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Building Trust with Dressage Training

A horse owner learns that putting complete faith in your horse can be the key to dressage training success.

The story I'm about to share was a journey in which I learned three very important lessons about dressage training and my horse: 1. Let the commitment to the relationship always rule your thoughts and actions. 2. It takes true humbleness to change. 3. To gain trust in a relationship, always give the benefit of the doubt.

I grew up with horses, loved them from birth. In fact my mother has still not recovered from the fact that my first word was their pregnant mare's name instead of mama or dada. My childhood dream was to someday have my very own large, black, athletic and talented horse with a flowing mane and tail, and after 20 years I found her. Mystique is a 17 hand, 1,500 pound mare with dressage training to Third Level. I was instantly taken with her, but what I didn't see when I signed those purchase paper's was that she came with a pretty good size dose of reality. I quickly realized I was no longer that 15-year-old Gumby who had ridden mostly hunter/jumper.

So here I sat with this beautiful dressage horse and I knew absolutely nothing about dressage training. However I did have the willingness to learn. I found a trainer who told me he sees this kind of thing all too often—someone has dreams of grandeur and buys a horse that they plan to take Grand Prix within a year. I laughed, while thinking, I only aspire to be riding Third Level in a year—after all it's not like I'm new to riding. This should be a piece of cake.

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I also had come to learn that my dream horse seemed to be afraid of everything. But the one thing I was always good at was getting horses to become confident—or so I thought. But after six months, Mystique was still terrified. I had enough and decided it was her—she just wasn't going to change and I couldn't live with her behavior. She had to go.

Then one day my trainer commented on how Mystique and I were actually very similar creatures—both very emotional, believe things need to be done a certain way and lack patience and trust in one another. I agreed 100 percent and continued to listen. He went on to say that what he sees happening is that Mystique is doing things outside of my level of tolerance, but my response to her was no better. I had unreasonable expectations of her and needed to change them in order to eliminate the emotional responses. He asked me to trust him to teach the two of us how to communicate with each other in a way we could both live with, and hopefully build a relationship where we could trust one another. I remember looking at him with tears in my eyes. I was willing to change; after all I really had nothing to lose.

In the ensuring months, I learned to have more patience and wait longer for a response. I learned to touch the reins like I'm holding my grandmother's fine china, and to release any negative emotion immediately. This one was tough—but altering my expectations helped. And as change on my end took place, Mystique started to trust me. When something scary would happen there was still a reaction, albeit with much less drama and more within my tolerance levels. In fact, her reaction gets less and less as time goes by.

As the changes started to take place I decided to enter my first Training Level show, but I entered with the following expectation in mind—I did not want to contaminate in any way the progress we had made in our relationship with each other. I vowed that I would do nothing that would cause Mystique to lose her newfound trust in me. I just wanted her to be present with me, to trust me enough to work together as a team and we ended up winning every class we entered.

To be honest the blue ribbons were just the icing on the cake. Our relationship had been changed forever. Today I am committed to keeping that trust we have found in each other. There is another up side to these lessons I've found—they also transfer over to other relationships in my life. Imagine that.

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