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I have recently come to the realization that to many people dressage is almost a dirty word. I’ve heard people talk about dressage with about as much enthusiasm as getting a root canal. If dressage has become torture for people then they are missing an integral part of dressage – it’s purpose.
Charles de Kunffy gives a wonderful definition of Dressage and its ideals in his book, Training Strategies for Dressage Riders. “Dressage, in general, is horsemanship that is based on love and respect for horses. It is aimed at the improvement of the horse’s natural abilities to fulfill his ultimate potential. It results in a happy horse that usually lives longer, stays healthier, and performs better and for a longer time than one not dressaged. The method of dressage includes only natural means for the development of the horse. It is based on mutual understanding, respect, and trust between horse and rider. It is based on kindness and reward rather than punishment, and it excludes the use of force.” For anyone who truly loves their horse, how could you not be intrigued by a training discipline that espouses such rapport with the horse?
The problem with dressage arises when attempts are made to learn more about dressage. People can become lost in what seems like incomprehensible jargon. Or people meet “dressage riders” who go to numerous dressage shows but are afraid to ride their horse outside in the real world. To some it may then seem that dressage is merely painfully tedious esoteric exercises to be performed only in arenas. But there IS a world of dressage beyond the painfully crusty veneer so many people see and cringe from; dressage done with love, respect and understanding – Classical Dressage.
Classical Dressage is not torture, but an art with the quest to let go of our own ego and become one in harmony with our horse. In classical dressage you base your training on the understanding that for a horse to work in a happy, healthy and balanced manner there must be:
With this basic foundation, you and your horse are prepared for whatever you may encounter.
The exercises performed in dressage training are only useful and productive if they are used to solidify the basic foundation of training. Each exercise done with care and consideration for the interaction and balance of horse and rider can increase the physical strength and communication of the pair. Without understanding, the movements of dressage are simply moments of frustration and anxiety for the horse and rider to endure.
The exercises of dressage are taught in the schooling arena to give the horse and rider a study hall in which to practice. The flat surface of the schooling area makes it easier for a horse to find his balance. The geometric design of the dressage arena allows the rider to gauge his horse’s ability to balance and maintain straightness. It is in the uneven terrain of a cross country course or out on the trail where you truly discover the benefits of dressage.
To understand dressage is to understand balance. Without balance you can’t hope to ride in harmony with your horse, and you can’t expect your horse to be ready to take any obstacle in front of him. Dressage exists to make things easier for our horses (and ourselves) and to make them happier and healthier.
Dressage is not a dirty word only to be spoken in quiet corners. It is a language in itself that can expose the intricacies and inner working of our relationship and interactions with our horses. Spoken with love it can enlighten the frustrated equestrian. Spoken without understanding it is nothing but gibberish.
I use the basics of dressage anywhere I find myself with horses: trail riding, jumping, working on groundwork, and even in dressage competitions. With a solid foundation of training in dressage, you and your horse are prepared for whatever you find in front of you.