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Switching to Dressage

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  • Switching to Dressage

    Hi Everyone,
    I'm a long time lurker, but first time poster. I've been showing in Western Pleasure and Hunter Under Saddle for a long time. However (and this may sound funny to dressage people) I'm getting tired of showing while riding in circles. I've also reached that wonderful point where I'm about as successful as I can be with out remorgaging the house to pay for it.

    I'm interested in switching to dressage and I was wondering if anyone else has done this switch and how comfortable you are a dressage saddle? I'm deeply attached to how I sit in my western show saddle (it's one of those '70s equitation seats that isn't that deep, but somewhat built up from the tree), and I quite like my close contact hunt seat saddle. If you were going to invest in (likely a used saddle) what would you try? I have very poor flexibility in my left ankle, but I've found that that is generally correctible with altered stirrup length.

    A little bit about my current ride, he is a 5 coming 6 year old QH, who is finished in the all around events, and is generally quiet but surprisingly sensitive when ridden. He is 15.3 in front and 15.2 in back, so a little on the short side (but I'm only 5ft.), but very good in hunter classes (not to brag, but I only tend to lose those to taller horses).

    My current plans are to school dressage over the winter and maybe try some intro level schooling shows next spring or summer, so if anyone has any tips, by all means, bring them forth.

    Sorry for the novel,

  • #2
    Honestly? I'd take some dressage lessons first before committing any money towards tack, or even clothing. Dressage may be just the right next step for you (and your horse) ... or it may not be anything like you imagine, especially if you are very attached to your existing seat and position.

    Where do you measure your horse "in back"?


    • #3
      Welcome to the dark side! But I do think AWG is correct.

      Your first step should be to go find yourself a dressage trainer with a school horse and take a few lessons. See if it's what you want to do.

      There's no reason why a sound, uphill-build QH wouldn't be a good horse to work with, but I'd make sure it's what you want to do first. You really will need a trainer--this isn't a DIY starter activity. There's quite a bit you can fark up as a beginner which is then hard to put right--as many of us have experienced...

      People do find it rather different to what they originally expected--some get addicted, some can't run away fast enough

      Go watch as many clinics, shows, lessons, as you can, too.


      • #4
        OK, I did what you're doing, only I already had some dressage experience.
        I have a 7 yo, homebred QH. As a young horse, we showed western horsemanship, trail, english eq, and some HUS (though riding on the rail is soooo boring, patterns all the way). We did well (not to brag). I credit all of my dressage to the fact that I could/can clean up in the patterns classes. When he got a little older, we cleaned up at quite a few dressage shows. He'll always be more limited then my warmbloods, but he sure is fun. We'll make our 2nd/3rd level debut next year. Moral of the story: A qh can do dressage. (Duh)

        Take it from someone who's been on both sides: Dressage is alot harder. It's mentally harder, physically harder, harder for the horse, harder for the rider. Possibly because dressage addresses EVERYTHING. Just be prepared.

        I second (fourth?) the take lessons first idea. If you want to invest in a dressge saddle, go for it (I prefer mine to my western or any close contact saddle). It makes a difference.

        Good luck! Welcome to the dark side.


        • #5
          Originally posted by amm2cd View Post
          Take it from someone who's been on both sides: Dressage is alot harder. It's mentally harder, physically harder, harder for the horse, harder for the rider. Possibly because dressage addresses EVERYTHING. Just be prepared.

          I second (fourth?) the take lessons first idea. If you want to invest in a dressge saddle, go for it (I prefer mine to my western or any close contact saddle). It makes a difference.

          Good luck! Welcome to the dark side.

          I was lucky to have a series of western trainers who taught a lope coming from the seat asking the stride to shorten and slow rather than what I have seen lately of longe the horse's legs off until it can barely stand then ride around at a lope and yank HARD to slow it down every few strides. It makes using my seat for dressage much easier, though I knew nothing about how to use my abs properly. I'm in the middle of re-learning how to use my core in an entirely different way.

          I *love* dressage. I've shown h/j (mostly eq), and I have shown breed w/ my palomino/qh. But my start was a dressage foundation, and it's what I always wanted to do. Dressage lessons in college made that even more the case. I am happier now in dressage than I was in any other disciplines despite the fact I'm aware I won't be getting all those top 10 rankings in the nation anymore.
          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.


          • #6
            Find a fun and intelligent instructor. Sit in all of their saddles and any others you can lay your paws on, ensure fit for you and the critter, then go buy one.

            Welcome !!


