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Riders who have switched to Dressage - what do you wish you had known?

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  • Riders who have switched to Dressage - what do you wish you had known?

    So I've ridden since I was young - saddleseat, western pleasure, hunter pleasure (flat, no real jumping). I still have a WP horse and a HP horse who I will show in open shows and maybe Arab shows.

    But I have an Arab gelding who seems to like dressage. We took lessons when I lived up in MI, stopped when we moved back to TX and started back up again this year once we moved again. I LIKE that there are about a billion goals you can accomplish in dressage - I'm a goal-type person. He likes that it isn't just going around the ring but that there are things to do.

    So I am excited. And terrified. I've always shown in pleasure classes - where there are multiple riders in the class. And I'm comfortable with that. Dressage is a whole new ballgame.

    So - for those who switched over to dressage, what do you wish you had known? I don't have any aspirations of being a national competitor. My dream would be to show at Arab sport horse nationals, but unless I get a much better paying job a more realistic dream is to show closer to home. My goal this year is to get to a couple of schooling shows. I'll start small and slow..

    But again, what do you wish you had known? Have any great advice?
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  • #2
    Originally posted by cowgirljenn View Post
    But again, what do you wish you had known? Have any great advice?
    Buy a saddle the fits you. In dressage it is 80% of the battle won when it comes to being effective and having the correct position. I could murder the people that told me changing your position was supposed to be that hard - it was like I had 5 years of dressage lessons in a day when I switched saddles.
    On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog

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    • #3
      I cannot agree with the post above more. I had a terrible time with getting my horse to be responsive to bending, being soft, even just something as simple as half halts and stopping.

      The saddle fit him great. The saddle put me in such an awkward position that I was fighting trying to keep myself balanced. A different saddle changed everything completely. It took a few tries to find one that fit me and I thought was comfortable, but it was worth it in the long run, and now I can sit the trot, have a soft and happy horse, do lateral work, etc.

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      • #4
        I did LOTS of western stuff growing up. Biggest difficulty for me has been the contact and the legs back far enough. Watching grand prix horses and riders is great but it doesn't help you get the stretchy trot. Having access to 6 dressage arabs of varying levels I can tell you bending that long lovely neck takes patience. Getting that noble carriage head to proper frame is another challenge. They all can rock the passage and piaffe but engaging the hind end for the correct trot is another battle. I also wish I had known I would have to constantly be kicking the horse to move. I am still not sure why my lower leg resembles more a twitching mess than a consistent pressure but I've only been at it for a few months.
        Adoring fan of A Fine Romance
        Originally Posted by alicen:
        What serious breeder would think that a horse at that performance level is push button? Even so, that's still a lot of buttons to push.

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        • #5
          Agree. I came from western, jumping, bareback, etc. Correct contact has been the biggest learning curve. I wish I would have known that it is never, ever correct to set the hands in order to get a headset. Nope, must figure out how to push the horse from behind into a soft, giving contact-in such a way that the frame then takes care of itself. Headset, in any way, is not the way to go about things. It creates tension, even when the reins are light. Detracts from the horse's beauty and suppleness.

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          • #6
            If I had know how long it would take me to get the basics I might have stuck to trail riding. I'm glad I stuck it out though. If I had to start again I would ride with the best instructors and clinicians that I could find right away. It would have saved me a lot of time.

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            • Original Poster

              #7
              Originally posted by opel View Post
              I wish I would have known that it is never, ever correct to set the hands in order to get a headset. Nope, must figure out how to push the horse from behind into a soft, giving contact-in such a way that the frame then takes care of itself. Headset, in any way, is not the way to go about things.
              I will say this is one thing I'm having to adjust to. In the pleasure horses, I either 'jiggling' the reins (alternating rein pressure) or 'pick up the reins' to get a headset. So the instructor I'm using has had to get after me to push the horse from behind into the bit so that he comes together (I'm not sure I have the right words there, but I think we're saying the same thing). I'm going to have to work on that a lot..
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              • #8
                Buy white gloves. I'm a H/J rider who added dressage last year. Didn't know that wearing black gloves told the judge I had bad hands.
                Also, don't eat before showing. My first show I snarfed down 1/2 of a sandwich @ 30 min before my test. Baaaaddd idea. Dressage uses the stomach muscles. H/J doesn't use them as much. Now I don't eat until I'm done riding.
                Elizabeth
                The Greatest Sense of Freedom is on a Horse!

