Out of Order in the (Dressage) Court

(“Aside from the zero likelihood of that ever happening . . .”)

A guy came down my center line some years ago all decked out in his top hat on a Friesian exuding cadence and displaying a high, arched Second Level frame. He then proceeded to ride a very elegant Intro test which garnered something like 80%.

My obvious question after his final salute was, “So what are you doing in this class anyway?”

He replied, “Well his canter isn’t quite perfect yet.”

He was finished for the day, and my ring was running ahead of schedule, so I invited him show me a canter circle. It was worthy of a seven.

I told him that and suggested that Training Level would certainly be appropriate at this point. His eye-rolling rejoinder: “I don’t want to move up until I am getting all tens.”

Aside from the zero likelihood of that ever happening, it does bring to mind a philosophical training question. One approach is to perfect “A” before moving on to address “B” and to continue in that linear manner throughout the training of a horse and/or rider. As a teacher I am sympathetic to the concern of allowing a student to proceed into increasingly difficult movements or exercises which she can only do badly.

That said, while we would prefer the shoulder-in to demonstrate collection when it is being shown, since one of the purposes of the exercise is to develop collection and engagement, why should it not be used in training before the process has reached total fruition? Employing an exercise developmentally is not remotely like just doing it wrong!

In a similar vein some argue that movements like leg yielding should only be performed when the horse is reliably on the bit. But the same rider hand and leg coordinations required for leg yielding mimic the suppling, gathering aids which produce acceptance. Why shouldn’t leg yielding be a laboratory in which riders discover and practice these coordinations?

Teachers who would have you perfect “A” before they allow you to proceed to “B” erroneously assume that an understanding of “A” is finite, universal, and unchanging. In fact, your concept of “A” (and most everything else in riding) will change over time in light of things you’ve felt doing “E,” “F,” and “G.” The learning process is complex and cumulative, and obviously students absorb and comprehend ideas and acquire physical skills in lots of different orders. Mastery can come later, Exposure to parts of the puzzle which lie beyond a student’s comfort zone or level of competence can not only draw them forward but help them better understand what they think they already know.