How to get better (cross-posted)

I’ve done one major thing to improve in the last 18 months year and lots of little tweaks for me and the horse.

Major thing: lost 45 pounds with Noom. The only downside is that I did go through a period of really crappy riding after I lost about 30 pounds. I just didn’t know how to handle my body in the saddle for a while. I think I was relying on all that ballast to keep me sitting at the canter (for example) and had to figure out what to do now that the ballast was gone! Got over it, now is very OK and glad I decided to lose the weight.

Little tweaks: new saddle for me and the horse, several subsequent fittings as I lost weight and he got in shape. Weekly lessons. Getting horse’s issues (allergies mostly) under control. Getting video’d at shows so I can see how I ride in competition. Practice, practice, practice - 4 rides a week. New bridle. Considered every hint clinicians, dressage instructor, and Arab trainer made and incorporated most of them. Tried to be open to all constructive input.

It all paid off - we had one of our best scores at Training at Arab Sport Horse Nationals and were 19th out of 43. It was big, big fun!

Bottom line: be willing to learn and be willing to work!


This thread has been encouraging for me as I recently read an article that basically said if you don’t have a trainer and support crew you can’t succeed at dressage. In my area I think there is one licensed western coach, I would have to drive an 1 1/2 hr to get to an english coach, never mind if they are ‘good’. So I am really on my own in my journey. I have relied heavily on Coth, books, videos in the past. When I get a riding horse again I will look to Coth as my coach and mentor again. :slight_smile:

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^ So tragically accurate lol


Some great advise upthread.

One of the best things I ever read around the time I went pro. The difference between a AA and a Pro is the pro has the discipline to keep repeating something until it is right. Reading this years ago told me something super important. Only work on and worry about the things you can control. Don’t just canter to canter… or half pass to half pass. Anyone can attain this if you apply the discipline.

The other best advise I tell students is you need a horse that plays to your weakness as well as strength. If your not good at lateral work buy a horse that finds that easy.

Don’t be afraid to switch up a trainer situation. It is ok and normal to outgrow your teachers. Also realize that the trainer, rider and horse chemistry is important and sometimes if that chemistry isn’t working there is nothing wrong in finding someone who works for you better (I usually tell my clients (tongue in cheek) that they and their horse are in a marriage and I am their marriage counselor)


Learning dressage is like watching grass grow. You can’t rush it, and trying to rush it will likely have the opposite effect. Enjoy the process.

But like another posted said earlier, find the best coach you can. Correct practice is what will lead to improvement. Time in the saddle spent incorrectly won’t get you anywhere.

And if you don’t already have your own horse, find the best trained dressage horse you can. A well trained horse will teach you a lot.


Yes! There’s this weird sense in some circles that it’s “cheating” to learn on a trained horse. It’s the opposite. It’s very difficult for you to learn when the horse is learning too - like taking Japanese lessons from someone who doesn’t speak the language.

When my lovely schoolmaster mare passed away suddenly last year my trainer said she wasn’t just a client’s horse, she was a colleague, a fellow trainer. That is so true.


Not exactly trying to rain on anyone’s parade, just putting this out there…Trying to figure out why i’m resistant to the idea of a schoolmaster horse, and i suppose it’s the same reason for why a school horse always makes me sad. I feel sorry for them. But then, i feel sorry for an incredible number of horses i see in some of the facebook groups i’m in.

A school horse is so loved by their students. Every horse deserves to feel that love.


i’m not immune to anthropomorphizing , i do it too. But when your job is to be ridden, i think that being ridden poorly overrides ‘love’

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School masters are for people who can ride.

School horses are for beginners.

I don’t t know what it is like over there with this forum with posts with instructors drugging horses and anyone can dangle out a shingle.

Over here the school horses are trained and when with a beginner take their instructions from the instructor until the rider is good enough to be listened to.


Yes, a schoolmaster isn’t necessarily even a lesson horse. But a BTDT at a certain level horse to learn on. It can be someone’s well-loved personal horse, ridden only by them, and maybe kept tuned up by their trainer. If I had the money I would love to have one!


ok, fine guys. I get it. I knew i’d get trounced but this is really how i feel…
my take on horses is ‘different’, always has been/always will be. Just saying how i feel.

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I guess I don’t understand your point - that a horse that is trained up to X level should never be passed on to a new person who is not yet riding at that level? It is probably easier on the horses than being trained up the levels by a person who is also doing it for the first time (and that is what I’m doing). This also often gives the schoolmaster a chance to step down to less demanding work as well. Ideally the horses would be trained by trainers with experience, and then taken on by a rider who is still learning at whatever level. Someone who is already riding a competent 1st/2nd level is not a rank beginner who is going to be bouncing around tugging on the mouth, etc. so it’s really about learning the finer points of riding without having to simultaneously teach the horse.


I don’t think anyone is trouncing upon you.

Ultimately, a horse is a beast of burden. Yes, some are pets and have to do bupkis to get their dinner. The rest have a job to do. For some, that job is teaching people to ride. And some are better at it than others.

Being a schoolmaster is an excellent job for a competition horse that is aging and needs a step down, but still needs to earn their keep. Schoolmasters are generally well cared for, and these higher level horses tend to fall to pieces without a job to do. I’m sure plenty of people can tell you stories about how they tried to retire their upper level horse, and the horse failed out of retirement. The work keeps them supple and engaged in both mind and body. And another rider can feel what true connection and collection are.

