Essays of an Equestrian

Throughout the years I’ve been in all sorts of clinics and have usually done well in them. Part of this is the fact that psychologically I do not get overwhelmed by the whole clinic situation and I do not freeze up in front of people. But when it came to dressage clinics and even lessons, from the very beginning I was a lame ass. Not because of intimidation but rather because I was so very willing to be “molded” into something new by the instructor or clinician, as if dressage was a totally different entity from every other type of riding.

As I’ve mentioned before I’d been riding for decades prior to beginning my dressage journey. I had shown and even managed shows ranging from local shows to nationally rated ones. I even volunteered to judge 4H classes a couple of times, though I never accepted any money for it. The point is that apparently I possessed a certain level of competency.

But when I started riding dressage I fell prey to the idea that I had to throw out everything I knew and begin anew, an equestrian “virgin” of sorts. And so, when I started with dressage lessons and clinics I’d go into each experience very bubbly and excited, but then ride like a spazz. It was as if for every moment of every stride I’d do nothing, waiting for the instructor or clinician to mold me into some dressage diva. As a result, I sucked. I mean I really sucked.

My newfound incompetence lasted (embarrassingly) for years and cost both time and money. No one ever clued me in that I was doing it. Certainly the instructor or clinician didn’t have a clue as they’d never seen me in my prior days doing things like jumping 4 foot fences bareback. Time went on and I continued to embrace my stupidity and naivete with a passion and was completely unaware I was doing so.

Now none of this stemmed from a bad place really, other than I’d been taught that riding dressage was akin to finding some sort of equine Valhalla. I was willing to toss aside everything and anything I had ever learned to learn the lofty discipline of dressage. I was so sure that riding dressage was as foreign to riding other disciplines as foreign could be despite the fact that somewhere in my brain I knew better.

Then one day in a Zettl clinic something in my brain snapped back into place. The way he was teaching and the things he was telling me to do left me unable to be so dependant on his molding of me. He just got me to RIDE and I had to depend on prior knowledge and experiences to do so. He challenged me to do things I hadn’t learned to do. One of those things was a canter pirouette. I am sure he knew me incapable of it, but he wanted to challenge me and see how I would handle the situation. He wanted to see me RIDE. So I positioned myself best I knew how from years gone by, and gave it a go. In one direction it was not so bad and it ended up more to be a ten meter circle. On the other side, more like a fifteen meter circle. Thing is, at the time, I couldn’t do a ten meter circle nor a fifteen. But in RIDING the attempt at pirouette, suddenly the impossible was there.

That was my time of surprise and of entering Horse Nervana.

At that moment I had to rely on prior knowledge and after doing so he excitedly encouraged me with a “Yah Madam, now you are cooking!”

You could have knocked me off the horse with a feather!

From that moment I not only listened, but I RODE. I’d position myself the way I knew deep down inside that I should. I played with the reins the way I knew I should, not too much, not too little. I began to ride every single step and be in blessed harmony with the horse.


Now, when I ride, I keep a very open mind to what I am riding. I ride the body, not the face, very similarly to how I rode horsemanship classes oh so very long ago. I must have been good at it then because my former horse and I were capable of doing bridleless demonstrations.

The difference between riding the body and riding the face is EVERYTHING.

I’ve quoted before but cannot help once more reiterating a statement by Charles DeKunffy which states “the leg energizes, the seat modifies and hand verifies”.

Well dammit, I knew that but why on earth did I forget it? Why was I so willing to toss away wonderous ability and knowledge? Was it intimidation by the unkown?


I’ll tell you why…… because I “bought into” the bull that dressage is some lofty heavenly style of riding brought to us from the Gods of Mount Olympus. Dressage is just logical horsemanship, humane horsemanship, effective horsemanship. Horsemanship to partner with your horse.

I forgot that dressage is really two things: the abomination we see in the show ring at FEI levels and that which is necessary for the rest of us.

I will never make the mistake of forgetting that again.

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The good will of the horse is like the scent of a rose. Once it is gone, it is gone forever.