dressage world are devotees of ballroom dancing. Even Triple
Crown-winning jockey Victor Espinoza competed on “Dancing
with the Stars,” complete with riding boots and helmet!
/ A Precise Connection /
One of the most basic and sometimes elusive dance concepts
is partner connection—sound familiar?
If a lead and follow have connection, wordless communi-
cation can translate into gorgeous movement—think Fred
Astaire and Ginger Rogers gliding across the dance floor.
Olivia Hales Adams, a professional horse trainer who fell in love with Lindy
Hop when she and a friend happened upon a Saturday night swing dance at Dis-
neyland, believes that the connection made in social dancing, where the partners
change with each song and the next move isn’t planned, carries over into riding.
Adams rides and teaches at Hayden Show Jumping in Laguna Hills, Calif.
“With my horses, I try to have each signal I deliver be precise and clear,” she
says. “You can’t have a break in communication with your horse. Reacting too
quickly, pushing a green horse or crossing signals will undoubtedly result in confusion, anger or fear in their mind.” She even compares getting on a new horse
for the first time to dancing with a complete stranger, because both partners are
unfamiliar with each other and neither asks too much of the other.
/ Strengthening Your Core and Bond /
Good posture and balance, as well as a strong core, are required for both dancing
“The ability to use my core muscles to connect to the horse’s bit instead of
using arm strength directly transferred to how I connect to a lead in Lindy Hop,”
says Keat. Having won numerous dance championships with different partners,
she demonstrates the overlap of the art of riding and the art of dancing.
Dressage trainer Anna Blake maintains a blog called Relaxed and Forward
( annablakeblog.com). “When I ask my riding clients what their goals are, the
answer is always the same,” she says. “They say they want a better relationship
with their horse. If your horse is relaxed and dancing under saddle, it’s all about
And by dancing out of the saddle, learning to partner well with another
person and respond to subtle cues, you will learn how to do the same with
SUSAN FRIEDLAND-SMITH is a school teacher who blogs at Saddle Seeks Horse (www.
applicable to riding, too.
saddleseekshorse.com) about the everyday equestrian lifestyle and her off-track Thoroughbred.
Laura Keat of Littleton, Colo., a
swing dance instructor who competes
internationally and has performed in
music videos and on “Dancing with
the Stars,” grew up riding under the
tutelage of her mom, a hunter/jumper
trainer. The rider-turned-dance-in-structor competed at the medal finals
in Harrisburg twice as a junior.
“My favorite thing about both
riding and dancing is the non-verbal
communication between partners,”
says Keat. “You really have to learn to
understand body language and movement cues to interact on the fullest
level with your partner, whether
horse or dancer.”
/ Riders are Already Dancers /
Keat is the founder of the annual
California Balboa Classic weekend
dance camp, which draws hundreds of
dancers from around the U.S. and the
world. She says riders she has taught
to dance already have a great sense of
rhythm and body awareness.
“Even if they think they don’t
Riders who adopt dance as a form
have rhythm, riders usually do once
they relax and get past their fear of
dancing,” says Keat. “They under-
stand body language that may not
be the same as their own, and are
able to adapt subconsciously based
on that information. If they have
posture or connection problems
when they are learning to dance,
they’re able to make corrections
much faster than most students
since they’re so in tune with their
own alignment and are able to inter-
nalize words into a feeling.”
Keat credits her riding background
as valuable to her dancing, specifically
the ability to follow the rhythm of
a horse and keep her body engaged
while using the least amount of ten-
sion. And she’s not alone.
of cross-training are in good company.
Notable trainers Sandy Ferrell from the
hunter ring and Jane Savoie from the
and swing dance
says both sports
require good posture and balance.