A Dressage riders suggested list of ideas worth thinking about in 2017 by Reisa Bonetti-Sullivan

I just want to start out by saying that the featured image above, was purely used as research to see the response rather than an actual idea I am suggesting we think about. LOL. Both pictures posted are not affiliated with DTO but used for educational purposes.

I don’t usually make resolutions at New Year’s. Why, I don’t know. As I sit, thinking about it, I suppose it’s because I feel like I should be making changes as needed any day of the year. dressage in the field
However, I am going to take this opportunity to put thought into what real changes I would like to put into motion around my equestrian life.

1. I will be kinder to myself, giving myself more credit for the riding I do right
2. I will be stricter about not letting my horse lean on the bit, not even for a second.
3. I will go into each riding session with two exercises that I will use for the purpose of getting him sit behind
4. I will go into each riding session with two exercises that I will use for the purpose of getting him quicker behind
5. I will spend more time training outside of the court and less time inside

Each person will have their own unique list of course. But taking a few minutes engaging in this, has brought value. Give it a try.

Which brings up an interesting point; why don’t we hack out AND work on suppling, lateral work, transitions, flying changes, pirouettes, etc., etc.? We hack out as an opportunity to give our horses and ourselves, a refreshing break, to languish and relax. However, if the footing is good, what is stopping us, from actually using that as a schooling session? After all, Dressage stems from the work the military did with their horses, teaching them to perform movements intended to evade or attack the enemy whilst in battle. Battle certainly didn’t take place inside a Dressage court, thus they used these movements anywhere. While we have of course learned much over the years and operate in a manner that which protects our horses health and welfare to the maximum extent, is it wrong to school outside of the arena? If the sun is out and we have access to a beautiful trail or grassy field with sound footing, why don’t we school there instead? Hmmmm…an idea worth thinking about.

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How to get your horse on the bit

I was recently asked by a member for a video recommendation, to help them understand how to get their horse on the bit. They felt that our videos that addressed this did not actually start at square one. In my search for what this customer asked, alas, they are correct, we having nothing that begins at ground zero. Until we create that, the following is my most helpful and simplistic advice.

The goal is to get your horse to push from behind, engaging his hind legs, reaching them under his belly where he can really activate the hind end which engages his back and moves the energy over his poll and you can feel this energy by way of light pressure on the bit evidenced by a feelings of light weights in your hands while holding the reins. You want about a pound of weight in each hand. It is with this lightness and feel of connection on the rein that you allows you to administer a few subtle aids such as a direct rein aid or indirect rein aid, half halts, halts, rein-backs.

Getting your horse “on the bit” as required in Dressage, means getting that connection from hind leg to the bit, felt in the hand. To obtain this, you first have to get your horse to move actively forward. You then need to make sure he maintains his rhythm, like the never changing tick tock of a clock. Once this is achieved you are ready to get him on the bit by giving him a light surge with the calves to say go forward while your hands are in fists, thumbs on top, holding steadily, then you immediately collect that energy with the outside hand by slightly tightening your fist and then you give a tickle aka; supple with the inside hand, then you let your tightened fist loosen a bit, both hands are back to their fisted rein hold, asking him to stay connected, hind legs active and you feel steady contact on the bit. With some horses you will need to do this every few strides, with some you may have to hold it longer than approximately 3 seconds or so, some will be easy and you will simply keep your steady contact with thumbs up and straight line, light fist, no loop in the rein from the bit to the hand, allowing your elbows to move like hinges with his rhythm so you don’t accidentally shut him down, by giving a halt aid. This action, of keeping a firm outside rein and tickling with the inside, sometimes both sides and giving him a little squeeze with the calve to say lets go, but remind me that your recycling that hind end energy over your top line by letting me feel your constant lightness in my hand, is all part of getting him on the bit and keeping him on the bit.

