Motivation is defined as the inner will doing something to reach a certain goal. Making the dressage horse a true partner that stays motivated to work over the years is a challenge as complex as training your dressage horse to complete the dressage movements themselves. What makes it so difficult? Unlike us, the dressage horse has no higher goals behind every step we ask him to do. Whereas we are prepared—spending long hours of hard and dedicated work with the aim of improving our skills and progressing—what reason should the dressage horse have to go this way with us? If we don’t want dressage horses simply to become a means to fulfill our competitive ambitions, we have to think about ways of making them happy in their work.

Of course, there’s no recipe that always works with every dressage horse, but over the past decade I, Uta Gräf, have, with the help of my partner, Stefen Schneider, developed my own training system, consisting of several ingredients I consider essential for creating the proverbially “happy athlete” about which so much is discussed. In this article, I will take you through these components, which let you and your horse work together in harmony.

Remember that whatever goals we aim for with our horses—may it be elementary or Olympic level—we absolutely have to treat the horse as a unique individual. What does this mean? It means that we have to take into account the nature, the personality, the character and natural abilities of every horse. If we do so, we respect the horse, and this I would call the moral obligation of a rider, which is the premise of everything. It doesn’t matter if we train a talented or an average horse. Respecting a horse also means respecting his mental and physical limits and working within them. Then we have the possibility that the horse likes to work with us and likes to be ridden, which has to be the common goal.

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