Alternative Training

So, the other day Apes suggested a podcast, and now I’m obsessed. I keep hearing little snippets that make me happy, or validated, or encouraged, etc. One thing I just heard is that “I believe for every situation there is an alternative.” In my ever reflective mind, I got to thinking about something I heard last night.

This week, I had a lesson with an absolutely wonderful dressage coach who I’ve been working with for many years now, Henk Glijn. Henk is first and foremost a renowned dressage trainer and horse breeder, but he also has a unique specialty that is applicable to us: he trains a lot of jumper riders on the flat. 

Henk teaching in California

I have had three different horses with Henk, but this is only my fourth time working with him and my lovely five year old, Carma. He is the best because he understands the age of the horse, and sets his expectations accordingly. He always said that dressage for jumpers is different than dressage for dressage horses because of the concept of submission. He always says the jumper horses need to be “on their feet” both for a physical ability to take large fences and tight turns, but also for the mental ability of being able be smart in a tight situation (which we all know happens on course!), and is less likely to occur during a dressage test which requires more submission so the horse is completely tuned into the rider.  (If you’ve ever worked with Henk, you’ll know just how encouraging and insightful he is.) Now, this post isn’t just a plug for Henk. What I want to talk about is what he said to me last night. He said “you and Riki get in the trailer and go to a dressage show.”

So this concept of having an alternative really ties well to the idea of going to a dressage show. Another thing I heard in the same episode of the same podcast, “there is no one way to raise a child.”  We find so often in the training of our horses that we will hit a wall and it can feel so frustrating! As hard as it is to avoid feeling stuck in a rut, never forget that there is always an alternative – sometimes that alternative can even be a solution. 

What do I mean by alternatives? Well this can be a very small thing. For example, by saying I want to try a dressage show does not mean I want to change disciplines by any means. I do think that an alternative form of training, however, can be enlightening and will only lead to further progress and productivity for me and my young horse. Another example might be if you have a horse that is acting lethargic or sticky in the ring, you could try getting out on the trail. As I’ve mentioned before, I dabbled in a bit of polo this most recent summer and taught me a bit about how maybe *just maybe* my horse is a bit spoiled. In general, I’d say at our barn we adopt the American style of riding with a more forward galloping jumping position and flatter seated saddles. Maybe it would be good to try a clinic with one who trains in the German/European style. Does this mean anything is wrong with the American style? No. But you just might learn something new that is helpful for your particular horse, in your particular situation.

I’ve been working very hard on my flatwork and I believe with Henk’s help, I can get myself through a dressage test. After all, this is all good experience. I can get my horse off property, which always makes for good miles, and I can try something new that is both refreshing for Carma, and a new challenge for me. The thought of going to a dressage show is completely nerve wracking, and I can’t stop thinking of how foolish I’ll look in my *gasp*  brown tack! These are all things that will certainly help up my mental game, along with learning some new skills.

I’d encourage you to take on this mindset. Think outside of the box. Use your intuition, have faith in yourself, ask for help where you need it, and do not be afraid to get a little creative! As in any competitive sport, we tend to narrow our focus on very tight specific things, which might mean that we micro manage our training. Versatility and cross training has long been considered productive, and specifically dressage training is encouraged both in the American and European schools of riding, which are both different and successful. 

No tricks, no magic formula, no gimmicks. April once posted on our IG “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”  So dig deep, and next time you feel stuck or your tried and true method isn’t working: never forget there is always an alternative, and who knows – you may find you learned something, and you like it!


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