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Check out our new book 
"The Seven Deadly Sins of Dressage".

Listen to the TSB interview Here

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What human sport is most akin to the athletic art form we call dressage? In its grace and beauty, dressage is perhaps most comparable to ballet. Both are classic styles passed on for centuries from master to student. Both require supreme athletic ability to achieve the highest possible level of performance. And yet unlike ballet, the athletes that move harmoniously together are not the same species but human and horse, a pairing that calls for a unique form of understanding and communication. Thus the essence of dressage begins with a keen understanding of the language and inner life of the horse.


The Horse's Inner World

Imagine what we ask of the dressage horse! He must develop a musculature that is as fit as the most finely tuned athlete. He must concentrate with the single-minded focus of a tight rope walker so he can decipher and respond to nearly invisible aids. And all the while he must be willing, relaxed, happy and content.

This is no small task, particularly for an animal that was genetically programmed to run wild and free. Yet the life of the dressage horse can be amongst the most joyous in the animal kingdom if we honor his mental, physical and emotional needs.

"Since dressage training primarily aims at developing and regulating the physical forces of the horse, it inevitably also involves its mental capabilities and their perfection. In the long, intimate association with its master, the horse becomes infinitely intelligent and alert. Because it has so much to learn and is continuously asked to observe the slightest hint from it's rider, the horse exercises its mental powers together with its physical ones, so that it becomes attached and friendlier towards its master to the same degree that it increases in skillfulness in its lessons." - Gustav Steinbrecht, The Gymnasium of the Horse

At Puterbaugh Dressage Sport we strive to create a training experience that draws forth each horse's innate desire to perform well and please his rider. Creating this experience is a natural product of consistent practices that are grounded in the language of horses. For example:

As innately hierarchical animals, horses will only willingly submit to those they trust and accept as their leader. In the wild, this is usually the leader of the herd. For the dressage horse, the leader is their rider and trainer.

While a horse's affection can be elicited with kindness, their respect can only be earned. Horses respect people who train them confidently and well, with a seat that feels harmoniously in tune with the horse's body; who communicate with peaceful command, and who encourages the horse to develop while never pushing them too far. The resulting effect is immense physical power expressed with supreme grace and accompanied by a relaxed, deeply content horse.
Good trainers will always reflect the above mentioned qualities and, by bestowing a positive experience upon the horse over time, will create optimal conditions for horse and rider to experience the same relationship themselves.

All animals are born with one or both of two primary instinctual responses to stress: fight or flight. Horses are flight animals and so naturally will to flee from loud noises and unusual sites. In addition, the dressage horse must focus with acute concentration on their trainer and rider. For these reasons, during the beginning work quiet and calm environments create the most optimal training conditions.
People naturally think that it is important to familiarize horses with the noises and unusual sites they experience during shows, and there is some truth to that thought. But let us again consider the metaphor of the human athlete. A gymnast at the Olympic games is able to concentrate not so much because they are familiar with the Olympic stadium, but because their focus is so finely developed. It is the supreme refinement of their ability to concentrate that enables them to focus on the work at hand and block out the intimidating environment.

For our horses, we must similarly perfect their ability to and interest in staying keenly tuned into their rider. Then when at a show, the rider remains the trusted primary focal point for the horse and the boisterous show environment fades far more easily into the background.

As with any sensitive living being, excessive criticism or harsh treatment will damage a horse's trust and sense of well being, resulting in confusion or rebellion or both. A bad prior experience can be undone but it takes commitment and time.

Headstrong horses will assert their independence now and then to test the water, much like children. Remedial horses are quite different from the well made or green horse. Over time and with quality training, the negative behaviors of remedial horses extinguish and they become willing and well behaved, even enthusiastic. Measure progress as steady, incremental improvements.
Photo Philo1Dressage Fitness

"The horse is no machine, its readability no permanent state; it cannot be wound up for use when desired, poorly ridden for days and then put back in the corner. No, it must be schooled in gymnastic exercises every day, its body must be made supple, its attentiveness and obedience must be awakened and checked."

