Men, Prayer, Politics, Horses, Detroit

The Ten Habits of Highly Effective Dressage Riders by Nancy Kotting


Over the years working a never-ending multitude of horses, great Dressage riders develop habits, ways of achieving consistently high performance and excellence in the daily work. These are not training how-tos but rather personal habits adopted by riders to set themselves up for success every day. While there are endless training pearls-of-wisdom the Masters kindly pass on, it is inevitably up to the student, through endless hours of practice, to confirm the path to success. There is no sport, nor art form more difficult than what we attempt every day as practitioners of Classical Horsemanship. None. It is up to us to support one another in this endeavor, giving and sharing what works and what doesn’t. Below is my list of ten habits of highly effective Dressage riders. It is my hope that you find them helpful in your daily practice.

Good Luck and ride well- Nancy Kotting

The Ten Habits of Highly Effective Dressage Riders

1: An effective Dressage rider looks upon each failure as a ladder rung: step on it and lift yourself up.

Great riders know that failure is a constant on the road to success and they train themselves to use it in their favor. Failure provides us with critical information which we then use to improve our work. Embrace it. Welcome it. Study it and learn its lesson. Each time you fail, be thankful for the information, put it behind you, raise yourself up to the next ladder rung and try again. Failure is not the end, it is the beginning.

Photo: Nancy Kotting

Photo: Nancy Kotting

2: An effective Dressage rider leaves their personal issues on the ground, approaching each ride emotionally neutral.

What is energetically in us, goes into the horse. If you carry your emotional refuse into the ride, ie; bad day at work, family problems, etc., it will inevitably affect performance. Be very careful what you put in as horses are like computers, if you write bad code, you will have to rewrite it at some point. Learn to neutralize your emotions BEFORE you get on the horse. This will give both of you an opportunity to begin the ride clean.

3: Effective Dressage riders make themselves the calm baseline that their equine partner can rely upon at all times.

The psychology of the horse requires a partner willing to assume a leadership position.  This assumption of the leadership position by the rider in the partnership translates to the horse via the language of the body in all circumstances, all scenarios. A rider who remains mentally AND physically steady when the horse experiences confusion, fear and perhaps resulting chaos, will very quickly gain trust, confidence, and devotion to the work from their equine partner. A skilled rider quickly proves his or her leadership ability to a new horse, who then, greatly relieved in such capable hands, will confidently trust his rider and attempt to work with and not against. Trust is earned not given; work to deserve it from the horse.

4: An effective Dressage rider owns their personal space both on and off the horse.

Closely related yet different from habit #3, maintaining one’s space communicates leadership. A dominant stallion does not mosey into a herd head down, tail low, back soft.  Oh no, he is up on his toes, tail flagged, every muscle pumped full announcing his arrival…his presence is known. His body language virtually screams ‘follow me!’ This type of presence must also subtly be in a riders body language when working both on the horse and off. Our equine partners rely on us to lead them and we communicate our worthiness of this responsibility with our body language, with the feeling of resolve within our bodies. Effective riders maintain exemplary posture both on and off a horse, we carry ourselves, we own our space with a steely intention, communicating our empathetic power and ability to lead to those who rely on us: our equine partner.

5: An effective  Dressage rider has trained their ‘inner voice’ to be either positive or constructively negative, never defeating.

An effective Dressage rider approaches the ride with a sense of wonder: what will the ride bring? What is the legacy of yesterday’s work? Will it be fair to push the horse just a bit more today?  Problems, resistances that arise are addressed constructively, not reacted to emotionally. It is the supportive ‘inner voice’ of the rider that keeps the ride ‘on the rails’ and productive, ending always on a positive in preparation for continued success in the next ride. It is the burden of the rider to maintain an emotional ‘thru-line’ that directs the ride steadily toward completion.

6: An effective Dressage rider knows success happens one ride at a time, day in and day out, remaining consistent and realistic in their daily goals and expectations.

The work is a continuum, each ride building upon the last. There are no shortcuts. You cannot buy it, you have to make it with consistent, correct work, realizing nobody can do it for you. The amount of success you have as a rider is directly related to the amount of effort you put into it. Rome was not built in a day and neither is a Grand Prix rider/trainer, nor a Grand Prix horse. Get up, dress up, show up and put in another day’s work. Then do it again, and again and…again.  The river of trying never stops flowing.

7: An effective Dressage rider has the courage to be creative in their problem solving, the courage to go beyond the textbook and think independently.

An effective Dressage rider innately understands that every horse is different. Every rider is different. Every moment is a new moment, a new opportunity to create quality. An effective Dressage rider has the courage to experiment and try something different in approaching the problem, all the while adhering to the core premise of the Training Scale, placing the mental and physical well-being of their equine partner first and foremost.

