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Dressage Solutions: A Riders Guide by Arthur Kottas-Heldenberg


Book Review by Nancy Brannon

This book, by one of the world’s foremost experts on Classical Dressage, is the second in a series from the former Chief Trainer at the Spanish Riding School, Arthur Kottas-Heldenberg. His first book, Kottas On Dressage, documents the Classical education of horses. As the name implies, his second book offers advice on day-to-day training problems within the framework of Classical training, sound principles which always have the horse’s welfare and comfort as priority. “Good riders treat the horse with respect; there should be trust between them. We have to learn how the horse sees the world and behave accordingly. This does not mean attributing human qualities to the horse, but rather acting with patience, calmness, and kindness with the horse,” Kottas writes in the Introduction.

Kottas’ frame of reference is that many errors, usually attributed to the horse, are rooted in faulty posture or faulty aids on the rider’s part. He reminds riders to assess the possibility of their weak or inconsistent riding as a contributing factor to any problems the horse exhibits.

Being physically fit to ride requires the rider to be flexible in muscles and joints and have reasonable stamina, so he addresses the need for warm-ups for riders as well as horses, with a set of stretching exercises to get rid of stiffness and aches. Next, he describes and illustrates the correct seat and posture for the rider, finishing with common rider postural faults and solutions to correct them.

Kottas reminds riders to be ever mindful of the horse’s mental and physical ability to do what is being asked of him. Conformation is important since horses are not perfect and their physical abilities are closely related to their conformation. The best way to achieve progress is to make sure the basic building blocks are in place, which facilitate the next step in training, and to consider the horse’s individual characteristics.

Kottas explains the correct way to introduce work on the basic paces, exercises, and movements, together with in-depth analysis of common training problems and how to correct them. For example, he addresses rhythm inaccuracies in the walk, nervous walk, and lazy walk. With each fault he suggests several methods to correct the problem.

Afterthe basic paces are correct, lateral exercises – turn on the forehand, leg-yield, shoulder-in, for examples – are introduced; training next proceeds to advanced canter work: counter-canter, simple and flying changes of lead. For each, common problems are discussed and illustrated, with solutions to correct the problems.

The last two chapters are for more advanced horses and riders, explaining Piaffe and Passage, to a final chapter that explains movements of the High School: Levade, Pesade, Capriole, and Courbette.

Illustrated throughout with photographs and diagrams to show correct examples and faults, Dressage Solutions is an invaluable guide for both intermediate and advanced riders.

Kottas is in demand worldwide as a teacher of classical riding. “The key to success for a rider is in the development of a good seat. The experienced rider doesn't sit on the horse; he sits in the horse and feels the horse. He has a feeling for the speed, the rhythm and the outline. He can feel his horse's feet, so he never has to look back to see if his horse has halted square. He also has a feeling for how much he can ask of his horse on a given day, which means he is willing to change his plans,” Kottas explained in a Dressage Today article.

“The horse is your partner... He should love you, not because you come to him with carrots, but because you sit well and can communicate with your aids. That’s a matter of coordination with your seat, your leg, weight, and rein aids. The feeling rider never creates more speed with the leg and seat than he can control in the front. Likewise, he never uses so much hand in front that he compromises his horse’s forwardness. These skills are evidence of the rider’s feel,” Kottas wrote.

The Classical principles of correct seat and proper training of the horse are applicable to all riding disciplines, not just dressage. Correct communication of the rider with the horse, balance, the basic gaits, lateral movements, lengthening and shortening of stride, are all used in every riding sport you can imagine, both English and Western. I had the honor of watching Kottas ride at a visit to the Spanish Riding School in a visit to Vienna in 1984. Then I had the double pleasure of spending the afternoon at his training barn in the Vienna Woods, watching dressage horses and training at their best. Read more about Kottas at:
Read the full Dressage Today article at:
 “A horse reacts mostly on your sentiment.” Quote by Kottas.
About Kottas: He was born in Vienna, Austria in 1945. At eight years of age he moved to Vienna, where his parents operated the oldest Riding School in Austria. His affection to all animals was already present at that time.  He finished Elementary and Public school in a boarding school in Vienna. All my free time he spent in his parents’ stables. At nine years of age he already owned his own horse. At about that time he started riding competitions in dressage and jumping. At age fourteen he won the Austrian Junior Championship in dressage and at age sixteen he won the Championship in Jumping. In 1960 he joined the Spanish Riding School as an Eleve and by 1968 he already became a “Bereiter” – the shortest time ever that any rider became a “Bereiter!” In 1981 he became “Chief Rider,” also achieving this position in the shortest time. In 1995 he became the “First Chief Rider,” which he maintained until his retirement from the Spanish Riding School in 2003. During his years as Chief Rider he also operated his own dressage stables at Tulbingerkogel in the Vienna Forest, where he trained many riders, who achieved great goals – all the way to the Olympics.
Kottas website:

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