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                • #9
                  I have done a little bit of many things..western, hunter, saddleseat. Besides how to correctly use my weight aids, I really wish someone had taught me how to correctly incorporate those weight aids along with using a snaffle bit correctly. Many of us ride in a snaffle, but most of us do not learn how to use the snaffle correctly. We only find out later on if we are very lucky.

                  Dressage tests should be a piece of cake for you if you have done open show ring work. 20+ hunters doing a hand gallop within one arena is much more exciting than riding a little, old dressage test within the safety of being by yourself doing the work.

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                  • #10
                    I just really wish I had started sooner. I'm 65, have ridden since I was 9, did pleasure horse stuff and then got into Arabians. I have done saddleseat, western pleasure, native costume, hunter pleasure, working hunter, side saddle, etc., but I love dressage. The judge sees everything you do, both good and not so good. the judge also sees everything the rider before you or after you does, too! And you won't loose out due to one mistake.

                    I agree about those long Arab necks!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Don't believe that Dressage is rocket surgery. (Or Art).
                      Find out early on what good contact feels - and looks - like. Do not compromise in replicating this feeling on every horse you ride.
                      Do everything "by the book" - but don't be scared to experiment, or to analyse whether your understanding of "the book" might be flawed.
                      If it looks and feels wrong - it probably is.
                      Rhythm is your best friend.

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                      • #12
                        Don't be intimidated, and don't be buffaloed into listening to "armchair" (or ringside) critics.

                        I made the switch to dressage from hunters and jumpers as a teen, and can't tell you what I suffered at the hands of the clique of older, adult women where I boarded. They frequently told me I had the "wrong" breed of horse, the wrong breeches (color, type, brand ... you name it), the wrong bit, and the wrong color tack. Unfortunately, as a 14 year old kid with NO dressage experience, I felt hurt and worried that I'd never get anywhere until I righted these "wrongs" Now I know differently, of course, that one can ride equally well in rust colored knee patch breeches as a pair of anthracite full-seats So I say -- go at your own pace: dressage is a journey not a destination!
                        Piaffe Girl -- Dressage. Fashionably.
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                        • #13
                          I wish I had started sooner! Mostly I just wish I'd had a magic answer to switching my seat from h/j mode to dressage mode. I still get caught wanting to go up into a half seat every once and a while
                          No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle. ~Winston Churchill
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                          • #14
                            That you have to be very fit and have an good strong core. To sit the trot you need to be strong enough to support and balance your own body. Sounds easy, but it isn't. Especially for us middle age women who are desk jockeys during the day. You need to be able to sit the trot and half halt and not hang on the reins. It gets even harder at the medium and extended gaits.

                            You also need to have a very good sense of body awareness and be able isolate body parts (e.g. move your leg without disrupting your seat).

                            Loads of riders are stuck in their riding due to lack of strength. To progress you will need a fitness routine that you are very committed to.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Speaking of core muscles and sitting the trot...
                              (flame suit on)

                              I wish all tests, except for intro, required sitting trot for at least part of the test. I see too many people even at 1st who can not, for the life of them, sit the trot. They have no business being at 1st or even at Training. How can they be effective if they can't RIDE to start with?

                              I understand the reasoning behind rising trot with respect to the horse, and it has its place in tests, but if the tests also are judging the rider...then they should be able to sit the trot effectively.
                              Ottbs - The finish line is only the beginning!

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                              • #16
                                Originally posted by ColoredHares View Post
                                Buy white gloves. I'm a H/J rider who added dressage last year. Didn't know that wearing black gloves told the judge I had bad hands.
                                Bad hands tell the judge you have bad hands. Judges can see through your horse what your hands are doing no matter what color gloves you're wearing.
                                Donald Trump - proven liar, cheat, traitor and sexual predator! Hillary Clinton won in 2016, but we have all lost.

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                                • #17
                                  Welcome to the Dressage world first off! I started with HJ and really wish I would have started the Dressage sooner. It makes your core way more solid and you won't freak when the HJ judge tells you to sit trot

                                  With the Arabs, you want to try and accomplish that nice floaty trot and they really like the harder stuff because they don't like just going in a straight line. I swear my half Arab loves contorting his body, so Dressage was a great fit. Also AHA has some really great programs for those of us that show Dressage. You can earn year-end points and even qualify for regionals at open shows.

