Dancing with Dressage
Today’s BLOGTOBER topic is, “What discipline would I like to try?” This is a fantastic question. Each discipline has something so special. This year I was introduced to endurance riding through my work with The Gobi Desert Cup. I’ll admit I knew nothing about it prior to preparing for the August event.
While I was at the race, I was incredibly impressed by the physical and mental strength of horses and riders. I was also under no delusion that I could do this without major training and dedication. So endurance riding is out for now. However, I have always wanted to try dressage. Again, I’m not looking to become a world champion or anything, however, I am a firm believer that all equestrian disciplines benefit from a knowledge of dressage basics.
History of Dressage
Dressage literally means “training” in French.
The Greeks taught their horses how to evade attacks in battle and “dance” out of the way of an onslaught. As far back as the 5th century BC, a Greek military commander named Xenophon has written about training horses.
The training methods progressed through the Renaissance and in 1572 The Imperial Spanish Riding School of Vienna was founded, which is still a fount of classical training today.
It wasn’t until 1912 that dressage became an Olympic Sport, but according to the United States Dressage Federation when “only military officers eligible to compete until 1953 when the rules evolved to allow both civilian men and women to compete”.
Dressage has continued to be a foundation for training in many disciplines including showjumping, eventing, and now has morphed into another discipline called Western Dressage.
Movements of Dressage
There are six movements of dressage and riders can compete in nine levels. The goal is suppleness, balance, and easy response to the aids of the rider. While circles, halts, loops and more are basic exercises, the following are upper-level movements but those that dressage is well-known for.
Passage: The passage is a powerful and very collected trot seen in upper levels of dressage, created by impulsion.
Piaffe: A powerful trot, almost in place, with impulsion from behind so much so that emphasis of balance is placed on the hind end.
Half Pass: This is no mere leg yield, but a more pronounced movement forward and sideways with a bend to the inside, around the rider’s inside leg.
Pirouette: A lateral movement where the horse makes a circle with its front end around a smaller circle made by the hind end.
Flying Change: The horse must change leads at the canter without changing gaits, and with both forward and hind legs in complete synchronicity.
Dressage is incredibly difficult and yet when done well, looks effortless to the eye. The communication between horse and rider is so subtle, and the timing so perfect, that it truly does look like dancing. I have a confession: I’ve been a dancer my whole life. I took dance lessons as a child in ballet, jazz, and tap as many little girls do. While many teenagers were out sneaking alcohol from their parents, I was clubbing in New York City and visiting Latin dancehalls with my friends, where I learned salsa and merengue among others. I was asked to join my University ballroom dance team and even danced for a DJ. I love to dance. I am generally ungraceful unless there is music. It is as if something powerful takes over and I just feel. Perhaps this is too much information, however, I have never felt so confident with horses as I do as a dancer. While I sometimes ride to music, I would love the opportunity to combine two of my favorite passions: horses and dance. I feel dressage does this more than any other discipline. It is beauty, grace, and feeling shared between horse and rider.