In the very beginning, you may have to supple more to show them the way. Sometimes, you may have to do more than lightly tickle (pinky movement). You may have to use the bit like a massaging hand to get them to relax and be steady and all the while you must remind him that he must still go forward. You must remember, to supple or massage, keep the forward and then you must relax the aids, with your goal being that he will remain in self carriage, aka; doing it on his own. This is of utmost importance, otherwise you may end up with a horse that is too heavy on the bit, and relies on you to constantly be keeping him on the bit and it will feel like you have to weight lift while you ride. Keep a picture in your mind regarding the direction of energy; a horse with his nose in the air, can’t recycle energy or thrust forward from behind if the energy from behind moves upwards into the air, it is then gone. A horse that hides behind the bit, or ducks behind, can’t recycle that energy if he makes a sharp u-turn at the poll, it dissolves into his chest. Moving actively forward from behind with the poll at the highest point, nose on the vertical is the key. Creating an even loop or oval from back to front, is what you want to strive for. As your horse progresses, so will his amount of engagement from behind and with that his front end will be able to lift as his hind end begins to sit.

This my friend, is the goal.

Keep in mind, I am not a certified trainer or coach, I am however blessed with having been able to watch over 60 of the world’s top trainers work with thousands of their horses and students on this subject and I am sharing what they do in a very simplistic amateur friendly way. I too am an avid and active rider and deal with these issues too. I hope that this has been useful and has served you.

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Behind the Scenes Interview of Reisa Bonetti-Sullivan, for USDF Connection, November, 2016


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The illusive half half, of utmost importance for all equestrians, hear it many different ways.

Hearing things a different way: the illusive half-halt

The section of my book this article stems from is about an epiphany I had when I was “practicing” walking after my accident. When I’d just begun to learn to walk with a cane instead of leaning on a person, I used to walk up the sidewalk with my husband on guard. During one of these walks, it struck me that training my body in therapy is starkly similar to training it in riding and all the same rules apply.

For instance, simply hearing the same correction described in a different way can help. In therapy, I’d always been told to take a longer step with my right leg, but try as I might I couldn’t make my body do it. Then my therapist told me to leave my left leg on the ground longer, and what do you know, thinking of leaving my left leg on the ground longer caused my right leg to take a longer step by necessity.

A rider must also find what she needs to think of in order to achieve the desired result, and, just like in my therapy example above, that thing often isn’t about the change she wants to make itself. For most of the corrections I want to have happen, I’ve found terminology that will achieve the desired result with most students. However, I always need to be willing to alter my language.

For instance, when I want the student to make a proper half-halt–one that doesn’t just slow the horse down but shifts his weight back and increases his power–usually telling her to get her horse’s “butt down!” will achieve the desired result: her core tightening; her seat sinking down; her weight shifting more onto her butt without her actually leaning back; her legs telling the horse’s hind end to keep going while her arms tell his shoulders to wait. But if I see that the phrase butt down isn’t achieving its purpose, I need to find another phrase that does.

Sometimes telling her to think of riding the horse’s hind feet to his pole does, sometimes telling her to tuck her tailbone in does, or simply to sit in him, not on him. Other times I find that I need to describe what I want her body to do in a way that she can relate. To do this, I have her stop and look at me, and I try to show her what I mean by something I have termed the everything half-halt. I sit up very tall and pat the upper part of my belly–my core–and say, this tightens. Pat the lowest part of my back and say, this kind of roaches. I put my hands (which are in riding position) down quite low and say, the hands come down and the elbows tighten–they don’t pull, they just stop following–for just a moment while the tailbone sinks into his back and the legs tell him to go forward.

These variances of the “butt down” command work with a rider who has previously felt a true half-halt, but for a rider who never has, I need to give her an exercise that will make one happen naturally so that she can feel what her body does during the natural half-halt and then mimic it when she needs to deliver one. Simply doing trot/walk/trot transitions provides the clearest sensation in both the rider’s body and the horse’s reaction. My own students are accustomed to me insisting that they must make the gait they’re transitioning from perfect before transitioning to the next, so they often spend too many strides in the walk trying to make sure it’s perfect, but I tell them in this exercise to think of it as one movement: trot/walk/trot. They must barely get into walk before trotting out of it.

The important thing in this exercise isn’t the transition walk to trot, it’s that the effect of the trot/walk/trot provides the feeling of what an actual half-halt is: essentially it’s making the shoulders wait and the haunches catch up. The rider asks for the walk, which will stimulate her core, but by knowing she needs to trot right away, she will keep the horse thinking forward. The transition to walk makes the shoulders wait, the transition to trot makes the haunches push off, and the rapidity between the two brings the haunches closer to the shoulders thus creating the uphill balance and increasing the power.

