Meeting the Master of Academic Dressage
I have been a horseman my whole life; listening to horses, observing their behaviour and educating them, all from my little wooden cabin in Shropshire. I’ve been endlessly mesmerised by horses at liberty and intrigued by the possibility that they may one day achieve dressage in freedom. The term dressage comes from the French term, the dressed horse. As humans we dress to free ourselves, however, my experience of dressage as a sport is that it isn’t necessarily all that freeing for the animals.
My personal training goal has always been to educate my horses in all of the high school movements and to achieve the moment where two minds and two bodies work together in at-one-ment. I feel as though after training horses in many disciplines for over twenty years I should be able to allow my horses the freedom to achieve a balance so that they can dance for themselves. In order to do this, I realised that I needed to set off on another adventure in learning, as opposed to mass-producing horses for sports and leisure pursuits, which I felt had become futile.
After some investigation I discovered and soon immersed myself in the books and videos of Bent Branderup, who created and founded the Academic Art of Riding. His quest for the refinement of the art of riding and maintaining a respect for the individual nature of the horse human partnership, whilst still remaining rooted in the teachings of the great masters of history, was infectious and I had to learn more.
I reached out to Bent and was lucky enough to be able to welcome his wife Kathrin over to the Student of the Horse where she delivered a number of truly inspiring courses on the Academic Art of Riding. Both myself, the students and the horses became completely hooked on this thoughtful and inspiring approach to educating people and horses, which provided a framework without losing individuality.
Inspired by Bent’s work and Kathrin’s teachings I then went away and created my own interpretation and subsequently developed the Genuine Horse Development Course. It was my aim to create a course which outlines the relationship between the training components; Horsemanship, Groundwork, In-handwork, Lunging Riding and Liberty. While Liberty isn’t currently covered by the Academic Art of Riding it remains a life long passion of mine and so i felt compelled to incorporate it into my training course. I’m very fortunate that once a month a small group of like-minded individuals gather in the Theory Hut next to my little wooden cabin to share their findings before we head out into the arena to hone our craft and learn from our horses. The results have been phenomenal and more importantly we have begun to build a non-judgemental, supportive, yet ambitious community of horse lovers from all around the world.
Yet still this wasn’t enough. My horses had begun to develop a balance I had never experienced before, sometimes just for a moment but increasingly more and more. They were hungry for more, as was I, and so I realised we needed to further refine this subtle communication. Sadly at this time my school master horse Oakley passed away. He’d been the first horse I introduced to, and rode on with, my two young sons, and had endured my obsession for enlightenment as a trainer with a quiet patience. Oakley was the fourth of my major teachers, all of which I’d been gifted by former clients. It’s a strange feeling to be given ownership of someone’s greatest possession because for whatever reason they can no longer work with them or look after them anymore. The care, energy and time it takes to achieve at-one-ment with a horse is countless and although I didn’t realise it at the time my attempts to improve my skills with Oakley had been more successful than I would ever have imagined when I set out. The thought of starting again from scratch was daunting and for a time afterwards I didn’t feel like I could continue. However, instead of giving up, I sold my house to buy a lorry, put a couple of rides on my slightly feral five year old PRE stallion Ezra, and hit the road to Denmark to meet the master of the Academic Art of Riding.
After a long and tumultuous journey across Europe I finally arrived in Denmark to a warm welcome, and after acclimatising Ezra to his first Indoor arena I put him in a stable for a good night sleep before lessons began with Bent in the morning. Though I had spent some time prior to our journey rewarding calming signals and relaxation in my fiery stallion he was still very new to the experience. It was the first time we had left our arena back home in Shropshire so to say I was nervous was an understatement, I sincerely hoped we would both be able to learn in this new environment and that Bent wouldn’t feel as though we were wasting his time.
I woke early and gave Ezra one more experience of the indoor arena before training began for the day ,in the hope that he would be calm and ready to learn. In the end I had nothing to worry about, the foundations that I had put in place instantaneously enabled Ezra and I to take onboard Bent’s teaching. Half the day was spent observing Bent’s daily work with his beautiful stallions and half of the day was spent on individual student lessons and subsequently the subtle changes that he had explained resulted in a profound change in my ability to work with my horse. By the end of my first lesson I felt as though my head would explode. I’d felt so stagnant for so long in my work with horses it was such a relief to finally have input that I could put to good use. Bent’s calm and intelligent coaching style enabled me and my horse to gain careful awareness at our own speed, without judgment, but with an ever growing hunger to gradually move closer to achieving our shared life long passion of mastering the Academic Art of Riding, and as a result this is the training style that I now feel most comfortable with.
I’m so excited to be able to share Bent’s teachings with everyone and I would like to offer a huge thank you to Bent, Kathrin and their family for sharing their passion and knowledge of horses with me and making me feel so welcome in their beautiful home.
To Find out more about Bent’s incredible work please come along to Bent Branderup’s second exclusive UK clinic on Saturday 25th - Sunday 26th July at Park House Equestrian in Shropshire. For further information on Bent Brandrup please visit his website
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