Why We Dressage
Photo Credit: J. Boesveld

Dressage (in French) = To Train

It stands to reason, then, that all horse riders should learn dressage, even while specializing in their chosen discipline. I'm not talking about the type of dressage that it takes to get into a show ring well enough to put down a great score (which isn't a bad thing to do for sure), but the kind that teaches riders fundamental skills that are the basis of all good movement.

This is not to say that different riding disciplines don't teach effective skills. Far from it. But because dressage training is rooted in the absolute basics that all horses will go through (whether or not the riders are aware), time spent on developing the dressage in the rider is never wasted! Dressage can be a powerful addition to your regular riding program. 

ALL disciplines use circles, straight lines, suppleness, transitions, energy from the hind end, and more. ALL riders can benefit from learning how to use their aids effectively, even if they ride in different tack with a different body position. Because in the end, "all horses have a head, a tail and four legs - and gravity sucks the same way for all of them!" (*credit for that quote goes to my long time awesome dressage instructor)

Here is what dressage can do for you, the rider.

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1. Education

Let's start with the main reason. Riders from all disciplines will benefit from the fundamental instruction that is rooted in dressage. There is a reason that terms and phrases such as "inside leg to outside rein," "forward" and "hind end engagement" are pervasive in all riding arenas. While they are technically taught in dressage, they are applicable to all sorts of riding activities.

Riders who have spent some time learning the dressage basics will always have those skills to inform their future endeavors. Many riders from various disciplines use dressage techniques in their daily riding activities - not to take to the dressage ring, but to take to their preferred ring. Knowing what to do, why and when to use a technique or skill can make a huge difference in both the short and long term success of the rider.

2. Seat Use

When you hear "dressage," you probably instantly think "seat." The whole concept of using the seat as the beginning and end of balance, communication and "aiding" is a core teaching of dressage. When riders lack an educated seat, they likely spend their rides being reactive, out of balance, and ultimately, on the ground after an unplanned dismount.

Learning to use the seat effectively takes years of practice and is one of those things that you never stop developing, but every horse will benefit from your dressage-acquired seat.

3. Independent Aids

Another main component of dressage is to get the riders to use their aids independently of each other. So when the seat is balancing or asking for more engagement, the hands are not pulling but still adequately containing the energy that is delivered to them. The elbows might be soft but toned while the hands are closed and not letting the reins out. The seat does its job while the legs stay inactive and on the horse's sides until more energy is required.

It takes a considerable amount of coordination to be able to work each body part independently from the other, but it can be done.

4. Connection/Contact

Dressage riders spend a large amount of time on both contact and connection, and for good reason. Communication with the horse is critical in all endeavors and the way we communicate can make or break a horse's life. Many riding problems and even lamenesses can be corrected by achieving "connection" - that amazing feeling of the looseness of a horse that is moving confidently forward into your rein contact and responding to your subtle aids despite the great energy he is offering.

This is another life-long quest that can be beneficial to all disciplines.

5. Quality Movement

Movement is another essential part of dressage - but in reality, it is necessary for any kind of horse related activity. Movement is what we're all after, and good gaits are desired in all riding styles, whether it be under saddle, in harness or at liberty. You'd be amazed at how much an educated rider can influence the quality of their horse's movement

Dressage concepts are extremely relevant for all horses and disciplines. Adding a little dressage into your regular riding routine can make a huge difference in the level of success in your chosen field. Don't take my word for it. Just listen to your horse!

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