Once the rider has memorized the feeling that her body has during the exercise and has achieved the horse’s uphill balance, I have her trot and plan to walk, but as soon as he shifts his weight to his hind end and elevates his pole, trot on. She may walk or she may just almost walk, as long as the balance shifts back.
When she consistently doesn’t need to go all the way to walk, I have her not change the tempo at all, just do the everything half-halt. She needs to be prepared though, that any time the half-halt doesn’t make the desired difference to the horse’s balance, she needs to return to actually coming to walk to reiterate that that half-halt means something.

I tell students that this half-halt reminder of keeping the uphill balance is something that every GP continually uses everyday. We’ll do it without thinking every few strides. A viewer won’t see them, but they’re a constant reminder to keep the uphill balance and will be used in between movements, during them, and to prepare for them.

Written by Courtney King-Dye,

To get more on Courtney please purchase her book, Courtney’s Quest, Courtney’s Quest“>click here.

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Selling your Dressage horse? Should you look for quality or quantity of traffic?

It seems that in order to succeed at marketing of your Dressage horse for sale, both quality of traffic and quantity are needed.

High quality traffic to a site where you list your horse for sale is essential. Quality of visitor over quantity of visitors, is king in this scenario.

The importance of content on a site and how it influences one’s world, is what drives visitors to engage. DTO reigns supreme in terms of engagement compared to 90% of the equestrian websites that exist. Our content is compelling and game changing to our members thus they spend real time on the site. In fact our members spend on average 38 minutes per session on DTO. That is abnormally high for any website but is proof that our content is compelling and important to them.

Have you ever been watching a show, event, movie, video, in which you are very interested however your mind wanders for a moment, perhaps you check your email, send a text or look around the rest of the site while watching what your interested in. Our members do this too, often scrolling on over to the Horses For Sale tab, as they watch and listen to the training video in the other open screen. It’s natural, normal and happens.

So if you would like to expose your Dressage horse for sale to an audience of engaged, riders, who are serious about their equestrian life; so engaged that they spend time and money on expanding their learning and knowledge as a DTO member, then you may want to post your horse on DTO’s Horses For Sale page. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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Make Stress Your Friend, featured on DressageTrainingOnline.com

Stress isn’t the enemy. Learn how to make it your friend and build your personal resilience.

I love this talk given by Kelly McGonigal, health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University. I found it inspiring and actually necessary for my health. Screen Shot 2016-10-27 at 3.19.25 PM

Relating to riding, we often feel stress when we feel we are not reaching our goals or we are in a new situation and we don’t know how our horse will react or we are at a competition getting ready to go into the ring. We feel that tightening of the stomach, the hitch in our breath.

Let’s stop thinking this is a bad thing and simply understand it is our body preparing us to deal with the situation. The stressful situation is tied to meaning for you, whatever it is that is causing you to feel stress is driven by some type of fear, tied to a meaning that you believe says something about you.

Flexing our stress muscle actually builds strength, so what ever stress inducing situation we may have around riding, think of it as an opportunity to go to the gym, flex that stress muscle, so we can wake up stronger thereafter.

To see the video on this discussion, please click here.

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I Am The Face Of Truth, by Reisa Bonetti-Sullivan

“People don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.” Friedrich Nietzche

I read an interesting post today on LinkedIn. I socialize there as a business persona and non horse related. There was a post I read, about people often not really wanting to know the truth. Instead, many operate from a place of “positive thinking”. They use being positive as an escape from issues, problems, or things in their lives that need to be changed.

The post went on to suggest one should ask themselves questions or litmus test their happiness in key areas of their life. The key here is to answer yourself with honesty and truth. Truth is the key. Truth is very hard for many. Wouldn’t it be interesting if you asked a few key people in your life those same questions about you and heard those answers too? Would they give the same answers about you? That could be a serious eye opener now could it not?

