California Riding Magazine • March, 2014

National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
California dressage trainer salutes natural horsemanship icon Tom Dorrance.

Grand Prix dressage trainer, instructor and author Ellen Eckstein joined the invitational panel at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in paying homage to the iconic Dorrance brothers, founders of the modern natural horsemanship movement.

Tom and Bill Dorrance ignited a revolution in horse handling and training that has spread from the American West to around the world. The brothers adopted an approach to horses that grew out of their desire to "get along" with the horse—to create a willing partner. The Dorrances shared their horsemanship skills and outlook with others. Among those disciples was one-time USET long listed dressage rider Ellen Eckstein. Based in Central California's Templeton, Ellen regularly gives clinics throughout the West.

In her search for growth in her own riding, training and teaching, Ellen sat with the natural horsemanship master for over 25 years. A student of dressage's most respected figures including Col. Bengt Ljingquist, Udo Lange, Bert Rutten and Sandy Phleuger-Clark Phillips, Ellen would often show Tom what she was taught in lessons, "and he always found a way that was not stressful for the horse to accomplish what we wanted. It was not unusual for Tom to help me with piaffe, passage, canter pirouettes and tempi changes. And Tom stressed that I needed to make what I learned from others my own, and to problem solve with the confidence that the problem would work out."

From Tom, Ellen discovered a methodology that fills gaps in riding that are perhaps easily understood, often instinctually, by the greats in many disciplines, but which were not always evident to the everyday rider. She shares this discovery in her book and DVD Bringing It Together – An approach to a Lighter and Happier Dressage Horse. They were released in 2009 and are enjoying resurgent popularity with the growth of the western dressage discipline.

National Cowboy Poetry Gathering participants in this True Unity: The Legacy of the Dorrance Brothers panel discussion were former students of Bill and/or Tom. As tribute to the master horsemen, panelists swapped stories of these renowned teachers, shedding light on their legacy during the recent gathering in Elko, NV. In addition to Ellen, presenters included Mike Beck, singer-songwriter, horse trainer and clinician; Bryan Neubert, horse trainer and clinician, and Randy Rieman, cowboy poetry reciter, horse trainer and rawhide braider.