Articles by certified riding instructor Melissa Deal, Victory Land Dressage wilmington nc

Taste Buds versus Wildebeasts

Article by  Eclipse, Intro by Susan Gordon



The Mane Say, by Eclipse. Intro by Susan Gordon



Choosing the Right Riding Instructor
“I can’t believe we just paid 175$ for that,” my husband (the videographer) sighs as he hooks up the video camera to my computer. We are at a 3 day clinic. I just finished my first ride 45 minute ride. We are in the horse trailer hoping to glean something from the video to make tomorrow’s ride a more pleasant experience.
Through the cursing, condescending comments and accusations, I listen again, to the internationally renowned instructor as the video plays. I am thinking, “is there anything at all in this video that I can grasp onto? I need a phrase, an exercise or something that can be a life jacket to keep me afloat in tomorrow’s session. I am a professional. There will be auditors. My horse needs this to go well too. Even he was traumatized by the encounter. I hit rewind…” I think, “someone once said that those who persecute were once persecuted themselves.” I believe it must be true. Plus, this knowledge helps me be empathetic rather than angry. Well, maybe a little.
I share this story with you simply because I believe you should know that you are not the only one who has experienced a less than desirable lesson. No, you shouldn’t have too. Me neither. But most of us have, or will. While all of us are human, instructors included, no one should be subjected to abuse-especially when paying for it. Here are a few tips on how we can avoid this kind of mess and ensure more joy in your riding future.
1. Do the homework: check out the website, Face Book reviews, articles, interviews, videos, etc related to this person’s teaching, training and philosophy. Of course, you can’t believe everything you see or read, and we aren’t all gifted writers and speakers. However, this kind of review can reveal themes, patterns and insight that can be quite valuable.
2. Observe in person when possible: Watch this person before subjecting self and horse and as a science experiment in the media of their ring! This also allows acclimation to any accent or vocabulary that may be encountered in a lesson, which is a money saving tactic in itself.
3. Make sure that our learning styles and the instructors teaching style are compatible: if super sensitive, George Morris types are probably not the best choice. On the other hand, these types are great for those who want it fast and straight, no fluff. Know thy self and find an instructor whose style we appreciate and can learn from.
4. Be very clear on what we want from the lesson: express this at the outset, preferably before signing up for the lesson. Obtain feedback from the instructor to see if goals are compatible with their agenda. Our goals maybe too lofty, but at least they should be able to guide us to a baby step to help us along our way!
I’d love to see your comments below describing your best or worst experience in a lesson or clinic setting (No instructor names should be mentioned please.) If you’d like to chat about how to find and interview an instructor, definitely contact me by PM, email or phone. Happy Learning While You Ride!


Want your horse to have a big beautiful tail?

Recently someone commented on my horse’s tail, saying that my horse’s tails always look so good blah, blah. Though I’d like to take all of the credit, I have to say a lot of it is simply due to good nutrition and genetics. However, I do my best to help mother nature out. Below are listed a few options for keeping tails beautiful. There are many other ways to do this, these are just the things that I am doing right now in my current circumstance. I have tried other approaches in the past and likely will in the future. Everything has it’s pros and cons and some techniques work better for certain hair types, exercise and turn out situations etc.


  1. Keep the tail debris free, pick it daily.
  2. Use tail products for washing that do not attract dirt. I like Lucky Braids shampoo because I feel comfortable using it on their bodies and don’t like to carry around 2 shampoo bottles. For severely damaged tail hair, try a nutrient dense high end (yes, that equals expensive) shampoo and conditioner. I personally do not wash tails a lot at this juncture.
  3. Should you choose to keep the tail brushed regularly, which I do, always use a product that detangles and keeps you from breaking hairs. I use Show Sheen gel, despite the fact that it is not organic etc.
  4. Make sure to purchase a high quality human hair brush. Cheap brushes and combs are not made well and break or damage hair. Never brush wet hair.
  5. Only brush after picking and generously applying product throughout the tail.
  6. Always start at the bottom of the tail and hold just above the area that you are brushing so you don’t pull or break hairs. Brush gently and pick any knots out by hand.
  7. If you do this every few days, depending on how dirty your horse is and the product that you use, you shouldn’t encounter knots or tangles very often.
  8. Keep split ends trimmed. Again, split ends don’t occur without some kind of trauma so you shouldn’t encounter these often under normal circumstances.

Note: Figure 8 knots and only brushing tails out for events are other popular options.


Beautiful hair adds to the total perception of a healthy well cared for horse and tails are no exception. Hope this info helps the view of your horse’s tail end! Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. 

Tail Tips


Today’s Tip: Fastest way to improve the ride on your horse!

Want to achieve lasting change in your riding, have a new understanding for what is actually happening underneath you in response to your aids, and get the most bang for your buck? MAKE A DATE - with someone who will video you riding every week. Even if it is only for 5 minutes.


Don’t have a camera? No problem. Most smart phones will suffice. Make sure you take the time to watch the video several times and take notes. Then, read the notes every day the next week before you ride and you will be thrilled with the results!

Quic Mane Shortening Tip

Pimping horse hair is of the things that I very much enjoy doing. Since it is a service that I perform for clients, I am always seeking ways to improve both quality and speed. Recently, I discovered a handy technique using the product, “Quic Braid.” Since many of us shorten manes a regular basis, you may find it handy.

1. Train the mane to lay on one side by braiding or using a mane tamer - a week ahead of time if possible.
2. When you are ready to shorte...n, spray mane evenly with Quic Braid.
3. Comb it straight down as it dries.
4. Once the mane is straight and dry, begin shortening.
5. Enjoy a tidy mane with an even bottom line!

