It's always fun to play with the 'big boys' in any sport. Who wouldn't like to try their hand at handling the best of the best. Many companies make a ton of money by offering folks the opportunity to do just that.
For a considerable fee you can visit a racetrack and take a turn driving your dream Ferrari. Under supervision of course. Sailing the seas as part of an experienced crew for a few hours aboard a racing yacht that cuts through the waves like butter is also an expensive 'experience' that can be purchased if you have the right access. What about riding a Grand Prix dressage horse? Can you go out and do that, even if you can't afford to buy one for yourself?
The answer of course is yes. It is entirely possible to work with a dressage trainer that has a suitable Grand Prix schoolmaster available for lessons. Naturally, this time will be spent under their watchful eye with instruction included. Just as you wouldn't even know how to get an F1 Ferrari into 1st gear and move through the gearbox, a neophyte dressage rider wouldn't know how to manage all the 'buttons' that a classically trained dressage horse has to offer.
But just as the graceful racing yacht moves differently to a smaller craft, and the F1 Ferrari (if you can fit into it) comes with less gizmos than its road legal counterpart, a Grand Prix horse takes some sincere talent to 'sit upon'.
The gaits of the horse will be entirely different to a medium level horse, the activity of the hind end will be elevated to a whole other plane. The rider will experience 'gears within gears' throughout the gaits, and the combination of Grand Prix dressage horse with the lesser trained equestrian aboard can confuse both equine and human.
My husband and I have made several horses from birth to Grand Prix level over the years and from time to time have offered ' Master Classes' to our current students on our privately owned horses. It is so hard to learn the feel of a movement or a gait within a gait unless you have experienced it yourself from the saddle. How do you know what you are trying to attain or when your horse offers it to you if as a rider you have only seen it from the ground and never experienced it in the saddle.
Of course all trainers don't have a Grand Prix level horse in their yard. For those of us that do the decision to allow access for a student to ride the horse even under our watchful eye and keen instruction is not one taken lightly.
It takes over 7 years to fully make a Grand Prix horse, and even when the horse is working confidently at FEI level Grand Prix, the difference between a national level Grand Prix horse versus and international level one is massive. The last few years of 'dressing' the training are full of nuance, and interrupting the training to allow even a neophyte FEI rider aboard is not a good idea. It is simply not fair to the horse. Confusion will reign!
If you own a horse that you are working up the dressage levels, it is also smart to be very careful who you let aboard. And that includes your trainer 'du jour'. Amazingly many dressage trainers have never actually mastered training a horse from start to finished 'haute ecole' level. This doesn't mean said trainers cannot be helpful in educating the rider in the basics of dressage, but it does beg the question - if they haven't ever completed the entire training process with a horse successfully how do they know what is involved?
There is much that can be learned from a video or a book, and attendance at carefully selected clinics and symposiums for tips and training advice.
We receive many inquiries at Willowview Hill Farm from folks that seek the experience of working with a Grand Prix horse. Dressage trainers call us asking if they can 'borrow' one of our Grand Prix schoolmasters just to garner their USDF gold medals and attain the few scores required to hang that achievement on their business shingle to lure in clientele. I don't blame them, making your own Grand Prix horse requires a lot of work and expense, and a fair amount of luck! But making it through the 7-minute Grand Prix test, achieving a score based on someone else's training of the horse is hardly the point of the USDF system.
So when choosing who you work with in your dressage training ask yourself if the trainer has the experience at the level you need to progress your horse past medium level. And if you call requesting a Grand Prix trainer a 'go' or lessons on their FEI trained horse, ask yourself whether you would say yes to the request if you were in their position i.e is it a fair ask.
It is not an elitist attitude that has your trainer deny you access, whether handling or riding their Grand Prix horses, it is simply that they wish to protect their horse from experiencing confusion or regressing in the training. Horses' minds are fragile. While their bodies are strong and well-muscled, and a horse can always protect itself using its physical attributes of size and athleticism to outwit a rider, that is not the point. It is a point of respect between trainer and their mount. And it doesn't have to be a Grand Prix horse in order for the owner/rider/trainer to wish to protect it from being ridden or handled by others.
Remember. It's your horse and he/she is your responsibility. Always carefully consider who you work with, who rides your horse and what access you allow. Just because your horse may be pushed aside as a primary mount for yourself due to its limited ability to progress to the level of training you wish to attain, does not mean it should be cast aside.
When you relinquish your horse to another rider, always answer this question honestly:
" Is this the best decision for my horse?"