The Training Scale

The Training ScalAn effective Dressage rider has the courage to experiment and try something different in approaching the problem, all the while adhering to the core premise of the Training Scale, placing the mental and physical well-being of their equine partner first and foremost.

8: An effective Dressage rider knows they must be an athlete in their own right before they can expect their equine partner to be one.

The foundation of the Training Scale is the rider’s seat. Every rider strives to be in control and command of their physical being, able to independently apply the aids effectively in both calmness and chaos.  A Dressage rider uses every single muscle known to man, and then some!  It is imperative that we cross-train, building our own strength, endurance and dexterity away from the horse. Cross-training keeps the muscles ‘fresh’ ie; not locked into the sole muscle memory of the ride itself but rather neutral, able to break old ‘muscle memory’ response patterns easily if required. Poorly trained horses affect the muscle memory of the rider just as poor riding effects the muscle memory of the horse. Cross-training assists the rider in both developing athleticism and neutralizing undesirable muscle memory.

9: An effective Dressage rider knows there is only one direction to go: forward!

Horses are built to move, they are born to move and most love to move. Effective riders know how to use this base instinct in the horse as a key ingredient in the work each and every day, much like flour to a baker. As it is in life, so it is in Dressage: if all else fails, GO FORWARD! In this way, an effective rider creates a fresh moment, a fresh opportunity to try again toward understanding and success.

10: An effective Dressage rider works for their horse, not vice versa.

Great riders do what they do for the sake of the horse… and nothing else. ‘Dressage’ encompasses all that we do from the moment we rise in the morning and enter the stable aisle to the final night check at the end of the day. Highly effective riders know they must stay close to their horses each and every day in order to build the intimacy required for the Grand Prix. They know their partner’s moods, their idiosyncrasies, their likes, and dislikes. The transition from the aisle to the school is best seamless: true partners from the stall to the aisle to the schooling arena to the show ring and home again.

Remember, Dressage is an art form in motion, therefore it only survives as such when practiced correctly on a daily basis by both Master and student, through the grace of correctly trained horses. Strive to develop good habits, for the sake of the sport, for the sake of the horse and for your own future as an accomplished rider.

© 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 Nancy Kotting   All Rights Reserved-Reproduction by Permission Only


39 comments on “The Ten Habits of Highly Effective Dressage Riders by Nancy Kotting

  1. Lisa
    January 21, 2013

    Nancy has captured and displays here 10 truths about effective riding. Thank you for breaking it down for those of us that love this sport, love the partnership that can develop, and love the moments of complete harmony with our equine partner that push us to keep working!

  2. jan
    January 21, 2013

    I expect this does not onley apply to dressage riders , but to all horsemen (horsepeople) sorry ladys, involved in conseqently working theire horses , no mather what branche of equestrian sports.

  3. Tina Evans
    January 21, 2013

    I need this as a large poster in a prominent place in my barn!….great synopsis!

  4. Nancy M
    January 21, 2013

    Thank you. You beautifully expressed so much of what I have learned on my journey to Grand Prix and I look forward to reading your 10 regularly as I prepare for the wonderful day-to-day training.

  5. Burgi Rommel
    January 21, 2013

    Well written. THANK YOU!!!!

  6. Donna Snyder-Smith
    January 21, 2013

    Some of the best explanations of what it is to ride “dressage” (be a dressage rider) that I’ve ever read. Congratulations on being so clear with your information and images. Donna Snyder-Smith

  7. Ron Smith
    January 22, 2013

    Excellently put, excellently, expressed, excellently presented! All so very true no matter the discipline. We also thank you from the Recreational Equine Driving Group at Yahoo.

    Ron Smith
    AKA: studeclunker

  8. Emily
    January 22, 2013

    This is FANTASTIC. I just forwarded it to all my riding friends!

  9. Yolanda Rama
    January 22, 2013

    I’m a National Dressage Judge in Spain and have a web of my stables.
    Could i translate this blog and upload with your copyright in my web?

  10. NK
    January 22, 2013

    Thanks Emily!

  11. Nancy Taylor Rojo
    January 22, 2013

    Well written Nancy…what you say absolutely applies to any discipline where being “good with horses” is the key to success. Good horsemanship!

  12. Marleen
    January 23, 2013


  13. Louise Lamb
    January 23, 2013

    Hi Nancy

    I am the editor of the online magazine Dressage Pure & Simple and would LOVE to include your amazing words in this month’s magazine. I will, of course, link back to your blog and give you full copyright and ownership of your words. PLease email me on editor@dressagepureandsimple.com – many thanks


  14. MaryAnna
    January 24, 2013

    Excellent advice and so applicable to any discipline.

  15. Alice Martin
    January 24, 2013

    Well done. May we reprint this in The Reader, the newsletter of CenterLine Dressage, a USDF GMO in central Illinois?

