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Dressage rider's potential

From: Kristen

Hi Jessica!

First of all, I want to tell you how invaluable Horse Sense is. It's wonderful, and has helped me so much during the year I've been subscribing!

My question has to do with rider potential. I've been riding in Hunters for 3 years, and dressage for one year. My biggest dream is to ride in Grand Prix Dressage. I am in no way a talented and naturally good rider, I have to work extremely hard, and I'm still not very good yet. I'm incredibly determined, and I'd work 10 jobs if I had to in order to pay for riding and lessons every day and a suitable horse, but I was wondering: is there a limit to how far a rider can go? With practice, determination and a suitable horse, can any rider get to the FEI Dressage levels, or would the rider need to be naturally talented?

I would really appreciate your thoughts on this.

Thanks, Kristen

Hi Kristen! If you take a close look at some of our most famous riders, you'll see that a lot of them have bodies that are not exactly "designed for riding", and some of them were not naturally talented riders -- just very dedicated ones. What they have in common is a very strong interest in learning, and the ability to back up their interest with work. Some of them also got to GP level with horses that were not terribly fancy movers, just sound and cooperative horses. If you talk to them, you'll hear them say things that make it clear that they have had to WORK for everything, all the way up -- and that didn't put them off or discourage them or keep them from reaching for their goals.

You've only been studying dressage for one year -- don't worry if you're not very good yet. It takes time, and it's always harder to come to dressage from a Hunter background. If you're an eventer or even a good Western rider, the transition is a lot easier because the position isn't so unfamiliar.

It sounds as though you have the determination to do this. My question is, do you ENJOY the learning and the practicing? If you do, then there isn't going to be any limit to your improvement, because you can continue to improve forever. That's the lovely thing about dressage; you can ALWAYS get better, no matter how good you are. But it's a lifetime job, so it had better be one that you enjoy for its own sake. You'll have a lot more schooling days than show days, so you need to appreciate and enjoy the schooling days.

I don't think that you need to have a daily lesson -- after all, you need some time between lessons to work on what you learned during the lesson, and your body needs time to adjust to changes in position, etc. What you DO need is a good instructor, and at this point in your life, you don't need a GP instructor, you need a truly good instructor who works well with lower-level riders and can give them correct basics. The one thing that really can get in the way of any rider's ambitions is choosing the wrong trainer for those crucial first years of training, because it's heartbreaking to find out, four or five years into your training, that you need to go back to the beginning and start over. This happens all too often. Just as your first dressage horse shouldn't be a GP horse, but a horse that can help take you through the lower levels correctly, your first instructor should be someone whose expertise is in getting riders through the lower levels CORRECTLY.

If you've found such an instructor, congratulations. Now give yourself a few more years to get the basics down really well, because what you should be doing NOW is learning what will be the foundation for everything else you will ever do, right up to GP and beyond. If you ever have the chance to ride with someone like Reiner Klimke, you may be very surprised to see how much emphasis is placed on correct basics -- and how 90% of the work, even in a very advanced lesson, is on those basics. Don't skimp here - it's THE foundation for all progress.

If your wish is to become a winning international competitor in GP dressage, a lot will depend on your finances. But if your wish is to become a good rider, and learn to ride a horse at that level and perhaps someday train one to that level, what matters most is your own patience and determination. There are many more GP riders, and many more horses capable of performing a solid GP test, than you'll see at the big competitions. Some riders just don't have the money to compete at that level; some know that their horses are simply not fancy enough movers to be competitive at those levels; some simply aren't interested in competition. But they ride beautifully, train well, and take their horses to high levels of training -- and there's no reason that you couldn't be one of them.


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