Adult Amateur Obstacles and Support

I found some links to hopefully help us Adult Amateurs at least feel a little less alone, a little less embarrassed for not being perfect.

I’ll add additional links as I find them. And feel free to add a comment on any links you know of and I’ll add them to the post.

The Adult Amateur Dressage Initiative


“This page is for the advancement of the Adult Amateur Dressage Rider as defined by USEF GR1306 . Our AIM is to attract USDF and USEF members to this site in order to discuss and develop ideas that we will present, as a united front, to our national organizations to implement FOR US! We are working for greater recognition in the programing for, and funding of, the Adult Amateur Dressage Riders in the USA by the USDF and the USEF. We are lobbying our national organizations for parity in educational programs, funds, grants, transitional classes to rise through USDF and FEI levels, equal access to elite clinics, equal representation as riders in said clinics, and, consequently, in the recognized competitions. As the majority members, and the absolute, ECONOMIC BASE of these oganizations, we are committed to bettering the education, the riding, the training, the competition opportunities, and the overall quality of the American Adult Amateur Dressage Community. We are open to any Adult Amateur Rider, any Professional, Judge, or Licensed Official interested in supporting our Goals.”


Adult Amateur Dressage Shame: Riding the Roller Coaster


Dressage is unique within the horse world in producing a phenomenon in its participants, a feeling of being lesser than, not good enough or unworthy. It is a condition that I have termed “Adult Amateur Dressage Shame”, but it effects juniors, young riders, and even professionals. Perhaps it is the constantly increasing standard of difficulty or the emphasis on detail, but I have seen the effects of ‘dressage shame’ again and again.


Dressage for Adult Amateurs

Adult Amateur Dressage Riders welcome!!! Discussion, support, help, rant, rave and praise!!! Open to everyone.

Article on a students responsibilty to dressage trainers

I read the article Our Responsibility to Dressage Trainers on “Dressage Different” website. By the way, interesting website. Check it out when you have time.

While I believe the author brings up some valid points that all students should know and understand, I still feel a bit angry over it.  There are decent examples for how students can help manage his/her own expectations, but I’m getting tired of the trainer centric view of the student/trainer relationship.

From “Our Responsibility to Dressage Trainers”:

There are a few responsibilities that the student has to the instructor. First and foremost you must come to the lesson ready to learn. You must listen with both ears and leave your ego on the mounting block.

If a student comes to a lesson late and pays for the full lesson anyway, who did that hurt? If a student didn’t want to learn, couldn’t set their ego aside for the ride, yet pays the trainer anyway… again, who did that hurt? It is not the student’s responsibility to make the instructor feel fulfilled in their job, or make them feel as though they make a difference.  Our only real responsibility to our trainer is to complete the contract (have a lesson then pay for the lesson).  Why anyone would choose to pay for lessons and then not pay attention is beyond my comprehension, but either way, the student has no obligation or responsibility to make sure that the trainer feels happy about teaching. Yes, there are frustrating students, but Mr. or Ms. Trainer, I hate to break it to you, but there are really nasty customers out there in the real world that scream and cuss at you for providing a service. If the worst you have to deal with is someone not listening to you so you can earn enough money to pay your mortgage, then count your blessings.

The article went on to state:

There is no such thing as the perfect dressage trainer and expecting an omnipotent god-like being with the answers to all questions will end with two very unhappy people.

The main thing that got me riled up is the assumption that it’s the students fault for not realizing the trainer doesn’t know everything. It is not the students job to patiently wait months or years to determine that their trainer (who hasn’t bothered to tell them before this point) doesn’t know how to teach something correctly. And then the author brushes aside this fact with the remark that trainers “aren’t omnipotent god-like” beings. If the trainer doesn’t know something, isn’t experienced with it, then TELL US UP FRONT!

Further down the article, it states:

And finally, there will be times when your dressage trainer will have to make hard calls.

Sometimes horses are not suitable for the rider and an unsafe environment is being created. There are times when the owner must be pulled from the horse for a period of time to ensure the success of the relationship.

Wait. What?!?

It is NOT the trainers job to make the “hard decisions” for their students. This goes back to “Why students believe their trainers are omnipotent god’s”. Trainer’s propagate this idea that it’s the trainers job to “make the hard decisions”. I pay for knowledge transfer, but under NO circumstance am I letting go of my freedom to decide what I do. It is my job to make the hard decisions based on all available information (a trainer’s opinion being part of that information). I am never, ever, going to be okay with a trainer making decisions for me. It’s my horse, my money, my time. I work too damn hard to give up my freedom. I will listen, and I will take it into consideration. But no one is going to make decisions for me. To top it off you want me to pay you money to take away my rights? It’s just not going to happen. Get over it.

