Walter Zettl is one of those rare instructors who cares as much for horses as he does for riders.  I cherish the inscription he wrote in my copy of Dressage in Harmony, from Basic to Grand Prix, wishing my horse, as well as me, luck in our journey together.  That horse is no longer with me, but the journey and Herr Zettl’s good wishes remain.

Doctor of Philosophy in the Glass-Half-Full School, Herr Zettl sees the progression of the dressage horse as a continuum, without the commonly perceived (and sometimes considered impassable) hurdles between levels — even the lower levels.

How refreshing this is, as the bar keeps getting set lower and lower in terms of what is expected of the everyday horse and considered attainable by the everyday rider. This isn’t only true of dressage, it’s also true of jumping, when a horse is now considered something special when he “can do three feet.”

Unfortunately, lowered expectations don’t necessarily make things easier on horse and rider, as they can just as easily give way to lowered confidence and lowered achievement.

None of which happens when you’re riding with Herr Zettl.

In which case, you’ll be told that every day, the horse must learn again to balance himself.  Even the Grand Prix horse.  Every day.

You’ll be told that walk to canter is no big deal

That when you balance from walk to trot, you can work on collection, which is preparation for piaffe and passage…and that half steps, in preparation for piaffe, are not hard on the horse.

Even the canter pirouette, at least in its conception, will be made accessible. Simply begin with canter on a 20 meter circle, and after each revolution, bring the shoulder a tiny bit to the inside.  Yes, your hands must be good, but your horse can get a lot closer to a pirouette than you might imagine.

If I had only one book on dressage to recommend, it might very well be the one that sits on my bookshelf with the inscription from Herr Zettl.   It is simple and systematic, and has bird’s eye view drawings of all the lateral movements, along with progressive exercises incorporating them.  I can’t think of a better visual guide than this.  How like Herr Zettl to write a book on dressage “from Basic to Grand Prix.”  Follow his path, and you’ll be amazed at how far you can go.