Pressing Onward

gustafson_-_jack_and_the_beanstalk-726768A 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.

   Not just your Mother’s Frozen Vegetables


(posted 7-21-21

As I explained in a blog some years ago, whenever I flew out of the Tampa airport headed for a clinic or judging gig, when the flight took off on runway 36 as it ascended I could look down on many of the farms where I taught on the north side of the city. We would still be at a relatively low altitude where familiar streets and homes were still recognizable. I could also pick out my students’ dressage arenas, and my spying eyes could easily determine if the circles they were making were round. And when I got home, they heard the good or bad news from me.

Completing Elizabeth’s new home on our property spurred me to check on Google Earth to see what the farm now looks like from above. As the photo shows, not only is the 20 m circle round, but as you zoom in you can see that the horse in the arena is correctly bent also. Total slam dunk!

Go ahead—see what your own arena looks like from a bird’s eye’s perspective.

                                 High Times (Verified)

(posted 7-15-21)

Last month (June 7th to be exact) I posted a blog which talked about the way dressage scores have been climbing over the past several decades, particularly at the international level.

As a follow on here is a bit of proof for you to digest:

                                            Some Irks

(posted 6-30-21)

Forgive me, gentle reader, if you thought I was referring to you. Clearly not, although I suspect you know people who are guilty of these irksome transgressions.

People whose horses won’t stand still at the mounting block

Those damn flat sided circles

Riders who don’t know where the quarter line is and just ride 6 feet off the track

Riders who don’t know the etiquette rules when multiple people are schooling in the same arena

Riders who let their horses stop in the middle of an exercise to poop

Riders who let their horses disappear out from under them in downward transitions and not ride the horse through from behind

Riders who only practice what their horses are good at and don’t work on problem areas

Riders who drill endlessly and especially ones who don’t give their horses breaks in their work or opportunities to stretch down

That’s my Irksocism for the day. I feel better now.


      Raincoat, scarf, or sunblock? Dress for Success

(posted 6-21-21)

So much of the time, I talk to people about creating expression or energy. Routinely at clinics filled with lower level or amateur riders, the majority of them under-ride their horses. Dominant themes are getting the horses quicker to the leg, more attentive, and more active.

But there are exceptions. Sometimes these qualities are already there, even overflowing into tension or stress. More of the aforementioned qualities of themselves do not necessarily make a better picture.

The horse’s trust and confidence in you are equally important. You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s always worth exploring the notion of “Less making, more allowing.”

Remember that when a horse carries himself, that means more than not being heavy in the reins. He carries himself forward in balance and without the need to constantly be poked and prodded to maintain the gait or the movement. Also remember that if your horse seems hyper responsive—bursting against the hand in an upward transition, for instance—he may need some time to be de-programmed, even intentionally under-ridden to compensate for his elevated concern. And certainly the last thing you want to do is punish an overreaction. That will only feed the problem!

I am not trying to go all snowflake with you, but right here let me cast a vote for harmony. You can always turn the volume up and add more power and expression when he can understand and accept it.

                                      High Times

(posted 6-7-21)

Various people—especially older ones with the perspective and cynicism that comes with age—have observed that test scores are much higher than they were 20 or 30 years ago. Is this really true or just the Mandela effect? If it is true, are they deservedly higher?

A statistical analysis will bear this out, but just anecdotally it does seem that there are many more scores in the 70s floating around than there used to be. Going back 30 or 40 years, a 70% would not only win a class, but often at many levels it would even win the Regionals. As you know, nowadays it’s common to find the top half dozen placings there all in the 70s. Back then even at the Olympics an 80% was almost unheard of. Now all the medalists routinely break that barrier.

In this country at every level riding has gotten much more sophisticated. This is not to say there aren’t plenty of novices finding their way through the jungle. But as the sheer number of people doing dressage has widened the base of the pyramid, the absolute number of riders nearer the top has also grown. On some weekends there are eye-rolling exceptions, But both at dressage shows and at horse trials there are many admirable performances.

The quality of the horses is also far better than in years past. Seven is a very common Gait score and not just at the top shows. This is reflected in the cost of many of the horses who compete at recognized shows. An occasional off track thoroughbred still pops up as well as a few examples of almost every breed, but the athleticism and talent which riders have to work with is far superior to what we used to see.

The judge itself also seems to be a bit more lenient — possibly related to the introduction of half points several years ago. A 6.5 doesn’t feel as stingy as a 6, and those half points add up.                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

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