Dorita Konyot

The winter season was over. I packed a lot of activity into the month of April. I had time to pursue my passion. One day after rehearsing my acts at the ranch of Doris and Russ, with great costuming for the act was underway, I drove to Sarasota. I did not go back to John Herriott’s ranch. He was up north working his Shrine Circus tour. I went to find Dorita Konyot, whose father brought dressage to this country from Europe years ago and, interestingly, inspired and mentored both Vi Hopkins and Chuck Grant. I wanted to talk to her about my horse and perhaps show her what I had him doing.

Dorita had a small farm outside of town. I drove the VW bus to her home. After I pulled into her driveway, I saw a short house on one side of the property, a riding arena in the center and a long horse barn stretched across the back. I knocked on her door. When the door opened, I met a short, proud woman and immediately noticed her deliberate manner. Her long hair was neatly bundled into a top-knot, the smoke from her cigarette made lazy, rising loops, and she had a little dog in her arms.

I introduced myself and made my request to show her what I had my horse doing and to possibly become her student. She thought for a moment and then suggested a time for me to return and make my presentation.

I returned at the appointed time. With my rig parked in her driveway I prepared my horse. In the riding arena on her small farm, I put Souveran through his paces. Dorita looked on as she sat in the small observation booth with a thatched roof.

After my exhibition, I cooled down the horse, removed the saddle and gave him a break. I turned him loose on her pasture. She invited me into her home for strong coffee and to ask questions about the training I had received thus far. After listening to my answers, she pondered how to proceed. She made several conclusions as the result of watching my demonstration, among them was that I did not know how to use my legs properly. To begin my training, drastic measures would be taken first. 

Soon thereafter, my lessons began with Dorita without spurs. The primary emphasis stressed was the proper use of my legs to direct and bend the horse. She began with a careful explanation of how the rider’s legs were supposed to be on the sides of the horse. She used the visual explanation of pouring oil on the horse’s back and how the oil moved down each side. The oil was on the location of the rider’s legs but there was no pressure. The legs were to always be on the horse with no pressure and never lose contact. Dorita started with this foundation.

I learned minute movements had impact that influence the horse and promote impulsion. It would be two years before Dorita let me ride with spurs again, and when I did, I used them with finesse.

Our sessions continued with the lateral disciplines of Traver and Renvers. These are used to develop specific muscle groups in the horse that, once enhanced, enable the ideal engagement or stance of going. The shift in the distribution of weight allowed for a lighter more elevated forehand.

When Dorita was satisfied with how I handled my legs without spurs, we practiced the portions of the dancing horse routine that were enhanced with quiet and effective leg use.

With a minimum of signal, while my legs held the horse in the promenade, or proper posture, front leg extensions became more animated without interrupting the most important part of this movement which is the forward momentum.

Dorita learned horsemanship from her father, a gruff and demanding perfectionist. As a child, while she endured his bad-tempered conduct, she realized there must be a better, kinder way to instruct the student. As the result she became gentle and patient with her students.

While I worked with Dorita, I heard stories about her childhood trouping throughout Europe. I also heard about her years in Spain and Portugal where her family accumulated the wealth of information about the classically trained Haute E’cole horse from the horsemen who rode the bullfight ring. Those highly trained horses were used, not only as an exhibition feature but to taunt, evade and assume mastery over an angry bull. With her mother, father and brother they performed a foursome high school horse exhibition prior to the bullfights in the many arenas across Portugal.

I asked about her favorite place of all. She admitted she enjoyed her time performing in the Azores the most.

Dorita also fine-tuned my understanding of the liberty discipline used in my mule act. Among everything Dorita taught me was the last piece of the puzzle of the hind leg walk.

                We perfected the hind leg walk with Betty by going up and down her driveway. Once an exact understanding was established in the mind of the animal, the result of consistent behavior on my part, the signal I provided became steadfast. I could then attend to my posture, presence and charisma while Betty mastered her role on two legs, taking each step confidently.

Working with Dorita was part of a logical progression. She did not have to teach me the fundamentals adequately covered by my previous mentors. She concentrated on the aspects of the training that needed fine tuning. She provided me with many pieces of the complex puzzle that yielded a clearer understanding of the art of classic horsemanship.

With this introductory phase of our training complete, the time came for me to motor north to assume my sign painting duties back in Michigan. It didn’t take long to get ready as the temperature had assumed a constant ninety degrees. Before I made it back to where I call home, a surprise request provided a detour.

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