I want to point out what kind of skills a top rider has to have for dressage training. This is not just for dressage training but for all top-class riders. As judge Christoph Hess and the former director of dressage training for the German National Federation, I am involved in dressage, eventing and a little bit jumping, and I know about the background of the people who are coming up in dressage. The time it takes to get to the FEI Prix St. Georges in dressage training takes years, but to get to the Grand Prix from there is like walking across the Rocky Mountains. Barefoot! In the winter! When you watch a top-class rider or trainer, you see how long it takes and you can learn a lot simply with your eyes. Watch and discuss the art of dressage training with these people. You can learn from reading books by masters, which is important, but you can learn more by watching them.
So what do we see when we watch these masters at work? We learn what it means to become a good rider. It means to be picky, detail-oriented, motivated for your whole life, paying attention to every stride, having a system but with the flexibility to adjust it. Even before you can control the horse, you have to first control yourself (99 percent of problems with a horse are caused by the rider). Finally, a good rider needs the willingness to say, “I made the mistake. The horse didn’t make the mistake.”
Based on what I have seen over the years, I have developed rules that all great riders must live by to work proper dressage. I will not talk so much about movements in this article, as simply schooling a horse in the movements can be the first step in the wrong direction. Too many riders halt at X and the rest is a disaster. Then, because the horse doesn’t go right, they want another bit or some quick solution, but that is the wrong direction to go. Instead, we need to look to the root of the problem. I would like to present you with a list I have developed of those certain things that must be done correctly to ride dressage properly. These goals must be your first priority, and doing them only approximately correct is not enough. In Part 1, I will explain the first goals: balance and seat of the rider, and building correct connection.