Readers’ Choice: Adjusting Your Expectations…

It is great to come out everyday with a goal, an idea of what you would like to achieve.

It is also great to have a long term vision, a set of objectives with set times frames.

However, I read a quote recently that said “Peace Begins when Expectation Ends”, and I realise the importance of this truth in dressage training.

“Peace Begins when Expectation Ends” (unknown author)

It is great to set high expectations for yourself and for your horse, but if by chance you fall short of those ideals, often we are over critical or even a little harsh on ourselves afterwards.

If I come out for training and decide that today I am going to fix my position, then perhaps I am expecting too much and thus setting myself up to fail.

If however I come out and say today I will work on getting more relaxation in my legs, then it is more likely that my expectation will be met, and that tomorrow I can work on a different aspect.

If I decide today I am going to do the whole test perfectly, again I’m over shooting. If I select two or three movements of the test, and work on perfecting them, then I have more chance of a satisfied ride and a less confused and tired horse.

I have often heard people coming back after injury, or bringing their horse back after injury, saying things like “But I was expecting to be here by this date, so I’m going to have to push it.”

Expectations with deadlines are super, but setbacks are a natural and very real part of dressage training, and the ability to adjust your expectations, is just as important as your ability to set them in the first place.

I had expectations of where I wanted to be and when, but after the decision to geld my horses I had to rearrange my goals in order to give myself, and my horse time to recover and adjust.

If we set too much of our goals in concrete, we set ourselves up for disappointment, but if we make goals, understanding that they must remain flexible, we allow ourselves and our horses the opportunity to be in the moment.

Don’t end all expectation, but allow yourself the peace that comes from the ability to adjust them every now and then according to where you are on your journey.

Warney’s Whip

For the full article on learning to ride in the moment, click here and go to Eurodressage 😉

Readers’ Choice: Give Your Horse Time… THE WARM UP

Give your horse time people!

I have watched many lessons where the rider walks for ten minutes, and then trots off like they are entering the Grand Prix test.

warneyswhip (1)As dressage riders we are always searching for perfection, but a very key thing for us to put in our minds, when we first start, is that we need to give our horses time to warm up.

Often I hear people say that at the beginning their horse feels like he is not listening, and so they push him forward to get him on the aid.

When you first get out of bed, do you go for a sprint? Are you athletically prepared to go at full throttle?

When you begin a lesson, your horse is of course feeling stiff, just as we ourselves are feeling not yet ready to fully relax.

If you have a horse that begins the lesson in a calm way, then for the first ten minutes, after the free walk, just give him time to let his muscles move.

If you’re immediately thinking, oh god, I must have him engaged, through, up in front, light on the contact, off my left leg, off my right leg, forward, you drive your self into a stew, without leaving room for the possibility that all of that might fall into place a lot easier when you are both warmed up.

“Start slow, don’t rush the horse(…)”

Start slow, don’t rush the horse, rushing might seem like you are more active, but in fact you are just covering up all the weaknesses that are happening, and giving yourself no chance to feel where the weight is going.

Think rhythm, think relaxation, think control. I’m not saying that you should just let your horse fall behind you, keep him off a light aid, but don’t push for more until you feel him loose through his body, and you through yours!

Gradually you will feel him free up, and he will start to carry you forward without you having to ask for it.

If you have a horse that begins the lesson tense, again, riders are often told to just go forward, and that may work, but I have found recently that if I calm everything down, and think slow and rhythmic, if I concentrate just on my breathing and on his, we both become calm together, and we can start the warmup process in a similar way.

It’s not a race to see who can achieve lightness, balance, self-carriage, engagement, activity, suppleness, and straightness the quickest, and if you try to rush it, chances are you will end up with a forced stuck version, and you’ll very quickly realise that you need to go right back and begin again!

Click here for the full article on The Warm UP at Eurodressage…

Click here to like my page and support my training and writing journey… Sarah Warne

VIDEO: Adjustment and repetition

Dressage is about gymnastic training to help your horse build up strength, so I made the following video to show the subtle differences that riders must work to achieve in order to have control over the movement, and control over their own bodies.


My horse is very good at the half pass, I know because I’ve seen him do it with my trainer, Miguel Ralão.

I however, like to screw myself in a knot, which blocks my horses ability to complete the movement with ease.

Knowing that you are the problem, is the first step to fixing it. The second step takes time and patience, and a rider must listen, and watch, and adjust, and feel, and THINK about what is happening.

