December 31, 2009
I often wonder about what draws people in so deeply to this sport. Most dressage riders share a love of horses and a desire to live their lives around these amazing creatures…but this is a common thread that binds all types of riders, from weekend trail riders to elite eventing stars. What makes dressage riders stand out as some of the most “obsessed” and dedicated in all of the horse sports? What are we working for, or yearning for, when we take up this sport with such ferocity and single-mindedness? What makes us decide that dressage is to be our chosen pastime/profession/life’s work?
As this is my blog, I might as well open myself up for examination. My most important hopes for my life and my future can be broken down to just a few basic things. One, I desire a close, loving, fantastic relationship with my children and husband. Two, I want to be surrounded by lots of good friends (human and non-human) and joy, laughter, and happiness. Three, the one I’ve never admitted out-loud until now, I want to be a great dressage rider. This last wish has been present since the first time a saw a horse and rider performing a grand prix test.
Even as I write this I am unsure of what my definition of a “great” dressage rider is, and my general idea of dressage greatness changes on a daily basis. I certainly don’t have pie in the sky aspirations to ride in the Olympics, or even compete at the high profile shows. I actually don’t care much if I ever compete in a show at the upper levels (if you have seen the video of me and my horse on my profile you will see that is probably a good thing!). Truthfully, this wasn’t always the case. When I began taking dressage lessons I was enthralled by riders performing upper level movements and watching an extended trot made my heart skip a beat. I purchased my SWB gelding on the advice of my then- trainer because he was in my price range (um, what I mean by price range is the absolute most money my husband would allow me to take out on a home equity loan) and she said he had the talent to compete at the local shows and I could probably earn my USDF bronze medal on him. I figured he would be a good stepping stone for me to rise up the levels. Looking back, I am so ashamed of my thought process and the mistakes that I made at his expense in my attempts to hurry through training and get to riding “real” dressage.
Unfortunately, I’m not alone in the way I started my dressage journey. Ask any trainer and they will tell you this sport is dominated by riders who are control freaks and people who are successful at many aspects of their lives and fully intend to be just as successful at dressage. Luckily for people like me, dressage will not allow itself to be learned on demand. We all sign on initially for an education in how to make our horses perform beautifully, and instead what we must all eventually discover (one way or another) is that beauty can’t be forced, or coerced, or extracted. It must be cultivated, nurtured, respected and allowed to grow at its own pace.
While I have in the past chosen to fixate on developing my seat, my “core” and the correct geometry of my figures and the timing of my aids (all tremendously important), what has been slowly, almost insidiously growing is the realization that the development of trust, respect and admiration for my horse (and vice versa) has been just as important in our progress. In the past years my love for the process of dressage has grown, but my desire for future championships and metals has lessened. My attempts to be a “great rider” have changed who I am. Dressage, and my relationship with my horse, continues to teach me to be a better, more understanding, more connected and more compassionate person.
So, Why Dressage? Like most people, my obsession was probably caused by a multitude of factors. The beauty, history and pageantry of the sport caught me at first, but after many years of the highest highs and lowest lows in the saddle, it has really become centered on my desire for a better relationship with my horse. I know I am not alone, you can find quotes from all types of people, from the dressage Masters down to the wanna-bees like me, about how the process of learning dressage changes a person and how your “core” riding skill is actually a positive caring connection with your horse.
I would love to hear your comments about my blog. By becoming a member of Perfect World Dressage you too can start a blog and let everyone know what’s going on in your dressage life. Register today, and check out the forums and start blogging!