I whole heartedly agree with performing this questioning of oneself, I do this, a little too often I might add, which is why I am perpetually striving for better…and yes, I do realize, sometimes the peak, is actually in accepting and loving being in the space of exactly where you are.

Many move through life just accepting what rolls out before them. While it would be nice to live that way, in the end those same people get steam rolled time and again. Many times, they actually seem accepting of that too. The truth is, some are actually happy living in this manner because they never have to be in a conflictual or trying situation. They never have to fight. Although to me this concept of living seems ludicrous, it’s their life and not mine to judge. What can be judged is how I react when their passivity affects me.

Because I am passionate about my equestrian life, I always relate my thoughts back into my horsey world. I ask if I am happy with where I am at in that space. My answer in NO.

Here is the beginning of my analysis:

Q: Why am I not happy? Answer: I am frustrated that my horse and I are not further along that I had hoped to be by now.

Q: Why do you think you are not farther along? Answer: Either I am a crappy rider or my horse is simply not able to be what I want him to be no matter what rider he has.

Q: Why do you think you are a crappy rider? Answer: I can’t get my horse to do what I want him to do. He has been lazy and very heavy in the bridle, FOREVER. Forever. No really, forever. No matter what I do, it doesn’t have a lasting change. I have to ride ugly and not the way I want to affect any change. This makes me sad.

Q: Why does this make you sad? Answer: Because I have a vision of gliding along on my horse and we are this beautiful harmonious pair achieving high levels of success in our sport. I do not feel my reality is in line with my vision.

Answer: Maybe you need to change your vision? What would this look like?


Answer: Maybe you need to change your reality? What would this look like?

Stay tuned for more….

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Judge rating system for Dressage shows

People often wonder about the  rating system for dressage shows (of all levels—schooling, recognized, national and international) for the different USDF, USEF and FEI ratings and what is required to achieve such ratings. Below it is explained.

All judges qualified to officiate at recognized dressage shows in the United States are either licensed through the U.S. Equestrian Federation or the FEI (International Equestrian Federation). The former governs national competitions while the latter governs international competitions. The U.S. Dressage Federation does not license any judges, although it is integrally involved in the education of judges through its “L” education program.

At schooling shows, there are no requirements for judges’ credentials, although I would strongly encourage show organizers to hire USDF “L” graduates or USEF-licensed judges whenever possible. Either way, the ideal is to hire people qualified through the levels at which they are judging (so riders never perform in front of judges less knowledgeable than themselves).

For recognized shows, here is how the judge ratings break down:

USEF judges

  • “r” (“recorded” or “small r”)—licensed to judge through Second Level
  •  “R” (“registered” or “large R”)—licensed to judge through Fourth Level
  • “S” (“senior”)—licensed to judge through Grand Prix at national competitions
  • DSH (“dressage sport horse”)—licensed to judge in-hand classes. This certification is broken into two levels: “r” and “R,” which are comparable to the recorded and registered titles described above.

FEI judges

  • 2* (“new”)—licensed to judge a limited range of international competitions through Prix St. Georges and Intermediaire I (including 3* small-tour competitions and CDI 1* and 2* competitions); this rating is for judges whose home countries have no Grand Prix classes.
  •  3* (formerly known as “international candidate” or “C”)—licensed to judge international competitions through Grand Prix, except for Olympic Games, FEI Grand Prix Championships and CDIs above the 3* level
  • 4* (formerly known as “international” or “I”)—licensed to judge most international competitions, excluding the Olympic Games and World Championships
  • 5* (formerly known as “official international” or “O”)—qualified to judge all international competitions

There are several additional designations and training programs for a growing list of special dressage classes, such as equitation and young horse classes. These are all spelled out in the USEF and FEI rulebooks.

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Review of the 2016 Dressage Convention featuring Dutch superstar, Adelinde Cornelissen

Dutch Olympian, Adelinde Cornelissen, click to watch the mini-clip, as she teaches in the 2016 West Coast Dressage Convention

In May we sponsored the 2016 Dressage Convention, featuring Adelinde Cornelissen and offered it as a live stream event. Meaning it had to be paid for to view via live stream or as a replay. We are breaking into the live stream space to bring additional pieces of content and more entertaining type events to our viewership.

