Some Thoughts About Minds & Bodies of Riders:
Attention and Confidence

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This 12 point program is iterated or cyclic, as it was in a training scheme for your horse. It is based on learning by feel (kinesthetic learning) as a foundation for the independent seat. The edifice of individual progress is aided by what you hear, see and touch.

Finally, you may wish to manage your dynamic journey in classical dressage equitation by reading to understand and to connect yourself with the rich history of your discipline. All my instructors have known who their instructors were and, in turn, who instructed them. This makes the history of dressage a unique art embraced by the experiences of two species. Dressage as a discipline is a unique blend of practice and theory modified by what horses know.

A kinesthetic lesson from your horse assumes you have access to a gentle animal with clear gaits (not necessarily a finished dressage horse): your horse is your "four legged professor," as former Spanish Riding School Director Aloys Podhajsky said in his book My Horses, My Teachers. Be patient: what you feel from your horse will perhaps be difficult to describe to your instructor, and vice versa. Much of this knowledge is non-verbal.

Here are some ideas about how riding lessons involve many different modes of learning. Horses and riders may do all of these, and they can be made mutually reinforcing.

Four modes of learning interact with each other.
They can be cyclically developed with feedback from instructors, video and mirrors.)
Learning content by sight (visual) • On the aids (posture - body language - on longe or in saddle)
Learning content by touch (tactual) • On the aids
• Elastic contact with rein, seat, legs and feet in stirrups
Kinesthetic content (especially motions of coordination and balance, the feel of gaits and transitions, tempo, tempo, tempo) • Feel of relaxed shoulders free on upper back
• Feel of gait dynamics
• Transition coordination
• Balance and rhythms of lateral work
• Flying changes single and in series
• Passage
• Piaffe
Hearing (auditory) content and connecting it with context (process of integration) • Voice commands
• Clicking with tongue
• Tone of voice
• Theory & practice in iterative fashion so feedback adjusts learning schedule and goals (feedforward)
• Understanding throughness as the feel of "the divine swing of the back" and ultimate responsiveness with lightness on the aids

BELOW is a brief outline of topics or content for an iterated, integrated learning process. It is arranged in a reasonable, but not absolute, sequence. Linear series are problematic with this sort of learning, because of the internal structure of multiple relationships among the items. If this looks detailed and somewhat daunting, remember that if it were easy, you could buy it in a bottle at the store! Plan to feel accomplished at each step. An independent seat is a joy for you and your horse...

1) Learning RELAXATION, focus and balance on the ground and in the saddle for an independent seat* in dynamic motion,
2) Passive seat: learning gaits from the horse,
3) Active seat: checking to see that learned gait patterns are understood by the horse
3a) Aids for forward movement and forward riding of halts (aids for forward riding of rein-back),
4) Learning weight aids and navigating simple exercises with weight and minimal rein,
5) Learning the feel and muscle patterns of dressage transitions (six patterns),
6) Combining weight and rein aids,
7) Aids for bending
8) Aids for lateral work (forward and bending)
9) Aids for collection and extension
10) Aids for flying changes (logic & feel of straightness combined with coordination of canter revisited)
11) Aids for passage and piaffe (rider's tact revisited)
12) Learning when to allow the horse's natural expression to shine through the performance. "The horse should appear*** to do of his own free will that which is required of him." This can happen at any time.

Some useful ideas about teaching or learning (Patience - time is your friend if you adjust to circumstances and time becomes your enemy if you press too hard. Ask little, ask often, reward generously).

1. Praise students, equine and human. Let them know they are intelligent. Let them know when they do some thing well. Comfort and encourage them when they fall short of a goal.** Help them to succeed.
2. Pay attention to physical and mental health of horse and rider. Develop a protocol for assessing and maintaining attention and confidence throughout a lesson.
3. Provide flexible structure and routine. Riders and horses need to know what they are expected to do.
4. Provide lesson activities and exercises in small pieces (incremental work), then integrate or link those pieces.
5. Encourage riders to ask questions as they are discovering how things feel: inquire how they understand the objectives of an exercise.
6. Encourage students to open and to maintain an assessment dialog of how they know what they know, what they think the horse knows.
7. Involve students in developing flexible lesson plans. Honor what they know and find out how they know what they know (this process of inquiry is a wonderful opportunity for instructors to learn).
8. Be cautious about assuming you have complete control of everything: different understandings and interpretations are possible from what may appear to be simple exercise patterns. Be ready to learn from the perspectives of others. If your horse hesitates to understand, review how you have prepared and asked for an exercise.

* Development of an independent seat is so important that students at the Spanish Riding School at Vienna spend substantial time on the longe learning to feel the gaits on trained horses (kinesthetic learning). They also learn to trust their lower bodies to work with their mounts (attention and confidence).
** Falling short of goals is not the same as failure. When an exercise deviates from a desired path, it is an opportunity to understand why something has NOT worked, which is as important as finding what DOES work. That way, the "territory" of possibilities is explored and pathways to success are discovered. With this process of discovery comes confidence in the ability to learn and to perform specific content of exercises.
*** For some horse and rider pairs, their unity becomes art and transcends the mundane world of appearance: the horse gives the gift of grand expression. Riding to music may be something you would like to explore.

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