                                  Good Luck!
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                                  • #18
                                    I was actually blessed with a fantastic trainer at the very beginning of my switch (a long time ago) from H/J to dressage. So, the thing other career switchers should know to make their dressage lives MUCH easier is that you need a good, solid six months of lunge line lessons at least once a week! If you start from that very solid foundation before you work on anything else at all you will be amazed how good of a rider you are.

                                    I never held the reins, I never used my stirrups. We worked on draping the leg and doing different arm movements to show me the seat I needed to have. I'm so grateful to that trainer!

                                    Sadly she stopped teaching shortly after, so my search for correct contact took a few more years. Very frustrating years, but it was actually a great horse who taught me the correct feel. Elastic, forward-thinking, and above all else SOFT!!! If it ain't soft you ain't doin' it right, LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      It's YOUR job to establish correct contact, not the horse's.

                                      Years of various types of equitation told me good hands were ones which didn't move from their spot near the horse's whithers. Wrong! At least wrong when it comes to dressage, where your horse is supposed to be on contact. I had a judge give a comment at my first show which made what I'd been hearing click somehow. I was expecting my horse to hold his head still so rein contact was steady, instead of staying soft in the elbow so my hands could move with him and follow his head movement - and maintain a steady contact.

                                      Contact and sit back were (are) the hardest for me, at least. Also just coming to understand how big the gaits can get. I went from quarter horses to a TB who thinks a trot with almost 1' overstep is a fun thing. What feels like "enough" rarely is based on what I'm used to, and I'm guessing that will be the same for you, too.
                                      If Kim Kardashian wants to set up a gofundme to purchase the Wu Tang album from Martin Shkreli, guess what people you DON'T HAVE TO DONATE.
                                      -meupatdoes

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                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by sophie View Post
                                        Speaking of core muscles and sitting the trot...
                                        (flame suit on)

                                        I wish all tests, except for intro, required sitting trot for at least part of the test. I see too many people even at 1st who can not, for the life of them, sit the trot. They have no business being at 1st or even at Training. How can they be effective if they can't RIDE to start with?

                                        I understand the reasoning behind rising trot with respect to the horse, and it has its place in tests, but if the tests also are judging the rider...then they should be able to sit the trot effectively.
                                        (This is a bit off topic, but so was the post I'm responding to, so here goes.)

                                        I disagree for a couple of reasons.

                                        1) For horses at those levels, they often do not have the strength to properly carry a rider (even the best rider) at a correct sitting trot. Requiring a sitting trot at intro or training (or even first now) is often asking more of the horse than he is ready for. That's the whole point of the levels in dressage - to encourage the proper order and use of the training scale, building solid foundations and all that.

                                        2) There is a huge difference between sitting the trot of a horse with a relatively "small" trot that has little suspension and shorter strides - and sitting the trot of a "big" moving horse that has lots of air time and a long stride. Those different types of trot require different levels of ability, strength and knowledge from both horse and rider before you can execute a correct sitting trot.

                                        3) I find it a bit snobbish to assume a rider is no good if they can't sit the trot. Some people have legitimate health issues (arthritis, bad backs, old injuries, etc) and others are good riders with solid skills that have not mastered a correct sitting trot yet.

                                        I think many can sit a slow trot, especially if the horse lacks suspension and is a bit short strided. However, to do the correct sitting trot that is expected in dressage as you move up the levels, there is a lot more involved. The horse needs to have the education and strength to carry the rider, and the rider has to sit in such a way that he doesn't interfere with the horse.

                                        I personally think it's lovely that 1st level now offers the option to post or not. It opens up another level for those who have physical issues preventing the sitting trot or for those who have big moving or young horses that just aren't ready to carry a sitting trot quite yet. First level isn't really asking questions that are all that difficult, so I think a lot of horses can correctly work a first level test without being 100% solid in sitting trot. The fact that it is now optional opens up a lot more training flexibility (for both rider and horse).

                                        And it's always good to remember: bad riders will be there at all levels, banging away on back and mouth. If nothing else, not requiring a sitting trot will save some school horse backs = )

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