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What is Relational Riding™?

A Philosophy Of Horsemanship
Devoted To The Horse

By Michelle Binder

Table of Contents


Based On The Harmony of

Riding Master Polak on Neapolitano Adriana in a levade

Dressage literally translated means “training”. Dressage, as a philosophy of horsemanship, develops a working relationship between horse and rider that is based on trust and understanding through “training”. Dressage is just that, a method of training of both the rider and the horse. The goal of Relational Riding™ is to apply the philosophies of Dressage, good horsemanship and related therapeutic modalities that have been developed over the centuries. These philosophies and other elements of Relational Riding™, when applied, allow the horse to become more supple, obedient, balanced and ultimately develop, to their fullest and most beautiful, the natural gaits of the horse.

Relational Riding™ correctly done, truly begins with the rider. Gentleness, compassion, respect and love of the magnificent creature that is the horse pervade the training. The rider learns to understand how their body affects the horses’ movements and attitudes. They learn to apply the basic aids necessary for communicating with the horse and to encourage him to perform through the development of the “Ring of Muscles”. Relational Riding™ fully develops the athletic potential of the horse, and helps keep the horse sound in mind, body, and spirit. The rider, by embracing the concepts presented in the program and learning to maintain a balanced seat, develops a harmonious relationship with the horse.

I believe that all horses and riders, regardless of their fields of interest or performance, benefit from basic Relational Riding™ techniques. I believe the basic principle begins with the “balanced seat”. This is easily recognized in all disciplines by the “ear, shoulder, hip and heel line”.

In developing Relational Riding™, I have incorporated techniques and philosophies from instructors, trainers and riders from all over the world. I have worked personally with Suzanne Sherry, Mary Wanless, Sally Swift, Gerhard Politz and have participated in clinics with over 20 instructors as a teacher, rider and auditor.

By becoming part of the Relational Riding™ lesson program you will learn and experience correct Classical training. The Relational Riding™ program cultivates a working relationship for you and your horse, accesses therapeutic techniques that increase health and vitality, and develops the horses gaits and abilities as well as your own.

I am an A.R.I.C.P. Certified Instructor of Hunt Seat (including work over fences) Combined Training and Dressage. I have been thoroughly tested and evaluated by the A.R I.C.P. and was found fully knowledgeable and qualified to teach these disciplines. My Hunt Seat background stems from my work at Midway College in Kentucky, teaching and receiving instruction. My Combined Training background developed in the Pacific Northwest and includes a wide variety of clinicians and instructors. The core of my program has developed from 20 years of work with Suzanne Sherry of Michigan and reflects the philosophy and teachings of such classicists as Violet Hopkins, Col. K.A. von Zeigner, Maj. Anders Lindgren and Sally Swift. I also ride regularly with Claus Bergener, a German FEI Grand Prix judge and spent several weeks studying dressage with Andrzej Salacki, Polish Dressage coach at Lewada in Zakrzow, Poland.

In providing my students and their horses the best possible holistic service I am also a Bioscan technician, and enjoy a special relationship with a Chiropractor and a Massage Therapist.

Other credentials include my experience as a Dressage Schooling Show Judge.

My Relational Riding™ students are riding and showing successfully in several disciplines from the local level to AHSA recognized shows. Since 1988, my Dressage students have routinely scored from 65 to 70 percent, earned countless ribbons, and qualified for Regional and National Championships in a variety of disciplines.

In the presence of the MASTERS

"Thou must learn the thoughts of the noble horse whom thou wouldst ride. Be not indiscreet in the demands, nor requiring him to perform indiscreetly. The horse is a wise animal. Let him show you the best and most natural way to accomplish a desired end." Johann Wolfgang Goethe

"We shall take care not to vex the horse, or cause it to abandon its affable gracefulness in disgust. For this is like the fragrance blossoms, which never again returns once it has vanished." Antoine De La Baume Pluvinel

"If the art were not so difficult we would have plenty of good riders and excellently ridden horses, but as it is the art requires, in addition to everything else, character traits that are not combined in everyone: inexhaustible patience, firm perseverance under stress, courage combined with quiet alertness. If the seed is present only a true, deep love for the horse can develop these character traits to the height that alone will lead to the goal." Gustav Steinbrecht

And from the Master of Masters: "One can never, through violence, cause the horse to perfect the manner in which it expresses its skill, but only by delicate coaxing and subtle demanding, between much praise and little punishment." Colonel Alois Podhajsky

What is Relational Riding™:

  • It is a philosophy of horsemanship that integrates body, mind and spirit of both horse and rider.
  • Is is practical concepts that can be learned and utilized by all horse owners, riders, trainers and instructors to improve the whole relationship between horse and rider.
  • It is proven techniques that work to increase communication, awareness, and knowledge within the horse/rider relationship.
  • Riding is a process of discovery, self discovery. Relational Riding™ is a key element in developing the quality of horsemanship that you and your horse deserve.
  • In this program riders become responsible for creating and maintaining
    beauty and harmony in relationship with the magnificent creature called horse.
  • Find joy in an awareness and mastery of your bodies capacity for harmony in Relational Riding™.

In the Beginning

Living My Passion ...

To share in my passion, journey with me

I Created Relational Riding™ To:

  • Promote love of horses
  • Teach concepts and techniques that help people develop a relationship with their horses based on love, trust, and respect.
  • Teach riders, trainers and instructors the physical skills necessary for riding the horse "on the aids".
  • Expose participants to alternative healing modalities.
  • Give people a sense of their role and responsibility in:
    • maintaining the health and soundness of their horses,
    • healing the body, mind, and spirit of the damaged horse.
  • Inspire people to operate in their daily lives with patience, love, gentleness, kindness and respect toward all the people and animals they contact.
  • Use horses as the access to changing and uplifting the consciousness of humanity.