- Steinbrecht , The Gymnasium of the Horse

Horses can only perform well if they are in peak physical condition and must therefore work out as seriously and regularly as any athlete. Exercises that build dressage musculature should be incrementally introduced. Young horses and those returning to the work sometimes require lunge work as a preparation for further training. As Steinbrecht stated, "Work on the lunge is very advisable as a preparation for under saddle exercises and is indispensable in many cases. (It) . . . makes the green horse more familiar with humans and accustoms it to working, paying attention and being obedient. It gains in flexibility and agility to the extent that it is possible with its natural body carriage . . . for very young or weak horses, this work on the lunge should be continued until they are able to carry the rider's weight without damage . . ."

During the second phase, gymnastic training exercises are targeted to foster development of the classic training pyramid principles designed by the German Army Riding School in 1912. They are:

· Takt: Rhythm and Tempo,

· Losgelassenheit: Relaxation and Suppleness

· Anlehnung: Rein contact

· Schwung: Impulsion

· Geraderichten: Straightening and Flexing work

· Versammlung: Collection

These are the core attributes that underlie Piaffe, Passage and Tempe work. They also optimize a horse's conditioning throughout their lifetime.

Cardiovascular Fitness

While we can develop an emotional affection for horses as deep and tender as that for a child, as physical beings horses are more accurately likened a football player or dancer. The muscles of these athletes require vigorous workouts and so do horses. Abuse and overdoing it is always uncalled for but we need not be concerned about sweat or the rhythmic breathing that accompanies the development of cardiovascular strength.

Interviews with & Articles about Douglas Puterbaugh

- What made you decide to write this book?

I wanted to give the important things to the student before they begin the learning process, but still be relevant throughout the entirety of it. Something to inspire in the student a passion for what dressage is: a very old and fascinating subject. And also to remind the rider that the horse bears every mark of it’s previous handling, to temper our force, and not just ambitiously romp around on him. The book is there to remind people that most of the responsibility of learning is placed on the student who wishes to learn, and not the teacher to grind knowledge in. Also, to remind students that we must look back, and not forget the classical body of knowledge. 

Check out our new book 
"The Seven Deadly Sins of Dressage".

Listen to the TSB interview Here

Get your signed copy now!

- You write riders should also focus on mental aspects instead of focusing of their technique alone. Can you elaborate a bit on that?

There is all this argument over technique. The criticism is always About the technique. The technique is not to be critizised, but the bad use or interpretation of it. The technique gets the blame, but the rider has to do the technique. I want people to engrain in their mind that there is nothing new in dressage. When you take  the master away from his method, he takes the  better part of his technique with him. What’s left behind is for the student to sort out. Try to copy one’s violin technique, or an actor’s manner of speaking, and you will know what I mean. The most difficult thing to attempt is to become someone else, so we must as of necessity find ourselves. Technique is key, but If a person has a propensity to anger, he must discover this block and  work on that, because the same technique applied by one person who is filled with patience and serenity in their riding, reaps a different effect, than the same technique delivered with ambition and impatience. 

- Which sins do you see occur most often? 

Pride and Impatience.  I think it’s been popular to raise people’s self-esteem way above their ability. We are all familiar with telling children: “you can do anything you set your mind to”. It might be better to ask: “Do you think you can set your mind to that?” . Then you would find the real answer. It is like the person that loses interest in their work, the moment they realize the pay is in direct proportion to their worth. Many Americans gravitate toward that which requires very little effort on their part, but expect a very glamorous outcome. This leads very often to the sin of immoderation. 
In America, we think the louder we say it, the truer it becomes, and that a 2 week course in anything, makes you an expert. In europe,  there is still more respect for the apprenticeship system. 

Would it be possible to add a practical exercise for some of the sins? Timidity, fear, impatience and possibly immoderation may seem most suitable for that? Would be great if that would be possible. 

Never shrink from study. By studying we find everything. Study is the practical exercise. All of these exercises require effort.  A practical exercise for Timidity is to watch good riders, a good exercise for fear is to try to understand the taming process of the horse. A good exercise for immoderation is to try to be consistent in all your interactions with the horse, and never think that study can replace a good teacher.

Bit Magazine - Holland

Horses Are Like Kids: They Need Discipline with a Purpose

January 10, 2014

As I’ve learned to be a parent over the last five years, I have often noted—admittedly, not always with joy—the parallels between being “mom” to a son and “mom” to a horse. The constant need for food and poop removal, for example, stands out rather vividly in my mind…

But it of course takes far more than basic physical care to raise a child or train a horse:

  • We must constantly deconstruct our requests—both the simple and the complex—and translate them into a language our pupil can understand.
  • We must recognize a “try” and reward quickly and accordingly, even if it isn’t exactly right…yet.
  • We must constantly monitor behavior in the hopes that a gentle correction early can prevent an uncomfortable confrontation later.
  • And we must be prepared to be firm when necessary, because the establishment of boundaries and respect for you as leader/teacher/parent is ultimately integral to the safety of the child or the horse, as well as necessary for either one’s success when venturing forth into the world without you.

