Enter Working Trot, Halt at X, Salute....

by: Erin Shea

I am not going to lie, but Sunday I had never been to a dressage show but I heard from people in the hunter/jumper world that it is about as exciting as watching paint dry. However after the few hours that I spent observing today, my slightly biased opinion was dramatically changed.

I can see how anyone who does not know much about the sport could find it boring. But can't that be said about most anything? What's so fascinating about seeing people lob a small ball over a golf course? Or watching racecars fly around in the same circle hour after hour? From my perspective, I saw more horsemanship on display in the dressage classes than in a typical hunter show class. To ride a test well and win, dressage riders have to be in complete communication with their horses every step of the way. That's not always the case in hunter rings, sometimes our horses carry the weight a lot more than you think! The active and constant communication required by a dressage rider is established and maintained with the correct use of the seat and hands. The dressage rider's position must be upright yet deep, strong yet fluid, and in constant harmony with the horse's motion. Power and control come from the riders' seats, with their hands held lower than hunter riders which allows their horses to follow through with their heads and necks. When positioned correctly, the rider could make her horse engage its whole body while beautifully moving through the dressage pattern, which consisted of walking, trotting, cantering, circling, and halting at specific points through oust the arena.

Another big difference about a dressage show and a hunter show is how the contestants are scored. Every movement of every dressage test is given an individual score and commented upon by the judge as the test progresses. After the classes, riders could pick up their prizes and their score cards which include not only included total score for all the movements combined, but also individual scores for the rider's ability, the quality of the horse's gaits, as well as its obedience and impulsion. Not only did this system of judging make the classes seem more objective than many times hunter classes are but it also provides an extremely helpful tool for the rider to know what needs to be worked to improve for next time instead of trying to guess why the judge placed you a certain way.

I have to say, after spending a day helping out the MMSC team (which ended up with a third, two fourths and a fifth). I have gained a whole new respect for dressage. I know that as a hunter rider I have a lot to learn from this discipline. Solid communication between you and your horse is critical for every equestrian discipline, from eventing to jumping, to reining, and even trail riding! I hope that while riding out at the Center I can learn some tricks of the trade from these dressage people because now I see how it can provide a solid foundation for riding well and for retraining, or, indeed training any horse, to be the best, most obedient athlete it can be.

25 more days until the Games!