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Why are we doing this? Connection.

As working Equitation Judge, trainer and clinician, I am involved in the sport development and teaching information about working equitation or dressage, according to rules and parameters by which we give scores to competitors. This criteria is the engine that runs the sport.

I enjoy horses, and celebrating a common passion with others, but I often, I feel at times within the sport culture, there is a loss of connection to what truly matters; to what brought us all together in the first place - our love for horses, our communion with this majestic sentient and spiritual being.

Unless we believe that horses are simply a commodity, that we control, exploit and which brings us status, we are joined in this passion for a deeper reason. What is that reason?

If we think singularly on the reason that brings us to share this space with horses - it is never the status or trophies that come in to picture. It's the relationship we have, the sacred space with horses.


It so amazing that we can share a space, a bond, a language, navigate together and even accomplish tasks and goals with our friend - the horse!

When I judge, or offer a clinic I use criteria to assess connection and to help remedy problems in connection. That is what sport is to me. It is a test of partnership.

The problem with sport is that too often what I find people are focused on is acquiring information, obtaining goals and achieving results or status, instead of focusing on whether their connection is working: The focus becomes: What are the rules? What are the patterns? What is my score? How many points do I get? What is my standing? What do I win?

Our egos begin to seek control of time and energy and the horse becomes secondary. We begin to put these accomplishments first, so we manipulate the horse and bend it around our goals. When this happens the rider begins to place 'control' over 'connection'. Instead we should use these exercises to test our connection.

In defence of sport, I'm not saying that sport is inherently bad. But we must never let our minds shift from seeking connection first and foremost with our partner the horse. We need to consult with them not force them. With proper connection, a horse it is much easier to do anything, including sport. All too often I see riders attempting to accomplish tasks and compete in sport without connection, so that some degree of force and resistance is obvious in the connection. There is a tremendous difference with being 'asked', and being 'forced' to do something.

When I teach or judge I use criteria, and exercises to evaluate this connection.

The aids are the language we use to consult with the horse. It is a language. As I judge, I am looking to see how well the language works between the rider and horse. Technically, the horse already 'can' do all the tasks. The 'can' do turns, and maneuvers, bend, balance. But they might not think to put these maneuvers together in meaningful combination to perform a task, or sequence of tasks. The horse itself already possesses the abilities, but would never think to put them together in the way we desire. If we had a sophisticated way of instantly communicating the expectations to our horses, without a doubt, every horse would say 'for sure I can do that', because they are willing and open. But it takes a while to teach and perfect the the language (aids) we have developed to communicate our 'asks' on such complex activities with precision and without force.

The language of aids is not easy to use. It must be SO well-understood by horses and SO well-perfected by riders in order to remove resistance and force. When that happens the result can be beautiful and harmonious.

If I see that a horse needs to be pulled or pushed around course with force, then there is a connection problem with the aids. Either there is misunderstanding or misuse of aids. If there is resistance, the aids are not working. It's that's simple. Connection problem.

This is the only thing that matters. This is the essential key that separates our relationship with horses from being a commodity, to being a partner:

"Make him a partner, not a slave" ~ Nuno Oliveira

Aids are what we use to communicate our intentions to the horse. The aids need to be precise and well-understood by the horse an by the rider. All too often what I see is that they are not. And, this causes a myriad of symptoms of problems from tension to pain, which are then often misunderstood. Many people I teach are unaware that they do not have good connection.

Imagine you are starting a new job in a foreign country and don't speak the language. You have to communicate a series of tasks to colleagues that don't speak your language. It would be sticky. Even with the best intentions you might get frustrated, tense. Language is important.

Riders need to spend MORE time perfecting the aids, so that this language is better understood. We do this by playing with moving the haunches, shoulders, reversing, transitions and lateral work - until our requests are clearly understood and the horse can respond fluidly, relaxed and balanced.

This is what is called a supple horse.

All these indicators derive from perfecting the aids so we can establish connection.

Once the language as well-understood - then you can dial the ask down, ask less and less until you have a truly magical, light connection.

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