Violet Hopkins started dressage
at 30 years of age. Now, 46 years later (remember this was written in 1986), she rides, trains, judges, teaches, gives
clinics and hosts the United States Dressage Federation's "Violet Hopkins National Seminar for Dressage Instructors" at her
Tristan Oaks Farm in Union Lake, Michigan.
The education of instructors to
enhance the quality of dressage is Hopkin's goal, and she has placed her farm in trust to the USDF to continue with these
"Patience is the greatest aspect
of human nature", she said, "but it is not always displayed when teaching." Nevertheless, the brilliance of her tactful methods
of teaching is creating an enduring foundation.
Upon entering the arena, Hopkins
observes the rider's seat, posture, and leg position, then looks over the horse. A short conversation regarding the rider's
and horse's history is outlined. Then, either the remake or the polish of rider and horse begins.
At a recent clinic, Hopkins perfected
the rider's position so the rider's aids were in the most effective place, then re-educated the rider to utilize a balanced
alignment to best affect the horse.
For each rider, analogies were
different. Meanwhile, the spectator's were never bored with repetitions, except, of course, one rather consistent reminder,
"Allow the horse to come to the bit, do not pull back."
A free, forward gait is most important
to Hopkins. As the horse walked on a loose rein, with the rider holding the buckle, Hopkins watched to see if rider and horse
were synchronized. Was the rider "complementing the development of the horse", or "restraining the movement by interfering'?
The positive results Hopkins transmits to her students returns them to basic position or alignment, thus, balance and harmony
with the horse.
'Instructors are overlooking the
basics", she said, "and because of it the horse's training suffers. The fluency or freedom of movement is often restricted,
therefore, not displayed."
She said the correct body
position enables the horse to develop freedom of movement through the rider's seat and legs, to be captured in the hands.
Therefore, her students stretched, pretending to hang down from imaginary rafters in order to align their shoulders with their
hips as the legs hung long. With this posture, erected hands were brought to a relaxed position, but the shoulders, sternum,
and solar plexus remained heightened. "Now, breathe", she requested, to get riders to soften the body's new alignment.
As the upper body hung itself
vertically from the imaginary rafters, the lower leg hung from the hip socket. Comments from Violet Hopkins included: "push
from the inner thigh down", and "let the leg hang long, the stirrup leather must be to the vertical".
Many riders were bringing their
legs back instead of using sideways pressure, so without a rider in the saddle and stirrup leathers down, Hopkins illustrated
as the horse walks. "This is how your leg should work, with the horse's movement", she said.