Point of View
It is becoming clear that there is a problem with adult amateur dressage riding that just buying a more expensive horse will not fix.
There are clear directives for training dressage horses which are spelled out in the training pyramid: relaxation, impulsion, contact, straightness, and collection. This standard for the education of the dressage horse has been developed through hundreds of years to ensure the horse is trained correctly in order that he is able to perform dressage movements with the grace and beauty of a well-trained dancer. Dressage professionals and educators continually define and refine the language of what is expected of the dressage horse. Trainers seek to educate and train horses with this step-by-step approach in order to create world-class athletes. Writings on how to do this date back to ancient times. All of this study and dialogue and seeking of knowledge has resulted in a codified training regime for the dressage horse.
And yet there is no such training scale for the rider. In Europe, the rider is lunged for a long time before the rider is allowed to actually ride the horse. This training of the rider is designed to educate the rider’s seat. For the young and the talented rider, it is a method that has obviously worked quite well. However, most riders in this country are not started in this way. The fact is that many adult amateurs begin riding at a later age, an age where the body is not as adaptable as it once was and therefore makes learning to ride a horse more complex than is currently understood. For example, adults who start taking ballet cannot expect to learn how to dance at the level of a professional dancer, and yet often, adult amateur riders expect to have the skills to ride Grand Prix.
When an older body is learning a new skill, such as dressage, it can be very difficult, as the body has learned many movement patterns and “ways of going” that may not be helpful for dressage. These undesirable movement patterns, are not easily corrected and the rider, in effort to accomplish what the dressage teacher wants, often just uses the wrong muscles more, creating more tension. The dressage instructor will usually see the problem but is often not able to give the rider the “how” to correct the problem. This pattern continues and frustration develops in both the rider and trainer because the problem lies in understanding the human body, not just in giving and taking direction.
Pilates for Dressage®, work developed by Janice Dulak in 2000, has helped numerous riders become a better partner for their horses by simply working on the rider. “Pilates for the Dressage Rider” published by Half Halt Press in 2006, and the companion DVD released 2008, have influenced riders all over the world. By focusing on the rider off the horse, Janice is able to help riders overcome issues that they have been struggling with for years on the horse. Often, very slight but discernable changes create large differences in the way the horse moves and the riders ability to move with their horse.
Dulak’s work continues to broaden and deepen. She is currently collaborating with USDF Certfied Instructor and Gold Medalist, Sarah Martin to create a more complete training program which will suit the needs of riders from Training level to Grand Prix. This work will debut in 2010.