  16. daagelle
    January 25, 2013

    Thank you for posting this fantastic article! I sent it to my fellow horse loving friends and will always keep these ten points in mind when working with my horses.

  17. Mario A Contreras
    January 28, 2013

    Thank you very much for the wonderful article; it was such a well written piece that will help me to give inspiration to my team of riders.

  18. Caterina Hamilton
    February 2, 2013

    I appreciate the simplicity yet complexity of these 10 rules. Some are easy to develop as we mature and learn as riders, others take a hard knock on the head a few times (guilty) to “get it”. But I plan on using this to do a check on myself and students periodically. Thank you for a beautifully written article.

  19. Diane
    February 15, 2013

    Well done Nancy. Thoughtful. Well written. I like the think outside the box idea.

  20. Irene Wiederhold
    February 17, 2013

    Well said, couldn’t agree more!

  21. Kathryn Syssoloff
    February 17, 2013

    I agree with all except the last one #10. Many top dressage riders do not groom, pic and oil hooves, tack and walk their horse to the arena. I know I have done all that for a US dressage team member as I worked my way up, rode and wrote numerous tests and became certified in all. The relationship a horse has is layered by many people. None are as close as the horse and rider and it’s not the groom or stable hand that has it’s fullest attention and deepest bond.

  22. Mandy Schroder
    March 6, 2013

    Hi Nancy

    A friend and I have a dressage based website in Africa, I feel that this article is particularly relevant to what we are trying to achieve. Would you please allow me to publish it in it’s entirety with your copyright attached.

    Lokking forward to your response.


  23. Liz Mitchinson
    May 24, 2013

    Nancy , we are running a dressage camp for our riding club members, could I use some of your 10 habits as useful quotes, they are so clear

  24. Julie Q
    July 15, 2013

    Reblogged this on The Dressage Pyramid and commented:
    So true and written wonderfully :) Enjoy and apply!

  25. NK
    July 15, 2013


  26. Jennifer Anderson
    July 16, 2013

    Very good words. THANK YOU so very much for putting into writing what I try to teach my students every day. To the post above that does not agree with #10: (and has a valid point, I might add) I realize that many of the top riders have grooms and such, but I personally do agree with the author’s statement. Dressage and all equine sports are a team effort, and I wish that all riders would take their mount from stable to show. There is a special bond with one’s equine partner that is formed both in and out of the saddle, and I believe that is the author’s point.

  27. firnhyde
    November 7, 2014

    There’s only one thing in this really excellent article that I disagree with, and it’s point #4. Sure, a stallion marches into the herd snorting and neighing and striking the air and leaping about all over the show, and all the mares that aren’t on heat sort of shrug and get out of his way. But when a predator approaches the herd, none of the other horses will look to the stallion. It’s the lead mare they’ll follow every time.
    Your lead mare doesn’t pose and show off as much as the big stallion does. She doesn’t need to – she’s not out to impress anyone or attract the girls or warn off other stallions, the way the stallion does. She walks into the herd without making a sound and lays her ears flat, and even the cheeky young horses all get out of her way and stand to attention!
    That’s the ideal that I aspire to. I don’t want to have to perform like the stallion, I want to walk in silence like the lead mare. It’s the boss mare that everyone else trusts and obeys.
    Just my two cents! Great article.

  28. Linda
    November 10, 2014


  29. Pingback: Learning about life and leadership through horses | Enhancing Life One Day at a Time

  30. Pingback: 10 Habits of Highly Effective Dressage Riders By Nancy Kotting | Dressage Addiction

  31. Pingback: Dressage Radio Episode 194 – Mary Jordan, Global and Dealing with Bad Boys | The Dressage Radio Show

  32. Pingback: Dressage Radio Episode 195 – Dressage with Linda Parelli, the 10 Habits and Gear Work | The Dressage Radio Show

  33. lindacampisanomillinery
    July 14, 2015

    Reblogged this on Hats & Horses ….& More and commented:
    It is said that a Dressage rider has to have the focus of a golfer, the endurance of a hockey player and the art , grace and balance of a ballerina.

  34. Pingback: Dressage Radio Episode 330 – Classice Re-visit: Dressage with Linda Parelli, the 10 Habits and Gear Work | The Dressage Radio Show

  35. Pingback: Dressage Radio Episode 331 – Adult Dressage Camp, Tips and Legacy Listeners | The Dressage Radio Show

  36. Pingback: Dressage Radio Episode 332 – Training in Germany and Effective Communication | The Dressage Radio Show

  37. Pingback: Insurmountable, presented by Ice Horse | Horse Junkies United

  38. Pingback: 3 canais no YouTube para aprimorar seu desempenho no adestramento – Adestramento Brasil

  39. NK
    May 22, 2018

    Reblogged this on Watapama.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


Follow Watapama on WordPress.com

Top Clicks

  • None

Top Rated

%d bloggers like this: