I’ve been bringing along about 5 young horses for several years with the goal to bring them to the FEI division. therefore I obviously talk a lot about training. The FEI division stands for Federal Equestrian International. It governs the highest level of dressage.
In order to qualify for team events in dressage one must compete in CDI competitions. The rules under the CDI classes are much stricter than national classes and one must compete in these qualifiers to get on a US team for dressage. When you enter a CDI competition horses must pass a vet check before being allowed to compete and all medication is prohibited. For this level one needs a real athlete who is well trained, healthy and sound.
CDI stands for Concours Dressage International, a dressage competition recognized by the FEI. As CDI-W, there is World Cup qualifying or World Cup classes at the show, as CDIO there are Olympic qualifying or Olympic classes at the show.
Training horses as my father and mother would say is very hard. My father said maybe when you have reached 50 years old and have studied training your whole life you might have the credentials to really talk about training. My mom said it takes 3 life times to learn to ride dressage. There is no doubt that riding well is one thing but riding well and having the skills, experience, patience, and perseverance to “train” is very different. Training horses for the FEI divisions means they are progressing right along in their minds and bodies. During this training time it’s hard to also be competitive in the lower levels. I love the lower levels to test your basics and to give your horse an easy and relaxed experience in the show ring. Once they are steady in the shows and quiet about going in the ring all efforts should then be put into doing the right thing every day to create your FEI horse. Since at best this takes years be careful not to get stuck perfecting the basics. If your horse learns canter walk for the first time but comes above the bit, reward generously. Come back to it another time so they learn to do this while on the bit and over the back. Never expect a horse to do something exactly right when they are learning something new. If they give you a hint of the right answer reward and then explain again.
My father use to say put the rough draft on your horse and then go back and perfect it. In this way of thinking with a capable horse you will make it to the FEI divisions with success.
So is training horses a sport or an art? I’m very competitive. I love to compete and I love to win. I also love the horse and their well-being comes before my own desires. For me the competition is most certainly a sport. An Olympic sport that rivals such difficult sports as gymnastics, golf, and even at times requires the bravery of downhill skiers racing at high speeds not knowing if they will win or crash.
Yes competing is a sport and one I love, but make no mistake training is an art!
I am an artist of training horses which means I learn every day. I work hard mentally to make sure my horses learn and are generously rewarded. An artist never stops perfecting their work. We all know of the riders who have made it to the top on one horse and then we never see them again. One horse can make your career and put you on the map. Horses can make the rider/trainer, but real trainers learn many ways to teach the same thing. The reason you must learn to ride many different types and personalities is because good horses (the best horses) come in all different shapes and sizes. They all have different personalities, different physical strengths and weaknesses. Some great horses have bad feet that must be cared for with supplements and most important a good black smith. Some great horses hold tension in their muscles and must be massaged or treated for this not only in good riding but in good medical care.
Some horses can be stall possessive, crabby, nippy, or have difficulty standing still and being patient. Others seem easy as pie and never seem to complain. Non of this is an indication of how they will behave in the ring. The best horse I ever had would show such a mean face when you went in his stall but he was really sweet and I won a lot on him. If you turned your back on him in the stall he would bite you but let me tell you when I went through the in-gate he was a force to be reckoned with and won time and time again.
I can manage all kind of characters in the barn, what I’m looking for and nurturing is a horse that has a work ethic. With a work ethic a horse can go far beyond their God-given talent.