Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Dessage Epiphany

I've had an epiphany. Yes, it's true.

Merriam Webster defines an epiphany as: an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure; a revealing scene or moment.

After 30 years of riding dressage, I finally get it. Giving credit to my past and present dressage instructors, I've gotten it before in bits and pieces. I understand the theory and how it's supposed to work. I understand what it feels like to have a horse through and moving freely underneath me. I understand what I need to do to get my horse going correctly.

I just didn't do it.

Oh, maybe I'd do it in a lesson or after a particularly inspiring clinic, but it never lasted more than one ride then I was back to my familiar routine of circles, going large, and transitions to get my horse round, listening to half-halts and coming through. Those are all the things you're supposed to do, right?

Well, yeah, right.

Only it didn't work. Not for me. It didn’t take long before my big, opinionated mare started pulling, and I started pulling. She dumped on her forehand and went faster. I pulled harder. I'd go back to my repertoire of corrections. And things would get worse.

On paper I was making the classical corrections. On horseback it was a different story.

So what was this epiphany?

I was doing the right things but not in the right way with the correct amount of variety and difficulty. I was making it too easy and too boring. There is an exercise to fix every type of problem.

How did I come to reach this epiphany?

After fourteen hours of listening to Conrad Schumacher at a symposium last weekend, it hit me like a sledgehammer. The man is a master, and I bow to the master. Normally, I go to something like that and leave thinking: That was wonderful, but I could never repeat it at home. Not so with Herr Schumacher. He made everything simple and easy with his basic instructions and his exercises.

Most of what he said I'd heard or read before. It was a combination of watching several talented horses and riders and listening to what he had to say about systematic training that finally sank into my thick skull, and I knew I had it.

So how has this changed my riding? I stopped doing endless 20-meter circles. Now I do something on a 20-meter circle. I shoulder-in, halt, reinback, turn on the haunches, change directions, etc. I do lots of things and think about how those things affect my horse’s way of going.

So for the next few weeks, I’m going to post my notes from the symposium. If you ever get the chance to see Conrad in a symposium format move heaven and earth to go. It’ll be worth it.

I'm off to ride right now.


Shanster said...

AWESOME! Congrats!!

I have trouble thinking about the biomechanics of the different movements I'm learning and how they affect my horse's body.

I want to get those visible horse videos where they paint the horse's skeletal/muscular system on the coat?? Have you seen those?

What are other things that have helped you with this concept?

I want to know more... any good books you'd recommend?

Thanks! Have a GREAT ride! Shanster

mugwump said...

I am really looking forward to reading this. Hurry please.

Jami Davenport said...


I used to read, ALOT. I mean I read everything down to the most driest dressage book. Now I rarely read books or articles on theory. Conrad somewhat addressed that, too. You need to learn to ride by feel. No amount of reading, DVDs, or audting will replace the experience of being on the back of a horse. You just have to feel it.

Most of the books I love are no longer in print. I really got a lot out a book that was called The Dressage Guide (I think).

I love the Sally Swift books, also Jane Savoie. Klaus Balkenhel and Debbie McDonald have good books out, too.

Once I start posting my notes, you'll see what I'm talking about. Conrad made it much simpler than I ever thought it was.

Jami Davenport said...


I'm actually looking forward to posting the clinic notes. I hope everyone finds some useful excercises whether you ride "dressage" or not.

Shanster said...

I do read some - but yes - if it gets too "technical" I think too hard and I do lose my feel. I like to think of riding as more of an art. Yes there are universal training techniques that work but as you progress and increase it seems to be more about finesse and feel? Maybe I'm off base on that... I dunno.

I would really like to understand more of the biomechanics. Like when I ask her for shoulder-in why does that loosen her up? And if she's sorta sticky in one area - what exercise would work to unlock it?

More thinking about how to ride her the best to get her moving out the best you know?

I still take lots of notes and write down all new exercises when I go to clinics/lessons - add them to my "toolbox" so to speak but I could use more of the "why" and "how" does it work.

Looking forward to your notes - your excitement shines through your post and comments!! :)

wilsonc said...

When you described your mare beginning to pull and you pulling back it was as if you were talking about myself and my boy Boo. We've been having this problem recently and it is a fairly new problem. I'm looking forward to the notes you plan to post. I think they may be very helpful to me and my situation.

JB said...

I JUST HAD AN EPIPHANY ASWELL.. For years i've been hitting my tennis forehand a certain way, except on some days where i would seemngly magically play better. Today BAM! i realized what i needed to do and now I believe I can do anything! Just thought i'd share your enthusiasm for Epiphany moments! THANKS FOR READING!