The Program

The program I have designed for horses and riders is all encompassing, affecting every aspect of the partnership from feeding and shoeing the horse to developing the riders fitness and body awareness. It utilizes proper diet, vitamin supplementation and exercise regimens. I maintain a close association with veterinarians, a massage therapist, chiropractor and farriers that are working with each horse/rider team. My goal of producing happy, healthy horses that carry their riders willingly is reached daily by taking this holistic approach. To develop to the fullest potential, horses must be pain free, properly cared for, well ridden and well trained.

Once the initial assessment is made, I determine whether to begin the training with the horse or the rider. To produce the unity I want to develop requires that I teach you to train your horse. To achieve harmony the horse must be sufficiently trained to carry the rider properly and the rider must be sufficiently trained to ride the horse correctly.

Riders in the program are enrolled in a process of self discovery. I assist you in learning to ride by using a system of muscle identification, isolation, and development. Listening to the way your horse responds to proper engagement and release of those muscles can increase your understanding of the innate responses you can produce by using your body properly to produce a horse that is truly “on the aids”.

Once you can use yourself as riding requires, you can move ahead to the training of the horse. A proper bit response is established that allows the horse to work “in the release of the reins”, engages the carrying muscles, maintains balance, thus achieving true lightness and self carriage. The horse naturally comes in front of the seat and leg with proper engagement from the rider. No artificial training aids (martingales, tie downs, draw reins, chambons, twisted snaffles, etc.,) are used in the program except a dressage whip. Because the horse is working in release, without restriction or contraction, the concepts of forward, “through”, supple, elastic, “schwung”, impulsion, balance, etc., take on a different feeling than you may have associated with them before.

The horse begins to express itself freely and beautifully under the rider and the joy inherent in that expression keeps riders returning to the arena for the experience again and again.

This program is designed to benefit all riders and all horses. Correct fundamental training can and will help you whether you are in the arena or on the trail, riding a Quarter Horse or a gaited horse, an Arabian, a Warmblood, a Thoroughbred or a pony. The concepts and ideas can be presented many ways and can be understood by anyone willing to listen and learn regardless of age, riding level, or experience.

Some students, like Katie Luttrell, started lessons with me at age 8 and took her first horse, a $500.00 Morgan and qualified for AMHA National Championships. Katie then repeated the accomplishment with her second horse a $2500.00 Morgan she purchased as a yearling. Others want simply to communicate better with their animals.

Concepts from this program have been successfully applied in the gaited horse arena as well, Tennessee Walking Horse “Bobby” was Regional Reserve Champion Novice Horse in 1998, her first year showing. On the endurance racing trail Arabian “Radiant” won his first 50 mile race and had never been competitive at this distance before working in this program. In the dressage arena, Arabian “VP Medley” whose owner was told she “wasn’t ridable”, has gone on to earn E.I. Tripoli Cup for high scoring Arabian in Dressage, twice.

As can be seen there is no limit. I look forward to working with you and your horse as a team in the future.

Key Elements of Relational Riding™

  • Riding instruction that cultivates relaxation, engagement, harmony.
    • Muscle identification, isolation, and development.
    • Exercises and ground work.
    • Ridden component: use of the body that elicits inherent reactions in the horse.
  • Methodology, training and practice.
  • TTeam - Relaxation techniques that enhance ability to learn.
    • Body awareness
    • Learning techniques
    • Applying the touch
  • Chiropractic
    • Spinal alignment as it relates to performance, gaits, and quality of movement
    • Saddle fit as it relates to spinal alignment
    • Farriery as it relates to spinal alignment
  • Massage
    • Relaxation and engagement and suppleness for both horse and rider
    • Effect of massage on the performance of the horse, the rider, and the combination of relaxation as it relates to learning.
  • Behavior
    • Understanding the herd nature of horses, and our role as "herd leader"
    • Developing communication skills based on the nature inherent to the horse
    • Using techniques that keep horses relaxed and able to learn

Relational Riding™ benefits both horse and rider.
Relational Riding™ for the benefit of all training.
Relational Riding™ as a philosophy for developing the quality of the relationship between horse and rider.

Relational Riding™ - A Philosophy Of Horsemanship Devoted To The Horse

  • Love of the Horse
  • Commitment to raising the level of our riding to the level of the horses expression rather than diminishing his gaits to the level of our riding.
  • Willingness to operate in our intentions with the horse from the place of "What can I do for this horse".
  • Willingness to give up the adversarial pieces of our training programs.
  • Willingness to give up "What can this horse do for me", "How good does this horse make me look" and "Make the horse do it".
  • Embrace that the horse is a creatures so sensitive it can feel a fly land on its skin and that we must reduce the application of our aids accordingly.
  • Taking responsibility for learning to explain what we want to the horse in a language it may understand.
  • Agree to embark on a process of self discovery with the horse as the teacher.
  • Willingness to be responsible for learning how to use our physical bodies, our emotional bodies, our spiritual beings and our minds to develop a complete relationship in which we are able to communicate with our equine partners.
  • Encourage and allow freedom and expression in the being of the horse that he may move unrestricted through his body finding pleasure in his work.
  • Operating in the release of the aids.
  • Take on our responsibility as caretakers and treat them with fairness and respect.
  • Ask, release, allow.
  • Accept that the power to heal or destroy the horses body, mind and spirit rests in the body, mind, and heart of the rider.
  • Body One - embracing mind, body, heart and soul.

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