A Classical Connection

A Classical Connection

By Mary Alice Edwards

As I sit here in the barn at Hassler Dressage Riveredge’s West facility in Maryland, I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to observe excellent riding and teaching. I would like to thank SEDA and the scholarship committee for helping me achieve this dream with awarding me the 2014 Spring Adult Scholarship.

It is a very busy operation with Jessica Jo (JJ) Tate as the trainer. She has six very efficient young women assisting her in everyday duties. There is constant activity starting at 7:00 am, with feeding, cleaning stalls and turnout. The working students ride their own horses and the horses they are helping to train, then interact with JJ critiquing what the horse needs to improve on and what the horse felt like. JJ, while she might be teaching a trailer-in lesson, also has a close eye on the other riders in the arena.

JJ Tate is a classically trained rider and trainer. For me, I wanted to train with JJ because I hoped to gain more insight into the proper feel of riding classically. JJ has a gift for teaching and explaining exactly what you need to do with your individual body parts to have the correct riding position. First, I needed to learn to maintain the topline on my horse, Fortoula. My previous years of riding eventing and jumping has caused me to be slightly round-shouldered and bent in a protective position. I had to learn to sit up and sit down in the saddle with my shoulder blades back and down. My right elbow wanted to be somewhere out to the side flapping! To be able to maintain the correct connection, I needed to learn to keep my elbow glued to my side with my shoulder blades back and down. Not an easy thing for someone who has ridden for twenty years in a different position. I knew I was starting to do it the correct way, as my muscles were beginning to be sore in places I had not felt before.

It is inspiring to watch riders on a daily basis with these beautiful positions. It definitely gives a visual aid of correct position when I am practicing by myself.

I also had a friend, Caroline Adams, offer to video my lessons with JJ. I never really liked to watch videos of myself before, but I now realize the benefits of observing myself during a lesson. First, I had to learn to be more positive toward myself so that I could gain helpful information by watching the videos and listening to the instruction while I changed my position. JJ recommends watching your videos three times to gain the most out of them.

Not only did I have the advantage of watching the lessons of other riders but also to watch JJ take lessons from Scott Hassler on her horses that are in training. I also was able to observe what level of care it takes to maintain upper level dressage horses. From the best individual feed for each horse to thermal plate therapy, magnetic blankets and different veterinarians who specialize in a variety areas.

I came here to observe the classical method of training but learned so much more. From the care and maintenance of the horse, to the importance of the student-teacher relationship. I also learned that it is important for the teacher to continue her education, as dressage is a lifelong learning experience.

JJ is very passionate about helping others acquire the knowledge of classical dressage. She is gracious with her time in explaining the reason you should ride a certain way and encouraging you to strive for more education. I feel now that I can apply several famous quotes from Maya Angelou to my riding, “when you know better, you do better” and “when you learn, you teach and when you get, you give”.

If any rider has an opportunity to ride or audit a clinic with JJ, I highly recommend you spend your time and money doing so.

With gratitude,
Mary Alice Edwards

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