Three?s Company

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Here's an unlikely formula for success in the dressage ring, or any competitive discipline for that matter. The story involves:

  • A Western rider who observes a dressage clinic and decides to try something different.
  • A small Thoroughbred retired from racing with two bowed tendons, she purchased out of a field for an equally tiny price.
  • Once-a-week haul-in lessons with a local trainer.

In six years, that rider and horse set a land speed record as they flew through the levels from Training to Grand Prix, earning the rider her U.S. Dressage Federation gold medal.? On paper, nothing could have predicted this result, which would have been more seemly with an experienced dressage rider and expensive warmblood in a full training program.

The key here, I feel, is a perfect combination of rider, horse and trainer, where their combined strengths minimize any problems. I think about this story a lot when I see riders and horses struggling to break through training issues and coaches who try to help but can't sort out recurring problems.

The background of the rider can become irrelevant if sHe's able to find good help, trust that trainer, and be willing to accept ideas that are new to her.? The rider may also need the insight to understand when the trainer relationship isn?t really working for her and to move on, ideally without burning any bridges.

An unlikely breed of horse can find success in many disciplines, but especially dressage, as long as his mind is good, his gaits are basically solid, and He's sound.

There are a variety of training styles that work well for one rider but not another, but some qualities in a trainer are essential?competent riding and training skills matched with good communication skills so the client understands what sHe's being taught. Honesty is paramount, so the rider can trust the trainer, especially if the trainer is justifiably certain that the horse isn?t suitable for that rider, often the toughest situation a trainer faces.

A fourth element can be added to the equation: a rider?s support system, particularly for a junior.? Riders clearly benefit from parents (spouse, ?significant other,? and friends) who understand and share their goals.

The rider is holding the reins here, literally and figuratively.? If the horse isn?t working out, she should pay attention to the advice of her trainer, but it's her decision whether to move on to a different riding partner.? If the rider is uncomfortable with the trainer, then the rider needs to decide whether her next move is to a new training situation.

It isn?t enough to buy a horse that looks like a good prospect.? A rider also needs to find the right kind of coaching help to suit her situation.? For the rider, horse and trainer, it's a meeting of the minds.

Margaret Freeman, Associate Editor