Dressage (a French term meaning "training") is a path and destination of competitive horse training, with competitions held at all levels from amateur to the Olympics. Its fundamental purpose is to develop, through standardized progressive training methods, a horse's natural athletic ability and willingness to perform, thereby maximizing its potential as a riding horse. At the peak of a dressage horse's gymnastic development, it can smoothly respond to a skilled rider's minimal aids by performing the requested movement while remaining relaxed and appearing effortless. Dressage is occasionally referred to as "Horse Ballet." Although the discipline has its roots in classical Greek horsemanship, mainly through the influence of Xenophon, dressage was first recognized as an important equestrian pursuit during the Renaissance in Western Europe. The great European riding masters of that period developed a sequential training system that has changed little since then and classical dressage is still considered the basis of trained modern dressage.

Early European aristocrats displayed their horses' training in equestrian pageants, but in modern dressage competition, successful training at the various levels is demonstrated through the performance of "tests," or prescribed series of movements within a standard arena. Judges evaluate each movement on the basis of an objective standard appropriate to the level of the test and assign each movement a score from zero to ten - zero being "not executed" and ten being "excellent." A score of nine (or "very good") is considered a particularly high mark, while a competitor achieving all sixes (or 60% overall) should be considering moving on to the next level.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Dressage from here to there

           It is with great enthusiasm that I return from Mystic Valley Dressage Show and sit down to write this Blog. Always fun to catch up with friends and to realize that so many of my colleagues are still as passionate about this sport as when we all started just a few years ago. Glorious and Enzo were very good. We put down four tests that were relaxed and confident with many good points and positive comments. Enzo did his first Inter 1 which is super fun to get him going at this level and Glorious did his first freestyle!! Both boys topped their classes with very good scores and I am grateful to have them in my life.
           I was very grateful to have time to do a short talk during the competitor party with my friend Kyrena Parkinson. Kyrena and I talked a bit about competition mindset and creating healthy eating habits for optimum energy. These subjects are part of my youth webinars and it is fun to be able to give a talk like this live.
           Something that I am also very excited about is developing good riding skills from an early age. I find that many of the trainers end up having to undo some bad habits and misconceptions as the kids move along, and part of this is because we do not utilize the system as well as we could. As Americans we tend to be in a hurry. We can occasionally skip steps, or feel as though certain pieces of the puzzle are not necessary. We all know that building a lasting foundation takes time, and there is no more important a foundation than our seat and the application of the aids. I know for myself I could have learned these basics in a more systematic way, and I have worked hard to create a confident seat that can serve me in all situations. I am eager to help all riders find their best seat and I know from experience that the earlier we start working on it the easier it is!
             It is with this in mind that I encourage trainers and children and parents to look at the system in place with the FEI and now the addition of our Dressage Seat Medal classes added by the USDF.
              Children's classes are offered now at most Dressage Shows and are for riders 12 years to 14 years. Children's is close to first level. So of course prior to Children's training and first level would be a good option if your child wants to start before 12 years old. However, there are differences in the way the children's tests are written and judged that create the foundation necessary to move up the levels. The tests ask questions, and the scores do not reflect the special gaits of a particular horse, but instead reflect the ability of the rider to sit, create balance and understanding in the horse/pony and build an honest rider that can go to the next step with confidence.
               Pony classes are for riders ages 12 to 16 years. Pony classes are equivalent to second and third level without a flying change. There is controversy over the flying change, however, I am 100% in agreement that there should not be a flying change. One of the hardest things to master is the posture change from sitting in position right to position left and vs a vs. Getting this to work in a body that is right (or left) handed takes time and practice. Taking it to the show ring and being able to do it under pressure another challenge. Creating correct aids for lateral work, collecting after extended gaits and so on, this is not easy and should not be looked at as such. It is challenging and should be treated with respect and diligence. Kids that are successful in ponies absolutely will develop good seat skills and the application of the aids to move up to Juniors and Young Riders. Skipping this step can be detrimental to a child's education and in addition can prevent the ability to experience the joy and confidence of learning what is necessary to create a solid partnership. If you can connect and partner with a pony, You can do just about anything!! Let our future dressage riders have this experience, the kids deserve it! Another important note here is that these classes are offered at CDI's. This means that one can get the experience of this high level competition at a young age. A CDI is much more comprehensive than a normal dressage show. There are medication restrictions, stabling rules, schooling time and award protocols. Having this opportunity will better prepare our youth riders for the challenges they will encounter when moving toward team competitions.
                Junior classes are for riders 14 to 18. The junior classes are equivalent to 3 rd level, but, are they really? Junior tests ask many questions. Have you learned how to half halt? Can you ride your horse in position right or position left? Can you give the reins away and keep your horse on your seat. And, most importantly do you and your horse understand a double bridle. Many of these important subjects are dumbed down, or overlooked. They are so important and they take time. We are not born knowing how to sit. Seat development takes time. Learning how to sit and learning how to sit while riding a test, another challenge. Learning how to sit and learning how to sit at a show, another challenge. As trainers we need to support our riders through this process. As riders we need to learn it is a process and it does not happen all at once, but over time. Take time to ride the Junior tests and have a Junior horse! It is well worth the time spent and the connection created.
               Young Riders are for riders 16 years to 21 years. These tests are equivalent to the Prix St. Georges. However, as you see from the text above they are asking even more questions. The sequence changes, canter and trot zig zag and introduction to pirouettes all challenge the riders ability to balance their horse and ride with flexion and collection. When introduced to these tests without a basic foundation they become complicated and discouraging. When you move into these tests with good basics they are still challenging, but the basic principals make sense and the tests will flow with grace and confidence. Through the use of the systematic approach up the levels one has learned about the use of corners, half halts and proper forward and collecting aids. The proper use of the seat will make the questions in the test welcome and fun.
                Under 25 classes are the developing Grand Prix level and are a fantastic way to step into the Grand Prix ring and gain experience. They are open to riders 16 years to 25 years. Getting to Grand Prix as fast as you can should not be the purpose. The fact that you can start at 16 years old does not mean you should. There are many scenarios that might make this work, but I am a strong advocate for learning the basic foundation before jumping into the Grand Prix. There is so much that goes into the Grand Prix, being relaxed and present for your horse can only be possible when you can control your seat, legs and hands. This is built over time and takes practice. Enjoy the process. The partnership and the connection are so important. Believe it or not this is what makes successful riders.
              USDF is really working hard to get the Dressage Seat Medal Classes going. These classes are open to anyone under 18. There are two divisions 14-18 years and under 13. This program is great! and more can be found out about it on There is a championship that you need to qualify for. These classes will help get the focus on the proper seat and application of the aids. Being part of this program allows kids to be rewarded for working on these very important fundamentals. Please consider making these classes part of your training program and show schedule.

                       Please feel free to contact me with any questions or for more information. If I do not know the answers I am happy to find someone that does.

                     Be Youthful in Your Approach
                     Connection is the Key
                     Remember, Anything is Possible


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