Don’t aim to do the perfect half pass, aim to be able to adjust the half pass as you wish, to ask for more quarters, less quarters, more bend, less bend, and use this to enable your horse to build strength and elasticity within the movement.

Then repeat, until it becomes easy for you and the horse.


TRAINING: Loss of Confidence… In yourself, or in your horse…

I have talked lot about fear, about facing up to the fact we are not indestructible and well, falling off hurts!

Fear aside, there is another emotion that is very important in riding, and that is confidence.

I’m not talking about confidence in terms of the absence of fear, but confidence in terms of believing in yourself, in your horse, and in your ability to train him effectively.

When you lack the confidence, you stop believing in yourself, and the problem with that is that your horse is very aware of the fact that you don’t think you can do it, and if you don’t believe in yourself, well why should he?

“When you lack the confidence, you stop believing in yourself(…)”

The opposite is being a trainer or rider that believes they know everything, and have their “own system” that is completely fool proof and works on every horse and every rider.

Both ends of the confidence scale are particularly detrimental, and both will suffocate your chance of personal growth, and training success.

Having the right amount of confidence, and still understanding that you are always learning, always growing, always perfecting, is yet another fine line in the world of dressage, and if you can find the balance, it will help install the right amount of confidence in your horse.

“Your horse will understand that you are capable(…)”

Your horse will understand that you are capable, but will know that you still grant him the respect to tell you if you are not getting the message across in the right way.

For example, If I give the aid for the half pass, I must be confident and I must expect a reaction. However, I must leave room for the possibility that if I constantly apply the same aid, and my horse gets more and more confused, then it is my aid that is not correct, or my body that is somehow blocking my horse.

Then I must have the humility, and yet still the confidence to say, well I didn’t get it right, how can I change it, and still know that I will get it right, and I can change it.

Walking the fine line of confidence in ones ability, yet leaving room to accept ones weaknesses, allows you the possibility to feel what is happening with you and with your horse, and help you to gain confidence in each other.

Instilling confidence in your horse, is even more difficult, as it requires constant reward, recognition, patience, and compassion, while also maintaining the ability to lead the dance.

“A talented and intelligent horse can be your best ever teacher(…)”

A talented and intelligent horse can be your best ever teacher, because they will have the right amount of confidence in you. Confidence enough to trust in your aids, but confidence enough in themselves, and their relationship with you, to tell you when you didn’t get it right.

It’s the give and take in this relationship, that helps you to grow together, instead of fighting it out in an ego battle of who is right.

If you know that alone you and your horse have worked out the delicate confidence line, that each of you trust and respect the other, then it also helps to have other people around you to foster that confidence.

I’m not saying you need to go out and order your own private cheer squad, I’m saying that if you are always surrounded by people who have a negative or even disrespectful view of you, your horse, and your ability, then eventually this will get to you.

We can all pretend we are islands, but at the end of the day it’s great to have someone who can believe in you when you question yourself, as most dressage riders inevitably do at some point or another.

e: warneyswhip(a)

VIDEO: Canter Pirouettes

Once you begin to master the walk pirouettes, the canter pirouettes begin to appear, beginning with the half pirouette in Prix St George, and moving on to the full pirouette in Intermediate I.

Batialo and I just started Intermediate I level, and have been working a lot on keeping control before during and after the canter pirouette.

The key to the canter pirouette is actually the ability to collect the canter, or canter on the spot, without losing the rhythm or the elastic contact with the horse’s mouth. Once you can collect the canter, canter squares are a great exercise to use to help you learn to turn the horse around his haunches without losing the control of the outside shoulder. The things to keep in mind are… As I collect the canter does my horse lose the contact? Does he change the rhythm? Do I keep control of the outside shoulder as we begin the turn? Do I keep my seat back or do I rock forward and try to help the horse by overriding? Once you can successfully carry out the checklist of things to do or not do before a pirouette, the pirouette is just a small circle around the haunches. Often people think of it as a travers circle, but in actual fact it is about bringing the shoulders of the horse around the engaged hind of the horse, and once you can do this with control, you will have it! 🙂

Insight: The Art of Accepting a Compliment

I have talked about learning to be able to take criticism, about accepting, and even being thankful for the but that comes after any feedback, knowing that that but can help you to be better!

While many of us must master the ability to take criticism, it can be just as difficult learning to accept and appreciate a nice compliment or genuine praise.

Learning to accept, internalise, and make use of criticism is an art, but receiving and accepting praise, or a compliment, seems far more simple.

