11 Dressage Lessons Your Instructor Will Not Give You

The more you know, the more you will realise that you don’t know!

I have made a lot of mistakes, had my expectations shattered and I’ve wanted to throw in the towel many times.  So today I want to share 11 Dressage lessons I’ve learned.  No instructor is going to give you these dressage lessons in the arena, you’d probably not want to waste your saddle time talking to them about this stuff.  It is all about finding out about yourself as a rider and how you are going about making the changes you need to make.

It’s a long article, so grab a cuppa!

Dressage Lesson #1. Pah! Advice

dressage lessonsI’m going to start with one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned, which is to learn to filter advice. Yes, even my advice.  In the end, what works for me may not work for you. You have to listen to your inner GPS and see what feels right for you, then do that.

When I was starting out, I followed systems and coaching advice to the letter, because I didn’t know much.  And that was perfect, because when I didn’t know, I had to follow a proven path.  But as I gained experience, I started experimenting, and I discovered that how I wanted to do things wasn’t necessarily by the book.

I thought that I was different because I couldn’t reach my dream, so there came a point where I started trusting myself more than external sources.  This will not happen right away, but as you keep moving forward, you’ll start to trust yourself more and more.

Listen to people you trust. Learn from them, but forge your own path.  Break rules and train the way you want to train.

Dressage Lesson # 2. Be Happy To Fail

Similarly, you have to discover what works for you, and what doesn’t.  What does work are the core principles. You can do that in many different ways.  Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of things.  Most of them haven’t worked out, or I didn’t like them.

Remember, I spent many years failing before I hit the key ingredients for The Crystal System, which brings together the best of what I found.  What I learned from that journey I still use today, so nothing I’ve done ‘wrong’ has been a waste, and it never will be.  In a way, I consider myself lucky, because I reached a point of no return, do or die, do something different or give up!  I had to be willing to try a different approach.

“One of the hardest lessons in life is letting go of what you thought was real”

Dressage Lesson # 3. It’s About TimeDressage Lessons

Dressage takes time.  Learning takes time – lots and lots of time.  Setting goals and time lines is helpful, but you must be prepared to move the goal posts and certainly not stress about it.

I’ve embraced the fact that I don’t really want things to go smoothly.  It will never be easy. I want challenges, because they make me grow.  Each time you ‘fail’ you learn something new.  So yes, it takes time. It often takes a lot longer than you think.

Too many of us expect stuff to happen immediately, largely fuelled by today’s technology, but a different approach to the fast paced world we live in is needed to learn such a skill as dressage.

Dressage Lesson # 4. Mind Set

Your mind set is the foundation for your success.  It was my determination to keep moving forward no matter what and however long it took, that got me to the point where my book was published and my horse was transformed from a ‘kooki’ youngster into the real deal, competition dressage horse, .

Your mind will frequently throw in excuses, fears and worries, but keep going, because that’s where your heart is taking you.

There are a lot of fears you can give into such as:

  • What if I put in all this work and I fail? 

“Failure is not the opposite of success it is part of it”

  • What will people think of me?

“If you’re weak enough to judge me, be strong enough to help me.  Keep your opinion if a solution doesn’t come with it”

  • I’m not good enough?

“Finished last will always be better than, did not finish, which trumps did not start!”

  • I don’t know where to start

“Baby steps get you started down the road to success”

  • Am I doing this right?

“When you are right no-one remembers, when you’re wrong no-one forgets! Hey ho”

The fears you think are real, are not, because they only exist in your head.  I’m not interested in the people who think this post is too long. I’m interested in you, because you’re still reading.  You care about the details, because you truly want to be a skilful rider.

Your mindset is the key to your success.

Dressage Lesson # 5. False Expectations

When I started my journey I thought I would be competing within 6 months.  Well that didn’t happen!  Throughout the years, I’ve discovered that all of the things I think will happen almost never come to pass.  The reason is because my expectations are based on what I think I know, and I really know very little.

The foundations I base my expectations on are thoughts in my head. They are made up by me.  It was not until I had a plan to follow that I could see the path to my goals and the road ahead opened up to me.

Vague expectations are often false.  Setting out your road map to success will ensure that you remain grounded to real life expectations and reduce disappointment.


Dressage Lesson # 6. Quality Matters

Just riding regularly is not enough. Your sessions have to be thought out, evaluated and learnt from.  You need to be willing to take action to find the right solutions.  In the beginning, my focus was on saddle time and riding as often as possible,  which I now see was a mistake, but at least I was moving forward, it did help me with confidence, so not a huge mistake.

Now my focus is on the quality of the work and understanding what I want (and need) from each session.  It’s a business-like approach.  Quality matters and every time you ride you should push to do something better.

Dressage Lesson # 7. Evolve and Solve

dressage lessonWhen I started The Dressage Tipster on Facebook it was all about interacting with my fellow equestrians and seeing if my story resonated with them.  Did anyone else feel my frustration?  Was anyone else struggling the way I was?  I began putting out hints and tips I picked up along the way.  As I kept writing and getting feedback, things started to change.  When I shared that I was making progress people wanted to know more, and I felt compelled to share, so I did, here on the blog.

The Crystal System Book was launched 2 years later, bringing together all that I had learned to that point.

