(“. . . like driv(ing) down the highway through a thick fog . . .”)
It’s supposed to be easy!
I’m not saying that dressage doesn’t require physical exertion and fitness. It also demands discipline, patience, and an orderly approach to the work. But it’s not supposed to be a struggle to keep your horse going or to have him be round or to not weigh a ton in the reins. If these are the things that are happening in your riding, it’s time to reevaluate. Either you’re doing it wrong, or for whatever reason your horse is inappropriate for the task.
I knew a woman who owned a prominent warmblood breeding stallion whom she was schooling at I-1. Her working students reported that every time she finished her ride, she immediately collapsed on the tackroom couch and took a half hour to recover. Another time I was involved with a horse who was champion mare in the breeding division at Devon. She showed on the triangle and displayed fantastic gaits—two of them anyway. It’s a good thing the judges couldn’t see her canter because it was gruesome to watch and painful to ride. So in these cases, at least, if you were trying to manufacture a silk purse out of these creatures, you might only be blamed for having chosen the wrong project in the first place.
As for the former horse [In this case he really was a bit of a pig.] and many others, you need to ask yourself: Am I impeding my horse by the way I sit? Are my hands distracting or restricting him? Do I know how to put him in front of the leg and not nag him to stay there? If you have jumped ahead in the training progression and left things out? Guess what? It’s gonna come back and bite you in the keister.
Steffen Peters counsels your goal in training is to make things simple. When you don’t, it’s like trying to drive down the highway through a thick fog. When your horse finally is correctly on the aids and you understand each other, it’s like the fog clearing, and riding gets very different!