In reality, there are numerous ways in which one can ruin a good compliment exchange, and chances are you know someone who you have given up complimenting because it has become too much hassle.

“Equally frustrating are those who just can’t ever accept a compliment. Who when you say “you look beautiful”, think you are being sarcastic, or rude, or just plain stupid.”

First of all we have the “goodie two shoes”, people like those kids at school who would suck so hard up to the teacher fishing for the compliment, or praise, that really it lost all meaning.

The people that have to find validation by making sure everyone acknowledges just how great they really are.

Equally frustrating are those who just can’t ever accept a compliment. Who when you say “you look beautiful”, think you are being sarcastic, or rude, or just plain stupid.

Appreciating, accepting, and letting that acceptance generate feelings of gratitude, and warmth, doesn’t mean you are up your self, it means that you have the ability to accept yourself as seen by another.

It takes work, learning to push out that gut reaction of “you can’t be serious”, and just let yourself feel happy.

It might be something tiny, that you thought no-one noticed, a special meal, or silly gift, and when someone turns to you, unpromtped, and says thankyou, learn to enjoy it.

The problem often is we get so used to hearing put downs, and ridicule, that our society becomes sceptical of genuine praise.

“(…) what I find to be beautiful might not be the same as the person sitting next to me.”

Someone gives us a genuinely nice comment, and we immediately question it, or in some cases, turn it around so that it sounds not like a compliment at all.

I have been reading many of the dressage groups recently, and I find that their is plenty of very good and healthy criticism, but not a lot of genuinely supportive and helpful praise.

In some cases even when a person does go for it, and says something positive, others condemn them for being incorrect, or praising without merit.

Beauty in dressage also has a subjective element to it, and what I find to be beautiful might not be the same as the person sitting next to me.

It doesn’t make me wrong, or them right, or vice versa, and some of the best praise can come from someone who just genuinely feels, through their eyes, that something is worth celebrating.

Horses are the best at their ability to praise, and accept praise in return; give them a carrot and they’ll think you are amazing!

Batialo loves to be told how awesome he is, but if he bites my arm he doesn’t expect to be told he is a good boy.

In fact he slinks off into hiding knowing that he took the ‘play’ too far.

IMG_2543He also knows that if he tries to show off, and earn my reward through over exuberance, that he will also not be fully rewarded, because I know him, and I know when he is just trying to get me to tell him he is awesome, and when actually he is trying to take over!

If people give you compliments and you throw them back, chances are you’ll end up never being told anything, for fear that a genuinely nice feeling will lose its intention and its meaning.

Risk and Reward!

Sometimes, if you really want  to fulfil a life’s dream, you have to risk that you might lose it, in order to have the chance that it might one day come true.

Often we hold onto something so tight through fear, that we never give ourselves the chance to feel what it would be like to let it go.

Imagine that we each carry with us a bag full of rubbish, and while some of it may be important rubbish, some of it really does nothing good for us at all, and if we can have the courage to set the bag down we may realise how much lighter we feel without it.

Recently I made a decision that was very difficult for me to make, as it risked three of the things that are most important to me; my two horses, and my dream.

For most people it wouldn’t seem like a big deal, but for me it was, when I decided to have both horses gelded.

I know there are risks involved, and I also know that unless I took that chance, I would never know.

As it was, I had to admit to myself, as a rider, that I no longer felt safe, and that I was not capable enough, if I wanted to compete internationally, of riding a stallion in that sort of environment.

For most people my horses are very quiet, they are excellent to handle, and while Batialo likes to spin, it always looked from the ground like I had control.

So what was I fussing about?

Often what we see from the ground, is not the feeling we get on top, and while a little bit of snorting was shown on the outside, a fireball of energy was what I was experiencing from on high.

It wasn’t only that though, because today, when I put my horse out in a paddock for the first time, I felt a sense of joy that I cannot explain.

The decision, as it turns out, was the best I could have made, my horses are themselves, but they now have the freedom and sensibility to be horses, to go out, to roll, to stand next to a mare and say, ‘ah yes you’re there’, instead of, ‘oh my god holy crap lets go!’

I’m sure there are those that will criticise me, and tell me I am afraid, but is it their safety and life that is at risk on my horses?

And if they saw the look of enjoyment on my horse’s face today, as he walked briskly around his open air space, they may not be so quick to question me, and if they still did, then I would question what they value.

Moral of the story is, not everything is easy, and letting go or making changes, is usually particularly difficult, for me anyway.

Sometimes however, you just have to try, or else, well, or else you will never know 🙂 .