Six Tips for Dressage Instructors from Raul de Leon

Raul de Leon gives advice and exercises to help trainers teach dressage to students.

1. Instruction at the most basic level should take place in a relatively quiet ambiance, in an arena with good footing and on a horse that is willing and gentle.

2. Make safety for horse and rider your first priority. This means using suitable horses, well-fitting equipment and remembering you’re teaching horsemanship, not just riding.

3. Never compromise your personal standards of excellence in practicing dressage. For instance, do your best not to succumb to external pressures and inadvertently overface a student with a horse that is not a good fit or a riding task for which the rider is not qualified.

Develop a student’s supple seat: Raul de Leon longes his student of nine years, Erin Bleakney, on Veillantif, a 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by Vladimir Sadov. It takes a lot of integrity as a trainer to resist the urge to rush the slow work involved in developing a supple seat.(Credit: Vladimir Polchaninoff)

4. Focus on educating your students, not just managing them. For example, when you’re at a show, if you feel comfortable enough, allow your student to warm up his or her horse independently. This independence will help your student develop the initiative, commitment and self-confidence that effective riding requires.

5. Treat all your students and clients with respect and courtesy. Don’t criticize mistakes that are merely the consequence of inexperience. Be as expressive in praising a student’s performance as you are in making corrections.

6. Even in difficult situations, act with sincerity and kindness. It is always difficult when a ride (whether at home or at a competition) falls below our expectations. Remember to highlight the positive and take on the mistakes as a clear guideline for your training program.

Raul de Leon moved to the United States from Cuba in the 1960s. He and former student Olympic eventing gold medalist Tad Coffin served as co-directors of the Westmoreland Davis Equestrian Institute at Morven Park in Leesburg, Va., from 1984 to 1990. He has taught instructors’ clinics co-sponsored by the FEI and the International Olympic Committee in seven countries. In 2008, the American Riding Instructors Association awarded him the Master Instructor award. He is based on Long Island, N.Y.

To read the article, “Teaching Dressage,” see the November 2009 issue of Dressage Today