“Just as good parents find within themselves the strength to correct their child, you have to find within yourself the strength to keep your horse under your authority,” writes trainer and dressage rider Douglas Puterbaugh in his book THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS OF DRESSAGE. “In both cases, the intent is entirely proper. For his own good, a child must learn to distinguish between behaviors that are acceptable and those that won’t be tolerated. Horses are similar…Like a child, they look to your leadership to show them the right way to do things.”

Douglas says that horses require “discipline with a purpose.” This phrase stands out in that it doesn’t advocate being a teddy bear or a nag or a tyrant. As parents and as horse owners, we must cultivate the ability to correct at the appropriate moment, to sometimes leave our pupil alone and give him time to “figure it out,” and we must always be in control of our temper.

“When your horse misbehaves you have to act quickly,” writes Douglas. “You must get your horse’s attention and immediately give him direction. This should be done firmly but gently because unwanted behavior does not necessarily mean a horse is deliberately misbehaving.  It just means he’s doing something you don’t want him to do.

“You must always rule in favor of the horse. You must always be clear about what you want him to do.  You must always be clear with your aids, and you must always carefully measure your response.  Any reprimand must be proportional to the offense. Furthermore, a reprimand is deserved only when the horse knows better and is willfully disobeying….Never reprimand a horse that doesn’t understand something.  You want to teach your horse, not bully him.  A docile horse will tolerate being bullied, but a noble horse won’t.  A noble horse will bully you back.  Either way, you lose.  You lose the trust and confidence of one that’s sweet, and awaken the doubt and defiance of one that’s a king.”

Again, Douglas’ last point rings true to the parent in me as well as the rider! How often I’ve seen children cower in fear beneath a sharp reprimand, while I’ve witnessed others volley screams until it was the parent who retreated in defeat.

In truth, wielding discipline in the barn or arena is a delicate balance, like so much else we do with horses. It has a necessary place in good training, just as it does in good parenting, but it must always be conscientiously applied, and it must always have a purpose.

10 Signs You’ve Found a Great Instructor/Trainer…for Yourself and for Your Horse!

July 15, 2013

THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS OF DRESSAGE is a unique and special book,” says FEI dressage trainer/rider Yvonne Barteau. “I have been a collector of equine literature for many years, and this book has earned a spot on the ‘top shelf’ in my library. I have recommended it to all of my students as a ‘must read’ and will continue to do so. Author Douglas Puterbaugh covers vital and important rider information in an entertaining, engaging, and compelling manner.”

What kind of “vital rider information” will you find in THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS OF DRESSAGE? Check out the attributes Douglas lists as the 10 qualities of a good instructor/trainer—something every one of us should keep in mind as we spend our lives striving to improve our horsemanship and become better partners to our horses.

“Find a good trainer is like finding a good mechanic,” says Douglas. “When you do, embrace him/her because he/she’s the difference between your satisfaction and disappointment.”

A good instructor/trainer should:

1  Treat you as an individual and recognize that different personality types require different approaches. He/she should tailor teaching style accordingly.

 Evaluate your training goals.

3  Be well-rounded him/herself. A good trainer is constantly trying to improve in his/her own right—studying, practicing, learning from others.

4  Help you improve. A committed student taught by a good trainer should experience skills that improve steadily over time—that is, if the trainer is given enough time and the student is giving enough effort.

5  Work well with you. A comfortable relationship will yield more results than a difficult one. Better to look forward to your lessons than to dread them.

6  Be able to improve diminished gaits or correct spoiled horses. This is a skill, beyond the abilities of many otherwise capable trainers.

7  Not be a bully. A trainer should encourage your potential, not discourage your efforts.

8  Display infinite patience with both horse and pupil.

9  Never grow tired of repeating things that need to be repeated.

10  Be inspiring and kind, for even the most talented trainer will find it difficult to instill confidence in his/her students when prickly or unapproachable.


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