It’s a good question, considering that the stigma surrounding Dressage that is that it is a boring equestrian sport, comprised of the horse doing all the work with inconsistent judging, fancy warmbloods and grumpy riders.
This couldn’t be more untrue.
I first came in to dress up into the Dressage world six years ago and my impression was the exact same. I especially thought that I needed a big warmblood to get anywhere in Dressage which I didn’t have the money or the skills to own. Much to my surprise, Dressage actually requires equal effort from both horse and rider with the goal being that the rider appears like an ornament while the horse dancers beneath them. As for the judges and riders themselves, they’re the complete opposite of grumpy, they both share a love for Dressage and a happy and friendly to everyone!
Due to my misconceptions, I wanted nothing to do with Dressage and instead I wanted to be a showjumper. It wasn’t until my instructor suggested to me that I try a Dressage competition on my Appaloosa x Quarter Horse (previously barrel racer) that I even considered trying such a prestigious sport without a fancy warmblood. I thought she was crazy!
Turns out that she wasn’t crazy and that it is more than possible to do well in the Dressage world with an everyday horse. All it requires is good training and a determined pair to reach any level you wish!
I ended up picking Dressage as my pursuit because of how much it reshaped my view of the bond between horse and rider and how we, as riders, can use the softest touch to communicate with our horses.
Jindy, my Appaloosa x Quarter Horse, and I dived right in at Preparatory level six years ago and his lack of ‘great’ confirmation for Dressage, being downhill and without expressive movement, taught me just how well I had to train him and ride him to get in those marks where the other warmbloods achieved them easier. It was great, fun challenge and it meant that no matter what horse I rode or where I went, I always measured my success in harmony rather than in ribbons.
Year-by-year, we rose up each level until just six years later we are now getting ready to compete in our first ever intermediate A which is three levels below the top level of Dressage.
It was never about the ribbons or the rosettes. Rather it was about what you can learn from getting a for when you thought you should’ve gotten an eight from a judge. I had the most fun seeing just how far my little pony and I could go, where we can still go.
So, the next time you think about or talk about Dressage and then look at your scrawny Thoroughbred or your plump quarter horse and dismiss the thought of doing a Dressage test, rethink.
Any horse and rider can do Dressage and my little Appaloosa and I are just one of many, many examples. From Thoroughbreds who have made it to Grand Prix, to child’s ponies who have won their Preliminary test to Standardbreds that have mastered how to trot and canter after racing; any horse can learn, train and compete.
The everyday horse is always a good place to start in the intricate world of Dressage.