I just finished reading the German National Equestrian Federation’s (GNEF) Advanced Techniques of Dressage, which I mentioned in my previous post “Losgellassenheit.” I must admit, I felt like a big poseur reading through the chapters on canter pirouettes and half passes when I struggle to merely pick up the right lead most of the time.
This dense, detail-ridden text is not for the faint of heart, but it can be an invaluable resource if you put in some extra time to close-read and consult your friend Youtube if you need a visual reference beyond the multiple lovely diagrams peppered all over the book.
As in the GNEF’s other manual, The Principles of Riding, the format is wonderfully formatted for easy access. The book can be treated as an overall advanced dressage manual (as in “take a shot of whiskey and read that bad boy cover to cover”) or as an encyclopedia to be used when you are learning a specific new movement or encountering a training problem and you need some exercises and pointers to correct the fault.
Enclosed in it’s crisp, deceptively slender covers lies the pure narcotic glory of all the theory involved in riding at the Grand Prix level. This book is dressage kosher. Unlike The Principles of Riding, it contains no pesky additional information concerning jumping or hunting, or how to ride a cross country course. Of course, all of the material covered in The Principles of Riding is a prerequisite for the theory discussed in Advanced Techniques of Dressage, though even the lay rider will be able to understand the advanced concepts in theory, if not in in-the-saddle practice.
“The ultimate aim of training is the creation of harmony between rider and horse, and hence mutual trust and confidence, in whatever equestrian discipline and at whatever level”
(GNEF, Advanced Techniques page 7).
My biggest takeaway from my first read was the great stress the text put on approaching training with a systematic and incremental mindset. The book warns over and over against confusing dressage with the teaching of tricks, or in taking shortcuts that only treat the symptoms of holes in your training. The ultimate end product in dressage is a horse that has learned to carry the rider in balance and ‘let the aids through’ (German word: Durchlassigkeit).
The journey to Durchlassigheit is made up of many thousands of hoof beats and light bulb moments. Nary a chapter goes by without the author again cautioning the reader to keep in mind that dressage is ridiculously physically demanding for the horse. Imagine yourself trying to take part in an advanced pilates class and then getting
Imagine yourself trying to take part in an advanced pilates class and then getting frustrated because you can’t hold a pose for as long as the other participants. Anything worth learning takes time. Look for the nice moments in your riding and give yourself license to get crazy excited about them. So what if my horse can’t do a canter half pass yet? He just picked up the correct lead at the marker where I cued him, which is incredible.
I found it heartening that this training system holds rhythm and relaxation above all else. All gains should be made systematically and permanently by way of baby steps. After reading this book through, I’ve started focusing more on quality over quantity. Three good steps in shoulder-in are worth far more that twenty mediocre ones. It’s worth it to play the long game in dressage. Strength and knowledge will continue to increase if you stay consistent and are quick to reward your horse when he does well.
It’s easy to keep adding and packing down layers on a foundation. It’s hard to dump a load of gravel in a pile, try to build something on it, then have to tear it down and re-pack the faulty foundation.
Happy new year! May it be full of learning and fun on your long trek to Durchlassigkeit!