For anyone who has given dressage a go whether it be as a hobby or as a profession, we all know how challenging it can be, not only physically but also mentally.
Working with horses can generally take a very strong mindset from dealing with the heartbreak of injury to maybe dealing with your nerves at a show.
This post is going to be about my 'personal experience', and I understand some people may feel differently but I also know from coaching and being in the Dressage world that these are qualities I see grow in people alongside their riding skills. I have also noticed that our top riders have these skills down to a tee!
I once heard someone say - 'The only two emotions that belong on a horse are a sense of humor and patience ' and this has stuck with me. Our partners in this beautiful sport are animals and we must remember this. They like us, need to strengthen their muscles, get their heads around new challenges and progress in small, manageable steps. Of course it's important to up the game with them to reach higher levels, but we can not expect them to be foot perfect. Horses learn from repetition and this is why it takes a lot of patience.
There are many forms of discipline in Dressage. Precision is a big one. Ride slightly off your lines or doing a circle 11 meters rather than 10, and you have gone from a possible 8 to a 6. Also, the more precise you ride your horse the more at ease they become, especially in new surroundings. Then there are things like the 'dreaded sitting trot'.Unfortunately, there is no way around it except for making yourself practice it until you develop the balance and strength.
Never Fear Failure
Failure is sometimes an inevitable fact of life that we can experience, which can come in dressage too. But we must not shy away from it. Most self-development comes from failing and then saying 'how can I improve on this?. The same applies in Dressage. If we don't take the risk or put ourselves out of our comfort zone, then we can't expect to move forward. It's extremely rare that things go well the first time around, but don't let this throw you. The key to dealing with failure is having strong self-belief and being confident with the level you are currently at but knowing you can and will improve. (This is something that I am hoping to go into more detail about in another blog, as I struggled with this so I feel I have lots to give on the subject after working hard on changing my mindset.)
Something that always crops up when I talk to people about staying positive is - you feed off the people close to you, so surround yourself with positive people. This is something I have taken into my riding. The horse feeds off your body language, and if you are in a negative mindset they will pick up on this and then become negative themselves. They are extremely sensitive like any animal. So now I always try to be their source of 'positive energy'.
I want to finish this blog with the best example I could think of. I was recently competing against the incredible Charlotte Dujardin. She was riding her 7-year-old gelding 'En-Vogue'. This horse is very new to competing and also hot to ride. Although I was warming up for my test it was very hard to not watch her riding. She settled him in the warm-up allowing him to absorb his surroundings. As it got closer to her time and the horse was really with her she started to up the game. Even when the horse made mistakes she was totally ' un-phased'. I watched Charlotte's test and there were green mistakes due to the horse not yet being 100% confident in the ring, but she rode him beautifully, guiding him the whole way around and helping him stay in balance. After her test, I asked her how she thought it went. She was over the moon with him, saying how well he did and what a great Grand Prix horse his going to be. I truly believe this is a huge reason why Charlotte is the ranked No.1 in our sport. She has every aspect of what I have just spoken about above.
So this is why I feel Dressage teaches us so many great life lessons and pushes us to work on our self-development, not just for our selves but the beautiful animals we work with.