My week with Steffen

So this last week has been like a dream come true for me with being able to have lessons with Steffen for 6 days in a row! I can’t even remember the last time I was able to get 6 days of lessons in a row, much less with Steffen! It was so fun to be able to ride 4 different horses with him over these days, and to be a participant in the USDF FEI Trainers Conference was terrific! I feel so grateful for being selected. Thank you to everyone out there that helped make that happen!
The thing about Steffen is that he is so incredibly focused on excellence. Every minor detail he is meticulous about, and he helps me really sharpen up my tolerance of what is acceptable and what is not. I do my best to keep hearing his voice in my head of “I wouldn’t accept that there” or “I’d be more picky there about that”. This fine tuning is just at the top of our sport. It is always amazing to watch him ride horses and his skills of being super clear to the horse, with always remaining on the horse’s side, never getting impatient but teaching the horse how to do something very difficult, this is dressage at its finest.
What I learned in my 6 days, ( well I will tell you in more detail about the Trainer’s conference in the next blog) is the importance of true connection. The feeling that you are connected to that horse’s mind, body, and spirit. You think, and the horse does. Steffen really brings that to the forefront of his riding and teaching.
On every single horse I rode, it was about finding that super high level of awareness of what I am truly after. Steffen helped me recognize how much connection I should look for in each of my horses, and how much reaction I should accept off my leg. Steffen talks about discipline being something that you make a priority. His dedication to doing things in the most excellent way possible, every single time is just astounding. He is a total inspiration! He truly teaches horses how he wants them to carry themselves, and is never impatient or scolding, he simply just repeats and explains it in a way every horse can understand. What a week! I am blessed!

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Equestrian Virtues

As I fly to different clinics, I always pack an inspirational book with me to help make sure I stay highly educated and classical for my students. I love horses and this sport so much, when I can’t ride them or teach them, I find it necessary to read and study them! The book I brought with me to Maryland was Charles de Kunffy’s “The Athletic Development of the Dressage Horse”. As most of you know, Charles is my mentor and I have been riding with him for over 20 years. It didn’t take long to find some interesting and inspiring knowledge!
One of the first things that really jumped out to me was the chapter on equestrian virtue. I find so often in this sport, that lessons very easily become ” horsing” lessons and not RIDING lessons. As the great horsemen always said, horses know how to be horses, humans must learn to become riders. Our horses are constantly telling us things, and we must push ourselves to learn their language and hear what they are saying. It’s always the easy way out to just smack the horse with the whip or give him a kick and tell him to smarten up, than to really look within and ask ourselves what mistake we might have made. What did my aids REALLY just say to him. Here is a quick synopsis of, according to Charles, what equestrian virtues we need to develop.
COURAGE ~ I think the most common question I get asked from riders and young trainers is “how will I know when to ask for more or how much is too much?” The answer is taken right from this paragraph in Charles’ book and he states, “dare to take a chance! Courage is the primary virtue ( in life) and in horsemanship!” I always answer my students and the young trainers I mentor, to just give it a go! And if it doesn’t work, as long as it didn’t cause the horse pain or fear, all is ok. Sometimes as riders, we can become afraid to make a mistake, and therefore we stop riding a little. We may find when we take a chance that the horse surprises us, and does something we didn’t think he was ready for! So I challenge all of you to not be paralyzed by over thinking, go ahead and take a risk, nothing great in life or riding comes without a little risk and a little faith!
HUMILITY ~ one of my favorite Charles’ sayings is ” the horse must never know we made a mistake, if he cantered, you most likely asked for it, and you must pretend that is what you wanted!” He calls it opportunistic riding. This is the idea that horses very rarely make mistakes, but as riders we often do. It helps keep the rider in good faith with the horse when the rider goes along with what the horse thought we asked for. Otherwise, to the horse, we seem like a rider who can’t make up our mind what we want. We accidentally asked for something, which he responses correctly to, and we punish him for it. Imagine how frustrating it would be if you worked with someone in your office, and they kept changing their mind, even though you kept doing exactly what they requested, and then they would get angry with you when you didn’t do what they wanted. You would probably quit pretty fast because its really difficult to work in that kind of situation. Our poor horses have to deal with us doing that all the time when we are not humble enough to admit the mistake and miscommunication was ours. This is also the best way to dull a horse, never mind frustrate him. Always analyze your aids first, your relationship with your horse will only improve.
BE THE HORSE’S PUPIL ~ ” mine the treasures of the horse’s anticipation. Those riders who punish the horse for anticipating degrade his intelligence and punish his brilliance in detecting the rider’s wish while it is still a secret hidden in the rider’s mind!” I love this, and it goes so closely with virtue #2. How many times have we ridden towards something like a mailbox, and we think our horse won’t go by it, and low and behold he doesn’t. He saw it in your mind. Horses are mind readers, they communicate in such a high level, we need to be his student. Horses are also so sensitive to consistency, so we must make sure we are clear and saying what we want exactly the same way, every single time! It takes such a high level of discipline, and we must strive for this!
Lately I have been thinking a lot about natural horsemanship and I have had the pleasure to get to know Linda Parelli this last year. Through Walter Zettl, we have made a connection and we are all striving for basically the same things! Communication that is based on mutual trust and understanding. All of these wonderful things lead to a enriching harmonious relationship with our beloved horses, and that is what it is all about! I wish you well in your own quest for excellence!

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My first blog!!! Woohoo!!!!

Hi gang! This is the first official blog on my new website! Siobhan is here showing me how to do it! I hope you all enjoy this awesome new site, the beautiful pictures, and new blog! I am here in Maryland teaching a clinic for my regular students, and we had a great day! I’m happy to report the weather has been nice and the rides were super! I better make this short because Richard is waiting for me to be done! We only have a short visit this wknd! 🙂

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