Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Trial and Error

I love dressage.  Truly, I do!  I came to it as an adult.
When I was just venturing into English riding, in my teens, I asked those around me about dressage.  I basically got responses such as:
“Going to a dressage show is like watching grass grow.”
“You have to have legs of steel to do dressage!”
“Why would you want to?  Dressage riders are snobs and don’t think anyone else knows how to ride.”
Can you imagine why I didn’t find my way to it sooner?
In high school, I ran across “The Complete Training of Horse and Rider in the Principles of Classical Horsemanship” by Alois Podhajsky.  I read it cover to cover.  Several times.  I now own it and it sits on my bookshelf.  Except for when I’m reading it.  Yet again.  But, that first time I read it, I hadn’t made the connection between “classical riding” and “dressage.”  All I knew was this book made sense, and this is how I want to ride and train…
At one of my very early schooling shows, I was entered in a hunt class on a horse I had been riding in lessons.  In my lessons, I had been instructed to ride in a running martingale.  So, of course, when I tacked up for the class, I included the martingale.  I did not know, then, that they weren’t allowed in the show ring.  Someone caught it and informed me before my class.  Luckily we weren’t eliminated, but I began to wonder: why train that way if it isn’t allowed at the show?
I bought my first horse when I was 20!  Yup, I still have him today!  In fact, he is going on 22 years old, and eventing with me!!  He seems to enjoy it just as much as I do, if not more.
Anyway, I bought my first horse.  I quickly learned that he could (and would) run through any bit I rode him in.  I got lots of advice, including: draw reins, running martingale, twisted-wire snaffle, side reins, get him off the alfalfa, lunge him until he’s tired…  Isn’t it funny how many of those are “training aids”?
One trainer I rode with taught me that fundamental concept of riding from inside leg to outside hand.  She also taught me how to encourage my horse to stretch toward the bit.  Pretty basic, right?  I’ve been riding since I was 5 years old.  Why had no one taught me this before?  I still didn’t connect this to “dressage.”
Another horse show.  English Pleasure – Open.  It’s a good sized class.  We’re trotting along, looking all hunter (and passing every other horse on the rail) in a ground-covering trot…  When the judge asks for extended trot.  I close my legs, open my fingers, and feel my horse surge forward and swing!  And we continue to pass every other horse on the rail.  We actually won that class!  We also qualified for state championships that year.  But the most exciting thing was the feel of that extended trot!!  I’m a slow one.  I still hadn’t connected it.
Fast forward a few years.  I set a goal.  I wanted to actually ride a dressage test.
I read everything I could get my hands on.
I read the tests.
I read the rulebook.
I tracked down local schooling shows!
For several years, I didn’t have a horse or a ride at the same time as a show.  I also failed miserably at recruiting partners in crime.  I guess no one I ride with is interested in dressage.
However!  I’ve finally gathered that I’ve been riding dressage all along!!  Yes, it is a sport.  Yes, it is a specific horse discipline.  But, really, it is a school of thought and a state of mind.  Maybe it is even a state of being!

So, having failed for years to actually compete in dressage, I finally decide enough is enough.  I’m getting there one way or another.  Long story short, my first dressage show was a sanctioned show.  I spent way too much money.  My horse was not in top form come ride time after sleeping on concrete.  He spent nearly the entire weekend above the bit.  I brought home ribbons.  I brought home tests.  I studied the judges’ comments and learned quite a bit!  And I brought home resolve.
I am on the right track, and we continue to improve!
I am still looking for a partner in crime…

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