“There is always a lot going on when we are riding the horse; we address the twists in his spine, the braces and tightnesses throughout his body, and help him use the information we have previously given him to better align and balance himself. Once he understands and is successful we do as little as possible. Still, we remain attentive to when he needs help: our connection remains open so when he needs help or adjustment we can easily offer him assistance.
Nothing doesn’t mean nothing. Nothing means the culmination of everything.” ~ Mark Russell ~ Excerpt from a 2012 clinic.

DenaliMarch11#18 Revised

“I ask for less than my horse can give: thus it is easy for him, and it becomes something beautiful. If we ask for too much it is more difficult for the horse to fulfill our request, and we instead invite from him resistance.” ~ Mark Russell


Thoughts on Art Form Dressage:
In early under-saddle work, the horse is encouraged to stretch down into a long-and-low posture with NO weight in the rein. He is thus technically in self carriage, albeit not beneath the rider. Over time while maintaining relaxation at every step, and by gradually flexing, strengthening, and engaging the horse, the rider helps him shift his balance further back. The rider will able to indicate direction to the horse with a very light contact – and even a drape – in the rein.
In contrast, in early under-saddle work, if ridden in the long-and-low position WITH weight in the rein the horse will not be in self carriage. This, in effect tilts the horse onto his shoulders. Then in order to shift him off of his front end the rider will need to drive him with the leg; not only will the horse develop a different understanding of the reins, but relaxation and the free flow of energy will be lost.
Sola, out in the pasture, is relaxed and soft while maintaining self carriage. With drape in the reins he responds to subtle changes to Mark’s hand positions and seat. ~ Mark Russell


Patience in the initial phases of training pay great rewards. Relaxation allows for freedom of movement — a tense horse will simply not be as flexible as a relaxed horse. Here Sola illustrates the flexibility and power that results from a careful and patient start. ~ Mark Russell

Any retraction of the reins leads to compression not collection. ~ Mark Russell

“The more the horse is pushed, the more his fire becomes extinguished. The hallmark of good dressage training, which is ease and dexterity, will be taken from him”. ∼ Nuno Oliveira.

Release in the jaw allows for relaxation of the occipital joint. If we flex the poll without relaxing the jaw first, the horse’s ability to relax throughout his whole body will be hindered. ~ Mark Russell

 Dressage should serve the Horse instead of the Horse serving Dressage. ~ Mark Russell

Mark riding Sola. A beautiful fall day riding this Hanoverian TB cross gelding raised and trained solely by Mark.