Sunday, July 18, 2010

Karen Scholl article on better trail riding

The Dressage Is My Discipline, The Cowboy Is My Freedom

Eitan on Santa Fe Renegade at
The World Equestrian Games

What a wonderful clinic today! Eitan has been in town (Parker, Colorado), and we audited. A bunch of our Equestrian Theater members were there too.

For those of you who don't know him, Eitan is the "Cowboy Dressage" trainer from California who is also an exhibition performer with his Morgan stallions. ( His most famous horse, Holiday Compadre, is retired and stands at stud in Parker, CO, not ten minutes from our place. The owner of the ranch, Sunrise Morgans, is a most delightful and charming Morgan breeder, Ellen DiBella. She was the most gracious host, and made us feel so welcome.

We had an absolutely wonderful time. Ellen offered a "hospitality package" where she and her volunteers kept us content with water, coffee, and snacks, then offered a scrumptious lunch, organized a fascinating evening talk by her Equine Veterinarian Lad Squires, and then blessed us with a fabulous Italian themed dinner. Her home was so elegant and welcoming, with beautiful lush gardens, a shady patio, and of course, HORSES! It was one of the nicest horse related events!

But back to the main reason we were there... EITAN! Oh my... Here is this gentle, unassuming, humorous man with more than his share of horse magic. He calls himself a cowboy, and most of the students were in western garb with western tack. He begins the clinic talking about "lightness" and "using the shoulder-in to strengthen the hindquarters," and "shifting the weight to the hind end." I immediately knew we were in the right place!

He explained many of the same things I've learned from my own trainer, TJ, and from auditing TJ's rides with her trainer, Ralf Schmitzer. I felt my face break into a big grin when this "cowboy" started chatting about Classical Principles with the ease and familiarity you'd expect from a student of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. Wait a minute.. oh yea--[has history there too]!

Almost every rider started off being told to LET GO OF THE REINS! He gently, and with great compassion and humor, found a hundred different ways to ask the riders to give up their pulling and sawing and over-controlling with the reins. It was not long at all before each rider found they actually had MORE control when they quit hanging onto their horse's faces and learned how to use their bodies, legs, and lateral movement to get through the resistance and finally to the work they really wanted. It was, LET GO AND RELAX THE HORSE FIRST, and then we'll get to the other work.

Among the thousands of details, there are two very valuable mega-truths I will take home from today. The first one is, timing is EVERYTHING! You can know exactly what to do, but if you don't have the timing right, you're not going to communicate with your horse correctly and get the behavior and the training you want. You have to know WHEN to ask and WHEN to release. Both are VITAL! The release is the harder [part] for most people to recognize, but without it, you just dull your horse and your training is going to suffer. We all HAVE to get the release timing down and correct and as natural as breathing.

Secondly, I really got deep into my stubborn brain that the way to change resistance in the horse is to make what you are asking easy for the horse to do, and what the horse thinks HE wants to do more difficult or more work for the horse. No fighting with your horse allowed. Just make sure that what you want is easy, and if the horses resists he has to work harder. What that harder action is changes with what you are asking and how the horse is demonstrating his resistance. But bottom line... JUST PULLING HARDER ON THE REINS IS NEVER THE ANSWER!

I really admire and respect this man as a true horseman. I don't care if he wears a cowboy hat or a black top hat and breeches... he gets it. He understands the horse's mind, he understands the biomechanics of the horse and the rider, and he is a very good communicator. He was never rude or abusive of either horse or rider, and made us all feel very comfortable. I am so glad we went.

You can check out this wonderful trainer at You can also listen to a The Wow Factor Radio interview with him at