A couple of years ago I started assembling some thoughts for a blog, but, oops, it became DRESSAGE Unscrambled. Other than The Godfather, Part II, I can’t name very many sequels that measured up to the original. So, now it’s back to Plan A. I ended D.U. for the same reason that you stop eating potato chips—at the time I was full and, presumably, so were you. But like an old dictator haranguing the crowd, I’ve got my second wind now. You probably join me in observing that many, many riders get in their own way—by over-analysis, by under-analysis, or sometimes because they just ought to be in analysis. Dressage is full of Truths. You are bombarded by them in books and articles, during lessons and lectures and even over a glass of chardonnay at your dressage club meeting. Unfortunately, those truths are not all equally applicable across the board in all circumstances. Some obfuscate; others downright confuse. Navigating the whole shell shocking world of dressage is as fraught with pitfalls and booby traps as the task of Buying Your First Horse is to an unwary and unaccompanied novice. I certainly don’t claim to have a monopoly on dressage wisdom, but the same rules that apply to the human condition are equally valid as applied to our sport—exercise some common sense and avoid the mistakes that everyone before you has made. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t take it all so seriously. It won’t make you ride any better. As before, the tales which follow are not arranged chronologically but in studied disorder. Some are meant to illuminate. Others to distract. Some just can’t stand to hide in the dark any longer. Light and Truth R Us. And, oh, by the way, feedback is GOOD! I’m afraid that within me there’s an element of Alexander Haig after the Reagan shooting or Riff in Rocky Horror–“I’VE GOT TO KEEP CONTROL!” Consequently, this isn’t an open contribution blog. Tell me what you think. If it fits in, I’ll post it. If not, at least I’ll have learned something. CLICK to comment on anything below.
How do you do?
Not long ago I judged an intercollegiate dressage competition. In them the kids do not ride their own horses but rather they draw their mounts from a hat and have only a 10 minute warm-up to figure them out before they ride a lower level test. It’s really tough because the horses vary widely in their quality and training, and face it, most of the kids are not so experienced that adjusting to an unfamiliar horse is easy for them. It does, however, make the playing field more level than if the team from one school had much more advanced horses to bring than their counterparts.
Having to ride unfamiliar horses is an interesting notion. It is more so with mature riders who are used to the drill. Over my more than 50 years of riding, I know I’ve been on several thousand horses. While each new one might not (ought not) be an adventure, each should be an interesting exercise in problem-solving.
In the old days you used to see a dressage derby class now and again. In it the top placing riders came back and rode again on each other’s horses. It was fun at Training Level but far more entertaining at PSG!
The coolest jumper class I ever saw was at Aachen in Germany. It was an invitational class with just four competitors – the reigning Olympic champion, the reigning world champion, the reigning European champion, and the current High Point leader of the show. Each rider did a round on all four horses, again with only a 10 minute warm-up which they did in front of the whole crowd. No slackers in that group!
I wish it would happen more often that students would agree to swap horses for a ride or two—or especially a lesson—to broaden their feel and expectations beyond the one horse they usually spend all their time with.
Higher and Higher
Our horses have to put up with more than unclear aids, unbalanced riders, mosquitoes, and our whimsical travel plans for them. At times what they are able to endure shocks even us.
At one show the dressage court was placed within a high fenced enclosure. There was enough room for the horses to circumnavigate the arena before I quacked them in, but my judge’s stand–a folding table on a slightly raised plywood platform under a lightweight collapsible canvas canopy–took up too much space and was set in the gateway to the blacktop promenade. The morning classes went well. We were set to resume after lunch, the first horse trotting around the arena outside M, when a sudden breeze came up. The unsecured canopy only levitated several inches but skidded out from over us and across the parking lot for nearly a hundred yards before crunching into a light stanchion. The mightily surprised horse (Did I mention it was an Arab show?) recovered by the following Thursday.
Another time I was judging in one of two adjacent arenas where the show photographer had stationed herself in line with our booths and halfway between the two of them. That way she could catch riders in both rings without having to move around. She had a pair of folding chairs – one for herself and one upon which set a large stack of letter-sized order forms which competitors had filled out to acquire her services. Again, all was peaceful and quiet until a young horse approached C before his test. Then out of nowhere a formidable dust devil blew up and tracked directly towards the photographer. It picked up her pile of order forms and corkscrewed them hundreds of feet into the air (not unlike the cow in Twister). They came down eventually—about the same time the poor horse’s mind did.
And dealing with one more airborne nemesis, I recounted this one in DRESSAGE Unscrambled. It happened during a first ride of a morning clinic session. The woman was on a borrowed horse she didn’t know and was nervous at the outset. In the distance I observed a hot air balloon floating low over the fields. As the lesson proceeded, the balloon did not drift left or right. It just seemed to get larger and larger. It became clear to me it was going to track right down the center line at about 200 feet, occasionally making that whooshing noise that balloons do to stay aloft. It only seems fair to point out its approach my student. How would the horse react? Neither of us had a clue. As the balloon wafted overhead and its pilot called down his greeting, the diligent little horse kept trotting his 20 meter circle, albeit with his eyes rolled skyward and his belly scraping the sand as he crouched lower and lower hoping to make himself invisible.
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