That’s why I keep stressing the importance of starting.  Nothing happens until you start.  So start and see what evolves.

Dressage Lesson # 8. The Small Stuff

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Elite riders succeed on their ability to brush off the small problems and concentrate on the real issues.  They know perfection is unlikely to be achieved, despite striving for it with every fibre of their body.

Amateur riders sometimes nit-pick everything and want dressage lessonseverything to be perfect and get bogged down in the small stuff and lose sight of the big picture.  In the end it doesn’t really matter.  We all have to start somewhere, improvement is the goal, don’t get stuck because you can’t see the woods for the trees.

Dressage Lesson # 9. Focus

If you want to ride skilfully you need to understand what it is you want to do; you need to understand why you want it and you need to understand what it is that is not allowing you to fulfil that dream.

When I became serious about learning dressage I took a long hard look at myself and questioned everything I knew.

I made a plan to change things, worked on it and remained focussed on the big picture goal, despite the continual curve balls.  One day a lady on my yard said “I love watching you ride, you make it all look so effortless”.

This is how I felt that day…dressage lessons

I see so many riders lacking focus, it wastes your valuable time that is going to take longer than you think!

Dressage Lesson # 10. Forget About Breakthroughs

Yes, do your best, but don’t be too hard on yourself if big things don’t happen right away.  For a long time, I compared myself to other more successful riders and I wondered why I wasn’t seeing the same results.  Then it occurred to me – the reason was because I wasn’t them!  Accept this and really enjoy your own journey.

I do what I feel compelled to do, and the rest will take care of itself.  This is a marathon, not a sprint, which is why it’s important that you follow your passion and enjoy your journey.  Do your best, and be consistent, and great things will happen.

Dressage Lesson # 11. Have Some Fun

What ultimately matters is enjoying what I do.   What I mean is that if you don’t enjoy challenging yourself, if you don’t enjoy the work, if you don’t enjoy striving for knowledge, then don’t do it.

Crystal System Dressage

I started riding because it seemed like fun.   I turned to dressage because I wanted to be the best I could be for my horse.  You just have to follow your heart and have some fun.  Dressage is what I feel inspired to do, and it seems that when you follow your inspiration, a whole world conspires to help you.  When it all comes together you’ll think you never had so much fun!


This has been a long article, and I’m sure you have some questions. I’d love to try to answer some of them.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster




19 Responses

  1. Couldnt have been more timely for me. THANK YOU!! Just did my first ride a test – not even a real show. I did very poorly. My sweet steed had a different idea as to the way the test should go. Then there were things I just didnt know, ie ‘ dont talk to the horse’. anywho, was extremely disappointing time, BUT I have a phenomenal trainer and she talked me off the immediate ledge and this fabulous article put a smile on my face, straightened my shoulders, and off to try again,…and again….and again!! thank you!

    1. My article may have put a smile on your face but your comment made me belly laugh. It’s good to know you have someone to talk you down before you jump! Keep in touch Debbi, I want to know about the successes WHEN they come. Px

  2. Not a question but an observation! This article is spot on!! Absolutely perfect – it’s all about learning from where you are to where you want to be and that is not a linear journey. There are stops, reverses and forwards on any learning journey. Thank you for your continual sharing, I always look forwards to reading your posts!!

  3. Great article. My riding and lessons have evolved just as you said. It’s wonderful to have confirmation of being on the right track. I’m going to buy your book for myself and get one for a student of mine that will find it really beneficial. Thanks again for a wonderful article.

    1. That’s great Bonnie, I’m honoured. Please be sure to come back and let me know how you get on with it in fact a review would be amazing! Patricia x

  4. I find I keep going back to what I learned years ago…..I have also learned that the training I got was excellent.
    Dressage schooling isn’t complicated… It is just a matter if technique.
    It doesn’t take long if you know what you are doing.
    Thank goodness I went to England and ride at crabbet park and to pen y Bryn and rode with Martina pork. And a few other people but just for lessons….Jennie loriston Clarke, John Lassiter….

  5. I’m a very small time trainer in Kona and saved this post to share with my wonderful “Barn Rats”. Then found myself reading it over again for… guess who? Really enjoy your perspective, and hope to spend some time on your FB page, if I can ever get the barn work done! Drop in any time 😉 Aloha

  6. Fantastic article!!! Moving the goal posts….are you sure you haven’t been talking to my mare!!!??? LOL. Sigh…shouldn’t they all be born “knowing” the GP movements and then we simply push buttons – hang on, that’s my imaginary world!!! The entire article resonated with me – thank you! It’s a journey, but what a fabulous journey it is!

  7. I really like your honest explanation. Its very refreshing. Its so hard to do things that dont geel right.
    Does your book help with training the horse as well as the rider?
    I have a heavy horse Clydesdale x. More Clydesdale than not. And hes super lazy.
    Im worn out and no where near our first test. Ive ridden other horses in tests but when I got this dude I was really looking forward to competing but I cant get him even close to be ready for our first outing we are way behind schedule . Feels like a very long road ahead!

    1. I think my book will really help you take a long hard look at yourself and your horse as a partnership and help you find the issues to iron out. I have emailed you separately. Px

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