Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023

If Only Your Fondest Dressage Wishes Could Come True

This is the time of year when you make wishes and resolutions, when you hope your every riding wish will be granted. Alas, if this were only the time when everything you always knew in your heart were proven to be true and the angels did, indeed, sing.


This is the time of year when you make wishes and resolutions, when you hope your every riding wish will be granted. Alas, if this were only the time when everything you always knew in your heart were proven to be true and the angels did, indeed, sing.

If only that horse you bought after everybody told you not to were not the backward critter they all thought. Why, he munches oats and hay, and he manages it just fine between cribbing and weaving. He can now be caught in the stall in record time, and he hasn’t sent anybody to the hospital in weeks. You always knew there was hope, and as soon as he’s sound and going, they’ll all eat crow!

If only, after failing again to get your horse round and on the bit, you were correct in stating often and loudly that you strongly believe the horse should always be well in front of the vertical. So well, in fact, that he can freely read the constellations in the sky and navigate without any help from you. That, by golly, is self-carriage at its finest.

If only when your trainer says for the thousandth time that your reins are too long, you could charge off to the nearest tack shop and purchase a shorter variety.

It would be great if you could do the same with your seat. Any time your trainer makes a correction, you could have the saddle restuffed, removed and replaced.

While you’re at it, you could change the bits as often as possible and each time expound on the enormous difference it makes in the communication with your horse. Describe how he gets much softer, rounder and more comfortable with every new bit change.


At some point, when you’ve found the bit to end all bits, there is a possibility it will be “illegal.” But have no fear, make a wish. Immediately call, write and lobby for the inclusion of your new find into the realm of allowed equipment. Remember, you are right, and you will succeed in adding yet another piece of hardware to the rider’s bag of tricks.

If, somehow, you haven’t achieved total comfort through the above means, it’s probably time to examine the horse. He goes too fast and shakes your teeth out of your mouth. He’s too slow and exhausts your legs and driving aids. He hangs on the reins and pulls your arms out of their sockets. He just does not respond to your refined and well-meaning aids! So go ahead, make another wish: Hang on the reins for balance, pull for as long as it takes. You were right all along. Extended leaning on a horse’s mouth does work; it was all those stupid half-halts that confused the issue.

If only instructors didn’t like to use their “catch words.” Why can’t these people speak English and try to make sense? There is no such thing as half a halt, or half a pass for that matter. It’s like being a little bit pregnant.

For years you’ve suspected that all that lingo is deliberately obscure just to keep novice riders in the dark. But you’re on to them now! Engagement and impulsion are just fancy terms for your teacher’s eternal “more forward!” which you hear repeated in your nightmares by now. “Push” is another favorite. Push what, and where? Get off and push the horse?

Engagement doesn’t lead to wedding bells, only to further sweating and more effort. Flying change sounds fancy until you try to make the horse’s hind end fly in unison with the front end. When it does not, the sensation is like sitting in a washing machine.

Then there is collection. Nice thought when it yields a profit, but evasive and highly frustrating around horses.


The most aggravating of all is the babble about the outside rein, the holiest of concepts. What’s wrong with using the left rein if you want to go to the left? If you wanted to neck rein, you would have bought a cutting horse.

Maybe that’s a concept to wish for! All those circles would magically disappear out on the prairie, where we’d actually go somewhere. In the rodeo there are calves to be roped and girls who are dressed like girls ought to dress, not like Mickey Mouse or chimney sweeps.

But with the show season coming up in the new year, you may consider giving dressage one more whirl before going on to greener pastures. And, what you’ll find is that your theory on judges was correct all along. Every one of them who gave you less than 65 percent and failed to realize your true potential was actually incompetent, confused and distracted�”on top of having a really bad day.

Now that that misunderstanding is cleared up, you can move on to your next wish: Finding a way to get the judges to stop insisting that everything is always the rider’s fault. Isn’t there a horse involved? Whoever decided that the rider is the root of all problems should think again.

And now we can finally see some light at the end of that wishing tunnel. Here’s the big one: All horses will have to go through psychological testing to assure they have a correct attitude toward the rider. This would be the time to invent your own Dressage Horse Consumer Control program. If you could find a reliable method to make dressage horses more user-friendly and market it with vigor, not only would it financially enhance your retirement to the prairie, but it would also make you into a living legend.

Hark! There are those angels again, singing louder and assuring all riders with true vision of a fabulous year ahead.




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