Sunday, March 16, 2008

Dressage and Writing

I’ve often been asked why I do this--riding, that is, dressage in particular. Non-riders don’t get it at all, but riders that don’t do dressage, often don’t get it either. I can’t tell you how many times, I’ll mention to a friend, “I can’t do XXXX because I have a riding lesson tonight.” Almost without fail, a non-dressage rider will say to me: “You still take lessons? Don’t you know everything by now?”

I guess that is the crux of the matter. I never know how to answer the “don’t you know everything” question. Yes, I’ve been doing this for over 25 years. Yes, I’ve taken lessons every week for almost all of those 25 years. No, I don’t know everything. In fact, the more I learn, the more I realize how little I do know. Dressage riders NEVER know everything. Believe me, if you meet a dressage rider or trainer that tells you they know it all, beware. Even Olympic-level riders are constantly learning from their horses and trainers. Dressage is an on-going process that can continue into old age. In fact, USDF (United States Dressage Federation) has an award for a horse and rider team whose combined age exceeds 100 years old.

I think that’s why Dressage is one of the fastest growing horse sports in the nation. You can do it anywhere with any kind of horse at any age. When I started doing dressage years ago, you could compete and do well on any old backyard horse. Warmbloods were rare in the Northwest. Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, and various other American breeds dominated the dressage scene. If you had a well-trained, obedient animal, you could go far. Today’s competitions are very different from those of 20-plus years ago, but that’s the subject of another post.

I fell in love with dressage when Betty Tukey, my first dressage instructor, put me on her daughter’s retired dressage mare, Countess, almost 27 years ago. That moment is forever engraved in my mind. It was the most profound, moving experience I’ve ever had (again, the subject for another post), but ever since then, I’ve been hooked. I’ve veered off-course and tried other horse sports, but I always come back to dressage. I always will because when everything is just right there is this connection between you and the horse that goes beyond what a mere mortal would feel. I know that sounds a little out there, but if you’ve ever felt it, you know what I mean. Tami Hoag, a dressage rider and NYT Bestseller, described it in one of her books. If I can find the quote, I’ll add it here.

It's not for everybody, anymore than writing is for everyone. I love to trail ride and am very fortunate that my property borders thosands of acres of timberland with lots of logging roads. Riding those roads with just me and my horse is another moment in time that I cherish. There are lots of ways to communicate more adeptly with your horse, and no matter what you call them, most of them are grounded in classical dressage principles handed down through the centuries.

It’s that type of extraordinary experience that I try to portray in my equestrian fiction books. “The Dance,” which comes out in late 2008, has a heroine who can make horses dance. She just has the “touch.” I sincerely hope I do an accurate job of conveying those once-in-lifetime feelings of being one with a magnificent animal.

Dressage and writing are very similar as they require discipline and perseverance. Lots of people claim they want to write a book or ride dressage. Both endeavors require a similar commitment and the ability to enjoy small triumphs and slog through many setbacks. You can’t just dust off your manuscript or saddle up your horse once a month. You have to ride and write on a regular basis, no matter what else is going on in your life. No excuses. It’s easy to give up along the way, but we keep going because we’re driven by something we just can’t explain. Then when everything is right and you’re “in the zone,” you know that you’ve managed to achieve what you set out to achieve, and all the trials and tribulations along the way were worth it.

Do you have any experiences to share regarding you and your horses?


Kit Ehrman said...


It always amazed and amused me when people would ask why I was still taking riding lessons. Sometimes you just don't know enough to appreciate how much more there is to learn. That holds true for both riding and writing.

I enjoyed your post very much.


Laura Crum said...

Its been great fun reading about the various horse passions of this group. Thanks for the insights on dressage.--Laura