Only at the Natural Gait, a horse person’s paradise, where a staunch Western rider and Missouri Fox Trotter (for goodness sake) come to embrace the mystical world of Dressage! The words, “natural methods” in the description of a dressage clinic given by internationally regarded dressage instructor, judge and Olympic level performance competitor, Ellie Stine-Masek, made Velvet and I feel that we might be able to fit into this ancient training system originated when men made war using horses.
Here’s how Velvet and her rider’s weekend went: We found ourself in a clinic of traditional and non-traditional dressage riders. Velvet was on full alert watching for anyone who even looked like they might sneer at the only rider that didn’t have to post!
Ellie immediately found all the dressage “black holes” in all the participants. Funny, the holes in the Western riders were often the same as the holes in the traditional dressage riders! Our group (made up of people from both Mars and Venus) jelled under the Ellie’s constant sharp eye. Velvet was irritated when Ellie was watching someone else on the other end of the arena, repeatedly spotted us making various errors when her back was turned. She would turn around and tell us what I was doing wrong, how to fix it, and then return her attention to the other side of the arena. The varied group found many similar problems and exercises that benefited all riders and horses.
We rode together in the mornings and in groups by ability in the afternoon. Here’s what I learned: My horse actually appreciates “the soft feel” of true collection. (Of course, she also appreciates a totally loose rein.) I learned the awesome power of proper transition. Who would have guessed how much better the gaits are when the horse is prepared to transition from a walk to a trot; from a walk to a canter. Velvet’s transitions have been based on speed without regard to preparation. Boy Howdy, did I have a different horse when the power of her hindquarters was harnessed in a frame of energy! Before this, Velvet often had energy similar to a splatter painting!
During the last afternoon session I (not Velvet) had expressed a desire to perform a leg yield canter which is traveling diagonally across the arena. Ellie thought Velvet was capable of it, but we failed in several attempts. Then one of the biggest thrill of my life and Velvet’s occurred when Ellie rode Velvet. Ellie made it possible for Velvet to use yet more energy from those hindquarters. Ellie determined that Velvet wasn’t ready for leg yield canters, but in the process, she made Velvet the most gorgeous performing horse that I had ever seen. If I could have died of sheer power beauty overload, I would have done it that afternoon, watching Ellie Stine-Masek riding Velvet.
When I got back on Velvet and cantered, I was shocked at the feel of the powerful canter and at the sight of Velvet’s leading leg. I felt like I was floating atop of a graceful tank and her leading leg extended out farther than I had ever seen it before. I had NO PROBLEM deciding which lead Velvet was on as I saw almost her entire leg stretching out, gobbling up the ground! Ellie said this was because she had taught Velvet to better her use of the powerful hindquarters.
All riders had similar powerful moments of improvements. It was the greatest of times! I’m now a non-traditional dressage groupie of Ellie Stine-Masek! Velvet is now almost too good to speak to her former non-dressage friends. From a high head held nasal manner, she explains to them that she is now a Drahsaaaahge horse.