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Most dressage riders can only dream of dancing with an Olympic-level mount – you know, those horses bred and born with conformation and gaits for the sport. Most of us are adult amateurs doing the best we can on the horses we have with the instruction we can afford in the time we can carve out from lives full of work, home, and family obligations. We ride the horse(s) we have.
Last year I audited a clinic by an Olympian working mostly with accomplished riders on fancy-shmancy warmbloods. I paid close attention, took notes, and then went home and rode the way that clinician drilled each of her students to ride in order to let their mount express itself most beautifully in carriage and movement. And as my humble dancing partner started giving me a lovely, swinging, springing trot I thought, "Ride the horse you want.
If I focus on riding uphill, my horse carries more weight on his hindquarters and lifts his front end. If I keep my body centered and connected, his body gets more balanced, If I exude positive energy, my horse will become more responsive and energetic. If I breathe deeply and slowly and quiet my mind, my horse will calm down and relax.
So enjoy your horse for the unique and generous partner it is, whether a talented warmblood with famous names in its pedigree or a retired team roping horse. But when riding, channel the harmonious connection and incredible gaits you dream of – ride the horse you want each and every time. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes!

Michelle McMillen
Published on 08-07-2019
I started out as a typical horse-crazy girl from toddlerhood, if not birth, getting early satisfaction from grocery store mechanical mounts and pony rides in Griffith Park, Los Angeles – and reading every horse book in the library. After my 6th grade year, we moved from Southern California to my step-dad’s childhood home on a farm/ranch outside Hereford, Texas. There my step-grandfather took this horse-crazy, know-it-all (those books, you know!) girl under his experienced wing and turned her into a horse trainer. I’ve been training – and being trained by – horses ever since. I married my college sweetheart and put him through veterinary school (not as a horse trainer, though ;-) and eventually we moved to NW Oregon. Here I finally pursued a longtime fascination with English riding, which quickly veered over to what felt like home – dressage. I love developing the partnership it takes to DANCE with a horse, seeing the improvement in their gaits and physique through the discipline’s systematic way of training no matter what their breed. I enjoy helping others realize that partnership with their own horses, too, passing on the knowledge I’ve absorbed from some excellent teachers along the way.