Finally, it says:

Secondly, recognize what you want from dressage and do not force your instructor to be something they are not. Dressage trainer’s responsibilities can be split into four basic subsets: instructor, trainer, competitor and businessperson. Different trainers have different strengths, some are amazing teachers and business people but have no urge to compete.

Go back to the top: it’s NOT the students responsibility to be precognitive, without any verbal communication, of a trainers talents or expertise. It is the trainer’s responsibility to explain to a student what they can help the student with, and to allow the student to determine if it fits in with what they want. I rarely meet trainers that do this. A majority of trainers will be happy to omit telling a student that they are not a very good instructor and instead their strength lays with training the horse. They are happy to continue taking your money for as long as possible (until the student wises up), all while pushing training of the horse at exorbitant rates and claiming it’s due to your incompetence as a rider (I’ve seen that more times than I can count).  Apparently it’s the students fault for not understanding what’s happening.

So, to recap, I agree that a student is retarded if they pay money for a lesson that they refuse to listen to. You’re dumb if you do that. But you don’t owe the trainer anything other than the money for the lesson at that point. You probably won’t get a whole heck of a lot of extra effort from the trainer, but if the trainer is professional (i.e. not a scum bag) then they should still be attempting to give you an adequate lesson (even if your dumb butt won’t listen). However, the rest of the article seems to directly contradict itself, is either widely wrong, or would only be applicable with a small section of good trainers (luckily I’ve trained with good trainers, but they do seem to be pretty rare).

Moral of the story: Never read the interwebz when already upset. It leads to rambling diatribes like the above. 🙂



Thundering Hooves & Ramblings

Yesterday I went out to the barn for a quick second to say Hi to Ava and give her some apples.  She’s out in the pasture, head down eating grass, when I arrive. I walked down to her pasture, open the gate, and walk into the pasture. When I look up, I see Ava barreling toward me. Head up, mane flowing, white legs lifted high. She is headed straight for me in a big, fast trot.  Two feet in front of me Ava suddenly stops and politely sniffs my outstretched hand.

I don’t know quite when it happened, but somewhere along the way I started trusting Ava. That wasn’t there that long ago. It used to be that if she turned away from me I would scurry backward a safe distance from her hind hooves. Or when she came racing up to me I’d quickly duck behind the gate to give her a solid wall to stop in front of. But lately, when she turns away from me I may run my hand down her rump for fun, but I don’t worry about her kicking me. Or yesterday, with her zooming at me, it didn’t even cross my mind that she wouldn’t stop. It was one of those moments where you kind of go “Huh, that’s cool”.20130814_192519

Anyway, I’ve spent this week just spending some time with Ava: no riding and no demands on her to perform. We’ll pick up again with training on Sunday. I really miss having my horse at home with me. Being able to spend time with the horse in their own environment without any constraints, or pressure, on them is a great way to build trust and harmony with the horse. Finding time to do that with a full time job when the horse is boarded is difficult. At least it’s a lot easier now that Ava is closer.

I’m having issues with people moving my saddle at the barn. I normally wouldn’t care, but they put my saddle on the highest rack. I literally can only reach the bottom of the leg flap when it’s on that rack. And I can’t figure out why they move it. There’s only 2 of us that ride regularly at the barn and the person moving my saddle is not one of those two. My feeling is that if you can’t come to the barn regularly, then you don’t get the good saddle racks. If you ride all the time (i.e. have to grab your saddle every day), then you should get a saddle rack that’s not such a pain to use. You want prime real estate, then show up and ride!

ETA: Now you’re asking yourself, “if they never show up, why is your saddle always moved?”. Well, you caught me… I over exaggerated, it’s only been three times. But still, it’s annoying.

Pam Goodrich Clinic – What I Learned Riding

I’m not sure how to condense what I learned from the Pam Goodrich clinic last weekend. In blurb format it’s all the same rhetoric dressage riders always hear, but in practice it was really deep and complex. Part of it was learning a new feel.  The bigger part was understanding the mechanics of why the horse moved the way it moved, how riders attempt to fix the issue, and how the problem should really be fixed.

Gosh, I honestly don’t know how to explain what I learned yet… I’m still processing it all. I think the biggest thing, the most important thing, is that when the horse is heavy, stuck, leaning on one or both reins, it’s a body issue. It’s not a mouth issue. And you can’t really fix the problem by fixing the mouth. That’s the main thing I took away from the clinic. We all know this (it’s the body not the head), but now we’re getting down to where the horse is bracing, how to fix that, and how to re-develop the horse so that both sides of the body are equally limber and strong.

Watch the video (here or below).

