Michelle Masselink & Dixie Basic Grade 1

Michelle Masselink & Dixie Basic Grade 1

Michelle Masselink from Canada is a Scholar in the Basic ST Instructor Certification Program who graduated in the Straightness Training Academy in Grade 1 in the four unmounted pillars: groundwork, longeing, work in hand, and Straightness Training at liberty.

Congratulations Michelle, keep up the good work in the Certification Program!

And thanks for taking the time to share your STory with us!


❝I adopted Dixie (Southside Cricket) a Standardbred filly, from a rescue in 2013. She was only 2 1/2 years old and had shin splints on all 4 legs! Also when I went to pick her up she had a huge abscess that came out through her knee and cuts and scars all over her body. My vet also informed me that she was peg-legged” and would likely develop hock issues in her teens. This saddened me greatly, but she was mine, my first horse since my teens. She had a kind eye and a curious spirit. She quickly filled out, the scars and the abscess healed, and the shin splits resolved.

I was both excited and overwhelmed by my new horse. While I was confident that I could make her healthy and eventually train her well enough to ride her, I knew I did not have the skill to take a horse bred to extend all her legs to the fullest to a horse that could collect her legs underneath her. I was also deeply concerned about her “straight” hind legs and how to help her make the best of her conformation, after all many horses with less than perfect conformation live long healthy lives.

As Dixie grew I noticed that she was very uncoordinated. Initially I thought she was just a gangly 3 year old, then a clutsy 4 year old, but by 5 I started to see that she was a very unbalanced horse whose legs would slide out from under her when she ran around the field. The other horses did not fall when they ran. I became concerned that as a riding mount she would be unsafe. I also knew that I did not have the skill or knowledge to help her.

I audited a clinic that was about ground work. It was there that I first heard the term Straightness Training. Immediately that night I researched it and found the Straightness Training website.

As I went through the free ebooks and blog posts it just all made sense that Dixie’s lack of balance was due to asymmetries. She was bred for speed not collection, to reach her legs as far as possible in front and behind. Self carriage wasn't necessary. Awareness of all 4 “corners” of her body and placing her hind legs under her COM wasn’t necessary. But I believe ST will benefit all my horses. My Morgan had a very sore back when he came to me as an unhandled 13 year old and was always alert with his head up in the air. Again ST just made sense as a way to get him to relax both his back and his mind. An Andalusian filly that sustained a fracture to her tuber coxae and subsequent muscle atrophy on that side is my next ST project. i feel confident that ST will help bring back her muscle tone, balance and strength so that she can become a riding horse one day. And I am seeing wonderful improvement and having lots of fun with all 3 of the minis that I work with.

Submitting Touchstones did not come easy. It was a huge hurdle for me. I was full of self doubt and lacked confidence as a horse trainer. The self mastery classes really helped me step into the stretch zone as a horse trainer. The saying Fail Fast Forward became my motto. You don’t have to get it perfect, just get going. I was hiding behind needing everything to be perfect in order to train and in order to film. It’s too wet, it’s too cold, it’s too hot, I don’t have enough time to groom, I don’t have a proper arena. The game changer with training was when I decided 5 minutes was better than no minutes. And with that mindset I finally freed myself from needing everything to be perfect and from all the excuses. There is no excuse for not doing something for 5 minutes (which really is more like 15). So that is what I did, 5-15 minutes 5 days a week. That was my goal. Whether it was 5 minutes in her stall on a stormy day working on forward down, or 10 minutes in the barn yard working on liberty prep because the field was flooded.

While Dixie, my mastery horse gets the bulk of my attention, I have kept this approach when training all my other horses. If I think of training 6 horses for 1 hour or even 30 minutes each I get overwhelmed and start telling myself I don’t have enough time. But I can manage 15 minute sessions with each horse (more if working something out). Again that short amount of time is better than none at all. I am also amazed by what can be accomplished in that amount of time a few days a week, the progress that can be made, and the eagerness it has created with all my horses. Even my Morgan, who balked at any hint of expectation now happily lets me put the cavesson on and come spend time with me. He is so proud to be the “chosen” one for that one on one time. I have obtained a GW1 certificate with my Morgan and one of my minis and hope to go through all the ground pillars with each of them.

I also chose to change my mindset on my situation. I do not have an indoor arena, nor even a proper sand outdoor arena, nor did I have the funds to install an arena all in one go. So it has meant using smaller uneven areas in my field, then a small area that I have been building up as funds allow. It’s uneven and still has a bit of a slope. Hoping by early 2023 my arena will be complete. The slope and unevenness have made things difficult for Dixie, making it hard to maintain a proper LFS. I could have used it as an excuse to wait until everything was set-up properly but instead I chose to look at it as a challenge. If Dixie can manage uneven terrain just think how good she will be in a proper arena.

I have yet to complete my Grade 1 journey - the riding pillar is next on my agenda in the new year. I have been quite diligent submitting HS, BT and TS this year and it shows in Dixie’s abilities and our relationship together. We experienced that first plateau, got stuck for quite a while but feel we have reached a new level. We are both in a figuring out state, asking new and better questions of each other. I love it. I am also proud of myself for making this priority, sticking with it and passing all the ground pillars, and then trying to improve our scores.

Where I would be right now if you hadn’t chosen to embark on this ST journey? I think Dixie would be an acceptable trail riding horse at this stage but nothing more. I don’t think she would be carrying herself. let alone a rider properly and perhaps would have started having those hock issues the vet predicted she would get. Now I believe I have a horse that will be capable of collection, will continue to get stronger and will continue to stay healthy into older age. I also have a horse that is responsive, in a figuring out state and not afraid to share her opinion when i need to step up my game. It is a true joy to work with her and I think she is happy to work with me.

My grade 1 journey isn’t quite complete. I will tackle the Riding pillar in the New Year. But I am proud of the progress we made this year. I got over my fear of submitting and my need to have things perfect. I have also gotten over my fear of being an imposter horse trainer. Being a trainer is a never ending journey, but I feel I have a solid foundation that will stand me in good stead going forward with any horse I work with. More importantly, I too have come into a figuring out state and have learned how to learn and problem solve. I no longer fear making mistakes, but see them as opportunities. I now think of myself as a horse trainer.

~ Michelle Masselink, Canada

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