Craig Stevens surprises people. In the states, we're used to thinking of dressage trainers as slender men and women with elegant outfits and European accents, and we tend to look across the Atlantic for our experts. Craig is a New Yorker, and you hear that plainly in his speech. He's less interested in clothing than anyone I've ever met, and "slender" doesn't arise as an adjective, either. But... once you get over your preconceptions and take a look at what's happening when he rides or works with horses, quite simply, the work he does is outstanding. And decades of study, a deep and passionate commitment to understanding not only how to ride but why we ride the way we do, what's real and what's myth, has given him an ability to share his craft that is very accessible and effective both with riders and with their horses.
But...websites can make any claim they feel like making. In a world of trainers who are more hype than substance, how do you evaluate the worth of someone you have not yet met? One method is to listen to what other experts have to say.
Craig's an acknowledged master of the horse and an expert on equitation history. Professor Invgar Fredricson, head of Flyinge (the Swedish National Stud) from 1983 to 1998 appreciates Craig's decades of study, and refers to him as an "American scholar of the horse". Craig was honored to be included as a guest lecturer at Flyinge in 2010, speaking on the historic Swedish trainer, Claes Adam Ehrengranat. Dag Nätterqvist ("Dadde") the Swedish Olympic jumping star as well as a prominent teacher remembered for his years teaching at Strömsholm - the Swedish National Riding School, said "Craig Stevens is the first really good riding teacher to teach dressage in Sweden since the 1950´s." Craig's work is supported by Philippe Karl, the French classical master, and recommended by natural horsemanship clinician and trainer, Ed Dabney, who is gaining national prominence in the US.
Craig has judged shows and taught clinics to private groups and riding federations both in the states and abroad. He regularly gives clinics for the Swedish National Equestrian Federation (at Kaalix) and has also given clinics for the United States Dressage Foundation (USDF). He is one of very few Americans recognized as having the skill to offer clinics in Europe, where he has been touring regularly since 1997. He's routinely featured as a trainer of note in national magazines in Scandinavia and the UK, and in regional magazines in the US. His clinics abroad are booked months in advance. Craig's students both in the Americas and Europe range from true beginners to instructors, trainers and judges. While Craig himself is no longer interested in showing, his students have been very successful-- you don't have to ride in the common style to impress the judges, even if they don't recognize the difference in what they're watching, they are often moved by the expressive fluidity of a horse ridden in this manner.
Why should I be interested in an alternative voice?
Craig is teaching and training using a method much older than what is commonly used today. There are difficulties built into the modern system of riding that are entirely predictable. If you're discouraged by your experience in riding, if the modern riding culture just doesn't seem quite right to you, or if achieving higher level movements seems a distant dream- you are not alone. And you might be interested in a different approach.
The modern understanding of dressage, in part because of it's military history and the way it is presently taught, is very limited. Very few riders know why they do what they do, and few trainers have a true grasp of how to bring out the best in their horses. Horses are sluggish or explosive, and riders keep "upgrading" their bits, their saddles and their mounts in an effort to make a difference in their riding experience. Very few riders, amateur or professional, are aware that there are time tested alternatives to the common approach.
Lots of modern riders feel a sense of something missing, but they don't know what it is. Many years ago, Craig Stevens was one of those riders who had a sense that there was something more that he wanted in relationship to horses and to equitation.
Where did Craig get his ideas?
Craig is both educated and eclectic in his approach. As a student, Craig worked with the best of the 20th century classical trainers, studying with such master horsemen as Joao Oliveira of Portugal, the French masters Michel Henriquet and François Lemaire de Ruffieu, members of the Cadre Noir, as well as with Katherine Durand. And, most importantly, he learned to read French in order to research equitation history. He read everything he could get his hands on, and he's not done yet. Craig is constantly engaged in a relentlessly joyful pursuit of an equestrian education, and he loves finding treatises by master horsemen whose works are not well known.
Over the years, Craig tested what he was learning, making it a point to separate out what is "right" because it's a current understanding, influenced by prevailing culture and unrecognized myth, and what is "right" from the point of view of what is most effective for the horse. Studying the historic texts helped him put modern ideas into perspective against a wider backdrop, and helped him develop the tools to test his results empirically.
How does Craig explain his system?
First, what Craig teaches is not "his" and it is not a "system". Craig is very up front that this is very old classical work drawn from historical sources and informed by the horses he's ridden. He's updated some of the metaphors-- it's not unusual to hear Craig explain an equine movement in musical terms, or the horse-human relationship in romantic ones. (It's a language of touch, he points out, where one animal desires to engage the mind of the other, and the closest metaphors are often based in the sensual, tactile language that we use, for better or worse, when we're flirting.) In a theory lecture given before each clinic, Craig walks the student through the rational decision making process that led to the common version of dressage, and introduces the modern rider to what was lost along the way. This material-- the material that was left aside in the interests of military concerns-- is where the relationship with the horse gets magical.
What is Craig up to now?
Craig Stevens is the director and founder of the Snohomish, Washington based National School of Academic Equitation where he and his staff train riders and horses. Along with weekly lessons, the NSAE specializes in short term intensives on our well trained school horses, and instructor training in classical horsemanship, as well as offering a traditional lesson program for local riders. Dividing his time between the school at home and clinic tours , Mr. Stevens is a much sought after international clinician with a regular touring schedule that includes sites throughout Europe, Canada and the United States. His own articles, and articles about him , have appeared in many national and international publications around the world. He is currently working on two books, one on the Theory of Classical Equitation, the other on Classical Work In Hand. His DVDs and videos on dressage and seat training are available through this site. "Ride" magazine, based in California, regularly carries articles by Craig Stevens and his wife Mary Anne Campbell, and together they are working on completing his first book on dressage.
Craig has a deep personal commitment to bringing previously untranslated texts to the English speaking world. He has translated 33 books from French to English. Many of his translations, including "Equestrian Questions" by General L'Hotte, were previously unavailable to the English speaking audience. Swedish students are now translating texts from that country as well-- texts on classical equitation that predate the French-German schism of the modern era. Craig and Mary Anne are now starting a foundation to support equestrian art that will, among other pursuits, publish hard to find works on riding.