Sunday, March 4, 2012

Dressage is a Harsh Mistress

Today I'd like to welcome Jennifer Walker as a guest blogger.

Dressage is a Harsh Mistress--Guest Blog for Equestrian Ink

by Jennifer Walker

When I got back into riding after about nine years away from it, I wasn't sure which discipline to pursue. I had a little Arabian mare, and we ended up at a sport horse training barn. When I watched some dressage at an Arabian sport horse show, I decided that was the discipline for me. After all, it's just making circles and changing directions and trotting and cantering and wearing cute little outfits!

Yeah....not so much. As it turned out, it was a whole lot more than that. For one thing, making corners and circles that are actually round is much harder than it looks. For another, you have to have the horse on the bit, and working through its back, and tracking up, and all kinds of other things. Somehow it all snuck up on me and turned out to be much more than I bargained for.

Then I started going to horse shows. And I learned that even though my mare and I had come a long way and performed well for what we were capable of doing, that didn't equate to what really needed to happen and therefore a good score. As dressage judge Creeky Routson once said when I was scribing with her, "Dressage is a harsh mistress." Boy, did I get that.

Once you finally figure out how to make circles that are round and lines that are straight, and your horse is on the bit and you're finally keeping your hands in the right place, you move up a level and everything gets a little harder. Or, suddenly your trainer decides you can't let your horse's hind end swing inward at the canter anymore. Or now your halts have to be square instead of just being thankful the horse stopped at all. It's one thing after another!

And that is the beautiful, wonderful thing about dressage. There is always something new to learn, a new height to reach. When you finally get that feeling of your horse being on the aids and moving powerfully beneath you and you're working together harmoniously. That moment when you finally get the movement right and your instructor smiles and says, "Good job!" It's that bond you form with your horse after hours and months and years of working together to reach a goal.

Yes, dressage is a harsh mistress. And I wouldn't trade it for the world.


Jennifer Walker is a freelance writer, editor, and novelist living in Northern California. Her two books, Bubba Goes National and Bubba to the Rescue, are both available in print or digital editions from and other online retailers.


TBDancer said...

Somewhere I heard basically the same thing--that you get your horse on the bit, over the back, "through" and then the horse takes another step. ;o) I'm not a real detail-oriented person, but with the little bit that I've ridden dressage, I can see how paying attention to the small stuff really pays off. Instead of doing a movement in a test and thinking, "Well, THAT sucked. Maybe the next movement will be better," I started thinking "this seems to be going south, wonder if I can fix the problem" and having it actually turn out to be better than expected. No consistency in that "fixing the problem in the moment," but certainly a step (or two) in the right direction.

Good post!

Linda Benson said...

Jennifer - I have never ridden Dressage, and I have a lot of respect for the patience and attention to detail one needs to pursue this sport. Glad to see you drop by, by the way! And I adore the phrase "Dressage is a Harsh Mistress." Book Title - perhaps??

Francesca Prescott said...

Jennifer, your blog made me smile! So true about riding those circles; people must think we're insane to obsess on something that must sound so simple! But those shoulders fall in, and those quarters swing out, and it's all such a big balancing act!

Alison said...

This is to Greenie in WI see comments under my post "Finding the Inner Child" so we can get the Breyer box to the horse! Best, Alison

Alison said...

Jennifer--welcome! I enjoyed your post!

Jennifer Walker said...

Thank you all for reading and commenting!