The live stream offer came with mixed reviews by our members and thus I want to say a few words regarding this. I completely understand the frustration by members to find that DTO was offering this but not as part of their membership package. Please understand that sometimes we have to accept certain terms to be able to ultimately give you what you want and expect. If we had to spend top dollar for all content, we would not be able to keep our prices down, as we would have to recoup more cost to make it a profitable venture. Second, we wanted to be able to offer content to those who haven’t experienced membership yet to try to show them the value of being a member. At the end of the day, we were successful in doing both of these things and we thank you for your patience and understanding.

I was so much looking forward to being stationed in Vancouver to attend this conference LIVE. I get to be privy to a PLETHORA of training the world over and STILL rarely get the chance to just sit, relax, absorb, experience, contemplate, think and learn from the masters, as applied to my own ride, for me! It was a lovely two days in a smallish, comfortable venue where every attendee could be up close and have prime viewing and hearing of all sessions. Scott Hayes Productions, who hosted the event did a super job and everything went smoothly. To watch the first half of day 1, click here.

Here are my key take away’s from Adelinde’s teaching:

  • Goal’s. How you train, what you school is all going to be based on your personal goals. Be realistic, but set them, whatever they may be. Do nothing less than that.
  • Understand that the mental game is extremely important. 80% of top sport is about the mental piece, so no matter how driven, talented or experienced of a rider you may be, if you don’t have your mental game in line with your goals you will fail. One has to understand themselves to master the mental talk they personally require to succeed, as my mental game may be very different than someone else’s.
  • Speed control. Much of your schooling no matter your level will focus on this. Little steps, big steps, short steps, long steps, collected canter, medium canter, extended canter, walk, collected walk, extended trot, medium trot, any time, any where. Always varying.
  • One sided horse. Work to get more bend on that side to get better or equality on both sides.
  • Problems in the changes. Keep weight on the correct lead side so the new hind has freedom to jump through.
  • To better your outside rein connection, use Leslie Reid’s diamond exercise, found here, in video.
  • Getting your horse up and lighter. Focus on getting them to sit behind and be able to let go in front with a feeling of lightness. Work toward this, even if you only get a few strides, continue working towards getting more. Bit by bit.
  • Work on half steps. Really just about speed control. Slow down the trot, gradually just getting slower and slower until you get it in place. Passage is trained by Adelinde as a forward motion out of the piaffe.
  • Training only starts when your out of your comfort zone.

All in all it was two days filled with many take aways which of course will differ from viewer to viewer. What resonates with me will be different than what resonates with you. Yes, there are universal good take away’s however it is proven that we focus our attention on those things we relate to, meaning have interest in.

Adelinde is obviously a very talented and driven woman, her achievements speak for themselves. I believe her mental game is fully in tact. She is not a trainer or clinician who calls out your ride to you, instead she lets you be the leader and addresses what she sees.

First half of day 1 currently available, by clicking here.

Cheers to a fabulous ride!



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What I wish I was told years ago; introspections of the commited Dressage rider

Sometimes some of us are lucky enough to ride with a clinician on occasion. On those occasions we usually look forward to it with great anticipation as we have high hopes of coming away with life shattering ah ha moments that completely fix our issues we are working on with our horses.

Experienced riders who clinic often know this is not the case. What I learned over time is that the time spent with that clinician is only as good as what I am willing to put in front of them.

It’s not so important to show off my riding abilities and my horse’s perfection as it is to show how I really ride and train. To allow my ride to look like crap and be ugly so that I can be observed and said trainer can give me honest feedback and suggest imperative changes.

Additionally, let’s talk agenda. We usually know in our minds going in what we are hoping to work on. Often riders never get to those things because they are stuck working on what the trainer wants to work on. This is obviously ok because the trainer wants to of course address the most obvious issues first. We as a rider, WANT this. But one also has to be willing to attempt to move forward within their session to begin to work on what THEY the rider, wanted to address. If the trainer feels they want to bring you back a few steps, they will say this. But if you don’t try to move forward to the next piece that you would like assistance on, often you will not ever get there.

In closing, have a plan, be open, and don’t be afraid to go where you need to go, it’s YOUR session, take some control of it!


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