’t practice it - practice it perfectly.”

What is the difference between practice and perfect practice?

When learning a new skill, it takes about 100 repetitions to get it into your muscle memory. If you’re trying to over-come an old habit, then it takes about 10 times that, or 1000 repetitions to break the old habit and form the new one – or daily repetition for 21 consecutive days.  So, first, it is very important to learn the new skill correctly the first time. And secondly, it is very important to practice the new skill perfectly so as not to form bad habits while programming the new skill into your muscle memory.

Perfect practice is, in many ways, learning to be a disciplined rider. It means not taking short cuts or the easy way out. It is riding with perfection and paying attention to every detail, large or small. Perfect practice means raising your standards, little by little, every day and every schooling session. You learn to expect a little more from yourself and your horse. You learn to expect nothing but your personal best and giving it your best shot. By practicing perfectly, you become more in-tuned and focused. Outside stimuli often disappears, your concentration and sensitivity levels rise, you’re better able to feel your horse, and all these things lead to a more harmonious partnership with your horse.

Practicing perfectly not only helps you to progress, but it also does the same for your horse. Like you, he also needs to practice the new skill perfectly to get it into his muscle memory. Perfect practice helps to establish a good work ethic in the horse and he learns much faster when the questions being asked are clear every time and do not vary, but remain the same. When you keep asking the same question, he is more apt to figure out the correct answer. When the same question is asked differently every time, then how can the horse answer it correctly? He can’t; he’ll most likely give a different answer, which only leads to confusion, frustration, and misunderstanding.

So often, riders ride inaccurate arena patterns. They take short cuts by cutting their corners, and riding sloppy circles. They often ignore the correct bend and having a consistent rhythm. They don’t pay attention to the details of the transitions and may not think much about their position and posture. Some riders come out to the barn more for social reasons. They spend their schooling time chatting about unrelated horse things and there is no logic, plan, or goal in their riding session. If you ride like this during your own practice time, then how can you expect to progress very quickly? If your instructor is reminding you, over and over, the same things during your lesson time, then maybe you need to think about how you are practicing.

You can begin perfect practice by the way you approach your schooling session.

Are you often rushed and struggle to find time to ride and school your horse?

Not having enough time is the first thing that often robs riders of perfect practice. Be sure to schedule enough time to do it right. If, after a long, hectic day, you still have only a limited amount of time to school, focus on one thing and do it perfectly. Don’t pick this limited time to introduce something new or work on something that challenges you. Rather, focus on something that you’re working on and coming along well. Spend the time perfecting and improving it. Use the time you have wisely.

Do you know what you need to practice?

If not, then ask your instructor to give you some homework. Ask her what you should be working on and what your schooling sessions should include. Most instructors give you a good idea of what you and your horse needs to progress, but, if not, ask.

Are you focusing on what you need to practice?

A good way to stay focused is to keep a riding journal. I ask all my students to keep a journal. At the end of a lesson, I usually ask them to give me three things that they learned or need to work on. This helps to wrap the lesson up and helps them to recall the main things that we focused on during the lesson. They then write these three things in their riding journal, along with the date, any questions that they have and want to discuss, and any other information that they choose to write in their journal. I ask them to do the same with their own schooling sessions and to refer to it often to help keep them focused on the work at hand and the ideas fresh in their minds. Review your journal and formulate a schooling plan and an idea of what you want to work on. Then practice it perfectly.

Imagine and practice perfectly.

Another thing that some of my students are very good at is to ride in their mind. They practice perfectly the new skills they’re working on in their mind. Try it and imagine riding the perfect half-halt and really imagine feeling the horse rebalance beneath you. Imagine sitting the trot with perfect posture. Imagine riding the perfect half-pass and feeling the power and strength of the horse. Whatever new skill or movement you’re working on, imagine practicing it perfectly. You’ll be amazed at the effectiveness of this exercise. Don’t imagine it less than perfect. Imagine practicing it, and practice it perfectly!

Ride accurate and perfect arena patterns.

One of the best things to learn to become a disciplined rider is to ride perfect and accurate arena patterns. This means that all circles are to be round, straight lines are to be straight, corners are not to be cut, figures of eight are to have two equal halves, and serpentine loops are to be of equal size. This also means that you must learn how large a 20-meter circle is and become comfortable riding it. This also goes for the 10-meter circle. You must discipline yourself to ride your horse on the track that you want, straight down the quarter-line or centerline. You must know when you are on the correct posting diagonal, and eventually how to automatically pick up the correct posting diagonal without looking. Practicing these things perfectly every time and every ride will help you to progress more quickly. Practicing these things perfectly is also good training for your horse. Riding perfect and accurate arena patterns has a great gymnastic value to the horse. It helps you and the horse to learn to stay on the aids as you guide him with your seat, legs, and reins. Using all your aids correctly to ride accurately helps to bend and frame the body of the horse. He learns to allow your aids to guide and shape him while you learn what aids and the varying intensities of the aids are needed to achieve your goals.

Become a detail-oriented rider.

Perfect practice means that you have to become detail oriented. Sometimes it is the little things that can make all the difference in learning a new skill, acquiring a better position, or learning a new movement. When schooling the lateral movements, it often comes down to the smallest details like the degree of the bend, maintaining the energy level, consistent rhythm throughout the movement, and the degree of collection. A strong and effective core makes all the difference in your ability to give an effective half-halt, which in turn, can make all the difference in schooling any movement. When it comes to dressage, it is about these little things, these tiny details that can make all the difference in the world.

When you practice perfectly, you give yourself the best opportunity to learn, progress, and achieve your goals. You spend the same amount of time either way, so why not practice perfectly right from the start. Don’t take short cuts or the easy way out. Don’t be a “slacker” as my one student would say. When you ride sloppy and inaccurate, you only rob yourself. You’re not spending your time, and if you’re taking regular lessons, your money wisely. So raise your standards, give it your best shot always, and expect your personal best every time. And always practice perfectly.

~This article was written by Maribeth in March 2009 – All Rights Reserved - Used With Permission. ~