Dressage – Do you have a classical Mindset?




















While I was researching for our next blog post for The Journey Back section, I came across this article again.  I saved it because I refer back to it from time-to-time as an important reminder and affirmation of just how essential, rewarding and wonderful the training of our horses and ourselves can be – when carried out in a fair, logical, compassionate and most positive way, especially for our horses, who at the end of the day are our very best teachers – if we listen…

After reading and digesting this article, I asked myself the question, “Do I have a classical mindset? My response was and remains “yes.” And if I’m brutally honest with myself, as is probably the case with most riders, I journeyed through being Rider A, B and then C…

I was never an overly confident rider and did not have opportunities to ride a diverse selection of horses, which is not the ideal scenario.  In fact, I didn’t begin riding until I was 20.  I worked 2 jobs to pay for my very first horse – a Quarter Horse – $1,500 was a whole lotta money back in those days!  I was living on my own, paying for college and had to make hard choices, so my riding lessons were few and very far between.  Despite this, I learned a lot and spent lots of time trail riding bareback and under saddle.  My horse was an absolute Saint – he could have done me in lots of times due to my “greeness,” but he always took care of me. He was laid to rest up on the hill at the age of 30 – still shining like a copper penny the day he crossed Rainbow Bridge.

A few years before he passed away was when I was introduced and seriously bitten by the dressage bug! By this time, I finally had the opportunity to purchase a super quality Warmblood and my love affair with the discipline of dressage only grew more and more – and more.  As my husband shared from time-to-time, my “horse sickness” was getting worse…

Fast forwarding quite a few years to 2009, I came to the realization that I had, in fact developed more and more confidence and trust in my own judgment and level of knowledge – I discovered that no longer always did I second guess myself  – I had gained a far deeper and more accurate understanding as to what approach to training was best for my particular horses and my overall goals to develop “happy athletes.” It was a big plus for me was that I no longer just went along or agreed with a trainer or an instructor simply because they said so as I did in earlier years, which as most equestrians know, doesn’t necessarily or always equate to being right. Don’t get me wrong here, I gleaned a great deal of invaluable insight from each and every teacher along the way and remain grateful because teaching, especially teaching riders how to ‘feel’ is no easy task. There are many great riders; however, not all great riders are great teachers. I think it’s more rare to find an instructor who is not only a correct, compassionate rider and who also has the essential communication skills required to teach. I believe this holds true about most things in life.

Guess we could say it’s all part of the growing and maturing process as a rider and trainer, which never ends. It would take multiple lifetimes and then some to learn it all. In reality, we’ll never learn it all because the training of our horses is so dynamic; never static as are horses themselves as living, breathing beings.

Probably like many riders, I had to undo (untrain) so much of what I was taught early on because as I learned and gained more wisdom over the years, some of what I had been taught was simply not correct, just downright wrong nor the right approach or philosophy that I felt was best for my horses. I gained theoretical and practical knowledge and experience, and have taken tidbits of information from various teachers that I knew worked and that would be appropriate for the training of my horses. No doubt, there have been a few standout, exceptional instructors for whom I have great respect and appreciation.

What is even more awesome is that I continued to learn and grow so much more than I ever imagined, especially during the years I was forced to primarily work alone due to lack of funds. For me, and while it may seem odd, this is where I really began to blossom as a rider and trainer for my horses because in my case, working alone actually encouraged me to learn how to ‘feel’ more than I ever could before – such an incredible feeling I can’t really describe. While it’s ideal to have a knowledgeable and compassionate instructor (those eyes on the ground) on a regular basis as I’d had in the past, I had matured as a rider and trainer to the point where I could work through most situations on my own. Since I wasn’t receiving constant coaching during lessons, I found I was able to feel and listen to my horse more effectively. As we all know though, not every approach for teaching is going to work for every rider – and instructor.

I continue to study every source of reliable information I can get my hands on and over the years have built a huge collection of VHS tapes and DVDs that I started back in the late 80’s/early 90’s (yes, still have those VHS tapes) that I routinely refer to today, especially of those riders and trainers who are real standouts for me in their approach and philosophy towards the training of the horse –  Dr. Reiner Klimke being one of my top “virtual” mentors with whom I had the great honor and pleasure to meet and talk with on several occasions some years ago before his tragic passing, along with his lovely and very accomplished wife, Ruth Klimke (definitely love the training approach and philosophy that Mrs. Klimke and their children, Ingrid and Michael carry on – such a precious legacy). Other riders/trainers right up there for me include Klaus Balkenhol, Kyra Kyrkland, the Spanish Riding School and others.

