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Dressage Masters: Is it worth it?

Over the past 30 + years I have been privileged to work with many 'greats' within the world of dressage, some embodied the art, some more the sport of dressage. Every experience yielded a new insight and much learning but yes, it has been expensive.

There have been years when all I'd do was clinic. There have been years when all I did was show. There were years between when I just focused mostly on other 'life' stuff. Important stuff like kids. When like many other women I had to set aside my goals and be sure I was there for the three youngsters. These were the years when I also heavily invested both time and money in breeding horses. Well - kinda went together. I'm pregnant, let the horses be pregnant. Seemed to make sense. Looking back it still does and to this day I often advise a client that when they decide to have their next pregnancy to take their lovely mare and do the same. Those moments for me, of standing in the stall awaiting the imminent birth of both yours and hers were priceless. The empathy, palpable. Even in later life when I was all done with building a family, those moments trickle back.
Versailles WVH pregant with Georgy Girl WVH sired by Gambol DWB

As the kids grew up they were hauled along to horse shows along with the horses - up and down the East Coast from New Hampshire to Florida for winter training. While sitting in a horse trailer dressing room sheltering from downpours at King Oak in MA, or playing in the sand at the edge of the arena in Florida may not have always been the most fun for them, the travels that went along were mind broadening. Our daughter at age 14 was off in Denmark, Sweden and Germany with her father, helping select stallions at Celle and I recall was very disappointed when the horse she liked went over our bidding budget. It was the one year Celle decided to hold the top 20 instead of top 10 stallions presented so that was our bad luck.

While the kids were young it was easier to have clinicians come to our farm for private training, once they hit their teens I  managed to find time to get out and work in Europe taking intensive training programs for 1 to 3 weeks at a time and it was during a show in Germany that I met my now coach of 15 years, Greta Kemmer.

Thankfully my coach today is a person who had has her share of ups and downs and for whom horses have been a lifeblood. I am fortunate to have discovered such a kindred spirit and one who has my back as I do hers, and one who always wants the best for me as much as I want to be the best for her in every moment in the saddle and in every moment of life. I greedily suck up every piece of new knowledge. When we are on distant Continents we still have great intense conversations about all manner of theory of training, discussions of bloodlines of every breed, and also of course, a little woman to woman chat. I have helped her build her business and she has helped me educate me and made competing in Europe a reality.

Before I met Greta, who lives in Switzerland and has a whose who of 'dressage names' in her background in her family lineage, I spent much time and many dollars importing names from abroad to our small farm in Dutchess County, NY, and taking those intensive sojourns for knowledge abroad. None of which was cheap to do, but I saved up all year to have those summers abroad. I do believe the addict, " Learn from the best." I would rather pay an extra $30-40 or more dollars a lesson and have the great insight that comes from years of experience and proven knowledge/talent even if it means doing that less often because of budget constraints.

There is a huge difference between instructing, training and coaching. To be honest, at this point I have no wish to sit upon every horse that comes before me. I want to teach the rider to ride their horse. I am perhaps, used more to training riders that already have the all important good foundation and independent seat and ones that have had many hours of good tutelage. When you give an instruction they are able to immediately recognize the request and achieve the ask to about 90%. I do find that I can be overwhelming to those that have not had that level of experience and so sometimes take a back seat. I am blessed that my husband is one of the most diplomatic and kindest men on the planet with an innate ability to recognize the rider's difficulties and address them succinctly.  We work together to achieve the best possible result that we can for every rider that comes before us at lectures/symposiums and clinics.
Good Students ~ You want 'IT' as much for them as they want it for themselves.

As you age things change of course, for both myself and my husband. Where my husband Paul, would sit on any horse that moved if requested or if he felt it would help, today he is also more circumspect. I think because a) you have been used before to 'fix' difficult horses and are done with the usury b) you want the rider to learn how to fix it and have coached enough to know just how to give them the tools it takes to do so c) you rely on your income and cannot afford to be out of commission d) and honestly, also know you ride to such an ask that for some horses it would be overwhelming and cannot 'dress down' the accuracy you demand if you sit upon a horse. Of course you can make the horse look better but you know it is not productive for the horse, to push the horse to what you need him to show for the neophyte rider on the ground and have no need to 'show off.' You have nothing left to prove. Well - almost. That ego thing can be a bugbear.

So - if you are serious about becoming a rising star in the sport, want the best start or progression for your horse, do what I did. Spend your money wisely, participate with good clinicians but do not constantly hop about, for that I fear is the road to the worst outcome. Thinking that you 'know' and can assimilate the input and then finding that you head in an endless criss-cross of ethics, training regimes and programs. And when you have a 'trainer' that tells you they will ride you horse because it is too much for you, or you can come ride their trained variety in order to lure your youngster into their fold, or other moves that indicate they are on the make, be strong. It's your horse. Pick a person that works quietly and does not over push the horse or rider. The horse will become a problem very quickly if you do that and learning to create the right foundation and work schedule for both the horse and the rider is something you learn from much hard earned and hard won experience.

Anyone who tells me they do not read or study the wealth of advice via books or DVDs because they 'aren't visual' is simply not in touch with reality. All great masters tell you to learn from watching. All of them. You can watch You Tube all you want but how to sieve the chaff? A DVD production is usually founded in much research and credentials are inspected and end result reviewed by other experts. I have been extremely fortunate in my life to have worked with some big names, sometimes just clinics, mostly intensive training periods. Names such as the iconic H. Rehbein, who taught me so much. Others not such big names but masters nonetheless. Frankly, if you are a dressage rider I find it hard to believe you are not visually oriented. Indeed, I'd suggest any horse person has some degree of visual awareness.

So - conclusion. Find someone that works well with both you and your horse. Work with the best you can afford. In dressage folks that have made GP horses from start to finish ( and not just one), are valuable help. They have a road map. They have learned on the curve and figured it out. Find a trainer/coach that is not intimidated by your sometimes arrogant nature. And as you come through the ranks, that can happen and I freely admit to being that student for a while too. If you are more timid then find a trainer/coach that will work with you to overcome the confidence issues. Find someone that respects your worth, that is zero interested in riding your horse for you because hopefully they have enough made horses of their own to work with and will put you front and center with great support from behind.
I am truly blessed with Paul, the best partnership of my life.

As a coach I think of myself as part horse. I am there as the grounding force for you, keeping all your feet firmly on the ground between the biggest successes and the hardest of downfalls. I seek to engage your mind and carry you forward with a strong even gait and lots of power ( confidence). I softly direct you with half halts when you stray, without admonishment but with a kind eye. I see your track clearly, sometimes straightforward, sometimes circular and sometimes diagonal. I know when you need to be sent forward swiftly, or taken back to consolidate your knowledge. And above all, I want it for you as much as you want it for yourself and will match every ounce of your effort. Not always having an answer, not always being right, but always with my heart in the right place and a keen instinct to take responsibility to redress issues as they come along.

To all the many mentors of my life, both those in the horse world and those outside of it who are equally important, thank-you! I'm still striving. I have learned so much from each and everyone of you and am grateful for all the shared knowledge, the pats on the back, the lighting of my fire, and even those that shouted at me sometimes endlessly ~ from all of you I have eagerly learned so much and I'm still on it! Greedily learning. To my wonderful coach Greta, thanks a million. I have had opportunities I would never have thought possible and your trust means the world.

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