I love dressage. You might say I'm obsessed with dressage. Sometimes I set out to do a little
jumping or a trail ride, but guess what? I always end up working on dressage at least a little bit. But I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. See, I think that dressage is a really important thing to learn. In my opinion, it is the very foundation of a horse's training. It should be anyway. And it doesn't matter if that horse is a thoroughbred, a warmblood, a quarter horse, or any other breed. Nor does it matter if the horse is a ranch horse, a jumper, or a trail horse. Horses need to be trained in a way that helps them to use their body efficiently, and enhances communication with the rider. They need to be ridden in a way that is comfortable to them and allows them to respond easily and quickly to clear, well executed cues. It doesn't matter if the partner on their back is needing them to get a cow into a pen, sidestep a rocky patch on a trail, or navigate a course of jumps. This training allows the horse and rider to be in harmonious communication. And that, my friends, is what dressage is all about.
Some people think of fancy, big moving warmbloods ridden by graceful, long legged riders in a shadbelly when they think of dressage. But as we know, dressage is simply a word that means training. More specifically, it refers to a progressive training system as described above. Dressage doesn't need to be fancy, it doesn't need to involve competitions, and it doesn't even need to involve a special dressage saddle. Heck, it can be done bareback and bridle-less! It's true that warmbloods might be ideal for high caliber and international dressage competition, the really big movers excelling at the sport. For people with the money, the ambition, and the talent to get that
far, that might make sense. But for the rest of us, not so much. We might have to settle for what we have, or what we can afford. If I'm honest, we might not really be settling at all. Those big moving, amazing to watch warmbloods might be a little more of a ride than some of us really want to sit on. That big movement, combined with a horse sensitive enough to perform at that level, could be challenging for the every day rider. And let's face it, most of us are just the every day rider. Not that there's anything wrong with that. And I shouldn't say "just." Riders that aren't at the elite levels of competition make up the majority of horse owners and there are plenty of very competent, capable riders in this majority. Anyway, as far as "ideal" goes, the big movers may not be ideal for all of us. If you want a versatile mount who can do multiple disciplines, or if you want a nice quiet horse that isn't too big, you can still do well in dressage, and your horse will still benefit from it.
Benefits of Dressage
Henry is a big Belgian draft horse. He is not what you would think of as a dressage horse. He was a lesson horse for awhile, not because that's what I wanted him to be but because there was a need, and he stepped in and filled it for awhile. He's got a great disposition and he was a very good boy, and tolerant of lots of different beginner riders on his back. Henry has a tendency to lean on his riders hands, and he also stumbles sometimes. In fact, the more he was used in lessons, the more he stumbled. It got to the point that he actually went down to his knees a couple times. Now that he is in dressage training with me, Henry is very light in the bridle. He rarely stumbles, as he is much better balanced. He's quite fun to ride, and I can't wait to take him to a show next spring! Dressage is doing all of this for him. He will be more responsive, easier to keep under control should he spook when we're out of the arena, and better focused when we go to new places. And his jumping should improve as well, because he will carry more weight on his hind end, allowing him more shoulder freedom and a better push from his hindquarters. (Yes, the draft horse jumps!)
Mickey is a thoroughbred who never raced (he was too slow.) He has had a few different owners and he is really unsure of himself and afraid of rough hands banging his mouth. He is getting some help from Dakota and I in getting his confidence back. Because of our dressage training, we know how to ride in a way that allows us to move with him and help him to relax and get more comfortable again with a rider. Right now he goes around with his head up in a very resistant manner. As he learns to trust us, dressage training will show him a better way of moving where he will swing through his back, stepping underneath himself with his hind legs, lifting and lightening his front end.
By Any Other Name...
I've watched really good riders in different disciplines. They are doing dressage. They may not call it that, and they could even be a little offended at my saying that. But when you break it down, that's really what they are doing. When they are helping their horse to trust it's rider, teaching it to relax it's back and step farther underneath with the hind legs, they're doing dressage. Dressage might be called other things. But when I see it, I know it is still dressage. And I know that many horsemen value the same principles that are so important to classical dressage riding. So this is why I say that dressage is for every horse, and every rider.