Judge not other horses and riders...

Yesterday, I went to teach what I assumed would be a bit of a dressage lesson only to find a worried horse and a rider who thought it was unsafe to get on this stressed little horse. After a bit of explanation and some gentle ground work- the basis of which was stolen from horsemanship- the horse was quiet and relaxed. The owner, dressed in britches and boots, was relieved to see her horse looking as if she actually enjoyed being in her own skin and I was thankful to have had the skills to help her make the changes she desired. Not only that, I was grateful that the horse looked relaxed and happy instead of appearing to be ready to run from the nearest mountain lion, which undoubtedly was much closer than we humans realized.

This event caused me to share the following reflections. Good horse people, ones that really care about the horse with true compassion will do everything within their power to help the horse. Often, this means stepping outside of the lines of their discipline and possible prejudices to learn skills that help them provide what the horse needs. To be honest, I feared the client’s judgment yesterday when I began ground work with the horse. However, I feared having her get on a distraught horse even more. Most of all, I wanted the horse to feel better so I ran the gauntlet and did what I knew would help, despite the realization that if the client didn’t embrace the “non dressage people” technique, it could be my last lesson there.

This led me to ponder why we judge other genres and the lack of value in these judgments. It is my hope, that I can take the best from all disciplines because there is good in every single horse person’s heart as there is in every genre of riding. For instance, the horse show people (and this includes what some people call modern dressage people) should be revered for their discipline in regularly working horses, striving to improve their skills, and attention to detail. The horsemanship folks have much to offer in the way of kindly helping horses feel better in their own skin and helping them become solid citizens that are well adjusted in a variety of situations. The classical dressage segment is famous for keeping the history of horses alive and well and also for the slow, careful development of the horse. We can all respect the recreational riders for savoring every moment that they spend with their horses and valuing the sheer joy of just being with them. I could go on and on. The point that I am trying to impress upon myself by writing to you today is this: I shall not judge those who are sincerely trying to improve their skills and help horses regardless of their discipline or their results. People in general do the best they can and everyone is at a different place in their journey. Nothing could be learned if mistakes couldn’t be made and it isn’t beneficial to point out the short comings of others. Writing helps me remember key points so it is my strategy that by sharing these thoughts with you, I will be better equipped to refrain the next time I have the opportunity to join in on a critical conversation or negative comment etc. We are on this planet to support one another and that includes looking for and mimicking the good that we see. There is much to be learned from each discipline if only we are open minded and soft hearted enough to do so. Let’s put our judgments aside and embrace helping the horse be happy and well adjusted in life, whatever that takes.

Recently Spent some Time out of the Saddle?

How many times have you heard someone say, but I haven’t been able to ride for days, weeks, months etc, because…This statement most often seems to be accompanied with a tone of distress, disappointment, and/or unworthiness. Whether the break from riding was unavoidable or not, the statement always sounds the same. It is as if we feel that somehow we are at a disadvantage by missing some time in the saddle. After teaching and riding and not riding at times for many years, I recently found a nugget of truth after some unavoidable time out.

What I learned is that the value of time out of the saddle is all in how you think about it, your psychology. We generally think things like: I won’t be fit enough, I will have forgotten everything, my timing will be off, I will look like an idiot etc. While these things may or may not come to fruition, the truth is that riding is about what is in your head. All of the physical action in the world is worthless in the saddle if you don’t have an understanding of what it really means to the horse. I am not speaking of what it is supposed to mean, per a book, instructor or master (no disrespect intended). I am talking about how what you do affects your horse in any given moment. What your horse understands you to be saying is most important because that it may be something completely different than what you are attempting to communicate to your horse. That being said, what your horse understands is all there is to riding, regardless of how well we communicate. And some time off from riding can provide a much needed opportunity to let your body rest and your mind wander.

This year, my time out of the saddle for lasted 6 months. But it ended differently than all of the other times before. I decided beforehand that I wouldn’t stress over it and I’d make the best arrangements I could for my horses. Then I made the best of my down time in various non-horse related ways. (Confession: reading and watching horse related media just makes me crazy when I can’t participate!) Honestly, it wasn’t as rosy as it sounds and some days I found myself wondering if I’d ever even see a saddle again, much less sit in one. But, much to my surprise, as I began returning to the horses, I found that it was as if a reset button had been pushed. It wasn’t an all at once, epiphany. It can best be described as gradual waves of questioning, clarity and understanding washing over me. The more I embraced this opportunity to let go of some old habits and thoughts, concepts and behaviors that I had previously misunderstood suddenly manifested as did new ways of looking at things. Though it is true, I could expound on how rusty my riding became, I have a greater awareness of my affect on the horse’s body and mind and how my actions may be perceived. It was certainly worth the wait and I am very grateful for the experience … for it is our understanding, and the riding that occurs in our minds, that is the basis of all that we create with our bodies in the horse beneath.

So, the next time you have to take time off from riding, perhaps you can embrace the opportunity. Speak of your hiatus as if it were a gift of wisdom and then make it so. My guess is that you will be glad you did!

"Think, ride, live..."



Contact Us

Victory Land Dressage 

Burgaw, NC 28425


Email us to schedule your first session with Melissa at your farm or ours and experience how to bond more intimately with your horse (money back guarantee on your first session, if not completely satisfied). We can provide a horse at our facility for some learning experiences) depending on your goals. 


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The gatherings include meet and greet with tasty treats, heart felt discussions and demos and presentations by equine experts! You are warmly invited to the Coastal Carolina Compassionate Equestrian gatherings that are held the Wed evening of each month at 630 PM. Call or text 910-471-5445, or private message Melissa Deal on fb or request to join the group on fb.
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