H&H’s dressage columnist shares her views on virtual training, the dangers of overanalysis, why resilience is key and the need to be open to change...
During lockdown, I’ve been watching a lot of online training videos. Some are good, some are amusing and some terrifyingly bad. The blessing and the curse of the internet is that anyone can get out there and strut their stuff, but from what I’ve seen online I’m starting to think that all trainers – virtual or otherwise – should have some sort of qualification, whether that’s obtained via exam, competition results or judging.
When you are dealing with a one-tonne animal, things can get messy pretty quickly if you don’t know what you are doing.
The presenters of these training videos have many different styles, and approaches range from the cavalier “have a go” to the achingly slow.
I’ve developed a particular dislike for those who use line drawings by way of explanation. I passionately believe there should be a ban on these. If a photo is not available to illustrate a point, it is likely to be because the end goal is a fantasy and the point should be declared null and void.
If your horse has been cursed with a neck resembling the Toilet Duck, it’s hardly going to help to be shown a line drawing of Pegasus himself to improve it.
While education is important and some of the advice is very good – for example, Centaur Biomechanics works on rider straightness and is excellent and practical – over-analysing everything does not tend to help with riding horses.
“Analysis paralysis” is a very real thing, while feel and intuition are vital skills to ride well. I’ve watched some incredibly complicated dissections of simple exercises online and have arrived at the conclusion that the more complicated people make dressage sound, the less competent they probably are.
It’s more important to spend time with your horse and learn to read his character. This is an essential skill if you want to ride and survive; if you can’t tell whether the horse is happy, sad, angry or scared, it might be a good idea to work that out, rather than whether your seat bone should be in zone A, if you wish to avoid burdening the NHS.
Resilience is key
There are a lot of videos available about mindset, but I think the best strategy for dressage is to learn to develop resilience. If you are good at failing, you’ll be fine when you succeed.
If you get nervous at future shows, I recommend a few deep breaths, making sure you know your test back to front – and having a gin and tonic! Once we are all back in the game, remember how much you missed it when we couldn’t play.
Necessity is the mother of invention and remote teaching is proving very popular with many riders intending to continue after the lockdown.
As well as selling some of our ridden horses and foals via video and competition results, we have kept in touch with our many owners via video link. When my good friend Emma’s foal was being born recently, I knew I had to try to make sure she was involved. She was able to see her filly stand up via WhatsApp video, and I felt my virtual inspection of the placenta was an absolute highlight. It certainly gave her a taste of the reality that she was missing.
Embracing change and accepting that we have to do things differently will see us through. Those who are change-averse are going to struggle. There is no point thinking about how things were or “should be’ – they aren’t, so move on.
According to Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, it is not the most intelligent nor the strongest who survive, but those who can adapt…
Ref Horse & Hound; 14 May 2020