All of this leads up to an excellent and superbly-articulated article that I read in Eurodressage. I added this article to my large and ever-growing collection of resources – resources to learn, reinforce, remind and offer affirmation of my personal goals and mission for what I believe is correct and classical training. So, Without further ado, I share what I think is a thought-provoking article that addresses the question of whether or not one possesses a “classical mindset.” I read the author’s articles on a regular basis and I really like her style and approach. We can always learn something new each and every day! And I agree wholeheartedly that when it comes to the training of our beloved equines (and any animal for that matter), there is absolutely no room for ego – egos need to be left at the barn door upon entering if you know what I mean…


Dr. Reiner Klimke - A Pat For Alherich

The Late Dr. Reiner Klimke
Photo Courtesy of joyofhorses.com. All Rights Reserved.


“I have talked about letting go of ego if you want to be successful in the sport of dressage. While I am slowly able to accept my weaknesses in the saddle, I am learning that beyond excepting critique is creating a mindset that is set up in a positive and constructive way. I call it the “Classical Mindset” and based on previous principles of learning, this mindset cannot be measured, but must be learnt and adopted by the rider, in order to achieve harmony and balance with the horse.

It is one thing to be a rider than can accept criticism and instead of answering back, or telling the instructor why he can’t do something, being a rider that can just continue on with the lesson. It is quite another thing to actually set up your own mind and stop making excuses to yourself, building a mindset that is capable of not only analyzing what happened, but constructively searching for a solution.

For example. Your instructor tells you that you did not prepare that transition to walk:

Rider A says back to the instructor, “I did but my horse anticipated me.”
Rider B doesn’t answer back, but thinks to themselves, “I tried, I really did try to get a good transition, this is so hard, I will try really hard next time”.
Rider C doesn’t answer back, doesn’t excuse himself, and thinks “so If i didn’t prepare it why didn’t I? What happened that prevented me from preparing it? Am I not on the ball, is my horse not listening to my aids? and “How could I improve this transition next time?”

Rider C is in the classical mindset, because he is not wasting time arguing with the instructor or with himself. He is immediately beginning to construct his mind to allow for the  possibility of a much better transition the second time around.

If you ride alone, the classical mindset can be even more effective in helping you to train yourself. If you are trotting down the long side, and the trot feels really great.
Rider A thinks, “This is such a good trot I will just sit really still so I don’t muck it up.”
Rider B thinks, This is a good trot, but I bet it isn’t as good as that other time when it was really good.”
Rider C thinks, “This is a good trot, I wonder if I can get ask for a bit more? Am I keeping him supple in the neck” Is he straight while he is trotting like this? Can I now do an exercise and see if I can keep this trot?”

If the trot is really good and you know that is the most you should ask from your horse at that time, Rider C would then think, “so what did I do today that allowed me to create the necessary elements to achieve this trot? What was my warm-up? Am I riding differently? Is my horse more relaxed and what factor may have contributed to his relaxed mood?”

Rider C obviously gets more tired, but he also takes away a lot more from a single ride, than Rider A and B ever will. While it is a good thing not to think too much and to listen to your horse, it is also vital that you create a positive and constructive mindset for learning. Every top trainer/rider will tell you that the minute you think you have learnt everything about dressage, is the moment when you will no longer have a place in this wonderful sport.

Once you have overcome your ego, you will realize that each day can be a vital learning arena, if you just set your mind up to take from it and learn from it, and never shut off the possibility that a positive mindset may just be the difference between an 8 and a 5 in the ring. This classical mindset, if practiced correctly, should also be used to help a rider connect with their horse, and in the pursuit of their own perfection, establish something that cannot be measured, or taught.

Too often we see riders get so caught up in the technical aspect of competition, that they loose sight of the animal and the personality underneath them. In this classical mindset we must nurture the beautiful thing that is made in dressage, a sport where two living things work as one. Set your mind on achieving something, open your mind to try that bit more, be that much more determined, and mentally connect with your horse.

My idol Nuno Oliveira wrote a letter in 1961 saying that he believed there were two types of riders:

“Those who are skilled and use the horse as a tool, and those who love him and allow him to express the brilliance of which he is capable. The former are not less expert than the latter.” Olivera continued, “During dressage tests they may even triumph although never taking a risk of making a mistake when the opportunity to yield the hand occurs and lightness presents itself. The latter always risk being the damned poets of this art. They are misunderstood by the masses of riders who cannot distinguish between the means used by the former or those of the latter. Only the latter enjoy the true pleasure of feeling how a creature cooperates without constraint, as a friend.”

I know which of the two Nuno talks of that I would rather be.

Article Author:  Sarah Warne.

This post is courtesy of and first seen here:  Eurodressage.com

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