Training challenges are a universal struggle among riders. They aren't something you overcome after years of riding, instead they constantly reinvent themselves into new and perplexing adventures so as to both frustrate and equally consume us. Any dressage rider can tell you though that the feeling of accomplishing a training breakthrough is pure euphoria. The light bulb moment when it all clicks for the horse, or for the rider, is when ecstasy finally replaces doubt.
The journey to the top (whatever that may be for each rider) is no doubt riddled with obstacles. More often than not we discover that the answer to the puzzle can be found in fixing ourselves. As proof, we spoke with several former Olympians and a Pan American Games medalist who shared personal accounts of their greatest training hurdles. Even at the height of the sport these riders illustrate how riding is a constant process of failing and learning, in a continuous cycle that propels us towards progress. In their own words, here are their stories.
David Marcus - Represented Canada At The 2012 Olympics
"A recent hurdle I had to overcome was actually not about training any of the difficult Grand Prix movements, but it was teaching a naturally stiff and crooked horse to be straight, symmetrical, and supple. I was having such a difficult time on this training challenge. I had our team of vet, farrier, chiropractor, saddle fitter, massage therapist, dentist, you name it, look at this horse. Nothing seemed to make a difference. I had to take a step back to figure out what was stopping this super talented horse from 'letting go' in his body. I realized the only thing left to do was change my training program with him. I changed my approach and started cross training in many different ways outside of the arena to keep his mind more relaxed and gymnasticize his body in a different way. I had to let my ego go by admitting I wasn't making this horse better and come up with a new solution. It worked and this horse became a wonderful, willing Grand Prix horse that everyone enjoyed riding."
Kasey Perry-Glass - 2016 US Olympic Medalist
"A big training challenge I’ve had to overcome is learning how to not override movements. I have a young horse who gets more and more tense and behind the leg, the more tense and pushy I get. He has taught me to keep my body and mind quiet even if the movement got challenging or difficult. The quieter and more direct my aids got, the hotter and more relaxed he became. We also learned to trust each other and my aids became more clear to him."
Allison Brock - 2016 US Olympic Medalist
“Rosevelt had a very hard time learning one tempi changes, and from start to finish the whole process for him took a year and a half. He was not the first horse that I had taught one tempi’s to so when we started having major tension and confusion issues I was in unknown territory. Luckily for me, I was training in the UK with Kyra Kyrklund and Richard White, who have a TON of experience between the two of them and are ultimately patient and ingenious when it comes to teaching horses and riders. My frustration level was very high and it forced me to accept that he wasn’t going to learn them overnight, or in 6 months, or in a year… that he needed all the time he needed and we diligently worked through it trying different techniques until he started to understand. At one point I stepped off of him and Kyra rode him for a couple of weeks to help break the cycle Rosie and I were in together. It was very hard for me to stand back and watch, but I consider myself damn lucky that I got to watch Kyra work through things with my horse. We train with our coaches because they are more experienced and knowledgeable, and we have to trust them while going through the process. He ended up with very good, very straight, and very reliable one tempis, and both of us became completely confident together as a team. Now when I have a horse who is having a hard time with a flying change, or one tempis, I don’t worry. I just take a deep breath and thank Rosie for teaching me that there are many ways to get there, that the horse ultimately dictates how much time they need to master an exercise, and I have as much time as they need.”
Heather Blitz - 2011 Pan American Games Medalist
"When isn’t training a challenge? It’s hard to pick the toughest story but I would say that for me it’s that there’s an overall challenge to keep the honest fun in it. I’m generally a light hearted, big picture kind of person who used to have horses as my hobby. I never had the intentions of becoming a trainer by profession, but it just happened. So my favorite hobby is now stressful, competitive, and work! Now that my livelihood depends on training horses, it inherently becomes very different. Failure has much bigger consequences. The difference that that makes on focus and decision making in everything you do is a major factor for all professionals and it’s a very hard lesson to contend with. Even though I really enjoy teaching, I still can’t wait until I win the lottery and can train and compete as an amateur again!"