My Training Philosophy
Riding a horse means communicating with a powerful, inherently sensitive being. It’s a two-way conversation, not just a series of imperatives directed at the horse. We all want a calm, balanced, light, straight, responsive, and happy horse. We need to cultivate these qualities in ourselves before we can expect them from our horses. We need to be calm, centered, patient, kind, and consistent. We need to develop a seat that makes us an easier load to carry. We need to use aids that make sense to the horse. We need to keep our expectations reasonable, our requests polite. We need to reward often, and sooner than we think we can.
Riding a horse is a privilege. Any horse we climb on could get rid of our presence on his back anytime he chooses. Yet, most of the time, horses tolerate us. More than that, they allow us to engage with them, to direct them, to guide them. The least we can do in return is to make being ridden as pleasant as we can, physically and mentally. We have an obligation to develop the horse’s body in a way that makes carrying us less of a chore, and to develop his confidence and focus in a way that makes him happy to be with us. This is the definition of dressage.
My Background with Horses
Horse-crazy since I can remember, I grew up in Germany. I started taking dressage lessons as a child in the late 1970s, riding school horses, and soon, as a teenager, also any other horse no one else wanted to ride. Instruction consisted mostly of imperatives, like “Heels down!” or “More leg!”
I tried to do what my teachers were asking, because I wanted to be a good rider. But deep down, I wondered: Does it have to be so hard? I want to enjoy riding. Even more than that, I want the horses I ride to enjoy being ridden.
During the mid-1980’s, Western style riding made its first appearance in Europe. I remember watching reining horses for the first time as a teenager. I remember staring, with my jaw dropped, at the short, stocky Quarter Horses with the long, flowing manes who could slide and spin and do flying lead changes on a totally loose rein. They, and their riders, looked relaxed, like these movements didn’t cost them any effort at all. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to learn how to ride like that. After graduating from high school, I moved to the Southwestern US to apprentice for a few years with successful Quarter Horse trainers.
I learned a lot. I became good at starting young horses in a round pen, and at re-starting older horses with a range of behavioral issues. By the time I felt ready to go out on my own, I had come full circle. I realized that the dressage principles I had grown up with were still valid - for all horses, in any saddle. I realized that good riding is always good riding. It does not matter what type of tack the horse wears.
Since starting my own training business almost thirty years ago, I have worked with many different breeds of horses and ponies - and a few mules, too. Many of these horses had previous, often not very successful careers in racing, reining, or some other competitive field. Very few are talented dressage horses in a traditional sense. Yet, they all benefit from the dressage training I learned as a child in Germany, combined with the Western and Natural Horsemanship principles I learned when I apprenticed with Western trainers in my 20s. In return, I have learned a lot from all the different horses I’ve worked with over the years - especially the complicated ones. They’ve been my best teachers, but I’ve also had some excellent human role models. I believe we need both.
I’ve been fortunate to learn from a few very accomplished dressage professionals, like Conrad Schumacher, Christine Traurig, Debbie McDonald, Bill Woods, and Bill McMullin. More than anyone else, I feel grateful to my long-time mentor Nicole Thüngen, a German master-level dressage teacher, who has worked with me for over twenty years and continues to inspire me to ride my best. Learning to ride is a life-long endeavor. It’s a humbling, exciting, ongoing process that never ends. I still live for those lightbulb moments.
Competition is not the main focus of my program, though I have successfully competed at the regional and national level, up to Fourth Level Dressage and Level 4 Western Dressage:
USDF Bronze Medalist
2022 SFDA High-Point Third Level
2022 AQHA Reserve World Champion, Level 3 Western Dressage
2022 AQHA Bronze Champion, Level 3 Western Dressage
Coached 2022 AQHA Western Dressage Amateur Level 2 Reserve World Champion
Coached 2022 AQHA Western Dressage Amateur Level 2 Year-End High-Point Champion
2020 WDAA World Champion, Level 3 Western Dressage
Plus many other regional and national awards.