Monday, December 17, 2012

My Horse Hates Dressage

I hear this from time to time; mostly when I visit a boarding barn that has mixed disciplines.  I usually don't respond, but I think it is time to put my "official position" to paper.

No horse hates dressage. When someone claims that their horse hates dressage, they are telling me that:

A. They have no idea what dressage is
B. They are not applying the principles of dressage correctly, or
C. They are too lazy to learn to ride and train their horse properly.

Most of the time, quite honestly, I believe the reason is B.  I further believe that they don't do it on purpose.  The biggest reason that people don't apply the principles correctly, is that it is difficult to be as disciplined as you need to be every day in order to develop your horse into the best athlete he can be, no matter what specialty discipline you choose.
It takes a committed effort over a very long period of time to learn the principles of riding (let's not even call it dressage for a moment, since it applies to EVERY discipline--not just "dressage"), and it takes much perfect practice to become proficient in applying those principles dynamically and still maintain the logical progression that the horse needs.
So, it is not the horse that hates dressage.  It is that the person has not yet understood that DRESSAGE is the fundamental necessity of the horse/human partnership, no matter what purpose the horse serves the rider. Yes, it is difficult to develop the horse's muscles in a way that doesn't injure the horse or break him down prematurely, and sometimes the horse resists.  But he only resists in the same way that a person would resist having to do an intense workout at the gym.  If the rider understands how to push, encourage, cajole, and insist, the horse will develop the joy of fitness along the way.  Will he love every step?--no.  Neither do we.  Sometimes, it is very difficult, and the horse doesn't understand that becoming stronger and more ambidextrous will help him feel better and live longer.  We understand that for ourselves, because we are human and we have the gift of abstract thought.  Horses don't have that capacity, but they are naturally agreeable creatures, and if we train OURSELVES to understand and be able to apply the principles of dressage/riding, and we push hard, but not too hard, and set your horse up for success with the effort, your horse WILL like dressage. And your performance will reap the benefits, no matter what discipline you enjoy.


  1. You said it. I too HATE when people say that...dressage is a sport - it is taking flat work and basic training and manipulating it into a pattern etc. So your horse hates flat work? %99 of jumping is flatwork....people are funny..

    1. Thanks for the comment, BeBe! You are right. I often tell my eventing students that jumping is dressage with obstacles. :-)