ETA: Some horses have the generosity of spirit and tolerance level to be a schoolmaster. Others… do not. It is important to know the difference and to make sure the horse is happy in their work.


So I had the care and riding of a school master mare for a year a few years back. It was fantastic. It confirmed that I could ride higher movements than my own horse was willing to do. As far as how the mare felt, I think she prospered under my care. She had plateaued with her owner who was a goo trainer, and they would both get frustrated when owner tried to work on a new skill. Also she’d had a lot of downtime recently

I wasn’t about to try to teach her anything. We did a warmup and schooling session that was all within her skillset and she went very nicely for me. Her body muscling improved. We also did trails a bit. I had to step back from her because of my own health issues after a year.

It was fantastic for us both. I paid attention to nutrition and saddle fit. I gave her a routine. I felt honored to be able to get a grand old lady fit up and happy. It was amazing to be able to ride lateral figures and collected canter and extended trot.

I watched her the following winter when I was on sick leave, doing low key lessons with an intermediate rider who couldn’t get the mare to even stay on the rail. So she was not exactly a push button horse. But I found her crazy easy from the start, we clicked.

If you get a chance to ride a horse like that, and your trainer thinks you are ready, jump at it. You will take away so much that will help you school other horses.

It’s like taking ballroom dance lessons and a having a dance with the instructor versus only dancing with your doofus boyfriend with two left feet that doesn’t even know why he’s there yet.

So if you get to ride a school master you can give the horse their best life plus really learn feel.

A dressage school master is the absolute opposite from a h/j lesson “school” horse. I can see how the words sound the same. But they are totally different things.


I had a similar experience but in a working student position.

I had first started writing some of my trainers other horses, who were actually eventers. First was her really beloved mare. She claimed she was the safest of all her horses which I always thought was kind of funny. She was notoriously spooky in kind of a funny way. And just a very difficult ride in general. Very hot and would go from being either very strong in the contact to hiding behind it. I did start to begin to be able to ride her better but man she was hard. My instructor later told me that she had a few people that would get terrified trying to ride this mare. Lol which honestly I could see!

Then I progressed to her big and drafty type young mustang eventer. She was very powerful and from the looks of it could get strong. She wasn’t necessarily easy but I got along much easier with her and my instructor was very surprised but happy. She had not really had anybody else ride her before that.

Then she made a pretty big deal that someone needed to help her exercise her upper level dressage horse. She was a fourth level horse and pretty hot and could be spooky too. I got along great with her! Her canter took me a little bit because she was powerful but once I got that figured out she was truly the easiest of all three of them to ride. I always thought it was funny and that the instructor got the order mixed up and who I would work my way up to ride. Or maybe I improved I’m not sure ha!

I agree with a lot of the advice here. Watching videos, lunge lessons, no stirrups, schoolmasters, watching clinics, pilates and fitness stuff is what I do. It’s not necessarily fast improvement but it all helps. The more you can ride the better of course.


This times 1000000. My coach has a senior PRE stallion who trained to GP and competed to I1. The first time I sat on him, I couldn’t get him to canter, and he kept stalling out at the trot. Fast-forward a year and many lessons later, and we can navigate third level together AND I have improved my own lower-level horses. Because this stallion taught me so much about an independent seat, leg to hand connection, and contact, I can train them, rather than just ride them.

He’s aging with prior soundness issues, so he requires a lot of specialized care to keep him sound and happy, but it is worth it. He enjoys his work (floppy ears, happy snorts, grabs the bit), and graciously carts us around. He’s a grand old gentleman. OP - if you can find access to a schoolmaster, you will catapult yourself forward in terms of dressage competency and horsemanship.


Personally I’ve found stretching & abdominal workouts to be really helpful when I’m pressed for time. Cardio is great as well but personally I find it harder to do in a short timespan. I’ve also tried to read more books that aren’t just dressage focused which has really helped all around as well as in the saddle.
Top three books I’d recommend are:“Conditioning Sport Horses” by Hilary M. Clayton, " Horse Movement: Structure, Function and Rehabilitation" by Gail Williams, Alexa McKenna, Hilary M. Clayton, and “Equitation Science (2nd edition)” by Uta König Von Borstel, Janne Winther Christensen, Andrew McLean, Paul McGreevy. The first two talk a lot about the horse’s movement, their fitness, and understanding other aspects of that area which would be very helpful just to know regardless of leasing/owning a horse. The third book is a lot of how horses learn mentally which is equally as helpful because I’m now a lot more efficient in how I communicate with my horse, whether it’s with my aids in the saddle or handling them on the ground. I do love my dressage books but these 3 have really helped me equally, if not more.
Edited to add, I do also agree with being able to sit on school masters & such but this is just what I’d recommend if you’re typically a little short on time like myself, especially if barns are a bit of a drive!


I’d love to know more why you feel this way? Schoolmasters are rarely school horses. Mostly because they are too difficult for beginners to ride well, but also because they would be miserable being ridden badly by multiple people.

Most schoolmasters I know are upper-level competitive horses who were ready to step down to an easier, lighter workload but far from ready to retire. And their owners tend not to let them go to riders who are rank beginners and who aren’t working with a good pro.

My mare, for example, had shown to PSG with her original owner. That owner was delighted to find a buyer like me, wanting to learn Third Level and boarding at a quality facility and in a program with a good professional, willing to shower the horse with affection and treats in exchange for tolerating my rides a few times a week. She had full-day turnout, lots of hacking, 3 lessons and a pro ride each week.

Being a schoolmaster is usually a pretty sweet life!