1. Have clear, well-defined and realistic goals. Write your goals down so you stay on your path.
2. Outline a program. Ask yourself, “How am I going to make this work? Will I ride six days a week? Have my trainer ride? How many lessons will I take?” Know what you can do, and what you will do, as well as what is necessary for your horse and your goals.
3. Work with somebody. Even at the highest levels, we need someone to help us out, whether it is to ride the horse or just provide a pair of eyes on the ground.
4. Choose the right horse. To have a successful dressage partnership, one of the partners, either the rider or the horse, must have experience. It is very difficult to have an inexperienced rider with an inexperienced horse. Sometimes people over buy and then can’t handle the horse or the movement. Or they try to save money and buy lesser movement and it won’t work.
5. Spend as much time as you can with your horse. It is impossible to do what you need to do with your horse in just a half an hour. I deeply believe the more time you spend with your horse, both walking him in-hand and in the saddle as well, the better he will perform. You can’t expect a horse to be fit and perform well with just 30 minutes of work a day.
6. Have reasonable expectations. Remember, your horse is an individual, too, and each day will be different. If you expect your horse to perform his best every single day, you will be disappointed.
7. Make sure your routine provides appropriate exercise, both physical and mental. Some of my horses, for example, can’t be turned out. I can’t expect them to be happy if they only go out to work 45 minutes each day. So, they are hand-walked as well. Also, don’t ask the horse to perform movements every day. It is too demanding.
8. Observe your horse to assess his needs. Even if he is turned out, he may require more. Some horses don’t do anything in the paddock and these horses need additional exercise.
9. Build a team. I realize that this is difficult for the adult amateur, but I always encourage people to be part of a group that can provide support. If you can, board your horse at a barn where good farriers, trainers and saddle fitters go. It is harder to get them to visit a barn for just a single horse.
10. Have patience, respect for your horse, determination and dedication. You must want it to work, not just wish for it.
Dr. Cesar Parra is an avid competitor and was the 2006 Grand Prix Champion at Dressage at Devon on Galant du Serein. He rode in the 2005 FEI World Cup Finals and in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. He placed fourth in the Pan-American Games in 2003. Dr. Parra has participated in several USDF training conferences and other workshops, most recently the 2006 USDF Trainers Conference with Hubertus Schmidt. A native of Colombia, he is trained as a pediatric dentist but chose to give up his career in dentistry to return full-time to his first love, horses. He teaches and trains at Piaffe-Performance in White House Station, N.J., and Jupiter, Fla.