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A thoughtful patience will give you the greatest progress in dressage. Never be impatient to get onto the next movement, the next level or even the next pace. Making small progressions every day will get you there. I remember visiting Denmark whilst I was taking photographs for one of Mary’s books and I was lucky enough to be photographing one of Mary’s Grand Prix students, Heather Blitz. What was remarkable about Heather was her patience with the horses she was riding.
I remember one moment in particular where she was training one of the horses Piaffe. For the benefit of those watching she was explaining what she was thinking and what she was doing. The horse appeared to become a little tense and muddled and of this Heather said “now I would never try to interfere and tell this horse off, or somehow try to pressurise him because I can feel him trying underneath, I can feel him working it out, and I know that this is a process he has to go through”. Now I am somewhat paraphrasing Heather here because it was a long time ago and I can’t remember her exact words so I hope she will forgive me if I was unable to directly quote her. Back to the story, sure enough the horse began to relax and take better steps.
One of the things worth remembering when training your horse, especially if you are learning to, that this is just as strange for him as it is for you. Both horse and rider must learn new neurological patterns and change existing ones. They must both learn new habits and break old ones. The rider has the luxury of both knowing the reason for these changes and has the ability to choose them. The horse on the other hand is simply trying to do what it is being told in an attempt to please the rider; he has no idea why this is happening or why he feels strange. Listening to Heather explain her thinking almost brought tears to my eyes because it showed a deep understanding and empathy for her horse. So it is worth remembering that should your horse get confused, or a little tense, or finds something difficult, it’s not a moment for additional pressure or punishment, but some reassurance in recognition of how strange this must be for him and how you appreciate his efforts.