            • #7
              FWIW, I saw a lot of dressage last weekend at the Region 3 finals and one of my favorite rides was a *traditional* QH (not Lynn Palm's bred-for-dressage "QHs"). The horse was kinda short-strided and has a lot of room for improvement as a dressage horse, but darn, he/she was so diligent and downright studious about it all I couldn't help but grin throughout.

              If you just want to get off the rail, I'd also consider trail classes ... I had a *blast* cross-training many years ago but spent too much money on tack that I bought JUST for that purpose.


              • #8
                While I highly recommend you taking dressage lessons first for a few months on a schoolmaster of sorts, I do NOT recommend you pick out the instructor alone. Just like in any discipline, a good 3/4 of the people selling lessons haven't a clue. Thankfully COTH can help. Let us know where abouts you are, and we can direct you to someone who would be a good fit.
                chaque pas est fait ensemble


                • Original Poster


                  Right. I'm in Minnesota in the Northeast corner of the Twin Cities. I would love some advice about possible teachers. I watched at a few shows this summer, and I saw quite a variety of teaching styles. Not sure which one will be right for me.


                  • Original Poster

                    Sorry. I was being vague. He presently does western pleasure, horsemanship, equitation, hunter under saddle, showmanship, trail, and western riding. He's one of those types that's so talented and willing that teaching him something is really a matter of demonstrating it, checking for recall a few times, and he's got it. As a result our rides are mostly just moving around to just keep him in shape. I'd like to do something that is mentally stimulating for me and him, otherwise I see my motivation just nose diving.


                    • #11
                      Did the QH circuit for many years - even went to Congress. Did the Amateur All Around from Halter to Western Pleasure to HUS.

                      Our entire barn switched form showing QH to dressage, practically overnight. We did this because we were sick of the politics. The straw was when a youth hunter over fences class was fixed so that a particular kid could get her point to go to World. This kid chipped every fence and almost fell off once while our two kids' only faults were missing a stride or two, but yet, this kid won because the judge knew her trainer and knew she needed only 1 point (we heard them talking before the class).

                      All of our QHs went right into dressage without hesitation. Needless to say, we humans had A LOT to learn, but because our horses were so broke, we muddled through. I haven't looked back since. I love the precision of dressage. However, I no longer own a QH. My last one did not love the precision of dressage - he got bored perfecting the 20-m circle.

                      I rode Western in a Blue Ribbon, which is built very much like a dressage saddle, so I had no problem switching. My first saddle was a Kieffer Wein. My second saddle was a Jaguar (loved that saddle). I now ride in a Hennig. Switched from the Jaguar to the Henniq only because my horse seemed to like the Hennig better.

                      Highly recommend getting a trainer who knows dressage - most don't care what breed you have. And pay attention to your horse - does he like this or no? Remember that QHs were bred to do a lot of the thinking on their own (think cutting horse, watching cows on the range, etc) and may resent you doing the thinking for them. Doing dressage is not just about riding a pattern - it's about contact and pushing from behind, and a moving back, and so much more.

                      Good luck.


                      • #12
                        I switches from 4-h to dressage. I started in an all purpose saddle until I was sure I wanted to invest thousands in a dressage saddle. An all purpose will work fine for intro and training level.

                        I can't tell you how thrilled I am that I got into dressage. I kind of fell into it instead of choosing that direction. The barn I was at had a trainer coming in to I've lessons and after watching her teach for a while I started lessons with her. I think that's the best way to go. Talk to people already in dressage and ask for recommendations on trainers, go watch a few lessons. Also look on the USDF site for certified instructors in your area. I wouldn't discount an uncertified trainer, the costs for certification are a bit outrageous.

                        Also, I ride dressage on everything except warmbloods. Arabs, quarters, paints, friesian mixes, ponies, etc. Don't get pressured into conforming to elitist standards. There's no need. I usually beat the snot outta the big money horses.


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Imabelopin View Post
                          ... teaching him something is really a matter of demonstrating it, checking for recall a few times, and he's got it.
                          Yep ... dressage is not nearly as difficult for horses as it is for riders to "learn".

                          You've probably developed some ideas about what kind of instruction works well for you through your years of winning ... note the attributes (explains theory, rides through my body until I get it THEN explains, can ride my horse to help him, then the two of them help me, stays off my horse, talks a lot, doesn't talk a lot, is very punctual, is very flexible ... ) and apply your preferences to your search for your next instructor.

                          My advice hasn't changed: find an instructor, take lessons on a knowledgeable horse, and proceed with confidence.

                          As PSJ said, if you give some idea of location, people can make informed suggestions as to the instructors that have worked well for them to get you started.

                          But figuring out your learning style on a message board is about as easy as teaching dressage on a message board: it's a lot about the feel and the experience.