Thursday, April 4, 2013

Dressage: The Art and the Sport of It

Is Dressage sport, or is it art? I believe there are two sides to it, and, they do not have to be in opposition. They can work to benefit one another. My definition of Dressage is that it is the art of systematic gymnastic development of a horse's body, as well as, developing a deep communication and oneness with the horse. Showing seems at first glance to be a contradiction to this pursuit. For me, this is what showing is about: 1. fun and bonding with my horse; 2. to prove that I can keep my horse on my aids, and that I can continue to ride well, in a pressure situation; and lastly, 3. feedback from various judges, which I take into context with my system of training and where my horse is...i.e. if the judge says I need more lengthening but I know that my horse is offering all he can at this moment in time-accept the lower scores and continue to work on the things at home that will improve the lenthening, figuring out WHY they aren't there yet, rather than forcing them to be there because a judge said they needed to be. No different than with the stretchdowns...Frisco stretched when he was physically able. Many horses will allow themselves to be trick ridden into a stretch-just go watch on the sidelines and notice how many do a gravity stretch with riders jiggling the bit back and forth and the reins slack.  Once Frisco was physically prepared to stretch and honestly connected, we now have that as a highlight, often getting 8s on it where it used to be a 5. With the lengthenings, rather than panicking and chasing my horse off his feet, I started analyzing him-watching video and lunging. Do you know what I realized? His natural stride is already the distance of most horse's lengthened stride. Of course he couldn't lengthen any more, he was already very long strided and not yet srong enough for extended trot, which with his trot stride length is the next step on the continuum. I was basically asking my not even five year old for extended trot!!! So how do I fix this? I have to develop his collectability. Janet Foy said it multiple times in the symposium I rode in back in November, and as well in her book, Dressage for the Not So Perfect Horse: you can only have as much extension as you  have collection, you have to develop the pendulum of the hind leg incrementally. I have to make his working trot shorter and more elevated. Then I will have a lenghtening. These two examples are just what showing means to is not about the movements or the test patterns. Showing is not dressage per se, it is what I said above, to me. The test patterns are simply a structured way of accomplishing those three things. Showing is a sport, an opportunity to publicly display the fruits of your artistic endeavors. It is what an art show is to an artist. Properly preparing your horse at home prior the show, taking the time to develop the spectacular moving sculpture that is a properly developed and muscled dressage horse, will set you up for a fun and successful show. Having a strong base of communication will bring artistry and beauty to a technical endeavor. Take the criticsims and the praise-the reviews-and go home and continue to hone your craft and further your relationship with your horse. Let the two serve to further one another.
Photo Courtesy Scott Hallenberg