My Dressage Journey

I picked out my riding instructor from a desire to learn how to be able to survive on a working cattle ranch: roping, riding, steering, staying on top of the horse, and other essential skills to surviving while surrounded by very large, herd bound, prey animals.  And also because she was the cheapest one I could find.

My ideas about my future with horses began to change about five minutes into my first, ‘lets see where your skills are at’ lesson. I was put in a Western saddle on a pumpkin colored palomino with a fondness for grass and going faster when your attention strayed to far from the task at hand, which was mainly giving him treats and making him believe he was the greatest horse in the whole wide world. Which is still one of his most strongly held beliefs.

Personally, I think western saddles are extremely uncomfortable, or at least this one was. It was stiff, bulky, and not the right size for me. I couldn’t move my legs, my feet kept slipping out of the stirrups, and I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times I attempted to impale myself on the saddle horn as the palomino decided he would really prefer to go at a more rapid pace.

Sensing my discontent, and a potentially lost client, my new instructor stuck me in a dressage saddle for my next lesson on the same pretty palomino quarter horse I had ridden the first time. I was much happier and so was my butt and stomach which still had a couple of bruises from the first lesson.

Did I have a clue what dressage was? No. Did I know the difference between a stirrup and a spur? Not so much. Did I know the head of a horse from the tail? Yes, but the in between was still pretty confusing. We’d be starting from pretty much ground zero.

Amazingly my skills improved, shows were discussed (open shows not dressage shows), and I continued to survive despite my highly ingrained instinct to curl up into a fetal position the moment I got startled.  If you have met me you know this happens with some frequency and if you’ve ever met the palomino, you know he has a strange sense of humor.

Skip a couple of months ahead and I’m at my first show with a very tolerant Tennessee walking horse, not the pretty palomino, who decided riding classes were okay but halter classes were extremely boring and in need of some added excitement.  But I digress, this is a much more amusing story for another time.

Back at the barn while relating the results of this first show to one of her old students, my instructor acquired the intel that this student’s new trainer, an actual dressage trainer and rider, was having a schooling show at her barn. This dressage show was described as being a real small, lots of beginners, no show clothes required, close by, happy, relaxing, fun kind of show. (This should be read as, “Please bring all of your students and all of your horses and enter them in three walk trot tests each so we can at least break even,” kind of show.)

My instructor: “We’re going.”

Me: “What’s dressage.”

My instructor: “You have a pattern and they tell you how well you did on it.”

Me: “Like a trail class?”

My instructor: “Ah, no.  Look it up on Youtube.”

If you search for dressage on Youtube right this minute,  you’ll likely get comparable results to those I was given in 2011 (that’s when I started riding by the way.) You’ll likely see Edward Gal and Totilas or Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro or Andreas Helgestrand and Matine come up at the top of the list.  You’ll also likely find a rather short video, under two minutes, called hip hop dressage.   Intrigued, I started there.

Watching them ‘ slow trot’ around the arena, and even trot backwards! I was hooked.  This statement should also reveal to you the full extent of my knowledge about riding/horses in general and dressage in particular.

After the hip hop dressage video was done it looped to the actual freestyle performance from The World Equestrian Games in 2010. I watched and by the end of the routine tears were running down my face.  Why was I crying?  I’m not real sure but, it was pretty and you could use music and go to The Olympics and I was going to be a dressage rider and go to The Olympics and win a gold medal and be fabulous.

And that is how I found dressage.  Or, I should say, dressage found me.