I think we can all agree that no two horses are the same. All of the horses I’ve come across in my experience indicates that they all have individual personalities: ornery, affection, attentive, stubborn….the list goes on!
So it makes perfect sense that one training program might work for one horse, but not the other.
That’s where Dressage Training Customized, Schooling the Horse As Best Suits His Individual Personality and Conformation comes in. Written by Britta Schoffman (Klaus Balkenhol: The Man and His Training Methods and Dressage School: A Sourcebook of Movements and Tips), this book helps you ascertain your horse’s individual character by looking at his ears, eyes, stance, and even noting his reactions under saddle.
Figure out his character and then you can develop a training program specifically designed for him.
Check out this review of Dressage Training Customized, Schooling the Horse As Best Suits His Individual Personality and Conformation from Mary Daniels and the folks at Dressage Today magazine.
If you can avoid or circumvent any of it, you are well ahead of the game. While the author of this book writes: “it is beyond the scope of this book to deliver an instruction manual for riding all horses. Riding is much too complex for that, and the characteristics of horses and riders are too varied,” she does cover a lot of ground on how to deal with the real-life challenges of a horse’s shortcomings, often coupled with a rider’s own.
The author, who has earned her German gold riding medal and has competed at Grand Prix level, has a couple of other books on dressage to her credit, including “Dressage School.” Once again she has a unique slant to her approach, as a kind of horse “profiler.” Her collection of insights, both her own and those of top international figures, on how to read your horse, then train him as an individual according to his type- the combo of character, conformation, gender and breed- should avoid stalled progress, no pun intended.
As Isabell Werth, winner of the team gold and individual silver medal at the Beijing Olympics, says on the book jacket, “No two horses are the same…for each horse there is a ‘key,’ and it is our task to find it.”
Once you have, you can apply the classic dressage Training Scale of rhythm, relaxation, contact, impulsion, straightness and collection in different measures as best suits your horse. I was relieved to learn here that the Scale need not be as rigid and restrictive as I once thought, but is more like a thread finely woven into the tapestry of a training plan. This will allow each horse to achieve its full potential, whether it is a “hot horse,” or a placid slow learner, a mare or a stallion, one whose issues are man-made or one with conformation limitations.
I am not into schadenfreude, joy at learning of other’s misfortunes, but it was a balm to my sometimes overwhelmed feelings as an amateur dealing with my own horses, at challenges to learn not to take it personally, that even the world’s top trainers have also faced them. Words of wisdom from some of the world’s top dressage riders were one of the most helpful parts of the book for me.
Klaus Balkenhol admits to spending sleepless nights over both of his successful dressage horses, Gracioso and Goldstern. Gracioso was a shrinking violet, an introvert, while Goldstern was a hot horse and a prankster, gelded late so he still felt he had to assert his authority. Balkenhol had to find ways to gain the trust and confidence of both horses of very different personalities. He went into Gracioso’s stall many times a day to give him treats and pet him. With Goldi, he had to find ways to relax him, including Linda Tellington Jones’ relaxation techniques.
Isabell Werth writes, “when I think of Satchmo, I never cease to be amazed at how one can experience so many highs and lows with the same horse.” Among the many ups and downs with the sensitive Satchmo was that he frequently lost his nerve and had panic attacks during dressage tests. Finally a vet found he had “eye floaters,” an imperfection in his eye membrane that made it look to him as though something was suddenly flitting back and forth in front of him. A successful eye operation resulted in great improvement in his behavior.
American George Williams speaks of how a horse’s gender must be taken into account. He says of the impressive mare Rocher, who had a strong sense of fairness, “as her rider I have to be very careful when I correct her and make sure that I am always being fair, in return. Otherwise she will take offense, close down and become very strong.”
Jan Brink says “With a mare the rider must carefully formulate the aids…it is if he must fill out a contract and ask for permission before the mare will agree to work with him.” (LOL- I am partial to mares as a good one will give her all once you gain her trust.)
The saddest testimony on man-made issues comes from Karen Rehbein, famous for her partnership with Donnerhall. She says she has worked with many stallions including one named Maneken, who was “always scheming up new ways to disobey in the back of his mind.” Their relationship was a good one, a combination of friendship and partnership, until she “decided out of modesty for my own ability at the time, to bring Maneken to a top trainer so that he could help me with the fine points of our piaffe and passage. This professional training only lasted three weeks, but in this short time my brilliant charmer became a broken horse. The trainer, who had barely missed riding in the Olympics, answered every little bit of cheekiness from my stallion with a merciless show of force. In my youthful lack of self-confidence I was too slow to question this ‘experienced’ trainer’s ruthless attitude.”
By the time she ended the training arrangement, it was too late, the stallion biting himself in the chest at the slightest leg aid. It took a year before they regained their understanding, but his “spark” never returned. She writes she is still riddled with guilt that she did not disregard this trainer’s ‘big name’ and immediately take her horse from him. I had a similar experience resulting in injury and permanent unsoundness in my first promising horse. I too have residual guilt, but years later, when another abusive trainer revealed himself, I ended the arrangement on the spot.
Another very valuable section is on why your horse’s anatomy plays a role in how he’s training. The length of his back, the shape of his neck, the set of his legs, his size, all impact his ability to perform and while all horses benefit from some dressage, it helps to know how far one can go.
Whether you school for fun or competition, you’ll go a long way to find another book that can give you this kind of edge.