Work With What You’ve Got

Here is a riding education strategy that involves no money in hotels, no money in airfare, limited stress and LOTS of community spirit.  The basic premise is Work With What You’ve Got–what you have got is it is most probably a LOT more than you thought it was.

Melynnda has pointed out in past posts that cross training is one of the strategies that helps other athletes along their paths.  The tendency in dressage is to school the same thing under different (hopefully foreign) eyes and hope that a “solution” will arrive.  This assumes we think of learning as a problem–which it is not.  It is a process. 

That process requires

1. A willing equine partner, who is sound and hopefully happy in the work.  (Not necessarily, but hopefully, talented.)  This creature must have tack that, (though not necessarily fancy), fits well and causes no pain or unnecessary encumbrance.

2. A rider who is fit enough to support themselves in the movement, and hopefully use their own body to influence the horse for the better.

3. A trainer to direct and instruct the process–augmented by appropriate study from the rider.  Trainers don’t like to hear this, but at a basic level they are pretty interchangeable.  If you are a beginning piano student, who cannot teach you the scales?

A lot is spoken of the horse, but dressage requires significantly more effort from the rider than is generally supposed.

The rider must be focused and be centered in mind.

This is harder than it seems, to quiet the often self-critical “noise” of the mind and become deeply aware of the body and the breath.  Before you can fix a problem–or make a good habit–you have to be aware of what is going on.  What schools are good at this?  Martial artists.  Singers.  Many disciplines teach this before anything else.  We should too.

The rider must have sufficient core strength.

You can ride like a bug, with an exoskeleton, or you can ride from the inside to the out.  The more one can stabilize the core, the more one can relax the joints to move with and guide the movements of the horse.  If you ride half an hour a day you have 23.5 other hours which might come in handy to practice cross training.

The rider must know what is expected of themselves and the horse–an idea of the current target.

The rider must know generally what they are to do.  Confusion about this results in stress.  That is needless, but defining the target does take time–best not done at $5. a minute which also causes stress!  (See post on  Inflation:

The Plan:  Once a month, for maybe four months, organize a training weekend. (Then let people have a break.  This helps too)

On the menu there might be seven items: (More or less–use your imagination!)

Some ideas:

Trainer of the month: If the norm for your area is fourth level, then invite all the fourth level trainers take a month.  If the norm is Grand Prix (so much the better) anyone who has ridden a Grand Prix and likes to teach gets a month.  They must be able to help not only the beginners, but the other pros as well.  (Doors closed if asked).  This helps with non-ownership and team building.  Plus a lot of alternate ideas!

Option of school horse: with second trainer of the month.  Maybe some people who want to come have too green a horse–or a lame one.  Or no horse right now–SAD!  They don’t have to be sidelined.  Let them play too. Team building as well.

A Pilates coach: Two to four sessions offered over the two days, teaching core exercises.  If you can find a rider who knows something about this, so much the better.


A Martial Artist:  Aikido is my background, so I like it, but most martial arts focus a LOT on finding the center, focus and discipline.  They all have beginning practices which will help to introduce these concepts.  The point is not to learn a hard fall–though those can be funDSC_0037_3

The point is to figure out how to be in connection with  your partner:


A Human Massage Therapist:  Football players have them.  Why not us?  Body pain and crookedness get in the way.  Get rid of them.

An Equine Massage Therapist: Again, body pain and crookedness get in the way.  Horses are filled with body stories that need to be worked out.  Locating problem areas helps us with our ride, and to be better partners with our horses.  If you can find a massage therapist who is a rider, more the better.

A wild card:  This could be a vet come in to do teeth at a discount, an acupuncture  session for the riders, a guest judge for a ride a test, a sports psychologist–something that you do not need every month but is easiest and more fun to do as a group.  (And buying things in a group makes sense.)

In short, we all have different resources in our communities, and it is more than possible to bring these into play at will.

The schedule is easy: give the riders a choice. Buy the whole weekend–say, $150.  Pick three things every day that they want–that’s $25 a session.  Not time for everything?  There is another one next month–and maybe a Pilates group at the barn on Fridays.

The point of cross training is to use other muscle groups (as well as thought processes) to augment the main goal.

One does not need to be proficient in any of the other sports or activities to have them help with the main one.  (And in fact it helps to be a beginner again and learn not to worry about it.)

Anyway, above is a sample plan that will not overly tax the budget and is proven to work–we have done this!  It is great fun.  If you do it, please write back and tell us how it works for your group.

One thought on “Work With What You’ve Got

  1. Note on cross training and biking. For years I never would ride a bike or run as it is said to tighten the ligaments around your hip joints. Then, at about 50, I started having a lot of pain through the lower back and hips. Nasty stuff. Rolfing, alternative therapy, on and on. Then, I started riding a bike and it all went away. Pain free. How nice. Might give it a try. Can’t hurt.

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