When it’s time for you and the horse to learn something new - do it from the ground.


And in the case of teaching the rider something new - do it without the horse first, create  muscle memory, and only then add the horse.

One of the problems about learning things on horses is that you have this factor called the horse involved. Trying to learn something new with the human body while a massively powerful animal with its own ideas and reactions moves underneath you isn’t as effective as learning it first dismounted with just you and your own body to contend with...


the same applies to the horse - it’s tougher for them to learn something new with upwards of, or more than, 200lbs of human on their back. and if that human moves while the learning is going on - e.g. to look down and check that a certain leg is where it should be - then that displacement makes the horse thing the rider is asking for something else, will follow that weight, and confusion and possibly an explosion results.

It was watching dressage trainers in Portugal that first alerted me to a better way. after a couple of years of trying to ride laterals with limited success at home, my initial mentors Francisco Braganza and the trainers at the club Lusitano in Goleta who first demonstrated in-hand work to me - simply saying "Yes of course it’s possible to train the horse in new stuff by sitting on his back. But it’s a bit confusing for him. This makes it easier for him so why not do it the way he likes? Here - you want to try?”

Sound words.

I subsequently found out that working horses in hand was a complex to learn as riding them but well worth it.

Several mentors introduced me to the concept of getting off the horse to learn how to ride him. Alfred Hernandez was the first to put me into all the lateral positions on the ground and have me walk the shoulder-in, travers, half pass and renvers patterns until my body knew where to place my shoulders, eyes, pelvis, elbows and hands (all parallel with each other). When I remounted by muscle memory had been reinforced and suddenly the laterals flowed.

since then I’ve come to look for trainers that will take this approach of taking the horse out of the picture so that rides can practice the choreography (for that’s really what this is - dance) without the distraction of being required to immediately get a result from the horse before they really understand what it is they are even doing.

These mentors include - Marijke de Jong, Filipa and Sofia Valenca, Christian Bachinger from the Spanish riding school of Vienna, Marta Renilla who rides for Spain and of course the master himself - and the soul of kindness and patience: mestre Luis Valenca.

If you look at the success rate these mentors have with their horses and their pupils, the proof is in the pudding. No one ends up stuck for three years somewhere between shoulder in and renvers, no one gets screamed at, and the horses don’t explode.

And we, the lucky recipients of their wisdom, have a chance to learn.

Thank you mentors; we are forever students