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Sun Prairie brings classical riding to Falcon

Falcon may be sitting in the middle of cowboy country, but it is also fortunate to be the home of a nationally recognized boarding and training barn devoted to dressage.Sun Prairie Stables on Highway 24 is owned and operated by Simone Ahern, a dressage instructor certified by the U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) and the European Bereiter system. Ahern is a firm believer in the value of dressage training for all horse/rider teams.Ahern moved to Colorado Springs from Germany 12 years ago. She apprenticed to a dressage stable when she was 16 and worked her way through the highly structured Bereiter system to become certified in Europe to teach dressage and jumping and to manage an equine facility. She is certified by the USDF through the second level and is currently working toward third/fourth-level certification. She recently graduated with distinction from the “L” (learner) level of the USDF dressage judging program.Shortly after moving to the U.S., she and business partner Geri Harrand bought 28 acres on Highway 24 north of Woodman Road. The two partners designed the facility, which includes both an indoor and an outdoor dressage arena, a barn with 12 stalls and panel runs, eight paddocks and three separate pastures. Sun Prairie was then built by Peter Hagen, who also built Big R next door. Shortly after the facility was completed, her partner Harrand sold her half of the stable to Ahern.Dressage is both a training system and a competitive sport. The word “dressage” is derived from a French word meaning “training,” and the discipline of dressage is based on classical training principles dating from ancient Greece and used to train horses for battle.”When you talk about training a dressage horse, it is about training the development of the horse’s muscles,” Ahern said. “A horse naturally carries 45 percent of their body weight on their hindquarters and 55 percent of their weight on the front end. Through good dressage training, the horse learns to balance its weight more evenly. You develop more muscle in the hindquarter, which makes the upper level horses appear that they’re going uphill.”Dressage training is a gradual progression through levels, each level preparing the horse and rider for the next. In competition, training moves from basic walk-trot patterns to more complicated maneuvers that ask the horse to respond to subtle cues from the rider. The performances of the popular Lipizzaner stallions of the Spanish Riding School represent the highest level of dressage, and the riders spend many years training both themselves and their horses to achieve the strength, sensitivity and communication needed for these movements.The training methods used in dressage can be useful to any horse and rider, no matter what their discipline. “I’m a firm believer that dressage should be the basis of any discipline, so the horse understands how to move from your leg to your hand,” Ahern said. Dressage movements systematically build up the horse’s musculature. “You teach them to use the muscles correctly instead of using their joints, so there is less pounding and stress on the joints,” Ahern said.”With horses, you want to remember that you are sitting on their nervous systems — their backs — and a horse can feel a fly on his back, so if you sit a little crooked, they’re going to feel that,” she said. “A horse’s nature is to react to what happens to them, to what they feel. It’s an entire communication of what your body and your aids ask the horse to do. What I say is that the horse’s way of going is a mirror image of the rider’s way of riding.”So, the rider must also build body strength and be aware of the effect of her position on the horse. Ahern recommends Pilates training as an effective method to develop body awareness. “Pilates helps you find the different muscles in your body, and your mind starts to realize what those muscles are doing. If someone sits crooked long enough, his mind eventually thinks that is straight. That’s the reason there are lots of mirrors in my dressage arena. I tell my students, “Don’t look at me – look in the mirrors, look at the horse and look at your hands, so you can create a feel for the correct position.”To become a good rider in any discipline takes time, but Ahern recommends a large dose of patience. “It’s training muscles, and you can’t overwork a muscle,” she said. “Obviously somebody who can ride five times a week on different horses is going to move up quicker than somebody who can only ride twice a week. But if you’re realistic about it, you can still learn and have fun.”

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