I tired to condense the video of the second lesson down to just the main parts where I felt something valuable was shown or talked about. Hopefully you can hear it okay. I’ll work on condensing the first lesson down to a more watchable video when I have time. Otherwise, you can watch the full unedited version of Day 1 at

I’ll write more later. I’m still recovering from the clinic. That was grueling!

Side note: I went out to see Ava Tuesday and she glared at me when I went to put her halter on. I think she’s a little sore too (poor girl). I had gone out to feed her some apples and check that she was okay after such a vigorous weekend.  Ava seemed happier after the apples and grazing.

Pam Goodrich Clinic – What I Learned Watching Other Riders

There is so much packed into two days that it’s hard to know where to start. I tried to take notes for the rides I watched, but it was so hard to keep up with all the information and watch the riders at the same time.  Here are a few of the tidbits I took home. Hopefully these make sense to you too.

On lengthening the trot: When you come back to working trot, stand in the stirrups one stride before sitting. Push the horse’s butt under first while staying out of the tack so that the horse’s back can lift while he brings his hind legs under. 20130908_091948Then the rider can sit the trot. Do this instead of just slamming the horse down into working trot which causes the horse to fall on it’s forehand. This is especially important for a horse just beginning to learn lengthen. Mainly, don’t interfere with the horse by thinking you have to stay in the tack when beginning to train lengthens.  Also, don’t accept mediocre. If the horse doesn’t come through with his hind legs in the downward transition from lengthen to working, then go forward again. Or try this in trot/walk transitions. Keep out of the tack one stride in the downward. If the horse doesn’t step up and under in the downward,then immediately go back to trot (establish your trot again), then ask for the walk (keep your butt off the saddle a stride). Do this until you get the transition where the horse is stepping up under the rider. Don’t accept less.

When a horse starts anticipating the next movement of an exercise: In this instance the rider was attempting to do simple change of leads across the diagonal. Pam drove home the point that you want a trot that is yours. By that she meant, a trot that you can dictate speed/tempo/rhythm without the horse rushing or anxious because he knows what comes next. In this case, the horse was sort of skipping his hind legs in anticipation of picking up the left lead. When the horse starts to anticipate, then change the plan. Canter across the diagonal and do a 10-15 meter circle at X. Or canter across the diagonal to X, trot, and do a leg yield from X to the wall. Or canter across the diagonal to X, trot, and do a shoulder in down the center line. But whatever you do, OWN it.  You want a canter that is yours, a trot that is yours. You want the horse to think “What does she want?” instead of I know what she wants. The rider should think “I can do anything  at any time” and the gait your in is YOUR gait, not the gait your horse chose. Change the plan, mix it up, and most of all make sure it is exactly what you want, when you want it.

Simple change across the diagonal: Once you have your horse’s attention and he is listening to your aids, to improve the canter/trot/canter transition you can do a canter to X while thinking about making the downward transition to trot while IN a shoulder-in toward the current lead (so canter on right lead you would think shoulder-fore/shoulder-in right). You land the trot transition in shoulder-in toward the lead you had, then straighten for a stride or two, move the horse to shoulder-in in the opposite direction and ask for canter depart. Eventually, you would get this so that you just slightly think shoulder-fore on the downward, one stride to straighten, think shoulder-fore other direction and clean canter depart.


The horse I was watching had started off very rough on the canter/trot/canter across the diagonal, and by the end… that was the best canter/trot/canter changes I had seen in a long time. Very smooth, balanced, and responsive. This horse had started off barreling through the rider aids, unbalanced, and picking up the canter before the rider had asked for it. It took the rider several minutes of mixing up exercises before the rider truly had the horse listening to her aids. But then it was the shoulder-in’s during the transitions that helped really clean up the transitions and make them appear almost effortless for both horse and rider.  It allows the rider to keep control of the shoulders during the entire exercise, helped set the horse up for a balanced depart, and it regulated the speed of the horse through the transitions. Definitely an exercise I’m going to use in my riding from now on.

The horse that is throwing his shoulder to one side: When the horse throws his shoulder to the right, the rider instinctively wants to pull more on the right rein. Instead of creating more flexion to the right, the rider needs to move the reins to the left and steer the shoulders. Don’t over bend. Don’t use more right rein to pull the nose around. Use the reins toward the left to move the shoulders left. If the horse appears to have a kink in it’s neck during this, you have to get the shoulders of the horse straight in front of the horse before the horse’s neck can stretch out in front of it. The kink is a result of the shoulders and you can’t fix the neck by riding the neck.

