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.
I applaud riders who show empathy for their horses. You don’t want to confuse your horse or upset him. You don’t want to “get it wrong” or leave your horse in a state that will make further training more difficult. Those are sentiments which I appreciate.
But though it may run contrary to my financial interests, I am disappointed sometimes at the timidity shown by riders who fear to take a step without their trainer hand holding every single second.
OK, there are exceptions if you can’t tell if the flying change you are trying to make is clean or not, better to wait for eyes on the ground to guide you. Likewise, it’s not wise to practice your version of a bunch of movements if you don’t really know what they are supposed to look like.
But dabbling in a bit of this and that won’t usually do any harm. Do some reading. Watch some video. Work on exercise you can visualize and have a little courage! Assuming that what you are aiming to do is appropriate to your horse’s level (or only slightly beyond it), it will do you both some good to experiment with how things work. Learning to ride is a creative act. Within reason you have to be willing to suck it up, take some little chances, and see what results. Besides, what else does your instructor have to do but untangle the messes you make?
OK, Choir, it’s you I’m preaching to. So of course this will do no good, but it may make me feel better. I haven’t talked about western dressage much lately. In fact I haven’t even thought about it. But I did have to judge some of it this winter, and what I saw left me scratching my head.
It has certainly never been my cup of tea, but it began with good intentions. Originally the USDF accepted it with the hope that exposure to “classical horsemanship” would be beneficial to western riders and particularly to the well-being of their horses. Then in some parts of the country (mine included) that “discipline” was hijacked by western pleasure people who viewed it as an opportunity just to ride in more classes and get more points.
Despite whatever the rules said —and sometimes they were written to say pretty bizarre things— those in charge were willing to allow even greater travesties to occur. In recent years I have been happy that the pendulum has begun to swing back the other way. Yes, some nutty things are still permitted. Intro and Basic tests can be ridden in long shanked bits while they speak with unconscious irony of contact, connection, and acceptance. Turns on the forehand and turns on the haunches may be done “our” way or with a stuck pivoting braiding of the legs. But at least the word has gotten out that the horses go forward and have conventionally defined gaits with rhythms we know and suspension in the jog and lope.
But not so much at the last show I judged. I must say some rides were pleasant to watch. On the first day there were several Level Three and Four rides which I had no trouble scoring in the mid to upper 60s. But on the second day many of the horses were presented like pleasure refugees barely, barely shuffling over the ground. I try not to be a snob but it was painful to watch!
In the Further Remarks at the bottom of the test sheets I dutifully explained what I was looking for, referring them to the Purpose and the Directives and even suggesting that they look on YouTube at the winning rides at the WDAA World Championships. A few heeded my advice and saw their scores rise in their later rides. What was especially frustrating were riders who, despite their 52%s on the scoreboard, came back and kept doing the same thing again and again! Other than making their horses look lame, do you know how long it takes for one of them to mince around the large arena when they are ridden that way? (That’s OK, it’s a rhetorical question. No need to answer.)
Words to 2020 by
Ride real figures—accurate ones
In front of the leg means always and instantaneously
Your aids should start in your center and emanate outward to your extremities
The reins don’t stop in your hands
Quiet hands are not dead hands
Repetitions with frequent breaks beat drilling
Don’t nag—if you tell him to go, he is supposed to keep going (with reminders but not a poke every step)
You cannot punish anticipations
There is nothing wrong with using your voice when schooling (or in the show arena if the judge can’t hear it)
Don’t be overly impressed by gimmicks
If you or your horse are flustered, take two deep breaths and go back to something more basic.
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