Coventry Equestrian Center

Violet Hopkins - Better Riding Makes Better People
Our Background and Philosophy
Coventry FACEBOOK Page
Our Facilities
Upcoming Events
Horses for Sale or Lease
Some of our Successful Students
Dressage Over Fences
Coventry Juniors
(OLDER) In Stride..CEC's Newsletter
Coventry's Newsletter
Recommended Reading
Stretching your Horse - Yoga for Horses
Training Articles
Published Articles - Instruction and Advice
Published Articles: Photo Step-by-Step Guides
Published Articles - Interviews and Clinic Reports
Favorite Quotes
Western Dressage
Our Photo Album
Favorite Links
Clarion Calls Herbs and Herbal Articles
Contact Us

Violet Hopkins - Better Riding Makes Better People

By Kristin Hermann

The Chronicle of the Horse, January 1986


(All of us interested in dressage know that Violet Hopkins died recently (April 4, 2002), and she is truly missed.)


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 educational opportunities.


"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.

She brought the rider's awareness to the use and function of their muscles in order to coordinate the aids that affect the horse. Re-educating the hands was a high priority, however, only because of necessity. "Riders think when they get on a horse they have to have something to hold onto. Do not allow the reins to carry your hand", she often requested. "The elbow should be flexible and the hand has to be alive, not dead weight."


She encouraged hands that communicated with the horse; fingers that curled around the rein so the contact was with a soft fist; and for the rein to cross over the middle knuckle of the closed fingers.


Hopkins is determined to help build or rebuild the foundation of each rider, and she sought awareness of basic position even when off the horse. When you walk, the thumbs face forward, so when you ride you bend your elbow to obtain a proper hand position, not a flat hand. You can get a lighter feel of the mouth this way. "Your leg position on the horse is similar to that of walking, feet slightly out, but not like Charlie Chaplin."


She discussed posture off the horse with the students. "When you walk, you are a little rounded in your shoulder", she said to one. "Your own position on the horse is a great indicator of how the horse will go."


She emphasized rhythm. "It is difficult", she said. "Seventy-five percent of riding is feel, and if you cannot feel the thrust of the inside hind leg, and if you cannot control the forward movement with a half-halt, you cannot produce rhythm." Hopkins encouraged, therefore, the coordination of the properly placed aids capturing the horse's free forward movement. "The rider's aids have to come so close together that they are almost one", she said.


"You have to teach the horse to carry himself, obtain self-carriage," she said, "and to do this the rider's driving aids move the horse's whole body, not just the legs or neck. In basic work the horse has to stretch out and down to permit the thrust to come from the horse's back into the rider's hands. All movement has to come from behind."


Violet Hopkins does not expect instant results, although she does inspire riders and gets immediate development. "It  is a gradual process", she said. "The muscular development of the horse takes time to achieve control and balance with a rider.


Riding makes better people", she said. "They get a more humane and deeper understanding of living creatures, whether it be a horse or a person."

A Response from Violet Hopkins


(The recipient of this letter was Kristin Hermann, who sent copies of articles she has published in this magazine to Violet Hopkins. - Editor of Horseplay magazine, February, 1992.)


Thank you for sending the articles. I had already read them in "Horseplay" magazine. It is good that you are making a contribution to the field of riding. Certainly, there is so much need for people learning good basic work. The basic work is what is so lacking in this great country. There are so many out there giving misleading information, and by so doing, they are distorting the true meaning of dressage training.


The real foundation of how the horse should be started and followed by more training is very much a failure. The horse is the one to suffer.


At times, I cringe to see a very nice young horse being pushed beyond its physical body can accept. Thus, all beauty of movement is lost. Once in a while, I see a bright light and take heart in thinking that maybe some day, we will be able to reach a better standing in the world of dressage...


I shall keep on with my teaching and hope that I will be spared many more years of good health to make it possible to spread help among those who really want to learn what is good for them and their horses



Violet Hopkins

Union Lake, MI

To return to our Published Articles page, click on:
Published Articles - Instruction and Advice