This was the best example I’ve seen for the exact problem I have had for ages. And I know I’m not the only one. I see other riders doing the same thing I’ve done. We all pull the nose around while knowing the horse has fallen on one shoulder, but unable to “fix it”. And it never matters which way we flex the horse, the horse is still barreling around on that one shoulder. It’s a very frustrating problem (at least for me it was). If you ever have this problem (let’s assume it’s the right shoulder, and your horse feels like he’s heavy on the right rein, or kind of stiff to the right and heavy on the rein), then take your right hand with rein and move it all the way to where your left hand should be, and your left hand further left. Do a box pattern going left by moving your reins left like that. Put your hands back over the withers when straight. That should give you a feel for moving your horse’s shoulders.  Now when you’re going right, in corners move both hands left to move the shoulders left, then put your hands back over the withers when the shoulders are back under you again. Repeat as often as needed to keep the shoulders in front of you. There are other exercises to help rebuild the horse so it’s traveling more evenly on both shoulders.  I wrote more about it in my post about the first Pam Goodrich clinic here. Or just ask and I’ll do my best to either answer, or find articles that explain it better then I can.

Flexion is not direction: Direction is from the shoulders. Repeat after me, Flexion is not direction.  You steer with the shoulders, not the head.

Stretching the horse at trot: You can only stretch the horse as far down as they can go while still over their back and balanced (and on contact). The point is not to put the head down, the point is to have the horse stretch over it’s back while engaged. The horse I was watching at the time actually widened it’s front legs some to allow it’s head to come down, it’s hind end started trailing behind it. It’s head was low, but the exercise was no longer stretching the muscles in the horse’s back. She equated it to us trying to touch our toes even if we’re not flexible enough to touch our toes. If we can only touch our toes by widening our stance, then we’ve lost the benefit of the stretch. And we shouldn’t force ourselves to touch our toes if we can’t because we could hurt ourselves. So we go to the point where we can reach down, ask for the tiniest bit more, but no more than that. Keep the balance, keep the engagement, keep the contact, keep the roundness over the back. If the horse’s neck flattens then you’ve lost any benefit of the exercise.

Some pictures of other riders at the clinic:





Pam Goodrich Clinic – September

I wrote this huge long post, saved it, and wordpress ate it. 😦 Bah.

This is a very good example of how my entire week has been going. I should just go to bed.

But I persevere. HA Haha

The Pam Goodrich clinic is this coming weekend. I’m nervous. Scared. Hopeful. Scared. I mentioned that, didn’t I. Part of me is really hopeful that we’ll get to work on some higher end stuff. Well, higher for me… like half-pass or something. I think Ava and I are past the won’t go forward stage now (at least this week). Now I have no whoa. Way to much Go, not nearly enough Whoa. To the point where I have to make a conscious decision to not freak out because I feel like I lost control of the horse. I haven’t. She will stop. We just have a ton of GO and we lost our half-halts (it’s a balance issue). I have to repeat the last bit in my head though. She will stop. She will stop.

I think I went too far in the other direction though. Doh.

Yesterday started out rough. I had my new found, super brilliant epiphany on what I was doing wrong that made Ava too forward and was all gung-ho to put my solution to the test. Yeah… well, we hadn’t been in the arena for more than 4 minutes and Ava was spooking and bolting at weeds, cars, wind, who knows what. Then when I asked her to halt and stand while I adjusted my girth (little too lose for quick sideways movements), Ava threw a hissy fit. Full blown hissy fit. She reared, she bucked, she leaped, she tried to slam my leg into the wooden rail of the arena, she spun and leaped some more. So I kept putting her right back where she started at, and just sat there until she gave it another go. Finally, she let out a huge sigh and then just stood there.  I gave her a few seconds to think about it, and we then we moved on.

The rest of the ride went great though. My epiphany worked. This fantastic epiphany, I bet you’re asking what it is…. It was “Take your d&%* legs off the horse”.  Totally solved the problem of too much go. You can use that if you want. I know, I know.. it’s a mind blower, isn’t it. 😛

So my next new problem is Ava no longer does a normal trot to the right. We get bouncy trot, always bouncy trot. I don’t know if this is good, bad, sideways. I have no idea. All I know is I asked for a little trot to prepare for canter, and all I get is this huge, throw you through the ceiling, bouncy trot. And my poor horse… I’m not the best “sitter of trots” and when she surprises me like that I end up slamming her in the back the first 2 or 3 strides. The champ that she is, she powers through it like it never happened, while I’m clutching mane so I don’t bouncy off sideways.

I wanted to show you comparison video of before the Pam Goodrich clinic in June and “after” video from August. I don’t have any video from August processed yet, so the next blog post will have to be the comparison videos. It might have to wait until after this clinic though. I’ve still got a million things I have to do to prepare for the clinic, and work still wants work. But I’ll get on that as soon as I have a free minute. I’d like to see it myself. 🙂

Til then, enjoy the last of summer. Ava’s already starting to grow her winter coat.